we all believe in hope, at some point optimism becomes delusion; we
are past that point here in Massachusetts.
arrived in 1971, the taxes seemed strange to someone who had lived
in four other states. It took a while to connect this with the
political culture and its odd little corruptions.
As I saw
Salem for the first time, thrilled by proximity to 19th-century
literary genius, we passed Salem State College. This is where, I was
told, the library was built without taking into account the weight
of the books. Looking back, I have often thought that this was the
moment I should have cried: "Turn around, take me back to
construction scandals later, I began to see a pattern of
malfeasance. I treasure my T-shirt that reads, "I survived the
Massachusetts Miracle," left over from the Dukakis administration. I
need one that asks, "Together, can we survive the Patrick
thought we could, but am tired of waiting for the pension reform
package, not to mention the property tax relief.
started my career as a taxpayer activist, Salem's Kevin Harrington
was Senate president and Tom McGee of Lynn was House speaker. They
were tough, but I call those "the good old days." For later history,
you can read "The Brothers Bulger" by Howie Carr, which will bring
you up to date on commonwealth scandal to the current "Age of House
Speakers who Barely Avoid Prison Terms."
state's fiscal strategy has been the same for as long as I've known
it: During good economic times, spend yourself into fiscal crisis;
in the economic downturns, raise taxes; then start over with the
the major reasons for this now is our one-party system, in which
Democratic incumbents rarely feel threatened by Republican
challengers, no matter how viable they would be in another state. So
the members of the majority party do whatever they want in their own
the fault of the voters, who are taken in by the power of incumbency
almost every time. I still don't understand why this is more true in
Massachusetts than in other states, but it's the root of all our
we Bay State voters have had one advantage that citizens of half the
other states don't — the initiative petition process. Despite their
penchant for re-electing politicians who treat them badly, most
voters were usually able to make intelligent decisions directly on
issues through ballot questions — or at least so I thought and have
course I've been focused on those issues with which I was directly
involved, like the voters' creation of Proposition 2½, repealing a
legislative pay raise in 1988, term limits in 1994 (later thrown out
by the courts), the income-tax rollback in 2000, and the defeat of
the graduated income tax several times.
together we made some bad decisions, too: I voted in 1974 to allow
highway taxes to be used for mass transit (no one told us this would
mean that roads and bridges would deteriorate), and to cut the size
of the House from 240 to 160 members. (They told us it would save
money; instead it consolidated power in the House leadership.)
were some issues that I got right and the majority got wrong (in my
humble opinion): The property tax classification amendment in 1978,
declining the opportunity to repeal the prevailing wage law in 1988,
rejecting repeal of the Dukakis tax hikes in 1990, and giving the
Legislature constitutionally guaranteed pay raises in 1998.
the last election I thought: Win some, lose some, and continued to
revere the initiative process.
I wonder if voters still deserve it. In 2000 they had sense enough
to reject a petition to shut down greyhound racing; in 2008 they
passed it. Despite a 1978 ballot question that sends a voter
information booklet to each voter, not enough people read the
opposition arguments or gave any thought to what would happen to the
greyhounds when they lost their jobs.
racetracks and their unions ran a poor campaign, focusing on track
workers instead of the dogs. Animal lovers believed proponents'
stories of abuse, though greyhound owners are among the most
responsible dog owners in the state.
Massachusetts, the industry is carefully regulated and retiring
racers cannot be euthanized; when this new law goes into effect,
they will be shipped to other states or kept here to compete with
other dogs for adoption. Because of effective greyhound adoption
programs, they may be OK; but other dogs will die in their place.
situation is worse than it might be because of the recession, in
which people who are losing their homes or their jobs are giving
their pets to shelters. The last things these abandoned animals need
is competition from unemployed racing dogs.
didn't intend to hurt Fido. The law should be placed back on the
2010 ballot by legislators, which should also encourage everyone to
learn the truth about the issue before the next statewide election.
Then maybe the voters can redeem themselves, and the greyhounds.