CITIZENS   FOR  LIMITED  TAXATION
and the
Citizens Economic Research Foundation

CLT UPDATE
Friday, March 19, 2004

While our "full-time" Legislature dithers, politics happens


These days, it pays to be a municipal employee....

Many of the top wage earners were school superintendents, led by Marblehead's Ellen Minihan, the highest-paid municipal employee on the North Shore last year at $144,580.

"Why am I not surprised?" tax activist Barbara Anderson of Marblehead replied, when informed that the highest-paid employee works in her town. "I suspect that's where the override money went last year."

Minihan didn't return calls seeking comment. But Lawrence DiGiammarino, chairman of the Marblehead School Committee, said he wasn't surprised his town's school leader topped the list. When Minihan was hired away from her job as assistant superintendent in Wayland two years ago, he said, "There were people in the education field saying we were not offering enough."

But Anderson, the executive director of Citizens for Limited Taxation, said Minihan's high salary is troubling at a time when the town is telling residents another override is needed to balance the budget.

"I don't know why the people who do the negotiating can't do a better job," she said. "Then they moan about needing an override for the children. It's not for the children. It's for pay raises for teachers and school superintendents. There's something wrong with this picture. If it's all about greed, say so. But don't tell us it's all about the children."

The Salem News 
Wednesday, March 17, 2004
North Shore's top officials command top pay


Among the highest-paid municipal employees on the North Shore, school superintendents take four of the top five spots and five of the top 10. They earn more than police chiefs and town managers. In Salem, School Superintendent Herbert Levine earned $142,303 last year while his boss, Mayor Stanley Usovicz, earned $81,538....

The CEO comparison falls short in another way. Private companies have to fight competitors for customers. But with the exception of scattered private or charter schools, public school systems have a monopoly.

"I don't see how it can be more difficult to run a school than, say, companies who have to compete," says Barbara Anderson of the Peabody-based advocacy group Citizens for Limited Taxation. "School systems don't."

Anderson says school districts pay what they have to for good leaders, but she chides superintendents for using emotional appeals to win taxpayer money that goes partly in their own pockets.

"I guess I don't care what people make, except when they're constantly talking about the children," she says. "It bothers me to see that much money going to school superintendents while overrides are being passed because there's not enough money for children."

But Korb says he earns every penny.

"I don't apologize," he says. "Nor do I think any superintendent should apologize for what they make. It's a tough job."

The Salem News 
Friday, March 19, 2004
Superintendents work hard for top pay


Supposedly, words have power. Lots of power. As in: "The pen is mightier than the sword."

But, as George Orwell knew, and as those in the business of manipulating public opinion have always known, it is no longer so much that words have power. It is the meaning of words that have power.

Therefore, it is those who control the meaning of words who have the power....

Consider the former Tax Equity Alliance of Massachusetts. Yes, it finally gave up its utterly disingenuous name, now calling itself the Massachusetts Budget and Policy Center. But it was clear from the start that the group's earlier name was the opposite of its intent.

The Eagle-Tribune
Sunday, March 14, 2004
All things being equal, it's only fair that you pay more
By Taylor Armerding


House Speaker Thomas M. Finneran is blanketing the state with thousands of digital copies of his January version of the State of the State speech - sparking speculation that he might be eyeing a run for higher office....

"What does this mean?" asked Citizens for Limited Taxation chief Barbara Anderson.

"Is it just ego or is he running for something?"

The Boston Herald
Friday, March 19, 2004
Speaker aims to be heard as CD, DVD hit homes


The Romney administration is sending a message to businesses facing a substantial increase in their unemployment insurance bills: blame the Legislature.

First-quarter bills mailed over the last two weeks to roughly 170,000 Massachusetts employers include a three-paragraph letter faulting lawmakers for "the steep increase in employer contributions." The letter from the Division of Unemployment Assistance notes that Governor Mitt Romney has filed legislation "which would lower your unemployment insurance ... while making needed benefit reforms." A similar letter was included in a notice at the end of last year warning businesses of the upcoming increase.

But some Democrats are crying foul.

The Boston Globe
Friday, March 19, 2004
Romney tells firms: Blame lawmakers
Assigns fault for insurance fee hikes


A key legislative committee yesterday shelved Governor Mitt Romney's plan to build a direct highway overpass at the Sagamore Rotary to speed the trip to Cape Cod, calling for further study on its impact and cost....

Last April, Romney said of the rotary project, "If I couldn't get that fixed, I'd have to resign in shame." ...

Sending a bill for further study is a common way for lawmakers to kill a measure....

"It improves traffic efficiency, not capacity," [John Cogliano, commissioner of the Massachusetts Highway Department] said.

In addition, Cogliano said, "this project is a public safety project. [The rotary] has the highest number of accidents in Barnstable County."

Federal highway officials support the project and 80 percent of the cost will be paid for with federal funds. State funding has yet to be approved.

The Boston Globe
Friday, March 19, 2004
Sagamore Bridge plan sidelined


Chip Ford's CLT Commentary

While little emanates from the thin atmosphere high atop Beacon Hill these days, politics down here in the the netherworld smog goes on. The Salem News has been running a most interesting series on municipal spending on public employees that the unions don't want you to know about ... but here it is and now you know. If your local newspaper has the gumption to do the same kind of journalism, it'll likely turn up a similar pattern of taxpayer abuse.

*                    *                    *

While nothing of legislative substance is occurring within the "Best Legislature Money Can Buy" -- most legislators are  still wrestling with how to be all things to both sides of the all-consuming gay marriage issue -- politics-as-usual up there in the ozone goes on, for that's what they know how to do best.

When Governor Romney follows the lead of Boston Mayor Tom Menino and places the blame for tax increases where it belongs -- on the overwhelming Democrat majority -- that overwhelming majority stomps into overdrive "crying foul." Where were they when earlier this year Democrat Mayor Menino created the precedent by sending out residential property tax bills with his own note included, blaming that same Legislature?

*                    *                    *

If there's any remaining question about Democrats obstructing every reform, every improvement plan the governor has, this is now settled simply as how things are in Massachusetts with that predominant majority. Those Democrats will sure teach him -- by keeping tourists and vacationers gridlocked in hot, sticky July and August traffic-jams who're just trying to reach Cape Cod for a weekend.

I thought, not too long ago, everyone -- except of course for the "environmentalist" and the Christmas Tree Shop -- agreed that the time for the Sagamore rotary to go had long since been recognized. But in Massachusetts, politics and making cheap political points at any cost still reigns supreme ... and if that means you're stuck in traffic at the Sagamore rotary -- or attempting to get to work when the DNC convention is in town come July -- just suck it up and and keep paying the bills.

*                    *                    *

By the way, if you're not already aware of it, check in often with CLT's longstanding project, "Boston DNC Convention 2004 Anatomy of an inevitable taxpayer mugging." We've been documenting this fiasco since late-2002 when we saw the inevitable coming and it's moving steadily in the direction of our prediction. We created it primarily for the media -- so they can easily follow the flow of events that they might otherwise forget -- but it's a great source for all.

Chip Ford


The Salem News 
Wednesday, March 17, 2004

North Shore's top officials command top pay
By Marc Fortier, Staff writer


These days, it pays to be a municipal employee.

Five years ago, none of Beverly's city or school workers made more than $100,000. Today, seven do. 

Only three city workers in Peabody topped the $100,000 mark five years ago. Today, there are 13.

And it's not just the cities. In Danvers, only the town manager and police chief earned more than $100,000 in 1998. Today, eight town employees make that much, and three are rank-and-file police officers.

Eight other small towns, including Hamilton, Boxford and Ipswich, also had workers earning more than $100,000 last year.

"In my wildest dreams, I never, ever anticipated making this kind of money," said Salem Police Chief Robert St. Pierre, who earned $124,964 last year - making him the highest-paid public safety official on the North Shore, and one of the top wage earners in any category.

When he was hired as a Salem police officer 31 years ago, St. Pierre earned $101 a week, a far cry from his current salary. "I was actually making more ringing the cash register at First National (a local supermarket)," he said.

The days when city employees had to work two jobs to make ends meet are pretty much gone. Sixty-five municipal and public school employees on the North Shore earned in excess of $100,000 last year. More than half were police officers, whose overtime and private detail payments in some cases equaled or exceeded their regular salaries.

Many of the top wage earners were school superintendents, led by Marblehead's Ellen Minihan, the highest-paid municipal employee on the North Shore last year at $144,580.

"Why am I not surprised?" tax activist Barbara Anderson of Marblehead replied, when informed that the highest-paid employee works in her town. "I suspect that's where the override money went last year."

Minihan didn't return calls seeking comment. But Lawrence DiGiammarino, chairman of the Marblehead School Committee, said he wasn't surprised his town's school leader topped the list. When Minihan was hired away from her job as assistant superintendent in Wayland two years ago, he said, "There were people in the education field saying we were not offering enough."

But Anderson, the executive director of Citizens for Limited Taxation, said Minihan's high salary is troubling at a time when the town is telling residents another override is needed to balance the budget.

"I don't know why the people who do the negotiating can't do a better job," she said. "Then they moan about needing an override for the children. It's not for the children. It's for pay raises for teachers and school superintendents. There's something wrong with this picture. If it's all about greed, say so. But don't tell us it's all about the children."

DiGiammarino pointed out that Minihan took just a 2 percent raise last year, the same as other town and school employees. And, he said, she is well worth the money, as demonstrated by the number of Marblehead High seniors going on to top colleges.

"There's no question salaries have risen dramatically in this field within the last five years," he said. "But for now, the better superintendents, the ones you are going to want to bring into a high-end district like Marblehead, you're going to have to pay."

Longevity counts

No. 2 on the North Shore's top salary list was Peabody Municipal Light Plant Manager Wesley Merrill, who earned just $18 less than Minihan. Merrill attributed his high salary in part to longevity - he has worked for the light plant for 36 years. But he said it also has to do with the nature of the job. 

"Even though we're a city agency, we're a little bit distinct from the city, and we do have an income-producing operation here," he said. As the light plant manager, Merrill is in charge of a $48 million budget and 65 employees. The light plant delivers electricity to all of Peabody and part of Lynnfield.

Still, he said, it is overwhelming to think about how much money he makes now, compared to when he started nearly four decades ago. As a co-op student from Northeastern University, Merrill made $2 an hour working for the light plant. When he landed a full-time position as an engineer, he earned $12,500. 

"I guess it's surprising, sure," he said of the $132,000 difference between his starting salary and what he now earns. "It's not something that I planned for or really expected or came to work at the light plant in order to accomplish. It's just a good place to work - it fit my skills and my college background - and I stayed."

Like Merrill, Danvers Town Manager Wayne Marquis said his length of service is part of the reason for his $122,222 salary, which is almost $20,000 more than any other municipal government leader. He has been working for the town in some capacity since 1975. But he also said his salary is driven by the market, and is comparable to town manager salaries in similar sized towns, such as Andover ($120,199) and Norwood ($115,918).

"I think it's excellent for the amount of work he does," Danvers Selectman Mike Powers said, noting that Marquis oversees the town, the schools, the electric company and water and sewer operations. 

"It's basically a day and a night job for him," Powers said. "I'm sure Wayne could have done much better had he moved around. He's committed to the town, and I think we're better for it."

'Bidding war'

While he agrees Marquis does a good job, Danvers Selectman Randall Sparkas thinks the town manager is overpaid.

"To me, Danvers does not need to be leading the way," Sparkas said. "We need to be on the higher end of the curve, but we don't need to be leading the way. ... We're pricing ourselves beyond what we could reasonably afford."

He is particularly concerned because the town is currently searching for a new school superintendent.

"We've already set the bar so high," Sparkas said. "To offer anything lower makes it extremely difficult. The superintendent has made as much, if not more, than the town manager. We're putting these jobs so far ahead of ourselves that now you've got this bidding war for superintendents."

One thing is clear. The climate -- and the salary scale -- has changed dramatically in the 29 years since Marquis first started working in Danvers as an unpaid college intern.

"It's interesting," Marquis said. "I guess as I go through life, I set certain goals, such as, 'If I ever earned $200 a week, that would be unbelievable!' ... All things are relative over time."

While the Danvers town manager placed first on his town's salary list, the leaders of nearby Salem, Beverly and Peabody aren't even in the top 10. 

Salem Mayor Stanley Usovicz earned $81,539 last year, placing him at No. 52 on Salem's list. Former Mayor Thomas Crean came in at No. 17 in Beverly, earning $93,914. Peabody Mayor Michael Bonfanti earned $96,310, 18th in his city. 

Bonfanti said he doesn't mind. Most mayors aren't in it for the money, he said.

"I took the job because it's public service," he said. "I knew what the pay was when I took the job."

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The Salem News 
Friday, March 19, 2004

Superintendents work hard for top pay
By Thomas Lake, Staff writer


Long about 5 p.m., Ipswich School Superintendent Rick Korb slips away for a run. After nine hours of voice mail and e-mail and budgets and building tours, he needs rejuvenation. His day is far from done. There are basketball players to inspire and selectmen to persuade. The public appearances will last most of the night, and they will not cease when the weekend arrives. Then come the school plays and the sporting events, the art festivals and the band concerts, the grocery store trips where he can't buy a pound of butter without parents peppering him with questions. When you're a school superintendent, waking and working are nearly synonymous.

That's part of the reason they're paid so well. Among the highest-paid municipal employees on the North Shore, school superintendents take four of the top five spots and five of the top 10. They earn more than police chiefs and town managers. In Salem, School Superintendent Herbert Levine earned $142,303 last year while his boss, Mayor Stanley Usovicz, earned $81,538.

"Jeez, I'm at a loss," Usovicz said when asked why he earned 43 percent less than his subordinate. "Life is not meant to be fair."

Nevertheless, superintendents do a job few have the education, the skill and the willingness to do. Those without doctoral degrees are rarely considered. Those who can't juggle employees by the hundred, students by the thousand and budgets by the tens of millions need not apply. Those who want job security, political tranquility and a regular schedule have chosen the wrong profession.

Experts say running a public school district is like running a large corporation - only more important and more difficult.

"They're not just CEO of a company that's making widgets," says Barbara Nies of the American Association of School Administrators. "They're putting kids out into the world."

Meanwhile, tight competition for the best candidates has led school districts to offer increasing amounts of cash. According to search consultant Lyle Kirtman, more than 50 Massachusetts superintendents will retire in the next 24 months. Filling those positions is becoming more difficult.

The passage of Proposition 2 1/2 in November 1980 forced Massachusetts school districts to slash their budgets and lay off thousands of young employees. Many never returned. 

"Those are the cadre of people who would be administrators today," says Mike Gilbert, field director of information and technology for the Massachusetts Association of School Committees. "Those people aren't there because they left the state or they left teaching."

Those who rose to superintendent now have jobs that are startlingly complex, and they're paid accordingly.

Learning curve

First comes the education and training - more than a decade's worth, in many cases. Beverly Superintendent William Lupini spent four years on his bachelor's degree, three more on a master's and then seven getting a doctorate in education from Lehigh University in Pennsylvania. He wrote a dissertation on education litigation that approached 200 pages.

"So they've invested a whole lot of years and money in education and preparation," says Thomas Glass, a professor of educational leadership at the University of Memphis. "How many mayors have doctoral degrees?"

The job itself requires expertise in everything from state curriculum frameworks to supervising massive building projects to balancing budgets that often represent the bulk of a city or town's spending.

"It's a range of skills," says Massachusetts Association of School Superintendents Executive Director Peter Finn, "from very particular educational skills to very technical business skills."

On the educational side, superintendents must contend with high-pressure new initiatives like the Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System and the federal No Child Left Behind Act, which mandate a high level of student performance on standardized tests and threaten to punish school systems whose students don't measure up.

On the business side, superintendents run organizations that are generally among the largest employers in the community. They must run criminal background checks, check teacher certifications and regulate spending in what is usually the community's largest municipal department.

"I'm expected to run a $40 million business, essentially," says Lupini. "(But) there's often a disagreement about what our profit is."

Seconds to spare

Keeping the education machine running requires a leader willing to work day and night.

Two years ago, Korb decided to count how many nights he spent on the job. He found that of the 182 days on the school calendar, he spent 156 nights at meetings or school functions. He has since cut back -- to 140.

"That can be very, very demanding on an individual who has a family," he says.

Korb is a single parent whose children are grown. Lupini faces similar demands, but he's married and has three children in elementary school. He sneaks home to eat family dinner for an hour in between the workday and the worknight. He often lunches with his children at the Hannah School cafeteria.

"Whatever time I can spend with them," he says, "I try to."

Studies show the average superintendent works nearly 60 hours a week, Glass said. And those hours are unpredictable.

At about 6 a.m. March 10, a custodian at the Nathaniel Bowditch School in Salem found a bomb threat scrawled on a paper towel.

Levine rushed to the school, canceled his appointments and helped coordinate the evacuation. He stayed there more than seven hours to make sure the school was safe.

"Superintendents are expected to be available, to be on the job, literally 24/7," he said.

That pace can take its toll. The School Administrator, a trade publication for education executives, ran a cover story last month called "Alone at the Top: Examining some of the sad realities of the superintendency." It described the isolation many superintendents experience.

"Much of the loneliness stems from a feeling that the superintendent is always performing, always under the klieg lights with an audience watching every move," authors Michael Jazzar and Dale P. Kimball wrote. "Behaviors considered normal for many, such as having a few drinks with friends at a bar or restaurant or uttering a four-letter word to express anger or frustration, often are blown wildly out of proportion by those who may have a bone to pick with the top school leader."

Such stress may contribute to a high turnover rate among superintendents, who stay in one district an average of four to seven years. Dave Watson, who was a school superintendent in Michigan and Ohio before moving into higher education, told The School Administrator that superintendents are like high-profile migrant workers.

"A superintendent really is a lone ranger riding into town to improve education for one and all," he said. "I call it the 10 percent rule. Each year a superintendent can lose up to 10 percent of his or her support through difficult decisions that are made. At the end of five years, if 50 percent are for you and 50 percent are against, it may be high time to get back on that horse."

Playing politics

While CEOs operate in closed boardrooms, superintendents are open to public scrutiny.

"You set yourself up as the person to whom slings and arrows will be flying," says Levine. "You're always fighting the battle to gain more resources for what your school system needs. And the school system is always the 10,000-pound gorilla in the city."

And if there's trouble in the school district, fingers often point to the top. In Salem, for example, two of Levine's nearest predecessors were forced to resign.

"It's not unlike the Red Sox," says Finn. "You can't fire the whole team, so if you don't like what they're doing, you fire the manager. That's what it's like being the superintendent of schools. Only a heck of a lot more important."

The CEO comparison falls short in another way. Private companies have to fight competitors for customers. But with the exception of scattered private or charter schools, public school systems have a monopoly.

"I don't see how it can be more difficult to run a school than, say, companies who have to compete," says Barbara Anderson of the Peabody-based advocacy group Citizens for Limited Taxation. "School systems don't."

Anderson says school districts pay what they have to for good leaders, but she chides superintendents for using emotional appeals to win taxpayer money that goes partly in their own pockets.

"I guess I don't care what people make, except when they're constantly talking about the children," she says. "It bothers me to see that much money going to school superintendents while overrides are being passed because there's not enough money for children."

But Korb says he earns every penny.

"I don't apologize," he says. "Nor do I think any superintendent should apologize for what they make. It's a tough job."

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The Eagle-Tribune
Sunday, March 14, 2004

All things being equal, it's only fair that you pay more 
By Taylor Armerding, Staff Writer


Supposedly, words have power. Lots of power. As in: "The pen is mightier than the sword."

But, as George Orwell knew, and as those in the business of manipulating public opinion have always known, it is no longer so much that words have power. It is the meaning of words that have power.

Therefore, it is those who control the meaning of words who have the power.

Nowhere is that more obvious than in the malleable meaning of "equal." And for the latest local example of the bending and shaping of "equal," look no further than the debate over which towns should pay how much to sustain the Triton Regional School District.

While most dictionaries soldier on in utter denial of modern reality, still defining equal as "of the same quantity, size, number, value, degree," Massachusetts' political sophisticates have for years deftly turned that on its head. Equal, or "equity" doesn't mean anything resembling what the dictionary says.

Consider the former Tax Equity Alliance of Massachusetts. Yes, it finally gave up its utterly disingenuous name, now calling itself the Massachusetts Budget and Policy Center. But it was clear from the start that the group's earlier name was the opposite of its intent. TEAM didn't want tax equity - taxpayers paying an equal share of their income. They wanted tax inequity - for those they defined as "rich" to pay a greater share their income than others. This they argued, was "fair" - another one of those words that has lots of power, as long as you get to define what it means.

This prevails across the country. So Massachusetts senator and presidential candidate John Kerry can argue utterly topsy-turvy logic with a straight face. The top 1 percent of income earners now pay more than 36 percent of all federal income taxes, while the bottom 50 percent pay about 5 percent. But for Kerry, that is still not equal enough. He contends working people are suffering because of "tax giveaways" to the rich.

So it should also be no surprise that this thinking has percolated into Rowley and Salisbury, which are now debating with Newbury over whether the funding formula used since the Triton district was formed should be changed.

It has always been "equal," in the sense of that antiquated dictionary definition. Each town paid the same amount per pupil.

But it looks like Rowley and Salisbury have come to their modern, 21st-century senses, where equal means what the former TEAM says it means. Representatives from those two towns want to change the formula to one created by the state called the "two-step method," in which "wealthy" (yet another word it is important to have the power to define) communities have to pay more than those who are not so wealthy.

If that state formula is adopted - and a town meeting vote by any one of the three communities can force its adoption - Newbury taxpayers will pay about $500 more per pupil than those in Rowley and Salisbury.

The arguments for this have a weary familiarity. Newbury people are wealthier. It is "fair" for them to have to pay more.

Pity poor Richard Bazirgan, who represents Newbury on the Triton School Committee. He invoked the same antiquated logic as the dictionary. If Newbury has to pay more, shouldn't it get some additional services? Wasn't the original agreement that every town would pay an equal share? Do Rowley and Salisbury think Newbury would have signed on to a regional district if they knew the funding formula was going to be changed to force them to subsidize their neighboring towns? 

He just doesn't get it, does he.

Actually, according to some accounts, Newbury should be thanking Salisbury, because since Salisbury is so poor, it generates $700 more per pupil in state aid than Newbury does. Thus, even if Newbury residents have to pay $500 more per pupil, Salisbury is "paying" $200 more than that through state aid. See how "fair" that is?

Of course, that money comes from state taxes, of which Newbury residents pay a lot more than Salisbury. But, as Rowley and Salisbury officials have said, this follows the funding structure of Education Reform and Chapter 70 aid, in which wealthier communities help poorer communities.

Sounds an awful lot like: "From each according to his ability; to each according to his need."

That's one way to run a government. It's been tried before, most famously in the Soviet Union, with miserable results. But that is the direction the majority in Massachusetts seems to endorse.

So be it. But do the rest of us a favor. Don't call it "equity."

Taylor Armerding is associate editorial page editor of The Eagle-Tribune.

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The Boston Herald
Friday, March 19, 2004

Speaker aims to be heard as CD, DVD hit homes
By Elisabeth J. Beardsley
Friday, March 19, 2004


House Speaker Thomas M. Finneran is blanketing the state with thousands of digital copies of his January version of the State of the State speech - sparking speculation that he might be eyeing a run for higher office.

The fancy package, which includes both DVD and CD versions of Finneran's speech, began arriving this week in the mailboxes of about 6,000 of the state's opinion-makers - from lawmakers and selectmen to media outlets, business honchos and labor leaders.

"What does this mean?" asked Citizens for Limited Taxation chief Barbara Anderson.

"Is it just ego or is he running for something?"

Finneran aides did not explicitly deny that he harbors political ambitions beyond Beacon Hill.

"All I can say for that is the speaker's quite happy being speaker," said Finneran spokesman Charles Rasmussen.

In the past, Finneran has suggested he might someday like to run for mayor of Boston or even the United States Senate.

No taxpayer money was used for the discs, which were paid for by Finneran's campaign committee, Rasmussen said.

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The Boston Globe
Friday, March 19, 2004

Romney tells firms: Blame lawmakers
Assigns fault for insurance fee hikes
By Scott S. Greenberger, Globe Staff


The Romney administration is sending a message to businesses facing a substantial increase in their unemployment insurance bills: blame the Legislature.

First-quarter bills mailed over the last two weeks to roughly 170,000 Massachusetts employers include a three-paragraph letter faulting lawmakers for "the steep increase in employer contributions." The letter from the Division of Unemployment Assistance notes that Governor Mitt Romney has filed legislation "which would lower your unemployment insurance ... while making needed benefit reforms." A similar letter was included in a notice at the end of last year warning businesses of the upcoming increase.

Romney spokeswoman Shawn Feddeman said the recent letter is factual, not political, and that it is merely "an explanation to employers as they receive their bills why their rates have increased." The state says there was "no cost" for printing the letters because the job was done in-house and that the insert didn't increase the cost of mailing the notices. "These are the facts, and as former President John Adams once said, `Facts are stubborn things,' " she said.

But some Democrats are crying foul. They drafted the Legislature's plan to shore up the unemployment insurance fund, which was drained by the recent recession. "He would have people believe that he was not going to give businesses any surcharge at all," said Senator John A. Hart Jr., a South Boston Democrat. "He's being disingenuous when he blames the Legislature, when he would in fact tax the employers just as much as we reluctantly had to do."

Romney says the unemployment-fund plan lawmakers approved at the end of last year will cost the average Massachusetts business $250, or 88 percent, more per worker this year. Romney said that is compared to the $90, or 31 percent, increase included in his own plan. But Hart said the difference between the governor's plan and the Legislature's plan for a company with a stable employment record is about $10 per worker, not $90.

Hart argues that lawmakers addressed a major business concern by giving companies with stable employment records a bigger break and punishing ones with a lot of turnover.

Romney has been pounding away at the unemployment insurance issue for months. Earlier this month, he told the Joint Committee on Commerce and Labor that the "outsourcing" of Massachusetts jobs is connected to the state's relatively high unemployment insurance costs -- an assertion that legislators, economists, and even some of the governor's business supporters greeted with skepticism.

The governor wants to lower employers' payments into the unemployment insurance fund by paying out benefits for fewer weeks and extending the period employees must work to qualify for unemployment checks. Romney points out that the changes he is proposing would put Massachusetts in line with other states: Most states require 20 weeks of work to qualify for benefits, compared with 15 in Massachusetts, and every other state pays benefits for 26 weeks instead of the 30 weeks that Massachusetts allows.

The governor says his proposal, which lawmakers rejected last year, would dissuade companies from moving jobs out of state or overseas. But many economists note that outsourcing is a national trend and is related to broader factors, such as lower wages and looser environmental regulations, that make it cheaper to employ people in countries such as India.

At the end of last year, Boston Mayor Thomas M. Menino used a similar strategy by sending a letter to every homeowner in the city blaming state lawmakers for failing to avert a substantial property tax hike. Unlike Romney, however, Menino signed his missive.

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The Boston Globe
Friday, March 19, 2004

Sagamore Bridge plan sidelined
By Anthony Flint, Globe Staff


A key legislative committee yesterday shelved Governor Mitt Romney's plan to build a direct highway overpass at the Sagamore Rotary to speed the trip to Cape Cod, calling for further study on its impact and cost.

Construction on the $35 million project was set to start this spring. But before that can happen, legislative approval is required to allow the town of Bourne to relocate a fire station at the rotary onto nearby town-owned open space.

The 7-to-2 vote yesterday by the Transportation Committee sending the measure for further study marks another Romney administration initiative stalled by the Legislature, and one that the governor had singled out as a top priority. Last April, Romney said of the rotary project, "If I couldn't get that fixed, I'd have to resign in shame."

The overpass, known as a "flyover," is supported in the town of Bourne and by Cape Cod legislators; environmentalists and some planners on the Cape oppose the plan on the grounds that better traffic flow will lead to more pollution and development in the region.

Representative Joseph Wagner, a Chicopee Democrat who is House chairman of the transportation committee, said his concern was that the project wouldn't improve traffic flow enough to justify the cost and that the cost was likely to balloon, possibly to $70 million.

"You're taking out a rotary and putting in a direct connection to the Sagamore Bridge, but without improvements to the adjacent roadway system, I'm not sure you get the bang for the buck," Wagner said.

"We had questions in that area, and about the issue of cost," he said, particularly the expensive process of taking land for the project. "If there has been any miscalculation on the real estate piece, in this particular market, it could drive up the cost by millions."

Sending a bill for further study is a common way for lawmakers to kill a measure. But Wagner said if he gets satisfactory answers from the administration, he could bring the bill back to his committee within weeks, and send it on for a vote before the full Legislature.

John Cogliano, commissioner of the Massachusetts Highway Department, said that the major land acquisitions for the project have been made, including four homes and one business. The only additional acquisitions are small strips of land, Cogliano said, and land acquisition costs should be between $5 and $6 million, which is part of the $35 million estimate.

Relocating the Bourne fire station to the parcel 300 yards away would cost $4 million. The state also plans to build a $100,000 visitor center and a new highway equipment depot, the cost of which has not been determined. But even with these additional costs, the total estimate should not grow significantly, he said.

Cogliano conceded that there are no planned widenings or interchange improvements on either side of the flyover, and that the four-lane, 1930s-era Sagamore Bridge, under the jurisdiction of the Army Corps of Engineers, cannot be widened. But he said that the flyover would greatly improve traffic flow for Cape-bound drivers on Route 3 and Route 6 because those motorists would no longer have to merge at the rotary with local traffic.

"It improves traffic efficiency, not capacity," he said.

In addition, Cogliano said, "this project is a public safety project. [The rotary] has the highest number of accidents in Barnstable County."

Federal highway officials support the project and 80 percent of the cost will be paid for with federal funds. State funding has yet to be approved.

Typically the Legislature signs off on transportation projects planned by the executive branch through transportation bond bills. but the Sagamore project was before the transportation committee for a separate authorization for the land acquisition. The specific measure sent for further study yesterday needs two-thirds approval from the full Legislature, because it involves giving a town permission to use open space for purposes besides a park, in this case the fire station. If the vote isn't taken, the bill could be refiled for the next session.

Romney singled out the Sagamore Rotary as a highway bottleneck that needed to be addressed immediately, and said the flyover would not only benefit seasonal residents but help Cape Cod tourism generally.

But environmental groups such as the Conservation Law Foundation said improving traffic flow could have the secondary effect of opening up more of the Cape for development and that public transit projects were more deserving of funding.

In announcing his $1.1 billion transportation bond bill last month, Romney said that he generally favored transit projects over highway widening.

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