So here we are, waiting for the Legislature to do
something useful before it leaves for its three-month vacation.
Of course some legislators will use their paid leave to campaign, while
challengers must continue making a living at real jobs.
Incumbents will be at the local senior center, telling everyone there
how well they look.
"You've lost weight!" your state senator or representative will declare.
You may have gained 150 pounds since they last saw you; but hey, it's
nice to hear.
I'm not making this up. When I was hanging around Beacon Hill, I heard
this all the time. And, honestly, the flattering observation was rarely
As I write this, the Legislature is still in session, mostly overriding
Gov. Romney's vetoes. But new legislation is still cooking.
An experienced lobbyist describes end-of-session activity this way:
"It's like water buffalo who have to cross the crocodile-infested river.
They charge through all at once, knowing some of them will die when the
crocs focus on a few, but most of them will make it."
Bad bills are all clumped together in a two-week period, with the
knowledge that some will be noticed by activists and the media, but most
will get through the crowded process.
There's a bill to increase property taxes by exempting seniors from
having to pay for future overrides.
"Mary, dear, you are looking well. And no reason to exert yourself to
vote against the new taxes - you won't have to pay them, dear. And
haven't you lost weight?"
There's the "welfare reform" bill that must be approved. The federal
government has threatened to penalize Massachusetts if it doesn't comply
with its stricter work requirements.
But who needs the federal money? We have this giant surplus to spend.
And having the next three months off, most legislators probably don't
meet those federal work requirements themselves.
Gov. Romney's proposed pension and insurance reforms haven't passed. And
while other states are moving to prevent eminent domain abuse, Romney
had to veto an amendment to the economic stimulus bill that would allow
developers to create their own little mini-towns-within-towns by
floating bonds to pay for the infrastructure. As one legislative
opponent wrote in support of the veto, this whole concept "would benefit
from undergoing full legislative process, including public hearing,
rather than enactment as a veto override of a Senate amendment to a
No kidding. But how can you sneak through bad ideas if you have an open
Massachusetts wants to create more quasi-public authorities? Shouldn't
we clean up the mess that the quasi-public Massachusetts Turnpike
Authority created, first?
Fortunately, Romney is now in charge of the Big Dig, and is clearly in
his element when addressing a crisis. By way of contrast, we have former
Gov. Michael Dukakis, returned to rewrite history.
He is everywhere - on television, talk radio and in newspaper articles -
insisting that the Big Dig disaster wouldn't have happened if the
Republican governors had listened to him. They should have kept his
transportation secretary, Fred Salvucci, Dukakis claims, who would have
built it right and for the originally estimated $2.4 billion cost.
Michael: You can't rewrite history until everyone who actually lived it
and remembers it is dead. And I'm not.
Here is the standard public works project methodology, described in
Robert Caro's Pulitzer Prize-winning book, "The Power Broker, Robert
Moses and the Fall of New York":
"If ends justified means, and if the important thing in building a
project was to get it started, then any means that got it started were
justified. Furnishing misleading information about it was justified; so
was underestimating its costs.... what if you didn't tell the officials
how much the projects would cost? What if you let the legislators know
about only a fraction of what you knew would be the projects' ultimate
Once they had authorized that small initial expenditure and you had
spent it, they would not be able to avoid giving you the rest when you
asked for it. ... If they refused ... what they had given you would be
wasted, and that would make them look bad in the eyes of the public. And
if they said you had mislead them, well, they were not supposed to be
misled ... that would mean they hadn't investigated the projects
thoroughly, and had therefore been derelict in their own duty.
As for the mismanagement, Salvucci blames Proposition 2½ for cuts in the
state Department of Public Works Department.
Prop 2½ limits only local taxes, but in fact, state spending for itself
was indeed cut in 1981 to give more local aid to the cities and towns. I
heard from DPW engineers that year, complaining they were being laid off
while legislative-supported hacks were protected. But the state economy
was creating surpluses when Salvucci put the DPW in charge of Bechtel in
the mid-1980s, apparently without checking to see if engineers were
available for oversight.
Though those of us who disputed the $2.4 billion estimate were called "naysayers"
at the time. It didn't even last through the Dukakis administration,
increasing to $4.4 billion by 1990. The latest cost estimate is $14.6
When the Legislature leaves next week, Dukakis should go away too.
Barbara Anderson is executive director of Citizens for Limited Taxation. Her syndicated columns appear weekly in the Salem
News, Newburyport Times, Gloucester Times, (Lawrence) Eagle-Tribune, and Lowell Sun; bi-weekly in the Tinytown Gazette; and occasionally in the Providence
Journal and other newspapers.