Gov. Mitt Romney offered state lawmakers a $3,258 recession-era pay hike
yesterday - but legislative leaders, wary of instant controversy, are casting
around for ways to avoid the handout.
House Speaker Thomas M. Finneran and Senate President Robert
E. Travaglini insisted the 6.5 percent pay raise is "modest," but acknowledged the
symbolic stickiness of taking extra money amid the worst fiscal crisis since the
"It's very awkward," said Finneran, who now makes $85,000
per year. "A fair number of my colleagues have indicated that they will probably make some
type of charitable donation."
Retroactive to Jan. 1, the raise will drive lawmakers' base
pay up to $53,380, adding a combined $650,000 to the state's bottom line. Chairmen and other
legislative leaders make between $7,500 and $25,000 in added stipends.
The pay hikes come at a time when state programs for the
poor have been eviscerated to help plug a deficit exceeding $2 billion.
Meanwhile, private companies continue shedding jobs by the
hundreds and thousands, as the economy remains stagnant.
"It says that the Legislature is a special, privileged class
that gets raises when the rest of us don't," said Citizens for Limited Taxation chief
The stark contrast between private austerity and perceived
public excess prompted some lawmakers to immediately refuse the extra money.
Sen. Susan Tucker said she couldn't bring herself to grab
the cash after more than 5,800 state workers and "my neighbors in the private sector" lost their
jobs over the last 18 months. "There's a lot of economic pain out there, and I
think we should share in it," Tucker (D-Andover) said.
News of the looming pay raise sent most politicians
scurrying for cover - including Romney, who made the announcement via press release but refused
to appear publicly to discuss it.
Romney spokeswoman Shawn Feddeman insisted Romney merely
fulfilled his "mandate" under a 1998 voter-approved constitutional amendment to analyze
median household income data and recommend salary adjustments.
Even in bad economic times, median household income almost
always goes up - virtually guaranteeing legislative raises every two years.
"Gov. Romney has no discretion," Feddeman said. "It's a
mechanical action." Romney and Lt. Gov. Kerry Healey have opted to forgo their government
salaries - saving the state $1 million over four years.
That splashy bit of recent news had many rank-and-file
lawmakers on the defensive yesterday, bristling that they're not rich.
Rep. Thomas J. O'Brien said his family faced a "very
challenging" time last year, when he voluntarily took an eight-day, $1,800 furlough at Finneran's
behest, to show solidarity with laid-off workers.
O'Brien (D-Kingston) said he hasn't decided what to do about
the new pay raise. "If I were independently wealthy like the governor and lieutenant
governor, the decision would be a little bit easier," O'Brien said.
Romney spokesman Eric Fehrnstrom said Romney had not - and
would not - prevail on lawmakers to follow his lead and swear off their pay.
Some lawmakers said they'd gladly take the raise.
House Health Care Committee Chairman Harriett L. Stanley
said she's paid $6,400 out of her own pocket over the last year to travel to emergency
Medicaid conferences and to provide bonuses to her staff, whose salaries are
frozen due to the fiscal crisis.
"I feel like I've more than done my part for the Health Care
Committee and for the state," Stanley (D-West Newbury) said.
Romney aides said lawmakers could take the money now, opt to
defer it until the economy improves, or forgo it entirely.
Finneran and Travaglini said they would consider donating
their raises to charity - although Finneran cautioned he wanted to speak to his wife first.
Travaglini, confronting the first flap of his tenure as
president, called a closed-door caucus last night to take senators' temperatures - but indicated the
raise isn't a done deal.
"There's a lot to be said on the issue," Travaglini said.
"I'll have the full position of the Senate (today)."
With no signs of economic improvement in sight, Finneran
predicted that lawmakers could face an actual pay cut in two years. "It's not a constantly
rising escalator, nor should it be," Finneran said.
The State House News Service contributed to this report.
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The Boston Globe
Tuesday, January 7, 2003
Legislators mull tricky issue
of accepting increase in pay
By Stephanie Ebbert
Fresh from his own decision to work without pay, Governor
Mitt Romney yesterday unveiled a 6.5 percent pay raise he calculated for legislators, then
suggested they consider its fiscal impact and whether they should defer
But legislative leaders, asserting the right to make their
own decision, said they would meet privately with their members to see how they want to handle the
politically-charged issue of whether to take the raise.
The 6.5 percent pay increase would boost rank-and-file
members' salaries to $53,380. The state Constitution requires the governor to set the amount of the
increase, based on the change in the median household income over the prior
Lawmakers were in closed-door caucuses late yesterday
deciding what to do. The decision is not easy, given the state's fiscal crunch, and the likelihood that
other state workers will be laid off this year. The raise, which translates
to 3.25 percent annually for the two-year period, would cost $650,000.
Legislators were considering several options late yesterday,
including declining the raise altogether, delaying it to the next fiscal year in July, or leaving the
decision to individual legislators. Senate President Robert Travaglini said he
hoped senators would come to a consensus on whether to accept the raise -
rather than letting members individually decide.
Travaglini and House Speaker Thomas M. Finneran both said
they would consult with their families about their personal decisions on a raise. Finneran
also noted that members took unpaid furloughs to save the state money last
year and predicted that legislators could lose money two years from now,
if the median household income drops and their salary declines accordingly.
Some members, like Representative Michael Festa, a Melrose
Democrat, said it was a politically unwise time for them to accept more pay.
"The membership is not of a sentiment to want to take a pay
raise - not just for the political repercussions," said Festa. "This is just a gut sense that's out there.
When we make decisions that are hurting people, it isn't appropriate to want
to benefit ourselves."
Many legislators are feeling pressure from their constituents to decline the
higher pay. And last week, Romney offered an inaugural address that called for
drastic and immediate measures to stem the state's budget gap, suggesting
that lawmakers had overspent during the boom of the 1990s. And Romney and
Lieutenant Governor Kerry Healey, both millionaires, announced they will
forgo their own state salaries.
Romney communications director Eric Fehrnstrom said Romney
and Healey would not try to influence other people's personal financial decisions. But the
governor appeared yesterday to be hoping the legislators would decide to defer
the raise. After two meetings with legislative leaders yesterday, Romney held
off on officially changing their compensation. Fehrnstrom repeatedly said that
the decision was now "up to the Legislature."
The salary increases are intended to be automatic -
ironically, the result of a 1998 Constitutional amendment enacted by voters to take the politics out of
pay raises. Voters believed that routine pay increases, based on economic
factors, would prevent legislators from quietly voting themselves unpopular
large raises, said Barbara Anderson, executive director of Citizens for Limited
But this year, the pay raise has become a political hot
potato, tossed first by former Acting Governor Jane Swift. She declined to take action on the pay raise
before leaving office last week. On Friday, Romney determined the pay raise,
but refused to reveal it publicly until he could meet with legislators. And
yesterday, he and legislative leaders both stressed that they were not calling
for the raises, but fulfilling their constitutional roles.
"Governor Romney today met his constitutional mandate and
ascertained the median household income for the previous two years," Romney's press
secretary, Shawn Feddeman, said repeatedly. "It's a mechanical action.
Governor Romney has no discretion."
One challenge for Romney is that the Constitution requires
him to set the pay based on data that do not yet exist for 2002. The US Census Bureau estimates
the change of household income in the fall. Romney used data from the US
Census Bureau to determine the 2001 increase at 5.8 percent, and based the
projection for the year that just ended on the average growth during a similar
period of economic hardship, between 1989 and 1992. During that time, the
median income grew just .7 percent, according to the data.
Anderson said her group is urging Finneran to reverse the
automatic pay raise, and said legislators do not deserve pay raises based on their performance.
"They shouldn't take it at all until they show themselves
responsible enough to put the state on solid financial footing, our tax cuts have all been done and
initiative petitions have all been obeyed," said Anderson. "If they don't do what
the voters tell them to do, you don't get a pay raise."
Two years ago, under then-Governor Paul Cellucci, lawmakers
received a 7 percent pay hike.
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The Lawrence Eagle-Tribune
Sunday, January 5, 2003
Voters too wise to fall for this bill
By Taylor Armerding
You probably didn't realize it, but one of the first things
you need in the year 2003 is to be saved from yourself. But that, you see, is because you are
vulnerable to manipulation.
This favor comes courtesy of state Sen. Stanley C. Rosenberg, D-Amherst, yet
another in a long line of selfless legislators willing to put themselves on the line,
to stand up, to fight for us, the hapless, helpless, clueless average voters
Rosenberg has filed a bill that would make it much more
difficult to file citizens' initiative petitions to create or amend laws. Instead of requiring 72,000
certified signatures of registered voters to put a question on the ballot, his bill
would require 100,000 -- nearly 50 percent more.
We, in our clueless state, might think the good senator is
actually making this portion of the democratic process more difficult but hey, sometimes the serfs
must suffer a little pain so that, in the words of the Boss to Cool Hand Luke so
many years ago, we can "get our minds right."
We are apparently under the delusion that voters should
occasionally have a direct hand in passing laws, especially when legislators won't pay any attention
to them. We are under the delusion that the barriers to initiative petitions
should not be insurmountable.
Of course, if you listen to Sen. Rosenberg, you will be
reassured that this is not an attempt to disenfranchise those who seek to pass laws by popular vote. This
is all because of a national study that has concluded that initiative petitions are
open to manipulation by wealthy special interest groups.
Horrifying, isn't it. Who knew?
But, having observed things like this for several decades, I
suspect Sen. Rosenberg's bill has less to do with us being manipulated, and more to do with
the fact that, in last November's election, initiative petitions ordered drastic
reforms in a bloated bilingual education program that has been a colossal
failure, and came uncomfortably close to dumping the entire state income tax. I
suspect it has more to do with "the people" wielding something more than
It also makes me wonder if he has ever attended a Town
Meeting, or even a hearing at the Statehouse.
News bulletin to Sen. Rosenberg: EVERYTHING in politics is
open to manipulation. That's why the Statehouse is crawling with lobbyists, and not just
those representing the straw man of "wealthy" special interests. There are
plenty there in behalf of labor unions and tree huggers as well. That's why you
see poor kids in wheelchairs dragged to hearings on human services budgets.
Initiative petitions are no more manipulative than any
political campaign, including the most recent one that resulted in Sen. Rosenberg's re-election.
Every campaign is an effort to limit and control the information voters receive.
Every campaign seeks simple slogans to define complicated issues. When it is
done in his behalf, I suspect Rosenberg would call it "good political strategy," or
simple "educating the voters."
Ultimately, this is yet more political doublespeak on the
intelligence of voters. When politicians win, they are filled with effusive praise for the wisdom of
voters, who were "too smart to be fooled" by the campaign of the other guy.
So, senator, which is it? Are we smart or stupid? If we're
smart, then there is no need to "tweak" the initiative petition process to save us from manipulation.
If we're stupid, then maybe your own election results need to be tweaked.
Maybe you shouldn't even be in office, if you were placed there by people
too dumb to know any better.
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The Boston Herald
Sunday, January 5, 2003
Gov. seems to be going gangbusters
by Margery Eagan
We'll see what happens. But already our new governor is
backtracking, sidling up to the Axis of Evil, the Gang of Two - minus Shannon O'Brien, of course -
who stood beside him on Inauguration Day.
"(Romney) was talking about downsizing government. He may as
well have been speaking some foreign language for all Trav understood." So said
Barbara Anderson of Citizens for Limited Taxation about "gang" member and new
Senate President Robert Travaglini. "He's so much a part of the culture."
Then there's "gang" leader House Speaker Thomas Finneran. He
"absolutely thinks he's God's gift to Massachusetts," Anderson went on. Like he's got
Tourette's syndrome or something, he also seems to feel compelled to butt in
on everyone else's moment in the sun.
How old are your children? he asked Lt. Gov. Kerry Healey in
the midst of her swearing-in. "Enjoy them," he told her, as if this original gem could not hold a
minute or two.
At the risk of seeming obsessed with gene pools, let me
obsess about gene pools. On one side of the stage Thursday we had Sir Galahad, our governor,
who seems to walk, lightbulb-like, bathed in his own iridescence. Above him in
the balcony we had Ann, his very own Lady of the Lake - the body of water, as
all true Ann/Mitt aficionados know, which separated the lovers' private schools
way back when Ann was a blond equestrienne and Mitt a taut-bellied water
Did you catch Ann in the glistening Carolina Herrera number
at the inaugural ball? Where the Pops played "The Nearness of You" and Mr. and Mrs. Romney
gazed longingly into each other's eyes in a manner not seen since the Reagans
whirled about White House parquet?
"He's worth every dime we're not paying him," quipped
Democratic consultant Michael Goldman about Romney, who's taking no salary. Well, Michael, here's
what I'd like to be when I grow up: somebody who doesn't need my salary,
either, because I'm rich, rich, RICH! Somebody who can rise gracefully
above the fray because, at the end of the day, I can buy and sell these pesky peons a
million times over.
Now let's compare Sir Galahad and Lady of the Lake, paragons
of all that is fine and pure, calm and even humble (that Mormon thing again) with what the
scowling "Trav" and the glad-handing "Mr. Speakah" have come to represent.
That is, a grasping, greedy, conniving, and ever-desperate band of grifters who
do their best work, like things that crawl in the night, somewhere in the
slippery dark underbelly of this den of rogues and scam artists.
And then there's Jane, poor Jane, who wore the wrong-size
suit for her final walk down the State House steps. Couldn't her husband intervene? Her
mother? Not a single one of her girlfriends? Now the clerks of the House and
Senate must decide: will she even be listed as a former governor in the
General Court's official manual, or is she but an asterisk?
Yet as we said last spring when the inevitability of the
Romney ascension became clear, there's no disgrace to being driven out of town by the patriarch
of a family filled with Harvard degrees, to-die-for tennis serves, chiseled Taggs
and beauteous Jens, Joshes and Matts. Jane was totally outclassed, out
brained, out accomplished, out housed, spoused, clothed, coiffed and shod.
Now we'll see what happens when Harvard Business School
tangles with Suffolk Law, when high cheekbones meet low blows. Conventional wisdom says Dudley
Do-Right either plays ball with the Prince of Darkness, or takes his bully pulpit
to the suburbs and blames Finneran for everything.
That does beg the question, though, what's Romney's
superiority worth? Ex-contender George Bachrach advises Romney to beware of seeming too
"disdainful of people in the Legislature and the political process." Michael
Dukakis, too, came into office, mistakenly "thinking that being smart, honest
and right actually count."
Barbara Anderson, meanwhile, envisions an intriguing
scenario where Finneran actually helps Romney "because (Finneran's) afraid of being found out.
Everyone says we're in the worst fiscal crisis since the Depression. (Finneran's)
the guy who by his own admission was in charge of the world when the state
went down the tubes, who talked a good game about controlling spending but
couldn't.... He's counting on Romney to pull this off," she said, so he, the wily
knave, can take full credit, "for turning the state around."
Margery Eagan's radio show airs noon to 1 p.m. weekdays and 9
a.m. to noon Saturdays on 96.9 FM-Talk.
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The Boston Herald
Sunday, January 5, 2003
Clamoring starts for Romney's ear
by Elisabeth J. Beardsley
The honeymoon's over on Beacon Hill, and Gov. Mitt Romney is
about to find himself besieged by conflicting demands from deficit-panicked advocates,
ornery lawmakers, unrepentant tax-hikers and downtrodden businesses looking for a friendly
There's nothing unusual about such political clamor - only
about the way Romney intends to react.
"Mitt Romney doesn't owe anybody anything," said Romney
spokesman Eric Fehrnstrom. "He's his own person."
With the state facing the worst fiscal crisis since the
Great Depression, most of the demands will boil down to dollars and cents.
Advocates for programs for the poor, the sick and the
elderly are cringing in dread as Romney prepares to roll out his plans for consolidating the sprawling
health and human-services sector.
Fiscal watchdogs have cast doubt on Romney's ability to
solve a nearly $3 billion deficit through government restructuring alone - and indeed, Romney
has begun warning of the need for steep budget cuts.
"We fear that consolidation is simply a buzzword for
reducing services," said Massachusetts Human Services Coalition Director Stephen Collins. "We
certainly want to give Gov. Romney the full benefit of the doubt, but we have
So does Boston Mayor Thomas M. Menino, who said the state's
mayors want Romney to "understand our plight" as he and lawmakers mull massive cuts in
state aid to cities and towns.
Romney's determination to balance the budget without new
taxes is on a collision course with communities' duties to protect education progress and
promote affordable housing, Menino said.
"I question (whether) you can do it without raising revenues
through taxation," Menino said.
Legislative leaders have vowed to avoid further tax hikes,
but activists are already plotting to hit up the business community, which escaped largely
unscathed from last year's $1.4 billion tax hike.
The Massachusetts Budget and Policy Center [formerly TEAM,
"Tax Everything And More"], a liberal think tank, is backing a
package of 10 bills that have been filed to crack down on corporate tax evasion and repeal special
tax breaks granted to companies like Raytheon and Fidelity over the last
The emerging tax-hike coalition estimates the state could
save as much as $500 million by closing corporate "tax loopholes."
"Mitt Romney has said that he really wants to root out
waste, fraud and abuse in government," said the Center's policy analyst Jeff McLynch. "There's
nothing more abusive, wasteful and fraudulent than a lot of these schemes
corporations are engaged in."
But Romney's world view is shaped by his highly successful
ventures as a businessman, leading many observers to suspect that corporate interests will
have an edge at the bartering table.
Associated Industries of Massachusetts spokesman Brian
Gilmore said there's "nothing wrong" with a business-friendly governor - especially with the
economy in tatters.
But Gilmore said the corporate community doesn't have a
"direct pipeline" to Romney.
Beyond the fiscal crisis, Romney faces tall tasks in
fulfilling some of his less tangible campaign themes - for instance, kicking lobbyists to the curb and
recruiting minorities to top posts.
Throughout the campaign and in the early days of his
administration, Romney has raised a stink about lobbyists and their influence on public policy - even
banning family members of his top officials from lobbying state government.
But veteran Beacon Hill lobbyists are shrugging off the
rhetoric, noting that the real political power still lies with legislative leaders - who don't have a problem
"This is everything changes, everything stays the same,"
said longtime human services lobbyist Judy Meredith. "We've still got Tommy Finneran and we've
still got a more sympathetic, health-and-human-services Senate president."
Meredith added that she expects to make headway with Romney,
notwithstanding his charged rhetoric - simply by presenting "doable, achievable solutions" to "sympathetic, compelling
Romney also faces unrest from traditionally Democratic
groups who have expressed open suspicion of his conservative social views.
During his inaugural speech, Romney appeared to try to reach
out to women, gays and minorities, saying he would defend civil rights, "regardless of gender,
sexual orientation or race."
But the remarks fell flat with minority observers, who
pointed to the fact that Romney has only named one black person to a Cabinet position.
Sen. Dianne Wilkerson (D-Boston) said Romney is "way behind"
all three of his Republican predecessors in naming minorities to top posts - an issue that she
said won't merely "go away."
"Right now, it is not a diverse body," Wilkerson said.
Fehrnstrom countered that Romney has only made a "handful" of appointments, and insisted the
gubernatorial track record would eventually reflect Romney's drive, as Winter
Olympics chief, to hire minorities into 10 percent of the 1,000 available jobs.
"I would caution people against a rush to judgment,"
Fehrnstrom said. "Mitt Romney has an entire administration to hire."
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The Brockton Enterprise
Saturday, January 4, 2003
A road map for new governor
The next two months will tell us everything we need to know
about Gov. Mitt Romney and, more important, whether he will succeed or fail as a leader. The
key thing the only thing is the state budget; everything flows from that and if
Romney can succeed in getting that under control, all else is possible.
Romney already has shown a great appreciation for the
precarious economic state of affairs. This is in stark contrast to the Legislature, which is directly
responsible for the bloated budget and failure to contain spending. But just as
the Legislature spent like drunken sailors when it had money in the bank, it can
now cut back. Romney must attack the budget from the expense side and the
revenue side will take care of itself.
This will happen only if Romney is forceful and acts
quickly. He cannot allow the discussions to be dominated by politicians who already have failed or by
public employee unions which have a vested interest in ensuring that the
budget keeps growing. The most important person, as usual, is House Speaker
Thomas Finneran. If Finneran truly wants reform and wants to prove that he
really is a fiscal conservative, he will work closely with Romney to cut
expenses. If Finneran balks, Romney must take his case directly to the people,
hitting city halls and town meetings and whipping up a firestorm of opposition
to the Legislature.
There are many prongs to this approach. All of them will
hurt, but none will hurt as much as inaction. The people who will have to be the most flexible
public employees, including police, teachers and state workers are the ones who
benefited the most over the past decade. Now that the bill for the state's
inordinate largesse has come due, it is time for those who were rewarded to
These sacrifices will have to include:
* Repealing the Pacheco Law, which has cost the state
hundreds of millions of dollars by discouraging privatization and ensuring that state workers will have
good jobs at good wages until the end of time.
* Requiring these same state workers to pay more of their
health insurance costs. Most private-industry workers pay 30 percent or more of their health
insurance costs. State workers generally pay about half as much.
* Taking a good, hard look at spending on education.
Billions of dollars have been spent on education reform and, while much of the money has been
well-spent, much of it hasn't. It has led to a ridiculous situation in Brockton,
where teachers are demanding a huge raise, not because they deserve it or
need it, but because they perceive that the city has the money lying around.
* Dumping the Quinn Bill, which costs at least $75 million
in educational and we use that term loosely incentives for police officers. The system of police details
also needs to be drastically altered. If police want higher salaries and
communities think they deserve them, let them be built into a contract; don't
use bogus regulations that fool the public into thinking they are getting better
police work for their money.
* Combining the Highway Department and Turnpike Authority
and also streamlining dozens of other state agencies to get rid of dead wood, including
the cousins, boyfriends and other assorted friends and relatives of politicians
who have perfected patronage.
* Taking a good, hard look at how much aid is sent to local
communities. This one will hurt good and innocent people the most, but if there are cuts, it will
force efficiency and hard decisions on cities and towns that have not had to
make tough choices in many years.
Examining everything from state pensions to judicial
appointments, welfare spending to operating convention centers. Everything is now on the table; there
are no sacred cows this time around. The cuts must be deep and the reversal of
legislation must be dramatic. It is now or never for Massachusetts.
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The Boston Globe
Monday, January 6, 2003
A Boston Globe editorial
Curbing gas guzzlers
With so much attention being paid on Beacon Hill to bringing
the state deficit under control, Governor Mitt Romney might be tempted to set aside policy
initiatives that have no effect on the bottom line. But one that deserves a high
priority while the new governor still has a store of political capital is his
campaign promise to raise the auto excise tax on sport utility vehicles and
other gas guzzlers while lowering it for low-emission cars.
Such a scaling of the excise tax, which would only affect
vehicles produced from this year on, would be a small step the state could take to encourage the
purchase of cars that are less damaging to the environment. The governor also
backed a 10-year sales tax moratorium on hybrid gas-electric cars or other
vehicles with low emissions. Until state revenues are in better balance with
needs, a tax expenditure like this would be unwise, however desirable its
Romney's excise tax proposal, though revenue-neutral, would
still require the Legislature to amend Proposition 2½, the 1980 tax-limiting law. That law's
chief impact has always been on property taxes, but it also capped auto excise
taxes at 2.5 percent of a vehicle's value.
From time to time the Legislature has seen fit to amend the
law. A change in the excise tax to, for instance, a range from 1 percent for low-emission cars to 4
percent for the worst-polluting SUVs would be another amendment worth making.
Some SUVs are more fuel-efficient than the SUV average of
20.7 miles per gallon, and Ford this year will produce a hybrid version SUV. Small hybrids can
get more than 40 miles per gallon. Presumably a scaled excise tax would rely
on the Environmental Protection Agency's annual list of new models' fuel
efficiency in determining how much above or below 2.5 percent an individual
model's tax would be.
Barbara Anderson of Citizens for Limited Taxation opposes
the Romney plan on both practical and conceptual grounds. She says it would be difficult to
fine-tune the scale each year to keep it genuinely revenue-neutral. Beyond
that, she sees it as a case of "Big Mama government telling us how to live our
lives." "It annoys me especially when rich people who can afford to have more
than one car tell me who can only afford one car what I should have," she said.
But the Romney tax shift does not prohibit ownership of
heavily polluting cars; it simply forces their purchasers to pay more of their share of the health and
environmental costs that such vehicles carry. With the federal government
paralyzed on this issue by the influence of campaign contributions from
the petroleum and auto industries, a state like Massachusetts should take every
step it can to lead in reducing emissions that pollute the air and accelerate