"Secretary Burwell announces new HHS Regional Director for Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, and Vermont"
Contact: HHS Press Office (202) 690-6343 - March 25, 2015
BOSTON – Department of Health and Human (HHS) Services Secretary Sylvia M. Burwell today announced the appointment of Rachel Kaprielian as Region I Director of HHS. The HHS Region I office is based in Boston and works with officials in Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, and Vermont.
“I am pleased to announce that Rachel Kaprielian has been appointed the new Region I Regional Director for the Department of Health and Human Services,” Secretary Burwell said. “Rachel’s work in state and local policy will surely be an asset to our Region I office. We look forward to Rachel joining her fellow Regional Directors as they continue their work delivering impact in communities around the country.”
As a regional director, Kaprielian will serve as a key representative of HHS in working with federal, state, local and tribal officials on health and social service issues, like implementation of the Affordable Care Act.
Biography: Rachel Kaprielian has spent a significant part of her professional life as a senior level public official from Massachusetts. Most recently, she was a member of Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick’s Administration Cabinet as the Secretary of the Executive Office of Labor and Workforce Development where her accomplishments included streamlining an online public platform for unemployment insurance claimants. Prior to that, she served as Registrar of the Massachusetts Registry of Motor Vehicles. Before serving in executive roles, Kaprielian was a six-term member of the Massachusetts legislature where she was a leader in health care policy throughout her tenure including Massachusetts’ health care reform. Her leadership in health policy has been recognized in multiple disciplines, notably in prevention measures such as tobacco cessation and education, early intervention and care for children, electronic health care records management and numerous human services initiatives, as well as job training and services for the disabled, home and rehabilitative care, and wellness measures.
THE BOSTON GLOBE: Op-Ed
RACHEL KAPRIELIAN AND HERMAN HAMILTON
"The benefits of a higher cigarette tax"
By Rachel Kaprielian and Herman Hamilton, April 10, 2008
EACH YEAR, as the Legislature sets the state budget, members are confronted with making tough and balanced choices while remaining steadfast to sound public policy. Nowhere is that more evident than in the state's commitment to ensuring the success of its landmark healthcare reform law, an initiative that is providing insurance to the uninsured but carries with it a price tag of nearly $400 million in fiscal year 2009.
Now is not the time to backtrack on the law, a national model that other states are working to emulate. A basic component to this success is in its inclusion of prevention measures that seek to improve the overall public health - today and down the road.
Cigarette smoking is the leading cause of preventable death and disease in Massachusetts. Twenty-five people die each day in the state from tobacco-related illnesses, and thousands of others suffer from related ailments - emphysema, heart disease, cancer - many unable to work or enjoy quality of life. Its wrath results in great personal, physical, societal, and fiscal cost. To combat this reality requires a multi-faceted and fiscally responsible approach: one that brings in needed revenue while adding immeasurable benefits toward prevention and cessation of smoking.
Currently, there is a legislative proposal that would add $1 to the levy on cigarettes. Its passage would add about $150 million to state coffers, which would enable the Legislature to continue healthcare reform, as well as reduce the incidence of smoking rates overall. Data shows that for every 10 percent increase in the cost of a pack of cigarettes, the overall smoking rates decrease 4 percent.
Perhaps more compelling, raising the price of smoking will discourage children, who are still the tobacco companies' main target, from picking up the habit in the first place. That will lower future healthcare costs and help break the cycle of addiction. A leading study shows that nearly every adult who smokes (almost 90 percent) took his or her first puff at or before age 18. If passed, this legislation would translate into 46,000 fewer future kid smokers coupled with 25,000 fewer adult smokers.
Every year, Massachusetts spends over $3.5 billion to treat sick smokers. These are critical dollars that could be spent on other health priorities, prevention programs, or other important needs in our state.
Critics of the increase say that it will push sales to states that tax less. They also say it is a regressive tax that will dwindle over time. Neither is true. Convenience stores in border towns noticed a slight dip in business after past increases, but, over time, found that buyers returned. This makes sense since cigarettes, like gum, candy, and soda, are typically purchases of convenience.
And other states, most notably Michigan and Alaska, have found that even with an increase in the cigarette tax, their revenues have steadily increased, not decreased.
But raising the tobacco tax saves money here too. The child with asthma whose parent stops smoking today will have fewer asthma-related complications from secondhand smoke tomorrow. An expectant mother encouraged to kick the habit by higher prices will give birth to a healthier baby. The teenager who doesn't start smoking becomes the adult with fewer chances of getting lung cancer, emphysema, or chronic heart disease.
And from a strict fiscal analysis, it would save the state over $1 billion in long-term healthcare costs.
So an increase in the tobacco levy simply makes sense. It deters children from smoking. It helps taxpayers, heathcare providers, hospitals, and insurance ratepayers. And it extends a helping hand to those hard-pressed families and individuals who are working but lack health insurance.
Representative Rachel Kaprielian, Democrat from Watertown, is lead sponsor of the legislation; Rev. Herman Hamilton is president of the Greater Boston Interfaith Organization and pastor of Roxbury Presbyterian Church.
"Cigarette tax hike vote hailed as a victory against cancer"
April 11, 2008, By (Boston) Globe Staff
Anti-smoking activists are hailing a $175 million cigarette tax increase passed last night by the Massachusetts House. They say it could save thousands of lives.
"Tobacco use is the leading cause of preventable death in Massachusetts and the data is irrefutable: increasing the price of tobacco products decreases tobacco use, particularly among young people," Marc Hymovitz, director of government relations for the American Cancer Society, said in a statement.
The society also applauded the dedication of the revenues to pay for healthcare costs, which have soared under the state's new healthcare reform law, saying the House had struck "successive blows against cancer in the Commonwealth."
The cigarette tax increases were part of a $392 million package that passed by a lopsided margin.
Under the bill, the tax would increase by $1 per pack, to $2.51. The average price of a pack would go up nearly 20 percent, to $6.41.
Russet Breslau, executive director of Tobacco Free Mass, an umbrella anti-smoking group with 50 organizations as members, also welcomed passage of the bill. She said her organization believed the hike would prevent about 46,000 children from starting to smoke.
She also said it would inspire about 26,000 current smokers to stop and save the lives of 7,000 current smokers.
Opponents of the hike argued that the state would lose money from smokers, who would travel to New Hampshire and Rhode Island to buy cigarettes.
The Senate has been supportive of the tax increases pushed by Governor Deval Patrick and plans to take up the proposals within weeks. If there are no significant differences, the governor could have a bill on his desk shortly afterward.
"Mass. House OK's big tax hikes: $392m in new levies on business, smokers A gain for Patrick; Senate action next"
By Matt Viser, (Boston) Globe Staff, April 11, 2008
House lawmakers last night gave approval to $392 million in tax increases for smokers and the state's largest corporations, providing Governor Deval Patrick with a major political victory while drawing fire from business leaders.
The legislators' 131-23 vote capped a long crusade by Patrick and his allies in the Legislature, who convinced House Speaker Salvatore F. DiMasi to back away from a more business-friendly plan and approve the state's most momentous tax increase since 2002.
It also ended two days of furious lobbying by banks and business groups and marked a legislative victory by the governor, who has been trying to improve his fortunes after the defeat of his plan to license resort casinos.
"We appreciate the House's willingness to move closer to the governor's proposal," said Doug Rubin, the governor's chief of staff. "When you look at where we started in this process, and the House and the Senate and the governor, for us to see that enacted is a good example of everybody working together."
After the House voted around 10:15 last night, DiMasi left without speaking to reporters but released a statement praising legislators for supporting a plan to help the state balance next year's budget.
"The members of the House have rolled up their sleeves, tackled difficult issues head-on, and provided common sense, fiscally responsible solutions to our budget challenges," he said.
The proposals would tighten corporate tax laws and prohibit several practices the governor called "loopholes," bringing in $217 million next year. It would also raise $175 million by increasing the state's cigarette tax by $1 per pack, to $2.51.
The cigarette increase would give Massachusetts the second-highest cigarette tax behind New Jersey, although New York legislators this week voted to trump both states with a $2.75-per-pack increase.
Proponents argued that the increase would fill state coffers and discourage residents from smoking, while critics said the state would lose money from smokers, who would travel to New Hampshire and Rhode Island to buy cheaper cigarettes.
The average price of a pack of cigarettes in Massachusetts would go up nearly 20 percent, to $6.41.
The Senate, which has been supportive of the tax increases, plans to take up the proposals within weeks. If there aren't significant differences, they could be signed by the governor shortly after.
The corporate tax changes, which would take effect Jan. 1, 2009, would prevent corporations from declaring some profits in states with more favorable tax rates.
Patrick had been seeking the changes since he took office, but his proposals had been repeatedly rebuffed by DiMasi, who said that the tax increases would send the wrong message to businesses.
DiMasi backed the plan this year, but maintained significant differences with Patrick over how deep corresponding reductions in corporate tax rates should be.
In exchange for tightening the state's corporate tax codes, Patrick had proposed gradually reducing the state's corporate tax rate from 9.5 percent to 8.3 percent by 2012. DiMasi went further, proposing a reduction to 7 percent by 2011.
The plan the House approved yesterday strikes a compromise by lowering taxes from 9.5 percent to 7.5 percent by 2012.
Massachusetts has the country's fourth-highest corporate tax rate, which business leaders argue has damaged the state's reputation and discouraged companies from locating here.
Administration officials estimate that up to 3,000 businesses - generally the larger ones - will pay more taxes under their plan, while at least 15,000 businesses would pay less.
After a flurry of lobbying by high-powered banks, the House also added a provision to reduce the tax rate for financial institutions, which under earlier proposals were exempt.
Their tax rates will be reduced from 10.5 percent to 9 percent by 2012.
"We're extremely pleased," said Kevin Kiley, chief operating officer of the Massachusetts Bankers Association, which represents 200 banks throughout the state, including Bank of America, Fidelity, and Citizens Bank. "It's a big step for the banking industry."
Facing uncertainty over vote counts, DiMasi had put off debate earlier this week to rejigger his game plan. The House had been expected to vote on the plan Tuesday, but business leaders and a cadre of Republicans criticized the plan, charging it would hurt businesses amid a looming recession.
Lobbyists and legislators yesterday roamed the hallways aimlessly for hours, as House leaders met behind close doors.
By late yesterday afternoon, it became clear that DiMasi's proposal did not have the votes . About 40 members of the Democratic caucus supported closing loopholes, but without any corresponding reduction in the corporate tax rate. Another 28 members were going to vote against DiMasi's plan because they thought it was too favorable to businesses.
Once debate began around 4 p.m., Republicans tried several legislative tactics to delay the vote, and launched into long speeches blasting the tax increase as harmful to businesses during a fragile economic time.
"A tax is a tax is a tax!" yelled Representative Jeffrey D. Perry, a Sandwich Republican. "This is taking money from our constituents, and harming our economy!"
The proposal comes at a time when the state has been struggling to find new sources of revenue to keep services and fund several ambitious spending programs. Cities and towns are also cutting services, and asking legislators for help.
And in a year when all legislators have to run for reelection, they are searching for ways to deliver for their communities.
The governor has proposed an additional $166 million in new revenues through additional taxes and increased enforcement of tax collections. Those proposals will come up in about two weeks as part of the House debate on the overall budget.
Matt Viser can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
"House passes $500M tax bill: The measure includes a $1 hike on the cigarette tax and closing corporate tax loopholes"
By Matt Murphy, (Berkshire) Eagle Boston Bureau
Friday, April 11, 2008
BOSTON — Smoking can already be a costly habit, but a pack of cigarettes is about to get more expensive under a new tax plan approved last night by the House to help bring in new revenue for the state.
Lawmakers voted to hike the state's cigarette tax by $1 to $2.51 on July 1, giving Massachusetts the second highest cigarette tax in the country — only seven cents lower than New Jersey.
Leaders in the Senate, where the bill will be considered next, have also indicated support for the tax hike.
The cigarette tax was part of a broader $500 million package of tax increases approved yesterday by the House after a heated debate in an attempt to help balance next year's budget by closing two so-called "corporate tax loopholes." The plan received criticism from Republicans and even some Democrats who argued a tax increase on businesses at a time when the economy is shaky might erode job creation and stall business growth.
House members voted to implement two new tax laws known as "check the box" and "combined reporting" that would require corporations to classify themselves as a the same type of business for state taxes as they do for federal taxes, and prevent mostly large corporations from shielding revenue made in other states from Massachusetts taxes.
To balance out the $217 million corporate tax increase, the House also voted for a contested reduction in the corporate excise tax that some Democrats opposed as a decrease in much needed state revenue.
"We shouldn't be cutting corporate taxes when property taxes are going up for other citizens," said state Rep. Jamie Eldridge, D-Acton.
The tax bill put forward by House Speaker Salvatore F. DiMasi marks the first time the Legislature has voted on any significant tax increase since 2002 at a time when Gov. Deval L. Patrick has already asked his Cabinet secretaries to hold off on discretionary spending in case revenues dip during a national recession.
The corporate excise tax will be cut from 9.5 percent to 7.5 percent over the next three years under the House plan.
Large banks and financial institutions, originally excluded from the tax cut, will also receive a break on their excise tax going from 10.5 percent to 9 percent, cutting deeper into tax gains for the state.
"Honestly, it's a tough thing to wrestle with because I understand the need for all businesses to pay their fair share," said state Rep. Denis Guyer, D-Dalton. "At the same time, I listened to the arguments about creating a positive business climate."
The decreases after the first year will be triggered by gains in corporate tax collection year over year, protecting the state from a deep recession when rates could be frozen.
New revenue from the cigarette tax hike, pegged at somewhere near $175 million, will go directly to the state to help pay for the health care reform program. Massachusetts last year took in $438.1 million in cigarette taxes, according to the Department of Revenue.
Tobacco-related illnesses cost Massachusetts more than $2.7 billion in health care costs each year, according to the state Executive Office of Health and Human Services.
"Lawmakers approve tax package"
By Steve LeBlanc, Associated Press, (via The North Adams Transcript Online).
Friday, April 11, 2008
BOSTON -- House lawmakers on Thursday approved a package of tax hikes, including a dollar increase on a pack of cigarettes and a series of business tax loophole closings -- the first major tax package since 2002.
The cigarette tax would generate an estimated $175 million and would go into effect in July if the bill becomes law. It sparked some of the sharpest exchanges during the hours-long debate on the floor of the House, which finally approved the measure by a vote of 131-23.
Backers said the cigarette tax would not only bring in needed revenue with the state facing a $1.3 billion budget gap, but would also sway some young people against taking up the habit -- and encourage older smokers to quit.
"Smoking kills you. It compromises your health and it kills you. It's something we have to be mindful of," said Rep. Rachel Kaprielian, D-Watertown, a supporter of the bill.
An amendment approved during the debate would dedicate the revenues of the cigarette tax to health care to help ease financial pressure on the state's landmark health care law, which is struggling with a larger than expected enrollment.
Critics said they agreed smoking is bad, but said hiking taxes doesn't make any sense in the face of a looming recession.
They also the new tax would increase the cost of a carton of cigarettes to about $68 dollars -- compared with about $33 in New Hampshire -- and would send smokers fleeing over the border.
Rep. Colleen M. Garry, D-Dracut, said the bill could end up killing mom-and-pop stores in her district.
"It's less then a mile from the New Hampshire border," she said. "What happens to the jobs and what happens to the businesses in my district?"
Others said it's unfair of the state to put so heavy a tax burden on a narrow class of people -- particularly since those backing the law agree that nicotine is addictive.
Rep. George Peterson, R-Grafton, is a former smoker and said he knows how hard it is to quit. He said a person with a two-pack-a-day habit will end up spending an additional $720 a year under the bill.
"It is an addiction. It is extremely difficult to overcome," he said.
Rep. Peter Koutoujian, D-Walt-ham, said the per-pack cost is even higher for state taxpayers footing the bill for smoking-related illnesses. He said the federal Centers for Disease Control estimated that the state spends $3.5 billion a year on smoking-related diseases.
That translates into more than $19 per pack in health costs for taxpayers, said Koutoujian, who supports the bill.
Lawmakers made some changes to the business portion of the bill before approving it.
The initial version of the bill softened the impact of the loophole closings by mandating a gradual cut in the corporate income tax rate over several years down to 7 percent.
The final bill wouldn't cut the tax rate quite as deeply -- stepping down to 7.5 percent over several years -- and would link the individual cuts to minimum annual gains in corporate tax revenues.
The changes bring the bill closer to Gov. Deval Patrick's version, which cuts the rate to 8.3 percent.
House Speaker Salvatore DiMasi said the bill would increase revenues and reduce the tax burden on businesses.
"We will soon take up the other key portions of my balanced budget plan, difficult cuts of at least $100 million, savings and efficiencies in state government and modest use of our stabilization fund," DiMasi said.
Republicans objected to the loophole closings, calling them a business tax hike by another name.
"We are not only losing jobs, we are losing population and you want to raise taxes on business?" said Rep. John Lepper, R-Attleboro. "Is that sensible?"
The loophole closings are estimated to produce about $217 million for the fiscal year starting in July.
The bill still needs the approval of the Senate and Gov. Deval Patrick's signature.
Senate President Therese Murray has said the Senate firmly backs the cigarette tax hike and Patrick said he's also supportive of both the cigarette tax and the loophole closings, but wants to see the final version of the bill before saying whether he'd sign it.
"Modest spending cuts may be put to test: State braces for news on recession, revenue"
By Matt Viser, (Boston) Globe Staff, April 12, 2008
While they are planning to impose higher taxes to balance the budget, Massachusetts political leaders have so far shied away from making significant spending cuts.
House Speaker Salvatore F. DiMasi is expected to release the House's proposed budget next week and has said he will identify a relatively modest $100 million in cuts, although so far he has refused to say what programs he will target. Governor Deval Patrick identified a mere $40 million in cuts, along with $84 million saved by capping some accounts, in the proposed spending plan he submitted in January.
But that light approach to cost-cutting could be tested soon.
With the House voting Thursday to raise $392 million in corporate and cigarette taxes, spending reductions would probably be the next step if a recession takes its toll and state revenues come up short of current projections and widen an expected $1.3 billion budget gap, officials say.
"Can things become worse?" Representative Robert A. DeLeo of Winthrop, House chairman of the Committee on Ways and Means, said in a recent interview. "My feeling is yes, and I think it will get worse before it gets better."
Budget writers from the House, Senate, and administration agreed in January to project 3.8 percent in revenue growth for next fiscal year, which begins July 1. Since then the national financial picture has gotten much gloomier.
If revenue growth came in lower than 3.8 percent, the state would have to make additional cuts. If state tax revenues grow by 2.5 percent instead, budget writers would have to cut $500 million. If there is no growth, they would have to cut $750 million. Budget officials are bracing for a deteriorating climate, but have not made new predictions.
"Spending will be restrained in a lot of areas," said Steven C. Panagiotakos, the Senate chairman of Ways and Means. "There's no way of getting around some difficult decisions that will be made."
Even while state officials have started talking about possible new budget cuts, they are not expected to be anywhere near the scale of reductions made in the last statewide budget crisis about five years ago, when lawmakers and Governor Mitt Romney slashed local aid to address a state budget deficit.
"By any measure so far, what the governor and Legislature are talking about in cuts are trivial in contrast," said Steve Crosby, who served as a member of Patrick's transition team and who oversaw the budget under Acting Governor Jane Swift, a Republican. "The predominant conversation is new revenue and new spending. The conversation about cutting comes in a very distant third."
Patrick announced midyear budget cuts last week and asked department heads to brainstorm about other ways to trim their spending. Administration officials believe they can save $200 million by using various tactics, including tightening controls on spending and not filling job vacancies. Another $150 million in reductions could come through so-called 9C cuts, which allow the governor to eliminate programs. There are no plans to make 9C cuts, but department heads are being asked to prepare for them in case budget conditions worsen.
"We're going to have to come to terms with some very painful choices," said Representative Jay Kaufman, a Lexington Democrat. "Our choices are going to be where and how deep to inflict pain."
The House is also expected next week to scale back some of Patrick's spending initiatives, cuts that could include $45.8 million for community first initiatives, which fund programs for the elderly and disabled; $15 million to fund an additional 892 prekindergarten classrooms; and $4 million for local policing.
The House budget is expected to be filed Wednesday. Members will have several days to propose amendments, and the full debate will begin about April 28.
"The speaker has always said cutting is an essential part to this budget," said DiMasi's spokesman, David Guarino. "And if need be, we will go beyond the $100 million that the speaker's talked about."
One way for lawmakers to avoid making budget cuts would be to tap the state's reserve account, which contains more than $2 billion but generally is used only during dire times. Patrick has proposed using $469 million in rainy-day funds to balance the budget, while DiMasi has proposed $427 million.
The Senate so far has stayed out of the budget debate, awaiting the House proposal. Early next month, the Senate plans to take up a $392 million tax hike plan the House approved Thursday night.
"I don't think the state's fiscal leaders have fully adjusted to the reality we're confronted within the Commonwealth," said Michael J. Widmer, president of the Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation, a business-funded budget watchdog. "It's important for the House and the Senate to be realistic about what spending the state can afford as we head into a recession. And the sooner the better."
Patrick, in a meeting he called with State House reporters on the portico outside his office Thursday, said he is not frustrated that the fiscal downturn has hampered his ability to expand spending initiatives.
"There's no point getting frustrated about the economic times. I'm being realistic. We have proposed nothing that is beyond our means," he said.
Matt Viser can be reached at email@example.com.
"House's $28b budget banks on new taxes, program cuts"
By Matt Viser, (Boston) Globe Staff, April 17, 2008
House leaders issued a $28 billion budget proposal yesterday that includes new corporate and cigarette taxes and a handful of budget cuts that drew the ire of some social service advocacy groups, who said the budget was being balanced on their backs.
The advocacy groups representing the elderly and community safety-net organizations vowed to lobby the Senate for more funding. Republicans also criticized the budget for using tax increases to help bridge a $1.3 billion budget gap.
But House leaders said their budget is fiscally prudent, given the uncertain forecasts heading into a year fraught with economic difficulties.
"Hopefully better times are ahead," said Representative Robert DeLeo, chairman of the House Committee on Ways and Means. "But if not, this budget prepares us well."
The House budget, like the governor's, includes $5.3 billion in aid to cities and towns, which includes $3.95 billion in local education funding, a 6 percent increase over this year.
House lawmakers have until tomorrow to submit amendments, a time that is typically used to fill the budget with legislative earmarks and pet projects. The full House is expected to start debate on the bill April 28. The Senate will weigh in following House deliberations, then the different plans will have to be reconciled before July 1, when the budget takes effect.
The House proposal adopts several of Patrick's spending priorities - a departure from past budgets where the governor's proposals were all but ignored - but doesn't go nearly as far as Patrick wanted.
Patrick, for example, proposed spending $15 million more to fund an additional 892 prekindergarten classrooms, but House Speaker Salvatore F. DiMasi is backing only $3 million. Patrick also wanted to increase by $13 million the amount spent on extended school day programs, to $26 million, but DiMasi is backing an increase of only $2.5 million.
The House budget also puts money into community policing programs, rather than backing Patrick's proposal to hire more police officers.
"We use a lot of caution and fiscal prudence in the budget," DiMasi said yesterday in a news briefing. "As much as we want to make certain investments, we feel we couldn't do it."
The House budget embraces several other plans that the governor proposed, including spending $10 million on homelessness programs; raising $51 million by increasing state employee healthcare contributions; and raising $166 million in additional taxes and increased enforcement of tax collections.
"We're not discouraged at all," said Joseph Landolfi, the governor's spokesman. "We're feeling pretty good about this. We understand they couldn't match in every case what the governor wanted, but their willingness to put a down payment on them shows a shared commitment."
The House budget also includes $109 million in direct budget cuts, which budget writers said were spread across a wide array of agencies and programs to limit the impact. But a smattering of advocacy groups - to whom a few thousand dollars can mean the difference for a successful year - said they were at risk under the House budget.
The proposal, for example, slashes $45.8 million that the governor wanted to use to fund initiatives aimed at helping the elderly and disabled. The House proposal reduces it to about $15 million. Some of the money may go to the mentally retarded and the developmentally disabled, rather than the elderly and the physically disabled, said Al Norman, executive director of Mass Home Care, a nonprofit network of 30 agencies that serve the elderly.
"Needy populations are being played off each other for a sharply reduced allocation," Norman said. "We are disappointed that the governor's sole elderly initiative pretty much got hacked."
Community organizations also argued that there was not enough funding for youth violence-prevention programs, which contain few increases in the budget.
"This is very disappointing," Lewis Finfer, director of the Massachusetts Communities Action Network, said in a statement. "We feel more should be taken from the rainy-day fund because it is raining here in terms of the huge problems facing families and youth in communities across the state."
The state's reserve account, sometimes called the rainy-day fund, contains more than $2 billion. Patrick has proposed using $469 million in rainy-day funds to balance the budget, while DiMasi has proposed $427 million.
The House voted last week to raise $392 million by tightening corporate income tax rules and boosting cigarette taxes by $1 a pack, a major political victory for the governor, who has been seeking corporate tax changes since he took office. Republicans, who fought the increases on the House floor during last week's debate, once again attacked the budget proposal for what they called overspending combined with excessive tax levies.
"As the economy is stumbling to the curb, you shouldn't kick it there and grab its wallet on the way down," said Brad Jones, House minority leader. "But that's exactly what we did."
A key factor in the budget debate over the next several weeks will be whether the state can afford current spending proposals or whether more cuts will be needed.
Budget writers from the House, Senate, and administration agreed in January to project 3.8 percent in revenue growth for next fiscal year. Since then, the national financial picture has gotten much gloomier, and while state budget officials are bracing for a deteriorating climate, they have not made new predictions.
"The overarching question is, as we head into a recession, is, 'Is it realistic that we can afford this level of spending?' " said Michael J. Widmer, president of the Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation. "The answer is, it's doubtful."
Highlighting the financial difficulties, Patrick yesterday also submitted a request for $267.6 million to pay for unexpected midyear spending increases. The bulk of the spending would go toward paying for unexpected costs from high enrollments in the state's subsidized healthcare program, but it also will cover heavy costs for snow and ice removal.
Revenues this year are running about $772 million above original projections - partly because of one-time tax settlements between the Department of Revenue and some large taxpayers. Budget watchers remain cautious as they wait for the tally from April returns to become clear.
Matt Viser can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
"Pols pork it up again: House Dems pile it on as fiscal crisis looms"
By Casey Ross, April 25, 2008, www.bostonherald.com, Local Politics
State lawmakers are responding to warnings of a fiscal meltdown by larding the budget with $1.3 billion in new spending - much of it pork - that would double next year’s deficit and shower money on golf courses, merry-go-rounds and local parades.
A Herald review of House budget amendments shows that individual lawmakers have proposed hundreds of millions in new expenses, even as their leaders and the state treasurer have cautioned that revenues could drop sharply in the months ahead.
Among the spending requests:
• $1.5 million by Newton Rep. Kay Khan to repair an irrigation system at a Newton golf course;
• $250,000 by Dorchester Rep. Martin Walsh for the Hub’s First Night celebration;
• $100,000 by Holyoke Rep. Michael Kane for his town’s St. Patrick’s Day Parade;
• $50,000 by Kane for a merry-go-round at a state park in Holyoke.
“There’s been all this talk of a $1.3 billion deficit, but I guess we found out where it’s really going,” said House Minority Leader Brad Jones, who has railed against excessive spending. “It’s frustrating, but it’s not surprising.”
Democratic legislators defend their proposals, saying that many of the amendments would pay for legitimate needs such as elder care and substance abuse treatment.
They also argue that the spending items that often bring criticism - the proposals for gazebos and local summer festivals - are a reflection of the myriad requests they get from constituents.
“I strenuously disagree with the notion that this is irresponsible,” said state Rep. Kathi-Anne Reinstein (D-Revere). “We have an obligation to the people of our districts to advocate for things that are important to them.”
Reinstein’s $50 million in requests include tens of millions for elder care and home heating assistance. She also proposes $150,000 for repairs to a local park and $25,000 for summer programs on Revere Beach.
State Rep. Barbara L’Italien (D-Andover) proposes $125 million in new spending, the second most in the Legislature. She said much of the money would pay for special education services - both to expand key programs and help communities cope with ever-rising costs.
“It would go a long way toward assisting communities, and many of the proposals have bipartisan support,” she said.
Jones (R-North Reading) said he agrees that many of the spending requests are legitimate, but his concern is that lawmakers are failing to identify ways to afford their wish lists.
“You still have to ask where you’re going to get the resources,” he said.
Khan, a Newton Democrat, defended her request for $1.5 million to fix the irrigation system at Leo J. Martin Golf Course in Newton.
“If you drive by the golf course in August, it looks like a desert,” Khan said. “Just because we’re talking about a poor economy right now, it doesn’t mean people still can’t do things to improve their health.”
Budget watchdogs say the real test of the House’s fiscal mettle will come next week as lawmakers convene to decide which amendments will be included in the $28 billion budget and which will be rejected.
Said Noah Berger of the Massachusetts Budget and Policy Center: “Representatives have to be careful not to devote money to less-than-crucial services.
Article URL: http://www.bostonherald.com/news/regional/politics/view.bg?articleid=1089510
"Hey, big spenders"
By Casey Ross, April 25, 2008, www.bostonherald.com, Local Politics
Despite a looming budget crunch, some state lawmakers are proposing to add $1.3 billion in new spending next year. Here are five lawmakers looking to add the most to the bottom line:
Rep. Louis Kafka (D-Sharon): $257.1 million ($100,000 “for the design of a youth center in the town of Stoughton”)
Rep. Barbara L’Italien (D-Andover): $125.8 million (including $300,000 “for the purpose of replacing the roof and installing energy-efficient windows at Dr. Caleb Dustin Hunking School,” a Haverhill middle school)
Rep. Cheryl Coakley-Rivera (D-Springfield): $91.2 million (including $250,000 “for the renovation of the Bing Theatre,” a community arts center in Springfield)
Rep. Martin Walsh (D-Dorchester): $76.7 million (including $250,000 for First Night Boston “to maintain and modestly expand its programs and continue its successful marketing efforts”)
Rep. Kathi-Anne Reinstein (D-Revere): $50.6 million (including $150,000 “for improvements to Hill Park and William G. Reinstein Recreation Complex in the city of Revere”)
Here’s a sampling of spending proposals from other lawmakers:
Rep. Kay Khan (D-Newton): $1.5 million ‘for the cost of repairing the irrigation system at Leo J. Martin golf course” in Newton.
Rep. Michael Kane (D-Holyoke): $100,000 for “the Holyoke St. Patrick’s Day Parade Committee.” And $50,000 for “the Merry-Go-Round at Heritage State Park in Holyoke.”
Article URL: http://www.bostonherald.com/news/regional/politics/view.bg?articleid=1089519
"Legislator describes threat as unnerving: Says colleague was upset by prior comments"
By David Abel, (Boston) Globe Staff, May 4, 2008
As state Representative Jennifer M. Callahan listened to a budget debate on the House floor on Thursday, a fellow Democrat approached her and told her he was upset about comments she had previously made about his role in the possible succession of Speaker Salvatore F. DiMasi.
Then, she said, he threatened her, saying: "I want you to know that I'm not only aware of what was said, but I've been in this building a long time and I know a lot of people, and that if I want to I could make your life really difficult. I could really hurt you if I wanted to."
Neither Callahan, a Sutton Democrat, nor other lawmakers would publicly identify the representative who allegedly made the threats.
After a week of debate on a $28 billion budget, Callahan abruptly halted House proceedings on Friday night when she took the floor and told colleagues the other lawmaker "personally threaten[ed] me." DiMasi gaveled the session into a recess as she spoke.
In a telephone interview yesterday, Callahan said the she thought the lawmaker was trying to "silence" her.
"The words used were very unnerving, made me uncomfortable, and I couldn't sleep that night," she said. "I'm not going to let someone make very serious words to me and threaten to hold my legislation hostage, no matter what the motive. I'm just not going to take that - not in the House of Representatives, an institution where we're supposed to be treated with respect. I find that particular kind of behavior extremely insulting."
Political maneuvering and veiled power threats are common on Beacon Hill, but they rarely surface publicly.
Callahan's allegations come after lawmakers have begun lining up with possible successors to DiMasi since the Globe published stories about whether the speaker influenced legislation that benefited his friends.
Lawmakers have been maneuvering to support either House Ways and Means Chairman Robert A. DeLeo or majority leader John H. Rogers as potential successors to DiMasi.
Key backers for DeLeo include Rep resentative Charles A. Murphy, a Democrat from Burlington, and James E. Vallee, a Democrat from Franklin who is vice chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee. Those behind Rogers include Representatives Stephen R. Canessa and John F. Quinn, both Democrats from New Bedford.
Victoria Bonney, a spokeswoman for DiMasi, declined to comment on the alleged threats.
"We're taking it very seriously, but we're not commenting," she said. "I think it speaks for itself. We're looking into it."
Jim Eisenberg, a spokesman for DeLeo, said the chairman played no role in the alleged threats.
"If Chairman DeLeo is interested in becoming speaker, why would he ever condone such tactics?" Eisenberg said. "Any suggestion that Chairman DeLeo would have condoned such tactics doesn't make any sense. He is certainly interested in becoming speaker, but it doesn't quite add up."
Assistant Majority Leader Lida E. Harkins, who has spoken to Callahan about the allegations, also declined to identify the lawmaker. She said she did not know what the consequences would be if the allegations are true.
"I think it's unfortunate, but I think it's isolated, and it will be dealt with," Harkins said. "What the course of it will be, I don't know. I think all the facts have to be determined before any decisions are made."
Representative Eugene L. O'Flaherty, who has also discussed the allegations with Callahan, declined to comment as well. "I'm sure as this matter takes its course, it will be dealt with by the speaker's office," he said. "I think two people may have different versions."
Senator Edward Augustus, a Worcester Democrat whose district abuts Callahan's, was "shocked" when he heard news of the alleged threats. "It was very unusual to hear somebody get up in the middle of the debate and say something like that," Augustus said. "It had to be something that bothered her tremendously."
He said it would be an odd tactic, because lawmakers are well aware that their decisions carry consequences.
"If you push somebody's back against the wall, it usually gets the opposite reaction," he said. "People want to be treated and dealt with in a professional way."
Andrea Estes, Matt Viser, Michael Levenson, and Maria Sacchetti of the Globe staff contributed to this story. David Abel can be reached at email@example.com.
"Rep details colleague threat: Callahan: ‘I will not be silenced’"
By Casey Ross, Sunday, May 4, 2008, www.bostonherald.com, Local Coverage
A state rep who has accused another lawmaker of threatening her during budget deliberations said yesterday she went public to initiate reform in a House chamber where she says some power-hungry reps use intimidation to silence dissenting opinion.
“Some people are more worried about position and power than representing the people who put them up there,” said state Rep. Jennifer Callahan (D-Sutton). “This time, a line was crossed and I’m not going to accept it.”
Callahan reported the threat in a speech on the House floor Friday night. She said she was on the floor Thursday when another representative threatened to harm her career regarding comments she made during the budget debate. According to Callahan, the rep said, “I’ve been in this building for a long time, Jen, and I wanted you to know that I could make things really difficult for you. I mean, Jen, I could really hurt you.”
Callahan said she decided to speak out because of the egregiousness of the alleged conduct.
“It happened right in the middle of the session and that’s why I thought it was appropriate to say that I’m not going to accept that behavior,” she said. “I’m not going to be silenced in that way.”
The allegation was made against a turbulent Beacon Hill backdrop of intense jockeying over the speakership. House Majority Leader John Rogers and Ways and Means Chairman Robert DeLeo are battling to be next in line to succeed Speaker Sal DiMasi, whose position has been weakened by ethics complaints.
As Callahan began openly speaking about the threat on the House floor Friday, DiMasi quickly interrupted her by gaveling the session into an immediate recess. After a brief conversation with the speaker, Callahan returned to the microphone but did not speak any further about the threat.
Callahan declined to reveal the identity of the lawmaker, but she said she has reported the person’s name to DiMasi. “I have spoken to the speaker directly, and he is aware of what happened and who was involved.” She said DiMasi assured her that he will investigate.
Callahan’s decision to address the matter openly on the House floor caused a furor among colleagues who were already on edge thanks to the battle over the speakership.
While Callahan said some reps have grown accustomed to using intimidation, others said they have never felt threatened. “That’s not something I’ve experienced,” said state Rep. Marty Walz (D-Boston). “There are clearly people who try to persuade you to vote one way or another, but I’ve never felt intimidated.”
Article URL: http://www.bostonherald.com/news/regional/general/view.bg?articleid=1091586
"House approves budget"
Saturday, May 03, 2008, By DAN RING, firstname.lastname@example.org, The Springfield Republican Newspaper
BOSTON - With their leader facing accusations of possible ethics violations, members of the state House of Representatives last night finished five days of debate and voted 136-19 to approve a $28.2 billion state budget for the fiscal year beginning July 1.
All the Republicans voted against the vote, believing the $210 million added to it was too much, said House Minority Leader Bradley H. Jones Jr., R-North Reading.
The debate on the budget this week was overshadowed by intense, behind-the-scenes jockeying to replace House Speaker Salvatore F. DiMasi, D-Boston, in case he steps down, according to several legislators.
In addition, Rep. Jennifer M. Callahan, D-Sutton, said on the House floor that earlier this week she was threatened by a colleague she didn't identify.
Callahan, a registered nurse, said the threat came after comments she had made earlier about a palliative-care amendment. "He leveled his eyes at me and said, "I've been in this building a long time, Jen, and I wanted you to know I could make things real difficult for you. ... I could really hurt you if I wanted to," Callahan said of the legislator.
DiMasi banged the gavel and declared a recess, cutting off Callahan.
Late last night she issued a statement saying she had "great respect" for DiMasi. "I brought this situation to the floor and to the members tonight because it is concerning to me and must be dealt with," she said. "I am now addressing it directly with Speaker DiMasi and I am confident it is being taken seriously by him."
House members this week added $210 million in new spending to the budget, including money for scores of pet projects around the state. Spending would be up 5 percent from this year's budget.
Legislators from Western Massachusetts were successful in designating money for favorite programs.
Legislators approved $100,000 to promote and host the annual air show at Westover Metropolitan Airport in Chicopee, $150,000 for the Black Men of Greater Springfield to reduce gang violence and provide other social service and educational programs, $150,000 for the University of Massachusetts at Amherst to control and eliminate the winter worm moth, $145,841 for a program to train volunteers to advocate for abused and neglected children in Springfield juvenile courts, $175,000 to install video cameras in the central business district in Springfield, $200,000 for CityStage in Springfield and $250,000 for the Puerto Rican Cultural Center in Springfield.
Without any debate, the House also voted 144-10 to reject Gov. Deval L. Patrick's plan to save $51 million by forcing most state employees to pay more for health insurance.
The Senate is set to debate and approve its version of the budget this month. A House-Senate compromise is expected to be sent to the governor in June.
Taking up a complaint about "phantom voting," members voted 158-0 to study the possibility of creating a secure roll call system. The vote came after Rep. Charles A. Murphy, D-Burlington, was recorded as taking seven votes in April when he was in the Virgin Islands at the time.
The chairman of the state Republican party, Peter G. Torkildsen, is asking Attorney General Martha M. Coakley to investigate Murphy's votes.
Torkildsen also requested that the attorney general investigate ties between DiMasi and Richard Vitale. Ticket brokers tapped Vitale to advocate for a bill to remove restrictions on their business.
Vitale has provided DiMasi a $250,000 loan secured on his Boston condominium. The speaker has denied that he ever discussed the bill with Vitale.
Republicans also want the state Ethics Commission to investigate if DiMasi attempted to steer a contract to a software company in Burlington.
DiMasi's troubles have sparked a succession battle between the House Ways and Means Chairman Robert A. DeLeo, D-Winthrop, and Majority Leader John H. Rogers, D-Norwood.
Jones said the maneuvering by camps for DeLeo and Rogers was conspicuous and created unease during this week's debate.
Jones said the controversy around DiMasi was "absolutely a distraction" for members.
David R. Guarino, a spokesman for DiMasi, declined comment on the Republican call for an investigation. He said DiMasi plans to run for re-election this year and then in January seek re-election as speaker.
"On all these matters, the speaker's actions have been completely appropriate," Guarino said.
"Budget debate week roundup: No ‘restraint,’ a big ‘distraction’"
By Lindsey Parietti
GateHouse News Service
Posted May 02, 2008 @ 05:14 PM
BOSTON — Two weeks after House budget leaders touted $109 million in spending cuts and talked solemnly of recession and the budget deficit, House members spent the week adding that money and more to the fiscal 2009 budget.
Park, youth and veterans projects were among the local earmarks restored to the $28.1 billion document, which was still growing as of Friday evening.
“The House is not behaving as if we’re heading into a recession,” said Michael Widmer, president of the Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation, who expressed concern that the state would deplete its reserves if lawmakers don’t rein in spending.
“Things have held up better here, but inevitably we can’t escape a national recession, and even without a recession, we already have a deficit,” he said of the state’s $1.3 billion budget gap.
As expected, late nights and closed-door discussions filled the week, but new elements -- phantom voting, GOP ethics allegations against House Speaker Salvatore DiMasi and behind-the-scenes maneuvering among his would-be successors -- complicated House budget debate this year.
DiMasi repeatedly reminded lawmakers to cast their own votes after it was reported last month that Rep. Charles Murphy, D-Burlington, had seven votes recorded in his name while he was in St. Croix. Murphy has said that he did not authorize anyone to vote for him.
State Republicans filed ethics complaints and demanded that Attorney General Martha Coakley investigate DiMasi’s relationship with friend Richard Vitale, who allegedly acted as a lobbyist without registering with the secretary of state.
According to a Boston Globe report, Vitale helped DiMasi get a $250,000 loan after accepting money from ticket brokers to help move a ticket resale bill through the House.
“It hasn’t been a crippling or disabling distraction, but it certainly has been a distraction,” said House Minority Leader Rep. Bradley Jones.
DiMasi’s office did not return calls for comment.
According to the State House News Service, Rep. David Linsky, D-Natick, who DiMasi recently appointed to the House Ways and Means Committee, is one of several representatives lobbying members to support committee chairman Rep. Robert DeLeo, D-Winthrop, for speaker.
Linsky declined to respond to the report.
Jones said the House is poised to increase the budget more than it ever has through amendments.
“I haven’t seen the restraint that I quite frankly thought we might see, or hoped we might see given the messages that we’ve been hearing.”
Among the local earmarks added to the House budget this week are:
- $375,000 for elderly housing services through several organizations including the Jewish Family Service of MetroWest
- $30,000 for the Veterans Oral History Project at the Morse Institute Library in Natick
- $34,393 for a grant to United Way of Tri-County at the Milford Youth Center
- $145,000 for the Framingham Coalition for substance abuse prevention
- $50,000 for teen programs through the Ashland Recreational Department
- $100,000 for Project Just Because in Hopkinton, which distributes food and clothing to those in danger of becoming homeless
- $100,000 to clean invasive plant species from Lake Cochituate
Before heading back into House deliberations yesterday, Linsky said he also expected the House to approve $250,000 for the 495/MetroWest Corridor Partnership, as well as extend the state program that pays the difference of public employees’ salaries while they serve the military.
“Military officers don’t get paid a lot of money, yet they’re leaving family behind that have the same gas bill, the same electric bill, and the same mortgage to pay,” he said.
“When we first passed the bill in 2002, we never imagined we would still be in Iraq, but whether we support this war or not, we have a duty to take care of (those who serve the military).”
“It’s an extremely difficult budget year, and yet many of the amendments I requested got in the budget,” said Rep. Pam Richardson, D-Framingham, who asked for money for teen pregnancy, dual language immersion and housing programs, among others.
“It’s just not the right year,” she said of a $1 million earmark she filed to restore Nevins Hall, which the House rejected.
Daily News staff writer Lindsey Parietti can be reached at email@example.com
(A Boston) GLOBE EDITORIAL
"A business-as-usual budget"
May 6, 2008
MASSACHUSETTS tax collections in April soared 17.1 percent compared with a year ago. But this news, announced yesterday, shouldn't cause the Legislature to abandon all restraint on spending. The figures largely reflect the strength of the economy last year, before the full impact of the housing loan crisis. And the extra money that flowed to the Department of Revenue is needed for long-term commitments, including education aid and health-insurance expansion.
The House, perhaps sensing the good news, voted Saturday to increase the $28 billion budget proposed by the Ways and Means Committee by $200 million before sending it on to the Senate. A $12.4 million tourism line item in the committee budget ballooned to $34.2 million, thanks to spending on such attractions as the Boston Symphony Orchestra summer home at Tanglewood ($200,000), the Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield ($300,000), the Grand Army of the Republic Museum in Lynn ($100,000), the Waltham Tourism Council ($100,000), and the Central Square Theater in Cambridge ($100,000). The state has more pressing responsibilities.
The growth in revenue last month probably means that the state will end the 2008 fiscal year without a shortfall. The budget under consideration by the Legislature is for fiscal '09, which begins July 1, when projections become murky. The Legislature is right to revise the corporate tax code to remove loopholes, but these may not generate all the anticipated money, lottery revenues are uncertain, and the snow-plowing accounts for next winter will no doubt be too low. Health insurance funding is also a concern.
Given these worries, it was disappointing that the House missed a chance to make a long-term improvement in the way the state allocates its resources. It rejected a plan supported by Governor Patrick and the Ways and Means Committee to ask higher-paid state workers to contribute a higher percentage toward their health insurance. The $45 million in savings could have been spent on education or healthcare for the needy.
Because of the revenue surge, the state income tax rate will be going down slightly, from 5.3 to 5.25 percent, the result of a law intended to blunt voter anger over the Legislature's decision in 2002 not to drop the rate to 5 percent. Given its commitments, the state can't afford 5 percent.
But a business-as-usual budget, full of local goodies, invites a voter backlash, and an initiative petition to abolish the income tax is expected to be on the budget this November. The Senate needs to devise a more responsible budget.
May 6, 2008
Dear Boston Globe Editorial Idiots!, News Media, Pols, & the People:
The Globe's idiotic editorial bothers me on so many levels:
#1 - The Globe criticizes legislative earmarks for Western Massachusetts pork items such as Tanglewood and the Basketball Hall of Fame. Well, Boston Globe Editorial Idiots!, the biggest pork barrel item breaks all records:
Boston's BIG DIG! (The Central Artery/Third Harbor Tunnel Project). The single most expensive and wasteful and dangerous and fatal and leaky...public works project in the history of the United States of America!
Please go to my Blog page:
You, Boston Globe Editorial Idiots!, even criticized Congressman John Olver's pork for Central & Western Massachusetts, but you actually have the temerity to defend The Big Dig, which is going to be submersed under tons of water and debris after it implodes in the next 50 years.
Also, during the FY2002 - FY2004 Massachusetts State Budgets, the state balanced its books on the backs of its cities & towns. This crushed Western Massachusetts with higher property tax rates & fees. Why not mention the inequitable history of the Massachusetts Budget against the financial interests of working class and rural communities?
#2 - Massachusetts Health Care "Reform" is an unfunded liability with no real funding source on the state government level.
Please go to my Blog pages:
Last year's Massachusetts Budget took $300 Million of the federal dollars for health reform & transferred it into the General Fund. How is the state going to pay for this year's increased amount by a factor of 10 times the rate of inflation over last year?
#3 - So the state cannot afford to have a 5% state income tax rate, but it can afford to pay for health care "reform" with no state funding source in sight?
In closing, the Globe's editorial on this year's state House proposed FY09 Massachusetts is terrible! The Globe picks on hard-hit areas like Western Massachusetts, but says nothing about the aftermath of Boston's "Big Dig". Moreover, Health Care Reform is going to cost the state nearly $1 billion with no state financing in place. Lastly, the Globe protests the promised 5% state income tax rate, but not the financial mismanagement of a state facing a recurring & annual +$1 billion budget deficit.
Jonathan A. Melle
~Former lifelong citizen of Massachusetts~
The Boston Globe, May 6, 2008
"State collects more than $2.7b in revenue"
The state Revenue Department says it collected more than $2.7 billion in April, an increase of $400 million compared with the same month a year ago. Commissioner Navjeet Bal announced the 17.1 percent increase yesterday, days after the House wrapped up its preliminary budget work and before the Senate was scheduled to begin its debate on the 2009 fiscal year spending plan. Governor Deval Patrick has said the state faces a budget deficit of more than $1 billion. Revenue figures are usually available the first day of every month, but they were released nearly a week late. The administration denied delaying the announcement to influence the House budget debate. Collections for this year total more than $7.1 billion, an increase of $1.2 billion from last year. (AP)
"Rep. Kaprielian named motor vehicle registrar"
By Jillian Jorgensen, (Boston) Globe Correspondent, May 22, 2008
State Representative Rachel Kaprielian has been appointed registrar of motor vehicles, Governor Deval Patrick's office announced yesterday.
Kaprielian, a Democrat representing Watertown and part of Cambridge, is in her seventh term. She will replace the outgoing registrar, Anne Collins, who accepted a senior staff position in the Executive Office of Transportation. Kaprielian will have to give up her House seat.
The appointment was met with criticism from the state Republican Party, whose spokesman said Kaprielian lacks experience.
"I don't see how a career politician and state representative is qualified to manage a multimillion-dollar state agency, considering we finally seem to have streamlined the RMV and made it more efficient," Barney Keller, state Republican Party spokesman, said last night about the appointment to the Registry of Motor Vehicles.
Kaprielian has a master's degree in public administration from Harvard University's John F. Kennedy School of Government and is a lawyer.
"I've been in public service for 15 years," she said. "I have a long record of service and accomplishment."
Kaprielian praised her predecessor and said there is always room for innovation, initiative, and positive change.
Kaprielian's husband, John Gannon, a Somerville city solicitor, has been charged three times with operating under the influence. Two counts were combined, and he was convicted on both.
"Any personal matter of any friends and family to me will not have any bearing whatsoever on my capacity as registrar," she said.
"Patrick taps Watertown rep to head RMV: Gov. Deval Patrick today tapped State rep. Rachel Kaprielian to lead the state’s Registry of Motor Vehicles following the departure of Anne Collins, who was moved to a senior transportation policy position."
The Boston Herald Online, June 11, 2008
Kaprielian will leave the House after serving seven terms as a lawmaker. She has focused on legislation affecting local government, pension reform and child care.
Seeking to beef up his internal strategy team, Patrick also appointed former Travaglini aide Arthur Bernard as a senior policy adviser. Bernard had been working at UMass Boston as vice chancellor of government affairs.
The move put two former Travaglini aides in top positions in the Patrick administration. David Morales was named a top strategist last year.
What strikes me is Rachel Kaprielian was the lead sponsor of legislation to allow municipalities to coalition bargain with unions to enter the GIC. I heard that as the bill progressed through both chambers that she grew dissatisfied with aspects of its debates, and I wonder if that led in part to the RMV move.
In either case, well done… and another good choice in Art Bernard.
hmmm……………a Patrick caimpaign supporter gets the job…looks like just because anne collins was appointed by weld, she got the boot. Patrick comes up with a replacement within 2 weeks??? This wasn’t planned??? For all of her support, during the campaign and current legistlations, Rachel was promised a job. Too bad, because Anne Collins was one of the best and most effective registrars this state has seen. Way to nepotize Patrick. You got my vote for governer but you will not ever get it again. Shame on you.
Rachel didn’t support Deval in the primary. She supported Tom Reilly.
"Kaprielian eyes changes in RMV"
By Conor Berry, Berkshire Eagle Staff
Friday, June 20, 2008
PITTSFIELD — Better, faster and smarter.
That's the mantra of Rachel Kaprielian, the newly minted chief of the Massachusetts Registry of Motor Vehicles, who aims to turn the old RMV into a customer-friendly agency that is more accountable to commonwealth drivers.
As registrar — her official title — Kaprielian is embarking on a tour of all 35 brick-and-mortar RMV branches in Massachusetts. And yesterday's visits to RMV branches in Pittsfield and North Adams were the first stops on her statewide tour.
Registrar for just three weeks, Kaprielian already is earning positive reviews, including praise from local lawmakers.
State Sen. Benjamin B. Downing and Reps. William "Smitty" Pignatelli and Christopher N. Speranzo were with Kaprielian when she visited the Pittsfield branch on East Street, where they discussed ways to enhance RMV services to county residents.
Kaprielian was mindful of the politicians' concerns, many of which centered around the Berkshires' geographic isolation from the rest of the state. Downing said Berkshire County, "for all intents and purposes," is an island not unlike those off the coast of Cape Cod.
Pignatelli agreed: "We are that island. We are somewhat isolated from the realities of Boston," adding that the region's media market includes Albany television stations and The Berkshire Eagle, not Boston TV stations and newspapers.
In these parts, Pignatelli declared, "Nobody reads the (Boston) Herald."
They were echoing a long-standing Western Massachusetts lament: Beacon Hill bureaucrats think the state ends at Worcester. In reality, there's not only a whole lot of land west of Worcester, but west of Springfield as well.
"You're an hour out from Springfield," said Kaprielian, sounding somewhat surprised and noting her sensitivity to the geography issue.
Kaprielian, a 14-year state representative from Watertown prior to accepting the statewide RMV job, is a former colleague of Pignatelli and Speranzo, both of whom lauded her commitment to constituents.
"Her life has been about service," said Pignatelli, encouraged by the fact that Kaprielian has expressed concern for the state's geographic disparities and inequities.
Although her goal is to make the agency more efficient and user-friendly, Kaprielian said, that does not mean eliminating RMV jobs. Rather, her focus will be on increasing the agency's efficiency and responsiveness to customers.
"How can we do things better, faster and smarter?" she asked rhetorically.
Massachusetts' RMV was the first in the nation to offer online transactions for the agency's roughly 6 million customers. And those services always are updated and improved, according to Kaprielian.
Part of her mission is to learn more about what customers want, she said, encouraging the public to maker their wishes known.
On May 30, Kaprielian was sworn in by Massachusetts Transportation Secretary Bernard Cohen as the state's 17th RMV registrar. Cohen said her wide-ranging "legislative, legal and public policy experience" was a perfect fit for the RMV. Gov. Deval L. Patrick appointed her to the post, which includes overseeing a statewide staff of 800 employees.
As a lawmaker, Kaprielian advocated for everything from pension reform and job training to anti-tobacco policies and early intervention and care for children, among other issues.
A Watertown resident, Kaprielian graduated from the College of the Holy Cross in 1990. She earned a law degree from Suffolk University in 2000 and a master's degree in public administration from Harvard University in 2003.
To reach Conor Berry: firstname.lastname@example.org, (413) 496-6249.
"New registrar tours Berkshire County"
The North Adams Transcript Online Newspaper - TheTranscript.com
Friday, June 20, 2008
NORTH ADAMS -- A trip from Pittsfield to North Adams proved to be a little longer than expected for the new state Registrar of Motor Vehicles on Thursday, as she made the rounds to both Berkshire County facilities.
Registrar Rachel Kaprielian was sworn into office at the end of May and has been touring all the major RMV facilities in the state to get a feel for how things are done.
"It's important to let people know we see there's more to this sate past Springfield," she said, standing in the lobby of the North Adams RMV. "That's part of the decision to start west and work east, because I am aware that the people in the Berkshires feel like the people in Boston aren't always thinking about them. This is as much Massachusetts as right downtown in Boston and I wanted to see what it looked like, felt like out here."
Kaprielian said she has been getting a feel for the people and the regional differences -- including the distances that need to be traveled from one town to the other. As rumors swirl about the possibility of shutting down one or both of the Berkshire County registries, she said the long trips to the western part of the state have enlightened her.
"I think we have to be very mindful of how hard it is to get to Springfield from the Berkshires," she said. "It is a very long way to Springfield, and I know that, I appreciate it and that will factor largely into such discussions if something like that comes up. Even North Adams to Pittsfield. I've been to both before but not from one to the other ... I come from a denser part of the world and I need to take that into account."
On a more local level, Kaprielian said the North Adams RMV's impending move to 33 Main Street may not be such a bad thing. Earlier this year, the Planning Board approved the move to be effective at the beginnign of next year. The registry is located on Curran Highway, but the owners of its current location failed to enter their bid for the 10-year lease on time. A courier carrying the bid proposal missed the deadline by 20 minutes. Mayor John Barrett III has said he believes the location will cause further congestion at the busy Marshall and Main streets intersections.
"Busy is in the eye of the beholder," Kaprielian said. "I think the important thing is serving the customer and serving the customer well. You have the benefit of one-stop shopping. If you're going to the registry, you can walk to the pizzeria, the bank, what have you."
She said the new location could help stimulate the local economy by being another anchor to attract people to the downtown.
Some detractors of Kaprielian down Boston-way have been critical of her supposed lack of experience to run the state registry.
"There's a lot of things that go into a job of this nature," she said. "It certainly requires a great deal of management capability. I have experience in public administration and I have been in the legislature for 13 and a half years. And that's kind of the ultimate customer service kind of job. And I believe the thing about the registry is that it's first and foremost about customer service."
Kaprielian said one of the ways she wants to promote customer service is to create more web-based initiatives for RMVs around the state. The Massachusetts RMV was the first to go online with a number of different real-time services around the turn of the century -- including checking on driver's ed certifications, looking up titles, looking up registration information and renewing state identification cards. Kaprielian said she wants to keep up this level of innovation as long as she's in charge.
"One obvious way to keep up with technological solutions and do more on the web," she said. "I know that can get difficult out here because there are a few communities that aren't wired to broadband access. But there's an information technology bond bill that will hopefully be passed by the state legislature before the end of the session on July 25 in which could help such communities and make the system more upgraded and open to technologically innovation
"Too much, wrong time"
The Berkshire Eagle: Editorials
Monday, June 23, 2008
While good salaries attract good candidates for public office, the pay increases recommended by a five-member commission Friday are too substantial and couldn't come at a worse economic time, with residents struggling to pay their mortgages and fill their gas tanks. We like the board's recommended restriction on outside salaries for the House speaker and Senate president to avoid potential conflicts of interest, and hope that will come about some day in exchange for modest pay increases for both — but not the proposed 70 percent hike over their current $93,237 salaries. We agree with Governor Patrick, Speaker DiMasi and President Murray, who said Friday they would reject salary hikes, that now is not the time.
Just by visiting the state Registry of Motor Vehicles offices in Pittsfield and North Adams, as she did last week, new registrar Rachel Kaprielian demonstrated an understanding of the Berkshires' concern that it is routinely overlooked by state officials and the bureaucracies they oversee. She acknowledged the area's geographic isolation from the power center in Boston, and that isolation makes the efficient operation of local offices, like the two RMV offices, so important to residents. A continuation of the RMV's recent technological innovations, which Ms. Kaprielian made mention of last week, will play a big role in helping Berkshire drivers keep informed of and respond to the RMV's requirements.
"State's $28b budget delayed: Taxes, healthcare are sticking points"
By Matt Viser, (Boston) Globe Staff, July 1, 2008
It's July 1. Do you know where your state budget is?
In what has become an annual ritual, Massachusetts lawmakers are blowing the deadline on the start of the new fiscal year, engaging in extra-inning negotiations, and passing a stopgap budget to keep state government running while they try to work out their differences.
House and Senate budget writers were not talking yesterday, but officials said the main sticking points blocking agreement on the $28 billion plan were corporate income taxes, legislative earmarks, and how much federal money to expect to support the state's health insurance efforts.
"You would have expected it to be done by now," said state Senator Richard R. Tisei, a Wakefield Republican who is the Senate minority leader, said of the latest in a long string of overdue budgets.
"I don't know if it's human nature or just the way this place is run," he said, "but it seems like there's not a lot of planning or cooperating between the branches, and that prevents things from getting done."
While they were not able to produce the fiscal 2009 budget on time, legislators did approve one aspect of the plan yesterday, a $1-per-pack hike of the cigarette tax rate. The increase, which still needs the governor's signature, would raise an estimated $174 million in revenues. It would push the price of a pack of cigarettes to $6.41, nearly 40 percent of which would be taxes.
A committee of six lawmakers - three from the House, three from the Senate - has been meeting for weeks behind closed doors. The meetings over how to spend the $28 billion are held in private, making it difficult to determine when talks will wrap up. House Speaker Salvatore F. DiMasi and Senate President Therese Murray would not comment yesterday, and even rank-and-file members said they were not quite sure what is causing the delay.
Later in the day, the chairmen of the House and Senate committees on Ways and Means released a joint statement. Enlightenment on progress was in short supply, but it did contain an abundance of generalities.
"The House and Senate are working to resolve differences between our respective budgets as soon as possible," read the statement, signed by Representative Robert A. DeLeo, a Winthrop Democrat, and Senator Steven C. Panagiotakos, a Lowell Democrat. "Our shared goal in that effort is to produce a budget that improves quality of life, stimulates regional economic growth, and places the Commonwealth on solid fiscal ground."
To keep the government running, Governor Deval Patrick signed last week a $1 billion temporary budget that allows the state to pay its bills for two weeks into July. Lawmakers are hoping to get a plan approved by the end of the week, and the governor will have 10 days to review it and issue any vetoes.
"We have been working very harmoniously, and we're getting there," said Senator Stephen M. Brewer, a Warren Democrat who is a member of the conference committee. "We will have a budget in the next three days."
Delayed budgets have become a virtual standard on Beacon Hill, although budget observers said that in recent years Democratic lawmakers submitted their budgets early to avoid being blamed for delays by Governor Mitt Romney, a Republican.
In 1999, budget deliberations between House Speaker Thomas M. Finneran and Senate President Thomas F. Birmingham languished until mid-November. Two years later, negotiations went even further, and the budget was not completed until Dec. 5. Massachusetts was the only state operating without a budget, and it was the longest delay since 1965, when the Legislature approved its spending plan on Dec. 31.
"It's one thing to have it a few days late," said Michael J. Widmer, president of the Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation. "It's another to have it several weeks or months late."
This year, the budget holdups appear to be less epic.
"In a negotiating process, one side has to give in to the other, and nobody wants to be the first to give in," said Noah Berger, executive director of the Massachusetts Budget and Policy Center.
This year, lawmakers have clashed over how sharply to change corporate income tax codes, tightening rules while simultaneously trimming the corporate tax rate. The House plan for changes would bring in an additional $135 million for the state, while the Senate plan would bring in $297 million.
There are also disagreements over a House amendment that would open the door to offshore tax breaks. Under the provision, large corporations could avoid state taxes by maintaining large portions of their business operations overseas.
Budget writers are also unsure how much money to dedicate to the state's healthcare law. The state has been negotiating with federal officials over extending a Medicaid waiver that helps subsidize coverage for low-income residents. The waiver was set to expire June 30, but federal officials have allowed for an extension. In the meantime, the clock is ticking.
"If it's a week or two, it's not a big deal," said Jim Stergios, executive director of the Pioneer Institute. "But if it's more than that, it can really grind the wheels of government services to a halt."
Matt Viser can be reached at email@example.com.
"Cigarette tax kicking butt"
By Brian Mastroianni, Berkshire Eagle Staff
Wednesday, July 02, 2008
PITTSFIELD — Smokers felt the first burn of the state's new $1 tax increase on cigarettes yesterday.
"It's disgusting, people can't live today with all of these taxes, it's killing business," said a patron of A-Mart on North Street, who identified himself as "Stoney."
The statewide cigarette tax increase of $1 went into effect yesterday, after passage in the Legislature late Monday and Gov. Deval L. Patrick's signature yesterday.
In January, the average nationwide price of a pack of cigarettes was $4.25, as reported by a study tracking state cigarette prices, but in Massachusetts, an average pack cost $5.41.
With the total tax now at $2.51, Massachusetts now has the third highest cigarette tax in the nation, behind New York and New Jersey.
Projections are that the tax hike will raise up to $174 million in revenues to help support the state's health insurance programs. Medical News Today, an online newsletter reported in February that the state's subsidized health insurance coverage could cost the state as much as $1.35 billion over the next several years.
"If they were smart, they would have the same tax that New Hampshire has," said Mark Parrott, manager of A-Mart in Pittsfield, where he was tagging new prices yesterday.
The Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids reports that New Hampshire's cigarette tax is $1.08 per pack.
"They claim that they will raise $175 million with this tax increase, but they will actually raise less, because they are not going to get the same number of consumers that they had before," said Parrott. "Some are going to quit smoking, and others are going to go to (buy in) other states."
For smokers, the cigarette tax adds to the increasing cost of gas and other commodities. But lawmakers hope the new tax will cause consumers to quit smoking.
But some smokers won't quit.
"Smoking is undoubtedly an addiction, in fact, it is more addictive than many more expensive drugs," said Emily Blanchard, community health worker for the Berkshire Area Health Education Center.
"Everyone has their own individual struggles, for one person it might be more difficult to quit than it would be for another person," she said.
During the month of June, the state was offering free two-week supplies of nicotine patches to individuals who called 1-800-trytostop. The program may continue depending on how successful it was, Blanchard told the Eagle.
Though Gloria Wilson feels the tax is too much, none of her friends seem upset by the increased tax, she said.
For many smokers, cigarette use has been a part of their lifestyles since they were teenagers, said Wilson, a Pittsfield resident.
"I have smoked since I was 14," she said.
Pittsfield resident Anne Bishop, who was smoking a cigarette at a North Street park on Tuesday, said she's been smoking since she was in high school.
"I could quit if I wanted to, I have in the past, I could quit if they kept increasing the tax," Bishop said, but she indicated no intentions of quitting now.
She said cigarettes are not the products that should receive a tax increase.
"I think instead of increasing (the tax on) cigarettes, they should increase a liquor tax," Bishop said. "Drinking is more of a problem to quit, they should increase an alcohol tax. People drink, and then that makes them smoke more," she said.
Brian Mastroianni can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
"Legislature approves $28.2 billion budget"
The Boston Globe Online, July 3, 2008, 3:13 PM
By Matt Viser, Globe Staff
House and Senate lawmakers this afternoon approved a $28.2 billion budget, ushering through a spending plan that relies heavily on higher taxes and spending from reserve funds to increase spending in local aid, education, and healthcare.
Meanwhile, Governor Deval Patrick today signed into law a major corporate tax reform package that will prevent corporations from declaring some of their profits in states with more favorable tax rates.
Patrick had been seeking the changes -- which will raise $285 million in new state revenue next year -- but his proposals have been rebuffed by House Speaker Salvatore F. DiMasi.
"I want to thank my partners in the Legislature for their work in passing this important legislation," Patrick said in a statement.
The budget also relies on a $1-per-pack increase in the state's cigarette tax, which will bring in $174 million.
Republicans immediately pounced on the spending items, which come during rising healthcare costs and an uncertain financial future.
“Beacon Hill Democrats are addicted to spending, period,” said Rob Willington, the executive director of the Massachusetts Republican Party. “...This budget, which is coming three days late already, contains enough pork in it to make BLTs for the whole Commonwealth.”
The budget also includes changing the name of the Department of Mental Retardation to the Department of Developmental Services.
The final budget also includes a plan to grant a cost of living adjustment for the pensions of about 250,000 state and teacher retirees. A controversial proposal that would have allowed municipal employees to opt in was removed.
“We’re very disappointed,” said Ralph White, president of the Retired State, County, and Municipal Employees Association of Massachusetts. “We’ll have to fight again next year.”
It is still uncertain whether additional adjustments to the budget will be needed. The state has been negotiating with federal officials over extending a Medicaid waiver that helps subsidize coverage for low-income residents. The waiver was set to expire June 30, but federal officials have allowed for a two- to four-week extension for more negotiations. The state budget assumes those will come out in the state's favor; if they don't, it could create a budget gap of hundreds of millions of dollars.
The budget approval comes several days late, which required Patrick last week to approve a $1 billion temporary budget that allows the state to continue paying its bills for two weeks into July. The governor now has 10 days to review the budget before offering any vetoes, which will likely include some of the earmarks stuck in by the Legislature.
"Beacon Hill grab bag"
The Boston Globe, Editorial, July 7, 2008
THE MASSACHUSETTS Legislature tends to practice crisis management: waiting for deadlines or threats to spur last-minute action. This year is no different. With the $28.2 billion state budget at last behind them, legislators have just 19 working days left to dispatch thousands of bills. We have a few of our own policy priorities that we hope will become law before the month ends:
Locking crime's revolving door
Ex-offenders looking to lead productive lives often run headfirst into unforgiving criminal background checks by employers using the state's Criminal Offender Record Information system, or CORI. Governor Patrick's CORI reform bill would seal such records sooner - 10 years instead of 15 for felonies and five years instead of 10 for misdemeanors. Sensibly, the reduced waiting period would not apply to sex offenders.
Criminals don't have much clout in the Legislature or enjoy public sympathy. But with few exceptions, they will be getting out of prison and returning to their neighborhoods. Lawmakers should step up and support a bill that maximizes the chances of successful reentry. Lawmakers could further strengthen public safety by combining CORI reform with another Patrick bill calling for mandatory post-release supervision for all inmates.
Facts need to be free
A shield law for journalists doesn't just protect nosy reporters; it is also a shield for whistle-blowers who will only provide crucial information with the assurance of anonymity. Any number of groundbreaking stories - from the Abu Ghraib prison scandal to conditions at the Walter Reed Army hospital - relied on confidential sources.
Thirty-three states have shield laws to protect journalists from being compelled to name confidential sources or turn over notes or other privileged material. Massachusetts is not yet one of them. The Free Flow of Information Act, currently in the Judiciary Committee, is not a blank check but strikes a reasonable balance between freedom and security. Although the bill could be tightened to make clear whether protections should extend to bloggers and other modern-day pamphleteers, it is a moderate proposal that protects the public's right to know.
Expelling junk food from class
Childhood obesity is a statewide problem. Many communities have imposed bans on junk food in school vending machines, and this ought to be the norm. A bill in the House would establish the policy throughout Massachusetts, and encourage educators to teach young people how to eat right.
The bill, championed by Representative Peter Koutoujian of Watertown, would rely on the state Department of Public Health to set standards for foods not part of the federal school lunch program. This sensible proposal is stuck in the Ways and Means Committee. By itself, eliminating junk foods at school won't solve the obesity problem. That requires a lifestyle change combining exercise and healthier eating. But a ban would encourage schools to nudge youngsters toward healthier lives.
Happier mothers, healthier babies
One no-cost way to improve nutrition and health in the state is to encourage more mothers to breast-feed their babies for longer periods. Bills sponsored by Senator Susan Fargo of Lincoln and Representative David Linsky of Natick would establish the right of women to nurse in public without being charged with lewdness. Massachusetts is one of few states without such protection for nursing mothers. According to the US Food and Drug Administration, embarrassment at the disapproval breast-feeding often elicits is a major reason that women choose not to nurse.
Breast-fed children have fewer ear infections, less obesity, and less diabetes. The country could save $3.6 billion a year in healthcare costs if all babies had only breast milk in the first six months and at least some in the next six, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics. "I would be happy with either bill going forward," said Linsky, and so would nursing mothers who have been harassed at malls and restaurants.
Hang up and drive
Cellphones are a convenience that becomes a distraction when used while driving. The House had the good sense to approve a plan that would drastically curtail their use, and the Senate should follow suit.
The bill would prohibit junior operators (those 16 or 17 years old) from using any kind of cellphone, and limit older motorists to hands-free devices. Opponents argue that public education is better than a ban, and raise the specter of the "nanny state."
But driving is a privilege that, because of its potential for death or injury, needs to be tightly regulated. Massachusetts prohibits motorists from wearing headphones, and a phone stuck to a driver's ear is just as distracting. The bill would mandate fines for all violators and license suspensions for young drivers. The best education for motorists would be the prospect of these penalties.
"Audit finds failings at Registry: Scores of violators allowed to drive"
By John C. Drake, (Boston) Globe Staff, July 10, 2008
The Massachusetts Registry of Motor Vehicles allowed thousands of repeat drunk drivers, chronic speeders, and even motorists convicted of vehicular homicide to stay on the road despite judges' orders that they lose their driving privileges, according to a report by the state auditor released yesterday.
The audit also found that Registry officials failed in another key area: auto excise taxes. The auditors said owners of luxury vehicles including Ferraris and Lamborghinis got away with paying a fraction of what they owed, costing municipalities millions of dollars.
Rachel Kaprielian, who was recently named registrar, said in response to the audit that the Registry has been aware of its stumbles and is working on solutions. She called the failure to promptly suspend and revoke licenses of motorists convicted in the court system "the most immediate and pressing challenge" facing the agency.
The review by state Auditor Joseph DeNucci found that the Registry allowed about 7,500 to 9,000 drivers to keep their licenses for two to four years after judges ordered that their driving privileges be suspended or revoked.
The problem, identified by analyzing the results of court proceedings in 2005 and 2006, stems from the absence of a good system at either the Registry or courthouses to enter the results of court proceedings onto Registry computers, the audit found.
"Too many motorists are staying on the road long after their licenses have been suspended or revoked," DeNucci said in an interview. "I'm optimistic that my audit findings and recommendations will lead to corrective action that will make our roads safer for everyone."
An advocate of tough penalties for drunk drivers said he has previously heard that Registry computers are not kept up to date.
"They don't take away someone's right to drive for nothing," Ron Bersani, whose 13-year-old granddaughter Melanie Powell was the namesake of Melanie's Law, the 2005 law that increased penalties for repeat drunk drivers. "Really, that's inexcusable. If the courts have gone so far as taking away someone's right to drive, then clearly they're a danger."
DeNucci's audit does not address how many of the motorists violated driving laws again, while they should have had their licenses suspended or revoked, but there is anecdotal evidence that the gaps in the system have serious consequences.
A Milton firefighter who was nearly killed by a repeat drunk driver last summer. The driver, C.W. Tolbert Jr. should not have been driving following his second drunken driving conviction. After Tolbert's sentencing, Kaprielian said the registry had not been notified by the courts of the conviction.
Kaprielian said in an interview that the Registry needs the cooperation of the state's trial courts to fix the problem. She is assembling a group of representatives from the Registry, the trial courts, the Executive Office of Public Safety, State Police, and the Criminal History Systems Board to close the reporting gap.
"Any lag time where we have someone driving who shouldn't be is too long," she said. "We are very much aware of the matter."
A trial court spokeswoman, Joan Kenney, said the court system is working on getting electronic reports into its new computer system, which is being tested in the East Boston and Ayer district courts.
In the other major finding, DeNucci's office said that for at least two years, owners of some fancy cars were drastically underbilled for their auto excise taxes, causing Massachusetts communities to lose out on millions in revenues. The audit did not contain a specific estimate of the losses.
Since some luxury cars do not have assigned values in the Kelley Blue Book, a common guide on auto values, an automated Registry system assigned them a default value of $17,000 in 2003 and 2004. That means the owner of a new Maserati with a sale value of $325,000 paid taxes of $382.50, instead of the $7,312 the owner otherwise would have paid, according to the audit.
Then from 2005 to 2007, owners of vehicles without assigned values were sent no excise tax bills at all. The problem also applied to many large trucks, buses, and custom campers that could have values up to $1.5 million.
"The owners of these types of vehicles haven't been paying close to their fair share of auto excise taxes," DeNucci said.
Kaprielian said the problem was discovered last year. She said vehicle owners who received no bills at all have been sent bills to cover all three years. But the Registry cannot send new bills to exotic car owners who underpaid, because of state rules, she said.
"If they had paid, the Department of Revenue bars us from collecting again," Kaprielian said. "It's always something we need to be aware of, making sure owners of obscure luxury cars are being assessed at their value."
Donna S. VanderClock, Weston's town manager, said that municipalities had been notified of the problem about six months ago but that she did not know how severely it had affected her town's budget.
"Of course, car values should be stated correctly, and people should be taxed on whatever their fair market value of their vehicle is," she said. "The values are set by the Registry, so it's out of our control."
John C. Drake can be reached at email@example.com.
"Lawmakers conclude session with flurry of activity"
The Associated Press, Friday, August 01, 2008
BOSTON (AP) — The Legislature has completed the formal portion of its two-year session with a flurry of action, sending a number of major bills to Gov. Deval Patrick while relegating others to the scrap heap.
Lawmakers authorized more than $10 billion dollars in borrowing for capital projects and also voted to restore $56.4 million of the $122.4 million in spending vetoed from the budget by the governor.
The Legislature also gave final approval to a health care cost reform measure, a refinancing plan for the Massachusetts Turnpike Authority and a bill requiring the state to reduce greenhouse gas emissions 20 percent by the year 2020.
The session was supposed to conclude at midnight, but was extended to 1:30 a.m. today before final adjournment.
Items failing to win final approval included an Election Day voter-registration bill and a proposal to replace the Electoral College with a direct popular vote for president.
The Berkshire Eagle - Editorial
August 22, 2008
"A ban on trans fats"
Trans fats increase the risk of heart disease, stroke and type 2 diabetes by increasing bad cholesterol and decreasing the good form. Their sole purpose when introduced to foods is to increase shelf life, a "benefit" not worth their risk. According to a Harvard School of Public Health study, a ban on trans fats would prevent one in four heart attacks, which would translate to reduced health care costs. At the urging of Representative Peter J. Koutoujian, Public Health Commissioner John Auerbach has announced his support of a statewide ban on the use of trans fats, though he isn't certain he has the authority to do so. The House passed such a ban in June, but the Senate did not act on it before the recess. In whatever way the ban comes about, it should be executed soon. The state and its residents will benefit.
(A Boston) GLOBE EDITORIAL
"A good place for Blue Cross"
September 22, 2008
BLUE CROSS Blue Shield of Massachusetts is being challenged by some local Armenian-Americans and their supporters to defend its sponsorship of antibias programs run by the New England Anti-Defamation League. On balance, continued corporate partnership with the ADL is not only a defensible position, but the right one.
Abraham Foxman, the head of the national ADL office, blundered badly last year when he failed to acknowledge unambiguously that Ottoman Turks committed genocide against Armenians during and after World War I. It was an especially egregious lapse for a Jewish organization well-schooled in the lessons of the Holocaust. A dozen cities and towns in Massachusetts subsequently jettisoned the ADL's No Place for Hate program, which trains local leaders to counter hate crimes and intolerance in their communities.
Tomorrow, a Blue Cross official is scheduled to address the Watertown town council, which is asking the state's largest healthcare insurance company to sever its relationship with the ADL.
Blue Cross provided funding for No Place for Hate from 2001-2006, and currently provides in-kind services, including meeting space for the program. It can point to a statement last month by the ADL national office that terms the massacres of Armenians by its rightful name - genocide - as well as the 2008 ADL calendar that memorializes the "genocide of approximately 1.5 million Armenians" from 1915-1923.
It can point with pride to a June intervention in Marshfield, where the New England ADL mobilized an effective community response to an alleged racial assault of a black man. And the local ADL chapter deserves special recognition for forcing the national office to clarify its policy on the Armenian genocide.
Shari Melkonian, chairwoman of the Armenian National Committee of Eastern Massachusetts, says that ADL is still avoiding a "full and public acknowledgement" of the genocide. Some of the ADL's public statements condemning the genocide could be clearer. But much of this debate has become bogged down in ADL support for Israel, which counts Turkey among its few friends in the Islamic world, and reluctance in Congress to pass a resolution condemning the Armenian genocide.
Local officials shouldn't be dragged into this morass. They need to stay focused on ways to address and prevent local hate crimes, including vandalism of houses of worship and harassment of ethnic and religious minorities in schools. Such goals are well-served by the ADL's No Place for Hate program.
Recent attempts by some ADL detractors to unseat the program in Marshfield suggest an unhealthy obsession. Blue Cross, which promotes the well-being of communities, should maintain its healthy support for No Place for Hate.
"Gov.: Cuts will hurt"
By Glen Johnson, Associated Press, Wednesday, October 15, 2008
BOSTON — The hundreds of millions of dollars in budget cuts Massachusetts is facing because of a sharp drop in tax revenues will affect the core delivery of state services, not just the so-called "fat," Gov. Deval L. Patrick said yesterday.
The governor said he planned to lay off employees and make cuts deep enough to affect the public's interaction with their government. He again pegged the cuts "in the hundreds of millions," a sizable chunk in a $28.1 billion budget.
"People will feel this in their services," Patrick said after addressing an exposition of Massachusetts employers at the Statehouse. "This is not about, you know, cutting so-called 'fat.' This is going to cut muscle because the scale of the issue requires that. We're going to feel it in services. We're going to see a smaller work force."
Meanwhile, in Washington, a rejiggered bailout plan was announced. It will have the government forking over as much as $250 billion in exchange for partial ownership in the nation's banks.
Patrick would not elaborate on the cuts before an official announcement today. But cuts at the Registry of Motor Vehicles, for example, could slow driver licensing, while cuts in the Department of Conservation and Recreation could lead to shortened park hours.
One set of cuts discussed by the administration calls for reducing the pay rate for all 2,350 State Police troopers by one rank, eliminating their extra pay for criminal justice degrees and furloughing the most recent class of 150 recruits.
The governor planned to unveil his actual cuts after revealing a recalculation of the state's expected tax collections for the year.
He wouldn't say if higher education funding — will be affected, but reiterated his pledge to avoid cuts in state financial aid for cities and towns, as well as state assistance with local school funding.
"So far, I think we're able to do that, or at least not touch it in significant ways," the governor said.
Patrick has pledged to cut his office spending by 7 percent, about $600,000, while Senate President Therese Murray and House Speaker Salvatore F. DiMasi have promised to cut 10 percent in legislative spending, totaling about $9.1 million.
The Revenue Department announced earlier this month that tax collections fell $223 million short during the first quarter of the fiscal year, which ended Sept. 30. Patrick said he expects that trend to deepen, so he's going to make large cuts now, while budgets are still relatively flush, and hope he does not have to come back for more.
Tyler Conley, a student at John F. Kennedy School in Somerville, toured the Museum of Science this month with fellow students. The group took the Green Line to save money. (Globe Staff Photo / David L. Ryan)
"They'll go far to save the field trip", By James Vaznis, Boston Globe Staff, October 20, 2008
As principal of a tiny elementary school in the wooded hills of Western Massachusetts, Bob Clancy is often called on to do the odd job. Sweep the floors. Substitute teach. Untangle the playground swing sets.
But in recent years, the principal of Rowe Elementary School has added a new line to his resume - bus driver - as a way to shave $500 off the field trip budget and continue the school's annual journeys to the Freedom Trail and Cape Cod. This year, he had to cut an annual trip to the Pioneer Valley Symphony.
"For a lot of kids here, it's important to get them out so they are not so isolated," Clancy said. "Sometimes families can't afford to go out and gain a broader awareness of the world."
Across the state, with gas prices high and municipal budgets dwindling, the time-honored tradition of the school field trip - the rumbling caravan of yellow buses destined for museums or other cultural attractions - is fading. Nine out of 10 schools in the state are planning to reduce field trips this year, according to a recent survey of elementary, middle, and high schools by the Massachusetts Cultural Council, while 61 percent of museums reported in a separate survey that school group attendance has decreased.
To fight the trend, some educators have turned to creative solutions to get children out of classrooms. A Somerville elementary school class is bypassing the more expensive yellow bus for the subway, which is free for many students. Chaperones at Avery Elementary School in Dedham drive their own vehicles so students can squeeze onto one bus, saving $400 on each unused bus.
The cultural institutions are responding with discounted tickets and revamped programs. Old Sturbridge Village, for instance, is tripling the number of school visits its representatives make this year, sending workers outfitted in Colonial garb to cash-strapped schools that cannot afford the more expensive bus trip to Central Massachusetts. The Massachusetts Cultural Council this fall awarded over $40,000 in grants under a new program that gives schools $200 toward bus costs.
"We don't want to let kids down this year and we felt transportation is a barrier," said Anita Walker, the council's executive director. "Literally, thousands of kids across Massachusetts would lose out on the chance to see a work of art, an orchestra performance, or a play. Not all learning happens from a book."
The high cost of gas is the latest threat to field trips. Many schools have increasingly scaled back because of cash shortages or a belief that students need more time in the classroom so they can perform better on state standardized tests.
In many cases, school budgets no longer cover field trips, leaving it to fund-raising by parent groups or student fees. But some principals worry that the shaky economy could test donor generosity or a family's ability to pay, as do parents who run the fund-raisers.
"We have been trying to bring in more cultural events to eliminate the need to leave the school," said Rhonda Rusconi, copresident of a parent-teacher group at Veterans Memorial Elementary School in Saugus. "The cost of a bus is astronomical just to go down the street."
School officials across the state estimate the cost of a bus at about $250 to $400 round trip.
In some cases, the impact on cultural institutions has been significant.
At Lowell National Historical Park, student attendance has dropped from 62,000 five years ago to 51,000 this year. During that same period, Old Sturbridge Village saw attendance drop by 25,000 students to about 70,000 a year.
"One week in September we were getting one or two cancellations a day," said Shawn Parker, head of the village's education division, who added that teachers set up visits six months to a year in advance. "It seems like they got back to school this fall and went to set up a bus and the cost was suddenly high."
Even the Museum of Science has not been immune. After an attendance dip this decade, student visits climbed to 250,000 two years ago, only to drop to 225,000 last year. Museum officials said the decline could have been worse had they not started a special discount program last year to attract schools during slow months.
"As gas prices went up, we saw fewer local schools," said Annette Sawyer, director of the museum's education and enrichment programs.
At the Museum of Science this month, about a dozen students from the John F. Kennedy School in Somerville arrived by Green Line trolley while more than 70 students from Breed Middle School in Lynn stepped out of two yellow school buses.
Each school took advantage of a special museum deal for schools that serve low-income students: $2 admission tickets, almost one-quarter of the regular price.
Many students interviewed said they believed field trips were a worthwhile investment.
"If you do it," said 14-year-old Esther Mawhinney, "you will remember it more than just writing it down in class."
James Vaznis can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Beacon Hill Roll Call: "Brownsberger, Kaprielian accumulated per diems"
By Bob Katzen/Beacon Hill Roll Call, Friday, Oct 24, 2008, 5:53 PM EDT
THE HOUSE AND SENATE. There were no roll call votes in the House or Senate during the week of Oct. 20-24.
The official list from the state treasurer's office of "per diems" collected by 159 state representatives in 2008 for "mileage, meals and lodging" expenses reveals that through Oct. 16, these lawmakers have collected a total of $322,598. Per diems are paid by the state to representatives "for each day for travel from his place of residence to the Statehouse and return therefrom, while in the performance of his official duties, upon certification to the state treasurer that he was present at the Statehouse."
These per diems are paid to representatives above and beyond their annual salaries which in 2007 were raised 4.8 percent from $55,569.41 to $58,236.74. The $2,667.33 hike was implemented by former Gov. Mitt Romney under the terms of a constitutional amendment approved by the voters in 1998. The amendment requires legislative salaries to be increased or decreased biennially at the same rate as the state's median household income for the preceding two-year period - as ascertained by the governor. Many representatives also receive additional stipends ranging from $7,500 to $25,000 if they serve as committee chairs or in other leadership positions.
The 2008 statistics indicate that representatives received annual per diem payments ranging from $234 to $13,140. All 19 Republican representatives collected per diems. Of the chamber's 140 Democrats, 96 collected per diems while 44 Democrats have so far chosen not to apply for any money. State law does not establish a deadline that representatives must meet in order to collect the per diems.
The amount of the per diem varies and is based on the city or town in which a representative resides and its distance from the Statehouse. These payments are not taxable and range from $10 per day for representatives who reside in the Greater Boston area to $90 for some Western Massachusetts lawmakers and $100 for those in Nantucket. Representatives who are from areas that are a long distance from Boston's Statehouse often are the ones who collect the highest total of annual per diems.
The Legislature approved, as part of the state budget in 2000, a provision doubling these per diems to the current amounts. Supporters of the hikes said that the per diems had not been raised for many years despite the rising costs of travel, food and lodging. Some opponents said that the hikes were excessive while others argued that the very idea of paying any per diem is outrageous. They noted that other state workers and most private workers are not paid additional money for commuting. The House and Senate did not hold a separate roll call vote directly on the doubling of the per diem. The hike was included as a small section of the comprehensive $21.5 billion fiscal 2001 state budget that was approved on roll call votes by both branches.
Beacon Hill Roll Call reported last week that the state's 40 senators in 2008 have collected $65,331 in per diems. The combined 2008 total collected by representatives and senators through October 16 is $387,929.
The representative who has received the most money in 2008 is Rep. Daniel Bosley (D-North Adams) with $13,140. The other top recipients include Reps. Denis Guyer (D-Dalton) $10,168; William Pignatelli (D-Lenox) $7,110; Christopher Donelan (D-Orange) $6,750; Todd Smola (R-Palmer) $6,050; Stephen Kulik (D-Worthington) $5,846; Demetrius Atsalis (D-Barnstable) $5,800; John Scibak (D-South Hadley) $5,460; Sarah Peake (D-Provincetown) $5,402 and Mary Rogeness (R-Longmeadow) $5,400.
LOCAL REPRESENTATIVES' PER DIEMS FOR 2008
Here are the numbers of days that local representatives' certified that they were at the Statehouse during 2008 through Oct. 16. Also included is the total amount of per diem money that the state has paid the representative in 2008. A total of 44 representatives did not list any days and did not request any per diems. This should not be construed to mean that these 44 legislators were never at the Statehouse in 2008. It simply means that they chose not to list the number of days and not to request their per diems.
Rep. William Brownsberger 75 days ($750)
Former Rep. Rachel Kaprielian 75 days ($750)
Rep. Byron Rushing 0 days ($0)
Rep. Timothy Toomey 0 days ($0)
Rep. Marty Walz 0 days ($0)
Rep. Alice Wolf 0 days ($0)
ALSO UP ON BEACON HILL
DOG FIGHT (H 5092) - The Committee on Municipalities and Regional Government held a hearing on a bill requiring all dog owners to spay or neuter dogs over one year old unless they pay the local city or town a fee of up to $500 per year per dog for an exemption. Other provisions prohibit dogs from being tethered to a chain for more than three hours per day; allowing cities and towns to impose breed-specific ordinances aimed at pit bulls or any other breed of dog and requiring additional mandatory vaccinations for dogs. Rep. Vincent Pedone (D-Worcester), the chair of the committee that heard the bill, was the only person who spoke in favor of the measure. He said that the state's dog laws are antiquated and should be updated in order to protect the public. Opponents said that the $500 fee is outrageous and would put many small home-based family-owned "hobby dog breeders" out of business and kill the dog show business in the state. They noted that the bill also gives too much power to local animal control officers and includes unreasonable laws that would result in the sterilization, banishment or euthanizing of dogs. They noted that these and other provisions in the measure are opposed by major dog advocacy organizations.
RESTRICT IDLING CARS AND BUSES ON SCHOOL GROUNDS (S 2628) - The House approved a Senate-approved measure requiring the Registry of Motor Vehicles to adopt regulations restricting operators of school buses and personal motor vehicles from idling their vehicles on school grounds. The regulations would include establishing the length of time a driver on school grounds is permitted to idle an engine and the limited circumstances under which the prolonged idling of an engine would be allowed.
JUSTICES OF THE PEACE (S 801) - The House approved a Senate-approved bill increasing from $75 to $100 the fee which a justice of the peace may charge for performing a marriage ceremony in his home community. The measure also hikes the fee from $125 to $150 if the ceremony is performed outside the JP's home community. The Legislature in 2002 raised these fees from $45 to the current $75 for a home community ceremony and from $60 to the current $125 for other locations. Only final House and Senate approval are needed before the bill goes to the governor.
PUBLIC CHARITIES (H 274) - Gov. Deval Patrick signed into law legislation changing the current law that requires charities that receive more than $100,000 in gross support and revenue annually to file an audited financial statement along with their regular annual report. The proposal would require the report only from charities that receive more than $200,000. Supporters said that audited financial statements are costly for small nonprofits to prepare.
ALLOW PARENTS TO OBSERVE THEIR SPECIAL NEEDS STUDENTS (H 391) - Gov. Patrick signed into law a bill requiring schools to allow parents of special needs students to observe and evaluate their children's classes and programs. Supporters said that current law on this subject is vague and noted cases in which schools have placed obstacles in the way of parents trying to observe their children's programs.
"This is not about, you know, cutting so-called 'fat.' This is gonna cut muscle."
Gov. Patrick announcing his spending cuts, including elimination of 1,000 state jobs, to help close an estimated budget deficit of $1.4 billion.
"How can you add 2,000 people to the state payroll and then claim you’re cutting ‘muscle’ when you cut only 1,000?"
Massachusetts Republican Party spokesman Barney Keller, commenting on Patrick's statement.
"There has never been a gathering of so many people who used to be somebody."
Boston ad guru Jack Connors speaking at a gathering to honor former state treasurer Bob Crane who served in the position for 26 years. Many former political legislative leaders and power brokers from Massachusetts attended the event.
"H 5092 is a solution in search of a problem. It's like swatting a fly with a sledgehammer."
Anthony T. Zambuto, President of the West Highland White Terrier Club of New England testifying at the Statehouse on legislation that he says will hurt dog breeders.
"Family health care premiums rose an estimated 6.7 times faster than earnings for Massachusetts’s workers from 2000 to 2007. Annual health insurance premiums in the 2000-2007 period rose from $7,341 to $13,040 - an increase of $5,699, or 77.6 percent. The median earnings of Massachusetts’ workers increased from $30,964 to $34,542 - an increase of $3,578, or 11.6 percent.
From a report issued by Families USA. The nonprofit, Washington D.C. based group's website says that it has worked since 1982, "to promote high-quality, affordable health care for all Americans."
Comments (1) by "jasbrown88822" -
Report AbuseCome on !!! When is Deval Patrick going to abolish these per diems? Oh yeah, they'll cut jobs before they cut their perks. Wake up people don't you see the waste and abuse that goes on with tax payers money. Vote yes on 1!!!
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"The devil’s in the details"
By Boston Herald editorial staff, Friday, November 14, 2008, www.bostonherald.com, Editorials
Want to know why police around the state are fighting like hell to keep civilian flaggers from cutting in on their turf? Well, look no further than the latest list compiled by the Boston Municipal Research Bureau of the city police department’s top 10 earners for 2007.
All 10 took home more than $70,000 during the year (the highest earned $80,761) in extra pay for working paid details, bringing their total earnings for the year to anywhere from $162,000 to $186,000.
According to the Bureau’s analysis, 1,652 members of the department shared in $31.94 million in detail pay in 2007, up from $30.11 million in 2006.
Some of this - for work on city roads and construction projects - is paid for directly by city taxpayers. Other details are paid for by utilities that need to get access to their lines such as NStar [NST] or Verizon. But guess who those costs are passed along to? There’s no line on your bill that says “police details” but you can be sure you’re paying the freight.
Gov. Deval Patrick has found the political courage to fight to have lower cost flaggers replace uniformed police on construction details. Too bad the same can’t be said for Mayor Tom Menino and the two men who reportedly have ambitions to replace him.
Menino’s spokeswoman says, “The mayor has always made it clear that more cops are better for public safety.” City Councilor Mike Flaherty has found a rare area of agreement with the mayor on that score. And Councilor Sam Yoon - that profile in courage - isn’t commenting.
How very sad. The taxpayers and ratepayers of this community need someone at City Hall willing to fight for them.
Article URL: www.bostonherald.com/news/opinion/editorials/view.bg?articleid=1132297
Wellesley, Massachusetts -
with news from the Wellesley Townsman and MetroWest Daily News
State capitol briefs, By Staff reports
Thursday, November 13, 2008, 6:19 PM EST
BOARD MEMBER EXPECTS $75M PIKE TOLL INCREASE
The Mass. Turnpike Authority board will likely vote for a toll hike of roughly $75 million when it meets Friday, member Mary Connaughton said Thursday as Beacon Hill reacted to Gov. Deval Patrick’s transportation restructuring outline. “I think there’s going to be a toll hike and I think it’s going to be a large toll hike,” Connaughton said, estimating that the increase could be anywhere from $50 million to $100 million, based on which option the board chooses. Officials declined Thursday to provide details in advance of the 9 am Friday meeting. Senate President Therese Murray said she was worried by how Patrick planned to repackage the. Turnpike Authority’s debt to other agencies. “I do have a concern on how the debt gets spread out, because the Turnpike was actually a viable authority until we gave them the metropolitan highway debt, and once they got the debt they couldn’t survive,” Murray told NECN. “So if we’re just going to move that debt to yet another authority, and have them sink under that debt, I have some concern.” House Speaker Salvatore DiMasi on Monday said he supported the dismantling of the Turnpike Authority, adding, "The specifics of the plan have to be worked out." Connaughton said she supported Patrick’s elimination of the western tolls, but said it should be offset with an increase to the state’s 21-cent-per-gallon gas tax. Like many other government officials, Connaughton said she was anxious to see Patrick’s proposal fleshed out. “I think it’s pushing off to tomorrow what needs to be resolved today. I want to see more details,” she said. Lawmakers have pressed Patrick and his aides for transportation reform details. Joseph Wagner, House chair of the Transportation Committee, said, “I’m anxious to see what else there is out there in way of reform ... It seems that there’s a whole lot more about this that we don’t know than what we do know.” Wagner said that outstanding Big Dig debt should not be entirely pinned on MTA management. “It could be argued that those obligations are the obligations of the Commonwealth, and not the Turnpike Authority necessarily,” he said. Republican legislative leaders released a joint statement saying, “Governor Patrick’s announcement isn’t really surprising because at this point, the state has no choice but to reform our transportation agencies since the debt of the Big Dig hangs over all state finances like a lead balloon. What is surprising is that the Governor would bring this up without providing any concrete details, given the complexity and patchwork nature of the Turnpike Authority. This also comes more than 13 months after his last announcement that he would be crafting a proposal for generating cost-savings and efficiencies in our transportation systems.”
SELLING PARTS OF TURNPIKE DESERVES LOOK, SENATOR SAYS
While higher tolls appear inevitable and Beacon Hill leaders are examining other new revenue sources to meet public transportation system demands, a key state senator says state government leaders should consider privatizing or selling off parts of the authority that runs that state’s east-west toll road. Sen. Steven Baddour (D-Methuen) told a gathering of public transportation system stakeholders Wednesday night that privatizing and selling public assets was the focus of a recent conference he attended and the money-raising idea deserves attention as the Patrick administration floats a plan that Baddour fears would just push massive Big Dig debts onto the ledgers of another public authority. “One of the things we need to look at is whether or not we should be privatizing or selling off parts of the turnpike authority,” said Baddour, co-chairman of the Legislature’s Transportation Committee. “There’s clearly an interest, even in today’s climate, to do that. I think all we’re really doing right now by transferring, or at least the discussion of transferring the issue to Massport, is we’re just transferring the problem and the debt over to Massport and my hope or my concern is is that we’re not creating the next generation’s or my successor’s turnpike authority. So we have to be very careful in how we move forward.” Baddour questioned whether the public would support new revenues for transportation infrastructure because he said they lack confidence in government. “We need to look at ways of making the system run better,” Baddour said. “There are a lot of different ways we can do that without raising revenues in the short term.”
COAKLEY: ‘YOU WILL KNOW’ RESULTS OF VITALE INVESTIGATION
Attorney General Martha Coakley pledged Wednesday to reveal the results of the investigation into the filings of an associate of House Speaker Salvatore DiMasi. Secretary of State William Galvin’s Public Records Division in June forwarded a request to Coakley’s office to look into alleged lobbying activities and discrepancies between the filings of Richard Vitale, his company and the ticket brokers association that says it hired him. Asked on Jim Braude’s NECN show NewsNight whether the results of the investigation will be revealed, Coakley said, “I think that you will know. I think that there’s been in many instances like this, because it’s apparent that there was a referral made, I think we have an obligation to say we’ve completed it.” Coakley declined to comment on the status of the investigation – which Braude called his “current obsession” – and would not say whether she was also investigating DiMasi. Braude also asked her about her reaction to DiMasi, a fellow Democrat, fighting with the State Ethics Commission over withholding documents related to the case, Sen. Dianne Wilkerson getting arrested on federal corruption charges, and Sen. Jim Marzilli getting charged with sexual assault. “Those of us in law enforcement who look at this are concerned,” she said. “On the other hand… people are charged. Until they’re convicted, and you believe in this, people are innocent until proven guilty. That doesn’t mean the public shouldn’t be concerned and demand high standards. But there’s certainly, apparently, a lot of efforts underway to investigate, to get to the bottom of this, and the public will be the judge of whether we do that or not.” Braude also pressed Coakley on her thoughts on DiMasi citing constitutional protections in declining to provide documents to the commission. “I think that’s an issue that’s clearly before the court and will be determined,” she said. “I don’t know the facts there and until you get to the bottom the facts, I can’t make a judgment.” Asked about taking over U.S. Sen. John Kerry’s seat should he take a job with the Obama Administration, Coakley said she supported keeping in place a state law that would have the successor picked through a special election. “I have said I would be interested in looking at it. And clearly anybody in Massachusetts who’s an elected official is probably going to do that,” she added. “It’s an important position for Massachusetts. Clearly, I think, people are interested in new faces and change and ability to be an effective advocate for what’s going to happen with the new president.”
MOHEGAN SUN SECURES PALMER LAND WITH 50-YEAR LEASE, 49 YEARS OF OPTIONS
The company that owns Connecticut's Mohegan Sun Casino has entered into a 50-year lease for 152 acres in Palmer, eyeing the land as a potential casino site if the state opts to expand its gambling rights. The parcel is leased with two options for additional 25 and 24 year periods. The deal also allows for the Mohegan Tribe to purchase the land under certain options. But the tribe must build a commercial casino, rather than capitalize on tribal rights because it is not a Massachusetts tribe.
IG: KEEP QUALITY AND COST COUNCIL STAFFER UNTIL WEBSITE LAUNCH
The state inspector general on Thursday pushed for the Health Care Quality and Cost Council to keep some of its staff on board as it struggles to launch a long-planned consumer website. The independent council voted last month to lay off its staff and transfer some operations to the state Division of Health Care Finance and Policy as a result of Gov. Deval Patrick’s midyear budget cuts. Inspector General Gregory Sullivan, who along with fellow board member and Harvard Pilgrim Health Care CEO Charlie Baker voted last month against the layoffs, told the council’s governance committee that the council’s executive director, Katharine London, should be kept on staff until the website launches. The continuously delayed website is expected to display comparative cost and quality information about health care service, though Sullivan noted, “we don’t even know when the website’s going to be launched.” “It’s not that much money,” Sullivan said of keeping London. “This is our representative, this is our executive director, our chief strategist. And I think that’s a small consideration, to make sure it goes well from the council’s point of view.” Health and Human Services Secretary JudyAnn Bigby, who chairs the council and suggested that London and another staffer stay on until Nov. 30, said the website’s launch, along with a revised council budget, will be voted on at next week’s council meeting. The full council also meets tomorrow at One Ashburton Place on the 11th floor, at 3 pm, to discuss issues surrounding the website.
HEALTH CARE CONNECTOR STAFFING UP FOR APPEALS PROCESS
The Connector Authority, the agency tasked with implementing health insurance reform, will need additional staffers to help determine whether health insurance plans comply with standards adopted last month, including doctor's visits, hospital admissions, surgery, mental health and prescription drug coverage, Connector officials said Thursday. “We don’t have a lot of resources but we have a dedicated group” who handles tax penalties for not having health insurance and individuals who appeal the penalties, Jamie Katz, the Connector Authority’s general counsel to the agency’s board members. But more staffers will be needed to handle “minimum creditable coverage” (MCC) determinations and as penalties and appeals grow in volume and complexity, he added. The agency’s administrative budget is generated by an assessment on Commonwealth Care and Commonwealth Choice premiums. The agency currently has three staffers working full-time on appeals and a fourth-full time person who also has “other responsibilities,” according to Richard Powers, a Connector spokesman. It’s unclear how many more will be needed, but someone with insurance expertise who can review coverage issues, he added. The current penalty for not having health insurance in Massachusetts amounts to $912 a year. Penalties for next year have not yet been determined, but will likely increase, according to Connector officials. Individual appeals dealing with MCC standards will not appear until early 2010 because of tax-filing purposes. Individuals must have the plans by January 2009, however. The agency is also seeking to get information up on its website “in the next few days” giving guidance to the insurance market and the public on MCC determinations and appeals. The Connector is also joining up with the Associated Industries of Massachusetts for a series of forums for businesses. The forums are scheduled for Nov. 18 at the Berkshire Hill Country Club in Pittsfield; Nov. 19 at the Holiday Inn in Taunton; Nov. 21 at the Andover Country Club; Dec. 2 at the Beachwood Hotel in Worcester; Dec. 9 at the Hyannis Golf Club; Dec. 16 at One Ashburton Place in Boston.
SUFFOLK DOWNS SEES 7 PERCENT DECLINE IN ATTENDANCE, ON-TRACK BETTING
The 102-day racing season at Suffolk Downs ended with a 7 percent drop in both attendance and money gambled on races at the track, officials said today. The total amount wagered, including off-track betting, rose 11 percent.
BAY STATE LEGISLATORS LINED UP WITH CLINTON IN DENVER
Massachusetts lawmakers at the Democratic National Convention voted 13-8 for Sen. Hillary Clinton over Sen. Barack Obama, one of the last outspoken vestiges of Clinton support in the hours before Obama’s nomination was finalized. Other than US Rep. James McGovern, the state’s Congressional delegation went with Clinton, according to documents posted on the state Democratic Party website. Both Senate President Therese Murray and House Speaker Salvatore DiMasi, ardent Clinton backers, voted for her, while Boston Mayor Thomas Menino, who also campaigned for Clinton, voted for Obama. Constitutional officers were divided, with Gov. Deval Patrick and Auditor Joseph DeNucci opting for Obama, and Attorney General Martha Coakley and Secretary of State William Galvin choosing Clinton.
GUN LAW CHANGES EXPECTED, COAKLEY SAYS
Attorney General Martha Coakley said on Wednesday night she expected changes to gun laws in the wake of the death of an eight-year-old boy who was an Uzi in Westfield. Coakley noted on NewsNight with Jim Braude on New England Cable News that the criminal investigation is still ongoing, but there don’t appear to be any laws broken. “We don’t really know what happened. It’s just a horrible incident. It’s really disturbing,” she said, adding, “I guarantee that there will be some changes in the law.” A Beacon Hill oversight hearing, by the Committee on Public Safety and Homeland Security, on the incident was postponed from next Monday until after the criminal investigation. Massachusetts is widely considered to have some of the strictest gun laws in the country.
NORTHEASTERN RENAMES CENTER FOR DUKAKIS
Northeastern University will be renaming its Center for Urban and Regional Policy after former Gov. Michael Dukakis and his wife Kitty, with a 75th birthday celebration for the school’s political science professor planned for this Saturday. Honorary co-chairs of the tribute dinner and birthday celebration include Gov. Deval Patrick and his, wife Diane Patrick; U.S. Sen. Edward Kennedy and his wife, Vicki; U. S. Sen. John Kerry and his wife, Teresa Heinz Kerry; and Boston Mayor Thomas Menino and his wife, Angela. Actress Olympia Dukakis, who is the governor’s cousin, will serve as mistress of ceremonies. Providing the entertainment will be local comedian Jimmy Tingle and singer Deborah Henson-Conant, who is described on her website as a harpist who is a “cross-genre, Blues-Flamenco-Celtic-Funk-Folk-Jazz dynamo.” The dinner starts at 5:30 pm at the Westin Copley Hotel in Boston.
NEW REGIONAL BIOTECH ASSOCIATION FORMED
State biotechnology associations, companies and academic institutions on Thursday announced the formation of a non-profit regional umbrella group. The New England Biotech Association (NEBA) will be made up of 600 members, including the Massachusetts Biotechnology Council, the Massachusetts High Technology Council, the Biotech Association of Maine, Connecticut United for Research Excellence (CURE), New Hampshire Bio/Medical Council, Rhode Island BioGroup, and the Biotech Association of Vermont. “New England is a global leader in biotechnology, and we need to stay in that leadership role. This organization will be at the forefront of advancing issues and educating the public and policy leaders about life sciences and its present and future role in the region’s economy and health care system,” the group’s chair, Paula Newton, who serves as president of the New Hampshire Bio/Medical Council, said in a statement.
NEW NATIONAL UNEMPLOYMENT CLAIMS HIT POST-9/11 HIGH
Initial filings for unemployment insurance last week hit their highest level since Sept. 2001, with layoffs driving the jobless trend to a worse-than-expected 516,000 new claims in the week that ended Nov. 8. According to the Labor Department, the total number on benefit rolls spiked to the highest point since 1983. The Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce last month reported that Massachusetts posted an overall job growth rate over the previous 12 months of 0.4 percent, with only two of 12 regions (MetroWest and Greater Boston) adding jobs in that time.
SENATE RESISTS HOUSE CHANGE TO 'MOVE OVER BILL
The Senate non-concurred with a House change to legislation requiring highway drivers to steer out of the right lane when emergency vehicle lights are flashing. The Senate met for 13 minutes, then adjourned to meet next Monday. Meanwhile, the House met for 20 minutes and sent the Senate bills creating a Nantucket Sewer Commission, designating a Dedham park and establishing a town manager in Upton. Both chambers meet Monday at 11 am in informal sessions.
The Boston Globe, Op-Ed, JOAN VENNOCHI
"Beacon Hill's double standard?"
By Joan Vennochi, November 13, 2008
THEY ARE parsing morality on Beacon Hill.
As a result, State Senator Dianne Wilkerson is being shoved out the door. The Senate voted unanimously to demand her resignation, after she was charged with accepting $23,500 in bribes from federal agents posing as businessmen trying to get a liquor license.
State Senator James Marzilli will walk out on his own terms and schedule, after he was charged with sexually harassing four women in Lowell earlier this year. Marzilli pleaded not guilty to the charges and did not seek reelection. He continues to be paid and will receive an increase in his pension if he remains in office until January, as he plans. Wilkerson would get the pay and pension benefit, too, if she isn't ousted first.
If she doesn't resign, colleagues seem determined to vote her out of office, pending the results of an ethics committee investigation. In the meantime, she was stripped of a committee chairmanship. Marzilli remains in office and still technically in charge of a legislative committee, although he has not returned to Beacon Hill since the charges.
Their colleagues draw distinctions between these two disgraced lawmakers.
Marzilli had no prior convictions or track record for getting into trouble; Wilkerson previously broke federal tax and campaign finance laws.
Wilkerson allegedly used her office to benefit and enrich herself. Marzilli did not. He's just an alleged pervert.
After his arrest, Marzilli checked himself into a psychiatric facility and his lawyer announced that he was diagnosed with bipolar disorder.
Wilkerson simply looked out of her mind in surveillance photos that showed her allegedly stuffing cash under her shirt in a restaurant located only a short distance from the State House.
During a recent appearance on WTKK-FM, Governor Deval Patrick said it's time for Wilkerson to resign and said he would favor the Senate expelling her if she refused. He also said he would support the expulsion of Marzilli. But the Senate looks at the Marzilli situation and remembers Carl Stanley McGee, an official in the Patrick administration, who was arrested last February and charged with sexually assaulting a teenager in a steam room. The charges were eventually dropped. Until then, McGee was placed on unpaid leave, but was not asked to resign.
But only one distinction really matters. The Senate is angry at Wilkerson because she dragged the Senate into her mess.
Senators who received grand jury subpoenas in the Wilkerson case are the angriest. They include Senate President Therese Murray, who was mentioned in an FBI affidavit as being present at a private meeting with Wilkerson. Murray denies being at the meeting. She and other lawmakers were allegedly persuaded by Wilkerson to help secure the liquor license Wilkerson was allegedly bribed to support.
Wilkerson's mud splattered far - from the State House to City Hall and onto Mayor Thomas Menino, the Alcoholic Beverages Control Commission, and a development firm owned by Arthur Winn, a longtime political benefactor of Wilkerson's.
No one besides Wilkerson has been accused of wrongdoing - yet. But the photos and account of what allegedly happened are so shocking, anyone who helped Wilkerson also stands accused of terrible judgment.
The lawmakers' move to punish Wilkerson is all about them, not about her. The desire for such extreme separation, the sooner the better, is unprecedented in state Senate history.
The effort to remove Wilkerson also comes amidst a stream of news about the alleged ethical failings of House Speaker Salvatore DiMasi and his close friends. Against that backdrop, there's an even greater urge to purge.
In Wilkerson's case, the formerly collegial Senate has decided to become judge and jury, with no presumption of innocence. In Marzilli's case, there is compassion for a possible mental health issue. In Wilkerson's case, there is no mercy.
Perhaps she should have done what Marzilli did - check into a psychiatric hospital. Instead, she wrote to the Senate president about "the madness that has become my life."
On Beacon Hill, parsing morality often looks a lot like a double standard.
Joan Vennochi's e-mail address is email@example.com.
Registry of Motor Vehicles
"Drivers beware: Renewal notices — a stop"
By Tony Dobrowolski, Berkshire Eagle Staff, Saturday, November 15, 2008
PITTSFIELD — Think the state Registry of Motor Vehicles will let you know when your driver's license has expired? Well, think again.
As part of a cost-cutting measure, the RMV recently eliminated a long-standing policy of sending license renewal notices, vehicle inspection reminders, and the like to state residents.
The policy went into effect on Nov. 3. Because the new policy went into effect less than two weeks ago, RMV Communications Director Ann Dufresne said the registry has yet to receive any feedback on its effects.
"It's too early," she said.
But customers at the Registry of Motor Vehicles in Pittsfield yesterday said they were unaware that the registry had even instituted such a policy.
"I had no idea they were doing it," said Brian Jefferson, of Pittsfield. "I guess I've got mixed reactions. You can look at your license and figure out when to renew it, but it would be good to have a reminder."
Driver's licenses in Massachusetts expire on the operator's birthday, which is listed on the front of the license along with the year the license expires. All the holder has to do to is check the license to find out if it has expired.
"Yeah, but who does that?" said Shah Matthews, of Pittsfield, who had gone to the RMV yesterday to renew her driver's license which had expired, ironically, on Nov. 3. She smiled when told the new policy went into effect on her birthday.
"I know it expired on my birthday," Matthews said, referring to her license. "But it just slipped my mind."
State Registrar Rachel Kaprielian said eliminating the mailing of renewal notices is expected to save the RMV between $600,000 and $800,000. Besides license, state identification and vehicle inspection reminders, the RMV has also eliminated reminders for the renewals of school pupil transport licenses, and driver's education certificates, along with the mailing of junior operator brochures to parents.
The registry will also no longer mail out change of address labels, but will allow operators to attach any plain label with either a handwritten address, or a pre-printed label to a license. The label, however, must fit the designated area on each license which is a half-inch by 2.75 inches.
According to Dufresne, the economic downturn caused the state to cut $2 million from the registry's $57.4 million budget.
To further cut costs, the RMV on Nov. 3 also delayed the opening hours of most branches, including North Adams and Pittsfield, by 30 minutes to 9 a.m. The RMV has also reduced by one hour the extended hours for the 18 state branches that were open late on Thursdays.
"The No. 1 priority is the waiting time," Kaprielian said referring to how the RMV determined what services it would have to cut. "We want to make sure that people are served efficiently. Everything flowed from that goal."
Driving with an expired driver's license is a criminal offense in the state of Massachusetts. Operators can be arrested, and detention is an option (those locked up must post $40 bail to be released). But, conviction involves no jail time — the maximum penalty is a series of fines that begin at $100. The same penalty is in effect for operators who are charged with either driving without a license, or with a suspended license.
"It's ridiculous when you get pulled over in a vehicle and your license is expired," Matthews said. "The police don't want to hear that."
Kaprielian referred to the new policy as "empowering the public" adding that operators can also renew expired licenses online without going to the registry.
Dufresne said the RMV is planning a public service campaign, which will include reminders placed in branch offices across the state, that the new policy is in effect.
Wendy Hill traveled from Sheffield to Pittsfield yesterday to help her mother renew her operator's license. Hill said she wasn't in favor of the new policy.
"I could go I don't know how long with an expired license," Hill said. "But with these days of budget cuts and everything....
"There's so many things to keep track of in this day and age," she said.
To reach Tony Dobrowolski: TDobrowolski@berkshireeagle.com (413) 496-6224
"New RMV office in North Adams to open November 24, 2008"
By Tony Dobrowolski, Berkshire Eagle Staff, Saturday, November 15, 2008
NORTH ADAMS — The state Registry of Motor Vehicles is moving its North Adams branch from 420 Curran Highway to 33 Main Street, and plans to officially open the new office on Monday, November 24, 2008.
State Registrar Rachel Karpielian will appear at a ribbon cutting ceremony at 11:30 a.m.
The RMV decided to move the branch office to 33 Main Street because it's more customer friendly, easier to reach, and will allow the registry to operate more efficiently, Karpielian said.
The Main Street address, formerly a department store, currently contains a bank. The current branch on Curran Highway is located in a former car dealership.
"It's a better location, and everybody's happy," Karpielian said.
The North Adams branch is one of two RMV offices in Berkshire County. The other county branch is located at 333 East Street in Pittsfield.
Nov. 17, 2008:
Representative Jennifer M. Callahan, a Democrat from Sutton, announces that she will file legislation on ethics and lobbying reform. "It's high time we stop brushing what is clearly the responsibility of the House under the rug. We need to shine the light of transparency into how the Legislature conducts business on Beacon Hill. We need to make the rules abundantly clear to Legislators, lobbyists, and the public," said Callahan. "The public's confidence and trust in the Legislature as a whole has been eroded by a few who have chosen not to play by the rules." Her legislation would preclude lobbyists from contributing to any political campaigns or paying for trips or events attended by lawmakers; strip members from their chairmanships if they are fined by the state Ethics Commission or Office of Campaign and Political Finance; and mandate all lawmakers attend an "Ethics Education and Training Seminar" each legislative session. She also wants to eliminate earmarks from the budget process.
Nov. 17, 2008:
Representatives John Quinn, Democrat of Dartmouth, and Martin Walsh, Democrat of Dorchester, put out a 12-point plan to be included in legislation in January. Quinn and Walsh - who both support House majority leader John H. Rogers's bid to become speaker - plan to ask for the rules changes to come before they cast their vote for speaker. The plan calls for a six-year term limit on the speaker's job, public meetings of the House Ethics Committee, and increased penalties for illegal lobbying. Their plan would also streamline the home rule petition process, which lawmakers use as bargaining chips to win passage of other legislation. Under the proposal, the Legislature would have 90 days to act on a petition or it becomes law. They would also restrict the use of earmarks in the state budget.
Nov. 12, 2008:
Republicans in the House form a three-member study group. House minority Leader Bradley H. Jones Jr. asked Representatives Vinny DeMacedo (Plymouth), Elizabeth Poirier (North Attleborough), and Richard Ross (Wrentham) to examine the current ethics rules and procedures of the House and make recommendations for improvement. "The current situation is unacceptable," said Jones. "In light of recent events, it is time to sit down and take a hard look at the rules within the House pertaining to ethics."
Oct. 31, 2008:
Governor Deval Patrick announces that he will file comprehensive ethics and lobbying reform legislation. His plans were unspecific, although he wants it to include reforms to the home rule petition process. He formed a 12-member task force to come up with recommendations, which he will file in January. "In a successful democracy, the currency of government is not money," he said. "It's integrity."
(Above) A push for reform
"Controversies bring push for more ethics laws"
By Matt Viser, Boston Globe Staff, November 28, 2008
Under one proposal, lawmakers would have to undergo ethics training every two years, like college freshmen being repeatedly reminded not to cheat on exams.
Under another plan, legislators would be subject to term limits, and earmarks - the grease that helps the budget get passed every year - would disappear.
As Massachusetts deals with its biggest corruption scandals and ethics controversies in decades, everyone from the governor to rank-and-file lawmakers is trying to respond to the public's growing distrust by offering a slew of proposals to tighten ethics laws.
"I haven't seen this much clamoring for change since the early '90s in the general area of ethics," said Pam Wilmot, executive director of Common Cause Massachusetts and a mem ber of the governor's task force. "We need more openness, we need more accountability, we need stronger structures that create the best behavior. And we need our lobbyists to be reporting what they do."
With state and federal investigators trying to shine light on the culture at the State House, political leaders say they want greater transparency. Governor Deval Patrick has formed a 12-member task force to recommended changes, while two lawmakers have put out a 12-point plan. House Republicans have formed a three-member study group. Senate leaders are working on yet another package.
Representative Jennifer M. Callahan, a Democrat from Sutton, announced that she, too, will file legislation on ethics and lobbying reform.
Callahan in recent months has leveled charges that she was punished politically - and verbally threatened - for not committing to House Ways and Means chairman Robert A. DeLeo's effort to collect votes to become House speaker. The verbal threat was referred to the House Ethics Committee, but the work of the committee is confidential and whatever decisions it made - if any - have not been made public. Callahan said confidentiality requirements prohibit her from commenting on the incident, although her legislation would make the work of the Ethics Committee more public.
"The actions of a few have brought an incredible broad-brush tarnish to the institution," Callahan said in an interview. "About the second or third question from constituents now is, 'What is going on on Beacon Hill? What kind of a mess are we embroiled in?' "
Beacon Hill has long been known for its closed-door culture. Deals are made in private, and some committee votes are even taken via Blackberry and e-mail. Power is concentrated in the hands of a few, with rank-and-file lawmakers afraid to mount public challenges of leadership for fear of being punished. And because the Legislature exempted itself decades ago from the state's open-meeting and public records laws, lawmakers often deliberate in private and keep key documents hidden from public view.
Most of the talk of reform so far is lofty, but specifics are few.
Callahan's legislation would preclude lobbyists from contributing to any political campaigns or paying for trips or events attended by lawmakers; strip members from their chairmanships if they are fined by the state Ethics Commission or Office of Campaign and Political Finance; and mandate all lawmakers attend an "Ethics Education and Training Seminar" each legislative session.
Representatives John Quinn, Democrat of Dartmouth, and Martin Walsh, Democrat of Dorchester, issued a plan to be included in legislation in January. The plan includes putting a six-year term limit on the speaker's job, public meetings of the House Ethics Committee, and increased penalties for illegal lobbying. It would also restrict the use of earmarks in the state budget.
"There's all these different issues swirling around Beacon Hill, and the public is looking at us," Walsh said in an interview. "I love the profession I'm in and I value the profession I'm in. But the reputation to the profession is damaged a bit. Should we have acted earlier? Maybe."
Patrick's task force, charged with developing major ethics reform legislation to make government more transparent, began meeting last week - in private. The initial meeting of the task force was not open to the public, although the group will hold a public hearing at the State House on Dec. 3.
The task force is examining whether current ethics laws are clear enough, whether the state's investigatory tools should be strengthened, and whether penalties for violations should be raised. The governor is concerned, said Ben Clements, who is Patrick's chief legal counsel and is leading the task force, about whether or not the public "feels confident there are sufficient controls in place to assure confidence in government."
The State House has been rocked in recent weeks by scandal. In the course of five days, two senators resigned. James Marzilli, who was accused of accosting four women in Lowell in June, resigned after it was revealed that he represented the Massachusetts Senate in October at an energy conference in Germany. Dianne Wilkerson resigned last week a day after she was indicted by a federal grand jury on eight counts of attempted extortion stemming from an undercover FBI operation. The Roxbury Democrat is accused of accepting $23,500 in bribes to help secure a liquor license for a nightclub in her district and to push legislation for a development on state land in Roxbury.
In addition, several House lawmakers face ongoing investigations by multiple agencies over business deals and connections with lobbyists. Most prominent is DiMasi, who is the subject of an Ethics Commission probe and whose close friends have been the focus of several ongoing inquiries, including a state grand jury investigation. A state computer software contractor made $2 million in payments to three of his close associates. One of the speaker's associates who received payments, his personal accountant, Richard Vitale, gave DiMasi a highly unusual third mortgage on his North End condominium.
DiMasi, who has refused to respond to a subpoena for records from the Ethics Commission, has maintained that Massachusetts already has one of the strictest laws in the country.
"The speaker has been very clear that while Massachusetts already has among the toughest ethics laws in the country, if necessary changes are proposed, they will of course be considered," said his spokesman, David Guarino.
Senate President Therese Murray has also not been entirely enthusiastic about new reforms, with her only comment so far being a one-sentence statement that she is "open to looking at any meaningful changes to ethics laws." Her spokesman, David Falcone, said the Senate is working on its own proposals for change but that it remained a work in progress last week and was not ready to be released.
Massachusetts ranked 20th overall in the nation on its openness and ethics laws, according to an index released last month by the Better Government Association. The rankings took into account laws in each state on limits to campaign contributions, transparency laws, and penalties for ethics violations.
Massachusetts ranked 42d in open records laws; 28th in whistleblower laws; 2d in campaign finance laws; 37th in open meetings laws; and 13th in conflict-of-interest laws.
In the early 1990s, widespread changes were made to the state's campaign finance laws, including limiting contributions to $500, banning lobbyists from providing gifts, and requiring lawmakers to file electronic disclosures.
The last time there was such a widespread movement for change, however, was in the 1970s. A special commission was formed, and became named after its chairman, John William Ward.
Following a nearly three-year-long inquiry, the commission's final report was blunt in its findings.
"We have learned that corruption is a way of life in Massachusetts," it stated in more than 2,000 pages.
The report also said that its reforms would hopefully "create a future in the political life of Massachusetts where there would never again be the need for a special commission to investigate corruption and maladministration."
Matt Viser can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
"Ribbon cut at the Registry -- finally"
By Jennifer Huberdeau, North Adams Transcript
Monday, December 8, 2008
NORTH ADAMS -- Two weeks after the North Adams branch of the Registry of Motor Vehicles opened in its new home at 33 Main St., the registrar, Rachel Kaprielian, celebrated with a ribbon-cutting ceremony on Friday.
"I think this location is so wonderful," she said. "It will help provide more foot traffic for the local businesses. It's just great to be back in the heart of the city, where there are so many other local, state and federal offices so close by. It will make it easier for our customers if they are missing a piece of information."
Kaprielian was scheduled to open the office on Nov. 24, but a series of manhole explosions in Boston earlier that morning knocked out communications lines statewide for the Registry and closed all 34 state branches -- including North Adams -- for the day. The outage scuttled plans for the local ribbon-cutting that day.
"I think we did the right thing to ensure the integrity of our systems and of the information that we store," she said. "We couldn't tell the public that the registries would be open by 1 p.m. or any other time because we weren't sure. It was an external event that we had no control over, but it has made us think to the future. It was a great learning experience."
Longtime employee Mildred "Dir" Giambroino, who has been with the Registry for 27 years, was also honored during the ceremony.
"I actually retired 12 years ago, but I came back almost two years later as a part-time employee to cover the lunch shift," Giambroino, 77, said. "Today's my last day -- they no longer need me to cover the lunch break because the office is closed now. It's a gorgeous office. At least I had a chance to work here for a couple of weeks before I left."
She said she had worked in a variety of Registry locations over the years, including the former locations on Curran Highway and at the Berkshire Plaza, which now houses the juvenile court.
"I also worked in Pittsfield for some time," Giambroino said. "When I got my license, the Registry was located on Spring Street."
Kaprielian said the new office is equipped with a new integrated system that allows all transactions to take place at one location.
"It's so convenient," said Colleen Chaloux, who has worked at the Registry for 19 years said. "We can do all the work in one place without having to ask people to meet us in another location. We can do eye exams, photos and paper work all in one area."
She said the office also offers the employees the choice to enjoy lunch in the downtown.
"I've missed being able to walk during lunch," Chaloux said. "I also think the location is closer and easier for our older customers. We've definitely seen a lot of foot traffic in the last few weeks."
The Registry office will be changing lunch hours on Monday.
"We've realized that a lot of customers try to make it to the RMV during their lunch break, which is when we are closed," said Joseph O'Neill, a regional manager. "Starting on Monday, we're going to close for lunch from 1 p.m. to 2 p.m., so our customers will be able to stop by during their lunch breaks."
"Between the Lines: Kulik Earns It: Making the case for legislative pay raises"
By Tom Vannah, Valley Advocate - Easthampton, Massachusetts, Thursday, January 15, 2009
I've voted for State Rep. Stephen Kulik of Worthington every time he's come up for re-election in the last decade.
As one of his constituents—Kulik represents the rural 1st Franklin District, as well as a number of rural communities in Hampshire County—I am continually impressed by Kulik's commitment to a part of Western Massachusetts that too often gets ignored in Boston. As he did recently in his effort to bring broadband cable access to the many underserved communities in the region, Kulik responds to the unique needs of rural places in a state where urban and suburban issues tend to dominate politics.
As a journalist, I find in Kulik a compelling subject: a pro-gun rights back-to-the-lander who embraces a decidedly progressive political agenda, a guy as comfortable mixing it up at a Select Board meeting in any one of his 16 rural towns as he is in the more urbane climes of Beacon Hill. Unlike many politicians, Kulik never ducks reporters' questions and never fails to return phone calls, which he does personally, eschewing the common practice of having aides vet the calls first. I have never heard Kulik lie or dance around controversy in ways intended to obfuscate.
My admiration for Kulik may, in an indirect way, color my view of a controversial issue: a scheduled pay raise for lawmakers. Simply put, I support the pay hike, even though it comes when state budgets are being pruned back tighter than a privet hedge. Kulik, it turns out, is one of a few lawmakers to risk being on the wrong side of voters by saying that he'll accept the approximately $3,200 pay increase. Many of his colleagues have gone the other way, pledging not to accept the automatic hike, the result of a 1999 constitutional amendment that tied legislative pay increases to increases in the median household income.
The issue of pay raises for lawmakers is always thorny, even in relatively prosperous years for the state. Some people wonder why politicians should see an increase when other workers watch their wages stagnate or decline. Others object to the pay raises as one of myriad governmental expenses that only grow, never shrink. For others, lawmaker pay should be cut merely to register contempt for what they view as a corrupt and self-serving body.
The fact is, however, Massachusetts pays its legislators a full-time salary for what is supposed to be full-time work. We do so, at least in part, to avoid the problems that come with part-time legislative bodies, which often are populated with wealthy people or with people who only take office because they believe they stand to benefit personally and professionally from being lawmakers.
Were the raises based entirely on merit, not all legislators would deserve a bump this year. But since the pay hike, a 5.5 percent increase tied to a commensurate rise in household income over the last two years, is a cost of living adjustment applied to all members of the General Court, we must either reward or punish all of them, the deserving with the undeserving.
In a recent phone conversation, Kulik confirmed that being a state rep is his one and only job, his full-time career. Such is the case for most if not all of his colleagues from this part of the state, he says. He isn't a lawyer or a real estate professional on the side, like many Boston-area lawmakers. In fact, he doesn't believe that someone representing well more than a dozen towns spread out over a wide area 100 or more miles from Boston could find time to pursue a sideline. Kulik notes that he isn't reimbursed for the miles he travels throughout his district, or for tolls on his many trips to and from Boston.
As controversial as the pay hike may be, Kulik supports a living wage for lawmakers as a way "to avoid having a Legislature filled with millionaires and retired people who can afford to do it for little or no pay."
As I see lawmakers in Boston offering a symbolic gesture to voters by refusing to accept the extra pay, I have to wonder how much real sacrifice it represents. In the end, I'd prefer to be represented by someone who needs a $3,200 raise as much as I do. Better that than being represented by someone who views that sum as an insignificant part of his earnings, hardly worth the political trouble it may cause.
"State pulling oldest scam in the book"
By Margery Eagan, Thursday, January 29, 2009, www.bostonherald.com, Columnists
Anti-tax czarina Barbara Anderson spent a cheerful afternoon yesterday watching the federal stimulus package debate on C-Span.
“Everything’s falling apart. I could see it coming. Somehow I thought it’d happen after I was dead.”
Tax watchdog Michael Widmer termed the mess we’re in “a global economic bloodbath.”
But no matter how desperate things get, one constant remains here in Massachusetts. Politicians won’t do real reforms because that would tick off public employee unions. Instead , they cut teachers and slash services.
Old people who fall and can’t get up? They won’t be getting up.
Now, Gov. Patrick wants higher taxes on Snickers and certain fruit juices, which is why you should get to Shaw’s immediately. Gatorade’s on sale, 10 for $10. It could be your last chance!
But here’s the problem. Local public employee health-care costs will still be our No. 1 budget-buster even if Snickers get taxed at $5 a chew.
Have we fixed the problem? No.
To push more towns into the state’s less expensive health plan, Patrick said he’d penalize those that don’t join by cutting their local aid.
What he should do is allow towns to do as the state and take health care out of collective bargaining, period, and save $2.5 billion over 10 years!
Next, pension reform. Patrick said Treasurer Tim Cahill would have a plan by January. It’s almost February. What’s taking so long?
Some changes are obvious:
No more douple-dipping or buying back sick and vacation time, a policy that allowed Boston educator Michael Contompasis - a great guy, I know - to “retire” with a $270,000 salary, plus a $147,967 sick-and-vacation time buyback, plus a $139,782 pension, plus a double-dipping add-on of $65,000 when he went back to work for Mayor Menino.
No more collecting a state pension before you’re 60 or 65. That means state cops could not get a 60 percent pension after 20 years or 75 percent after 25 years. It means Jim Rooney - another great guy, I know - could not make $369,292 from the Massachusetts Convention Center Authority while simultaneously collecting a $70,00 pension from the MBTA.
Amend the prevailing wage law to exclude civilian flaggers so less-costly flaggers - not detail cops - can direct traffic in cities and towns, which are broke.
Our choice? Fire everybody, or ditch scams.
Call your legislator: 617-722-2000.
"Beacon Hill Roll Call: Patrick wants to post notices on the Web instead of newspapers"
By Bob Katzen/Beacon Hill Roll Call, Friday Feb. 06, 2009, wickedlocal.com/cambridge
Cambridge - THE HOUSE AND SENATE. There were no roll call votes in the House or Senate last week.
Beacon Hill Roll Call has obtained the official list from the state treasurer's office of "per diems" collected by the 40 state senators during 2008 for mileage, meals and lodging expenses. The list reveals that senators have collected a total of $105,967. Per diems are paid by the state to senators "for each day for travel from his place of residence to the Statehouse and return therefrom, while in the performance of his official duties, upon certification to the state treasurer that he was present at the Statehouse."
The amount of the per diem varies and is based on the city or town in which a senator resides and its distance from the Statehouse. These payments are not taxable and range from $10 per day for senators who reside in the Greater Boston area to $90 per day for some Western Massachusetts lawmakers and $100 per day for those in Nantucket. Senators who are from areas that are a long distance from Boston's Statehouse often are the ones who collect the highest total of annual per diems.
The Legislature in 2000 approved a law doubling these per diems to the current amounts. Supporters of the hikes defend the raise and note that the per diems had not been increased for many years despite the rising costs of travel, food and lodging. Some opponents say that the hikes were excessive. Others argue that the very idea of paying a per diem is outrageous and note that most other private sector and state workers are not paid additional money for commuting. They argue that it is even more outrageous in light of the state's economy and fiscal crisis that has led to recent budget cuts of more than $1 billion and the loss of thousands of jobs in the state.
These per diems are paid to senators above and beyond their annual base salary, which in January was raised 5.5 percent from $58,236.74 to $61,439.76 under the terms of a constitutional amendment approved by the voters in 1998. The amendment requires legislative salaries to be increased or decreased biennially at the same rate as the state's median household income for the preceding two-year period - as ascertained by the governor. All 40 senators also receive additional stipends ranging from $7,500 to $35,000 for serving as committee chairs or in other leadership positions.
The 2008 statistics indicate that senators have received per diem payments ranging from as little as $430 to as much as $8,460 and that 11 senators have so far chosen not to apply for any money. State law does not establish a deadline that senators must meet in order to collect the per diems.
The senator who received the most per diem money in 2008 is freshman Sen. Benjamin Downing (D-Pittsfield) with $8,460. The other recipients in the top five include Sens. Stephen Brewer (D-Barre) $6,660; Stanley Rosenberg (D-Amherst) $6,180; Michael Knapik (R-Westfield) $5,742 and Harriette Chandler (D-West Newbury) $5,508.
ALSO UP ON BEACON HILL
SLOW START - The Legislature is off to a slower than usual start. Legislators have not been assigned their permanent offices. They have not yet been notified on which committees they will serve. Committee chairs have not been chosen. The Republicans have chosen their leadership teams in both branches but House Speaker Robert DeLeo and Senate President Therese Murray have not yet appointed their leadership teams. More than 6,000 pieces of legislation have been filed but individual bills have not yet been referred to committees.
CASINOS MAY GET ANOTHER SHOT - The exit of the chief opponent of building casinos in Massachusetts has breathed new life into the possibility of legalized gambling. Former House Speaker Salvatore DiMasi was most responsible for defeating Gov. Patrick's casino proposal last May. Newly-elected House Speaker Robert DeLeo is on record as voting for legalizing slot machines and has said recently that he is open to the idea of casino-style gambling.
PROHIBIT STATE AGENCIES FROM HIRING PRIVATE LOBBYISTS - Gov. Deval Patrick's fiscal 2010 budget proposal includes a section that would bar state agencies from hiring private lobbyists to lobby state government including the Legislature and the governor. Current state law allows this practice. Critics say that this practice is misguided and should be banned. Supporters of the practice say that state agencies often need outside help and guidance in achieving their goals.
POST NOTICES ONLINE INSTEAD OF IN NEWSPAPERS - Gov. Patrick's proposal that he says is designed to help cities and towns includes a controversial section that would allow municipalities and state agencies to post notices of procurements on the Internet instead of in a local newspaper, as required under current law. Cities and towns would be allowed to post the notices on their own website or on the state's Web site. The Patrick administration estimates that the change will save communities thousands of dollars annually. Some critics say that the change will further hurt many newspapers that are already struggling. Others say that the change is misguided because not everyone has Internet access.
$58.6 MILLION MORE FOR SNOW REMOVAL COSTS - Gov. Patrick has asked the Legislature to approve an additional $58.6 million to pay for snow and ice removal from state highways. The governor and Legislature this year had budgeted only $20 million but the costs have skyrocketed along with the snowy Massachusetts winter. Underfunding this account is a regular practice on Beacon Hill. The Legislature allocates less money than anticipated and later makes up for it by adding funds. This year is different in two ways. The really snowy winter has resulted in higher than average costs of snow removal and the state is awash in debt and can not easily come up with the additional funding.
"The older I get, I think the proximity to a bathroom is important."
Rep. Daniel Bosley (D-North Adams) quoted in a Boston Globe story commenting on legislators awaiting their assignment to new office space. Many legislators are jockeying for large offices, a good non-basement location and a nice décor.
"Preliminary revenue collections for January 2009 total $1.792 billion, down $409 million from last January."
From an announcement by Massachusetts Revenue Commissioner Navjeet K. Bal confirming the continuing bad news for the state's economy.
"Back taxes appear to be a theme for Democrats nationally and here in Massachusetts. Democrats at all level of our state government have had tax problems at one point or another, from the governor to city council. Senator Daschle may feel more comfortable (in Massachusetts) where his problems will be ignored by fellow Democrats. There is an election for state representative opening up soon."
Newly-elected Republican State Committee chairwoman Jennifer Nassour on Sen. Tom Daschle's withdrawal from consideration as President Obama's Health and Human Services Secretary.
"Two lobbyists, who did not wish to be quoted, said they are now lobbying to defeat the measure."
From a Boston Globe article on Gov. Patrick's proposed measure to bar state agencies from hiring private lobbyists to lobby state government.
HOW LONG WAS LAST WEEK'S SESSION? Beacon Hill Roll Call tracks the length of time that the House and Senate were in session each week. Many legislators say that legislative sessions are only one aspect of the Legislature's job and that a lot of important work is done outside of the House and Senate chambers. They note that their jobs also involve committee work, research, constituent work and other matters that are important to their districts. Critics say that the Legislature does not meet regularly or long enough to debate and vote in public view on the thousands of pieces of legislation that have been filed. They note that the infrequency and brief length of sessions are misguided and lead to irresponsible late night sessions and a mad rush to act on dozens of bills in the days immediately preceding the end of an annual session.
During the week of February 2-6, the House met for a total of 18 minutes while the Senate met for a total of two hours and one minute.
Mon. Feb. 2 House 11:00 a.m. to 11:06 a.m.
Senate 11:05 a.m. to 12:56 p.m.
Tues. Feb. 3 No House session
No Senate session
Wed. Feb. 4 No House session
No Senate session
Thurs. Feb. 5 House 11:01 a.m. to 11:13 a.m.
Senate 11:01 a.m. to 11:11 a.m.
Fri. Feb. 6 No House session
No Senate session
Bob Katzen welcomes feedback at email@example.com.
"Campaign Finance", By State House News Service, Thursday, February 05, 2009, 5:08 PM EST, Belmont, Massachusetts - with news from the Belmont Citizen-Herald
Boston, Mass. - Editor’s Note: The News Service starts a feature today focused on campaign financing. It’ll be published irregularly, based on filings and fundraising activities. To help us name the feature, we’re asking readers to send suggestions to firstname.lastname@example.org. The winner will receive two passes to AMC Loews Boston Common.
Alan Solomont and Tom Finneran, the left-leaning fundraising juggernaut and conservative talkmeister/former speaker, respectively, don’t agree on all that much. But they agree on the High Sheriff of Worcester County, GUY W. GLODIS. And so do new Speaker Robert DeLeo, Senate budget chief Steven Panagiotakos, Daniel Langone Pascantilli, and former Attorney General Tom Reilly, all members of the 35-strong organization entitled “The Greater Boston Friends of Guy Glodis.” None of them, though, rate the marquee slots held by Lt. Gov. Timothy Murray, US Rep. Stephen Lynch, and former Senate President Robert Travaglini, the “confirmed hosts and special guests” at next Thursday’s 40th birthday celebration at Anthony’s Pier IV [sic] in South Boston, in honor of the high sheriff, frequently mentioned in political circles as a prospective candidate for state auditor. No corporate checks allowed, but the suggested donations are between $40 and $440, the recurring theme being the 40, presumably because it’s the high sheriff’s 40th birthday. Other Greater Boston Friends: Sens. Jack Hart, Anthony Petruccelli, Anthony Galluccio, Michael Morrissey, Steven Tolman, James Timilty; Reps. John Rogers, Brian Wallace, Kevin Honan, Carlo Basile, Kathi-Anne Reinstein, and Michael Rush; Norfolk County Treasurer Joseph Connolly; and a string of labor chieftains, among them Stephen MacDougall of the Carmen’s Union, Sean O’Brien of Teamsters Local 25, Brian Brousseau of Roofers Local 33, Louis Rasetta of Crane Operators Local 3, Thomas Nee of the Boston Police Patrolmen’s Association, and Paul McNally of the Mass. Laborers’ Council. Solomont and Pascantilli are the only Greater Boston Friends whose names are not accompanied by an affiliation or title. Glodis last year supported long-shot Senate candidate Ed O’Reilly in his bid against Sen. John Kerry.
The latest deposit report from potential mayoral candidate and Boston City Councilor SAM YOON, which details more than $5,400 in donations, includes $200 from Beal Companies President Robert Beal, a combined $1,000 from Eva Mok and Shu Ngon Chau of Waban, $500 from ING Capital LLC Managing Director Kunduck Moon of New York, $500 from Brown Brothers Harriman Partner Stokley Towles, $500 from Charles River Conservancy President Renata von Tscharner, and $500 from Beacon Street-based Retired Public Employees Committee for Political Action.
WATSON’S CANDY IN WALPOLE can also be thankful to the RETIRED PUBLIC EMPLOYEES COMMITTEE FOR POLITICAL ACTION. The PAC late last year delivered $21,705 in two payments to Watson’s for “candy for members,” while also giving $500 apiece to Reps. Barry Finegold, Denis Guyer, Jim Dwyer, and Sens. Marc Pacheco, Thomas McGee and Susan Fargo. The PAC ended the year with a $1,162,957.93 balance.
GOV. DEVAL PATRICK has been raking in political contributions from real estate and development executives of late, as the state awaits potentially billions of dollars in federal aid that will help bankroll new development projects. The industry wrote checks for at least $2,650 of the more than $10,000 banked Monday and Tuesday, and at least nearly $8,000 of more than $19,000 filed Jan. 29. Committee spokesman Steve Crawford said, “These individuals contributed to the governor because they support his efforts to create affordable housing and get our economy back on track.”
LT. GOV. TIMOTHY MURRAY was 2008’s top fundraiser, pulling in a gaudy $1,054,001, iced by a strong finishing kick in a December worth $253,000. The Worcester Democrat’s support ranged across the state, and included one frequent critic of the administration’s slow-moving effort to reform the transportation system. Office of Campaign and Political Finance reports reflect the maximum $500 from Sen. Steven Baddour, whose check was deposited Dec. 5, two days after the Transportation Committee Senate chairman engaged in an animated dispute in the State House with Gov. Deval Patrick. Murray’s Dec. 5 intake also includes at least $1,800 from officials at the Dewey Square Group, a public affairs firm that lobbied extensively last session. The firm’s lobbyists were active on, among other issues, the bottle bill, toll collections, amendments to the I-cubed program, renewable energy legislation, tanning beds, and mixed martial arts.
Murray’s cash explosion put him well ahead of his running mate, Patrick, who netted $709,004, and of his occasional sparring partner, TREASURER TIMOTHY CAHILL, who raised $511,462 in 2008. ATTORNEY GENERAL MARTHA COAKLEY, who also keeps a previously unknown federal campaign kitty, the Associated Press reported Wednesday, raised $489,258. SECRETARY OF STATE WILLIAM GALVIN took in $223,076. Cahill’s ending balance far outpaced the others’, at $2,847,872.
Already possessing one of the largest campaign accounts in the Legislature, SENATE PRESIDENT THERESE MURRAY goes back for more Feb. 22 at Joe Tecce’s in the North End. The committee in charge of electing the Plymouth Democrat is asking attendees to pay $150 per person to attend a “reception to honor Senate President Therese Murray.”
Former Sen. JAMES MARZILLI, who resigned last year amid sexual assault charges, closed his campaign account this week, but not before forgiving a loan from himself. The Arlington Democrat forgave a $6,000 loan on Jan. 27 before dissolving his account Feb. 2.
Which candidates and officeholders are social workers backing? A newly filed pre-election report from MA PACE SOCIAL WORKERS POLITICAL ACTION COMMITTEE shows $500 contributions last year to Sonia Chang-Diaz, who won election to the Senate, and Kate Hogan, who joined the House this year. Dan Larkosh of Tisbury, who lost a House race to Tim Madden, pulled in $500 from the PAC, which also helped out Reps. William Mae Allen, Matt Patrick, Sarah Peake, Ruth Balser and Marty Walz.
A BOSTON GLOBE EDITORIAL
February 8, 2009
THE MASSACHUSETTS Public Records Law gives government officials too many ways to withhold information. When a citizen requests an official record, the agency in question is required to answer the request within 10 days. But agencies sometimes respond slowly, demand exorbitant fees, improperly claim one of the numerous exemptions in the law, or just blow off the request.
Recently, at a State House forum hosted by CommonWealth magazine, Representative Antonio Cabral of New Bedford recalled asking a district attorney for figures on money raised from drug forfeitures. The request was turned down, he said, on the grounds that the Public Records Law exempts information related to criminal investigations. The argument was bogus; releasing general budget information doesn't compromise any investigation.
If only this were an isolated example. When CommonWealth recently made 44 simple requests for public records, only two were answered in strict compliance with the law. Citizens can appeal to Alan Cote, the state's supervisor of public records. But even if he rules that a document should be made available, he has little power to enforce that judgment. Worse, recalcitrant bureaucrats have kept Cote from making adverse rulings simply by denying him access to even look at the documents in question.
The need for reform is acute - especially now, as accusations of influence-peddling on Beacon Hill fuel public cynicism.
A bill sponsored by Cabral would fix several nuts-and-bolts problems with the system. It would increase the fine for officials who violate the law from $20 to $500. It would give Cote's office - a branch of the secretary of state - the power to subpoena documents and the ability to directly ask courts to enforce its rulings. The bill would also restrict fees to the actual cost of producing a copy of a public record. And it would require agencies to deliver computerized records to the public in electronic form, which should cut costs. These steps would all be helpful.
But the bill doesn't go far enough. The Legislature should narrow or eliminate many of the exceptions to the Public Records Law. Of course, lawmakers exempted themselves from the law more than a century ago. Under court precedents, the judiciary and the governor's office also claim exemptions. Other provisions meant to protect the privacy of state workers, the integrity of criminal investigations, and the safety of public buildings can be used as pretexts to withhold information.
More fundamentally, what's needed is a cultural shift. While states such as Florida are known for making vast amounts of public information easily available to residents, such openness just isn't in the DNA of government in Massachusetts. Public scrutiny of government work may be a thorn in the sides of some agencies, but it's a vital part of a democratic system.
"Policy points: Ethics, economy front and center at 2009-2010 session start line"
Bedford, Massachusetts - with news from the Bedford Minuteman - wickedlocal.com/bedford/news, By State House News Service, Monday, February 09, 2009, 3:41 PM EST
Boston, Mass. - Experienced hands in the Fourth Estate jumped from one hot topic to another Friday morning, hurtling from ethics and the economy to the changed and evolving political dynamics on Beacon Hill to a diminished capitol press corps and media strategies out of the Corner Office.
The “Starting Line” forum, timed to coincide with the beginning of the 2009-2010 legislative session, was cosponsored by Massachusetts Institute for a New Commonwealth, a non-partisan think tank, and State House News Service.
The panelists were:
-- Hilary Chabot, Boston Herald State House Bureau;
-- Craig Sandler, State House News Service general manager;-- Scot Lehigh, Boston Globe columnist;
-- Jim Braude, New England Cable News and WTKK-FM;
The following is a detailed summary, not a verbatim transcript.
BRUCE MOHL, COMMONWEALTH MAGAZINE (MODERATOR): This is an event we hold every couple of years to look at the year ahead on Beacon Hill. We have four provocative panelists. There are many ways to go on this, we talk about issues or personalities. I like to start with the people and the newcomer, Speaker Robert DeLeo. I don’t know if you caught it but Jim had an interview with him last night on NECN. There was some news about him going for term limits on the speaker. What was your take on it Jim? I was struck by the fact that he was a state rep representing his own district’s interests and now he has a much higher position of power to sort of exercise that on gambling and on tolls and things like that.
JIM BRAUDE, NECN AND WTKK: One of my mottos is from Lily tomlin who once said no matter how cynical I get, I just can’t keep up. We had three in a row, three leaving under an ethical could, two felons and possibly a third. You do say why is this guy different? I can’t quantify it. He seems almost normal, almost like a regular kind of person who is not totally swollen with the power. He does care about his constituents. He hinted very strongly that limiting terms of speakers – I am not a term limit guy in general but I am clearly a term limit guy when it comes to leadership in the Legislature – it would be a great step forward. One of the things I asked him, which you are probably thinking, is if you interviewed Tom Finneran or Charlie Flaherty or Sal DiMasi on their first week and you said you’d end up in jail in four years, they’d say what are you talking about, I am a different kind of person. But I really think he may be a different kind of person. You get the sense that there’s not the same level of hubris. The power - Ways and Means is very powerful - when you go from just being one of the people in the Legislature to the top dog something happens that I’ve never seen anything like this.
CRAIG SANDLER, STATE HOUSE NEWS SERVICE: The dangerous side with that is Sal was pretty normal too. Finneran and Flaherty did not fit in that mold. They clearly had a lot going on intellectually and in terms of personality. I worry a little bit in that Sal started out as the guy from the North End and obviously did not finish off that way. And so I think he’s proof of DeLeo’s greatest danger, which is that there’s just something about the position.
JIM BRAUDE, NECN AND WTKK: Did you read what Scot said in his column the other day? The good news is he doesn’t play golf.
SCOT LEHIGH, BOSTON GLOBE: Finneran would expatiate about how essentially great he thought he was – he would say I could see myself in the United States Senate or mayor or in a big executive post. It’s hard to imagine Bob DeLeo doing that. When he was up at the podium the other day he was looking at the lights and saying, ‘what’s this?’ When they called him Mr. Speaker in the caucus, he said, ‘Come on, call me Bob.’ He is low-key. He calls himself a hamburger guy or something like that. I think that’s true. He doesn’t have big pretensions. He’s less well-known inside the State House than any speaker in my memory. He was a backbencher until Sal plucked him out and put him at Ways and Means. Really there he’s been low-key and kind of a functionary. Finneran, you could see him becoming Napoleon even as Ways and Means chair. You just don’t see that with DeLeo. It’s going to be interesting watching the dynamic among the three of them. Sal wanted to be the first among equals and wanted credit for a lot of stuff and he was quite stubborn about a lot of things and he really knew how to use power, for good or ill I think. Now we’re going to have a different type. It’s really a little unresolved at this point.
HILARY CHABOT, BOSTON HERALD: From the reps I talk it seems as though we keep moving towards a kind of kinder, gentler speaker. Finneran was laying down the law. DiMasi tried to be sort of a nicer guy. I get the sense with DeLeo that they see that continuing. And sometimes people can take advantage of that if they see that opening. That’s the progression I’ve seen.
BRUCE MOHL, COMMONWEALTH MAGAZINE (MODERATOR): You all seem to think he’s a regular guy. Does he have the vision thing? You’ve got three people setting an agenda. What I heard on the interview last night was about his district and we don’t want tolls and we want slots at tracks. Not exactly the big picture guy.
CRAIG SANDLER, STATE HOUSE NEWS SERVICE: Well that personality or the lack thereof - I don’t mean that pejoratively – but that personality type might be the perfect kind of personality to address the number one concern within the institution now, which is its own image and ethics. He does seem to be a good fit for someone to end the House’s long institutional nightmare, a la Gerald Ford. To that extent he might be the right person at the right time. People have lost all of their faith in that institution and it’s lost all of its credibility because of this series of leaders. He is just a regular guy. You keep hearing this phrase ham and turkey. Has anyone had one of those? They used to say ham and eggers. Ham and turkey came out of left field. But in any case, I think that kind of low-key straightforward approach is just the kind of approach you need to reassure people.
SCOT LEHIGH, BOSTON GLOBE: It would be nice to see him open the House up a little bit. Charlie Flaherty was the last speaker who really let committee chairman do anything. He had some very bright people. Finneran, as Ways and Means chairmen tend to do, centralized a lot of power in his office, a control freak frankly. For different reasons DiMasi did the same kind of thing. He wanted to be the guy who did it, he wanted his brand or imprint on it. You didn’t see a lot of things percolating up through the committee system. Frankly in a system where none of the rank of file people and committee chairmen have much to do, talented people leave and schlumpy people stay. That’s happened to some degree in the House. There’s been a big exodus of talent. It would be nice to see the new speaker say to the committee chairmen go out and develop some policy and if you screw up fine, that’s part of learning to be a leader. But actually develop the place a little bit and not just have it be a one-person show the way it’s been.
JIM BRAUDE, NECN AND WTKK: I totally agree. But it’s a two-way street. How DeLeo turns out, regardless of him being a working class guy, is a function of whether or not the sheep on Beacon Hill act like elected representatives. One of the most disgraceful acts I have seen in recent times was the fact that on January 7 after Richard Vitale was indicted and Martha Coakley says there were numerous communications between Vitale and the Speaker of the House, and in that same article you see the April interview where he tells the Globe I never talked to this guy, I didn’t even know what he was working on. That fact that those people, with the exception of about seven or eight members of the House, voted to reinstall him - kissed him, hugged him - is staggering to me. It’s a function of the fact that the vast majority of elected officials in this Legislature care more about the will of the speaker than they do about the people back home. They have to demand part of that power. I don’t mean it in an offensive way. They have to demand some autonomy. If they do there could be a good balance and you’ll get some vision from the people who he chooses to be leaders. That’s greatly in the hands of members.
CRAIG SANDLER, STATE HOUSE NEWS SERVICE: And that’s very promising. This is a really bad moment. DiMasi left, presumably knowing he was one more bad Globe story from departing, and at the worst possible moment. You look at what Congress is doing at the national level and it’s easy to see we need something like that in Massachusetts and instead we have no committee chairs, no bill numbers, no real legislative agenda, no clearly defined plan for dealing with an unprecedented economic crisis in the state and apparently DiMasi was planning to leave with the next negative story, which inevitably occurred, and the House right now is a void and a vacuum when it comes to budgetary and economic policy. Patrick filed his emergency plan and that could have been passed by now. But DiMasi allowed himself to be elected and then days later departed, leaving behind an emergency.
HILARY CHABOT, BOSTON HERALD: It’s funny that you say that Jim about reps standing up. One of the first things I remember when I came up from the Lowell Sun - new reporter, very naïve I guess - I talked to one of the reps about who knows what and he said, well we’ll see what the boss does. He’s talking about the speaker. The first thing I thought was, aren’t the people who elected you supposed to be the boss. It’s naïve I guess to think that way but that is the first thing that comes to mind.
SCOT LEHIGH, BOSTON GLOBE: Someone appointed a chairman in the Senate said something that speaks a little to that when they once said I think the Senate president is going to give me a good deal of independence. You’re either independent or you’re not.
BRUCE MOHL, COMMONWEALTH MAGAZINE (MODERATOR): You know it’s funny that you used the term sheep. On the outside the fact that there are no committee chairs to most people doesn’t seem to make a difference because it’s just three people who get in a room and seem to decide everything. Is that true or is it not true?
SCOT LEHIGH, BOSTON GLOBE: I think it’s distressingly true. It really started when Weld came in. You had Weld and Charlie Flaherty and Bill Bulger and the state was in crisis. Charlie to a little less degree, but Bulger certainly got what he wanted in the Senate. You had these meetings and these guys came to speak for the chamber. Charlie would sometimes say look I’ve got to see what the House wants to do. Finneran gave up the pretense of that and say look this is what we’re going to do. And that continued very much with DiMasi. Dan Bosley is a senior member from North Adams and is very smart and is actually a policy force in and of itself. You look around and you see him and that’s basically the one mountain there.
JIM BRAUDE, NECN AND WTKK: Dan Bosley will be a very significant decision by DeLeo. This is a guy who has led the opposition to casinos, substantively as opposed to just emotionally. Whether DeLeo allows him to stay as a point person on that committee, and if he does, whether he allows that committee to maintain primary jurisdiction over casino issues, will be a huge early indicator of what kind of House he will run.
CRAIG SANDLER, STATE HOUSE NEWS SERVICE: With Birmingham and Finneran, you had the legislative leaders who announced what the policy would be. When I started in the ’80s it wasn’t like that. The leaders did not presume to announce in advance what the House and Senate were going to do. They didn’t do it. That shifted. If you think back to the Birmingham-Finneran era, those personalities and egos and intellects were so big that they seemed to take all the oxygen out of the room and all the fire out of the bellies of the followerships.
BRUCE MOHL, COMMONWEALTH MAGAZINE (MODERATOR): Let’s talk about Deval a little bit and how he is doing. I have my own opinion. You had a column Scot that said he was the senior man now in this group and that he seemed to be getting his legs under him – that wasn’t your term. I still feel like he’s still drifting quite a bit – transportation, we keep waiting for this plan that never seems to materialize. There’s been some people who have been shuffled out of his administration now. You can do things like ethics, get a task force together and come out with a fairly narrowly prescribed plan for that, but the big stuff, maybe he’s all tied up in knots about whether to raise taxes or not.
SCOT LEHIGH, BOSTON GLOBE: He’s got to completely reorient. We’re in this awful downward spiral. You look at him some days and he frankly seems like he needs a shot of B-12. He seems very sad and glum almost. That’s how he seemed at the 9C press conference when he announced the budget cuts. He’s just somber. I think it is tough for him. One of his big problems is he’s kind of an incrementalist. He was elected with the support of all of the unions. Some of the stuff you are into now requires you to be a little bit bolder and he is reluctant to reform in terms of doing things that are big enough. It’s tough. Remember, the second administration of Dukakis who wanted a pre-formed consensus on everything, wanted everyone on board before he announced an initiative and didn’t really want to have fights with the Democrats. I think that the governor is that way. I know we think he lost his whole transportation agenda. What happened there is DiMasi saw an opportunity to kind of placate the liberals and get out there and push the controversy back a bit by jumping on the gas tax, which does make sense as opposed to the tolls. All the liberals like it. Everyone in Metrowest liked it. It changed the subject. It was a very smart political move by DiMasi. I think frankly Dave Guarino helped with it. It was a smart idea politically, a bold idea. I think it caught the governor off guard. DiMasi became bold because he wanted to look bold and change the subject as the clouds were closing in on him. Now we’ll have to see who is the bold person.
CRAIG SANDLER, STATE HOUSE NEWS SERVICE: It’s hard to be the CEO of the largest organization in New England in a time of crisis.
HILARY CHABOT, BOSTON HERALD: The transportation thing, he took a lot of people by surprise. For whatever reason, that transportation story leaked before he could talk to anyone about it and it pissed off a lot of people in the Legislature. That set up not only a backlash with people who were dealing with this toll hike, but also with the Legislature. You could see the Senate President positioning herself on this issue quite a bit. This is one of the few things she’s differing with the governor on. Maybe she has a little bit more freedom to flex her muscles now that DiMasi is gone. Even before DiMasi came out for the gas tax, there was a world of trouble on transportation reform. It was something that came out and everybody was sort of annoyed that they hadn’t been talked to about it and it sort of got larger.
BRUCE MOHL, COMMONWEALTH MAGAZINE (MODERATOR): What did you think of them releasing this all-important Readiness Project they’d been working on with hundreds of people for a year and to come out with no revenue implications? You had a special committee working on it. New Year’s Eve they released their report. I was astounded. Clearly everyone knows there are economic problems. It wouldn’t be surprising for the governor to say, I have really big ambitions but we can’t do them right now. To sort of peter it out and wipe it under the rug seemed odd to me.
JIM BRAUDE, NECN AND WTKK: The two transitions he is going through. When you are a corporate general counsel and you are used to sort of snapping your figures – you want the car, you get the car; you want a policy change you get a policy change – all of a sudden you have to collaborate with egomaniacs – I don’t mean that in a pejorative way – it’s hard to do that. And it’s very hard to go from this big idea thing to have to deal with what do I not eliminate as opposed to what I add. It’s difficult for any human being. The ascension of DeLeo is going to be a huge asset for him. At least in the early going they will have discussions on the merits of things. A telling moment on Murray and Patrick – Aloisi is there because he knows the inside and how to do everything and knows the Big Dig culture. So the first thing he does is announce that plan and thirty seconds later Terry Murray savages him in the State House News Service, I think it was. So the guy knows how to work the system and no one even talked to one of the two people that matters. Something is wrong somewhere. Either Murray has an ego problem or Deval Patrick doesn’t know how to reach out. Many people might say it could be the latter. Everyone is involved in politics here. The best way to co-opt anyone is to include them in the discussion. Even if they hate everything you stand for, if you are a person of power and you talk to Jane Doe and you say I am going to do this and I know you hate it. If you deal with them every day it’s very hard to savage the messenger the next day in the newspaper. That case should be studied - the Aloisi-Murray thing. But at least for the time being, there is somebody who seems to be open and willing to talk in DeLeo. When he came out with the ethics task force, the fact that Terry Murray’s response was we do ethics training for incoming senators to begin with -- hello? They just dragged two members of your chamber out of the building, practically.
SCOT LEHIGH, BOSTON GLOBE: The ethics thing was on the front pages on the day the Senate was sworn in and she thought that was like a slap to the Senate. She has been annoyed with him for at least part of this month over him doing that. I thought that ethics package was pretty good. I’d like to see it passed. It may well sink in the House, where the defense bar there has traditionally nibbled away at anything like that. But that was a small-minded, in my mind, a small-minded response to an obvious need to say that the governor is just doing that to make us look bad. We do need ethics reform here. He was quite diplomatic at the press conference where he announced it. He wouldn’t even talk about DiMasi’s problems. He just sort of talked generally about we need to clear up appearances. I thought he was too timid in what he had to say. The ideas and the package were good. The reaction we got from the speaker at the time, DiMasi said we have some of the strongest laws in the country, which is really laughable in terms of the penalty part of the law. Her response spoke to the wrong mindset, a backwards mindset. I hope she does something on it. It’s good to see DeLeo saying it’s going to be a top priority.
CRAIG SANDLER, STATE HOUSE NEWS SERVICE: What I worry about is that none of this matters, that all of the minutiae inside the building, we all love it and in our universe it certainly does matter. But it doesn’t really matter. Hundreds, thousands of people are losing their jobs every single day. There goes the tax base that we need to invest in the schools, in transportation to turn thing around. Really, if you think about what we are talking about up here, nobody is doing anything about it. The governor is touring the West Coast. No one is really even sending the messages right now about the things that people really care about, which is - am I going to be in my House in March? And literally hundreds of people are being tossed out of work. That’s the only thing that matters. Ethics doesn’t, comparatively speaking.
JIM BRAUDE, NECN AND WTKK: Maybe comparatively speaking, but if the average person thinks state government is irrelevant either because it’s corrupt in their mind, not in a legal sense but in a colloquial sense, then even if they said all the right things they wouldn’t believe them. They have to get their house in order. Everyone says they care about them fixing the problems. Perfect example: the cynicism about the stimulus package is not as much about the content but about that the people Obama picked don’t pay their taxes. It’s partially a fair criticism. How can those people fix our problems if it turns out they don’t play by the same rules? How can those people on Beacon Hill fix our problems when I know the speaker did something bad? So forget them. They’ve got to fix it, stop the infighting, stop all this little crap and then people may say these people are relevant to my life and maybe they are going fix what ails me.
BRUCE MOHL, COMMONWEALTH MAGAZINE (MODERATOR): Speaking of that, the compelling image last year was Dianne Wilkerson stuffing cash up her sweater into her bra. What do you think of her apparent defense that I am just getting gifts from people and the Ethics Commission says it’s fine.
SCOT LEHIGH, BOSTON GLOBE: Ethics Commission: bribery okay. I think it’s a little lame.
CRAIG SANDLER, STATE HOUSE NEWS SERVICE: I don’t know anybody who knows anybody who is buying that.
BRUCE MOHL, COMMONWEALTH MAGAZINE (MODERATOR): The Globe takes it very seriously. The commission wrote this letter and Arthur Winn gets up and says she’s a pal of mine and I wanted to help her.
SCOT LEHIGH, BOSTON GLOBE: The problem here is you could probably make that case. Ultimately I suppose that’s something that the ladies and gentleman of a jury may have to decide how plausible they find it. You can make the case with a close longtime friend perhaps, or certainly a family member. A lot of parents give money to children that way. It’s pretty hard when you have a situation like the FBI laid out when she is on the phone saying look I’ve been breaking legs on this thing to get this project done. The ethics commission quite clearly said in that letter that it can’t be something where you are taking official acts to benefit this person and when you are on the telephone bragging to someone that you have been breaking legs on behalf of their cause and they’re giving you money, it seems to me there’s a nexus that says this is not just a disinterested person throwing you 10,000 dollars to help you with your problem. So I would tend to be somewhat skeptical of that argument.
CRAIG SANDLER, STATE HOUSE NEWS SERVICE: You can’t take personal 10,000-dollar gifts from big developers who have business before the commonwealth if you are a state senator whether or not it’s illegal. You shouldn’t do that.
HILARY CHABOT, BOSTON HERALD: To backpedal a little bit, on Patrick’s ethics unveiling, the cynical view on that was he comes up with this after calling people on the phone for Dianne Wilkerson. That’s another sort of I suppose small-minded way to look at it. If it’s good ethics reform, it’s good ethics reform. But this big announcement and all these things and with DiMasi seen as someone he is clashing with, when that came out I think a lot of people viewed it as he was trying to cover himself, political cover, from any connections he might have had.
JIM BRAUDE, NECN AND WTKK: Her lawyer Max Stern is brilliant. He has very little to work with. He’s creating the best he can. I love the Herald. When I criticize, know that I really do love the Herald. About two years ago the Herald ran a page two story going through her campaign and political finance and saying she spent $165 on a brazier. And that’s relevant to this thing. Margery Eagan, my co-host on the radio, from the Boston Herald, and I spent two hours mocking the fact that she spent 165 dollars on a brazier and how corrupt the system is. When the show is over, the phone rings and it’s Dianne Wilkerson who said she didn’t hear the show but her staff did and the person who went to OCPF, an intern I guess, copied it down wrong - I didn’t spend 165 dollars on a brazier; I spent 165 to take people out to Brasserie Joe’s.
BRUCE MOHL, COMMONWEALTH MAGAZINE (MODERATOR): Hilary, if you had to guess in these next months, what do you think is going to happen on the transportation front?
HILARY CHABOT, BOSTON HERALD: It seems like the gas tax is inevitable. They are backpedaling like crazy on tolls. That was one of the main lessons learned from that toll proposal. There is a train of thought that it was somehow planned so a gas tax would be more welcomed. I don’t know how much I believe that. It seems as though people are coming to the idea that a gas tax is fairer. I don’t know if getting rid of the Mass Turnpike Authority in name is going to help all that much. The bottom line is you have this insane debt and have to figure out how to pay for it regardless of where it ends up landing that’s really where the focus has to be in terms of one of the bigger problems, and the MBTA.
SCOT LEHIGH, BOSTON GLOBE: If the state were really clever you would have a flexible gas tax so when gas went way up the tax would sink and when gas comes off, the price would increase so it would stabilize the prices of gas at a certain floor and you would go back and forth. In the summer, if you go back up to three or $3.50 gas, the tax would be less but now when you pay $1.82 it would be more. I think we could do that.
CRAIG SANDLER, STATE HOUSE NEWS SERVICE: Incidentally, this is what drives me crazy. If we had a chair of the Transportation Committee and if we had a Transportation Committee and if the governor were in the state this week, perhaps we would be having that discussion. That’s a creative and perhaps innovative solution that’s among the many that are not being talked about.
JIM BRAUDE, NECN AND WTKK: I think there clearly will be [a gas tax increase]. DeLeo said last night he wasn’t a betting man but if he were the answer would be yes. I don’t think it would be tolls. This guy is from Winthrop. That’s one. The only reason there hasn’t been a gas tax is there was a huge miscalculation from the Transportation Finance Commission, which came out with $19 billion or $20 billion to fix and maintain. The finance commission released their report in October of the election year, which guaranteed that both Kerry Healey and Deval Patrick had to say they opposed to the gas tax increase because they are going before the voters in a month. Deval gets elected. He is on the record saying he’s opposed to the gas tax. What’s he going to say? I was lying to you then. If it came out two months later, he would have said ‘I’ll look at it.’ I think we would have done a gas tax already. It is hard for me to believe that if you had any one of the 200 people in the room plus Deval and said, do you believe the gas tax, a perfect user fee that is totally equitable even if the price of gas goes up, does not make more sense than this ridiculous compendium of tolls, I can’t imagine one person saying it doesn’t. We’re tax- phobic. It’s a tough economic time for people but hopefully some grownups are going to stand on it. By the end of the year I think it happens.
SCOT LEHIGH, BOSTON GLOBE: The problem with the calculation that the administration probably looks at is we’ve now put both the motel and meals tax on the table, both statewide and at the local level, and then we put the gas tax on the table. And at some point, probably if this recession keeps goes the way it looks, at some point probably they’re going to say we’re going to have to consider other revenues. And also they have also done this beer excise, the beer sales tax at package stores. You start to get a constellation of taxation issues and you say, we don’t want to be easily portrayed as the people that after some years of real tax hesitancy, as Bulger used to say to me, slap a tax on a speeding horse, a galloping horse. There’s a worry there and unfortunately I think they suffer because the Republican administrations defrayed a lot of expenses that are now coming due. You look at the debt that encumbers the central problem at the pike. It’s from a project where the finances were kind of pushed backward. And these guys are about to wrestle with it. There is a worry about the political risks of taxation.
JIM BRAUDE, NECN AND WTKK: The way to deal with that is if Murray and DeLeo and Patrick can agree on some piece of the transportation reform that is simple, has a huge ticket attached to it, that all three will talk about. Let’s assume some consolidation led to a billion dollar savings by taking X. Easy number. People can grasp it. They understand we are going to eliminate Y. If all three were on the same page and the message constantly was, what was the op-ed in the Globe from Baddour and Murray? Reform before revenue. They say we save a billion dollars by doing X. If they repeat that in every sentence, assuming there is such a thing, I think they then create the environment.
CRAIG SANDLER, STATE HOUSE NEWS SERVICE: That work is starting both on the legislative side and in the governor’s office. It’s got to happen just because of the hole in the budget which is not going to get smaller. This event is called Starting Line I was thinking well, what’s the message of the year? What’s going to be happening this year? If I had to put it on a bumper sticker, a good slogan would be ‘nothing’s certain but dearth and taxes.’ It’s absolutely the case that we are going to see a lot of both. Deficits are going to widen and we certainly are going to raise taxes to partially deal with it.
BRUCE MOHL, COMMONWEALTH MAGAZINE (MODERATOR): What’s your sense about the federal stimulus package? Everybody is hoping a lot of money will come pouring into the state for all sorts of things. People talk about shovel-ready projects all the time and it seems to be going into existing programs. Do you know much about it? Are they talking about what will be funded?
CRAIG SANDLER, STATE HOUSE NEWS SERVICE: There is not an architectural contractor in the state who isn’t frantically speeding up the plans. I worry about that long term. I see a lot of talk about acceleration of planning of projects to make them shovel ready. When I see a 2010 shovel-ready project I think of that as a project that in 2038 is going to look like this (holds arms at angle). You can just see twenty years down the road we may be talking about some Columbia Points. In the infrastructure hinterlands people are frantically trying to get their proposal ready.
SCOT LEHIGH, BOSTON GLOBE: There a lot of stuff every year, projects and bonding authorizations that don’t make the list of actual monies that the state has because of the bond cap. So probably there are. The governor had a task force to kind of put all of this together. They are looking hard at it. If you do have as part of your capital planning process a prioritized list of things, you can reach a little higher or lower. There are worthwhile projects. People say the national stimulus plan doesn’t have enough infrastructure in it. We don’t want to do boondoggle projects but things can be done in this timeframe that aren’t just digging holes and filling them in.
HILARY CHABOT, BOSTON HERALD: There is something frightening a little bit in the scramble over what to do with this windfall. The governor’s office recently contracted with Deloitte and Touche to figure out where to spend, where to divvy up the cash. There is some caution there in trying to quickly figure out what are the right projects and where it should go.
BRUCE MOHL, COMMONWEALTH MAGAZINE (MODERATOR): Does a lot of it just go automatically to the schools and this or that town or does Patrick have a lot of control?
CRAIG SANDLER, STATE HOUSE NEWS SERVICE: It will be a combination of legislation and A&F. You can write it into any budget bill and supp budget you want. And the other secretariats have a certain amount of discretion once the money is released by the Legislature. All the borrowing and all the budgeting does happen through legislation.
SCOT LEHIGH, BOSTON GLOBE: Some of the federal money will come in by a changed Medicaid reimbursement formula. You may change it to 54-46 so the state doesn’t have to make as much of its share and they can take that money and devote it to other things in the regular budget process.
CRAIG SANDLER, STATE HOUSE NEWS SERVICE: It’s perfectly okay to put it into existing programs. The billion dollar crises that states are going through, these are real crises that do affect the homeless or the animal shelters or every sector where someone is poor. For example, if you pour three billion into Medicaid, that is just as needed as building schools or roads.
SCOT LEHIGH, BOSTON GLOBE: It’s important to remember just how much, when we were constructing the Big Dig, for all the people who are discontented about the quality of the project it was huge economic boom for this state as well as the wastewater treatment plant. When those were being built there were a lot of construction jobs, a lot of money in the economy. There are things you can do that are important and keep that money flowing. I don’t have a view that this spending, even if you are building a new parks or playgrounds, is all boondoggle stuff. They talk about resodding the National Mall as an example of waste. It’s a big national space and an important space. I don’t look at that as wasteful spending. You could argue is it the most useful spending in the world? But if you are saying now it’s important to get money into the economic system to replace collapsed macroeconomic demand, I think it’s a perfectly legitimate way to do things.
CRAIG SANDLER, STATE HOUSE NEWS SERVICE: This is a WPA scenario. I agree with Scot. It’s legitimate to rush into the vacuum and pump it into state government. It still puts it into the state economy.
BRUCE MOHL, COMMONWEALTH MAGAZINE (MODERATOR): I wanted to turn the tables a little bit and talk about your business of covering politics. I used to be up on Beacon Hill a long time ago, ten or more years ago and it’s a very different intensity covering state politics than it is now. There are profound societal implications from that as well. I looked at this past week, this Monday through Thursday, at what you wrote at the Herald. It was seven stories in just four days plus web postings. You are a very busy person covering all sorts of things. You are the only person for the Herald. It wasn’t that long ago that they had three. How fast do you have to move from one subject to another?
HILARY CHABOT, BOSTON HERALD: It’s also a matter of focus. You really need to decide what you are focusing on. That changes if something huge happens but you can’t just bumble around because there’s a lot of stuff to do. You have to figure out what exactly you want to do and what you want to get across. The other interesting thing coming from the Lowell Sun covering the State House to the Herald is there were two reporters from the Sun covering the State House. The Sun has a much more specific focus on its region and what are my guys doing? So that was very different as well. Even in the two years I have been up at the State House, that press gallery on the fourth floor has lost three reporters. Now there are six, seven. The Patriot Ledger, are they part-time? There was a Lowell Sun, Berkshire Eagle conglomerate that had three reporters and now there is only one. And there’s no Eagle Tribune reporter. And it’s happened sort of quickly. They are just not refilling the posts.
SCOT LEHIGH, BOSTON GLOBE: TV has basically abandoned the building. It used to be you saw John Henning and Janet Wu were there almost all the time and Hiller was there. It was a regular television presence. Now Janet will come up and she’s terrific. She used to work in print. She’s a really, really good television reporter. Really knows the subject. But she is doing more investigative stuff. She comes to the State House every now and again rather than covers it as a regular consistent part of the beat. It’s almost emblematic of what’s happening with television. Our bureau, we at the Globe used to have five reporters and a full-time writing coop, usually a very good one. We had a lot of reportorial reach. Now we have three people. I work out of the bureau but write a column. We don’t have an intern. You’ve got a lot less. We used to cover hearings. Of course there aren’t that many important hearings anymore. You just can’t cover things the way you used to.
CRAIG SANDLER, STATE HOUSE NEWS SERVICE: That means the readers and consumers don’t get as much information as they need regarding taxes, the stimulus package.
JIM BRAUDE, NECN AND WTKK: All of this preceded the economic situation that’s requiring further cutbacks. This lowering of the priority of the State House for coverage long precedes that. When we were all there, except for Hilary, there would be a budget debate and instead of Janet Wu coming up for a pre-arranged thing, you decide to hold an ad hoc press thing at two o’clock in the morning and you’d have three cameras there to put you on TV the next day. The issue is chicken and egg, for me at least. Is there less attention on the part of TV because the viewers aren’t interested in politics or because politics has become so uninteresting? I think it’s as much the latter. When there was tons of coverage there were tons of rank and filers who were willing to say something that may not have parroted what the leader had to say. They would be willing to say I have great respect for Speaker DeLeo, but frankly he’s dead wrong on this and he’s screwing the people of Massachusetts. There isn’t that anymore. So the more docile they become the less newsworthy anything other than policy becomes and so there is a downward kind of spiral. I don’t mean this disrespectfully but the Republicans, they are not relevant. So them bitching about what Democrats are doing, who cares? The issue is when big D Democrats decide to exercise democracy once again, I think some of the press will return. I want to go to print again just for a second. I am sitting next to three things, places that I think have done an extraordinary job with diminishing resources. Andrea Estes and Steve Kurkjian to a lesser degree, what they have done has been unbelievable. All three of your operations have done great work. But the reality, it’s hard to say to print people, is television is where the vast majority of people get the news. When Daschle pulled out the other day and when I saw the banner headline in the Globe the next morning, I literally for a split second said, did I get yesterday’s paper. Because all of us are watching cable news and listening to the radio and the story was so old by the time it was in the newspaper that newspapers have to be more creative in what they present.
SCOT LEHIGH, BOSTON GLOBE: There is truth in that. On yesterday’s story, it seemed old but the time the paper was out but I think the newspapers still set the agenda for a lot of the television mead.
JIM BRAUDE, NECN AND WTKK: On talk radio all the time - 99 percent of talk radio couldn’t happen.
SCOT LEHIGH, BOSTON GLOBE: The same frankly is true for the blogging. They all think they are this great independent thing. I look at them as cheerleaders on both sides. A lot of what they are doing is simply commenting on what’s in the newspaper with little acronyms. They are not really news generating engines. They are kind of just to some degree nattering about things. A lot of stories that are initiative stories, that is the particular value of newspapers, you see stories in newspapers that will set the agenda for something that television just would never devote the time to report.
CRAIG SANDLER, STATE HOUSE NEWS SERVICE: But I also think we are discussing the details of the Dark Age or the trough. There is going to be an upswing in the future that will actually be pretty good in the long run. It will take quite a number of years but print is far from dead. The blogs, in the longer term, will be professionalized and monetized. Newspaper coverage and newspaper journalism will be more into online journalism in a way that is really healthy and robust.
SCOT LEHIGH, BOSTON GLOBE: It’s not going to help me much, Craig.
CRAIG SANDLER, STATE HOUSE NEWS SERVICE: We’ll just leave that right there. Everyone in the room can concur that one real bright spot in our environment is the MassINC blog. That is a real example of a window into the future. I have never heard a negative comment about that blog. A lot of what’s on their blog is not reactive.
BRUCE MOHL, COMMONWEALTH MAGAZINE (MODERATOR): So there are fewer of you covering the same number of them up there. And yet it seems to me they are getting better and better about managing what they say. It used to be you could call one agency and they wouldn’t talk to the other agency so you’d find them all tripping over each other. Now they all talk - we know you called so and so over there and we’re all talking about you and we’ve got you figured out. They have put on a pretty effective game to manipulate press a lot. It doesn’t always work but how do you all feel about that?
JIM BRAUDE, NECN AND WTKK: I think you are wrong. There was not one single member of the House who was concerned about the ethics issue, about Sal DiMasi of the seven who voted. Not one who was willing to say to a reporter I have great respect for Sal DiMasi. There was the guy, Torrisi or whatever the hell his name is, but I am talking about leaders. But when you have liberals who have built their careers on good government who do not have the courage to speak, there’s been such consolidation of power.
BRUCE MOHL, COMMONWEALTH MAGAZINE (MODERATOR): I am talking more about the administration.
HILARY CHABOT, BOSTON HERALD: Bernard Cohen, of course he is gone now so maybe that explains why. He would sort of be like ‘tolls are on the table on I-93,’ and of course Patrick’s people would freak out and say they’re not on the table. That was at least one example of that happening. But that’s fairly rare, you’re right. I don’t know if this is what you are hinting at but when there are less of us putting the heat on and making the relationships and connecting with those people in other departments who will say I am not on board with what’s going on or we are concerned about that and there is less of us to do that, then it become a little easier to corral and control.
SCOT LEHIGH, BOSTON GLOBE: It’s a little bit top-down too. The best administration I covered was Weld where the governor was not concerned about leaks. He didn’t have a fit when someone leaked something. I thought it was a natural way for big organizations to blow off steam. He had a laid back attitude toward it and it percolated through the administration. You could get a lot of information. Romney really, really, really centralized the message. It was done just like a big firm would do it. I think that Deval is too much that way too. They are too concerned about controlling the message out of the press shop and I think they are stifling a lot of discussion in the agencies in the name of sort of unitary message. It looks good if you are in the small group of governor’s handlers. But it’s not really good for state government and in general it doesn’t really in the long run help you all that much. If I were the governor I would be a lot more laid back about it and have a little more openness. I think the Romney model was a mistake and to the degree that Patrick has emulated it that has been a mistake.
CRAIG SANDLER, STATE HOUSE NEWS SERVICE: There’s another permutation of it that has to do with civic engagement. This was going to be an open collaborative administration that was going to get input from the public and give the public unprecedented access and ability to drive the agenda and have input. And that hasn’t happened, even with new tools, wonderful tools.
JIM BRAUDE, NECN AND WTKK: I don’t mean this as self-servingly as it sounds. In a small way, Patrick does an hour on the radio with us each month where real people get to call and scream at him and say they don’t like something. We don’t pre-screen the calls. We take them in the order in which they come in. That’s a small thing but it’s something. The problem is not just controlling the message but getting the message out. My producer at NECN is brilliant. It’s one thing to approach the administration and say this is a big issue we want your response and can you come on. They may not want to. We have an incredibly difficult time more often than not getting someone from the administration to come on to advocate a position on a policy that they have advanced. It’s almost like a public relations opportunity. I’m looking at one person who is never difficult (Bob Keough of Environmental Affairs). But often what my producer has to do is to call down the line of cabinet secretaries, which you should not have to do. It’s if you have a message how do you get it out. You can’t just have one talking head even though that’s the lead talking head. I think they have really suffered on that front.
AUDIENCE QUESTION: I am from the Boston Harbor Alliance. You have not talked much about the economy – the major gorilla in the room - and the shakeup with Dan O’Connell is leaving. What do you read into that and the state’s attempts to jumpstart things.
SCOT LEHIGH, BOSTON GLOBE: In general a governor’s power over the economy is very limited. With Dukakis in 1988 there was talk of hands-on management; well all of New England was booming. It was the whole eastern seaboard and frankly much of the country was doing very well. It’s very hard for a governor to in a pump-priming way to affect an economy. You can do business climate stuff on the margins. But I have never bought the idea that a governor deserves a lot of credit or frankly blame on the economy. They get it because voters perceive it that way.
CRAIG SANDLER, STATE HOUSE NEWS SERVICE: I think it’s important to do well on the margins, simply because there are 50 of us. When our pension fund is performing at 90 percent as opposed to 75 percent, that’s billions of dollars. And we want to do four percent better. I don’t know about O’Connell.
HILARY CHABOT, BOSTON HERALD: I think that was purely political. I don’t think it had anything to do with the state’s economy or anything to that effect. I think O’Connell for whatever reason hadn’t really been jibing with the governor’s top staffers. And so [Greg] Bialecki had and they just sort of brought him in. In terms of fixing or helping the state’s economy I don’t think that change had all that much to do with that.
JIM BRAUDE, NECN AND WTKK: Craig touched on it. The most important thing is the leadership thing. There is little a governor can do substantively. Confidence is a huge part of the problem, lack of confidence. If you see and trust your leaders, someone what about what Deval has to project - confidence and strength, those type of things, if you believe you are in good hands then you start feeling better and then it starts percolating up.
SCOT LEHIGH, BOSTON GLOBE: Micro-economically there’s a good deal you can do to help individual firms. I think of things like the UI rate.
AUDIENCE QUESTION: I work in the Office of Jobs and Community Services for the City of Boston and wonder if you folks have a sense of how ready the state is to deal with monies from the economic stimulus package. What it actually is is still in flux, but I sense a need to ramp up and disperse money quickly or a lot of it will be rescinded.
CRAIG SANDLER, STATE HOUSE NEWS SERVICE: I think they know what you know and my sense is they are ready for it because there’s such a high level of awareness. Obviously, execution is very important. I am not aware of any problems in that regard.
HILARY CHABOT, BOSTON HERALD: It was about a month ago but I got the sense for people in economic development that they were freaking out about how to apply this amount of money very quickly. It’s certainly not easy. I didn’t get the sense that it was smooth sailing.
CRAIG SANDLER, STATE HOUSE NEWS SERVICE: I think that a month is a long time. My sense is that in this environment it would be pretty mind-blowing if they were not ready.
BRUCE MOHL, COMMONWEALTH MAGAZINE (MODERATOR): Actually I tend to think they are probably not ready. If they were ready I think they would be getting that message out. I think they are still putting it together. I think in Washington they are figuring out what’s in this thing, what are we going to put out? I thought initially it was very capital intensive, roads and bridges and that sort of thing. But a lot of this money is going into existing programs and existing sorts of funnels, which sort of makes you scratch your head.
SCOT LEHIGH, BOSTON GLOBE: It shouldn’t make you scratch your head. In terms of putting money into the economy in a way that keeps people employed, if state government were to cut 2 billion from its spending, you would see a 2 billion diminution in economic activity. What state government does - that’s employing people, that’s projects, that’s spending, that’s social services. Stimulus needn’t just be bulldozers doing capital projects. People have that misconception of it, that it always needs to focus on infrastructure. That’s not true. A dollar spent on almost anything in the economy that puts someone to work, puts money in that person’s pocket that they will spend it doesn’t matter frankly if that person is an artist. The money they spend is just as relevant as the money a construction guy spends in terms of stimulus. They had a big meeting that I was at to talk about this sometime in December. They are at least fairly well into the planning process. They may not have an actual list of everything.
JIM BRAUDE, NECN AND WTKK: Can I disagree that all jobs are the same? I am one who does believe there is a big-time appropriate role for government in the arts. It gets back to the confidence thing. Once this is passed and the money starts to be spent the more visually impactful the spending is the better people are going to feel about the whole thing. Everybody is bitching about all of those construction workers. Now when they see those construction workers they will be pleased and they will say something is happening. There may not be in a strict economic sense a difference but in terms of people’s psychological healing, there’s a huge difference.
CRAIG SANDLER, STATE HOUSE NEWS SERVICE: We have not used the word housing yet in this whole discussion, which is as we know the bulk of the American economy. It’s what caused this crisis and what can get us out of the crisis. It’s a lot of what the stimulus package is intended to address. I don’t have a whole lot of confidence that the state is ready to leverage the stimulus bill to do something about affordable housing. And it should be the prime focus.
SCOT LEHIGH, BOSTON GLOBE: I disagree with that a little bit. The aggregators of demand - exports, housing, consumer spending is 70 percent. Those have all basically been crushed with the elimination of wealth and that’s why government needs to move in because all the other traditional avenues where you generate and get the money into the system are basically frozen or faltering. You have such an over-inventory of housing and such a problem. Until we hit the bottom of housing slump and establish a baseline that won’t start to rebuild. You’re going to see a continued falloff in values. I don’t think the housing sector is where you have to look.
BRUCE MOHL, COMMONWEALTH MAGAZINE (MODERATOR): I agree on a dollar spent is a dollar spent. There was a great hope that Obama and Patrick have talked about that we could use this to refashion our economy a little.
SCOT LEHIGH, BOSTON GLOBE: There is a lot of money for green jobs. You can certainly catalyze investment and activity. The government can help try to help do things that the market will not do on its own. There is potential there. We talk time and time again about putting all medical records online and how much money that will save. Let’s actually take some money and try to do that. I don’t think that’s an illegitimate investment. It’s an experiment. There isn’t really a blueprint. To some extent people are making it up as they go along. I don’t buy the notion that this is just a huge hodgepodge of things that are thrown together with no philosophy. You are talking investments in energy and infrastructure and you’re talking social supports like food stamps and UI that will keep money flowing and people spending it and you are talking tax cuts, which I think are the most problematic part of it. You are talking individual tax cuts to get people spending again. And business tax cuts; the loss carry-forward stuff, a lot of it is very problematic and they’ve done that to placate Republicans in the House and Senate. They didn’t really in the House get anyone. Most economists will tell you it’s not particularly effective. When you get a tax cut, you get four hundred bucks and you put 200 in your pocket and pay down some debt and maybe spend the other two hundred. If government spends the money directly all of that four hundred goes into the economy and more of that money circulates.
JIM BRAUDE, NECN AND WTKK: I am sorry to be a broken record. This is much more policy-oriented than the real world is. On the stimulus discussion, how people feel it’s working is in great part how it works. When everyone is focused on people not paying taxes and the fact that essentially $350 billion was stolen from the American people with no attempt to provide accountability by Democrats or Republicans. You have to break the mindset. If people don’t feel comfortable, they are going to save more and pay bills down more rather than driving to New Hampshire and stuffing a dishwasher in their trunk. There is a huge intangible element to this that neither Obama nor Patrick not legislative leaders are dealing with and it’s that a huge part of recovery is how people feel about the recovery. I don’t think it’s just how brilliant the spending is.
CRAIG SANDLER, STATE HOUSE NEWS SERVICE: Patrick did some of these themes of being ready in the State of the State. The important thing is to project the leadership now - darn it we’re going to get through this and when we do we will be stronger and better than ever If he could give the State of the State once a week I think that would really help with perception. Remember, FDR didn’t restore faith in the American economy in four months.
AUDIENCE QUESTION: Any thoughts on dealing with the $3.5 billion deficit?
CRAIG SANDLER, STATE HOUSE NEWS SERVICE: Slot machines of course.
HILARY CHABOT, BOSTON HERALD: There are so many ways to fill the hole. They are going to use a lot of reserves and they are definitely going to have to consider some sort of tax. They are depending a lot on the federal stimulus as well.
JIM BRAUDE, NECN AND WTKK: Can we spend two seconds on gambling? I have never been crazy about government being in the gambling business. The fact that when people are in their toughest and most frightened moments the concept about how to fix it is to dangle something in front of the noses of scared impoverished middle class people is staggering to me. People in government who believe in this are so desperate. The candor last night on my show with DeLeo saying he had two tracks in his district and I’ve got to save those jobs and that sort of thing. But Tom Birmingham put out the definitive report on this. When you read in the Lottery that the people in Chelsea are paying for the schools in Dover, and the notion that we are going to have to rely more on that because it doesn’t have the T word in front of it and we can pretend that it’s voluntary, is insane. I really hope that there’s not this rush to easy money, which is not so easy in light of what’s happening in Connecticut and Rhode Island is thinking about bailing out the damn casino. It is preying on people at their weakest moments. And also I am not even convinced that it’s wonderful economic policy in tough economic times. Having said that, it’s the easiest choice and my guess is that there is this perfect, perfect thing working: DeLeo likes slots but not casinos, Patrick likes casinos and not slots so they do some slots, maybe one destination casino and they are going to think everything is fixed.
CRAIG SANDLER, STATE HOUSE NEWS SERVICE: But it’s one of the guns that you have to fire, all of which you must now fire at once.
JIM BRAUDE, NECN AND WTKK: Can anyone make the case that casinos have saved Connecticut? The slot revenues are down. We talk about Rhode Island. It’s an industry at risk. And who are the people that play? Deval Patrick makes a fairly credible point - destination casinos are not as much focused on low and moderate income people as slots and the Lottery are. I hope it gets a debate on its merits rather than this notion that we ought to throw everything against the wall because we are in tough times and we can’t just keep doing taxes like Scot says.
SCOT LEHIGH, BOSTON GLOBE: It’s philosophical. To what degree is government’s role to say to people if you like to do this, whether you can or can’t? It was different when it was just Las Vegas or Atlantic City and there was a big barrier or impediment to gambling. You had to get on a plane or a bus and devote some days. Now if you want to gamble you can easily drive to Connecticut in two hours and if you sometimes find yourself at Foxwoods, as I occasionally have, and you go out to the parking lot and look you will see 40 to 50 percent of people at Foxwoods from Massachusetts.
JIM BRAUDE, NECN AND WTKK: Forget the parking lot. Go inside, it looks like a Civil War hospital. I had never been there, Foxwoods or Mohegan Sun. So Margery Eagan and I from the Herald drove on a Sunday a year ago to see what we were talking about – it would be a new thing for talk radio. We intended to stay for four or five hours. We stayed for 15 minutes. We walked into the slot machine area - the smoke was so think you could barely see people’s heads – I’m not exaggerating - there are 75-year-old people on ventilators smoking with their pile of money. It is demented. It is totally demented. This notion of the role of government - the answer is get on a damn bus and go to Connecticut if that’s what they want to do. If Connecticut is so worried about Massachusetts, then let Deval Patrick sit down with Jodi Rell and let them negotiate a deal – we won’t build a casino if you pay us not to build a casino.
SCOT LEHIGH, BOSTON GLOBE: Mitt tried to do that.
CRAIG SANDLER, STATE HOUSE NEWS SERVICE: The real problem though, and to your question, is you can raise the gas tax and put taxes on services and put taxes on pets and do slots and maybe you’ve raised a billion dollars and now you have 2.5 billion dollars. You drain the other $850 million from the rainy day fund. Now you still have 1.8 billion and it’s growing fast as people continue to lose their jobs. The remaining stratagem is deep, hurtful, painful, damaging permanent cuts in programs and services almost everyone uses, which is going to happen, beginning now and for years to come. To the extent you can mitigate that just a little bit, now is when it has to be done, granting you everything you said and that’s the steel of the reality.
HILARY CHABOT, BOSTON HERALD: People say there are tough times but there is opportunity in tough times and the idea is now is the time to tackle things that cost us a lot of money, the sacred cows, so now maybe there is some truth to that.
SCOT LEHIGH, BOSTON GLOBE: I differentiate a bit between the actual revenue falloff and what they call the maintenance budget deficit, the amount to maintain the current services going forward. It’s a squishier figure. If your revenues have gone down 1.8 billion that is concrete figure of less money you have to work with. The maintenance budget thing, there are ways an agency can be creative and find new ways to deliver services unless it’s just a money flow-through. If you are doing parks and campgrounds and your budget is going down a certain amount, probably there is latitude to deliver the same basic level of services by changing things you do rather than saying we are just closing the parks.
BRUCE MOHL, COMMONWEALTH MAGAZINE (MODERATOR): I am always struck by these gloom and doom figures and the blood on the floor comments from political leaders. You have to look at little things here and there. I am sure there will be very severe cuts that will hurt a lot of people. But I got a kick out of the Legislature told the governor you are not going to be able to cut our budget but we’ll do it voluntarily. They ended up cutting about 10 million of their budget. I remember looking at their appropriation of 59 million and I was like wow, you are going to see a lot of people leaving their jobs and where will they cut this stuff? It turns out that sort of off the books they have an account called a prior authorization continued so when they don’t spend it all in one year they put it into this account. So they have like 35 million in this account just sort of sitting around for projects they need to do. It’s pretty smart. It allows you to cut without really cutting anything. I don’t know if that’s sort of a very unusual circumstance.
JIM BRAUDE, NECN AND WTKK: There has not been a discussion about the infamous film credit thing. When you interview elected leaders, it is so clear that what it’s about is Leonard DiCaprio called him on the phone. I’m serious. One more small thing, the quasi-independent agencies – the concept in the abstract of being free from political influence, I am sick of this crap that goes on in these agencies. Deval Patrick was in our studio the day the story broke on Parsons Brinckerhoff story broke about the $30 million fee for them to build the parking garage. We played sound and I said shouldn’t they have been debarred. Well, they don’t need to be debarred, people will remember. He said you didn’t want to be in the room with me when I spoke to the people at Massport about hiring this firm. You say to yourself this guy is the governor – this is not a criticism of Patrick but of the system - and they hire someone for 30 million dollars and he’s out of the loop. This is why people have no confidence. This vacation thing is an outrage at Massport, when they sell it back and get money and build their pensions up. Does anyone know what Tom Kinton’s, the executive director’s, response was to that? No comment. When the Parsons Brinckerhoff thing came up? No comment. There’s this endless litany of abominations that occur that the person the people democratically elected have no control over. One reform is it’s time to end this quasi-independent authority thing. It was an experiment that worked for a while. It’s a disaster now. Let the governor, whoever he or she is, be in charge of these things.
SCOT LEHIGH, BOSTON GLOBE: There should be something of cross-government practices. Hopefully we see that this year with pensions. When you see Bill Bulger banging out the way he did at UMass or retiring as a Carmen at the MBTA after 23 or 24 years, there are real problems in the pension system that are symbolic and make the average person mad. We need to do something about that. I am a little skeptical about getting rid of the authorities. Then you get completely ridiculous spoils. Every time a new administration comes in, they fire all the people.
JIM BRAUDE, NECN AND WTKK: DeLeo said last night the one-day pension rule will be part of the pension package. You can’t pull a DiMasi in the last three weeks or Cheryl Jacques. A ton of people have done it. He said he’d get rid of the Marzilli rule. It doesn’t apply to many people. The three-year rule is a huge problem. You make $45,000 for 30 years and go to a big job because you’re politically connected for four years . . .
SCOT LEHIGH, BOSTON GLOBE: Maybe we should just have a commission on just governmental outrage and do the 15 things that make people angry.
JIM BRAUDE, NECN AND WTKK: The outliers in the pension system – the unfortunate thing is the average $22,000 a year state pensioner gets completely tarnished by this. But the outliers in the system are grotesque. When you read about the abomination of Bill Bulger’s pension - all these stories. It’s the little symbols. In my days with Barbara Anderson, it’s the things she understood. The day I was hired by John Olver to do tax reform stuff he took me to the Greenfield Recorder the first day and the editor said people like you who believe in government talk about everything in billions and these numbers that mean nothing to real people. What people like Barbara Anderson do is they bring everything down to the barber shop level. The symbols are a huge part of how people determine how they feel about their government, even if it’s a short-ticket item. I guarantee you, you have ten people, they can’t tell you who did X, Y or Z that matters but they sure as hell can tell you what Bill Bulger’s pension is or the two guys at the T who left in their 40s to get other jobs. That’s the stuff that stays with them and shapes their view about everything important, sadly, that government does.
CRAIG SANDLER, STATE HOUSE NEWS SERVICE: If they are going to fix it, they’ve got to have a Legislature. The House is in on Wednesday to set its rules and hopefully we can get committee chair people and they can get to work.
"A perfect storm of circumstances threatens much of what we know, or think we know, about our American system of justice," said Margaret H. Marshall, Chief Justice of the Supreme Judicial Court. (Pat Greenhouse/Boston Globe Staff/File)
"Bay State's top jurist says courts are in crisis: SJC's Marshall warns of 'painful choices'"
By Megan Woolhouse, Boston Globe Staff, February 17, 2009
The economic downturn could have a devastating impact on the American justice system as courts are forced to lay off employees and cut down on court hours, Massachusetts' top judge said yesterday.
"I shall be blunt: Our state courts are in crisis," Supreme Judicial Court Chief Justice Margaret H. Marshall told members of the American Bar Association at its midyear meeting at the Hynes Veterans Memorial Convention Center. "A perfect storm of circumstances threatens much of what we know, or think we know, about our American system of justice."
Marshall said courts across the country are reviewing their budgets and making "painful choices."
New Hampshire's judicial branch will halt civil and criminal jury trials for a month to save on per diem payments to jurors. It will also postpone filling seven of the state's 59 vacant judgeships this year. Budget cuts in Florida have left 280 court employees without jobs and more layoffs are expected. In Maine, the courts have loosened security, no longer staffing magnetic security machine checkpoints at local courthouses.
Governor Deval Patrick has proposed a $560 million Massachusetts court trial budget, a 7.5 percent reduction to its fiscal 2009 budget of $583 million, according to Joan Kenney, a spokeswoman for the Supreme Judicial Court. The state's trial court employs more than 7,500 people, including 379 judges. Those cuts do not affect the Supreme Judicial Court or the state appeals court staff.
Jake Wark, a spokesman for the Suffolk district attorney's office, said the budget plan has left many court employees in his district, which covers Greater Boston, bracing for possible layoffs.
"Our budget is 90 percent or more payroll and rent. We've run a very lean operation for years, but it's hard to see how we can get much leaner," Wark said yesterday.
Proposed cuts "will basically put us back to 2001 [staffing] levels," he said.
The cuts come just as the state had made acclaimed changes to the system. The overhaul was five years in the making, and came after a blue ribbon commission said the state's court system was failing the public. The system improved efficiency, analyzing staffing and tracking how long it took to resolve cases. A system of evaluating judges, done by lawyers, court employees, and jurors, was put in place.
The overhaul helped shrink the number of unresolved cases from 177,000 in 2006 to 73,500 in 2008. The National Center for State Courts in Williamsburg, Va., honored Robert A. Mulligan, who oversaw the reforms as chief justice of administration and management, with the 2008 Distinguished Service Award for his efforts.
Valerie A. Yarashus, president-elect of the Massachusetts Bar Association, said yesterday that the proposed cuts will present the courts with new challenges.
Courts may have to close civil or criminal sessions or consider consolidating. Those changes could reverberate through the system, she said, slowing the courts down again.
"What's particularly frustrating is that the court has worked so hard, particularly in the last five years, to make progress on the backlog," she said. "We want to be really careful . . . not to undo that."
In a statement issued jointly with Mulligan in January, Marshall said the courts "must apply close attention and diligence to the collection of revenues for probation supervision and filing fees."
And she noted that about half the state's courthouses are staffed at "below minimal levels" as determined by an objective national staffing model. Marshall said the Massachusetts trial court cut $22 million from its current budget last fall at the governor's request.
Marshall did not speak specifically yesterday about Massachusetts' planned cutbacks, but she implored the lawyers in attendance to press political leaders for funding.
"Where do the legal meanings of such elemental concepts as 'birth,' 'death,' and 'family' take shape?" she asked. "Largely in state courts. State courts decide whether the tenant must vacate, whether the criminal defendant was properly charged, who gets custody of the children, who complies with zoning laws, whether the worker is entitled to compensation, or an injured patient to recover from her doctor."
She quoted legal scholar Reginald Heber Smith, calling the denial of justice "the shortcut to anarchy."
"These are words that resonate deeply with me," she said.
"New Web site opens judges to public evaluation"
By Conor Berry, Berkshire Eagle Staff, Monday, February 16, 2009
PITTSFIELD -- You might as well call it the Judge Report: a Web site dedicated to ranking jurists based on a host of criteria that legal professionals and lay people alike might find useful, possibly even humorous.
The subscriber-only service allows people to evaluate the men and women of the bench on a range of topics, from their ability to manage courtrooms to their treatment of attorneys and courthouse staff.
An annual subscription costs $250, which enables people to view judges' biographies and decisions and to post their own anonymous comments -- good, bad and ugly ones.
"Unfortunately, most of the comments are not flattering," said JoAnn Griffin, circulation marketing director for Massachusetts Lawyers Weekly, the Boston-based magazine that recently launched www.judgecenter.com.
The magazine reports on all state and federal court decisions in the Bay State and is generally considered required reading by the state's lawyering class. And with more than 40,000 members of the Massachusetts bar licensed to practice law in the commonwealth, Griffin expects the new site to generate a buzz in legal circles.
"We have over 1,500 evaluations of judges," said Griffin, noting that the magazine does not edit or respond to subscriber comments, though it will delete posts deemed to be offensive or vulgar.
Not surprisingly, many of the remarks are unflattering. However, the Web site marks the first serious attempt to publicly rate and rank judges in Massachusetts, where state surveys of the judiciary are not released to the public.
Consider this assessment of Judge Daniel A. Ford, the presiding justice of Berkshire Superior Court in Pittsfield, who scored an overall 3.2 out of 4: Ford is "impatient" and "not particularly well-mannered," according to one online opiner, who goes on to note that Ford's irascible nature is not reflected in his decisions, which tend to be thorough and thoughtful.
Appointed to the bench 20 years ago by former Gov. Michael S. Dukakis, Ford received a perfect 4-out-of-4 for his "willingness to ignore public pressure or outside interests," and a 3.8 for his "ability to maintain control of (the) courtroom."
Ford's lowest score, a 1.7, was for his apparent dislike of continuing cases, preferring instead to keep matters moving toward timely and fair conclusions. Ford also earns high marks for the quality of his written decisions and his knowledge of "substantive law and rules of evidence," receiving a 3.5 and 3.4, respectively.
In general, some judges are characterized as "tremendously conscientious," while others are described as having "impossibly high standards."
David Yas, the publisher of Lawyers Weekly, said Massachusetts Trial Court officials regularly gather information about judges from lawyers, court staff and citizens, but that information is off-limits to the public. This new online service aims to shed light on the judiciary, he said in a statement.
"In Massachusetts," Yas said, "we are on an island, and it is under attack."
Yas said the state has no judicial elections, no retention elections, no term limits, and no provisions allowing judges to speak publicly about pending cases.
And "until now," he said, it had "no public judicial evaluations." The point of the new site, available for a fee since January, is to publicly pronounce "that our judges are not untouchable and unreachable," Yas said.
Considering the Web site is just over a month old, the number of evaluations for Berkshire County judges remains low. That means rankings can skew higher or lower, depending on how many judge evaluations have been submitted, and will change once more evaluations are gathered.
For example, Judge James B. McElroy, the presiding justice of Southern Berkshire District Court in Great Barrington, had not received a single evaluation as of Saturday afternoon, while Judge Michael J. Ripps, the presiding justice of Northern Berkshire District Court in North Adams, had only one evaluation -- albeit one that cast him in a highly favorable light.
Ripps' overall score of 3.8 puts him in the same class as Judge John A. Agostini, an associate Berkshire Superior Court justice, who had four evaluations as of Saturday, all of them favorable. Agostini is described as "very reasonable, polite and prepared."
Judge Rita S. Koenigs received an overall score of 2.1, which translates as "fair" on the 1-to-4 scale ranging from "poor" to "excellent." While the tough-on-crime Koenigs is criticized for imposing harsh sentences on criminals and treating attorneys "with little respect," Judge Fredric D. Rutberg, the presiding justice of Central Berkshire District Court in Pittsfield, is praised for showing "kindness and compassion" to defendants. Meanwhile, Rutberg is criticized for having "no compassion for victims of domestic violence." His score of 2.3 is the second-lowest of any Berkshire County judge.
Judge Paul M. Vrabel, an associate justice in Northern Berkshire District Court, is praised for his efficiency at moving cases along, but criticized for his treatment of lawyers, for which he received a 1.3. However, Vrabel receives a high score of 3.7 for his "willingness to ignore race, sex, religion (and) politics" in the courtroom. The judge's overall score was a 2.5, or halfway between "fair" and "good."
Half the judges who sit the bench in Berkshire County ranked below the overall statewide average of 3.2, while half ranked 3.2 or better. The information is still rather nebulous, however, considering incomplete data for Ripps and McElroy.
To reach Conor Berry: email@example.com; (413) 496-6249.
"Obama unveils housing plan"
Posted by Foon Rhee, deputy national political editor, February 18, 2009, 4:05 PM
Warning that the housing crisis "strikes at the heart" of the American Dream, President Obama today laid out a $75 billion plan to help as many as 9 million homeowners refinance or restructure their mortgages.
The proposal -- more ambitious and expensive than expected -- is designed to assist 4 million to 5 million homeowners to refinance their mortgages to get lower payments, and to provide subsidies to lenders to lower the monthly payments of another 3 million to 4 million homeowners at risk of defaulting on their mortgages.
Aiming to aid those who owe more on their mortgages than their homes are worth, those who are on the verge of losing their homes to foreclosure, and their neighbors who are being affected, Obama said the day after he signed the $787 billion stimulus bill that the housing crisis needs to be fixed before the broader economy can recover.
"In the end, all of us are paying a price for this home mortgage crisis," he said at a high school in the Phoenix suburb of Mesa, one of the epicenters of the foreclosure crisis that is threatening as many as six million homes across the nation.
"And all of us will pay an even steeper price if we allow this crisis to continue to deepen – a crisis which is unraveling homeownership, the middle class, and the American Dream itself. But if we act boldly and swiftly to arrest this downward spiral, then every American will benefit."
But he said the plan will only help "responsible" homeowners and families who "played by the rules."
"It will not rescue the unscrupulous or irresponsible by throwing good taxpayer money after bad loans," Obama vowed. "It will not help speculators who took risky bets on a rising market and bought homes not to live in but to sell. It will not help dishonest lenders who acted irresponsibly, distorting the facts and dismissing the fine print at the expense of buyers who didn’t know better. And it will not reward folks who bought homes they knew from the beginning they would never be able to afford.
"This plan will not save every home. But it will give millions of families resigned to financial ruin a chance to rebuild."
(Obama's full prepared remarks are below.)
Representative John Boehner, the top Republican in the House, issued a statement skeptical of major elements of Obama's plan.
“The housing crisis is at the heart of our economic troubles, and House Republicans want to work with the President on a plan that keeps families in their homes without asking taxpayers to bail out irresponsible lenders, scam artists, and borrowers who knowingly made bad decisions," the statement said. "While we hope to work together, there are many unanswered questions that remain about the proposal that was announced today. Why should we reward Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac with $200 billion in taxpayer dollars without first reforming these housing entities that were at the heart of the economic meltdown? Will taxpayers be forced to subsidize the scandal-plagued activist group ACORN under this proposal? Should a responsible plan include a ‘cramdown’ provision that could increase the monthly mortgage payments for responsible borrowers?
“Taxpayers and homeowners who are playing by the rules expect their leaders in Washington to work together on solutions to get our housing industry – and our entire economy – moving again. The President’s announcement of his plan is an important step in that process, and Republicans look forward to working with him and our Democratic colleagues in Congress on this issue in the weeks and months to come.”
AFL-CIO president John Sweeney applauded Obama's initiative -- and bashed former President Bush.
"The swift action by the Obama Administration today to address the housing crisis is a welcome and refreshing change," Sweeney said in a statement.
"For more than a year, the Bush Administration ignored calls from the AFL-CIO and others to address a coming foreclosure tsunami. Tragically, in the months that followed, the deepening housing debacle turned millions of families' lives upside down and strengthened its chokehold on our economy.
"The Obama plan is designed to help up to nine million homeowners. The strong plan from the Administration correctly includes changing the bankruptcy laws to allow judges to modify the mortgages of distressed homeowners, including reducing the principal of these loans to the property's current market value.
"The crisis could not be more dire. An estimated eight million homes will fall into foreclosure over the next four years. Bankruptcy reform is a critical piece of the solution for working men and women. The AFL-CIO urges Congress to work with the Administration immediately to pass bankruptcy reform for homeowners."
I’m here today to talk about a crisis unlike any we’ve ever known – but one that you know very well here in Mesa, and throughout the Valley. In Phoenix and its surrounding suburbs, the American Dream is being tested by a home mortgage crisis that not only threatens the stability of our economy but also the stability of families and neighborhoods. It is a crisis that strikes at the heart of the middle class: the homes in which we invest our savings, build our lives, raise our families, and plant roots in our communities.
So many Americans have shared with me their personal experiences of this crisis. Many have written letters or emails or shared their stories with me at rallies and along rope lines. Their hardship and heartbreak are a reminder that while this crisis is vast, it begins just one house – and one family – at a time.
It begins with a young family – maybe in Mesa, or Glendale, or Tempe – or just as likely in suburban Las Vegas, Cleveland, or Miami. They save up. They search. They choose a home that feels like the perfect place to start a life. They secure a fixed-rate mortgage at a reasonable rate, make a down payment, and make their mortgage payments each month. They are as responsible as anyone could ask them to be.
But then they learn that acting responsibly often isn’t enough to escape this crisis. Perhaps someone loses a job in the latest round of layoffs, one of more than three and a half million jobs lost since this recession began – or maybe a child gets sick, or a spouse has his or her hours cut.
In the past, if you found yourself in a situation like this, you could have sold your home and bought a smaller one with more affordable payments. Or you could have refinanced your home at a lower rate. But today, home values have fallen so sharply that even if you made a large down payment, the current value of your mortgage may still be higher than the current value of your house. So no bank will return your calls, and no sale will return your investment.
You can't afford to leave and you can't afford to stay. So you cut back on luxuries. Then you cut back on necessities. You spend down your savings to keep up with your payments. Then you open the retirement fund. Then you use the credit cards. And when you’ve gone through everything you have, and done everything you can, you have no choice but to default on your loan. And so your home joins the nearly six million others in foreclosure or at risk of foreclosure across the country, including roughly 150,000 right here in Arizona.
But the foreclosures which are uprooting families and upending lives across America are only one part of this housing crisis. For while there are millions of families who face foreclosure, there are millions more who are in no danger of losing their homes, but who have still seen their dreams endangered. They are families who see “For Sale” signs lining the streets. Who see neighbors leave, and homes standing vacant, and lawns slowly turning brown. They see their own homes – their largest single assets – plummeting in value. One study in Chicago found that a foreclosed home reduces the price of nearby homes by as much as 9 percent. Home prices in cities across the country have fallen by more than 25 percent since 2006; in Phoenix, they’ve fallen by 43 percent.
Even if your neighborhood hasn’t been hit by foreclosures, you’re likely feeling the effects of the crisis in other ways. Companies in your community that depend on the housing market – construction companies and home furnishing stores, painters and landscapers – they’re cutting back and laying people off. The number of residential construction jobs has fallen by more than a quarter million since mid-2006. As businesses lose revenue and people lose income, the tax base shrinks, which means less money for schools and police and fire departments. And on top of this, the costs to a local government associated with a single foreclosure can be as high as $20,000.
The effects of this crisis have also reverberated across the financial markets. When the housing market collapsed, so did the availability of credit on which our economy depends. As that credit has dried up, it has been harder for families to find affordable loans to purchase a car or pay tuition and harder for businesses to secure the capital they need to expand and create jobs.
In the end, all of us are paying a price for this home mortgage crisis. And all of us will pay an even steeper price if we allow this crisis to deepen – a crisis which is unraveling homeownership, the middle class, and the American Dream itself. But if we act boldly and swiftly to arrest this downward spiral, every American will benefit. And that’s what I want to talk about today.
The plan I’m announcing focuses on rescuing families who have played by the rules and acted responsibly: by refinancing loans for millions of families in traditional mortgages who are underwater or close to it; by modifying loans for families stuck in sub-prime mortgages they can’t afford as a result of skyrocketing interest rates or personal misfortune; and by taking broader steps to keep mortgage rates low so that families can secure loans with affordable monthly payments.
At the same time, this plan must be viewed in a larger context. A lost home often begins with a lost job. Many businesses have laid off workers for a lack of revenue and available capital. Credit has become scarce as the markets have been overwhelmed by the collapse of securities backed by failing mortgages. In the end, the home mortgage crisis, the financial crisis, and this broader economic crisis are interconnected. We cannot successfully address any one of them without addressing them all.
Yesterday, in Denver, I signed into law the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act which will create or save three and a half million jobs over the next two years – including 70,000 in Arizona – doing the work America needs done. We will also work to stabilize, repair, and reform our financial system to get credit flowing again to families and businesses. And we will pursue the housing plan I am outlining today.
Through this plan, we will help between seven and nine million families restructure or refinance their mortgages so they can avoid foreclosure. And we are not just helping homeowners at risk of falling over the edge, we are preventing their neighbors from being pulled over that edge too – as defaults and foreclosures contribute to sinking home values, failing local businesses, and lost jobs.
But I also want to be very clear about what this plan will not do: It will not rescue the unscrupulous or irresponsible by throwing good taxpayer money after bad loans. It will not help speculators who took risky bets on a rising market and bought homes not to live in but to sell. It will not help dishonest lenders who acted irresponsibility, distorting the facts and dismissing the fine print at the expense of buyers who didn’t know better. And it will not reward folks who bought homes they knew from the beginning they would never be able to afford. In short, this plan will not save every home.
But it will give millions of families resigned to financial ruin a chance to rebuild. It will prevent the worst consequences of this crisis from wreaking even greater havoc on the economy. And by bringing down the foreclosure rate, it will help to shore up housing prices for everyone. According to estimates by the Treasury Department, this plan could stop the slide in home prices due to neighboring foreclosures by up to $6,000 per home.
Here is how my plan works:
First, we will make it possible for an estimated four to five million currently ineligible homeowners who receive their mortgages through Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac to refinance their mortgages at lower rates.
Today, as a result of declining home values, millions of families are “underwater,” which means they owe more on their mortgages than their homes are worth. These families are unable to sell their homes, and unable to refinance them. So in the event of a job loss or another emergency, their options are limited.
Right now, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac – the institutions that guarantee home loans for millions of middle class families – are generally not permitted to guarantee refinancing for mortgages valued at more than 80 percent of the home’s worth. So families who are underwater – or close to being underwater – cannot turn to these lending institutions for help.
My plan changes that by removing this restriction on Fannie and Freddie so that they can refinance mortgages they already own or guarantee. This will allow millions of families stuck with loans at a higher rate to refinance. And the estimated cost to taxpayers would be roughly zero; while Fannie and Freddie would receive less money in payments, this would be balanced out by a reduction in defaults and foreclosures.
I also want to point out that millions of other households could benefit from historically low interest rates if they refinance, though many don't know that this opportunity is available to them – an opportunity that could save families hundreds of dollars each month. And the efforts we are taking to stabilize mortgage markets will help these borrowers to secure more affordable terms, too.
Second, we will create new incentives so that lenders work with borrowers to modify the terms of sub-prime loans at risk of default and foreclosure.
Sub-prime loans – loans with high rates and complex terms that often conceal their costs – make up only 12 percent of all mortgages, but account for roughly half of all foreclosures.
Right now, when families with these mortgages seek to modify a loan to avoid this fate, they often find themselves navigating a maze of rules and regulations but rarely finding answers. Some sub-prime lenders are willing to renegotiate; many aren’t. Your ability to restructure your loan depends on where you live, the company that owns or manages your loan, or even the agent who happens to answer the phone on the day you call.
My plan establishes clear guidelines for the entire mortgage industry that will encourage lenders to modify mortgages on primary residences. Any institution that wishes to receive financial assistance from the government, and to modify home mortgages, will have to do so according to these guidelines – which will be in place two weeks from today.
If lenders and homebuyers work together, and the lender agrees to offer rates that the borrower can afford, we’ll make up part of the gap between what the old payments were and what the new payments will be. And under this plan, lenders who participate will be required to reduce those payments to no more than 31 percent of a borrower’s income. This will enable as many as three to four million homeowners to modify the terms of their mortgages to avoid foreclosure.
So this part of the plan will require both buyers and lenders to step up and do their part. Lenders will need to lower interest rates and share in the costs of reduced monthly payments in order to prevent another wave of foreclosures. Borrowers will be required to make payments on time in return for this opportunity to reduce those payments.
I also want to be clear that there will be a cost associated with this plan. But by making these investments in foreclosure-prevention today, we will save ourselves the costs of foreclosure tomorrow – costs borne not just by families with troubled loans, but by their neighbors and communities and by our economy as a whole. Given the magnitude of these costs, it is a price well worth paying.
Third, we will take major steps to keep mortgage rates low for millions of middle-class families looking to secure new mortgages.
Today, most new home loans are backed by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, which guarantee loans and set standards to keep mortgage rates low and to keep mortgage financing available and predictable for middle class families. This function is profoundly important, especially now as we grapple with a crisis that would only worsen if we were to allow further disruptions in our mortgage markets.
Therefore, using the funds already approved by Congress for this purpose, the Treasury Department and the Federal Reserve will continue to purchase Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac mortgage-backed securities so that there is stability and liquidity in the marketplace. Through its existing authority Treasury will provide up to $200 billion in capital to ensure that Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac can continue to stabilize markets and hold mortgage rates down.
We’re also going to work with Fannie and Freddie on other strategies to bolster the mortgage markets, like working with state housing finance agencies to increase their liquidity. And as we seek to ensure that these institutions continue to perform what is a vital function on behalf of middle class families, we also need to maintain transparency and strong oversight so that they do so in responsible and effective ways.
Fourth, we will pursue a wide range of reforms designed to help families stay in their homes and avoid foreclosure.
My administration will continue to support reforming our bankruptcy rules so that we allow judges to reduce home mortgages on primary residences to their fair market value – as long as borrowers pay their debts under a court-ordered plan. That’s the rule for investors who own two, three, and four homes. It should be the rule for ordinary homeowners too, as an alternative to foreclosure.
In addition, as part of the recovery plan I signed into law yesterday, we are going to award $2 billion in competitive grants to communities that are bringing together stakeholders and testing new and innovative ways to prevent foreclosures. Communities have shown a lot of initiative, taking responsibility for this crisis when many others have not. Supporting these neighborhood efforts is exactly what we should be doing.
Taken together, the provisions of this plan will help us end this crisis and preserve for millions of families their stake in the American Dream. But we must also acknowledge the limits of this plan.
Our housing crisis was born of eroding home values, but also of the erosion of our common values. It was brought about by big banks that traded in risky mortgages in return for profits that were literally too good to be true; by lenders who knowingly took advantage of homebuyers; by homebuyers who knowingly borrowed too much from lenders; by speculators who gambled on rising prices; and by leaders in our nation’s capital who failed to act amidst a deepening crisis.
So solving this crisis will require more than resources – it will require all of us to take responsibility. Government must take responsibility for setting rules of the road that are fair and fairly enforced. Banks and lenders must be held accountable for ending the practices that got us into this crisis in the first place. Individuals must take responsibility for their own actions. And all of us must learn to live within our means again.
These are the values that have defined this nation. These are values that have given substance to our faith in the American Dream. And these are the values that we must restore now at this defining moment.
It will not be easy. But if we move forward with purpose and resolve – with a deepened appreciation for how fundamental the American Dream is and how fragile it can be when we fail in our collective responsibilities – then I am confident we will overcome this crisis and once again secure that dream for ourselves and for generations to come.
Thank you, God Bless you, and God bless America.
A BOSTON GLOBE EDITORIAL
"PENSION TENSION: A retirement party gone wild"
February 23, 2009
THE PUBLIC has seen enough of the pension capers of elected officials, such as the now-notorious enhanced benefits for lawmakers who fail to win reelection. The Legislature finally appears serious about cracking down on such excesses. But comprehensive pension reform also requires lawmakers to confront the practices of roughly 100 local retirement boards, which oversee the investments and administration of retirement and disability benefits for 215,000 municipal and county employees.
It's a murky area. In Middlesex County, the retirement system had become so opaque that its members didn't even know one of its money managers had lost $37 million of the system's assets until he died in 2003. In Natick, two retirement board members recently tried to reappoint a third, with no quorum present, prompting a threat of a lawsuit by the town's Board of Selectmen.
Problems across the state range from failure to submit proper financial statements to contractual confusion with unions over how retirement benefits should be calculated. Meanwhile, public officials who adhere to strict state guidelines for competitive bidding when acquiring a few thousand dollars of school supplies need follow no such process when selecting investment and actuarial vendors responsible for vast sums.
A bill sponsored by state Representative Jay Kaufman of Lexington gives needed muscle to the Public Employee Retirement Administration Commission, the state agency responsible for overseeing the investment strategies and administration of the local retirement boards. The bill contains many of the recommendations made in 2005 by an advisory committee headed by former attorney general Scott Harshbarger, who warned that local retirement boards were especially vulnerable to conflicts of interest and self-dealing. Harshbarger challenged legislators to clean up the mess within nine months. It's been four years and counting.
For starters, Kaufman's bill ensures that the retirement boards deal with reputable firms by giving PERAC the power to ban or suspend vendors who have been convicted of criminal offenses. It also requires retirement board members to file financial disclosure statements to eliminate potential conflicts of interest. Taxpayers and public employees deserve nothing less. Though the bill does not impose rigid adherence to lowest-bidder requirements, it does establish a sensible procurement process for vendors. Retirement board members would also be required to attend educational and training sessions by PERAC. And that means real education on best practices in investment and administration, not the industry-sponsored junkets beloved by some local retirement boards.
Taxpayer-supported retirement parties have gotten wildly out of hand. Legislators need to break them up.
"Food aid sign-ups flooding Massachusetts: Requests rise 20% in year; applicants may wait weeks"
By David Abel, Boston Globe Staff, February 26, 2009
Over the past year, the number of Massachusetts residents receiving food stamps has surged 20 percent, bringing the total to more than 600,000 and taxing the state's ability to serve those in need, welfare officials say.
The state added nearly 100,000 people to the food stamp rolls in 2008, the largest increase since at least 1995 and possibly the largest in Massachusetts history, the state's welfare director said. As many as 20,000 new applications are coming in each month, along with an average of 18,000 requests for extensions.
The crush of applications comes as the state's welfare department has about 25 percent fewer caseworkers and supervisors than at the start of the decade, when the food stamp rolls were less than half what they are today. It has also resulted in a potentially dangerous delay in the processing of applications.
Six months ago, the agency handled the average application in about two weeks; today, it takes closer to a month. Federal law gives states a week to process emergency requests for food aid, which caseworkers say account for a rising percentage of applications. Less-urgent requests for assistance - for those whose income exceeds their rent - must be completed within 30 days.
The backlog may only get worse, because of provisions in the recently passed federal stimulus package that provide $20 billion for food stamps and extend the period for which healthy adults without children are eligible for such assistance. Instead of being limited to collecting food stamps for three months in a three-year period, these adults will now be eligible for food stamps continuously through Sept. 30, 2010.
To qualify, a household of one can have a gross monthly income of $1,127; a household with one child can make up to $1,805 per month. A qualifying household of eight, with children, can have a gross monthly income of $6,169.
"This is a difficult time, and it's obviously very concerning what we're seeing," said Phuoc Cao, director of the food stamps program at the state Department of Transitional Assistance. "We understand the situations people are facing. I just ask that people be a little patient with us. Just like anything else, the wait's going to be a little longer, but we're trying our best."
But some of those applying for food stamps have run out of patience - and food, they say.
After three months of calling and waiting in long lines during multiple trips to the welfare office in Brockton, Joslyn Portier said she's still waiting - and that she now survives on one meal a day. The disabled 54-year-old, who lives alone in Sharon, now relies on food pantries and family, but she has a hard time getting to the former and worries she's burdening the latter.
"I've had no choice but to cut back on eating," Portier said.
Portier, like others who have collected food stamps for years, had a problem recertifying her eligibility, which recipients must do at certain times depending on their situation.
She said the welfare office never received a form she had mailed, and in December she discovered she had been cut off from the $175 a month she had been receiving in food stamps for more than three years. Since then, she said, she has called several times a week and made at least four trips to the Brockton office, where she said the line often extends past the door.
On her most recent trip to the welfare office, she said, her caseworker apologized but said there was nothing she could do. "She just pointed to a recertification box, where there were easily 100 applications," Portier said. "She said I would just have to wait."
Neither Cao nor other state officials would comment on Portier's case, citing confidentiality.
But officials at the welfare office off Massachusetts Avenue in Boston, which processes more food stamp applications than any of the department's other 24 offices around the state, said such stories are increasingly common.
"It can be a bureaucratic nightmare for some people," said Mary Flanigan, assistant director of the Boston office and an agency employee for 32 years. "I hear from advocates all the time that more people are getting lost in the system. Unfortunately, it's no longer uncommon for me to hear from someone who says they're down to one package of Ramen noodles."
She said her office now receives about 1,700 new applications a month - an increase of more than 50 percent from a year ago. The office's 15 supervisors each oversee the distribution of benefits to about 2,800 people, up about a third from six months ago, she said.
And the office's 60 caseworkers now average more than 700 clients each - also up by a third in the last six months. An increasing number of recipients are laid-off professionals.
"We have more pending applications than ever," said Flanigan, noting that each caseworker now averages about 80 pending applications, quadruple the number of a year ago, and more of them are emergency requests. She said emergency food stamps last 30 days and applicants have to reapply when the month ends, so caseworkers often end up having to do twice the work.
Caseworker Kelley Woods said her phone never seems to stop ringing.
"It's hard to keep up," she said, noting it now routinely takes her about a month - the legal time limit - to process an application. "You want to make everyone happy, but everyone's in need . . . So you don't take breaks too often."
To speed up the process, Cao and other department officials said they have streamlined the application, lengthened the time people can collect food stamps to reduce the recertification paperwork, and are training new caseworkers to help carry the load.
But the changes were not visible this week to Maria Sunica, 50, of Hyde Park.
Like Portier, she has been waiting three months for food stamps. She said she survives on handouts from the Red Cross, but now eats just two meals a day, mainly rice and beans.
Waiting in a long line in the lobby of the Boston office, Sunica said she has grown frustrated with the delay.
"They keep telling me to wait, to be patient," said Sunica, a diabetic with kidney problems. "But how long should this take? At some point, this is negligence."
David Abel can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Boston Globe, Op-Ed, THOMAS M. GAGEN
"Restoring the rainy day fund after downpour"
By Thomas M. Gagen, February 27, 2009
IT WAS about this time 20 years ago that Massachusetts got inklings of a budget catastrophe. After years of revenue growth, Governor Dukakis and the Legislature had assumed the "Massachusetts miracle" would continue indefinitely. They had established a stabilization, or rainy day, fund in case of emergences, but it contained only $100 million. State government used up that money in an instant and, as 1989 wore on, it was forced to suspend Medicaid payments, cut local aid, and lay off thousands of workers. By November 1989, the state bond rating had slipped to the lowest in the country.
The state is now experiencing its worst recession since 1989-1991, and Governor Patrick has made his first rounds of budget cuts, with more to follow once the Legislature works on his budget plan this spring. The cuts have been painful, and yet the process is far more deliberate than it was in '89-'91, thanks to the existence of a rainy day fund that contained a significant amount of money -$2.3 billion two years ago, its high point.
The state was able to save this amount because of a surge in income from capital gains taxes from 2003 to 2007. But revenue from the capital gains tax is also prone to abrupt declines. The governor was wise to include in his budget a proposal to automatically send a portion of capital gains revenue into the fund if the money exceeds a targeted amount. This is in line with a recommendation by the public interest group MassInc.
The governor's proposal wouldn't have any immediate impact. Unless the economy miraculously revives, capital gains revenue will decline this year and next, but it's still a good idea to plan for the eventual replenishment of the fund.
In the early 1990s, as the economy recovered, legislative leaders wouldn't have needed the prod of a special budget amendment to fill the rainy day fund. They had been scarred by the failure of the government to prepare for the '89-'91 recession, were determined to avoid a repetition of this feckless behavior, and kept filling the rainy day fund even if it meant limiting increases in important programs.
The most frugal member of the leadership was Thomas Finneran, from 1991 to 1996 chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee. He had his faults, of course. He tyrannized the House as speaker from 1996 to 2004 and obstructed a federal investigation into the 2001 House redistricting process. But he knew how to manage a budget. When the revenues declined in 2001-2002 (assisted by voters' unwise decision to lower the income tax), he led a campaign to stabilize state finances that combined tax increases, spending cuts, and withdrawals from the rainy day fund.
With Finneran still in power, the Legislature resumed contributions to the fund in 2003. In 2004, Finneran persuaded the Legislature to give preliminary approval to a constitutional amendment that would have mandated annual deposits into the fund when the state ran a budget surplus.
Over the next few years, tax revenues, led by the capital gains levy, flattened out. Finneran was no longer in a position to shore up the fund. The amendment died for lack of action, and starting in 2007 the Legislature withdrew several hundred million dollars to maintain spending levels. In hindsight, it should have kept the fund intact to cope with the economic decline that accelerated in the fall of last year.
The Patrick administration guesses that if the Legislature adopts the governor's budget, the rainy day fund will be down to $888 million by the middle of next year. The fund almost certainly will be drained before this deep recession ends. But based on past economic cycles, prosperity will return to Massachusetts and the Legislature will face many competing demands for the additional tax revenue that will result. Filling up the rainy day fund should get priority. If that isn't done, Finneran's plan will have to be revived.
Thomas M. Gagen, who was chief editorial writer for the Globe, is a freelance writer.
Re: Boston Globe Op-Ed revisionist history!
Re: "Restoring the rainy day fund after downpour", Op-Ed, The Boston Globe, 2/27/2009, Thomas Gagen
The author stated: "When the revenues declined in 2001-2002 (assisted by voters' unwise decision to lower the income tax), he [-- former-then-Representative to former-then-Speaker Thomas Finneran --] led a campaign to stabilize state finances that combined tax increases, spending cuts, and withdrawals from the rainy day fund."
This is revisionist history if I ever saw it. Former Speaker Tom Finneran was NO hero when it came to state government finances in Massachusetts! During the Spring 2000, the "Big Dig" had a single cost overrun of over $2 billion! The next year, Speaker Finneran did not pass the FY2002 Massachusetts State Government budget until Thanksgiving 2001, which began 3 consecutive state fiscal year budgets that gutted local aid to cities and towns which was NEVER fully replaced from FY05 - FY08. In FY09, of course, Governor Patrick is making further large cuts to local aid, which will carry into the FY10 state budget. The reason why Speaker Finneran was able to balance the state's budget during the 2002 recession was because he did it on the backs of the cities and towns, including cutting money towards public education, too. If the state did not slash local aid and public education funding in 2002, there would be no rainy day fund today. The result was regressive property taxes being hiked by 40% from FY02 through FY08, which exceeds the rate of inflation and hurt many people on low and fixed incomes. I believe the incumbent ruliing elites on Beacon Hill's State House have FAILED to manage the taxpayers' money! They play these shell games and publish hack op-eds to deflect their incompetence and inequity towards the taxpayers!
A BOSTON GLOBE EDITORIAL: Short fuse, March 1, 2009
"Beacon Hill politics: Charlie on the fence"
Charlie Baker is starting to look like the great Republican hope. The Harvard-Pilgrim CEO, perennially on the short list of Republican candidates for high office, got tongues wagging at the State House this month by meeting with party activists. Now he is to appear on a panel discussion sponsored by MassINC about the sorry record of political competition in Massachusetts, the state with the lowest rate of contested legislative seats in the nation. Two of the other panelists at the March 12 forum - Boston City Councilor Sam Yoon and state Senator Sonia Chang-Diaz - had the guts to challenge entrenched incumbents. Baker continues to be coy about his intentions, especially if he will run for governor in 2010. So what is he doing on this panel?
The Boston Globe, Op-Ed, SCOTT FARMELANT
"A makeover for lobbyists"
By Scott Farmelant, March 7, 2009
A SEEMINGLY endless wave of high-profile lobbying scandals - allegations of bribes to politicians, pay-to-play contract schemes, and hundreds of thousands of dollars in hidden fees - have rightly generated withering criticism from every corner of the state.
A sweeping prescription recently put forth by Governor Patrick's ethics team may reform a lobbying system widely perceived as broken. Altering the terrible public image of lobbyists? That will take much more than a task force and new rules. The lobbying industry in Massachusetts needs a makeover.
When it comes to their public-relations problem, lobbyists can look in the mirror. Dozens of other professions endure scandals and emerge with relatively high levels of public acceptance.
How do they survive the bad headlines? They start by quickly and loudly condemning those in their ranks who behave badly.
The lobbying industry does not share this approach. Seemingly loath to denounce colleagues who skirt or ignore lobbying laws, lobbyists maintain a breathtaking level of collective silence on ethics. This approach only compounds the common perception that lobbyists lack moral compasses.
Indeed, lobbyists seem to have no interest in promoting transparency, defining standards of good conduct, and providing continuing education within their profession. It's no wonder that lobbyists are defined by the rotten apples among them.
This is not necessarily the case in other states, including Florida, New York, North Carolina, and Ohio, where lobbyists of all stripes form professional associations to provide clear standards of conduct, promote respect for the political process, and continually educate membership. These organizations promote transparency via the Internet and emphasize legally required financial reporting. They even - gasp - encourage free discourse about ethics.
While corruption is cause for concern, it remains the exception, not the rule, among lobbying professionals. As Patrick's task force took pains to highlight, Massachusetts's lobbying laws are "generally strong and broad," with problems arising among regulators and prosecutors, who require more tools to enforce rules and penalize lawbreakers. Pointedly, the governor's task force acknowledged that nearly the entirety of lobbying entities in Massachusetts abide by the rules.
The panel might have added that the majority provide a bedrock exercise of our constitutional rights, allowing the citizenry to "petition the government for a redress of grievances" as instructed by the First Amendment.
Behind the headlines, lobbying work bears almost no resemblance to the popularly held notion of smoke-filled backrooms and lavish fund-raisers. To truly succeed, lobbyists must master mundane minutiae inherent in public policy, details that will ultimately convince elected officials to support or oppose a particular cause. The issues that lobbyists work on reflect the diversity of the population and their beliefs. Every well-known concern, ranging from consumer affairs to municipal financing to green energy to organized labor to elder care, uses lobbyists to promote its positions and policies.
When it comes to lobbying, there is a clear difference between good and bad. Bad lobbyists are exactly that, immoral and deserving of punishment. Good lobbyists are the opposite, bringing about advances in healthcare reform, public transit, gun control, and countless other initiatives.
Lobbyists ought to draw a distinction between the two.
Scott Farmelant is the president of Mills & Company, a strategic communications and public relations agency based in Charlestown.
"Cigarette tax may be costly"
By Matt Murphy, North Adams Transcript Statehouse Bureau, March 9, 2009
BOSTON -- The decision by Congress to fund an expansion of the State Children's Health Insurance Program with a major hike in the federal cigarette tax could burn a huge hole in the state budget.
Although supporters of raising cigarette taxes argue there are long-term benefits of smokers quitting -- and therefore the government saving on health-care costs -- the negative short-term impact comes at a time when Massachusetts is craving cash.
"We're going to have a major problem, this year and next," said state Sen. Steven Panagiotakos, who is beginning to prepare the Senate's budget proposal as chairman of the Ways and Means Committee.
Panagiotakos opposed a similar hike in the state cigarette tax last year because of its impact on businesses that compete with New Hampshire, but he said the federal increase has a worthy goal of decreasing smoking.
"We have to look at the other side and the amount we're going to save long-term in health care," he said. "It really is a long-term program and one I think is important."
The federal tax on a pack of cigarettes will increase by 61 cents on April 1, raising the tax to $1 per pack. The federal hike comes on the heels of a $1 increase in the state cigarette tax passed last year by the Legislature on Beacon Hill in a move designed to raise an additional $175 million in revenue to help fund health-care reform.
Anticipating a decline in tobacco sales because of the high cost, state budget officials are predicting the expansion could cost the state $45 million in lost revenue over the last three months of fiscal 2009 and $90 million in fiscal 2010.
This comes in addition to a growing $115 million snow-and ice-removal deficit and other liabilities that could leave lawmakers with another $500 million budget gap to fill before June.
The average cost of a pack of cigarettes rose to $5. 41 after the dollar increase in the state but will now surpass $6, with some smokers paying more than $7 a pack in cities such as Boston.
The cigarette tax hike sailed through Congress in January and was signed by President Barack Obama to fund an expansion of the popular health insurance program that covers more the 200,000 children in Massachusetts.
U.S. Rep. Niki Tsongas, who made SCHIP the signature issue in her first run for Congress, said the loss in state revenue speaks to the difficulties in forecasting revenues. She said the initial decision to rely on the cigarette tax was due, in part, to the Democrats in Congress insisting that new or expanded programs are paid and not adding debt.
"We wanted to be sure we paid for it as we went, but obviously you also want to make it more difficult for people to smoke," Tsongas said.
The SCHIP program, started by Sen. Edward Kennedy, helps provide subsidized health insurance to children whose families are living close to the poverty line but do not qualify for Medicaid. The program costs about $33 billion. The bill signed by Obama expands the qualifications to cover an additional 4 million children, up from the 7 million currently enrolled in the program.
Dental coverage will now also be included in the health plan.
Barney Keller, a spokesman for the MassGOP, criticized Tsongas' support of the tax as "shortsightedness and irresponsible political posturing."
"Considering how big of an issue Tsongas made of the SCHIP bill when she ran, she must have known of the fact that she wanted to pay for children's health insurance on the backs of 22 million new smokers," Keller said.
The Heritage Foundation estimated in 2007 it would take 22.4 million new smokers to generate the $33 million to fund SCHIP expansion.
Tobacco Free Kids, a national anti-smoking organization, states that the federal tax hike will save $572 million in health care costs and prevent 11,600 smoking deaths. More than 25,000 kids would never start smoking, and 13,200 current smokers will quit, according to the organization.
Other groups, however, have taken issue with the government looking to smokers as a go-to money maker.
"A politically popular and expensive program should never be funded by a small, low-income, politically unpopular minority like cigarette smokers," wrote Gerald Prante and Joseph Henchman in an analysis for the Washington, D.C. -based Tax Foundation.
Cigarette taxes disproportionately burden low-income household, according to a Tax Foundation study that suggested the lowest-earning 20 percent of families will face a 37 times higher tax burden than if the federal income tax were raised.
Prante and Henchman also argue that cigarette taxes encourage smuggling, and smokers will find a way around paying the tax.
"Massachusetts Registry, AAA may join on license renewals"
By Glen Johnson, Associated Press Political Writer, Wednesday, March 11, 2009
BOSTON (AP) - The Massachusetts Registry of Motor Vehicles is close to completing a partnership with AAA so members can renew their driver's license and vehicle registration at select branches of the motor club.
A Registry spokeswoman said Wednesday a pilot program will likely begin next month at AAA's West Newton and Worcester branches. It will last for six months before a broader rollout is evaluated.
The Registry says the program will provide convenience for drivers and AAA members, while restoring Saturday hours for the services.
The Registry's employee union is concerned the program could lead to outsourcing, while also giving AAA employees access to personal information such as Social Security numbers. The Registry says such information is already safeguarded through a similar program allowing insurance agents and car dealers to do vehicle registrations.
"Massachusetts Registry, AAA may join on license renewals"
By Glen Johnson, AP Political Writer, March 12, 2009
BOSTON --The Registry of Motor Vehicles is close to an agreement with AAA that gives the auto club's 2.3 million members a chance to renew licenses and vehicle registrations at no extra charge -- even on Saturdays -- at the AAA offices.
It may be consumer friendly, but the program, which could be rolled out next month in AAA's West Newton and Worcester branches, does not sit well with the union representing 800 Registry employees.
The union, the Quincy-based National Association of Government Employees, is concerned the program could lead to outsourcing jobs while giving AAA employees access to personal information such as Social Security numbers.
"I've been around state government for four decades, but this is the first piece of legislation designed to help one corporation," union president David Holway said. "If they wanted to serve the public in an efficient manner, they would have put out a request for proposals, not cut a backroom deal with a politically connected corporation."
Registry spokeswoman Ann Dufresne also said driver information is already safeguarded through a similar program allowing insurance agents and car dealers to do vehicle registrations. She said the same protections would be applied to driver license information.
She also sought to ease layoff concerns, saying, "No one is going to lose their job as a result of this program. This is a customer convenience."
The initial rollout in West Newton and Worcester will last six months before an expansion is evaluated.
"We just think it's a win-win for our customers, giving them greater choice, helping to reduce wait times in our busiest branches and bringing back Saturday hours," Dufresne said.
Massachusetts has 4.9 million licensed drivers. It does not expect AAA, which is based in Heathrow, Fla., to levy a surcharge for the service.
Similar programs are being used in Rhode Island and Connecticut. The Massachusetts pilot program will be used to determine any cost savings the state might derive from a broader rollout.
The partnership is not evolving from legislation but rather a streamlined procurement process since there are not three or more vendors who cater to the motoring public, Dufresne said.
Ongoing state budget concerns have forced the Registry to trim its branches' hours. They now open at 9 a.m. most weekdays, instead of 8:30 a.m., and close at 5 p.m., while on Thursdays, they are open from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., instead of 8:30 a.m. to 7 p.m. They are not open on Saturdays, unlike AAA's Massachusetts branches.
"Convicted drivers kept their licenses: Procedural blunder by courts, Registry"
By Donovan Slack, Boston Globe Staff, March 15, 2009
Nearly 1,000 Massachusetts drivers convicted of vehicular homicide or driving under the influence over the past five years escaped license suspensions for those crimes because of shoddy communication between the state court system and the Registry of Motor Vehicles, according to a state review of court documents and driving records.
Many of the offenders had such extreme records of motor vehicle crimes that they would have been banned from the road for life if the convictions had been handled properly. Instead, some were free to drive, with valid licenses, for years until the errors were finally caught and corrected.
The review, conducted by RMV and court officials, found the registry was missing records for 962 convictions of driving while impaired by drugs or alcohol and 26 convic tions of vehicular homicide between 2003 and 2008.
With no record of the offenses, the Registry did not impose the suspensions for years. Drivers found guilty of vehicular homicide are supposed to have their licenses suspended for 15 years, while those found guilty of driving under the influence are supposed to get license suspensions of 45 days to life, depending on the number of prior offenses.
As a result of the review, the Registry has corrected its records and instituted the penalties, officials said. In 54 cases, the new convictions discovered by the RMV pushed the number of offenses on drivers' records high enough to warrant revocation of their licenses for life. Those people will never be allowed to drive again, RMV officials said.
"In these most egregious cases," Registrar Rachel Kaprielian said Friday, "particularly where somebody has killed somebody, we thought it was important to find these missing records and impose the punishment no matter how old the conviction date." .
The review followed a state auditor's report last July that found that delays in transferring information between courts and the Registry in 2005 and 2006 had allowed between 7,500 and 9,000 drivers to keep their licenses for two to four years after judges ordered the suspension or revocation of their driving privileges.
At the time, Kaprielian said the issue was one of the most pressing facing her agency and vowed to eliminate it by linking RMV and court computers. That link is now active and records are transferred automatically every night from courthouses to RMV computers.
The review of past cases, undertaken at the same time the computer link was developed, is RMV's first assessment of its own system and the consequences of the communications gap. It also indicates how widespread the lapses - and potential risk to the public - have been.
The review of some 90,000 citations issued between 2003 and 2008 found records were missing for 1,991 of them, an error rate of roughly 2 percent. Of those, 988 involved convictions that required license suspensions that were not imposed.
In many of those cases, RMV officials said, the drivers' licenses already had been suspended for other offenses, though they didn't know in how many. For example, one 18-year-old Worcester area man was convicted of drunken driving and vehicular homicide after he drove the wrong way down Interstate 290 and killed another motorist in June 2004.
His license should have been suspended in February 2005 when he was convicted, but the RMV didn't know about the conviction until discovering it during the review last fall. When agency officials did impose a 15-year suspension of the license, they discovered it already had been suspended at the request of the local police department the day after the collision in 2004.
Registry officials declined to identify any of the drivers by name, citing a federal law that protects driver privacy. And they declined to give an example of a driver who may have been allowed to stay on the roads, driving with a valid license because of the missing records.
But one such example was well-publicized in 2007 and preceded the state auditor's decision to look at the problem. A Milton firefighter was nearly killed that summer by a drunken driver, C.W. Tolbert Jr., whose license should have been suspended because of two convictions of drunken driving. It wasn't because the RMV said it hadn't been notified of the convictions.
Immediately after State Auditor Joseph DeNucci's report was released last July, the registrar put together a group of officials from the RMV, state court system and the Merit Rating Board to address the problem.
Within six months, the group launched the computer link between the courts and the Registry. Members of the group said Friday that they are confident the system will prevent future lapses that may endanger the public.
Convictions are now transmitted daily to registry computers, which automatically suspend drivers licenses when necessary, and generate notices to the drivers involved.
"The collaboration has been extraordinary," Kaprielian said. "We are far, far beyond where we have ever been."
And the review of past records is continuing, she said. While the group has so far looked at convictions dating back to 2003, there are plans to look back further, possibly to 1998 or earlier.
In the meantime, the nearly 1,000 drivers who had escaped license suspensions have been receiving notices that they now face the penalty, and more than a few of them are not happy about it, registry officials said.
"They're saying, 'Hey, I got convicted in 2006. What are you doing?' " said Joanne Stanley, director of the RMV's Driver Control Unit, which adjudicates driver disputes with the agency.
Still, Stanley said she is surprised that more of the drivers have not complained. Only 40 to 50 have so far even inquired about the suspensions, she said. "I don't know if the others didn't get the notices or what."
Donovan Slack can be reached at email@example.com.
"Registry of Motor Vehicles, AAA launch partnership"
Associated Press, Saturday, March 28, 2009
A partnership between the Registry of Motor Vehicles and AAA will allow the auto club's 2.2 million members to renew licenses and vehicle registrations at two Massachusetts AAA offices.
Officials announced programs at the Newton and Worcester offices Friday, saying the partnership will expand locations and hours for limited RMV services.
Renewals are available during regular AAA business hours, which include Saturdays.
The union representing Registry employees has expressed concerns the program could lead to outsourcing jobs while giving AAA employees access to personal information.
But a Registry spokeswoman says employees won't lose jobs and driver information is already safeguarded through a similar program allowing insurance agents and car dealers to register vehicles.
— Associated Press
Belmont - with news from the Belmont Citizen-Herald
"House budget panel may retreat on earmarks"
By Jim O'Sullivan/State House News Service, Monday, March 30, 2009
Boston, Mass. - The budget due to emerge next month from the House Ways and Means Committee will likely be missing billions of spending appropriations state agencies have come to rely on for programs and services, victims of the economic crisis that has the state facing a budget gap up to $4 billion next year.
The plan could also lack another element, one lawmakers have guarded fiercely over the years as a redoubt of legislative prerogative: earmarks.
House budget authors are considering eliminating all earmarks, budget clauses that directly allocate state funds for specific organizations or programs, according to House sources familiar with committee deliberations.
"They're trying to say, potentially, no earmarks," said one Democratic House member who has met with House budget chief Charley Murphy, assembling his first budget.
A decision to abolish earmarks would represent a massive concession by lawmakers to Gov. Deval Patrick, who has repeatedly fought losing battles to cut down earmarks. Legislative leaders defend them as the lawmakers' most effective means of delivering state dollars to their districts and favored programs. Earmarks also provide political calling cards for legislators in their districts or among interest groups.
The move would require a sign-off by House Speaker Robert DeLeo, a vocal proponent of earmarks during his years as House budget chief. The shift would empower Executive Branch officials, probably Cabinet secretaries and their aides, with spending decisions traditionally made during the Legislature's budget-writing process.
In collapsing the earmarks, Murphy and the budget panel would walk a delicate line between erasing legislative input altogether and preserving the cherished authority of select members.
"It's either all or none," the lawmaker said.
"I would support that, if that is the way the speaker and the Ways and Means chair decide to go," said committee member Rep. Denis Guyer (D-Dalton), who said he discussed the option with Murphy.
"I could only support that if it were across the board, meaning that if I'm going to tell the people that I've been successful in getting earmarks for year after year that there won't be one this year, everyone else has to do the same thing," Guyer said.
The committee could preserve some power by applying a loose definition to earmarks, essentially creating a back door for tightly targeting spending authorizations within budget line items by adding language that allows for little executive flexibility.
By resisting Patrick's effort to reduce the number of line items drastically, lawmakers could deploy another shield, by chopping allocations within agencies into specific programs and limiting the administration's effort to transfer funds between programs.
"The consolidation of line items is a real problem, because then we really lose all control," the House Democrat said.
The decision on earmarks also involves a delicate dance with Murphy's counterpart, Senate budget chief Sen. Steven Panagiotakos, who said he had discussed earmarks with Murphy.
"There's no commitments yet on our end,"
Panagiotakos said. "Most of the earmarks really are good, important programs in members' districts."
"I know he was considering it," the Lowell Democrat said.
In 2007, when Patrick first pushed for more Executive Branch discretion over spending, Sen.
Therese Murray, then the Senate budget chief and now president of the Upper Chamber, defended earmarks. "Earmarks are important to us going forward," Murray said then. "They're not pork, they're not special interests, they are essential to continue the economy the way it's been going and for other services. So I hope that puts the earmark question to bed."
Murphy, who declined to comment for this article, told the News Service earlier this month that he planned dramatic revisions to the budget, in part, he said, because public perception was "that government needs to change how it does business." Patrick's budget calls for 0.5 percent growth, but lawmakers will likely take an ax to the bottom line.
Earmarks have not become the controversial budget vehicles in Massachusetts that they are in Washington, where Democrats and Republicans alike often rip them as opaque corners of government fertile for lobbyists and moneyed interests.
Murphy's budget is due out in mid-April, with full House debate tentatively scheduled for the last week of the month. The Burlington Democrat warned earlier this month of an austere bottom line.
"We're cutting it across all lines, because we have no choice in the matter," Murphy said, adding, "I don't think anything is safe from being cut."
Relinquishing earmarks would be a sign of the House's recognition that the fiscal crisis has hit state government full force, demanding fundamental reforms.
"Depending on who you talk to, people do feel as though perhaps we're funding things we shouldn't be funding as a state," Murphy said in the earlier interview. "And as I keep telling members this is an opportunity to take look at that, and that's what we're doing, line by line, because now's a time we just don't have the money."
"That's how bad the fiscal crisis is, frankly, is that we are willing to just step back from anything we've ever done before," the House member said.
DeLeo declined comment through a spokesman.
"Made Marian looks out for own"
By Howie Carr, Friday, April 3, 2009, www.bostonherald.com, Columnists
You really can’t blame Sen. Marian Walsh for her arrogant greed. She has a disease. Her name is Marian and she’s a hack. One Bunker Hill Day off is too many, and a thousand are not enough.
This disease has long raged out of control here. But now it’s an epidemic. The saddest thing of all is how a single hack can infect an entire family of once-productive citizens, turning them into overpaid sloths who endlessly phone in sick and brag about their impending kiss in the mail.
Consider how this hack plague has ravaged the family of Sen. Walsh, who has been pried out of her $175,000-a-year hack sinecure, and must settle for a mere $76,000 in the state Senate. First is her ancient husband, Paul Buckley, a former judge, now commissioner at the Department of Industrial Accidents for $113,485.13 a year - a lot more than Buck used to make in the Dreaded Private Sector almost a half-century ago, tending bar at the Pony Room in Dorchester.
Now old man Buck’s son Michael, Sen. Walsh’s stepson, is infected. He’s a probation officer for $65,039.90 a year. Just last year, Sen. Walsh’s sister tested positive. Madeleine McGuire was infected with a $42,249 job in the Department of Workforce Development.
Apparently none of these layabouts ever heard of McDonald’s, or mowing lawns. But then, it’s a lot harder to go out on disability in the DPS.
Like lepers in the old days, these hacks congregate in their own colonies. They’re called state agencies. Consider Buck’s colony, the DIA. It includes Jonathan Kujawski ($35,713), son of state Rep. Paul Kujawski, D-DWI, who’s good for $61,440.20. Jon is a post-Deval hire, just like ex-Sen. Cheryl Jacques (rhymes with Fakes). She makes $94,700 a year as a DIA administrative judge.
Sen. Jacques’ brother, Steve, used to have a real job too, but now he makes $98,339 at the Pike, which by an incredible coincidence is where Jon Kujawski used to work summers as a toll collector.
In addition to his hack dad, Jon has a hack uncle, Jan Kujawski, a $111,283.66 special investigator at the Alcoholic Beverages Control Commission. That’s just a bit less than $112,737.61 ABCC special investigator Jamie Binienda whose father, state Rep. John Binienda, serves with Jan’s brother and Marian Walsh in the Legislature.
I read yesterday that Sen. Walsh’s mother is a daily communicant. Maybe she can answer my question. Who is the patron saint of hacks? I ask because whoever this saint is seems to answer every prayer, at least since Deval Patrick was elected governor.
The Boston Globe, Op-Ed, JENNIFER CALLAHAN
"More is needed on ethics reform"
By Jennifer Callahan, April 8, 2009
THE PUBLIC has a right to be fed up with reports that some legislators have engaged in acts of ethical misconduct, alleged bribery and "pay to play" corruption. The public is justifiably demanding increased integrity, transparency, and accountability at all levels of government.
The majority of legislators understand that without public trust, there cannot be public service. Ethics reform is not a partisan issue, nor is it one we should expect to be the sole responsibility of the governor. The House's recent passage of legislation mirroring the governor's Ethics and Lobbying Reform bill is a necessary first step. Unfortunately, legislative leaders stopped short of what is being demanded by the public. To bring us to where we have an opportunity to regain the public trust, I have proposed additional reforms.
First, we should eliminate all contributions from lobbyists and close the loophole that permits gifts to government employees. While there are those who argue such reform goes too far, we need to take this poison out of our political system. Similar to what other states have done, we must remove any appearance of conflicts of interest or impropriety based on monetary influence out of the people's house. No lobbyist contribution is worth keeping on the books because it raises serious questions as to who is being served.
Second, it is essential that the Legislature be held to the same standards regarding the Open Meeting Law as every other governmental body. As a matter of practice, caucuses, budget deliberations, and conference matters are routinely closed to the public. This lack of transparency only serves to fuel public mistrust and cynicism. Other states have already opened doors to let the people back into the legislative process by expanding executive session criteria to include security or emergency matters germane to state office and the public welcomed it. Citizens must insist that public business be conducted in full public view.
Third, when legislative leaders are fined the maximum penalty by the State Ethics Commission, they should immediately be stripped of their leadership position and any additional pay that goes with it. The Legislature must demonstrate zero tolerance for those who do not abide by existing ethics regulations and laws. To do otherwise makes a mockery out of ethics reform.
Fourth, the time has come to eliminate legislative earmarks. Rightfully, the public expects transparency when their tax dollars are spent. Consolidating hundreds of earmarks behind closed doors into one behemoth amendment is not the public's idea of transparency. Earmarks are often used to keep rank and file members in line. Those who dare to challenge legislative leaders will be punished and so will their districts, not based on merit, but on political agendas or internal power pursuits.
Other important and necessary reforms include statutorily mandating legislative ethics education, prohibiting lobbyists and trade groups from brokering trips or entertainment, eliminating pay for play opportunities, subjecting quasi-public agencies to a full study of their financial management, accounting and personnel practices and putting the awarding and status of state contracts on line.
What some legislative leaders fail to see is how high the stakes have become in restoring the public's confidence and redefining acceptable good government standards. Even some recent House leadership appointments were ultimately viewed as the fox guarding the hen house because they included colleagues whose names have been splashed across media headlines because of ethical transgressions. The public and media know leadership actions like these are not indicative of meaningful reform.
There is no quick fix to ethical compromise in public service. To promise sweeping reform is one thing, but to deliver is yet another. This is one promise the Legislature cannot bluff its way through and one in which it will be held accountable for years to come.
State Representative Jennifer Callahan, Democrat of Worcester, serves the 18th District.
"That's the way the statute is written," he said when asked if he lobbied anyone in the Legislature for the provision.
"Ex-lawmaker scores both a state job, full pension check: Finneran said to help secure deal"
By Sean P. Murphy, Boston Globe Staff, April 12, 2009
They were just 84 words of dense, technical language buried deep in a 556-page budget bill. But each "pursuant," "shall," and "provided" was pure gold for former state representative Timothy A. Bassett.
The obscure provision passed by the Legislature in 1999 enabled Bassett to accept a high-paying job as the chairman and executive director of the Essex Regional Retirement Board without giving up a dime of his $41,000-a-year state pension from a previous job. In effect, lawmakers decreed Bassett could receive a retiree's pension without being retired.
State law generally prohibits such practices for the vast majority of state retirees, who are required to accept reductions in their retirement benefits if they take new jobs. But the pension laws are frequently poked and tweaked by lawmakers for individual cases, demonstrating how the clubby politics of Beacon Hill frequently trumps attempts at reforms such as the pension legislation proposed by Governor Deval Patrick.
In Bassett's case, his gift came directly from one of the most powerful politicians of the time, former House Speaker Thomas M. Finneran, according to a lawmaker involved in crafting Bassett's amendment. Bassett secured Finneran's handwritten support for the provision on a piece of yellow legal paper, which he presented to Representative Harriet L. Stanley, for inclusion in a package of budget amendments, Stanley said.
Stanley, in an interview in her State House office last week, recalled that Finneran's note said something to this effect: "We are going to do this for Tim. Put it in the budget."
Finneran recently expressed surprise about the provision, which has thus far enabled Bassett, 61, of Marblehead, to earn about $328,000 in retirement compensation he otherwise could not have received.
"I have absolutely no memory of that," said Finneran, when shown a copy of the amendment. "But, wow, it's a lot of money. Not a bad outcome for Timmy Bassett. Not bad at all."
Bassett would not answer directly when asked if he lobbied anyone in the Legislature for the special provision. "That's the way the statute is written," he responded. Asked again, he repeated his answer. "That's the way the statute is written."
Bassett later canceled an appointment for a follow-up interview and instead issued a statement: "I have spent my entire adult life in public service and hopefully I have done some good."
Bassett's pension of $41,000 a year was confirmed by state records. Bassett repeatedly refused to disclose his salary as board chairman and executive director. William Martineau, a longtime retirement board member who helps set Bassett's salary, said Bassett is paid about $123,000 annually.
Martineau said he did not know about the special provision written into the law for Bassett until told about it last week by the Globe.
"I didn't think anyone had that kind of power," he said. "That's pretty good. I know I don't have the ability to do that. I didn't think anyone did."
The amendment allowing Bassett to keep both a government pension and a government salary does not refer to Bassett by name, but instead authorizes "the Essex County treasurer," an elected job that Bassett held at the time, to become chairman and executive director of the Essex Regional Retirement board without incurring any pension penalties for the additional income.
At the time, Stanley, a West Newbury Democrat, was assistant vice chairman of the powerful Ways and Means Committee, which writes the budget. She said she did not believe the measure was appropriate, but she nonetheless inserted it because she felt she was not in a position to buck Finneran.
"That's how it got in," she said after being contacted by the Globe and presented with documents showing the roles she and Finneran played.
Stanley, a onetime Finneran ally, was dumped by Finneran as a chair of the Health Care Committee in 2003 because of her increasing insistence on acting independently. This year, House Speaker Robert A. DeLeo appointed her to chair of the Health Care Financing Committee.
Bassett has been in politics since 1972. Elected to the House of Representatives from Lynn in his early 20s, he became a protégé of then-House Speaker Thomas W. McGee of Lynn, and rose quickly to chair the Commerce and Labor Committee. At about the same time, Finneran was moving up in the House as chair of the Banks and Banking Committee.
Bassett was tapped by former governor Michael S. Dukakis to head the state the Government Land Bank in 1985. A quasi-public agency, the Land Bank - now known as the Massachusetts Development Authority - was tasked with various development projects, including transforming Fort Devens in Ayer from military to civilian use.
The Land Bank board of directors fired Bassett in 1995, when Paul Cellucci, then lieutenant governor, moved his own political ally into that position. The fact that Bassett was fired made him eligible for an enhanced pension under another controversial section of state law which allows fired employees to begin collecting early pensions at a higher rate of pay.
The provision allowed Bassett to increase his pension from about $23,000 to $41,000 annually, and collect immediately, at age 47. Retirees also get medical benefits for life.
Bassett, whose salary as Land Bank director increased from $47,000 to $106,000 in his 10-year tenure, also received a generous severance package worth more than $225,000, including deferred payments, according to Massachusetts Development records.
In 1996, Bassett won election as Essex County treasurer. He was able to keep his pension then because of the provision of state law that allows elected officials to keep their full public pensions.
But three years later, a new law championed by then-Governor William F. Weld eliminated five of the state's most dysfunctional county governments, wiping out Bassett's elected Essex County treasurer job in the process.
But the law simultaneously named him the executive director of the newly created Essex Regional Retirement Board.
Finneran last week called Bassett's pension "a sweetheart deal" and said he could not think of a public policy justification for it.
But the former speaker, who, as host of a talk radio show on WRKO often rails against pension abuses on-air, said he would not call on Bassett to relinquish his benefits.
Said Finneran, "If the law says it is allowed, then I am not going to tell him to give it up."
Sean Murphy's e-mail is firstname.lastname@example.org
"How's your driving? Look it up online"
By Boston Globe Staff, April 13, 2009
Want to know what's in your driving record? The Registry of Motor Vehicles says it's going to make finding out that information easier.
The Registry is announcing today that people will now be able to go online and view and print their driving record or request a certified copy.
With customers requesting more than 57,000 records last year from the Registry, employees are kept very busy, said Registrar Rachel Kaprielian. The new function on the Registry's website, www.mass.gov/rmv will not only be a customer convenience, it will lessen the burden on the Registry, she said.
For $6, drivers can view their record onscreen and download. For $20, a certified copy will be sent to them by mail.
Copies of driving records are required as a condition of employment by some businesses or in any court matter involving motor vehicle violations, the Registry said.
The agency says it is seeing usage of its website increase as it adds a variety of new functions, including the ability to view registrations, titles, and driver education certificates; to renew IDs; and to register as organ and tissue donors.
"House revenue chair: Budget will be gauged by 'lives lost'"
By Jim O’Sullivan / State House News Service - www.wickedlocal.com/wenham - Friday, April 10, 2009, 2:00 PM EDT
Boston - Major cuts looming in the House budget due out next week are frightening some lawmakers into the arms of targeted tax increases as a way to offset spending reductions that one key lawmaker said would result in lost lives.
Revenue Committee House chair Jay Kaufman, echoing former Gov. Michael Dukakis’s prediction in 1990 that a recession-era budget would result in deaths, said the Ways and Means draft would be notable for its heavy reductions in human services.
“I for one, having a look at what we’re going to be doing next Wednesday, would say that we can probably measure the impact of this budget in terms of lives lost,” Kaufman told reporters.
“We’re in crisis management mode right now,” Kaufman said. “My goal is to do no harm.”
Hearing testimony from Gov. Deval Patrick’s budget chief, local officials, and a slew of interest groups in favor of Patrick’s proposed new levies on telecommunications property, alcohol, candy, sweetened beverages, meals, and lodging, lawmakers gave mixed reactions but the chairs of the Revenue Committee signaled willingness to approve some of the tax hikes.
Kaufman (D-Lexington) said new taxes on alcohol and sweets would receive legislative support, but called it unclear whether the measures would receive majority backing.
Patrick wants to generate nearly $400 million from new telecommunication, meals and lodging taxes next fiscal year. Patrick also wants $122 million from repealed sales tax exemptions on candy, sugared drinks, and alcohol, proposals that have found little traction in the Legislature.
Administration and Finance Secretary Leslie Kirwan, leading off a crowded hearing that lasted over four hours, told lawmakers that Patrick was seeking “targeted, responsible revenue solutions.”
Kirwan said the Legislature’s refusal to adopt Patrick’s so-called Municipal Partnership Act two years ago, which included measures permitting municipalities to levy meals and lodging taxes, had cost cities and towns $250 million.
“More than two years have passed, and nothing happened with that bill,” Kirwan said.
Some lawmakers have taken hard-line no-tax stances. House Ways and Means chair Charley Murphy has repeatedly talked down the prospect of new demands on taxpayers. On Tuesday, House Assistant Majority Leader Ronald Mariano told the News Service that a bevy of tax votes that did not solve the fiscal problems would be viewed unkindly by lawmakers.
“You’re not going to fill the Grand Canyon with a pail of sand,” Mariano said. “I think it’s kind of pointless to nibble at the edges and create the attitude amongst the voters that, anything that flies by, we’re going to put a tax on it.”
Rep. William Greene (D-Billerica) told Kirwan that Patrick’s budget was based on an “extremely high” revenue estimate of $19.53 billion. Greene said lawmakers would have difficulty taking votes on gas taxes to cut down a transportation deficit, then more taxes to balance the operating budget.
“We are not going to be able to tax everything,” Greene said. “Possibly we’ll be able to tax nothing. We don’t know yet.”
“I think it’s a onetime shot,” he continued, “and I don’t think it’s feasible to think otherwise.”
Advocates for universal health care said that new taxes were needed to prevent a retreat from the health insurance expansion launched in 2006. Advocates for the disabled said Patrick’s budget cuts $85 million from disability services, including $78 million from the Department of Developmental Services.
Patrick’s health and human services secretary, JudyAnn Bigby, said the new sales tax on alcohol would help the state address some of the nation’s highest rates of underage drinking and adult “binge” drinking. Currently, she said, “In effect, the Commonwealth promotes the consumption of alcoholic beverages.”
The taxes on alcohol, candy, and sugary drinks would fund existing public health programs under Patrick’s blueprint.
The Mass. Package Stores Association, which claims more than 2,200 retailers, said additional sales taxes would be passed onto consumers, and said annual revenue estimated by Patrick, which is $92 million, could come up as much as $34 million short.
The revenue options before the House signify renewed willingness on Beacon Hill to consider tax hikes in anticipation of a structural budget gap next year estimated at roughly $3.5 billion. Kirwan declined to estimate how far the current-year budget has fallen out of balance, but said revenues had plunged $117 million below a benchmark revised in January and said $128 million in revenues Patrick rolled out that month have gone ignored by lawmakers. She said her office was not convinced that estimates of a fresh $500 million fiscal 2009 deficit were accurate.
She said state agencies will have spent 80 percent of their budgets this month, limiting the options for budget writers who are seeking to close the current-year gap, likely worsening cuts and prompting deeper withdrawals from the state’s stabilization account.
“Most likely we will need to make some additional reductions for this year,” Kirwan said.
“We are running out of time,” Kirwan told reporters. “That’s why we are discouraged some of our legislative solutions were not acted on.”
Senate President Stanley Rosenberg spoke in favor of the “local options” for cities and towns to levy their own 1-cent tax on meals and lodging, which together with Patrick’s proposed statewide increase would generate $250 million per year, according to administration officials. Rosenberg said local officials should be empowered to make tax code decisions.
“We should not be treating them like children,” the Amherst Democrat said.
A variation of Patrick’s hopes for eliminating the property tax exemption for telecom firms appears to have gained some momentum among lawmakers. Kaufman said an alternative pushed by Rep. Daniel Bosley represents a “reasonable compromise” and could gain traction.
Employer representatives said Patrick’s move to strip property tax exemption from telecommunications firms would harm job creation efforts, disproportionately benefit larger cities at the expense of ratepayers elsewhere, and prevent the growth of broadband access.
Bosley, who opened his testimony with a rant against the Patrick administration’s “outrageous” arguments in favor of new taxes as public health measures a year after pushing casinos, argued for a $50 million tax on telecom that differs from Patrick’s by preserving the exemption for switches, heavy equipment with high replacement costs and rapid value depreciation. Patrick’s plan, which would raise up to $75 million, according to legislative estimates, failed last session but has received increased support as tax revenues have plunged.
Bosley’s plan joins Patrick in wiping out the exemptions for cable and telephone poles and wires, good for an estimated $36 million. The North Adams Democrat also argued for new taxes on satellite companies and cell phone towers.
Kaufman told reporters that Bosley’s proposal was a working model for the committee. “That’s certainly the outline that we’re looking at,” he said.
One satellite company representative said a proposed 5 percent sales tax on satellite TV service would hurt close to 500,000 Massachusetts households and hit rural, second-language, and lower income families particularly hard. Kaufman also signaled eagerness to scrutinize other tax exemptions, although he said probably not for fiscal 2010 revenues.
“There are exemptions there for all sorts of things, some of which are manufacturing related, many of them very legitimate as a way of encouraging business development,” the Lexington Democrat said. “Some of them probably date to the 1920s and may need to be revisited.”
Boston Mayor Thomas Menino, who has long pushed meals and telecom property taxes, said he planned to send a budget to the City Council on Wednesday that included “several hundred” job cuts.
“We can’t just say no to everything,” Menino told lawmakers. “We’re elected to make decisions.”
The Boston Globe, Op-Ed, JOAN VENNOCHI
"Dukakis-era lessons for Patrick"
By Joan Vennochi, Boston Globe Columnist, April 16, 2009
IN MASSACHUSETTS, history is everywhere and it has a way of repeating itself.
On Tuesday, former governor Michael Dukakis happened to be pointing out a sculpture on Boston Common to a small group of visitors. Behind them, hundreds of disgruntled firefighters rallied on the State House steps, eager to carry grievances about budget cuts directly to the current governor.
What did Dukakis think about this familiar tableau of unhappy citizens angered by shrinking resources?
"Recessions are hell, especially for state government," he said. "I went through three of them. They are no fun."
Back in 1974, Dukakis won the governor's office as a reformer itching to take on Beacon Hill. Four years later, he lost his party's primary. An arrogant leadership style and the taxes he raised to bridge a budget shortfall in an economic downturn were blamed for his defeat. Dukakis staged a comeback in 1982. He rode a surging economy to reelection in 1986, followed by a losing presidential bid. When good times receded yet again, Dukakis was back in Massachusetts and Massachusetts was back in deep fiscal trouble. He raised taxes once more. When he left office, voters replaced him with Republican Bill Weld. The new governor benefited from the new tax revenue, even as he decried Democrats who made the tough decision to raise it.
Patrick is the first Democrat since Dukakis to win the governor's office.
Two years into his term, Massachusetts is hurting from the global economic meltdown. State revenues are falling, leaving Patrick to call for painful budget cuts and new taxes. Meanwhile, a series of political missteps make him look out-of-touch and arrogant.
No one thinking about a 2010 gubernatorial run would be unhappy if taxes went up on Patrick's watch. A new governor could benefit from new revenue, even as he decried those who made the tough decision to raise it.
Like Dukakis, Patrick ran as a reformer. Already, there are unpleasant parallels between their first years in office. He could also face a challenger directly from the Weld era. One potential candidate is Charles Baker, a former Weld aide who now runs Harvard Pilgrim Health Care.
A push for new taxes is only part of Patrick's problem. During his first term, Dukakis stayed stubbornly true to his mission of change. In Patrick's case, voters are also losing faith in his commitment to reform.
His pick for transportation secretary, James Aloisi, made millions off Big Dig legal fees. Now that transportation secretary is pushing for a gas tax hike to pay for Big Dig debt, even as he defends a sister - Carol Aloisi - with a do-nothing state job.
The governor also tried to put a state lawmaker who supported his campaign into a $175,000 state post and called the ensuing uproar much ado about the "trivial."
On paper, pension reform is a priority. But the man Patrick chose as the state's new $150,000-a-year "stimulus czar" is a beneficiary of the kind of windfall pension the governor said he opposes. And there was little gubernatorial outrage over reports that the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority, which is going broke, gave lucrative consulting contracts to four retirees already collecting generous T pensions.
Motorists were backed up for hours on Easter Sunday, when toll collectors called in sick and no backups were brought in, supposedly to save the state from paying overtime. In response, Pike executive director Alan LeBovidge told residents to "grin and bear it." It took two days for Patrick to demand an explanation for the traffic mess. Meanwhile, most people considered it a scare tactic, designed to inflict pain to illustrate the urgent need to raise taxes.
Patrick has some time on his side. The next election is nearly two years away.
Meanwhile, he must deal with the Legislature. Lawmakers are resisting reform and taxes, and getting ready to chase after gambling revenue.
If Patrick picks that path through recession hell, he would make history, if that's the kind of history he wants to make.
Joan Vennochi can be reached at email@example.com.
The Boston Globe, Op-Ed, JOAN VENNOCHI
"The Patrick-Beacon Hill showdown"
By Joan Vennochi, April 30, 2009
POLLS or principles? Whatever the inspiration, we'll take it - if it gets results.
Governor Deval Patrick's call for real change before new taxes is a welcome development, whether it's a campaign ploy or an expression of genuine outrage over business as usual on Beacon Hill.
This week, war broke out between the governor and legislative leaders after Patrick promised to veto a sales tax increase unless lawmakers first enact meaningful transportation, ethics, and pension law reforms. House lawmakers responded by approving the sales tax hike by a veto-proof margin.
By Beacon Hill standards, Patrick looked like a classic loser. He didn't get what he wanted and his tactics enraged lawmakers.
But beyond the State House, the governor won the high ground and a chance to frame a debate that moves along two tracks: how to fix the state's fiscal crisis and how to fix the state's sick political culture.
Watching Patrick take up the mantle of reformer after a series of political missteps is a bit like watching someone struggle into a pair of jeans after a long, lazy winter. It isn't the most comfortable fit. Earlier this year, his transportation secretary disparaged the Senate's call for "reform before revenue" as a meaningless slogan. The governor was also forced to abandon his plan to put a state senator and campaign supporter into a $175,000-a-year post with a state authority. Griping that critics were focusing on "the trivial," Patrick didn't seem to get the public's anger over the symbols of waste and abuse.
Now, lawmakers are the ones who don't get it.
Led by House Speaker Robert A. DeLeo, lawmakers defied Patrick and voted for a sales tax hike before convincing taxpayers that they also support substantive reform. DeLeo called Patrick's criticism that the Legislature is not doing enough "unfounded."
Senate President Therese Murray called Patrick "disingenuous" and complained about his veto threat "after the speaker and I gave up our Sundays and sat with him for quite awhile." Murray is also peeved that Patrick stole her "reform before revenue" mantra.
But, taxpayers really don't care whose idea it is, not when almost every day brings another story of pension abuse; or when every holiday brings the possibility of traffic backups because tollbooth collectors call in sick and there's not enough money to pay replacements overtime. Meanwhile, the cases of former legislators who face ethics violations or criminal charges continue to make ugly news.
The people want change. Now, who should they believe is most committed to making it happen?
The House version of pension reform protects benefits for everyone who is currently employed. House members were planning to add $50 million to the so-called Quinn bill, which gives a salary boost to police officers who get criminal-justice degrees. The House also planned to increase the share of healthcare premiums for state workers. These symbols of the status quo rankle taxpayers who face their own budget crises.
The Senate has yet to take up an ethics bill that was inspired by the alleged wrongdoing of one of its former members, Dianne Wilkerson.
The truth is, given the economic and revenue declines, Massachusetts needs new taxes and a dedicated revenue stream like the gas tax for transportation. Patrick showed political courage when he stood up for the gas tax. DeLeo showed political courage when he proposed a sales tax hike.
But people can't see the courage for the deep pockets of abuse. Murray was on the right track when she called for reform before revenue. The reform must be real, or the people won't accept the need for new revenue.
Patrick has a lot riding on this Beacon Hill showdown. He can't run for reelection on good intentions. He needs results, and for results he needs the Legislature.
This week, he used the stick, not the carrot.
If the people stick with him, smart lawmakers should follow.
Joan Vennochi can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Ten legislators who departed the State House voluntarily have been granted the special benefits under a 1950 law. (David L. Ryan/Globe Staff/File)
"Pension boost aids lawmakers: Loophole may cost taxpayers an extra $3m"
By Sean P. Murphy, Boston Globe Staff, May 3, 2009
Ten former state lawmakers are enjoying early, enhanced pensions after quitting the Legislature, beneficiaries of a loose, even questionable, reading of state law that could cost state taxpayers up to $3 million in additional retirement costs, according to a Globe review.
The State Retirement Board granted the special benefits under a 1950 law that says public officials can take immediate pensions if they lose an election or fail to qualify for the ballot. But of the 14 state legislators who have received such pensions, only four fit that definition. The other 10 were not defeated by voters. They departed office voluntarily.
Treasurer Timothy P. Cahill, whose office oversees the Retirement Board, suggested such a stretching of the rules is improper.
"The intent of the statute is to provide a benefit to someone who was involuntarily removed from their position, through no fault of their own," Cahill said in the e-mailed statement. Cahill, a Democrat, declined a request for an interview, leaving questions unanswered over whether he plans to strip any of the benefits awarded to the 10 legislators.
The Globe discovered the pension enhancements during a review of retirement benefits of former lawmakers, part of an ongoing series by the newspaper. The review found that many legislators routinely take advantage of provisions that allow them to boost their retirement pay in ways that most Massa chusetts residents cannot. In the most common practice, the review found, more than 52 legislators were awarded a full year of pension credit for as little as one day of work in a calendar year.
The use of such provisions by the same lawmakers who shape retirement rules illustrates how deeply pension gamesmanship, as it is viewed by critics, is embedded in the culture of Beacon Hill. Governor Deval Patrick, a Democrat, complained last week that his proposals to overhaul pension laws are idling in the Legislature.
Cahill, in his e-mailed statement, said he was not responsible for pensions that were approved before he was elected. "I can't speak for past retirement boards or the actions of retirees but I can say that we will not shy away from making difficult decisions," the statement said.
After the Globe inquiries, the Retirement Board on Thursday changed course. For the first time, the board voted to deny such a pension to a recently retired state representative, Democrat Paul C. Casey of Winchester. Casey, 48, had sought to boost his pension by $10,000 a year, or up to $315,000 extra if he lives to 80, a conservative estimate based on Social Security actuarial tables. Casey did not respond to requests for comment.
The concept of early, enhanced pensions was approved by lawmakers in 1945 to protect state employees with 20 years or more of tenure in the event they were fired to make way for patronage appointments during changeovers in administrations. It gave them one-third of their salary as a pension, starting as soon as they were dismissed. In 1950, the Legislature expanded it to include its own members as well as other elected officials.
The real value to the retiring lawmakers is not merely that the pensions are boosted in size, but that the beneficiaries begin collecting them immediately, with no financial penalty. It has allowed most of these lawmakers to collect pensions in their 40s that would not otherwise kick in until they were in their mid-50s.
Christopher J. Hodgkins, a Democrat from Lee who stepped down from the House in 2003 at the age of 45, for example, got a $15,800-a-year boost. That is worth about $550,000 in total extra benefits if he lives to 80.
Francis G. Mara, a Democrat from Brockton who retired in 1996 at age 45, got a $11,300-a-year increase, worth a total of $395,000 if he lives to 80; and Paul E. Caron, a Democrat from Springfield who retired in 2003 at age 47, got a $14,500 annual bump in his pension, worth $480,000 in estimated lifetime payments.
Mara and Caron are now lobbyists.
"I was told there was a provision for this, that it was the law, and I just put my papers in and that was it," said Mara.
Joseph D. Malone was state treasurer in 1991, when immediate pensions for voluntarily departing legislators were first approved by the Retirement Board. Malone in an interview said he could not remember much discussion or analysis prior to the approvals.
"I can't remember any department head coming to me and asking, 'What should we do,' and me saying 'Yeah, give it to them,' " said Malone, a Republican.
"It was a long time ago," he said.
Among the first batch of three state representatives who got the special pension in 1991 was Alfred E. Saggese Jr. of Winthrop. Saggese said in a telephone interview that he knew nothing about the distinction between losing reelection and not seeking reelection.
"You are telling me this for the first time," he said. "I went to the Retirement Board, filed my papers and answered their questions. My understanding was that as a legislator you were immediately eligible to take a pension. I took the pension they gave me."
Saggese retired at age 44, receiving about $11,000 a year in additional pension payment, almost $400,000 in estimated additional lifetime pension payments. He has practiced law since then.
The other two representatives departing in 1991 were Vincent J. Piro of Somerville, and Angelo Marotta of Medford. Piro and Marotta did not return telephone messages.
J. James Marzilli Jr., the former Democratic state senator from Arlington, has an application for a termination pension pending at the Retirement Board. Marzilli announced he would not seek reelection two days after his arrest in June for allegedly sexually harassing four women in Lowell. He is awaiting trial.
Even though he did not campaign, Marzilli's name remained on the ballot in November's election. That may technically allow him to claim he lost his seat - and double his pension to about $27,000 a year, beginning when he turns 51. Marzilli's lawyer did not return a telephone message.
Less lucrative for each legislator, but far more prevalent, is the practice of awarding a full year of credit toward a legislator's pension for as little as one day in office in a calendar year. The provision produces a natural departing bonus for lawmakers, because their terms don't end until their replacements are sworn in in January.
Since 1991, that interpretation - which applies only to elected officials - has added almost $850,000 to the expected lifetime pension costs of 52 former legislators, or an average of about $16,350 each.
Almost all former legislators took advantage of the provision, both Democrat and Republican, but a few declined the extra boost, including Thomas M. Finneran, the former Democratic House speaker. By doing so, Finneran left about $31,000 on the table.
The law that opens the door for the so-called one-day pension boost is ambiguous. It says elected officials "shall be credited with a year of creditable service for each calendar year during which he served." An opinion issued by former attorney general Francis X. Bellotti in 1976 said one day of service in a year was sufficient to qualify.
Bellotti, in a telephone interview, last week said his opinion was "a straight statutory interpretation of what the language meant," without regard to politics.
"It didn't come out of thin air," he said.
Sean Murphy can be reached at email@example.com.
"Ex-legislators gain from expansive reading of law"
boston.com - May 3, 2009
Ten former lawmakers received enhanced, early pensions when they voluntarily stepped down from the Legislature, under an expansive reading of a law that is supposed to award such pensions to public officials who are defeated by voters. Shown are the number of years the lawmakers served in the Legislature and their hometowns at the time of their service; in most cases they combined additional previous public service to reach a 20-year minimum pension requirement. Pensions shown are the amount scheduled to be paid during 2009, with the exception of that for Susan Schur.
House, 16 years
Age at retirement: 44
House, 16 years, 8 months
Age at retirement: 49
Senate, 22 years
Age at retirement: 49
House, 14 years
Age at retirement: 53
House, 19 years
Age at retirement: 51
House, 14 years
Age at retirement: 54
Pension: $15,205 (as of 1995)
House (or Senate), 14 years
Age at retirement: 45
House, 24 years
Age at retirement: 50
House, 19 years
Age at retirement: 45
House, 20 years
Age at retirement: 47
"Deval Patrick wants to rescind some pensions"
By Associated Press, Monday, May 4, 2009, www.bostonherald.com - Local Politics
BOSTON — Governor Deval Patrick says the state should rescind the special pensions of 10 former legislators because it appears the pensions may have been improperly awarded.
Patrick told The Boston Globe the pensions are "special favors" and the result of "inside maneuvering."
He has asked his legal counsel to take steps to get the pension board to rescind the additional benefits.
Legislators are eligible for enhanced pensions if they lose an election or fail to qualify for the ballot under a 1950 law. But the 10 lawmakers granted the special pensions by the Massachusetts State Board of Retirement all left office voluntarily.
The pensions are worth an average of $300,000 for each of the 10 retired lawmakers if they live to age 80.
"It is exactly the kind of special favors . . . the public is fed up with." -- Governor Deval Patrick.
"Governor wants state to rescind pension perk: Questions benefits given to 10 lawmakers"
By Sean P. Murphy, Boston Globe Staff, May 4, 2009
Governor Deval Patrick said yesterday that he wants the state to rescind the special pensions given to 10 former legislators because it appeared that those pensions were improperly awarded.
Patrick said the 10 pensions, which were the subject of a page one story yesterday in the Boston Sunday Globe, were the latest evidence of a broken system that rewarded former lawmakers and other politically connected individuals with extra benefits not available to regular government employees and costs taxpayers thousands of dollars a year in each case.
"This must end," Patrick said in a telephone interview. "It is exactly the kind of special favors, gamesmanship, and insider maneuvering that the public is fed up with."
A law passed in 1950 allowed enhanced, early pensions for legislators if they lose an election or fail to qualify for the ballot. It was based on an existing benefit intended to compensate long-term state employees if they were fired to make way for patronage appointments, and gave them one-third of their salary, starting as soon as they were dismissed.
But the 10 lawmakers who were granted these special pensions by the Massachusetts State Board of Retirement were not turned out by voters; they left office voluntarily.
The Retirement Board is chaired by state Treasurer Timothy P. Cahill and includes two members elected by the membership, one appointed by Cahill, and one chosen by the other four board members.
Cahill, who questioned the pensions in a written statement last week, again declined a request for an interview yesterday.
Patrick said he directed his legal counsel to take steps to get the pension board to rescind the additional benefits because he believes the benefits were unwarranted.
The early pensions are worth an average of $300,000 for each legislator over the lifetime of the benefit, according to a Globe calculation, based on the retirees living to age 80. According to Social Security actuarial charts, the estimate is conservative.
Besides undermining public confidence in government, Patrick said the special pensions are expensive. "It's not just wrong in the abstract," he said. "It's also costing us money."
One of the chief perks of the special pension is that beneficiaries can collect them immediately after leaving state service. For the 10 former lawmakers, the average age when they began collecting was 48.
For Christopher J. Hodgkins, a Democrat from Lee who stepped down from the House in 2003 at age 45, the extra benefit was worth $15,800 a year, or about $550,000 if he lives to 80.
Others who received such boosts are Alfred Saggese of Winthrop; Vincent Piro, formerly of Somerville; Edward Burke of Framingham; Angelo Marotta, formerly of Medford; Raymond Jordan of Springfield; Susan Schur of Newton; Francis Mara of Brockton; Richard Voke of Chelsea; and Paul Caron of Springfield.
Saggese and Mara, reached last week, said they were unaware of anything suspect in the their pensions.
"I was told there was a provision for this, that it was the law, and I just put my papers in," said Mara.
The special pensions were granted either before Cahill became treasurer and chairman of the Retirement Board, or during his first year in office. In a written statement last week Cahill said the earlier allowance for the enhanced pensions was a stretch, but he declined to say if he would seek to rescind the existing 10 pensions.
The Globe pressed the Retirement Board last week for its basis for such pensions, but officials ultimately said there were no legal opinions or findings to back up the interpretation.
On Thursday, after the Globe inquiries, the board abruptly reversed its position on the pensions, rejecting one for recently retired state representative Paul C. Casey, a Democrat from Winchester. Casey, 48, stood to gain an extra $315,000, under an estimate by the Globe.
Patrick has called on the Legislature to make changes in public pension laws that he says would restore fairness, including removal of a provision that allows lawmakers and other elected officials to receive a full year of credit toward a pension even when in office only one day in a calendar year.
The Globe found that at least 52 retired legislators took advantage of that measure to boost their lifetime pensions by about $16,350 each.
Both the Senate and House produced bills, but legislative action has stalled since then.
"My message to the Legislature is: Get it done," the governor said. "Get it done. The public is losing patience. I'm losing patience."
Both House and Senate versions would eliminate the enhanced early pensions taken by the legislators detailed in the Sunday Globe. But Patrick said he backs the Senate bill, which would apply to current public employees and close loopholes, including the elimination of pension credit for municipal positions that are unpaid.
The Senate would also restrict pensions of MBTA employees, who are now eligible to collect retirement benefits after 23 years of employment.
The House version would exempt current employees, while changing the rules for new hires.
Senate President Therese Murray called yesterday for officials to closely scrutinize the pensions awarded to the former lawmakers detailed in the Globe.
"If the Retirement Board determines that any of the lawmakers in question were not eligible for these pensions under the old law, then they should be rescinded," she said in an e-mailed statement.
Sean P. Murphy can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
"Close off pension loopholes"
The Berkshire Eagle, Editorial, Tuesday, May 5, 2009
State residents facing the possibility of tax increases expect significant cost-saving reform on Beacon Hill. Pension abuses, which have a symbolic resonance that goes beyond the money they cost the state, must be prominent on the reform list.
One of the most aggravating abuses involves a 1945 law enabling some state employees fired to make way for patronage appointments by a new governor to begin collecting their pensions immediately, and at a hefty one-third of their salary. Five years later, the Legislature extended the rule to itself, on the theory that lawmakers who were defeated in re-election bids were "fired" from their jobs by voters. As preposterous as is that leap of logic, legislators then took it another step by applying for and receiving their enhanced pensions upon leaving office voluntarily, courtesy of a sympathetic Retirement Board.
A Boston Globe study found that 10 former lawmakers received enhanced, early pensions when they left office voluntarily, including former state Representative Christopher Hodgkins, a Lee Democrat. Mr. Hodgkins, who departed after 19 years at the age of 45, is scheduled to receive $22,000 in pension money in 2009. The Globe estimates that, based on actuarial tables, this bending of pension law will cost taxpayers $3 million.
Legislators who leave office, regardless of the circumstances, should not be able to collect early, enhanced pensions. Taxpayers, increasingly few of whom are receiving pensions in the private sector, should demand nothing less.
A BOSTON GLOBE EDITORIAL
"New day, new pension scandal"
May 5, 2009
THE ABSURD state law that allows legislators turned out of their jobs by the voters to collect enhanced pensions is bad enough. Now Globe reporter Sean Murphy has found that 10 former state lawmakers were able to snare early pensions without having lost election, thanks to favorable arrangements with the state Retirement Board.
The 1950 law allows enhanced pensions for legislators if they lose an election or fail to qualify for the ballot. But the 10 legislators in the Globe report who got retirement benefits - most when they were in their 40s - left their seats voluntarily.
"The statute is fuzzy," said Joseph Connarton, executive director of the Public Employee Retirement Administration Commission.
As a result of fuzzy law, these 10 ex-lawmakers are the beneficiaries of not-so-fuzzy math. According to Globe calculations, if they live to age 80, they will enjoy pensions worth an average of $300,000 for each legislator over the lifetime of the benefit.
The Retirement Board, which is chaired by state Treasurer Timothy Cahill, has so far provided no legal opinions or findings to back up these pension decisions.
Joseph D. Malone, who was state treasurer in 1991, when immediate pensions for voluntarily departing legislators were first approved, now suffers from hazy memory syndrome. He can't remember what happened back then. "It was a long time ago," he told the Globe.
Cahill is also showing signs of not-my-problem syndrome. In a statement to the Globe, he first suggested these pensions are a stretch under the law. But he also said he can't speak for pensions that were approved before his election.
That leaves it to Governor Patrick to demand action. He is asking his legal counsel to work with the state treasurer and attorney general to look into rescinding the pensions.
The governor is right. If the special pensions were improperly awarded, they should be rescinded.
So, whose job is it to make that determination? Since the state Retirement Board voted to approve the pensions, the board should put the issue back on the agenda and consider whether those prior votes were faulty. It would also make sense to refer the question to Attorney General Martha Coakley. As the Commonwealth's top lawyer, it's her job to interpret state law.
The law may be fuzzy, but one thing is crystal clear. This looks like 10 more cases of Beacon Hill taking care of Beacon Hill. Day by day, abuse by abuse, it adds up.
"Treasurer accuses Deval Patrick of ‘grandstanding’"
By Associated Press, Wednesday, May 6, 2009, www.bostonherald.com - Local Politics
BOSTON — Massachusetts Treasurer Tim Cahill has accused Gov. Deval Patrick of "grandstanding" for demanding that 10 former state lawmakers have their special pensions rescinded.
Cahill told The Boston Globe for a story Wednesday that he will neither rescind the pensions, nor ask the former legislators to return the money voluntarily.
Patrick has said he wanted the pensions rescinded because it appeared that they were improperly awarded.
Cahill says the pensions were enhanced "by the rule of law." Both men are Democrats.
Legislators are eligible for enhanced pensions if they lose an election or fail to qualify for the ballot. But the 10 lawmakers granted the special pensions by the Massachusetts State Board of Retirement all left office voluntarily.
"Martha Coakley probes pension policy for ousted pols"
By Hillary Chabot, Tuesday, May 12, 2009, www.bostonherald.com - Local Politics
Attorney General Martha Coakley is investigating whether the state can reclaim pension payments doled out to lawmakers who took advantage of a state loophole and doubled their retirement earnings.
Gov. Deval Patrick asked the state retirement board to stop payments and recoup money from lawmakers who had increased their pensions using a provision that allows legislators who aren’t re-elected or are forced out of office to double their pension.
“A review indicates that the former legislators were not entitled to receive these enhanced pensions and that they were granted in error,” wrote Ben Clements, Patrick’s top legal counsel.
State Treasurer Tim Cahill, who oversees the state retirement board, asked Coakley to review the request because there hasn’t been any formal judicial ruling on the perk.
Cahill added that he intends to “hold the line” on such pension boosts. The retirement board denied a request from former state Rep. Paul Casey on April 30.
The House and Senate are also clashing on the issue, with Senate officials pushing to get rid of the pension perk for lawmakers currently in line to receive it. The House, citing constitutional law, would apply it only to newly elected lawmakers.
A BOSTON GLOBE EDITORIAL
"Don't prolong pension agony"
May 13, 2009
THE PATRICK administration and the Senate are making earnest efforts to straighten out the state's twisted pension system. But House leaders are standing in the way by protecting unfair pension perks for current elected officials and employees.
All three sides on Beacon Hill are working from a common to-do list: remove bloated "termination allowances" for politicians who quit or fail to be reelected; eliminate a provision that allows elected officials to earn a full year of pension service for working a single day in a calendar year; redefine compensation for pension purposes to exclude perks such as travel allowances; end the practice of combining compensation from two positions to artificially increase retirement allowances; and prohibit municipal officials from establishing pension service for positions that have no compensation, such as town moderators.
The unresolved question now being debated in a legislative conference committee is whether the reforms should apply to current employees or just to new hires. House leaders insist that state law protects current workers from losing any benefits. They cite a 1973 Supreme Judicial Court opinion saying pension rights are a contractual obligation. Governor Patrick and the Senate view the issue through a different and clearer legal lens that would allow for the closing of loopholes for current public employees in most of the above cases.
The House is inviting decades of further pension abuse by exempting current officials. In the Legislature, nearly half of the 200 members stand to benefit from enhanced termination allowances. The restoration of public trust requires immediate reform that extends to the widest number of public employees and elected officials in the widest number of cases. The Senate bill is preferable, but doesn't go far enough.
There are sound legal principles on which to accomplish these reforms. According to a Patrick administration memo obtained by the Globe, the changes could extend to current employees without violating contract clauses. There is ample case law to show that modifying pensions is justifiable when the aim is to "eliminate certain inequitable and anomalous results" and "serve to maintain the integrity of the system." The memo further contends that the state reserves powers that "may in particular predicaments enable it to alter or abrogate even conventional contractual rights."
Such a predicament now exists: loss of public confidence in a runaway pension system, at a time when revenues are plunging.
The Legislature should close the loopholes for current and prospective employees alike. If some selfish public official dares to sue to keep these garish perks, the courts can sort out the legal issues.
The Boston Globe, Op-Ed, SCOT LEHIGH
"Why wait to enact reforms?"
By Scot Lehigh, Boston Globe Columnist, May 13, 2009
IT WOULD BE grossly unfair to say that reform only comes at a snail's pace on Beacon Hill.
Grossly unfair to snails, that is. After all, they have feelings too.
But even by Beacon Hill's usual glacial standards, waiting almost a quarter century for changes worth tens of millions of dollars is absurd. Yet that's how long the Legislature would take to end the MBTA employees' ability to retire with close to a full pension after just 23 years on the job.
Nor, as the House sees it, can state government crack down immediately on so-called termination pensions, which let state legislators and other state employees with 20 years on the job start collecting a pension equal to at least one-third of their salary upon losing their state posts - regardless of how old they are or whether they've landed another job.
A termination pension for any state employee is ridiculous, but neither the House nor the Senate would eliminate that. They are focused only on elected officials. Incredibly, the House would only change the law for future elected officials. Further, that chamber has left it highly ambiguous whether legislative language addressing other pension abuses would apply to current employees or merely to future hires. One legal analyst thinks that if the House language prevails in conference committee, most of the rest of the pension reform package wouldn't affect current workers either.
So why the ultra-cautious course? Ostensibly because of a 1973 advisory opinion from the Supreme Judicial Court suggesting that in some circumstances changing pension arrangements for current employees would violate their contractual rights.
"Because you have worked for one week, you get '23 and out'?" says Mike Widmer, president of the Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation. "I don't buy it - and I don't think the courts would either."
Certainly it's worth making the reforms apply now, even if there's a chance the SJC will disagree.
With the prominent exception of its cop-out on MBTA pensions, the Senate does better on making its changes explicitly applicable to current employees. In one notable and commendable move, it would prohibit current elected officials from getting termination pensions.
So would Patrick. As the Executive Office for Administration and Finance reads the SJC advisory opinion, a pension law change affecting current employees is only a problem if "the change infringes a contractual right, the infringement is substantial, and the change is not 'reasonable and necessary to serve an important public purpose.' " In three cases since its 1973 advisory opinion, the SJC has allowed pension plan changes that apply to current employees, A&F's legal analysis notes.
"Some of these changes can be imposed now," insists Secretary of Administration and Finance Leslie Kirwan.
Patrick, for example, would end "23 and out" for T employees with less than 10 years on the job.
But such resolution is not for the House. Not when preemptive surrender is an option.
"We have read all three [SJC] cases and still stand behind what we said," Representative Robert Spellane, House chairman of the Joint Committee on Public Service, told me. "We have done everything that we believe we legally can."
So let's play political detective for a moment, and go in search of a likely motive. On Tuesday, the Globe's Frank Phillips reported that, just a few years back, legislative leaders privately pressured state Treasurer Timothy Cahill to abandon his efforts to end termination pensions for legislators. Meanwhile, the Globe's Sean Murphy recently reported that 10 legislators have received termination pensions even though they left the Legislature voluntarily - and that another 93 legislators could eventually qualify for such early benefits.
Thus I think it's fair to surmise that blatant self-interest is at work here.
Spellane scoffs at the notion that scores of his colleagues would someday take advantage of the system.
"In the history, over 57, 58 years, there have only been 10," he says.
But it's better to foreclose the possibility of abuse than to trust that future outrages won't occur.
After all, it's not snails we're dealing with here, but rather the fleet and furtive denizens of the State House.
Scot Lehigh can be reached at email@example.com.
From: "Senator Ben Downing"
Date: Friday, May 8, 2009 at 6:18 P.M.
Re: SPECIAL ANNOUNCEMENT
Message from Senator Ben Downing
Given these difficult economic times, one thing is clear, we must all work together to keep lines of communication open. We must continue to move Massachusetts forward to save and create jobs and build a solid foundation for long-term economic sustainability and growth.
I am pleased to announce that representatives of Governor Patrick's administration will be in the district on Tuesday. Details are below and I encourage everyone to attend. I have been informed that there will be three other forums scheduled in the region, and as soon as we receive that information, I will forward it along.
Senator Ben Downing
Administration to Conduct Community Forum on Budget Choices & Priorities
On Tuesday, May 12, 2009, Registrar Rachel Kaprielian will moderate a community forum on choices and priorities facing Massachusetts in the current economic climate. Governor Patrick launched the statewide series of public meetings to give local residents an opportunity to discuss the difficult budget decisions, reform proposals and revenue packages being debated on Beacon Hill.
"As a steep decline in revenue continues to force painful budget choices, now is the time for public officials to engage with the public we serve - to ask them what kind of government they want and how to best pay for it," said Governor Patrick. "These forums will help us accomplish that critical goal, and bring the reform people want back to Beacon Hill."
WHO: Registrar Rachel Kaprielian
WHAT: Community Forum on Choices and Priorities
WHEN: Tuesday, May 12, 2009, from 5:30 pm to 6:30 pm
WHERE: Pittsfield City Hall - Council Chambers, 2nd Floor - 70 Allen Street, Pittsfield, Massachusetts
Building on his commitment to civic engagement and governing for the long-term, Governor Patrick, the Lieutenant Governor and senior administration officials will host 36 "Community Forums on Choices and Priorities" between now and the end of May. Dates, times, locations and administration hosts for other forums can be found at www.mass.gov/governor/forum. Summaries of the forums, along with videos and questions, will be posted here as well. To attend a forum or find more information, visit the website or call the Governor's Office at 617-725-4025.
"RMV chief to headline Patrick forums in Western Massachusetts"
By Associated Press, Saturday, May 9, 2009 - www.bostonherald.com - Local Politics
Motor Vehicles Registrar Rachel Kaprelian will headline a pair of western Massachusetts community forums on behalf of Gov. Deval Patrick.
Kaprelian is scheduled to appear Tuesday evening at Pittsfield City Hall.
The next day, she is scheduled to appear at Deerfield Municipal Offices in South Deerfield.
Kaprelian has been arguing against House cuts to her budget.
Patrick himself is kicking off a series of 36 meetings next week. They are part of his effort to bypass legislative opponents and build support for his political agenda.
"E-mail replacing RMV's notices"
By Tony Dobrowolski, Berkshire Eagle Staff, Monday, May 11, 2009
PITTSFIELD — The state Registry of Motor Vehicles is considering using a private company to send out the driver's license renewal notices that it eliminated as a cost-cutting measure last fall.
But a private auto insurance company is already set to fill that void.
Beginning on May 11, the Plymouth Rock Assurance Corp. of Boston will offer state motorists an opportunity to receive free e-mail reminders within 30 days of a license's expiration date. Plymouth Rock will also offer free registration and annual auto inspection renewal notices, a service that the RMV still provides.
Plymouth Rock began sending e-mail license reminders to its customers after the RMV discontinued the practice on Nov. 3, but now intends to offer the service to the general public, said company Vice President Paula Gold.
'Private company stepping up'
Company Chairman James M. Stone, who founded Plymouth Rock in 1982, was a state insurance commissioner in the 1970s.
"I think it's an example of a private company stepping up to the plate with the kinds of services that a company can provide," Gold said.
State motorists can sign up for the service online by visiting MYLESereminder.prac .com. To enroll, motorists must have a valid state driver's license and an e-mail address.
"If we can do something positive in terms of Plymouth Rock it would be a benefit for the company in terms of future sales," she said.
Reminder customer numbers up
According to Plymouth Rock, the number of customers that have signed up for its reminder program has increased from 534 in November, the last month that the RMV sent out license reminders, to 1,171 in February.
The RMV is not aware of any other private company that is offering services similar to Plymouth Rock's, said agency spokeswoman Ann C. Dufresne. But the RMV has been "investigating a partnership" with a private company to provide the service that it discontinued last fall.
"It's in the vetting process," Dufresne said. "We put the proposal out to bid."
Last fall, state Registrar Rachel Karpelian said eliminating the mailing of renewal notices was expected to save the RMV between $60,000 and $80,000. Besides license, and state identification reminders, the RMV also eliminated reminders for the renewals of school pupil transport licenses, and driver education certificates, along with the mailing of junior operator brochures to parents.
But Dufresne said the elimination of the license renewal notices hasn't resulted in any additional hardships for motorists. According to RMV statistics, 71 percent of state motorists renewed their driver's licenses on time in December, a number that jumped to 75.2 percent in January, and increased further to 83.6 percent in February, Dufresne said. In November the number of on-time license renewals was 62.5 percent. The state numbers have not been broken down by county.
"It looks like people are taking personal responsibility," Dufresne said. "We're cautiously optimistic... We like to see more information before we spot trends."
Rep. Karyn Polito (Photo by Angela Rowlings)
"Massachusetts lawmaker proposes 12-year term limits"
The Associated Press, Friday, June 5, 2009
BOSTON (AP) — A spate of Beacon Hill ethics cases is prompting a state representative to propose amending the Massachusetts constitution so lawmakers can serve no longer than 12 years.
Republican Rep. Karyn Polito (pole-EE'-toe) of Shrewsbury says turnover will invigorate the House and Senate with "fresh ideas and fresh perspectives."
Former Speaker Salvatore DiMasi, who had served 30 years in the House, was indicted this week on bid-rigging charges. Former Sen. Dianne Wilkerson was in her eighth term when she resigned after being arrested last year on federal bribery charges.
The proposed amendment would cap House or Senate service at a total of 12 years, or six terms, in a person's lifetime.
It would have to be approved by two consecutive sessions of the Legislature and the public in 2012 at the earliest.
"House, Senate agree on plan to curb pension excesses"
By Matt Viser, Boston Globe Staff, June 10, 2009
The Massachusetts House and Senate have reached an agreement on a compromise package of reforms that will eliminate controversial provisions that allowed some public officials to enjoy substantially sweetened pensions.
Both chambers are planning to vote tomorrow on the revised plan, likely resolving a dispute with Governor Deval Patrick, according to two sources briefed on the negotiations.
House Speaker Robert A. DeLeo is expected to drop his opposition to making the reforms apply only to future employees – and not to current elected officials and employees, according to officials in the House and Senate who were not authorized to speak publicly. Patrick and the Senate argued that the changes should apply to current employees, too. As late as Monday afternoon, DeLeo had been sticking to his previously stated position.
“I still feel that I’m on the strongest legal ground of anyone here, that court cases do bear my position out,” DeLeo told reporters after a meeting in Senate President Therese Murray’s office. “But having said that, maybe there’s somewhere in between that we can all agree on.”
House and Senate lawmakers were still working on final language of the bill this morning, but have agreed on the concepts, the officials said. They are hoping to come to final agreement this afternoon and hold a press conference to announce the deal.
Approving pension reform would resolve one of three major issues that state lawmakers have been grappling with. Conference committees have also been meeting for several weeks to come to agreement on ethics and transportation reforms. Agreements on those issues are close, but several sticking points remain.
The Senate, which last month unanimously approved an ethics bill that gutted the state Ethics Commission, is planning to meet tomorrow with Ethics Commission chairman Charles Swartwood, a former federal magistrate judge.
The pension changes would wipe from the books some of the generous deals, custom-tailored laws, and hidden provisions that for decades have allowed some Massachusetts public employees to win enhanced retirement benefits.
Allowing the changes to apply to current employees – and not just new hires -- would be significant. The Globe reported in May that, under existing law, nearly half of the 200 members of the Legislature are on track to be eligible for early, enhanced pensions potentially worth hundreds of thousands of dollars each.
Some of the changes that lawmakers have generally agreed on include:
-- Removing a provision that credits a full year of service to employees after they have worked as little as one day in that year.
-- Changing the current accidental disability retirement benefit for individuals who are injured while temporarily filling in for their supervisor. Some firefighters in Boston have collected pension benefits based on their bosses' higher pay level after they were injured on the job while subbing for them.
-- Limiting the definition of "compensation" to only wages and salary, and specifically excluding housing benefits, annuities, or the use of motor vehicles. This would prevent presidents at the state's public colleges and universities from counting housing and transportation allowances as compensation.
-- Prohibiting public employees from combining their pensions from two separate positions, which can increase the overall pension. Instead, an individual who is a member of two or more systems must retire separately from each system.
-- Aligning MBTA employees' pension with the state system and eliminate the policy that allows employees with 23 years of service to retire with benefits regardless of their age. The provision has allowed workers to retire in their 40s and then take other jobs while collecting pensions.
Matt Viser can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Hackerama: Ex-House speaker Felon Finneran, Billy Bulger, the now-indicted Sal DiMasi
"Hack stiffed on ki$$ is cause to re-Joyce"
By Howie Carr, Sunday, June 28, 2009, www.bostonherald.com - Columnists
How can we miss these hacks when they won’t go away?
Take Franny Joyce. Please. Six years after the former tin whistle player in Billy Bulger’s band started collecting his $6,552-a-month state kiss in the mail, he’s still scheming to collect even more.
Francis Xavier Joyce, age 66, forgotten but not gone.
He’s just been slapped down again, this time by the state Contributory Retirement Appeal Board. He was trying to get severance pay added to his last three years of base pay at the Massachusetts Convention Center Authority (MCCA). If he’d won, his kiss would have gone up to around $10,000 a month, even as the state is going broke.
A call was placed to Franny in South Boston.
“I have no comment,” he said.
Well, are you going to appeal this latest setback?
“That’s it.” Click. Too bad - my next question was going to be whether he was available to play tin whistle at my Fourth of July party next week.
In addition to his musical career with Billy Bulger, Franny was a helluva mailman in his day. Who better to run the new MCCA back in 1982? It was a “lifetime” job, at $75,000 a year, a huge amount in those days, but the darnedest thing happened - nobody applied except Franny. And after a nationwide search, too.
Soon the daughter of Whitey Bulger’s girlfriend was on the MCCA payroll. Another nationwide search.
By 2002, Franny was making $126,518, but his “lifetime” guarantee was running out. His patron, Billy Bulger, was teetering himself, and the MCCA board wanted Joyce gone. But which member could reach out to the surly Bulgerite? The choice was obvious - Jimmy “Bunzo” Byrne, the longtime Boston city councilor. He could speak to Franny in his native tongue - hackese.
See, Bunzo was a law partner with the crooked ex-House speaker Felon Finneran, and they have a lobbying firm now, although since his obstruction-of-justice conviction Finneran has been stripped of both his ticket and his state pension. Bunzo has also been known to max out to the Felon’s successor as speaker, the now-indicted Sal DiMasi.
I tell you, covering the hackerama is like a card game. You never know exactly which card you’re going to turn face-up next, but one thing’s for sure: You’ve seen every last one of them before, game after game after game.
According to the Appeal Board decision issued June 12, in December 2002 Bunzo sidled up to Franny and asked what it would take to make him do an early Dixie off the Hynes.
“Joyce answered that he ‘wouldn’t even consider . . . that topic until (the board reached a conclusion concerning an adjustment to his salary).”
An adjustment - that’s the spirit, Franny! Leave nothing on the table - not even a nickel. The Corrupt Midget must have been proud of his boyo.
The taxpayers finally cut Franny a check for $51,855.04, and Franny retired in February 2003. He was succeeded at the MCCA by a guy named Rooney who was already collecting his own $60,000 pension from the MBTA.
Now Franny will have to continue scraping by on a measly annual pension of $78,218. I figure he can keep appealing for an upgrade for at least another 20 years. Think of the retro dough when he finally wins.
In the meantime, Franny, I’m still looking for a good tin whistle player.
"To cut costs, Registry closing 11 branches: Website use urged to avoid long lines"
By Michael Levenson, Boston Globe Staff, July 4, 2009
Customers should expect longer wait times for driver’s licenses, license plates, and registrations as the state Registry of Motor Vehicles closes 11 branch offices to cope with a $13 million hit in this year’s state budget, Registry officials said yesterday.
Some of the largest communities in Massachusetts - including New Bedford, Framingham, and Lowell - will lose their sole branch as the closures are carried out, beginning this month.
“It’s a real mistake,’’ said New Bedford City Councilor David Alves, adding that the office, in the heart of downtown, helps generate business for local coffee shops and cafes. “The impact will be regional, not just municipal.’’
One of the branches slated for closure is the Registry’s busiest, in Boston’s Chinatown, which draws 289,000 customers a year. The office will close in December, but not before the agency opens another Boston location in a state-owned building still to be determined, officials said.
To soften the blow of the closures, Registry officials said they would encourage customers to use the agency’s website and open four new branches - three of them with limited services - on state-owned property, where they will not have to pay rent. Two such branches will open on the Massachusetts Turnpike, one with limited services at the Natick plaza and one full-service office at the Charlton plaza.
Registrar Rachel Kaprielian acknowledged that “things are going to get a little crunched,’’ but said customer service remains the agency’s “North Star.’’ She declined to speculate how much longer customers will have to wait, but said they should expect lines that are “reasonable, predictable, and not egregious.’’
Not surprisingly, customers yesterday were not happy at the prospect of longer wait times.
Allston resident Will Roberts, who was waiting in line at one of the branches slated to close, at the CambridgeSide Galleria, said: “It will obviously be a pain.’’
“It’s a bad thing,’’ added John Worthington, a Beacon Hill resident who was also at the branch, waiting to renew his license. “Now, I have to take off a day from work.’’
Customers now wait 22 minutes on average statewide, though wait times at busier branches regularly reach an hour or longer.
The registry currently has 34 branch offices; the 11 offices that are closing serve 1.2 million people, or 24 percent of the agency’s customers.
The Registry is promising to ramp up efforts to get people to use its website, massrmv.com, where customers can complete many common transactions such as license and registration renewals. The agency also plans to make some layoffs. But Registry officials said the realignment plan was designed to minimize staff reductions, because that would only increase wait times further.
Registry spokeswoman Ann Dufresne said longer wait times will be “the stick’’ that drives more people to the website. The website handled about 1.5 million of the registry’s 3.9 million transactions last year, a 23 percent increase from 2007.
Kaprielian said she was urging customers to “help themselves by not wasting time in a branch when you don’t need to be there.’’
She said she would be taking the message to the public through the media and by launching “RMV days’’ at local libraries, where agency officials will urge patrons to use the website.
“We do ask the patience of the public as we go through this transition and urge people not to go in line, but online,’’ Kaprielian said.
Registry officials warned in April that they would have to close 11 branches if state lawmakers made good on their plans to slash the agency’s budget by $13 million.
By opening the four new branches in state-owned property, the registry will save $1.7 million in rent, officials said. The last time the agency closed this many branches was in 1991, when budget cuts forced 21 offices to close.
In addition to urging customers to use the Web, Kaprielian said she would seek to limit wait times by installing self-service kiosks in three branches, where customers can drop off license plates without waiting in line. Workers in some busy branches will also get automated cash-counting machines, to save time.
The Registry has also been trying to alleviate the burden on customers by allowing drivers who are members of AAA to conduct some agency business at the club’s offices in West Newton and Worcester.
Kaprielian said the Registry will also begin offering customers the opportunity to go online and request that they be notified by e-mail or telephone before their licenses expire.
The Registry stopped mailing reminder notices to drivers last year. The move was designed to save the agency $800,000 annually. but also sparked some complaints from drivers frustrated by the lack of notification.
Globe correspondent Abbie Ruzicka contributed to this report.
"Starting line is beginning to get crowded for governor’s race"
By Bobbi Sistrunk, Columnist, Wicked Local - Carver - with news from the Carver Reporter, Thursday, July 16, 2009
A recap and analysis of the week in state government.
Outsize glass jars of hard candy and chilled bottles of brand-name water greeted visitors to the Wellesley conference center Wednesday, electric shoe buffers in the men’s room and ergonomically sensitive chairs.
If the afternoon seemed all too luxurious for the state’s political media pack, a veritable Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory of both 2010 tingles and Weld-era nostalgia, it’s because the afternoon entrance of Charles D. Baker into the gubernatorial campaign gave a sugary jolt. Just that morning, Treasurer Tim Cahill had formally gone splitsville with the Democratic Party and while Baker denied any calculation beyond coincidence, it was pretty apparent that the notion of another tall, white, tax-protesting fiscal conservative in the race had better not get too far out of hand before the GOP golden boy – Harvard Pilgrim boss and former Weld policy consigliere – made clear his long-marinated intentions.
The conventional wisdom coalesces thusly: Baker puts a fork in Christy Mihos and a legit flesh wound in Cahill (“Tim for ‘10” just got a lot more expensive), and cleaves the Gloria Larson/Tripp Jones/Senate President Therese Murray wing of the political class. That’ll hit the guv where it hurts, not the grassroots but the wallet.
On the punditry-decreed upside for the treasurer, Gov. Deval Patrick – in an ironic turn so sweet it deserves its own golden ticket – benefits from a bolstered Cahill, meaning that the fellow constitutional officer with whom he’s apparently spent much of the last year and a half not speaking is now a sort of political ally. “I think you’ll see Doug call off the dogs now,” said a veteran Democratic operative with an intimate knowledge of the electoral terrain, referring to the theory widely held in the Treasury that Patrick’s senior campaign strategist and recently departed former chief of staff, Doug Rubin, has orchestrated a steady needling of Cahill.
“I think Cahill blinks” and retreats to a rapidly crowding treasurer’s race field, said another member of the political class, which was very juiced by this week’s developments. “Cahill was hoping that Baker would blink and not run for governor, and [in that case] Cahill has a possible chance by painting Mihos as not realistic,” said this person, a former Democratic candidate for statewide office. “I think it’s all up in smoke right now, because Baker’s in, and if you look at the numbers it’s real hard to figure out how Cahill puts together a plausible scenario under which he wins. It’s really got to be a 33, 32, 30 election for him to win.”
An election with a winning vote share in the low-30s would provide a fascinating political landscape, 16 months of the governor talking about his reform agenda and tying Baker to the Big Dig (an expensive transportation project), Mihos talking about the Big Dig and tying Baker to the electorate’s health care bills, Cahill talking about taxes and schools, and Baker talking about how the state hasn’t netted a new job in a decade, coinciding neatly with his departure from government. There will be multiple millions paid for television advertising, a euphoric network of political operatives, extensive Tweeting.
It’s not too often that a state government development with national ramifications is overshadowed on the Hill, but Attorney General Martha Coakley was stuck with just about the worst possible timing Wednesday when she announced a lawsuit against the federal government over its gay marriage ban. Coakley said the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) divides the citizenry into two classes, and that Washington has unconstitutionally interfered with state prerogatives. This made national news, another instance of Coakley taking on a klieg-light case that lands her in the headlines.
If you ride the T, you had a bad week, because the T board wants to pay down debt and cover the holes wrenched in its funding from the economy-stung sales tax by jacking up fares by as much as 25 percent. If “MBTA fare hikes” sound familiar, it’s because this next one will be the fourth this decade.
It appears unlikely that the punch-drunk budget artisans on the Hill will rescue the T – or, more properly, its riders. The state closed out fiscal 2009 last week with a $180 million problem due to June revenues that crashed more than $200 million below benchmark, which this week prompted legislators to delay until next week overrides of Patrick’s budget vetoes in the fiscal 2010 budget.
Bringing us, tidily, back to the campaign trail, where the economy will figure heavily and upon which the state embarked this week at a brisk pace and on a steep ascent. For visitors to the candy factory, it was very much like drinking from a fire hose spewing liquid political goodness.
STORY OF THE WEEK: For the first time in a long time – a really long time – it was a good week to be a Massachusetts Republican, GOP activists decided. The vegetarian convention put burgers back on the menu. It was the GOP’s turn to emphasize hope and change.
10 ‘10 ISSUES: The candidates will say they want the campaign to be about the issues. Here are 10 factors, exclusive of a few readily evident matters (your property tax bill) and in no particular order, that may and will pop up in 2010 or before.
· By this fall, casinos will likely dominate the capitol agenda. None of the major candidates appears likely to take a hard line against expanded gambling, with Patrick and Cahill pushing variations of indoor gambling, Mihos favoring slots at the tracks and no casinos, and Baker pensive Wednesday when asked about casinos, saying they are not “a cure-all.” Mihos on Friday predicted an “exorbitant amount of money coming into the Commonwealth this election cycle” from the casino lobby.
· So Baker was a CEO of a major insurer. Think Harvard Pilgrim ever denied anyone health care? Remember the Ted Kennedy ads from 1994 showing the plant that Mitt Romney helped shut down in Indiana? An insurance rewrite from that playbook could blunt Baker’s effectiveness on one of his strengths.
· Democratic lawmakers – all 179 of ‘em – are curious about their own role next year, fully expecting that Patrick will continue taking the scythe to their public images, and unsure how vocal they’ll be on his behalf. Senate President Therese Murray put forth a possible template Wednesday, when she proactively proclaimed her “great deal of respect” for “Charlie,” who is running against a Democrat unnamed in Murray’s press release. Most Democrats will fall in behind Patrick, but how energetically remains a fascinating riddle, one that, ironically, former Baker aide Lora Pellegrini will spend much of her time trying to solve over the next 16 months in her role as Patrick’s legislative liaison. “We have to figure out how to proceed,” said one senior House Democrat. “How can I embrace him when that’s his M.O.?” A soft endorsement, then. “How could it be anything but with the way he’s acting?”
· Like casinos, pension reform is likely for the autumn docket. The narrow, loophole-closing effort is passed and past, an asset for Patrick but not the dollar-saving package that Baker and Mihos and Cahill will be hammering as a policy proposal unless the governor and Legislature team up and get done a more sweeping law.
· Bill Weld. Big Red told the Herald this week he might move back to Massachusetts, and his affection for Baker makes it likely that even if Weld stays in New York he will have a presence, helping voters to recall the economic recovery glory days and informing them that Weld himself considers Weld actually Weld Lite next to Baker. “He was better than I was when I was in office, and he’s more better now,” said Weld, who evidently has been spending time with Spike Lee while in New York (that would be quite a ticket).
· Cahill’s four fiscal pillars – the Lottery, centralized pension fund, school building assistance, and debt maintenance – are wobbling at roughly the same frequency at which Patrick is showing susceptibility on the economy. Like Patrick, the Quincy Democrat has been victimized by holding office at a time when revenues cliffed, but school districts don’t like hearing “no” from school building officials and the Lottery, retirees don’t like watching the pension balance dwindle, and no one really understands bond policy.
· Fourth Estate’s ability to manage complexity. The media could go one of two ways, deciding that this is a two-man race between Patrick and Baker, or, more responsibly, covering the four major candidates as competitors on the same field. Cahill’s status as a statewide officeholder and Mihos’s cash and style establish them as valid competitors, but the two-party trap hurts Cahill and Mihos’s poor showing in 2006 hamstrings him.
· During a particularly emotional stretch of the 2006 campaign, then-Worcester Mayor Timothy P. Murray sat down in a Financial District Au Bon Pain and harpooned then-Lt. Gov. Kerry Healey for what the Patrick camp called dirty campaign tactics. Murray can be an attack dog extraordinaire, a role he has played only occasionally in the administration but could reprise on the campaign trail. Reared in the curious animal of Worcester politics – which also begat Middlesex County Sheriff Guy W. Glodis – Murray’s instinct toward outspokenness could figure more frequently in 2010, when Patrick will face a stiffer field than 2006.
· Vietnam has played a role in every presidential election since the 1960s. The Big Dig has factored in every gubernatorial election since at least 1990 and will again next year, with all four major contenders having some skin in the game – Baker as state fiscal steward in the ‘90s, Mihos as a board member for five years from 1999 to 2004, and Patrick and Cahill as current overseers of the massive debt incurred by the project. All four can claim they sought to remedy earlier mistakes, and all four are Dig-vulnerable.
· Economic rebound. What if the economy bounces back on time for Patrick? If unemployment, instead of sitting in the double digits, instead comes back into the atmosphere and tax revenues permit the restoration of state services, maybe even a middle-class tax cut (!) or a more likely easing of fees, the governor could be in a more plum spot. He and Cahill could have dueling ribbon-cuttings and oversized check-presentations across the state, and jointly claim credit for distinguishing Massachusetts as a redoubt against the prevailing economic winds. Projections are of course very different, holding that the state’s fiscal troubles will sustain and perpetuate themselves through and perhaps beyond fiscal 2011.
A BOSTON GLOBE EDITORIAL
"Cutting costs at the Registry"
July 21, 2009
THE DECISION to close 11 branches of the Registry of Motor Vehicles wasn’t made lightly or without a follow-up plan. While the closings are sure to create some inconvenience, the public should bear with a state agency that is being bolder than many when trying to maintain core services in the face of steep budget cuts.
Once the place of interminable waits and surly service, the 33-branch Registry has improved greatly over the past decade through better customer service training, creation of special queues designed to reduce waiting times, and close collaboration with the courts to protect the public by ensuring prompt license suspensions of dangerous drivers. But the biggest change for the average driver is - or should be - the expanded ability to perform routine Registry tasks - such as license and registration renewals - online. The Registry estimates that at least one-third of the people waiting in its branches don’t need to be there.
“We’re driving people to the Internet,’’ says registrar Rachel Kaprielian. But some people don’t want to go along for the ride. Petition drives are underway to save the Southbridge branch, which is slated to be closed in August. The first branch fell on Friday with the closing of the North Attleboro office. New Bedford residents are angry over the scheduled closing of their branch, which is next in line, along with the RMV office at the Cambridgeside Galleria.
Kaprielian is wisely targeting branches now operating in rented spaces. The RMV estimates that it will save $1.7 million in annual leasing costs after December when the round of closures is complete. To compensate, the Registry is opening at least five new branches in rent-free, state-owned space. Many users may face a longer drive to a branch. But users of the busy Chinatown branch, slated to close in December, will find service in a downtown site equally accessible to public transit, say RMV officials.
Shedding commercial leases is a sensible response to the Registry’s $13 million budget cut. The state court system is taking a similar approach as it looks to consolidate district courts and reduce the $38.5 million now spent annually on commercial leases. Other state agencies should follow the example. And local officials concerned about losing branches in their area should try to find rent-free space for the Registry, perhaps in municipal buildings.
RMV officials, meanwhile, are miles ahead in the cost-cutting creativity department. Basic Registry functions, for example, can now be handled for no extra cost - including Saturday hours - by auto club workers in the AAA offices in West Newton and Worcester.
There should be enough space both online and rent-free to keep the RMV lines moving.
"Skip the takeout"
By Boston Herald Editorial Staff, Wednesday, July 22, 2009, www.bostonherald.com - Editorials
It starts the minute they leave the house in the morning.
The gas in the tank is paid for by the taxpayers, thanks to the per diem payments afforded every state lawmaker.
The car they drive is often financed by campaign donors.
They pull into a free parking spot. And at least during budget sessions, lunch and dinner are delivered right to the chamber door, courtesy of taxpayers, too.
It is little wonder, then, that state lawmakers see nothing wrong with spending $227,000 on office renovations (including $600 for “art hanging”) and $126,000 on food and beverages for lawmakers in the midst of a fiscal crisis that has no modern precedent. On Beacon Hill, there is such a thing as a free lunch.
In fact, as the Herald reported yesterday, legislative expenses actually increased this year from $4.1 million to $4.6 million. But the justification for some of these expenses rings hollow.
Yes, lawmakers work long hours in consecutive extended sessions during budget debate (the justification for the money spent on catering). But midnight sessions are entirely avoidable. Taxpayers forced to brown-bag it every day to stay within their budget shouldn’t be forced to subsidize procrastination.
And yes, the State House is old and so is much of the furniture. But the choice between making do for a year with an old desk or trying to justify $9,000 worth of new furniture during a fiscal crisis seems obvious.
No, scaling back the occasional dinner order isn’t going to bridge a budget gap that stretches to billions. But there is something to be said for setting a good example. Lawmakers could generate a trough of good will by opting for pot luck.
"House approves education overhaul bill"
By Associated Press, Thursday, January 7, 2010, www.bostonherald.com - Local Politics
BOSTON — The Massachusetts House of Representatives has passed an education overhaul bill that legislators say will address the achievement gap between schools in richer and poorer communities.
The bill passed early Thursday morning strengthens the state’s application for $250 million in federal funding, makes it easier for the state to step in and help underperforming districts and lifts the cap on charter schools in the lowest performing districts.
House Speaker Robert DeLeo says the bill will "eliminate our unacceptable achievement."
The bill also establishes strict guidelines regulating the recruitment and retention of students at charter schools.
The bill now goes before a joint House-Senate committee.
Gov. Deval Patrick has said he supports the changes.
"Gender balance in budget cuts"
The Berkshire Eagle, Editorial, 1/12/2010
If government budget cuts become unavoidable during lean economic times, as is the case now in Massachusetts, the cuts must at least be evenly distributed. In a report issued on Tuesday, the Massachusetts Budget and Policy Center finds that cuts over the last several years have been disproportionately harmful to women, an imbalance that must be corrected to whatever extent possible.
The center, which is not affiliated with any political party, reports that some of the heaviest budget cuts have come to programs whose primary beneficiaries are women. These include adult education, employment training and child care. The state’s Employment Services Program, for one example, has had its budget cut by 27 percent since 2001, and more than 90 percent of those in the program are women. These programs either prepare women for the work place or enable them to join it, and if they are unable to work, many will receive state assistance. When that happens, the money saved through budget cuts is negated by the money provided to the women, many of them single mothers and their families so they can survive.
There is no logic in cutting programs if they fail to produce savings. And there is no fairness in cutting programs that specifically affect women.
"Patrick targets pension loopholes: Special deals for individuals at issue"
By Donovan Slack, Boston Globe Staff, January 26, 2010
Governor Deval Patrick is taking another whack at a pension overhaul in Massachusetts with new legislation designed to prevent sweetheart retirement deals and cut the overall cost of the state’s public pension system.
Patrick plans to introduce a bill today that includes roughly a dozen changes to state pension law, including requiring anyone seeking special, enhanced benefits to provide an actuarial analysis of the cost before the request can be approved, according to two state officials briefed on the plan.
The officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, declined to describe the other proposed changes but said that in general, the bill would address loopholes left open after the Legislature approved the governor’s first pension overhaul last year.
While that law eliminated some of the most commonly abused pension benefits, such as getting credit for a year’s worth of public service after working one day, it did not cap the pension benefits employees can receive. Currently, 113 retirees collect more than $183,000 a year, an amount greater than the earnings of 90 percent of Massachusetts households. The 2009 law also didn’t address so-called termination benefits, which provide enhanced pensions to employees with 20 years of service who lose their job through no fault of their own. Only two other states provide such benefits.
Patrick’s new legislation is based on the work of a Special Pension Reform Commission the governor convened last year after a series of Globe reports revealed repeated pension abuses and special deals granted to certain retirees. One such report in October 2008 chronicled a series of state laws granting enhanced pensions to certain individuals by name. Those laws awarded specific retirees 100 percent of their salaries, tax-free for life. Fiscal watchdogs have estimated that similar laws have cost taxpayers as much as $125 million per year.
If the governor’s new legislation passes, bills that benefit specific individuals by name could not become law unless they include a detailed cost analysis from the state retirement agency and from local pension officials in the city or town where the recipient works. In the past, many of those bills have been so vaguely worded that it has been unclear what they are intended to do, much less what they would cost.
For example, a law passed last year increased the pension of a retired Barnstable County Sheriff’s Department employee “to an amount not exceeding one-half of the regular rate of compensation payable to the present chief deputy sheriff of Barnstable County or a similar position.’’ It did not give further details.
One government watchdog applauded the governor’s efforts to stem such individual pension increases but said Patrick should get rid of them altogether,
“I absolutely think it’s a step in the right direction,’’ said Steve Poftak, director of the Shamie Center for Better Government at the Pioneer Institute, a fiscally conservative nonprofit think tank. “But I think by and large these special provisions that single out individuals are typically inappropriate. You shouldn’t tinker with the system on a case-by-case basis.’’
Patrick spokesman Kyle Sullivan declined to comment on the governor’s proposal prior to today’s introduction of the bill.
Donovan Slack can be reached at email@example.com.
"$5 fee at RMV raises hackles: Lawmakers vow to seek repeal of the ' backdoor tax,' which targets residents who call or visit the registry rather than do transactions online."
Berkshire Eagle Staff and Wire Report, March 2, 2010
PITTSFIELD - The Registry of Motor Vehicles has implemented a $5 fee to conduct certain transactions in person or on the telephone with a real person, and the new charge drew mixed reactions from some of the customers at the East Street branch on Monday.
"I do not agree with it, but I needed [a new registration], so I came," said Tiffany Johnson, of Pittsfield.
Anne Cathcart, who recently moved from Pasadena, Calif., to Monterey, was changing her license and registration and was not bothered by the fee.
"With the current economy, it doesn't seem like an unnecessary or exorbitant expense," she said.
The fee, which went into effect on Monday, does not include online transactions.
That has raised a local concern about the impact the fee has on the areas in Berkshire County with limited high speed access.
Across the state, Republican and Democratic critics, including Senate President Therese Murray, say the fee is unfair to those customers who want to do their business with a real person.
Lawmakers immediately vowed to eliminate the fee.
Murray said she expects there will be support for an amendment to end the fee when the Senate votes on an unrelated bill today to toughen oversight of elderly drivers and ban texting while driving.
"It doesn't seem quite fair," Murray said. "I like talking to people on the phone if I have a problem."
Republicans say they will also push an amendment to kill the fee.
Jennifer Nassour, chairman of the Massachusetts Republican Party, called the fee a "backdoor tax."
"This hike burdens those people who can least afford it, like the poor and elderly who often do not have Internet access," Nassour said.
Registry officials said the increase was put in place to raise additional funds and discourage visits to branch offices.
"We're in a fiscal crisis and fees are realigning to reflect that crisis, and this is an added twist to get people to use the Internet," Registrar Rachel Kaprelian told the Associated Press.
In- person license renewals, required every 10 years, are also exempt from the fee.
State Rep. William " Smitty" Pignatelli, D- Lenox, called the fee "very disconcerting," given the lack of high-speed Internet access in parts of Berkshire County.
"The state needs revenue, no question about it," Pignatelli told The Eagle. "But for elderly folks or people who don't have broadband access, it sends the wrong message. And until we get every community lit up with broadband, I think fees like this are premature."
The customers interviewed by The Eagle at the RMV's East Street branch said none were made aware of the added cost at the time of their transactions.
The Boston Herald cited an RMV memorandum that appeared to coach employees about hiding the new fee, saying it should not be singled out but included in a discussion of broader hikes done in the last year.
Kaprelian denied any " skullduggery," adding, "There was no intent whatsoever to not be upfront about it. We want to be upfront about it, because we want people to know they have an option - a great option" via the Internet.
The Eagle's Trevor Jones conducted reporting for this story. Material from the Associated Press was used in this report.
"Governor puts brakes on new fee at the RMV: The controversial $5 charge for some non-Web transactions lasted less than 24 hours."
Berkshire Eagle Staff, March 3, 2010
PITTSFIELD -- Less than 24 hours after the Registry of Motor Vehicles issued a $5 fee for customers to do business with a real person, it has been officially flat-tired.
Gov. Deval L. Patrick killed the fee on Tuesday, which met widespread criticism since it went into effect on Monday.
"We're certainly not trying to jam people up," Patrick told the Associated Press Tuesday. "We're just dealing with the other thing that people say and are concerned about, which are long wait times at the Registry."
The proposed fee was initially pitched during a set of RMV increases sent out last April, but did not officially begin until March 1. The increase came after other recent increases, such as the RMV increasing fees for driver's licenses by $10 in 2009.
The RMV installed the fee to increase revenues and encourage people to go online to conduct certain Registry business, like renew a driver's license or obtain new registration.
As soon as the fee went into effect, politicians of both parties immediately denounced the idea, with some saying that it adversely impacted those who could not afford a computer or a credit card.
"After you add in the driver's licenses, when you add these fees, you are nickel-and-diming people," said state Rep. Daniel E. Bosley, D-North Adams. "That's what upsets people -- the sugar tax, all sorts of things. Every time you turn around, the government is charging you for something else."
Anyone who did pay the $5 fee will be issued a refund within two weeks, the RMV said in a statement. Customers interviewed at the Pittsfield RMV on Tuesday had not been issued the fee.
"The proposed fee was meant in part to encourage more people to visit the RMV's Web site to complete transactions rather than visiting a branch," said Registrar Rachel Kareillan in a written statement. "Going online save residents time, and it saves the RMV money."
Residents frequenting the Pittsfield RMV on Tuesday were not feeling much sympathy for the embattled agency after its dashed proposal.
"I don't think it's fair," said Gail DiOrio of Pittsfield. "There's so little connection as is, and how often do you see the RMV? ... I just don't think we should have to pay to see a human."
While the RMV has said that online options would have spared customers the fee, Diana Coramier of Pittsfield said it was tilted against senior citizens.
"I don't have a computer -- not everybody does," she said. Saying that retirees are already in dire straights dealing with increasing fees for health insurance and utilities, "we haven't had a cost of living raise -- but everything's gone up."
Peter Giftos, the executive director of the Berkshire County Republican Association, said he felt the fees were feeding corruption in Boston.
"They keep coming back with fees to replace taxes, thinking that'll be the best way to go. But in my opinion, it's stupid," he said. "It's just another way of taking money out of our pockets."
... You should be upset about it, no matter what your political leanings are."
Rachel Kaprielian. Photo by Ted Fitzgerald (file)
"The hack train is never-ending"
By Howie Carr, Columnist - www.bostonherald.com - March 3, 2010
Here is Rachel Kaprielian, the ex-solon Registrar of Motor Vehicles, on the need to raise the now-rescinded fees:
“We’re in a fiscal crisis and fees are realigning to reflect that crisis.”
Realigning - is that the new euphemism for raising taxes? Whatever happened to “revenue enhancement?” Or “investment in the future?”
Why are we in a fiscal crisis? Because of the hackerama. Did you see the stories in the Sunday Herald about the court clerks personally pocketing $2.5 million last year in get-out-of-jail fees?
Did anyone notice the runner-up in the clerks’ gravy train? That would be Kevin Creedon, the Brockton District clerk magistrate. After a nationwide search, he makes $110,221 a year, plus $42,947 a year in fees. In the past four years, Creedon made $203,078 in fees.
Not bad, huh? How about his brother, Michael Creedon? A former state rep and state senator, he is now a judge - $129,694 a year.
There’s a third Creedon brother, Bob. Would you care to guess if he works in the Dreaded Private, or public sector? That’s right, the former state senator (he succeeded a guy named Mike Creedon) was elected clerk of courts in 2008 and now makes, like brother Kevin, $110,221 a year.
Bob Creedon, by the way, is married to Geraldine Creedon. Would you care to guess who the state rep from Brockton is? You are correct - and Rep. Geraldine Creedon makes $61,440.20.
You know the old saying. It’s one thing to feed at the trough. But the Creedons are licking the plate.
This explains Deval Patrick’s frenzy to “realign” taxes, as the lovely Rachel put it. One of the solons who stepped up to fight the $5 Registry realignment was Sen. Steve Baddour of Methuen. And his wife works . . . where?
That’s right, Ann Baddour makes $34,517 as an associate probation officer, which he neglected to mention as required on his State Ethics Commission form until he was asked about it by Commonwealth Magazine. An “oversight,” don’t you know.
The probation commissioner, Mrs. Sen. Baddour’s boss, is one John O’Brien, who makes $130,305 a year. One of the O’Brien daughters, Genevieve, works in a division of probation - Community Corrections - making $45,693 a year.
O’Brien lives in Quincy, which also happens to be the hometown of the state treasurer, Tim Cahill. And in yet another amazing coincidence, O’Brien’s wife and another of his daughters both work for Cahill, who is the independent candidate for governor.
Wife Laurie O’Brien is at the Lottery for $50,950 a year, and daughter Kelly Rose O’Brien is a claims analyst in the Treasury for $38,500 a year.
Nationwide Searches ’R’ Us. That should be the new motto of the commonwealth of Massachusetts. Did I mention that O’Brien’s deputy commissioner of Probation is Christopher Bulger? Whitey’s nephew makes $114,021 a year.
"State Workers Enjoy 'Hack' Holiday: State Reps Table Move To Get Rid Of Bunker Hill, Evacuation Days"
WCVB-TV 5 Boston - TheBostonChannel.com - March 17, 2010
BOSTON -- St. Patrick's Day continues to be controversial on Beacon Hill, where state employees in Suffolk County are celebrating the Evacuation Day holiday, taking the day off and still collecting a paycheck.
Not many others get the day off and in a poor economy, some are asking why the so-called "hack holiday" still exists, especially when it costs taxpayers about $10 million a year and the state is facing a huge budget gap.
Some lawmakers said it is a historic holiday that observes the day of the British retreat from Boston in 1776.
"There's public cynicism around how people have characterized these holidays. These holidays have, in fact, incredible history," said State Sen. Jack Hart of Suffolk County.
Tuesday, they voted to table the talk of getting rid of it both Evacuation Day and Bunker Hill Day, meaning the St. Pat's Day perk lives on.
Rep. Eugene O'Flaherty defended the move.
"We're going to study that matter," he said. "We share the fiscal concerns as much as our colleagues."
Gov. Deval Patrick said he will be working and Republican representatives said they would be holding a working lunch to talk about jobs creation.
Link (with video):
A BOSTON GLOBE EDITORIAL
"GOP works on Evacuation Day, sending a message to Dems"
March 19, 2010
WHEN REPUBLICANS in the state Legislature held a caucus Wednesday, it was a bit of a PR gimmick to point out that they were working on Evacuation Day, while other State House employees were enjoying a paid day off.
And good for the Republicans for doing it. Governor Patrick also deserves credit, because he was on the job as well. Meanwhile, the Legislature’s Democratic leaders should be embarrassed by the persistence of Evacuation Day and Bunker Hill Day, two obscure holidays celebrated exclusively by public employees in Suffolk County. Because these so-called “high hack holidays’’ have become a frequent subject of scorn on right-wing talk radio, legislative Democrats may find it easy to tune out the criticism.
Well, they shouldn’t. The holidays are among many policies that make voters think lawmakers have a higher commitment to the wants of public employees than the needs of the taxpaying public.
The state’s budget crisis has shed light on the high structural costs of state and local government in Massachusetts: Public pensions dwarf those available to private-sector workers.
A recent Globe survey of health care costs suggests that the proportion of municipal budgets devoted to employee health care has nearly doubled in a decade, and yet public employee unions resist the most common-sense efforts to get them to share the burden.
Instead, union leaders rail against efforts to balance the budget on the backs of state and local employees. A municipal union leader in Salem recently called upon mayors to come up with “creative solutions’’ to the budget crisis, including higher taxes. To taxpayers who are struggling with their own expenses amid a grim economy, such arguments aren’t persuasive; they’re a provocation. Not only are public employees refusing to accept provisions that are commonplace in the private sector, but they want taxpayers to dig deeper to sustain bloated public-sector perks.
Supporters of the hack holidays barely keep a straight face when arguing that maintaining them is vital to commemorating the region’s revolutionary history. While abolishing them might not save much money up front, it would allow public agencies two or three more days’ worth of work. More importantly, it would also signal to an anxious general public that the Legislature is capable of at least some reforms.
(readers' comments): www.boston.com/bostonglobe/editorial_opinion/editorials/articles/2010/03/19/gop_works_on_evacuation_day_sending_a_message_to_dems/?comments=all#readerComm
Michael Travaglini said two proposals would make it harder to attract talent to run the $44 billion state pension fund. (Brendan McDermid/ Reuters/ File 2008)
"Pension chief says he’ll quit over pay: Cites legislative calls for bonus cap"
By Steven Syre, Boston Globe Staff, May 25, 2010
Michael Travaglini, who as head of the state’s pension fund is among the highest-paid government employees in Massachusetts, plans to quit next month, citing as a reason efforts by legislators to limit what he and his staff can earn.
In his six-year tenure as executive director, Massachusetts Pension Reserves Investment Management ran one of the top-rated public pension funds in the nation — until last year, when losses from the financial crisis made it one of the worst.
Prior to that downturn, the pension fund’s high performance earned Travaglini a $64,000 bonus in 2008, on top of his $322,000 salary. But now he cites the legislative backlash to that bonus system as a factor in his decision to leave June 11 and go to work for a Chicago investment firm.
“The issue of incentive compensation here is back on the front burner,’’ said Travaglini, who will formally announce his resignation June 1. “If you need the context for my decision, it’s an entirely personal one. I have a wife and three children, and I’m going to provide for them.’’
Under the bonus system, which Travaglini helped to create three years ago, he can make as much as 40 percent more if the pension fund exceeds certain investment benchmarks on a three-year basis. Bonuses for other pension fund employees range from 30 percent to 40 percent.
Travaglini said two legislative proposals would limit such bonuses, and thus make it harder to attract and retain talent to run the state’s $44 billion pension fund. One would limit the ability of state workers to earn more than the governor, whose annual salary is $143,000. Another would block bonuses for the years in which the fund lost money, regardless of how it performed against its benchmarks.
“Someone else can hang around for that, but it’s not going to be Mike Travaglini,’’ said Travaglini.
“Most people will say, ‘Good riddance. If you want to make more money, go do it in the private sector,’ and that’s what I’m going to do. But there’s a real threat to not being able to recruit and retain competent people here.’’
He added: “People can vote with their feet, and that’s what I’m doing.’’
Travaglini also bristled at the campaign ads aimed at Timothy Cahill, the state treasurer and gubernatorial candidate who also serves as chairman of the Pension Reserves Investment Management board. The ads, financed by the Republican Governors Association, say the state paid out performance bonuses when the pension fund lost billions in 2008.
The ads, he said, are “false’’ and “irresponsible.’’
The bonuses were paid in September 2008 and were based on the fund’s performance for the three-year period that ended June 30, 2008. The Massachusetts fund ranked among the top 5 percent of comparable funds for that three-year period, according to Wilshire Associates, which rates pension fund returns.
But the one-year return for fiscal 2008 was not so great. Massachusetts lost 1.81 percent that year, but still placed among the top 20 percent for comparable funds for the one-year period.
Cahill did not respond to requests for comment.
The Massachusetts pension fund has performed relatively well under Travaglini’s leadership, which started in 2004. He earned double-digit investment returns in each of his first three years.
But the fund lost 23.9 percent in the fiscal year that ended in June 2009, its worst performance ever. The fund had more invested in equities than other pension funds during a period when global stock markets plummeted because of the credit crisis and banking failures.
For that one-year performance alone, the Massachusetts fund ranked in the 99th percentile of Wilshire’s ratings.
Travaglini — a veteran state operative whose brother Robert is a former state Senate president — will join Grosvenor Capital Management as a managing director for business development, pitching Grosvenor’s hedge fund investments to public pension funds.
Travaglini’s bonus plan for pension fund employees has been controversial from the start, when he initially advocated for an even richer arrangement. But it has had relatively little impact so far, with none being paid last year and none expected this year, Travaglini said.
The plan rewards his employees if the fund’s performance exceeds the returns of investment indexes that reflect the mix of the state’s pension assets. Employees could earn bonuses if the pension fund loses money in a given year, so long as its decline is less than the indexes. On the other hand, if the fund makes money, but not enough to match the indexes, employees do not get bonuses.
Travaglini said a bonus system based on relative performance, not on whether the fund earns an investment profit, is important to reward employees who add value rather than pursue excessively conservative strategies.
“If there’s no added value, there’s no bonuses,’’ Travaglini said. “My naive view is that relative performance was always going to be looked at. Now, in this environment, it’s not about relative performance.’’
Steven Syre can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
"Ties surface in pension chief’s exit"
By Michael Norton of the State House News Service, Local Politics, www.bostonherald.com - May 26, 2010
The Chicago-based hedge fund hiring Michael Travaglini away from the state pension management team survived the pension fund’s downsizing of its hedge-fund portfolio last fall and landed a major asset management contract under his watch, the State House News Service has learned.
Grosvenor Capital Management was one of five firms slated to manage the Pension Reserve Investment Trust board’s $3.2 billion in hedge-fund assets last fall.
The board, chaired by state Treasurer Tim Cahill, last October axed four hedge fund managers - The Blackstone Group, E.I.M, Strategic Investment Group and Crestline Investors Inc. - as it reduced its investments in hedge funds to 8 percent of all assets, down from 11 percent. It placed the remaining $3.2 billion with Grosvenor and four other firms: Arden Asset Management, K2 Funds, Pacific Alternative Asset Management Company and The Rock Creek Group.
Grosvenor emerged from the asset allocation shake-up with $616 million in PRIT funds under management, according to state pension fund documents.
In an April 6, 2010 letter to the treasurer and State Ethics Commission, Travaglini stated he would be discussing employment with Grosvenor and recused himself from further dealings with the firm. Travaglini, the fund’s director since 2004, earns $322,000 a year and is leaving June 11. The board will meet June 1 to discuss a succession plan, Cahill said in a statement yesterday.
Donoghue says she is ‘very aware of how the economy has affected us all and some people in a very serious way.’
"New state senator vows her focus will be on the economy"
By John Laidler, Boston Globe Correspondent, November 14, 2010
For Eileen Donoghue, getting people back to work will be the focus when the Lowell Democrat takes office Jan. 5 as the new state senator from the 1st Middlesex District.
“I fully understand the challenges we are facing with the economy and jobs in Massachusetts,’’ said Donoghue, a former Lowell city councilor and mayor who won a three-way race Nov. 2 to succeed retiring Democratic incumbent Steven C. Panagiotakos.
“I heard it throughout the campaign as I traveled the district and it’s clearly issue one for most people,’’ Donoghue said. “I’m very aware of how the economy has affected us all and some people in a very serious way. At the same time, I’m excited about going to Beacon Hill and optimistic we can work together and through the challenges.’’
Donoghue said she is not daunted by the task because she recalls Lowell was facing similar economic challenges when she first ran for the council in 1995.
“I look at it as a similar climate. But we took them on and did make changes and defied the odds [faced by] an aging urban city. And on the state level, I’m anxious to do the same. . . . I’m confident I can work with anyone regardless of their party or their outlook. From what I’m hearing, people just want results,’’ said Donoghue, who will represent Dunstable, Groton, Lowell, Pepperell, Tyngsborough, and Westford.
A local lawyer and an active community volunteer, Donoghue, 56, was a city councilor from 1996 to 2008, serving as mayor from 1998 to 2002. In Lowell, which has a city manager, the mayor — elected by the council from within its ranks — chairs the City Council and the School Committee.
Donoghue ran in a special election in 2007 to fill the 5th District Congressional seat when Martin T. Meehan resigned. She finished second in a five-way Democratic primary to Lowell Democrat Niki Tsongas, who went on to win the seat.
In her state Senate race this year, Donoghue won a primary contest with Christian L. Doherty, a former congressional aide to Meehan, and went on to defeat Republican James J. Buba and independent Patrick A. O’Connor, both of Lowell, in the final.
Donoghue faces the challenge of filling the shoes of Panagiotakos, a 14-year incumbent who chairs the influential Senate Committee on Ways and Means.
Kevin P. Broderick, the vice chairman of the Lowell City Council and a Democrat who supported Donoghue, said Panagiotakos’s departure from the Senate is a “tremendous loss’’ for the district. But he said Donoghue is the right person to succeed him.
“She has tremendous experience at the local level in building consensus and getting things done,’’ he said.
Tyngsborough Selectwoman Elizabeth Coughlin, a Democratic State Committee member who backed Donoghue, said the district is “very lucky’’ to have Donoghue taking over for Panagiotakos.
“She is very knowledgeable about the needs of municipalities. She understands how the system works administratively, she knows what the issues are because of her experience, and we are confident she will be effective in representing us,’’ Coughlin said.
Donoghue, who grew up in Holyoke, is a graduate of the University of Massachusetts Amherst and Suffolk University Law School. She and her husband, John O’Connor, moved to Lowell in 1988.
She credits Niki Tsongas’s late husband, former US senator Paul Tsongas — then a neighbor — with recruiting her to run for city councilor in 1995. Elected that year, she was tapped by her fellow councilors to serve as mayor after just one term.
Donoghue looks back at her mayoral years as “times of tremendous progress here in the city. Lots of projects came to fruition,’’ she said, including the construction of the Tsongas Arena and Lelacheur Park.
To prepare for her new role, Donoghue plans to meet with elected officials in the district. She also expects to continue a transition effort she has begun with Panagiotakos, whom she calls a “great mentor’’ and friend.
In taking aim at the economy, Donoghue said she will promote the need for the state “to do everything it can to assist small businesses in creating jobs.’’
That would include trying to address the high cost of health care, Donoghue said, noting that a common theme she hears from small businesses is that skyrocketing health insurance costs are posing an impediment to hiring new workers.
She also wants to investigate the difficulty many businesses are facing in getting banks to extend lines of credit and to see if there is anything government could do to spur banks to be more cooperative.
Donoghue said whatever solutions the government seeks to the state’s economic and other issues will need to be cost-effective.
“The message was loud and clear’’ on Nov. 2, she said. “People can not tolerate more taxes, so they are looking to their leaders to work hard, work smarter, try to get things done. We have to do more with less. That’s really the climate we are in.’’
Joanne Rathe/Globe Staff
"Rachel Kaprielian’s fitness regimen"
The Boston Globe, May 21, 2015
RACHEL KAPRIELIAN, 46, REGIONAL DIRECTOR, US DEPARTMENT OF HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES
What do you do?
Three days a week, I run about 3 miles. Recently, I started doing strength training twice a week: free weights plus a couple ofmachines for 45 minutes.
Where do you run?
Generally speaking, when it’s cold I run indoors on a gym treadmill. If I had a home treadmill, it would become a coat hanger. Other times, it’s outdoors.
Was there a turning point in your fitness regimen?
More a growing awareness thatafter turning 40, I had to pay more attention to this or it probably wouldn’t happen.
How do you schedule workout time?
I plan out my week ahead on Sunday. Whenever possible, I’ll choose early mornings, although sometimes it’s after work. Saturday and Sunday, I’ll hit the gym first thing in the morning.I try to work out every day.
Were you an athletic kid?
I participated in sports, but no one would describe me as athletic. When I ran my one marathon, the 2008 Marine Corps Marathon in D.C., I had two goals: to finish and not stop running. I did both.
Have you always tried to stay fit?
I’ve always been physically active, even in my early years in politics, when I was knocking on doors eight to 10 hours a day. If you’re not in reasonably good condition, you miss so much in life. To be able to paddle a kayak or hike to the top of a peak — you never want to miss those things.
Biggest athletic challenge?
Next month I’m hiking the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu. I’ll get to Peru a day or two ahead to acclimate to the altitude, but I’ll probably be walking only five hours a day, which I think I can do. It will be strenuous, but not the whole time. It’s not Everest.
JOSEPH P. KAHN