By votes so lopsided they were practically unanimous, 144-7 in the House and 38-1 in the Senate, the Massachusetts Legislature last week approved a $36.5 billion budget for fiscal 2015, the largest in state history. The puny band of Republicans who voted against the budget — Senator Robert Hedlund and Representatives James Lyons, Leah Cole, Geoff Diehl, Shawn Dooley, Ryan Fattman, Marc Lombardo, and Leonard Mirra — had no hope of changing the outcome. They didn't even represent a majority of the negligible GOP caucus.
They did, however, take their duties as elected legislators seriously enough to not merely cast a protest vote, but also explain it. None did so more notably than Lyons and Lombardo, who wrote a 1,250-word memo detailing "Why We Voted Against the Budget," and posted it online. The two representatives, both in their second terms, laid out seven principal — and principled — objections to the budget. Among them:
- A "precipitous decline in local aid," which has taken a $400 million hit since 2008;
- An alarming increase in state spending, and the corresponding surge in the state payroll by more than 10,000 employees under Deval Patrick's administration;
- The Democratic leadership's refusal to consider rolling back the state sales tax rate to the longstanding 5 percent, from which it was hiked in 2009;
- The administration's use of public funds on "interference with parental rights," the Justina Pelletier case being a ghastly recent example.
Lyons and Lombardo, like the six other Republicans who voted against the budget, are avowed fiscal conservatives in a very liberal Legislature. They know their views on state policy are shared by few if any of their Democratic colleagues. Even other Republicans don't see eye-to-eye with them on some key issues. On the phone the other day, Lombardo witheringly described some members of the GOP caucus as acting "like rank-and-file Democrats: They give Speaker DeLeo their vote on the big things in exchange for getting a gazebo in their district."