CITIZENS   FOR  LIMITED  TAXATION
and the
Citizens Economic Research Foundation

 

CLT UPDATE
Tuesday, August 5, 2003

CLT requests equal treatment in fundraising from OCPF


Continuing his public fight with the state's labor unions, Governor Mitt Romney wants to prevent state employees from steering 50 cents a week from their paychecks into union political action committees, because, Romney says, the system unfairly favors unions that tend to support Democrats.

The Boston Globe
Tuesday, August 6, 2003
Romney fights union on PAC contribution


More than 4,600 state workers - or about 10 percent of the public workforce - give to their union's PAC by allowing deductions from their paychecks each week.

The state comptroller's office handles the payouts, raising questions from the Romney administration about the legality of state time and manpower being spent on political fund-raising.

"People will be shocked to hear that their tax dollars are facilitating an anti-reform message on Beacon Hill," said Romney communications director Eric Fehrnstrom. "The unions have one agenda: to stop reform and raise taxes."

The Boston Herald
Tuesday, August 5, 2003
Gov targets employees' payments to union PACs


However, if, despite everything we thought we understood about campaign finance law, this sort of state support for raising political money is allowed, we would like to request the same privilege. Since all state employees are taxpayers, Citizens for Limited Taxation would like to offer them the opportunity to have regular contributions to CLT taken automatically from their paychecks, too.

CLT Letter to OCPF
August 5, 2003


Former state Senate president Thomas F. Birmingham emptied the Senate's operating accounts in his final six months in office, approving tens of thousands of dollars for food and drinks, printing expenses, and floor coverings, state records show.

Much of the spending, which left the Senate with a $2 million budget gap, took place during and after Birmingham's unsuccessful run for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination, records show. His term expired Jan. 1.

The Boston Globe
Tuesday, July 29, 2003
Senate president facing predecessor's fiscal gap


"This isn't the Senate's doing, this is Birmingham's, and it shows that when you've got an old-fashioned pol running for governor, he'll use his position of power and his influence to give himself an advantage. Fortunately, it didn't help him," said Barbara Anderson of Citizens for Limited Taxation.

The Boston Herald
Wednesday, July 30, 2003
Senate hamstrung by Birmingham's spree


Senate President Robert E. Travaglini yesterday told his colleagues they will need to cut about $1.2 million from the Senate's payroll to make up a budget deficit. He's blaming his predecessor for the shortfall.

But state accounting records obtained by the Globe show that Travaglini had a role in the spending, getting temporary work at the Senate for his niece, his neighbor, a former state senator from his home neighborhood of East Boston, and an 85-year-old former skate club coach who once served as Travaglini's campaign manager.

The Boston Globe
Wednesday, July 30, 2003
Travaglini had hand in Senate's shortfall


The state Senate is quietly trying to close a $2.3 million deficit in its operating budget run up in the final months of former state Senate President Thomas F. Birmingham’s tenure....

Although the expenditures appear to have been legal, such largess at a time when lawmakers were cutting deeply into programs and local aid was ill-timed at best.

Why did he do it? To reward pals? As an expression of contempt for taxpayers? Or, perhaps just because he could?

A Telegram & Gazette editorial
Friday, August 1, 2003
Expensive exit
Ex-Senate president left fiscal mess behind


State taxpayers coughed up an extra $800,000 this year that they probably didn't have to pay. Some did it out of the goodness of their hearts while others likely did it out of fear.

Fear was the more productive motivator, as the state for the first time inserted a line on its 2002 tax forms to collect use tax on items purchased elsewhere and used here. The hard-to-enforce tax attempts to recover sales taxes lost when residents buy taxable items in states or countries with no sales tax or a smaller sales tax than Massachusetts. All taxpayers sign their returns under penalty of perjury.

State officials said 8,225 tax returns, or 0.3 percent of the total processed so far, yielded nearly $526,000 in use taxes....

There also were 1,642 taxpayers who voluntarily agreed to pay at a higher income tax rate. They paid $198,149 more by choosing the optional rate of 5.85 percent, rather than the official 5.3 percent rate.

LeBovidge was surprised any taxpayer agreed to pay more, but Citizens for Limited Taxation, the organization that filed the legislation giving taxpayers that option, said it was surprised at the paltry turnout.

Barbara Anderson, executive director of CLT, said sarcastically that she had expected the 1 million people who voted against the income tax rollback in 2000 to pay at the higher rate.

"We thought they would all pay the higher rate," she said.

The Boston Globe
Friday, August 1, 2003
Taxpayers give extra $800,000


The override vote not taken in the matter of Speaker Finneran's power grab could prove the year's most important political development. The non-action came about in part because of an odd left-center-right coalition for reform: CPPAX, a liberal lobby that emerged from Vietnam War protests in the 1960s; Common Cause, a good-government lobby, founded by the late Health, Education and Welfare Secretary John Gardner; and Citizens for Limited Taxation, a small-government lobby. This "coalition of the unwilling" issued a joint press release on July 8 opposing any more power for the House speaker and Senate president.

Flummoxed legislators then had to decide whose retaliatory power they fear more -- that of Messrs. Finneran and Travaglini or that of the electorate....

The Providence Journal
Thursday, July 24, 2003
Finneran's loyalty to bloatocracy
By David A. Mittell Jr.


Gov. Mitt Romney last week quietly approved a nursing home bed tax, after his office took a flood of phone calls saying it was needed to give the industry more money....

The tax will generate $145 million from nursing homes, which will be matched by the federal government. The total will be returned to nursing homes through higher Medicaid rates.

The Boston Herald
Tuesday, July 29, 2003
Nursing home tax gets ringing endorsement


Tired of what they view as wasteful government spending and a lack of accountability, residents have launched the Framingham Taxpayers Association to serve as a fiscal watchdog over the town's budget and prevent future overrides....

The Framingham Taxpayers Association is one of a number of groups that has emerged in the face of attempts to override Proposition 2˝, the state law that caps how much municipalities can increase property taxes, said Chip Faulkner, associate director of Peabody-based Citizens for Limited Taxation, the largest taxpayers association in the state....

Although the group has yet to map out any concrete plans, it has already met with officials from North Andover's tax association, which helped trounce a $4 million override in April 2002.

In North Andover, there have been 34 override questions on the ballot since 1986, but last year, 67 percent of voters rejected a proposal, according to Ted Tripp, president of the North Andover Taxpayers Association. The group, which started with four members, now has about 200 members and is growing.

"These associations are important to watch over spending and to make sure the town doesn't tax beyond the capacity of their residents," Faulkner said.

The Boston Globe
Tuesday, August 6, 2003
Fiscal concerns prompt taxpayers association
Group's primary goal is avoiding tax cap overrides


Chip Ford's CLT Commentary

I couldn't take two straight weeks of vacation away from all this, so I cut it short after one. How much free time can one person take? (Actually, sailing for a week in nothing but thick fog, torrential downpours and violent thunderstorms with more of the same forecast right through this week drove me back to land, dry or not!) If you're interested, you can see a few pictures of the two cruises, one solo, from Marblehead to the South Shore aboard "Chip Ahoy" (Barbara named my boat!) by clicking here.

So I'm back after a week's vacation and it's time to catch up, get active again, and today we did just that. Who ever thought the state had become a collection agency for union PAC contributions? That's what's been going on at taxpayer expense, and the union PACs are now using those state-collected funds to run ads advocating tax increases!

Fair's fair, so today we sent a request to the state Office of Campaign and Political Finance requesting the same opportunity. If we can recruit 4,000 new CLT members and have the state administer collection of each's 50˘ every week that'd add $104,000 to CLT's annual budget -- think of the advertising we can do with that!

We now await OCPF's response ... though are not holding our collective breath or counting on the windfall.

*                    *                    *

So Tom Birmingham left the Legislature and the Senate presidency and left his former colleagues holding the bag, the Senate budget in the hole,  after overspending it into oblivion and then some on all sorts of perks while running for governor. This is not surprising, considering that he did the same with the state budget.

The doldrums of summer are great for this kind of revealing report, when there is little other political news that demands any political journalist's attention. Just count your blessing Tom Birmingham is not the governor, digging us taxpayers into an even deeper hole.

*                    *                    *

What? Only 1,642 taxpayers opted to pay the old and higher income tax rate, adding only $198,149 to the state's coffers? Where did the other million-plus go who voted against our income tax rollback, you know, the ones who claimed that they "didn't need or want it"? Don't they care about "the children" any more, about "the most vulnerable among us"? 

They sure "need and want it" now -- for their "slice of pizza, can of Pepsi a week." Another million taxpayers crying out "no new taxes" does help change the Beacon Hill equation, considering we now have a near-unanimous vote against raising the rate any higher.

*                    *                    *

The number of local taxpayers who've had enough and don't intend to take it any more is growing by leaps and bounds, and they've begun to organize local municipal taxpayer groups modeled after some of the successful existing ones, like the North Andover Taxpayers Association. Chip Faulkner is our point-man on providing guidance and assistance to prospective new taxpayer groups, and longtime CLT members like Ted Tripp of North Andover and others are already providing advice and a helping hand.

Proposition 2˝ overrides are falling like dominoes. Today, the Worcester Telegram & Gazette reported that in Templeton, "A near-record number of voters turned out yesterday and defeated all three requests to raise taxes."

"No new taxes" has taken hold universally and is spreading. Toleration and apathy have finally reached critical mass. Taxpayers are fighting back for their survival.

Now if we could just find another group that would keep the Legislature and governor from squeezing the revenue balloon: Citizens for Limited Fees!

Chip Ford


The Boston Globe
Tuesday, August 6, 2003

Romney fights union on PAC contribution
By Joanna Weiss, Globe Staff


Continuing his public fight with the state's labor unions, Governor Mitt Romney wants to prevent state employees from steering 50 cents a week from their paychecks into union political action committees, because, Romney says, the system unfairly favors unions that tend to support Democrats.

In a letter delivered yesterday to the director of the Office of Campaign and Political Finance, Romney's chief legal counsel challenged the voluntary payroll deduction, which is used by about 12.5 percent of the state's eligible employees. Administration officials say the program raises $435,000 per year for state employee union PACs, many of which opposed Romney in 2002.

"We wouldn't allow the Republican Party to raise funds through an automatic payroll deduction plan for state employees, and we shouldn't allow these union PACs to raise money this way either," said Eric Fehrnstrom, Romney's communications director. "If the campaign finance office determines that this practice is legal, I think it opens the door for other political organizations to raise money the same way."

The letter was delivered on the day two state unions started airing anti-Romney radio ads, criticizing the governor for not considering taxes to plug the state budget shortfall. However, Fehrnstrom insisted that the timing was a coincidence.

Union leaders said yesterday that Romney, a Republican, was targeting a common and longstanding union fund-raising tool.

"They must spend their whole waking hours thinking about ways to go after labor," said Rich Marlin legislative director of the Massachusetts AFL-CIO, which spent $12,000 on one anti-Romney ad.

David J. Holway, national president of the National Association of Government Employees, said through a spokeswoman that he supports the idea of allowing other political groups to take payroll deductions. NAGE is affiliated with the Service Employees International Union. "State workers should be able to contribute to any committee and political education fund they want to and give as much money as they want to," said Lesa Lessard, national spokeswoman for SEIU-NAGE. "President Holway was bemused that the governor and the legal counsel had all this free time to think about the right of free speech for state workers."

The issue of union deductions has sparked fierce partisan battles in a number of states. In 1988, the US Supreme Court ruled that workers could not be forced to pay for their unions' political, social, or charitable contributions.

Since then, several states have considered so-called "paycheck protection" legislation, which prohibits using union dues for political purposes without workers' express consent, said Justin Marks, a research analyst at the National Conference of State Legislatures.

In Massachusetts, union members must agree to make the donations, set at 50 cents per week under a collective bargaining agreement, before the deductions can be taken. In all, 4,630 employees participate in the program, out of 37,000 employees who are eligible, according to the Romney administration.

In his letter to the Office of Campaign and Political Finance, Dan Winslow, Romney's chief legal counsel, also questioned whether the payroll deductions, which are sometimes explained to workers in fliers distributed at the office, amount to illegal campaigning on state property. Winslow also asked whether it was fair for unions to receive the payroll deduction without paying administrative costs.

But Lessard, the NAGE spokeswoman, said the state also uses payroll deductions for parking fees, on-site day care fees, and the United Way. She said her union's leadership "wonders if the governor wants United Way to pay for its overhead costs, too."

Romney's candidacy for governor was opposed last year by most unions, and he has sparred with labor since taking office in January. Last month, Romney ended a deal that allowed 12 state employees who were members of the NAGE to collect a combined $540,000 per year from the public payroll, while spending much of their work time on union business. The union challenged the decision, and a Suffolk Superior Court judge ruled that the governor had the right to end the deal.

That practice was part of a little-known pact with NAGE, signed three years ago by Governor Paul Cellucci, a Republican who had run for office in 1998 with unions' support.

The 50-cent-per-week union payroll deduction was put in place under a collective bargaining agreement signed in 1997, when Cellucci was acting governor.

Originally, state unions had used a negative checkoff process, in which the deduction was automatically made unless a union member requested otherwise, said Brad Balzer, deputy director of the Office of Campaign and Political Finance.

In 2000, Balzer said, the Office of Campaign and Political Finance changed the practice to a positive checkoff, in which workers must specify that they want the deduction to be made. The change was made after the office found several NAGE violations of campaign finance laws, including excess campaign contributions, Balzer said. NAGE paid a $30,000 settlement to the state at the time. Balzer said his office has ruled in the past that positive checkoffs for union PACs are legal, as long as they are part of collective bargaining agreements. But he said his office has to review some of the Romney administration's other charges and will probably issue a ruling in four to six weeks.

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The Boston Herald
Tuesday, August 5, 2003

Gov targets employees' payments to union PACs
by Elizabeth W. Crowley


In another clash with organized labor, Gov. Mitt Romney is trying to halt the funneling of more than $400,000 a year in state employee pay to union-controlled political action committees.

More than 4,600 state workers - or about 10 percent of the public workforce - give to their union's PAC by allowing deductions from their paychecks each week.

The state comptroller's office handles the payouts, raising questions from the Romney administration about the legality of state time and manpower being spent on political fund-raising.

"People will be shocked to hear that their tax dollars are facilitating an anti-reform message on Beacon Hill," said Romney communications director Eric Fehrnstrom. "The unions have one agenda: to stop reform and raise taxes."

Union officials said the weekly payouts are a form of free speech for public employees and are no different than other voluntary payroll deductions for such things as union dues or the United Way.

"Knowing that the governor is attacking it, we're hoping a lot more people will sign up for the deductions," said Service Employees International Union treasurer Stephen Lewis.

In a letter sent to the state Office of Campaign and Political Finance yesterday, Romney's chief legal counsel Daniel Winslow questioned the fairness of allowing one type of PAC access to the public payroll without giving it to other political organizations with different viewpoints.

"I'm in full agreement with Gov. Romney," quipped David Holway, president of the National Association of Government Employees. "State workers should be able to contribute to any (PAC) fund that they want to and give as much money as they want to." Four unions representing 37,000 state employees have PAC payroll deductions in their contracts. The unions use the money to promote labor-friendly candidates, mostly Democrats.

Another round of union-sponsored radio ads attacking Romney and calling for "support for revenues" began airing yesterday just as Winslow's request for a ruling from the campaign finance office landed. Fehrnstrom said the timing was purely coincidental but that the ads, "demonstrate the unions' agenda."

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CLT Letter to OCPF
and news release

August 5, 2003

Michael J. Sullivan, Director 
Office of Campaign and Political Finance
One Ashburton Place, Room 411
Boston MA 02108

Dear Director Sullivan,

Having just read items in the Boston Globe and Boston Herald about the taxpayer-funded privileges given to some state employee unions, I am writing to:

1.  Object to taxpayer-funded privileges given to state employee unions, or;

2.  Request that the same privilege be extended to taxpayers themselves.

We were surprised to learn that taxpayer money, state buildings, and state employees are being used to support political campaign fund-raising by special interest groups.

However, if, despite everything we thought we understood about campaign finance law, this sort of state support for raising political money is allowed, we would like to request the same privilege. Since all state employees are taxpayers, Citizens for Limited Taxation would like to offer them the opportunity to have regular contributions to CLT taken automatically from their paychecks, too.

Since their money, and that of private sector taxpayers, is used to fund state payroll administrators, their offices and their postage, it’s only fair that they should be able to utilize state resources to support a group that has saved them money through taxpayer activism, initiative petitions, and support for pro-taxpayer candidates to the state Legislature.

I note the union ads are currently running that ask people to support tax hikes. We would pledge to use the contributions we received from our payroll deduction to run ads asking people to oppose tax hikes and support tax cuts.

I’m sure you would agree that this would create a nice balance – at least until all the other activist entities request the same privilege, at which time the state payroll system becomes a fund-raising free-for-all. The more the merrier, I say.

Thank you for your consideration. We look forward to your response.

Sincerely,
Barbara Anderson
Executive Director
Citizens for Limited Taxation

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The Boston Globe
Tuesday, July 29, 2003

Senate president facing predecessor's fiscal gap
By Raphael Lewis and Rick Klein, Globe Staff


Former state Senate president Thomas F. Birmingham emptied the Senate's operating accounts in his final six months in office, approving tens of thousands of dollars for food and drinks, printing expenses, and floor coverings, state records show.

Much of the spending, which left the Senate with a $2 million budget gap, took place during and after Birmingham's unsuccessful run for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination, records show. His term expired Jan. 1.

Current Senate president Robert E. Travaglini has summoned fellow Democratic senators to a closed-door meeting today to outline the spending problems and discuss mandatory staff furloughs and possible layoffs. The $2 million spending gap represents about 12 percent of the Senate operating budget for this year.

Yesterday, Travaglini and his staff declined to comment on the specifics, but have previously insisted that the new Senate president had been careful to control spending since learning of the budget shortfall shortly after taking office.

"In the middle of the budget year, we inherited a shortfall," Ann Dufresne, Travaglini's spokeswoman, said in a recent interview. "We've been trying to get a handle on what exactly the figures are. We've instituted some efficiencies. There's no more webcasting; there's no more clipping service. Long-distance services have been curtailed in the senators' offices. We went through everything, from the gold seal on the stationery."

The Senate president approves most spending for office operations in his arm of the Legislature, including budgets for staff appointments, meals, and travel for himself and his 39 fellow senators.

Birmingham, who is in private practice at the law firm of Palmer & Dodge, did not return calls seeking comment.

To compensate for some of the budget problems, Travaglini cut spending in his first six months in office by roughly $500,000 from the level of spending under Birmingham, records show. Travaglini also sought a $1.2 million budget increase for Senate operations in the current fiscal year, which began July 1. Governor Mitt Romney vetoed that money, saying that all state agencies must sacrifice in the new, lean times.

House leaders did not attempt to override that veto during budget deliberations, leaving Travaglini with little choice but to make unpopular cuts with senators who are already griping about unfilled staff openings and furniture needs.

Salaries are by far the biggest chunk of the Senate's operating budget. Travaglini has resisted cutting any positions even though it would appear to be the only way to bridge the budget gap, according to spending records obtained from the State Comptroller's office. In the fiscal year that ended June 30, both Travaglini and Birmingham spent about $1.3 million a month on salaries.

The records show that Travaglini inherited most of his problems. In spring 2002, as Birmingham prepared his run for governor, he submitted a Senate spending plan that cut the legislative body's appropriations for the first time in several years, from roughly $18 million to $16.6 million.

Doing so created the appearance that Birmingham was curtailing spending, but comptroller's records show that under Birmingham, spending for the first six months of the fiscal year put the Senate on pace to spend $19.6 million, or $3 million more than appropriated.

To make up some of the difference, Birmingham tapped into $1.5 million in reserve funds that the Senate had accumulated over the course of several boom years. But that wasn't enough.

According to the records, on Dec. 30, 2002, one of Birmingham's last days in office, he and House Speaker Thomas M. Finneran transferred another $1.5 million into the Senate's coffers from a joint legislative account. That was enough to cover the pace of spending that Traviglini inherited from Birmingham, but for only six months.

Finneran did not seek more money for House operations in the current year's budget, and told a recent media gathering that he had done much to achieve spending discipline.

"Across the board, there has been a request and an expectation that the sacrifices will be shared," Finneran said.

Travaglini has brought in auditors to understand the full scope of the spending problem. However, Dufresne declined to provide the Globe with a copy of that audit, saying it was an ongoing examination.

Under Travaglini, the pace of spending dropped slightly and the Senate ended the fiscal year having spent $19 million, $2.4 million beyond the budget appropriation for the legislative body. The records show that Birmingham's expenditures reached a peak during the weeks and months immediately preceding the September primaries, although there is nothing in the records to suggest that the spending was campaign-related. It is a violation of state campaign finance laws to spend office accounts on a political campaign.

For example, from Aug. 19, 2002, to Aug. 22, 2002, Birmingham's Senate accounts spent almost $3,000 at Joe Tecce's and Sam La Grassa's, two area restaurants. Another $2,000 tab came due later in the year at a Beacon Hill bar, the 21st Amendment, records show.

It is legal, and considered common courtesy, for Senate and House leaders to buy meals for staffers and fellow lawmakers during arduous, late-night budget sessions, but they had a light schedule at that time. According to State House News Service archives, the Senate met for a total of 39 minutes Aug. 19-22, 2002.

Also, in his last three months in office Birmingham spent about $13,000 for floor coverings at Boston Carpet Inc. Comptroller's records show that some of that cost was incurred in February, after Birmingham had left office, but the purchases were actually made in December 2002, according to other spending records obtained by the Globe.

The Senate's financial problems were exacerbated in late December when Birmingham handed out $214,000 in payments for unused vacation time to four top staffers who had worked with him for much of his 10-year state Senate career. They were entitled to the payments under a since-revoked provision that allowed them to use compensatory time in lieu of vacation time and save an unlimited number of vacation days.

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The Boston Herald
Wednesday, July 30, 2003

Senate hamstrung by Birmingham's spree
by Elizabeth W. Crowley


Pay cuts, furloughs and layoffs loom over state Senate staffers caught in the wake of a spending spree by former Senate President Thomas F. Birmingham that has blown a $2.3 million hole in the chamber's budget.

The Chelsea Democrat spent Senate money on everything from meals to carpeting at the same time he was running for governor, records show. After he lost the race and just before he left the Senate earlier this year, he showered four loyal staffers with more than $200,000 for unused vacation time.

Despite the budget mess, most senators held their fire yesterday, refusing to criticize their former leader.

"Maybe the former Senate president did some things on the way out, but we've got to move forward," said Sen. Steven Tolman (D-Brighton).

Birmingham's successor, Robert E. Travaglini (D-East Boston), has cut more than $800,000 so far, but senators said he'll have to cut staffers to make up the rest.

Birmingham did not return repeated phone calls to his Boston law office yesterday, and Travaglini left the State House without offering any public comment.

"This isn't the Senate's doing, this is Birmingham's, and it shows that when you've got an old-fashioned pol running for governor, he'll use his position of power and his influence to give himself an advantage. Fortunately, it didn't help him," said Barbara Anderson of Citizens for Limited Taxation.

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The Boston Globe
Wednesday, July 30, 2003

Travaglini had hand in Senate's shortfall
By Rick Klein and Raphael Lewis
Globe Staff, Globe Correspondent


Senate President Robert E. Travaglini yesterday told his colleagues they will need to cut about $1.2 million from the Senate's payroll to make up a budget deficit. He's blaming his predecessor for the shortfall.

But state accounting records obtained by the Globe show that Travaglini had a role in the spending, getting temporary work at the Senate for his niece, his neighbor, a former state senator from his home neighborhood of East Boston, and an 85-year-old former skate club coach who once served as Travaglini's campaign manager.

All told, the records show, Travaglini and former Senate president Thomas F. Birmingham spent at least $437,000 on temporary employees in the past year - roughly one-third of the total that the Senate is now being asked to cut.

The details emerged as Travaglini conducted a tense, three-hour closed-door meeting yesterday with fellow Democrats, where he warned that about 20 Senate aides would probably have to be laid off. He also asked the senators to come up with plans for trimming their staffs, including furloughs and pay cuts. 

Yesterday, the Globe reported that Birmingham burned through several hundred thousand dollars in his final months in office, paying for office rugs, meals, travel, and conferences. At the Senate caucus, much of the senators' discussion centered on Birmingham, but the records reviewed by the Globe show that the presiding president racked up $172,000 on pay for temporary Senate aides since January, even after the spending crisis was apparent.

Anthony Marmo, a well-known East Boston figure and a longtime friend of Travaglini's, remained on the Senate payroll at $400 a month even as the budget problems mounted. Marmo, 85, managed Travaglini's campaigns in his first runs for the Senate and founded a girls' hockey team Travaglini would later coach.

"It's only $100 a week," said Marmo, who now lives in Winthrop. "If they have to cut me let them cut me; what the hell's the difference. But I hope they don't take it away from me."

Marmo, who spent 18 years working for the city of Boston as a building inspector, said yesterday that Travaglini helped land him the job with the state Senate about three years ago, and said he helps organize community events out of Travaglini's Senate district office. He said he also answers questions from elderly residents about prescription drug coverage and housing issues. 

The Senate is also paying former senator Michael LoPresti Jr. of East Boston $12,000 a year as a "temporary employee," assigned to the office of Senator Robert S. Creedon Jr. of Brockton. In 1992, Travaglini won the state Senate seat LoPresti represented for two decades. LoPresti, whose hiring date could not be determined yesterday, did not return calls.

Alaina Travaglini, the Senate president's niece, served as a paid summer intern last year in Travaglini's office, making $3,300 over three months, records show. She did not return calls. It was unknown when she was hired.

One of the Senate president's neighbors on Saint Andrew Road in East Boston, Jacquelyn Rosatto, made at least $6,500 over the last six months of 2002 before being hired to Travaglini's staff earlier this year. She now works in his district office, and did not return a call seeking comment.

Travaglini's spokeswoman, Ann Dufresne, defended all of them: "I think they are people who are capable of doing the job, who are familiar with the district, and people who have proved that they can deliver what the president needs." She added that Travaglini cleared the hiring of his niece with the state Ethics Commission first.

Asked if Travaglini had any plans to curtail temporary salary expenditures, Dufresne said, "That's a difficult question. 

"They're essential services. What's the bottom line, that the Senate needs to be able to run the Senate efficiently? We've said everything is on the table."

She said the Senate president has done all he could to rein in spending since taking office. She said he has sheared $835,000 from perennial Senate expenditures, such as news clipping services, long distance telephone service, webcasts of Senate sessions, even gold leaf on the stationery.

He had sought to avoid layoffs, however, and requested an additional $1.2 million for Senate spending in the new state budget, but Governor Mitt Romney vetoed that request. 

Birmingham, now in private practice as a lawyer, did not return calls yesterday seeking comment. 

Travaglini, too, wouldn't answer reporters' questions after the caucus meeting yesterday. 

The Senate finished fiscal 2003 on June 30 having spent $2.4 million more than was budgeted for its office accounts. Given those spending levels, which included some expenditures unlikely to repeat this year, Senate leaders expect a shortfall of about $2 million in fiscal 2004. With $830,000 in cost-cutting measures already in place, another $1.2 million remains to be cut.

Confronted yesterday for the first time with the stark fiscal picture of the Senate's finances, senators expressed bewilderment that Birmingham let spending outpace his budget. Several said they were disappointed. 

"I would have expected that anyone holding that office would manage it appropriately," said state Senator Richard T. Moore, Democrat of Uxbridge. 

Besides the $830,000 already cut, Senate leaders hope an additional $350,000 in permanent savings can be achieved through the state's early retirement program. The rest of the $2 million budget gap will probably come from salary cuts, including layoffs.

"My feeling is it's our house, and it's time we gave it a clean sweep," said Senator Steven C. Panagiotakos, a Lowell Democrat who is vice chairman of the Senate Ways and Means Committee.

Travaglini plans to meet with all senators individually over the coming week to discuss ways to address the budget shortfall. He hopes to present a formal plan for spending reductions to his colleagues within 10 days, Senate Ways and Means chairwoman Therese Murray said.

Globe correspondent Brendan McCarthy contributed to this report.

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The Worcester Telegram & Gazette
Friday, August 1, 2003

Editorial
Expensive exit
Ex-Senate president left fiscal mess behind


The state Senate is quietly trying to close a $2.3 million deficit in its operating budget run up in the final months of former state Senate President Thomas F. Birmingham’s tenure.

The Chelsea Democrat, turned down by his party as its gubernatorial standard bearer last fall, has been rightly criticized for approving a $214,000 "vacation-pay" windfall for four top aides on the way out the door. The staffers were working so hard on behalf of the people, so the story went, they never managed to find time for vacations.

Now we find that even before that last-minute largess, while Mr. Birmingham still was running for governor, he was driving the Senate operating budget into the red. In his last six months in office, he approved tens of thousands of dollars in expenditures for food, drinks, printing, floor coverings and more - in addition to staff salaries, travel and other expenses for himself and his 39 fellow senators.

Although the expenditures appear to have been legal, such largess at a time when lawmakers were cutting deeply into programs and local aid was ill-timed at best.

Why did he do it? To reward pals? As an expression of contempt for taxpayers? Or, perhaps just because he could?

We’ve long been admirers of Mr. Birmingham’s accomplishment as co-author of the Education Reform Act of 1993. Even more admirable were his vigorous efforts to preserve the standards and accountability measures the new law established.

To that laudable legacy, his fiscal lapses last year add an unbecoming taint of cronyism and politics as usual.

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The Boston Globe
Friday, August 1, 2003

Taxpayers give extra $800,000
By Bruce Mohl, Globe Staff


State taxpayers coughed up an extra $800,000 this year that they probably didn't have to pay. Some did it out of the goodness of their hearts while others likely did it out of fear.

Fear was the more productive motivator, as the state for the first time inserted a line on its 2002 tax forms to collect use tax on items purchased elsewhere and used here. The hard-to-enforce tax attempts to recover sales taxes lost when residents buy taxable items in states or countries with no sales tax or a smaller sales tax than Massachusetts. All taxpayers sign their returns under penalty of perjury.

State officials said 8,225 tax returns, or 0.3 percent of the total processed so far, yielded nearly $526,000 in use taxes. Revenue Commissioner Alan LeBovidge said he expected the total to rise to $600,000 when all returns are processed.

To reinforce the fear factor, LeBovidge said he is mailing notices to 3,300 individuals who allegedly had jewelry, antiques, or fine art shipped into Massachusetts from abroad and didn't pay any use tax on it. LeBovidge got the names off a US Customs Service database.

There also were 1,642 taxpayers who voluntarily agreed to pay at a higher income tax rate. They paid $198,149 more by choosing the optional rate of 5.85 percent, rather than the official 5.3 percent rate.

LeBovidge was surprised any taxpayer agreed to pay more, but Citizens for Limited Taxation, the organization that filed the legislation giving taxpayers that option, said it was surprised at the paltry turnout.

Barbara Anderson, executive director of CLT, said sarcastically that she had expected the 1 million people who voted against the income tax rollback in 2000 to pay at the higher rate.

"We thought they would all pay the higher rate," she said.

The Revenue Department has processed 2.7 million returns so far and has about 550,000 left. Of those processed, two-thirds were filed electronically.

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The Providence Journal
Thursday, July 24, 2003

Finneran's loyalty to bloatocracy
By David A. Mittell Jr.


In mid-July, rush-hour traffic palpably lightens. School is out and many people are on vacation. Actually, it's not a bad time to be working -- I'll take my vacation in October, whose warm, clear days and cool, dry nights are to me the most glorious time in New England.

In the newspaper business, there's another reason to keep working: As long as the legislature is in session, its denizens need to be watched! In Massachusetts, normal people's holidays are traditionally a time when legislators especially need to be watched. Last week, when the legislature completed action on the 2004 budget by deciding which gubernatorial vetoes to override, was no exception.

Vetoes and their overrides continue a tug-of-war between the forces of the status quo and the impulse for reform that began in January. The new governor, Mitt Romney, and to a lesser but real extent the new Senate president, Robert Travaglini, do things very differently from their immediate predecessors. The Beacon Hill establishment has reacted with a mixture of resistance and acquiescence.

So far, it has been more resistance than acquiescence. During the last two weeks, legislators overrode many of the governor's budget vetoes, restoring $155 million of $201 million in vetoed spending measures. They also overrode the veto of a bill expanding the purview of the Boston Municipal Court, and canceled changes in English immersion, which voters had approved to replace bilingual education, by a 68-percent majority in last year's election.

On the other hand, legislators took no vote on, and therefore acquiesced in, the governor's veto of House Speaker Thomas Finneran's plan to expand his and Senator Travaglini's power to use lucrative new committee chairmanships to reward the compliant and punish the defiant. After a week of cajoling House members, Speaker Finneran, who dearly coveted the new power, couldn't round up the votes to override.

Taking these issues one by one:

The governor acted responsibly in his $201 million in vetoes, because, due to automatically increasing costs, another large deficit looms in fiscal 2005.

The Boston Municipal Court is a veritable patronage bloatocracy, spending as much on 69 judges as the District Courts that cover the rest of the state do on 177 judges. The speaker's insistence on keeping the patronage party going gives the lie to his proposal (not yet enacted) to spend $110 million in tobacco-settlement funds on "targeted financial assistance" to technological sectors -- biomedical, informational, defense, environmental, etc.

In promoting his plan, Mr. Finneran denies wanting to have state government "picking winners" in the marketplace. He understands that's what democratic capitalism does best. But his record on the Boston Municipal Court -- and other dominions he and the legislature have their political hands all over -- undermines his credibility. A high-tech "public authority" would tend to make entrepreneurs resemble developers and contractors who curry favor with politicians rather than favor in the marketplace. It could be ruinous.

The English-immersion overrides allow the continuation of "two-way" bilingual programs, in which English and Spanish speakers are jointly taught in both languages. These serve 2,000 students, or about 4 percent of those in bilingual education. Time will tell if exempting them from English immersion will lead to gutting immersion generally. Since the governor controls the state board of education, there's a good chance it will not; if it does, Mr. Romney promises to target offending Democrats for defeat in 2004.

The override vote not taken in the matter of Speaker Finneran's power grab could prove the year's most important political development. The non-action came about in part because of an odd left-center-right coalition for reform: CPPAX, a liberal lobby that emerged from Vietnam War protests in the 1960s; Common Cause, a good-government lobby, founded by the late Health, Education and Welfare Secretary John Gardner; and Citizens for Limited Taxation, a small-government lobby. This "coalition of the unwilling" issued a joint press release on July 8 opposing any more power for the House speaker and Senate president.

Flummoxed legislators then had to decide whose retaliatory power they fear more -- that of Messrs. Finneran and Travaglini or that of the electorate. To override a gubernatorial veto requires a two-thirds majority; for the first time in a long time, at least one-third plus one of House members chose to fear the people, causing Speaker Finneran to capitulate. He immediately retaliated -- seeing to it that two legislators who weren't with him lost courthouses in their districts: perfect proof that he already has too much power.

The tug-of-war between the status quo and reform is only beginning. But the speaker has been thwacked and publicly thwacked. That may be the most hopeful thing to have happened on Beacon Hill this mid-July.

David A. Mittell Jr. is a member of The Journal's editorial board.

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The Boston Herald
Tuesday, July 29, 2003

Nursing home tax gets ringing endorsement
by Jennifer Heldt Powell

Gov. Mitt Romney last week quietly approved a nursing home bed tax, after his office took a flood of phone calls saying it was needed to give the industry more money.

The governor got 600 phone calls about the issue, a spokeswoman said.

The tax will generate $145 million from nursing homes, which will be matched by the federal government. The total will be returned to nursing homes through higher Medicaid rates.

"We get Medicaid rates that are $20 a day below cost and that is for seven out of 10 of our patients," said Scott Plumb, senior vice president of the Massachusetts Extended Care Federation.

On average, it costs $165 to care for a nursing home resident, but the Medicaid rate is $145, he said. The low rate has led to closures and a scarcity of beds in some areas, he said.

There are 450 nursing homes in the state. In the past five years, 100 have closed.

Under the user-fee program, which started last year, nursing homes pay $9.60 a day for all beds not covered by Medicare.

In general, patients who pay their own bill won't see an increase, because most homes will get more money back than they pay in, Plumb said. There are some homes with few or no Medicaid patients that will have to pay more than they will get back. Nine out of 10 will have more money, Plumb said.

The next step is to determine what the bed tax will be this year and what the new rate will be, state officials said.

"We're trying to work with the administration to get this done as simply and as quickly as possible," Plumb said.

Nursing home industry leaders proposed the program last year as a way to generate more money without adding to the state's burden, Plumb said.

"It's revenue-neutral," he said.

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The Boston Globe
Tuesday, August 6, 2003

Fiscal concerns prompt taxpayers association
Group's primary goal is avoiding tax cap overrides
By Jenn Abelson, Globe Staff


Tired of what they view as wasteful government spending and a lack of accountability, residents have launched the Framingham Taxpayers Association to serve as a fiscal watchdog over the town's budget and prevent future overrides.

The group, made up of Town Meeting members and other residents, was spurred by last year's slim victory to increase property taxes and was officially launched this summer.

"We want to see the government clean up its act and improve its effectiveness before coming to the taxpayers to get more dollars," said Steve Kruger, a Town Meeting member and spokesman for the taxpayer association.

The Framingham Taxpayers Association is one of a number of groups that has emerged in the face of attempts to override Proposition 2˝, the state law that caps how much municipalities can increase property taxes, said Chip Faulkner, associate director of Peabody-based Citizens for Limited Taxation, the largest taxpayers association in the state.

Town Manager George P. King Jr. said he welcomes input from new groups and suggestions for how to more efficiently operate the municipality.

"There's always room for improvement," King said.

Still, he took exception to characterizations that the town is not managed well. King noted the savings of $700,000 from renegotiating agreements last year for street lights and waste disposal. Moreover, he said Framingham has settled contracts with all of its unions that include no cost-of-living adjustment for one year.

"I think we've made some substantial moves that would indicate we do operate quite efficiently," King said.

Despite these efforts, members of the Framingham Taxpayers Association contend that the town lacks adequate fiscal discipline -- from offering health benefits that are far too generous to insufficiently measuring its operational performance against other municipalities.

After the town confronted significant revenue gaps for the second year in a row, some residents grew more concerned that taxpayers would shoulder the burden for what they viewed as the municipality's poor budget planning. According to Kruger, Framingham has already endured more than a decade of fiscal irresponsibility, where spending rose far above inflation and population increases to the tune of $50 million to $60 million dollars.

The Framingham Taxpayers Association said it aims to ensure that the interests of taxpayers are strongly represented in policy deliberations, union contract negotiations, and other activities that affect the property tax burden in town.

Steve Orr, a member of Town Meeting and the taxpayers association, said the primary function of the group is to prevent overrides.

"If we can't make do with the money we've got, then what the hell are we doing?" he said. The organization, which has between 20 to 30 members, is hoping to attract hundreds of residents and influence the way the town conducts its business.

Although the group has yet to map out any concrete plans, it has already met with officials from North Andover's tax association, which helped trounce a $4 million override in April 2002.

In North Andover, there have been 34 override questions on the ballot since 1986, but last year, 67 percent of voters rejected a proposal, according to Ted Tripp, president of the North Andover Taxpayers Association. The group, which started with four members, now has about 200 members and is growing.

"These associations are important to watch over spending and to make sure the town doesn't tax beyond the capacity of their residents," Faulkner said.

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