CITIZENS   FOR  LIMITED  TAXATION
and the
Citizens Economic Research Foundation

CLT UPDATE
Wednesday, November 17, 2004

Easy come, easy go


When was the last time a municipal official led the fight against a Proposition 2 override, or supported an underride to ease local taxpayers' burden? Keep that in mind when considering the utter arrogance of local leaders lecturing Lt. Gov. Kerry Healey about fiscal prudence.

"We do not believe a tax cut is wise or prudent at this time," said Mass. Municipal Association chief Geoff Beckwith, at a monthly meeting of the Local Government Advisory Council last week....

The municipal association is just one of a long list of big spenders who, having failed to convince voters to side with them in 2000, were able to prevail on lawmakers to stop the income tax rollback in its tracks in 2001.

A Boston Herald editorial
Monday, November 15, 2005
Tax and spend is all they know


Legislative leaders emerged from their first post-election meeting with Governor Mitt Romney yesterday offering dire predictions of yet another trying budget season on Beacon Hill.

The state faces a potential budget gap of more than $900 million for fiscal year 2006....

Last week, Romney's top economist predicted the state will collect slightly more than $17 billion in the coming fiscal year, a 5 percent increase. The administration declined to elaborate on what that will mean for spending, but legislative leaders and outside analysts believe that figure is nearly a billion dollars less than what it would take to maintain programs and services at their current levels. The state budget is roughly $24 billion.

The Boston Globe
Tuesday, November 16, 2004
State leaders discuss dire fiscal outlook


Paid police details have always been the third rail of Massachusetts politics. But it's high time state lawmakers and the governor confront this costly lunacy because the simple fact is, we can't afford to ignore it anymore.

A new study released by the Beacon Hill Institute found that of an estimated $142.9 million earned by local police in off-duty details in 2003, some $94.3 million was earned working details related to traffic control.

If civilian flaggers were used in city and town road work areas instead, as they are allowed to in 49 other states, business and taxpayers could have saved between $36.9 million and $67.2 million last year.

That's a good chunk of change. The fact that Massachusetts is the only state to require such a system on local work sites is enough to convince us that this system is more perk than protection.

A Boston Herald editorial
Wednesday, November 17, 2004
Time to tackle paid police details


It leaks like a sieve, it cost $14.6 billion and it's been called the biggest public works boondoggle in history.

But last night, the Big Dig was honored for "innovation in historic city-building" at the Boston History Collaborative's 2004 History Makers Awards.

"Timing is everything," History Collaborative spokesgal Nancy Delpidio said yesterday afternoon. "But the event is going ahead as planned." ...

Citizens for Limited Taxation czarina Barbara Anderson, an outspoken critic of the project, said the people in charge of the Big Dig "certainly shouldn't be getting awards."

"Going to jail, maybe," she said. "Getting awards, no."

Adding to the flood of embarrassment was the event's stench of self-congratulation.

The co-chairman of the dinner was Stephen P. Crosby, who was ex-Gov. Jane Swift's chief of staff when she appointed Amorello to helm the Turnpike Authority....

Event "underwriters" - donors who gave in excess of $10,000 to the event - are Bechtel/Parsons Brinckerhoff, Jay Cashman Inc., J.F. White Contracting Co. and McCourt Construction Co. All are Big Dig contractors. What a shock.

The Boston Herald
Wednesday, November 17, 2004
Big Dig awards fete can't water down public's anger


Chip Ford's CLT Commentary

The Massachusetts Municipal Association exists to represent local governments around the state and their elected officials. MMA was a vocal opponent of our tax rollback ballot question in 2000, so it's not surprising that they support the "temporary freeze" of the income tax rate at 5.3 percent. Just last year MMA lobbied to jack the rate back up to 5.95 percent despite the voters' mandate, then advocated a return to 5.6 percent when that failed. Though they base the need for more state revenue on their alleged concern for property taxpayers, it's important to remember that MMA also opposed Proposition 2 in 1980.

At the CLT brunch on Sunday, a member and recent candidate for the state senate, Jennifer Gaucher, asked our keynote speaker, Secretary of Administration & Finance Eric Kriss, what he thought of the MMA. He said that they were quite effective at what they do, including lobbying for more state money for cities and towns. He also pointed out that municipal officials are stuck in the middle: on one side under intense pressure from the public employee unions always looking for more; on the other answerable to overburdened property taxpayers.

The best solution for MMA members is for the state to provide more local aid so local officials can satisfy both parties: more money for the unions without taking a hit for increasing local property taxes. This requires the state to keep the revenue stream coming in so it can be passed along.

Despite years of an "embarrassment of riches," when local aid was rolling in and "excess cash" was piling up, still the MMA wants more, because as we know, More Is Never Enough (MINE).

In fact, regardless of anticipated state revenue growth of 5 percent in the coming year and a state budget now over $24 billion, "legislative leaders and outside analysts believe" the next budget will be almost "a billion dollars less than what it would take to maintain programs and services at their current levels." More Is Never Enough ... and never will be.

As Secretary Kriss noted at our brunch, within a few years all revenue growth will be consumed just to fund Medicaid in its current form. Nonetheless, he supports rolling back the income tax rate to 5 percent and believes it's affordable with long-overdue reform and restructuring.

But that reform and restructuring must begin now, and if Massachusetts can't finally do away with such obvious boondoggles as "police details," can serious reforms ever be adopted? CLT member David Tuerck, director of the Beacon Hill Institute, provided us with further insight into this unnecessary cost while a panelist during our "Where Do We Go Now?" discussion on Sunday. BHI just released a study showing that the state could save $37-$67 million just by doing away with this unique waste of taxpayer money. Incredibly, Massachusetts is the only state in the nation with this ridiculous requirement. When asked "where would you cut," how many times must this rip-off be pointed at before something is done to end it?

Are we taxpayers about to be saddled with an even greater burden for the waste and mismanagement of the Big Dig, adding even more insult to injury? On Beacon Hill it's always "easy come, easy go" so long as it's OPM -- other people's money -- so bend over and prepare for the next kick. For too long we've heard about all the commissions and studies looking into this scandal, the plans to recoup losses from the contractors. But today the Boston Herald reported that Senate Transportation Committee chairman Steven Baddour (D-Methuen) said, "Out of potentially hundreds of millions, they have only collected $4 million." So what do the contractors and advocates of the Big Dig do in the face of this latest scandal? Why throw a party, of course, and celebrate themselves!

Easy come, easy go -- so long as our money is available.

Chip Ford


The Boston Herald
Monday, November 15, 2005

A Boston Herald editorial
Tax and spend is all they know


When was the last time a municipal official led the fight against a Proposition 2 override, or supported an underride to ease local taxpayers' burden? Keep that in mind when considering the utter arrogance of local leaders lecturing Lt. Gov. Kerry Healey about fiscal prudence.

"We do not believe a tax cut is wise or prudent at this time," said Mass. Municipal Association chief Geoff Beckwith, at a monthly meeting of the Local Government Advisory Council last week.

"We just don't see the rationale for proposing a tax cut next year. It just doesn't square for us to be talking about a tax cut in this environment," intoned Brookline Town Administrator Richard Kelliher.

Or in any environment. Are we the only ones sick of hearing this tin cup rattle?

"Every vital program expansion and investment would be jeopardized by these tax cuts," Beckwith wrote in the MMA newsletter in November 2000, in opposition to the income tax rollback ballot question, which subsequently passed by 59 percent of the vote.

"There are some items, if you cut into them, the blood will run deeper," Beckwith said in October 2001.

"It's hard to imagine how communities could do anything but reel," he said in January 2002.

Reeling communities, blood in the streets? We're in the news business but somehow it escaped our notice that complete chaos had gripped Massachusetts.

And the MMA hopes it will escape voters' notice that over the past 10 years, even in the depths of the fiscal crisis, total state aid continued to grow at an average rate of 7.5 percent. In their worst year, the total property tax take by municipalities still went up by 3.2 percent, while in fiscal 2002, state revenues plummeted by 14.5 percent.

And when a tidy little surplus was realized in fiscal 2004, Gov. Mitt Romney [related, bio] and lawmakers cut a nice, fat $75 million check to communities. Taxpayers, meanwhile, are still waiting for theirs.

Here's one more factoid the city and town hall whiners don't like to mention. Local aid has doubled since 1993, growing from some $2.5 billion to $5.1 billion.

The municipal association is just one of a long list of big spenders who, having failed to convince voters to side with them in 2000, were able to prevail on lawmakers to stop the income tax rollback in its tracks in 2001.

An estimated $1 billion budget gap next year takes tax cuts off the table, MMA will argue, all the while pushing for an increase in state aid. They can't have it both ways.

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The Boston Globe
Tuesday, November 16, 2004

State leaders discuss dire fiscal outlook
By Scott Greenberger

Legislative leaders emerged from their first post-election meeting with Governor Mitt Romney yesterday offering dire predictions of yet another trying budget season on Beacon Hill.

The state faces a potential budget gap of more than $900 million for fiscal year 2006. On top of that, Senate President Robert E. Travaglini and the chairs of the House and Senate Ways and Means committees said, the state might have to boost its school spending as a result of a pending court case and is at risk of losing nearly $600 million in federal Medicaid money.

"I thought this was going to get easier. It doesn't look like it's going to get any easier," Travaglini said after the meeting, during which the state's leaders focused on the budget prospects for next year. "I know we have a $900 million structural deficit. I know we have the Hancock case pending. I know we have the federal [Medicaid] waiver piece pending.... These are all conditions that could have a catastrophic effect on the budget situation."

Last week, Romney's top economist predicted the state will collect slightly more than $17 billion in the coming fiscal year, a 5 percent increase. The administration declined to elaborate on what that will mean for spending, but legislative leaders and outside analysts believe that figure is nearly a billion dollars less than what it would take to maintain programs and services at their current levels. The state budget is roughly $24 billion.

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The Boston Herald
Wednesday, November 17, 2004

A Boston Herald editorial
Time to tackle paid police details


Paid police details have always been the third rail of Massachusetts politics. But it's high time state lawmakers and the governor confront this costly lunacy because the simple fact is, we can't afford to ignore it anymore.

A new study released by the Beacon Hill Institute found that of an estimated $142.9 million earned by local police in off-duty details in 2003, some $94.3 million was earned working details related to traffic control.

If civilian flaggers were used in city and town road work areas instead, as they are allowed to in 49 other states, business and taxpayers could have saved between $36.9 million and $67.2 million last year.

That's a good chunk of change. The fact that Massachusetts is the only state to require such a system on local work sites is enough to convince us that this system is more perk than protection.

But for the doubters out there, the institute study goes right at the heart of the argument most often advanced for keeping the system - safety. Drivers will be more careful if they see a police officer in uniform at a road work site, as opposed to a civilian waving an orange flag, we're warned.

The facts simply don't bear that out. The study analyzed traffic accident data for all 50 states and found this is "the least safe state in the nation in which to drive." Massachusetts has the worst accident rate in the nation measured by property damage and second worst measured by bodily injury.

You can't sink lower than worst in the nation, so why are we continuing to pay for a safety benefit we're clearly not getting?

Simply because neither Gov. Mitt Romney nor the Legislature has had the political guts to take on the police unions. Will they in the next legislative session? Given this irrefutable new data, how could they not?

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The Boston Herald
Wednesday, November 17, 2004

Big Dig awards fete can't water down public's anger
By Gayle Fee and Laura Raposa


It leaks like a sieve, it cost $14.6 billion and it's been called the biggest public works boondoggle in history.

But last night, the Big Dig was honored for "innovation in historic city-building" at the Boston History Collaborative's 2004 History Makers Awards.

"Timing is everything," History Collaborative spokesgal Nancy Delpidio said yesterday afternoon. "But the event is going ahead as planned."

Although Mass. Turnpike Authority Chairman Matt Amorello did not have the nerve to cannonball into the Seaport Hotel last night, he and the project management consortium of Bechtel/Parsons Brinckerhoff - the targets of public ire over the costly mess - sent a school of emissaries to accept the awards. But come hell or high water, former Transportation Secretary Fred Salvucci showed to grab a plaque from his onetime boss, ex-Gov. Michael Dukakis.

"They are certainly making more history than they ever expected," cracked Rep. Marty Meehan, who waded into the fray and called for a federal investigation into Big Dig leaks last week.

Despite the organizers' brave public face, behind the scenes there was plenty of embarrassment and chagrin.

Two members of the Collaborative's board of directors, who requested anonymity (natch), said the event was all wet - especially after last week's revelation that the tunnel has sprung more than 400 leaks which could take 10 years - and millions more - to fix.

Citizens for Limited Taxation czarina Barbara Anderson, an outspoken critic of the project, said the people in charge of the Big Dig "certainly shouldn't be getting awards."

"Going to jail, maybe," she said. "Getting awards, no."

Adding to the flood of embarrassment was the event's stench of self-congratulation.

The co-chairman of the dinner was Stephen P. Crosby, who was ex-Gov. Jane Swift's chief of staff when she appointed Amorello to helm the Turnpike Authority. Gov. Mitt Romney demanded that Amorello walk the plank last week after news of the leaks leaked out.

Event "underwriters" - donors who gave in excess of $10,000 to the event - are Bechtel/Parsons Brinckerhoff, Jay Cashman Inc., J.F. White Contracting Co. and McCourt Construction Co. All are Big Dig contractors. What a shock.

But Collaborative Executive Director Bob Krim, who started the organization to honor local institutions that have had "a major impact on the rich legacy of innovation," said he has "no regrets" about honoring the Dig.

And Turnpike chief engineer Mike Swanson said the leaks and investigations should not detract from the fact that the project is still "one of the greatest engineering achievements ever undertaken in the United States of America."

File under: Dig Gig.

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