The Salem News
Friday, September 5, 2003
Now that the official summer season is over, let's talk about what happened on Beacon Hill while we were at the beach.
The "second Great Depression," as some called our state "fiscal crisis," came to an official end with a $133 million surplus being recorded for fiscal year 2003 and another spending increase slated for fiscal year 2004, which began July 1.
As President Bush encouraged people to address social problems by getting married, the Massachusetts Legislature increased the local fee for a marriage license and added $46 per wedding to the state's general fund.
Ask yourself what service the state provides the happy couple in return for the fee; and when the answer is nothing, you know that it is not a fee, but a tax.
My partner, Chip Ford, and I planned to apply for a license just to challenge it. Gov. Romney vetoed the tax, but the Legislature overrode his veto.
Then the governor filed a supplemental budget that repealed the state's share of the fee hike, though the cities and towns can increase their share. The Legislature seems to have accepted this, so right now there is no state tax on marriage.
If you wonder how a supplemental budget can pass while the Legislature was supposed to be on vacation, this is how it works: The Legislature still meets every few days in a thing called an "informal session," at which a controversial bill can be stopped by the objection of just one legislator. In this case, no one objected because the budget contained items everyone wanted passed, in particular a payment to public defenders.
Yes, while we were at the beach, the state wasn't paying the public defenders who are a key part of the judicial system, the maintenance of which is one of the main reasons we have government at all. So, understandably, some public defenders refused to take on any more clients. Having waited as usual for a crisis in order to act, the Legislature then voted to send them their paychecks.
Fortunately, that rapist who has been terrorizing Middlesex County didn't need a public defender - because he hasn't been caught. But legislators have had to explain why women must pay $100 and wait up to three months for a background check in order to buy a $10 can of pepper spray. This outrage is a combination of the new fees and the legislative decision to define pepper spray as "ammunition," as if it were a box of bullets belonging to a .38 Special; which, by the way, would be a lot more useful in dealing with that rapist if you had a license to carry it right now.
Speaking of the new fees, a volunteer paramedic e-mailed me to complain about an increase in his recertification fee. He must now pay $150, plus another $50, for the red light permit they use to respond - and all for the privilege of volunteering.
And are you wondering like I am why UMass students who don't play sports still pay "fees" for sports? These increased this summer, too.
Even in the dog days of summer, most of us learned something we didn't know, such as that pedophile priests are locked up with neo-Nazi, homophobic murderers. And that the former's conviction can be erased if the latter kills him.
Communities learned this summer that the state is under no legal obligation to keep its word on school building assistance (SBA) funds. Well, they and the teachers' unions objected when taxpayers demanded that the state keep its promise to repeal a temporary tax, so they can't complain about broken promises now. The teachers were lucky that legislators finally honored a pledge to pay new recruits their signing bonuses.
Throughout the rainy season, mold and mildew were apparently growing in many existing schools, some of which couldn't open this week as scheduled. Do you think the threat to SBA funds will encourage school maintenance in the future, as the promise of state money for new schools encouraged deterioration of the old ones over the past many years?
Even in summer mode, Massachusetts citizens noticed the million-dollar buyout of UMass President Bill Bulger's contract, as well as his pension that exceeds $200,000 a year. We don't know by how much it will exceed that figure because he has filed for the inclusion of his housing allowance and other perks in its determination.
A former Belmont selectman was appointed by Gov. Romney to the job of civil service commissioner, which after three years service would have increased his selectman's pension of $4,800 a year to $64,000 a year. But then it was learned he had a business connection with the Mafia, and that was the end of that.
Social security is based on "average earnings during a lifetime of work," generally the 35 highest paid years, according to the social security administration. But state pensions are based on the three highest years of pay. Unlike most social security recipients who follow a given career track that slowly raises pay, some public employees can get a huge jump in pension by working just three years in an often unrelated high-pay position.
Wouldn't you like a big pension just so you could stay at the beach and never think about what's happening on the Hill?
P.S. The item about William Monahan's pension should have been attributed to an exclusive story in the Boston Globe by Frank Phillips. Barbara regrets the oversight.
Barbara Anderson is executive director of Citizens for Limited
Taxation. Her syndicated columns appear weekly in the Salem News, the Lowell
Sun, and the Providence Journal;
bi-weekly in the Tinytown Gazette; and occasionally in other newspapers.