Imagine that someone you don’t know very well entered your home and started throwing your things to help you “clean up”. You didn’t invite them. They decided, on their own, to come by and help you out by clearing away things they don’t think you need. Now imagine in this bizarre situation that when you ask that shadowy person which of your things they’re throwing away, they reply, “That information isn’t available to you.” How would you feel? Well, that’s what Charlie Baker is doing to Massachusetts tax-payers right now. He used Section 9C budget cuts to shut down services across the state unilaterally, but Charlie Baker won’t tell us which services he’s shutting down!
I learned about Charlie Baker’s $98 million 9C budget cuts because they took took food from the mouths of hungry children by reducing funding for an emergency local food program in Cambridge. That made me want to know what else he slashed from the state budget.
But it’s very hard to find out what else was removed from the budget—or even verify that the Cambridge Weekend Backpack program was removed. The way the line item account of the cuts was published obscures the details of what was hit. The public account of the cuts lists each reduction at the program-level, which makes each line item big and vague. Because the governor’s office bundled the individual cuts together, it’s impossible to tell which specific services are effected. For example, Charlie Baker slashed more than 3.6 million dollars from the state police budget. Does that mean they’ll lay off cops? Perhaps they won’t buy new bullet-proof vests. Maybe they’ll close down police stations. I don’t know because everything is lumped together.
So I called to ask for a more detailed line item account so that I could see for myself which services were, in fact, removed from the budget.
Here’s roughly what I asked when I called Charlie Baker’s office at (617) 725-4005:
Hi, how are you? My name is Joshua Reyes and I live in Cambridge, MA. I’m calling about the 9C cuts the governor made earlier this month. Where can I find a detailed line item account of all of the cuts? The list that’s posted on your office website makes it impossible to tell which individual services have been cut from state programs.
The aide I spoke to mentioned that the complete line item account of Charlie Baker’s budget cuts is probably not available to the public. He told me that he’d have to check with the Office of Legislative Affairs. I asked how I could contact them. He told me there is no public, direct line to that office. Instead, he took my contact information and said that someone would call me back once they had decided whether to release public information about public money to the public.
To make sure that my request was in writing, I also filled out a form on the governor’s website.
Subject: 9C Fine-grain Line Item Accounting Hi, I'd like a fine-grain line item account of the recent 9C budget cuts. The listing attached to the Governor's 9C FY16 Filing Letter is at the department level, which makes it impossible to see which services within a program will actually be cut. As a tax-payer I am very interested in how my taxes are spent. Please send me a copy of the communications sent to each program effected by the 9C reductions. Thank you very much. Have a happy new year! Joshua Reyes
A few hours later, I received two form-letter responses one after the other. The first thanked me for my comments on Question 4, the recent ballot measure to legalize marijuana use. The second thanked me for my concern about the budget. Neither response addressed what I asked for. They were thoughtless, empty, stock responses that you send when you want end a conversation with someone.
Subject: Governor Baker responding to your message Date: Thu, Dec 29, 2016 at 3:34 PM Dear Joshua, On behalf of Governor Charlie Baker, thank you for your recent correspondence regarding question 4. We understand your concern about this issue, and we are grateful to have your voice as part of the discussion. Please feel free to contact our office in the future with any further questions or concerns; your comments are always welcome in this administration. Sincerely, Constituent Services Aide Office of Governor Charlie Baker (617) 725-4005 www.mass.gov/governor/contact
Subject: Governor Baker responding to your message Date: Thu, Dec 29, 2016 at 3:34 PM Dear Joshua, On behalf of Governor Charlie Baker, thank you for your recent correspondence regarding the budget. We understand your concern about this issue, and we are grateful to have your voice as part of the discussion. Please feel free to contact our office in the future with any further questions or concerns; your comments are always welcome in this administration. Sincerely, Constituent Services Aide Office of Governor Charlie Baker (617) 725-4005 www.mass.gov/governor/contact
Since both emails welcomed me to chat with them again, I called the Charlie Baker’s office one more time to explain my request.
Hi, how are you today? I’m calling because I just received two emails from your office and I found them both confusing. I was hoping you could me out.
I called earlier today to request a detailed line item account of the 9C budget cuts Charlie Baker made earlier this month. One of the emails I received thanked me for my commenting on Question 4, which is about marijuana. I called about the 9C budget cuts. The second one thanked me for my concern about the budget. But I did not express any concern. I requested information about the budget.
At this point the aide explained that the obscure, program-level report was all that is available to the public. So, I continued.
But the listing on the website makes it impossible to see what was actually cut. For example, how will the $3.6M reduction to the state police be applied?
He asked what questions I had specifically. I repeated that I would like to know what will happen to the state police. Again, he took my contact information. Before the aide could hang up with me I asked:
Can I have a contact to request when I call back to follow up?
For the first time, someone in Charlie Baker’s office answered me simply and directly: No.
Charlie Baker, why are the details of your 9C budget cuts a secret? As a tax-payer, I’d like to know how my state uses its tax revenues. Decisions to use public money for public institutions belong to the public. Please make the details of your 9C budget cuts public. And while you’re at it, please make public the report that the commissioner of the administration needed to write in order to invoke the 9C cuts in the first place!
Want to know what Governor Charlie Baker is hiding? Please call the Governor’s office (617) 725-4005 and ask for a detailed copy of the December 9C budget cuts. And please let me know what they say!