Wednesday, April 24, 2024

Labor supporters protest Wednesday in Washington, D.C., against union-busting efforts in Wisconsin. (Photo: mar is sea Y)

Cambridge Day is part of a project called Voices of MainStreet — a weekly, nationwide Q&A in which editors at the money and lifestyle site ask questions and bloggers answer them. For this entry, I was asked about budgets national and local.

Over the past couple of weeks it’s felt a little like I’m in a high tower — maybe an ivory one from the leftovers of Harvard, Lesley and MIT construction — and I’m looking out over a smoking landscape of budget battlefields.

Just below are the suffering cities and towns of Massachusetts, and looking west is Wisconsin, where Republicans are claiming budget problems as a pretext to take down unions and decrease Democratic power.

Looking south is Washington, D.C., where President Barack Obama’s $3.7 trillion budget favors reduction of a $1.6 trillion deficit over job creation, even though unemployment is still at 9 percent. And the only stuff on the table in Obama’s national budget-cutting is nonsecurity discretionary spending, which accounts for 12 percent of those trillions.

Polls show not many regular folks care about the deficit, and plenty care about jobs, but for some reasons he’s going to do the deficit anyway, apparently because the right says he should.

The right says lots of crazy things, including stuff about Kenyan communists, birth certificates, breast-feeding, Sharia law, death panels, the first lady’s weight and the end times.

Also that the government will save money and help the economy by spending less, including through massive layoffs of government workers — as though having even fewer people working and spending will somehow result in recovery. Since cutting taxes to shrink the deficit and cutting jobs to help the economy makes absolutely no sense, and have never been shown to work, and since it’s hard to believe the entire right is actually crazy, there’s no choice but to see these efforts as equal in disingenuousness to Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker’s union-busting as a solution to a budget problem he created.

The unions there have already agreed to steps that will help the state’s budget, but Walker insists on getting rid of collective-bargaining rights, which won’t. As a result, there’s been day after day of screaming protests at the capital, schools have shut down, Walker’s been exposed as willing to stoop to dirty tricks and the state senate is at a stand-still.

All to pursue a false solution to a self-induced, artificial crisis.

But as we’ve learned, even wars begun under false pretense result in casualties, and that’s why it’s such a good thing we’re up in this tower, above all the madness.

Cambridge went into this fiscal year with an operating budget of $459.7 million, a 3.1 percent increase over the previous year. And that’s despite getting $27 million less in two key areas of state aid. We’re in the midst of forming another budget for the fiscal year starting July 1 that looks like, once again, we’ll face fiscal pain astonishingly minor compared with what’s going on in neighboring towns. Our schools, for instance, are projected to get a 2.6 percent rise in funding from the current year, putting the district in need of making up only $600,000, and the city plans to put its excellent credit ratings to work on a plan to renovate and reconfigure four schools over the next decade.

While Cambridge was adding $13.9 million to its budget, neighboring Somerville was cutting $8 million, and its mayor has warned of another budget crunch this year. Another neighbor, Arlington, expects to be short $3.8 million.

We’re not going to be at war here.

We’re spared it for a few reasons. First, we’re overwhelmingly Democratic and even liberal, so if there are political delusions they’re at least widely shared. And while the City Council sets goals for Cambridge, including such things as shoring up affordable housing and planting trees, it’s the city manager who oversees finances to ensure there’s money for such things. And he’s good at it.

Without politics wrenching us apart and resulting in budgetary pretexts such as we see nationally and in Wisconsin, attention and money ideally are spent on the things that matter.

The results are relative peace — and ivory towers that might not get scrubbed as frequently.