I'm doing my political spring cleaning
before next week's solstice, when I plan to melt and mellow
into summer, as much as one can with the debt-ceiling debate
pending and the future of the country at stake.
May have to apologize for the optimistic column I wrote
earlier about the Massachusetts Legislature passing a budget
that, despite Democrats' traditional pandering to unions,
gave cities and towns management control over local health
care costs. Now we learn the Senate quietly added a
last-minute provision to require communities that join the
state's less costly Group Insurance Commission plan to pay
higher premiums for retirees, which would wipe out much of
It's clear that this deal was set up for the unions from the
beginning of the Senate debate in order to discourage the
reforms from happening at all. However, the final decision
will be made as the two branches work out their differences:
If the House prevails, we can again swallow our cynicism and
hope that the commonwealth's fiscal problems can be
Important to note that the Pioneer Institute, which has been
tracking state and municipal employee benefit liabilities,
says that health care has risen from roughly 7 percent to 14
percent of Massachusetts municipal budgets over the past 10
As the national debt crisis is coming to a head, the state
and local unfunded liabilities are coming to light, thanks
to a 1996 federal requirement that states and municipalities
calculate the cost of providing lifetime health insurance
for their employees for their Audited Financial Reports. A
recent report by the Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation says
that state's 50 largest cities have a $20-billion retiree
health care liability. And now the Massachusetts Senate
wants to make this situation worse.
According to the national Bureau of Labor Statistics, the
recession has existed primarily in the private sector.
Between January 2008 and June 2010, while the private sector
was losing roughly 8 million jobs, the public sector
workforce grew by 590,000. The federal stimulus plan used
more borrowed money to pay government salaries, adding to
the long-term problem.
Recently in Massachusetts, Gov. Deval Patrick has authorized
raises for executive branch managers — up to a 3-percent
raise in fiscal 2012, consistent with what most state
unionized employees will receive under the terms of a
long-term deal negotiated four years ago.
Meanwhile, there are springtime overrides on local ballots
asking private sector citizens who may not be getting pay
raises to pay higher taxes.
A newly-elected school committee member in Marblehead had a
question this week for concerned taxpayers in a letter to
the local weekly about the latest school override.
"Do you wish to huddle," John Connolly asked, "with the
grasping and the covetous who clutch their wallets?"
Have to share this with taxpayers in other communities who
also face scorn when they resist overrides.
Must say that I don't think it's a proper use of the word
"covet." One can't covet what one already has, just what
somebody else has. We taxpayers may cling to, but can't
actually covet, our own money.
Another override proponent suggests that voters shouldn't
say no to tax increases unless they attend all the meetings
and hearings around the proposed expenditure, coming up with
alternatives every step of the way.
If we want to resist new state taxes too, must we attend all
the meetings and hearings at the Statehouse? Whoa, wanting a
balanced federal budget is going to require a lot of flights
to Washington, D.C.!
I'd propose instead that override proponents tell us where
we should cut our own spending in order to pay for them.
Not that it's always about the money, which some of us can
afford; we just don't trust those local officials who
consider questions about priorities a distraction, to spend
Here's another interesting study that drifted into my
in-box. According to the Mercatus Center at George Mason
University, Massachusetts ranks 46th on the Freedom Index,
with New York at 50, New Hampshire first.
"The biggest fiscal problem for Massachusetts is debt, which
equals more than a quarter of personal income," the study
Meanwhile, on personal freedoms the state has highly
restrictive gun laws, a total fireworks ban, extremely
strict private and home school requirements, terrible
asset-forfeiture rules, etc.
Speaking of New Hampshire, I watched the so-called debate
held there Monday evening.
I suppose there's some benefit in seeing how candidates deal
with the chaotic formats used by Fox and CNN, but eventually
do you think some grown-ups will hold a real debate in which
everyone gets asked the same questions on, say, the debt
ceiling and Afghanistan, so we can compare?
What I remember most about the Monday event is the big-ego
host, John King, telling the candidates that there will be
no buzzers, they're on an "honor system" to keep their
answers brief; then for two hours as they spoke we heard him
in the background trying to interrupt. Annoying. I don't
blame viewers who switched to the hockey game.
Time to celebrate Father's Day, remembering the man who
taught me to avoid non-essential borrowing and not to covet
what other people have earned.