Chip Ford's CLT Commentary
God bless those dedicated, "nonpartisan" Plague of
Women Vultures -- ensuring that the young, impressionable minds of
high-school age voters get to the polls in style -- chauffeured
limousines -- to vote on the upcoming Shrewsbury Proposition 2½
override next Tuesday. This is certainly a new stretch of the term
But when they can't buy the
votes, as the lovely ladies of unfettered democracy are doing, in
Amherst the tax-and-spenders resorted to the too common gutter tactic of
stealing opponents' property during an exercise in direct democracy,
making half of the opposition's yard signs disappear overnight. As an indicator of
tactical operations, one of the gutter pirates managed to leave behind
at the scene of the crime a little evidence, if you can image: a
pack of cigarettes -- and a cell phone! With the detectives of
CSI-Amherst handed that kind of forensics, how long can it take before
the perp is in cuffs?
Meanwhile, Prop 2½
overrides are seeing mixed results around the state. Saugus -- the
municipality with the largest percentage of voters to support
Proposition 2½ in 1980 -- again resoundingly
rejected another override, keeping its perfect record. Gloucester
did as well, by an almost equally impressive vote as Saugus's
Taxpayers are finally resisting
the "sky is falling" cry, becoming inured to the threats of doom and
gloom. "Bring it on if you must -- we can't pay any more!" is the
growing refrain. The "fixed costs" of public employees'
"negotiated" pay raises, health insurance for life, pensions and early
retirements benefits, have begun to reach critical mass. More and
more taxpayers footing the bill are seeing through the mantra of "fixed
costs," recognizing the "fix" is surely in for that select few.
Any doubt that possibly lingered
that we taxpayers are a different class from public employees was surely
quashed the other day. When House Speaker DiMasi's 42-year old
executive assistant, a state employee for 20 years, 11 days, was fired,
it should have become indisputable. Coincidentally eligible for
early retirement at four times her anticipated rate only 11
days before her dismissal, Donna Sweeney
expects this little political sleight of hand to increase her annual
taxpayer-funded kiss in the mail from $4,600 to $20,000 a year.
Not bad for a lady with another twenty-five years in the work force
before becoming eligible for Social Security -- if she had only that to
fall back on.
All this week, the House has
been rather quietly deliberating its version of next fiscal year's
budget. I use the term "quietly" as, for the most part
rank-and-file legislators are doing little but voting for the
leadership's bulk packages. But what's new? The most
important thing our "full-time" representatives in "The Best Legislature
Money Can Buy" is supposed to do over the course of a year is producing
its upcoming state budget -- but if none of them honestly know what
they're voting on but what their leadership decrees as usual, again I
ask: Why do we need to pay for 160 reps in the House, another 40
senators in the Senate?
As usual, we and they probably
won't know about all the "earmarks" and adopted local aid amendments
(e.g., last year's state funding of Victorian street lights for Melrose,
etc.) -- gifts to the leadership's favorites -- until a week or two
after the House budget is finalized and sent on to the Senate.
One good news note: At
least one state supreme judicial court has issued a unanimous ruling
that defends the free speech of radio talk show hosts -- removing them
from the intricate restrictions of campaign finance laws.
In the Washington state high
court's decision, Justice Barbara Madsen wrote: "Under the
[state Public Disclosure Commission's] regulation, the media exemption
applies to coverage of a candidate or ballot measure that occurs during
the 'content' period of a broadcast, as opposed to the commercial
advertising period, when payment is normally required. However,
the mere fact that a broadcast has value to a campaign, or includes
solicitation of funds, votes, or other support, does not convert
'commentary' into 'advertising' when it occurs during the content
portion of a broadcast for which payment is not normally required."
I'd hope our state Supreme Judicial Court would make
the same finding -- but here, who knows?
The Boston Globe
Wednesday, April 25, 2007
Nice ride for newest Shrewsbury voters
By Megan Woolhouse
High school students will travel to the polls on Election Day this
Tuesday in style. The Shrewsbury League of Women Voters has arranged for
any students old enough to vote to take a limousine to the polls.
The ride is free, courtesy of APerfect Limousine Service. Nobel laureate
Craig Mello as well as State Senator Ed Augustus (D-Worcester) and State
Representative Karyn Polito (R-Shrewsbury) will ride along as escorts.
League president Kelly Marcimo said in a press release that the event
was arranged to "start students off with a memorable voting experience
that will encourage them to be life long voters."
League members said they have registered nearly 300 high school students
to vote in the last two years.
In Tuesday's election, every vote counts. Residents will weigh in on a
hotly-debated $5 million tax override that will add $1 million to the
school department's budget in 2008.
The Amherst Bulletin
Friday, April 27, 2007
Lawn sign theft-most-vile in Amherst
By Mary Carey
As sure as all politics is local, in the late Tip O'Neill's famous words
-- in all political campaigns, there will be shenanigans with the lawn
But it doesn't always happen that lawn sign politics veers into fodder
for a true crime novel.
"Only in Amherst," as Town Meeting member and local pundit Larry Kelley
might say. Or, as he puts it in the title of his blog -- only in the
Republic of Amherst.
Kelley is on the "No" side in the May 1 override debate. While
proponents argue the town needs to override the Proposition 2½ tax levy
limit by $2.5 million dollars and implement a multi-year plan to get
Amherst out of persistent financial straits, Kelley's side argues that
taxpayers are already overburdened.
On Friday, April 20, Kelley and colleagues, including longtime former
Shelburne Selectman Stanley Gawle, took their campaign to the lawns,
posting 150 "NO MORE OVERRIDE" signs around town.
By Sunday, more than half of the signs were gone, according to Kelley
"You expect to a lose signs during any political campaign," Gawle said.
"But when there's that many, there has to have been a concerted effort.
Whether it's hooligans or whatever, it's not a random thing."
Gawle is just worn out from putting in 16-hour days over the past three
weeks, organizing, raising money and getting the word out about the
override, he said. And then this.
Kelley took to his blog, OnlyintheRepublicofAmherst.blogspot.com.
"Under cover of darkness cowards trampled the First Amendment rights
(not to mention trespassing and petty larceny laws) of many fellow
citizens in this town that purportedly relishes free and open debate, by
stealing signs shouting "No More Overrides" in bright yellow-and-black,
mimicking angry bees protecting their nest," Kelley wrote.
Signs were missing all over -- not just the main streets, "so it was not
simply college students snatching spur of the moment souvenirs," Kelley
noted. "How would you feel if you, your spouse and four kids were sound
asleep at 2:00 am and somebody was rummaging around on your front lawn?
Override supporters including Select Board member Alisa Brewer and
parent organizer Richard Hood, among others, quickly rallied, denouncing
the sign thief (or thieves) on Kelley's blog. They offered to help pay
for a $500 reward to anyone with information "leading to discovery of
the cowards who orchestrated this despicably act," as Kelley put it.
Then -- a break in the case. A cell phone and pack of cigarettes were
found near a stretch of Route 116 where some signs had gone missing (See
related story on Page 6).
"Turns out the owner of the cell phone has connections to Amherst
College (do they allow students to smoke?)," Kelley wrote on his blog.
"Some of the stored numbers match up with a once prominent left-leaning
writer (Education and the Nuclear Freeze) who was on staff in the
1970's, and a current AC high-ranking administrator. Of course, the
owner also had the White House and the main number to Congress in there,
so I guess that makes him 'politically active.'"
That's about all blogger Kelley and Gawle have revealed so far of what
they know about the perpetrator of "the great lawn sign caper," as
Kelley puts it.
As a reader named Jonathan commented on Only in the Republic Amherst,
"We're waiting with bated breath. Do you have a name, or what?"
TUESDAY: Townwide vote on proposed $2.5 million Proposition 2½ tax
levy limit override. Polls open 7 a.m. to 8 p.m.
The Boston Globe
Wednesday, April 25, 2007
Voters return mixed results on tax overrides
By Kathy McCabe
Voters on the North and South shores issued a mixed verdict yesterday on
Proposition 2½ overrides. Tax hikes were soundly rejected in Saugus and
Gloucester, while Westwood voters approved a $2.78 million request to
increase school spending.
Meanwhile, Milton Selectman James G. Mullen, a 15-year veteran, was
defeated in the town's annual election, after a contentious campaign
marked by allegations that he pressured town workers to sign a letter
supporting his candidacy that was published in a local newspaper.
Kathryn Fagan, a former library trustee, defeated Mullen, who is also
the town clerk.
In a close race, Fagan defeated Mullen, 3,826 to 3,657.
A $5.2 million override in Saugus, the largest of some 50 tax increases
proposed by Bay State communities this spring, was defeated by a 2-to-1
margin. The final tally was 4,572 opposed and 2,180 in favor. Saugus
officials said the increase, which would have raised the average tax
bill by $400, on a house valued at $389,700, is needed to cope with a
ballooning healthcare deficit now approaching $3 million.
The result will force the town north of Boston to lay off dozens of town
workers, close the senior center and youth programs, and shutter Town
Hall on Fridays, officials said. Also on the chopping block are 18
teaching jobs, as well as four firefighting and two police officers'
"I am more disappointed than surprised," Town Manager Andrew R.
Bisignani said. "The voters have spoken. They have given us a mandate.
We will do what we have to do to comply."
Bisignani said he is concerned the results will prompt state revenue
officials to take a closer look at the town's beleaguered finances. The
state Department of Revenue has said the town must increase revenues or
face intervention, such as an appointed control board. "The state will
be looking more closely at us now, to make sure we avoid further
financial collapse," he said.
In Gloucester, voters rejected a debt exclusion needed for a planned $15
million expansion and renovation of the Sawyer Free Library. Approval of
the ballot question was needed for the city to meet its share of the
project cost and for the library to provide the required match for a
The ballot measure, rejected by a vote of 2,735 to 1,607, would have
allowed the city to collect $7 million beyond the limits of Proposition
2½ to repay debt for the building project.
The debt exclusion would have added $52 in the first year to the tax
bill of a median house, valued at just under $400,000. That cost would
gradually decrease to $27 over 20 years. The remaining project costs
were to be covered by a $4 million state grant, and $4 million in
"I'm disappointed for the library," said Mary Jane McGlennon, president
of the library's board of directors. "I am also disappointed for the
city of Gloucester. I really believed that this project could be a
turnaround moment for Gloucester."
In Westwood, where school officials had worked months for the override,
voters approved a $2.78 million ballot question that will add $393 to
the tax bill of a median-priced house of $566,000. The ballot question
was approved 3,002 in favor to 2,207 opposed.
Globe correspondents Christine Wallgren and John Laidler contributed
to this report.
The Gloucester Times
Wednesday, April 25, 2007
Voters close book on library's expansion plans
By Richard Gaines
Gloucester voters, reeling from crumbling infrastructure, taxes and
water and sewer rates with no ceiling in sight, yesterday said no to a
voluntary library tax.
They produced a solid no vote to the higher taxes beyond the statutory
2.5 percent annual levy increase limit that would have helped finance a
$15 million modernization and expansion of Sawyer Free Library.
A small turnout, about 20 percent of the city's 19,000 registered
voters, said no by just less than a 2-1 margin.
The citywide vote went against the library tax, 2,735 to 1,607.
The single question the special election asked was whether the city
should borrow $7 million to leverage $8 million - $4 million each from
private donations to be raised by the friends of Sawyer Free Library and
a state grant.
Library officials girded for the bad news based on sketchy exit polling
and the results from Magnolia (Ward 5, Precinct 1) where voters rejected
the offer of extra taxes by nearly 2 to 1.
"I'm disappointed for the library," said president Mary Jane McGlennon.
"I'm even more disappointed for Gloucester. I hoped it would be a
She said she'd held out hope voters would seize the opportunity to make
an optimistic statement in the face of a pounding by bad fiscal news.
"Clearly, she said, "voters were not ready."
Across the city, except for the Lanesville, Bay View and Annisquam
sections and East Gloucester, voters rejected the debt exclusion
proposition to take on an extra tax burden. The increase in taxes would
have been about $52 a year for the owner of a median priced home for the
20 years of the loan, characterized as like a mortgage by override
Library and political officials attributed the defeat to the city's
perilous financial condition, which only worsened in the days before the
referendum with news of enormous new required spending on the sewer and
"This has been like a tsunami," said historian Joseph Garland, who had
led the last library expansion campaign more than 30 years ago.
From its beginning nine weeks ago, the override campaign had an eerie
feel. Backed by nearly all elected officials, from Mayor John Bell to
Council President James Destino, it was organized with impressive
precision on behalf of an institution with no enemies. And it faced no
organized opposition except for the nearly palpable weight of the city's
declining fiscal health.
At a special meeting of the City Council held just before polls closed,
Destino contemplated new state mandates for infrastructure improvements
and declared, "They're going to bankrupt the city with water and sewer
Councilor Bruce Tobey made a rough estimate, that within five years, the
rates, now already among the highest in the nation, would double to meet
the demands of regulators.
Pat Earle, the library campaign consultant, looked at the tote board on
the wall of the override campaign's Main Street headquarters and sighed,
"We (identified) 1,500 (yes votes), we called 1,500 and we got 1,500."
Dog Town warden Joe Orange, a veteran of many campaigns, said the
outcome was "a matter of priorities. If the building was dysfunctional
... but it's not. It can function, put it (the modernization and
expansion) on hold," was his analysis.
High school government leader Fitz Lufkin, who has become a fixture at
municipal government events, said the expansion and modernization "was a
great idea. It would have benefitted the city. But people felt more
pressing issues that needed the money."
Former Councilor Joseph Ciolino, whose wife Joan was a lead advocate in
the low-profile campaign, mourned the loss of the state grant. "Four
point five million (dollars) of desperately needed funding is going to
another community. Some other city's going to benefit," he said.
The Sawyer officers pressed for the referendum now in expectation that
the state would announce the grant this summer. Recipient communities
must demonstrate the financing for expansions is in place within six
months or lose their place in the competitive process.
Former City Councilor Jeff Worthley, who lent the campaign the mailing
list he used in his losing mayoral campaign last year, scoffed at those
who chastised the library for its timing.
"Bad timing?" he said. "There's no such thing as good timing in
The Boston Globe
Wednesday, April 25, 2007
House votes for spending on extended school days
By Lisa Wangsness
The House voted yesterday to match Governor Deval Patrick's proposal to
add $6.5 million to extended learning-time programs in public schools,
which would double its original commitment and expand the program from
10 schools to 18.
The change was a victory for the freshman governor, who saw many of his
highest-profile budget recommendations ignored or scaled back in the
budget the House released earlier this month.
By the end of its second day of considering budget amendments, the House
had added about $50 million to the $26.7 billion spending plan it
released earlier this month. The House budget originally depended upon
about $500 million in reserves and other one-time revenues; the
additional spending means additional one-time funds could be required to
balance the budget, unless tax revenues are higher than anticipated.
Nearly $26 million of the extra money the House approved yesterday went
to education, including $5.5 million for accounts that provide
supplementary state education aid to communities, $6.25 million for
early education, and $500,000 for after-school programs. The House did
not match the governor's proposal to increase spending on all-day
kindergarten. David Guarino, a spokesman for House Speaker Salvatore F.
DiMasi, said the Department of Education told the House the program did
not need more than the $4.1 million in new spending the House budget had
Earlier yesterday, the House added about $20 million to its bottom line
for health and human services, veterans' services, and public health;
and $2.3 million for welfare and social services. On Monday, House
members increased by $3 million funding for disabilities, mental health,
and mental retardation services.
Material from the State House News Service was used in this report.
The Boston Globe
Thursday, April 26, 2007
House restores funding for antigang initiative
hailed by safety advocates
By Lisa Wangsness
The House restored funding for a popular antigang program yesterday in
its third day of budget deliberations, delighting public safety
officials and social service advocates who say the money is desperately
needed to combat gang violence in urban areas.
The Shannon Community Safety Initiative provided $11 million in the last
year to police departments and community organizations in 34 cities
across the Commonwealth. The idea behind the grants is to combine
advanced law enforcement strategies with programs to prevent children
from getting involved with gangs.
Neither Governor Deval Patrick's plan nor the initial House budget
included money to extend the program into a second year, so yesterday
proponents claimed a huge victory, particularly since there is little
extra money to go around this year. "This is a monumental success for
us," said Representative Stephen R. Canessa, a Democrat from New Bedford
who sponsored the amendment.
The House also added some funding for Patrick's plan to put more police
on the streets. In its initial budget proposal earlier this month, the
House had provided no money for the governor's proposal, but members set
aside $2.5 million for the purpose yesterday.
The House budget already included $20 million for a community policing
program that Patrick would have eliminated to pay for his new police
By yesterday evening, the House added nearly $100 million to its $26.7
billion bottom line, including about $25.8 million for education; about
$22.4 million for health and human services, public health, and
veterans' services; $5 million for water and sewer rate relief; $2.3
million for welfare and social services; $3 million for disabilities,
mental health, and mental retardation services; and $2.2 million for
housing and transportation .
An aide to Speaker Salvatore F. DiMasi said House leaders believe that
higher-than-anticipated revenue will cover some of the new spending and
that the rest will come from reserves.
The Boston Globe
Friday, April 27, 2007
Budgeting in the back room
With less open debate, critics say public loses
By Lisa Wangsness
Democracy can be a messy business, as the old saw goes. But whoever said
that hasn't been to the Massachusetts State House during budget season
lately. As House members gathered on Beacon Hill this week to determine
how nearly $27 billion in taxpayer money should be distributed, there
were no ugly debates or suspenseful votes on spending priorities.
Instead, top lawmakers retreated down a corridor cordoned off from the
public to determine which budget proposals would make it and which would
not. Periodically, batches of amendments emerged and were sent to the
floor for a swift and orderly approval.
Yesterday, as deliberations continued, the House chamber stood quiet for
hours, as discussions of changes to the highly complex Medicaid budget
went on in private from late morning to midafternoon. During that time,
the only public action occurred when a substitute for House Speaker
Salvatore F. DiMasi appeared with a gavel to extend the recess for
another few hours.
Ultimately, the budget leaders emerged and won quick passage of $38.7
million in additional spending on Medicaid and elder affairs, with
minimal debate. As of early this morning, the House added at least $135
million in amendments to its original $26.7 billion spending plan during
four days of deliberations, with a final vote expected today.
While the winds of change may be blowing through other State House
corridors this year, with Governor Deval Patrick vowing to bring a new
openness to state government, the making of the state budget remains
largely a backroom affair.
"It is all closed doors, from soup to nuts," said Pamela Wilmot,
executive director of Common Cause Massachusetts. "I don't think there's
another state -- at least I haven't come across another state -- that
has a similar process that is closed to the extent this one is."
David Guarino, a spokesman for DiMasi, defended the House budget
process, saying it involves plenty of open discussion.
"There has been public debate on the budget all week, and each member
has met with the [Ways and Means] chairman throughout the process to
talk about what is important," he said. He added that there are fewer
fireworks on the House floor these days because amendments on unrelated
policy issues, such as the death penalty, are no longer allowed. In the
11th hour yesterday, however, the most spirited debate of the week
erupted on just such an unrelated proposal -- to give homeowners more
protection from foreclosure.
A generation ago, lawmakers haggled for weeks before passing a budget.
Fiery floor fights over line items would drag on till the wee hours,
sometimes all night. But over the years, and particularly under Thomas
M. Finneran, House leaders made changes to make the ordeal quicker and
more orderly, which consolidated power in the hands of a few.
This winter, the genial House Ways and Means chairman, Robert A. DeLeo
of Winthrop, invited every member of the House to a one-on-one meeting
with him, so he could personally listen to their priorities. But DeLeo
and his staff wrote the budget, in consultation with DiMasi. Most
members of the House Ways and Means Committee saw the document just
before everyone else did.
Members are allowed to submit amendments, but DeLeo is the main arbiter
of which ones get endorsed by the leadership.
On the House floor, lawmakers can appeal to the full body if they
disagree with one of DeLeo's decisions. But in practice, the GOP's tiny
19-member caucus offers nearly all the challenges and are generally
Before last night's foreclosure debate, most of the discussion time was
taken up by lawmakers offering encomiums to DeLeo or another committee
leader, thanking them for including one of their wish-list items in an
amendment. They often struggled to be heard over the din of their
colleagues' chatter, which grew so loud that the representative in the
chair often asks members to "subdue their conversations."
Jackson C. Hall, a lobbyist for healthcare and education interests, said
that having public debates does not necessarily make the process more
But "when they go off into an antechamber to hash out the details of an
amendment, is that accountability?" he asked. "I think that is a fair
Guarino, however, said most members are "pleased with the amount of
discussion they have relative to the budget."
Representative Stephen R. Canessa, a Democrat from New Bedford,
successfully secured an additional $11 million for antigang programs
through the amendment process this week.
If each representative made his case to the full House on every topic,
Canessa said, it would take all year to pass a budget.
What really matters, he said, is whether the rank and file have
influence. DeLeo, he said, makes that possible by listening carefully to
each member's priorities; in fact, the chairman met with him twice.
"I don't think it's necessarily just him making the decision, because
each one of us has input on that decision through that process," Canessa
But other members are not so sure.
Representative Harriet L. Stanley, a Democrat from West Newbury who
refers to it as "the incredible shrinking budget process," says she
misses the days when the budget was debated openly.
"In our attempts to professionalize the process, we've actually ended up
marginalizing members' input," she said. "Maybe the rock 'em, sock 'em,
anything-goes debates of the past would help make state government
Jones, the minority leader, said the public loses when the budget
process goes behind closed doors and when each piece of the budget
"I think you lose accountability," he said. "I think you lose the
ability to know where your own rep stood on any particular issue. And I
think a piece of what is lost is legislators who fully appreciate the
complexity of the budget.
"And when you lose that, you lose the ability to . . . educate the
The Boston Globe
Thursday, April 26, 2007
Firing could boost a state pension
Ex-aide to DiMasi may gain fourfold
By Andrea Estes
House Speaker Salvatore F. DiMasi's executive assistant, Donna Sweeney,
was fired last month after 20 years of service in the House of
Representatives, 20 years and 11 days, to be exact.
The dismissal of the 42-year-old staff member, less than two weeks after
she qualified for early pension benefits, could increase her annual
payout to $20,000, more than four times the annual amount she would have
received if she had quit. The increase could mean potentially hundreds
of thousands of dollars more in pension payments over her lifetime.
Under a law designed to protect employees from being harmed by
politically motivated dismissals when newly elected officials take over,
state workers who have 20 years of service are eligible for
significantly higher pension benefits if they are terminated and can
prove they were not fired because of questionable behavior. But they are
disqualified from the enhanced benefit if there is any evidence of
collusion with a superior to make what is in fact a resignation appear
to be a termination.
Soon after Sweeney was dismissed in March, the State Retirement Board
delayed a vote on her application for an enhanced pension after board
members raised questions about the timing of her termination. The board
will reconsider Sweeney's request today. If denied, Sweeney would
qualify for an annual pension of $4,600.
In response to a query from the board, House personnel director E. Keith
Johnson said Sweeney's executive assistant position was eliminated as
part of a comprehensive House reorganization that began in fall 2005.
The speaker wanted a special assistant, someone who would assume
Sweeney's main duties as scheduler and also take on "additional
managerial and supervisory tasks." Three days after Sweeney was told her
job would no longer exist, the House hired Katie Quinn, Johnson wrote.
According to State Retirement Board records, it is highly unusual for an
employee to be dismissed just after becoming eligible for the enhanced
pension. Most often, the higher pension kicks in as the result of a new
administration coming into office and filling agencies with its own
hires. Elected officials with enough service can also qualify if they
lose a reelection race.
In 2002, the Retirement Board rejected a similar claim by Peter Forman,
chief of staff to Acting Governor Jane Swift, after some board members
questioned whether he had really been dismissed. The board restored the
benefits the following year after Swift signed an affidavit stating that
she had fired Forman.
Between January and March, 16 former state employees applied for the
so-called Section X pensions. Three applications were denied, including
that of a worker who said she was terminated exactly on the 20th
anniversary of her hiring, according to Retirement Board records. The
board determined that she had not actually been fired.
In one of the other cases, the board determined that the worker had been
offered another job and had not been fired.
Most of the applicants had substantially more than 20 years of service
when they were fired. Some were longtime officials replaced in the early
weeks of the Patrick administration, including David Peters, former
commissioner of the Department of Fish & Game, who had 20 years and
three months of service, and Janice Tartarka, former director of the
Office of Consumer Affairs and Business Regulation, who had nearly 25
years of state service.
Allison Mitchell, spokeswoman for state Treasurer Timothy P. Cahill, who
oversees the Retirement Board, would not say how the board is likely to
act on Sweeney's application. "The Retirement Board reviews these cases
very carefully to make sure the applicant has met the requirements of
the law," she said.
Sweeney, a Medford resident, could not be reached for comment. According
to public records, she earned $46,000 in 2005.
The timing of Sweeney's departure was coincidental, DiMasi spokesman
David Guarino said. DiMasi decided to replace her in November, he said,
but the reorganization and hiring process dragged on for several months.
"In March, as we eliminated a number of other titles throughout the
House and changed job descriptions, a final decision was made," he said.
"Because the speaker couldn't be without a scheduler, Donna stayed on
until a replacement was found."
Sweeney's successor, who previously worked as an aide to two state
lawmakers, is serving not only as DiMasi's scheduler but as his office
manager and liaison to other legislators, Guarino said.
But observers said the state's pension system should be reviewed because
there is too much opportunity for abuse.
David Tuerck -- executive director of the Beacon Hill Institute, a
conservative think tank -- said it does not make sense for the state to
give a bonus to people who are dismissed, even if the reason has nothing
to do with their performance.
"So, the penalty for being fired is you get another $15,000 a year?"
If the state moved from a traditional pension plan, in which benefits
are figured according to a formula, to a defined contribution plan, in
which benefits depend on the amounts contributed and how the money is
invested, pension abuse would be virtually impossible, he said.
"The reason we have the existing plan is so that politicians can reward
their cronies," he said. "This system is not to the advantage of the
average employee, who would do better if their money were put in the
market. The worst part is that the state has an enormous unfunded
pension liability, and this just exacerbates the problem."
Senate Minority Leader Richard R. Tisei, Republican of Wakefield, has
proposed legislation that would cap payouts, in an effort to eliminate
"There is a compelling need to reexamine our entire pension system to
eliminate the quirks and loopholes that exist," he said. "Every time
they are exercised and come to light, the public loses confidence in the
system. And state employees, who expect the system to have integrity,
lose confidence, as well."
When state employees apply for the pension Sweeney has requested, their
employer must certify under penalty of perjury that the employee either
was not reappointed, that his or her office or job was abolished, or
that he or she was removed or discharged "without moral turpitude."
The application must be approved by both the Retirement Board and the
Public Employee Retirement Administration Commission, which oversees
public pension systems.
If Sweeney's application is approved, she will begin collecting benefits
retroactive to March.
The Associated Press
Thursday, April 26, 2007
Radio talk show hosts exempt
from campaign finance laws
By Rachel La Corte
Olympia, WA -- A unanimous state Supreme Court ruled Thursday that two
radio talk show hosts who used airtime to support a gas-tax rollback
initiative they launched were not required to report their commentary as
an in-kind political contribution.
The court also reinstated a countersuit filed by the No New Gas Tax
campaign against the local governments that initially sued: San Juan
County and the cities of Auburn, Kent and Seattle.
"This is a victory for free speech and a free press in Washington
state," said William Maurer, executive director of the Institute for
Justice Washington chapter, who argued the case before the high court.
"Washingtonians can rest assured that the news and voice and commentary
they hear has not been censored or restricted by the government in any
The ruling overturns a 2005 ruling by Thurston County Superior Court
Judge Chris Wickham that talk show hosts John Carlson and Kirby Wilbur
at Seattle radio station KVI were key organizers and promoters of
Initiative 912. The ballot measure was aimed at heading off a four-step,
9.5-cent-a-gallon increase in the state gasoline tax.
The judge said the pair used their shows to launch the campaign,
soliciting contributions and volunteers. He said the air time amounted
to an in-kind contribution to the campaign and required that the value
be reported to the state Public Disclosure Commission.
State law says editorials, commentaries and other types of news reports
are not considered contributions.
"Under the PDC's regulation, the media exemption applies to coverage of
a candidate or ballot measure that occurs during the 'content' period of
a broadcast, as opposed to the commercial advertising period, when
payment is normally required," Justice Barbara Madsen wrote for the
court. "However, the mere fact that a broadcast has value to a campaign,
or includes solicitation of funds, votes, or other support, does not
convert 'commentary' into 'advertising' when it occurs during the
content portion of a broadcast for which payment is not normally
Mike Vaska, the lead attorney representing the local governments, argued
the case was never an issue of free speech. He said that Carlson and
Wilbur crossed the line of free speech by running a campaign from behind
"They were the campaign," he said. "Had they not been running the
campaign and had no connection, you don't have any disclosure
requirement. They were doing more than talking about the issue, they
were asking for money."
Wilbur, Carlson and the station argued their role with the initiative
was within the normal bounds of radio fare.
The high court agreed.
"The uncontroverted facts establish that the radio station involved here
is a regular media entity that is not controlled by a candidate or
political committee," Madsen wrote. "The radio station was exercising
one of its core media functions in broadcasting Wilbur's and Carlson's
After the Thurston County ruling, the No New Gas Tax campaign had
reported the show's value as a $20,000 in-kind contribution from the
Seattle station's owner, Fisher Broadcasting. The campaign also reported
its calculation of what various newspaper accounts were worth,
acknowledging that the numbers had to be made up out of thin air.
PDC Assistant Director Doug Ellis said his agency was still reviewing
the decision, and that the commission would be briefed by its attorney
at a meeting next Wednesday.
Carlson called the decision "a swift rebuke to those who want to use
campaign finance laws to silence political opinions they disagree with."
In his concurring opinion, Justice Jim Johnson agreed, writing that
"Prosecutors must not use the threat of a punitive lawsuit, amounting to
an unconstitutional prior restraint on free speech, to block political
opponents from exercising their constitutional rights."
The case is San Juan County v. No New Gas Tax, docket number 77966-0.
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