Is Lawrence Really Ready?


By; Robert O’Koniewski – December, 2010

Recently state treasurer-elect Steve Grossman was whining in the press about legislation his pal, U.S. Senate majority leader Harry Reid (D-Nevada), had filed to legalize on-line video poker across the country. Grossman’s gripe? Legalized on-line poker would hurt, allegedly, the Massachusetts state lottery’s revenues and the almost $900 million that it sends presently to our cities and towns as local aid.

One needs to read between the lines to get to Grossman’s real concern – legalized online gambling would directly compete with the monopolistic grip the Commonwealth has on the suckers who cavalierly toss their money into the lottery pot in their pursuit of fool’s gold. Bulletin to Grossman – your troubles have nothing to do with Harry Reid; unfortunately, your ill-preparation to handle the bad hand you have been dealt will blow back adversely onto the 351 cities and towns across the Commonwealth.

Grossman now realizes what many before him have concluded: Just like the street corner pusher who feeds his junkies the latest, greatest narcotics, the state treasurer needs to keep re-vamping the lottery games so the scratch ticket and Keno junkies continue to play and at a higher rate. Incredible amounts of energy and resources go into the creation and promotion of lottery games, all in the name of disconnecting the suckers from their dollars for local aid. In reality, there is a ceiling that gets hit, in good times or bad. And despite four years of promises by the Patrick administration to provide property tax relief, no cavalry is coming over the horizon to address that, either.

Which makes it even more ironic that these so-called casino opponents get all high and mighty against bringing expanded gambling to Massachusetts but you never see them advocating for legislation to repeal the state lottery.

What started out as a supplement to local aid now has become the monster that needs feeding time after time, all for the sake of the police, firemen, and teachers for which we are told local aid is needed. It really is a sick mentality that we have allowed to fester here that has placed the lottery on the pedestal of fiscal untouchables all because the politicians need it to keep the municipal unions happy.

And this leads to the real problem we all will face.

There is universal consensus that the current $26 billion state budget, which closes out June 30, 2011, currently is in, at a minimum, a $2 billion hole. It is expected to be even greater in fiscal year 2012 barring action by the governor and legislature. That is a gap that needs to be filled with some combination of budget cuts and new revenues basically within the second half of the current fiscal year, to be executed by a gubernatorial administration that demonstrates little ability to slash spending and eliminate unnecessary or the least important programs.

So where does the current budget crisis leave our communities, especially the financially stressed like Lawrence? Outside of the $35 million bailout that the Lantigua administration generously received from the governor and the mayor’s former colleagues in the legislature, the City of Lawrence suffered multi-million dollar cuts in local aid, a situation the prior administration at 200 Common was ill-prepared to address.

Because of the bailout’s stipulation of state oversight, the city finances are controlled by a state official who signed off on all those Sullivan administration budgets that apparently were not as balanced as we were lead to believe, leading to deficits requiring the bailout.

So moving forward, is Lawrence prepared to meet the upcoming fiscal tsunami the state has pushed into 2011?

It is not as if we do not know what is coming. Days after the governor signed the budget he announced in mid-July that it was already out of whack by a billion dollars. As the election year progressed, the number doubled. Now the governor and legislature are talking about yet another spending bill to be passed before the end of the year to cover certain accounts whose needs are higher than expected. Where are these monies coming from? A federal bailout? Highly unlikely. More borrowing? Who knows. State and local budgets also have benefited from a system of jerry-rigging based on one-time federal stimulus dollars. But you do know the state cuts are coming, most likely again in local aid. Also keep in mind that as Lawrence pays off its bailout, those payoffs come directly out of the city’s local aid.

Which comes back to this – Is Lawrence ready? What is the plan? We’ve heard no serious discussion of what the Lantigua administration intends to do to avert additional fiscal heartache beginning in 2011 and going into the next fiscal year starting in July. The streets are increasingly unsafe with the drastic cuts in police that Chief Romero is suffering. It will be interesting to see what’s next in the Lantigua playbook, for what we have seen so far certainly has not been a stellar performance.