Someone gave me a little wooden block to hang on my
wall. It says, "Live simply, laugh often, love much."
I am still working on life simplification, but laughing comes often to
those who love politics much.
For one thing, laughing is better than crying, which is the other option
when observing Massachusetts politics in action. But often there really
is a funny side to the news.
Take last week's story about Manuel Rivera, the incoming Boston school
superintendent who thought better of coming in. Most commentators seemed
puzzled by this. Why?
Those who dream about getting out of Massachusetts shouldn't wonder that
someone else isn't eager to come here.
Sure, the winters are generally milder here than in Rivera's present
location -- Rochester, New York. But according to friends of mine who
live there, the housing costs in Rochester are lower. Though Boston was
offering a high salary, it would take a lot more to get a comparable
home here -- and it might be on the other side of a badly constructed
tunnel, sitting on an earthquake fault.
Rochester isn't so far away that a savvy educator wouldn't have heard
about the infamous Massachusetts political culture he'd be entering. And
mentioned casually toward the end of one news account of his decision
not to come -- an item about a possible teachers' union strike this
Hey, if I were Manny Rivera, I'd have suddenly discovered a better offer
It's too bad. A school superintendent who has more sense than to come
here would probably have been, by definition, the best man for the job.
Quite a few people don't understand the role our political culture plays
in this being the only state to lose population last year. They think it
is all about the cost of housing, without grasping how our politics
plays a crucial part in elevating those costs.
They seem to understand that permitting and zoning difficulties prevent
many housing starts, and relate it to environmental and quality-of-life
issues. But rarely is there mention of the high property tax burden that
makes people want to discourage families with kids from moving into
town. And no, Governor Patrick, local option taxes won't help with this.
And then there are the ongoing assaults on the property rights of
landlords, who must put up with all kinds of abuse from tenants who
somehow in this state acquired their own "rights" at the property
owners' expense. I'd rather be superintendent of schools than a landlord
Now state Sen. Brian Joyce, D-Milton, has filed legislation to give any
Massachusetts college graduate who promises to stay here a $10,000 down
payment on a house or condo. This is immensely silly on so many levels.
For one thing, the money has to come from taxpayers, whose high
per-capita tax burden is one of the reasons productive people want to
leave. Second, giving a subsidy to first-time buyers just raises the
price of that house to what the market will bear -- in other words, what
that home would normally sell for, plus $10,000.
In the present housing market, this bill might help temporarily to get
sales moving again; but then the subsidy stops working. And prospective
buyers who haven't just graduated from college would have an even harder
time affording a home, especially when their taxes are being used to
subsidize their competition in the housing market.
Finally, most college graduates aren't looking to buy a home, here or
anywhere else. They deserve a few years trying out places, jobs and
roommates before they settle down. No reason they should tie themselves
to a mortgage just so Massachusetts doesn't lose a congressional seat.
No, bribing people to stay here isn't the answer. Neither is the kind of
nonsense that makes living here an entertaining embarrassment; e.g.,
Governor Patrick's plan to bribe the House and Senate to follow his
agenda by raising the pay of legislative leaders.
No, I'm not making this up. According to the Globe, the governor is
contemplating a deal to give key legislators "significant" pay raises in
return for leadership support for his plan to overhaul the state's
quasi-public agencies like the Massachusetts Turnpike Authority.
This is also wrong on many levels, the worst being the additional power
it would give to the Senate president and House speaker, since they are
the ones who would decide just who gets the significant extra pay -- in
return for which, one can assume, they would expect significant extra
loyalty. If the governor is going to bribe the Legislature with our tax
dollars, why not just give each individual legislator a big bonus
whenever he votes for one of the governor's bills?
If I had lots of money, could I do that to get a favorable vote on the
income-tax rollback or property tax relief? Probably, but then I'd go to
It's possible that this trial balloon was leaked just to see if anyone
responded with a reminder that bribery is illegal. One could also say
that if the governor has a good idea, legislators should do it for free!
Laugh often, taxpayers, laugh much.
Barbara Anderson is executive director of Citizens
for Limited Taxation. Her column appears weekly in the Salem News and
Eagle Tribune, and often in the Newburyport Times, Gloucester Times, and
Lowell Sun; bi-weekly in the Tinytown Gazette; and occasionally in the
Providence (RI) Journal and other newspapers.