taxpayer activist, I often get calls from reporters who are looking
for comment on various issues. My favorites are those from
investigative reporters who have discovered something that no one
else yet knows, because I get to be outraged before anyone else.
month a crew from FOX25 News came to tell me about the recent
increase in state spending on food. The "FOX Undercover" report had
found that since 2007, the state's food bill has jumped to nearly
$22 million, including "close to $2 million in catering bills alone
many of us are paying closer attention than ever to food costs, we
might understand how the Department of Corrections spends a lot to
feed its prisoners. Less defensible, on the other hand, is the
half-million dollars spent on catered food for the Department of
Elementary and Secondary Education — which has nothing to do with
school lunches "for the children."
the FOX report, a memo was sent from the Patrick administration to
all cabinet secretaries, telling them to "refrain from purchasing
non-essential goods and services until further notice ..."
shocked me, though, was the fact that the governor's office itself
spent $4,500 last year on catered food that included "more than 100
cookies, danishes and other sweets," and that "Massachusetts spent
close to a half-million dollars on bottled water." What? Our state
government is spending taxpayer dollars on fat, sugar and dangerous,
President and Mrs. Obama, make them stop, before they drive up the
cost of health care!
televised statement was to the effect that I thought the state had
gotten over "the bottled water thing." Didn't we ratepayers fund all
those improvements in the Quabbin-to-city delivery system so that we
could drink water from our faucets?
government spokesman responded that "we don't have tap water in the
government responses are always the best part of these investigative
reporter who came to interview me was from WCVB-TV, which was
investigating state mosquito-control commissions. The station was
meeting resistance, however, from officials who said this was a
Homeland Security matter.
always thought that mosquito spraying, in communities that do this,
was the responsibility of local boards of health, perhaps with some
financial assistance from the state. Who knew that there are nine
mosquito control projects in Massachusetts, none of which answer
directly to the cities and towns they work for, and, according to
Channel 5, "can spend in virtual secrecy."
much do they spend. Well, according to the TV report, it amounts to
$10 million a year, including over $96,000 on trips to conferences
in mosquito-ridden places like Reno, Atlantic City, and, of course,
Orlando (checking out Mickey Mosquito?). Workers at Plymouth County
Mosquito Control attended eight conferences in a two-year period; as
many as 18 workers went to one of them.
Plymouth County mosquito superintendent told Team 5 that the trip
was necessary for licensing, but later said that was not correct.
they are not at conferences, project employees work full-time in
Massachusetts, where mosquitoes are a problem for maybe four months.
Northeast Mosquito Control's nine workers, based in Newburyport, can
occupy their time driving their 23 trucks. But Bristol Country
Mosquito Control workers are keeping busy suing the state for trying
to stop their pay raise.
Legislature recently passed a law, according to Team 5, giving these
projects "the right to hire and fire whoever they choose and
increase their salaries whenever they want."
Patrick vetoed this legislation, but legislators overrode his veto.
Don't we have a state budget crisis?
investigative teams and others report news items about state waste
every week. Before those about the catered lunches and expensive
mosquito trappers, I was asked to comment on legislators' per diems
and federal tax breaks that double-cover their travels to and from
the Statehouse. Beacon Hill Roll Call discovered that for several
decades, "the W-2 tax forms received by thousands of former and
current legislators have not included millions of dollars" in state
money used to pay their daily travel expenses.
reporter called to ask about proposed local-option income taxes in
Lexington. Had to object to that: Taxpayers in Lexington may be
masochists, but something like this could spread to other
communities like the local meals tax has.
of which, I've been asked to comment on the increase in the
statewide, 6.25 percent meals tax to 7 percent as a matter of local
option. All I can say is that I'm going to miss eating in Peabody
and Beverly. Thanks to a Town Meeting voting rejecting the tax,
however, I can still go to Papa Gino's and Brothers in Danvers.
used to this stuff that I sometimes tell reporters that if they
can't reach me before deadline, just quote me as saying, "That's
sometimes it's beyond outrageous; it's obscene.
call from a reporter last week telling me that the state "fee" on
self-paying nursing home patients has increased from its original
$9.60 in 2002 to $19.17 per day. Yes, that's an almost $7,000-a-year
penalty for not being on Medicaid and a burden to the commonwealth —
which, by the way, is cutting payments to nursing homes this year.
should just stop answering the phone.