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Vision quest
From the House’s stale response to the budget crisis to the reactionary superior-court ruling on gay marriage, state government needs a fresh approach. How about biking to work?

IT’S OFFICIAL: we’re in a budget crisis. Which is why state leaders are looking to raise nearly $1 billion in taxes. Well, House Speaker Tom Finneran is looking to do this. We still don’t know what Governor Jane Swift thinks or what Senate president Tom Birmingham wants to do, because even as the state continues to announce revenue shortfalls (on Tuesday, the Swift administration said that tax revenues may fall $400 million short of predictions), the House is the only branch of state government to put forward a detailed plan for dealing with the budget (see "The Year of Living Painfully," page one).

Finneran’s status as budget leader merely proves the axiom that nature abhors a vacuum. He has delivered a plan predicated on business as usual. What’s innovative about raising taxes on cigarettes? Or rolling back the voter-approved income-tax cut? Or repealing the voter-approved charitable-contributions tax deduction? Or squeezing human services? Or cutting funds for education? All of which can be found in Finneran’s budget proposal.

Where’s the plan to scale back or cut the Quinn Bill, which grants generous pay raises to police officers who earn associate’s, bachelor’s, and master’s degrees in academic programs of questionable quality, at a cost to the state of about $100 million each year? (State Representative Angelo Scaccia of Boston has filed an amendment that would repeal this provision in 2006, but if funding for our public-school students can be sacrificed now, why can’t funding for police pay raises — wholly unconnected to job performance — be treated the same way?) Where’s the plan to put a stop to the South Boston Convention Center, a political boondoggle that is costing the state $800 million? And why, in the midst of this fiscal crisis, is Finneran playing games with the state’s judiciary by letting Scaccia, a member of his leadership team, attach a rider to the budget that would give hiring control over courthouse jobs to the legislature, which could then turn them into patronage positions?

There’s little doubt we’re in a budget crisis. But for all the bluster, Beacon Hill’s response offers nothing more than business-as-usual. The proposed cuts are less an indication of where the budget needs trimming than they are a measure of various constituencies’ clout (or lack of it) up at the State House. The greater good has yet to factor into these deliberations.

IT’S NOT SURPRISING when politicians — bound by the popular sentiment of their constituents — interpret laws narrowly to explain their opposition to letting same-sex couples marry. However, it is surprising when judges, who are supposedly above the political fray, take the same line.

Yet that’s what happened May 7 when Suffolk Superior Court judge Thomas Connolly ruled against the plaintiffs in a same-sex marriage lawsuit (read his decision online at In his ruling, Connolly agreed with Attorney General Tom Reilly’s argument, made in Reilly’s December 19, 2001, memorandum to the marriage lawsuit (read it online at, that the state’s marriage statutes have traditionally applied only to heterosexual couples and therefore should continue to do so. This reasoning amounts to little more than saying, "We’re going to keep doing things this way because that’s the way we’ve always done it."

Of course, that’s one of the arguments opponents of interracial marriage used to make.

Connolly further agreed with Reilly’s assertion that any changes in marriage law constitute a "radical change in established public policy" and therefore should be "left to the Legislature, not the courts, to accomplish."

Of course, such reliance upon politicians kept the ban on interracial marriage in place until 1967, when the Supreme Court finally intervened.

As the Phoenix has previously noted (see "Populist Pursuits," Editorial, April 25), leaving emotional civil-rights issues up to politicians all but ensures the continued tyranny of the majority over the minority. That’s why we need the courts.

Connolly’s disappointing ruling notwithstanding, we hope the Supreme Judicial Court, which has the final say on this matter, will take a more expansive view of the law. One that will grant the Commonwealth’s gay and lesbian citizens the same rights and responsibilities that its heterosexual citizens enjoy.

WE’RE AT the tail end of National Bike to Work Week. This Friday, May 17, is National Bike to Work Day. The Massachusetts Bicycle Coalition deserves praise for organizing so many events to publicize this pollution-free form of commuting. To promote it further, the city and state can take certain specific steps to make it easier for commuters to leave their cars at home.

In Boston, money has been allocated since 1997 to install about 300 bike racks. To date, only half that number have been set up. The city needs to get them all in place. And while Cambridge, Newton, and Watertown already have ordinances on the books requiring the installation of bike racks with new construction, Boston does not.

Meanwhile, the Greater Boston area has a fantastic network of bike paths, ranging from the Minuteman Commuter Bikeway to the Charles River bike path to the paths along the Emerald Necklace. But they’re not connected. As Doug Mink of the Massachusetts Bicycling Coalition points out, "These paths almost go places, but they don’t quite get you there." While there are some efforts at work to connect the paths (such as extending the Minuteman bike path in Somerville to Lechmere Station and the Charles River bike path), not enough is being done. To be sure, in the current political climate, connecting bike paths doesn’t merit much attention. But it’s a quality-of-life issue that we’d be foolish to overlook.

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Issue Date: May 16 - 25, 2002
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