Beantown Economics

Dillon Zhou

The ordinary citizens of Main Street Boston are feeling the pinch from Governor Deval Patrick’s recent budget cuts for local aid. On top of that, there’s also the long list of new taxes that Mr. Patrick has proposed, on January 29, 2009, for closing the expected serious revenue shortfall in fiscal year 2010 – which has been estimated to be around $587 million. The groups most likely to be affected by these dire measures to a significant degree will be those citizens involved with the following industries: performing arts, healthcare, eldercare, hospitality, and restaurants. The current situation is bad, but things may be grimmer come 2010.

Suffering for Art

All performing arts organizations in Massachusetts are under siege due to the state’s financial shortfall and the economic downturn on Main Street Massachusetts. These organizations have been forced to take drastic action to fill in the gaps in their personal finances; this is due the fact that each of them have suffered due to the unprecedented losses from their usual sources of revenue and funding, which consist of proceeds from ticket sales, donations by private parties, and considerable government subsides from the state.

The popular Metrowest Symphony Orchestra, from Hopkinton, MA, has been forced to conform to the frugal practices of their peers by putting many of their most popular programs on ice to accommodate a fast shrinking budget. The Tubby score that was originally planned for their annual family concert in March have been cancelled, alongside many other well-liked songs, to avoid the $400 royalty fee attached to them. For the coming year, the orchestra plans on minimizing such expenses by using instruments they own, rather than renting them, and playing songs they own the rights to.

No expenditure is overlooked now. The programs will be changed from color to black and white, and rehearsals at the Hopkinton High School will be substantially reduced. Even with such actions, it’s not clear whether this organization will make it past 2009. As the Metrowest’s fundraising manager Joseph Strazzulla told the press, “if we don’t find funding soon, the consequences for us could be dire. We can’t survive just on ticket sales. Not even the Boston Symphony Orchestra survives solely on ticket sales.”

Some of the loyal patrons are expressing concern and disappointment. “My children were looking forward to this show,” said Martha Clemens of Marlborough “We come every year, but I guess we’ll have to do with fewer trimmings.” The Clemens’, along with a small number of their fellow patrons, have donated a modest sum to the orchestra to show solidarity for an organization that’s clearly beloved by their community. Harder-hit organizations have been forced to take deeper and sadder measures and some of their employees have forgone or delayed their paychecks to help their programs afloat.

Suffering for art seems to be the rule of the day for arts organizations across the Commonwealth of Massachusetts – with the clouds looming in the horizon.

The Marginalizing of Healthcare

Under Governor Patrick’s newest budget plan for the rest of ’09 and fiscal year ’10, several important public health programs will face serious cuts to their funding. For starters, this plan has cut funding to programs created to help unemployed citizens, like Masshealth Basic and Essential, have also seen their funding cut. The landmark tobacco control program will see a decrease in state spending by about $7.5 million according to Tobacco Free Mass, a local health advocacy group. To make matters worst, the Governor’s cuts have also put Medicaid reimbursement rates on a fixed position for physicians and hospitals that tend to disenfranchised patients in Massachusetts. The president of the Massachusetts Medical Society, Dr. Bruce Auerbach, has made it clear that he doesn’t approve during a recent interview with the press. “We have a state that has been visionary in pioneering health reform and universal coverage. Anything we do that reduces the ability of physicians to care for Medicaid patients is going to negatively impact our pursuit of true healthcare reform.”

At the beginning of fiscal year ’09, the Patrick Administration and the State Legislature allocated a grant total of $639 million to public health services, including programs that treat substance abuse, discourage smoking, and provide school nurses for public schools. In light of the recent recession and the state of the Commonwealth’s finances, Mr. Patrick has proposed slashing the budget for health services to $565 million, according to Mr. Lyons, a spokesman from the Public Health Department. “There’s no way to get around this or sugarcoat it. This is going to be a very stark budget year coming up,” said Lyons.

The progress made by public health programs may be reversed. According to a study conducted by Tobacco Free Mass, adult-smoking rates saw the most precipitous drop in a decade – by a margin of 8 percent. Mr. Lyons has confirmed this conclusion. The most recent reports from the Public Health Department indicate that there will be a drop in funding for addiction and tobacco use by a margin of 11 percent under the current budget plan. On a related note, state initiatives that encourage a balanced diet for children and families will face a reduction in their budget, which amounts to a $20 million cutback.

Reaction to these and other budget cuts has been very somber. Valerie Bassett, of the Massachusetts Public Health Association, an alliance of health professionals, remarked that “we know this administration supports public health and wants to promote prevention and a robust public health system, but these measures amount to a step backward.”

The Bottom Line

Massachusetts will face its challenges throughout the next two years, while having less green to get through those times. The arts and health services will be missed, but such are the times we live in.