Good discussion over at BMG, but we should go much further than stating that Beacon Hill shouldn't cut local aid "smartly." It just shouldn't cut it at all. In fact, in these fiscal times, after so many damaging cuts in the recent past, Beacon Hill should raise local aid.
Of course, we're having a major budget disaster; that's not news. The money's got to come from somewhere. So, what are some smart, sensible measures to raise revenue, specifically for local aid? The obvious one is to bring back the income tax rate we had pre-Celluci, but that's still a tough political pill for some politicians to swallow at this point. So, what else?
Increase the tax on alcohol. Why? For starters, it's absurdly low - around 5% according to those on the BMG thread. We just raised the tax on cigarettes by a $1/pack, why not raise the tax on liquor a $1 for wine, a six pack or for a regular-sized bottle of hard liquor? After all, if local aid is cut, police and fire services will probably be hit the hardest. Alcohol-related problems, from accidents to people doing stupid things while drunk to medical emergencies or diseases, all cost the government - including local cities and towns - a great deal of money, probably measured in the hundreds of millions or billions.
Fewer cops on the road at night means more accidents caused by drunk drivers. Fewer fire departments and trucks means it'll take longer for EMTs to arrive on the scene, meaning more people will die or sustain longterm damage. All that means, in the end, cutting these services will probably cost people more money. A tax on alcohol in keeping with cigarettes is smart policy.
What else? A small local meals and hotel tax would do wonders for many cities and towns. At least three towns already struggling under unfair the unfair Chapter 70 formula, Swampscott, Dartmouth and Saugus, would stand to gain a great deal with a local option meals tax. Dartmouth, which has closed at least two schools in the past five years (probably more) would take in over a million dollars with a 2% meals tax - so would Saugus, a town that's faced massive layoffs and the loss of accreditation of its library (if it hasn't been outright closed by now). Swampscott would take in over $350,000, which would offset state cuts to Chapter 70, should they ultimately be necessary. Such a policy would open millions in new funding for most urban cities throughout the state, from Lynn to New Bedford to Worcester to Springfield.
Those are just two quick, easy and relatively painless ideas that make good policy sense and would help towns not only deal with the cuts the state's already made in the past, but also potentially expand upon their educational programs or help keep the streets safe. Beacon Hill can't keep cutting - we're at the marrow already. If the State House doesn't have the guts to raise revenue itself, it's got to get out of the way and give cities and towns the resources they need to do it themselves.