CLT UPDATE
Monday, December 31, 2007

2007: The good, the bad, and the ugly


The Good

Citing the restoration of teacher jobs and other positive changes, an independent panel has lifted the warning status it had placed on Triton Regional High School's accreditation last year....

The financial squeeze stemmed from the rejection of Proposition 2 overrides by voters in all three towns in 2006, a defeat that forced the district to reduce its planned budget increase for fiscal 2007 from 13.9 percent to 4.1 percent. Twenty-six teaching jobs were lost, three of them at the high school, and all after-school programs became entirely fee-based. (Several jobs were later restored with receipt of higher-than-anticipated state aid funds, but not the high school teaching positions).

The average fiscal 2008 increase in assessments for the three towns was 12 percent. Rowley approved an override to fund its assessment. Salisbury rejected an override, but later was able to cover its assessment without one (my emphasis).  Newbury approved its share without an override attempt.

The Boston Globe - North edition
Thursday, December 20, 2007
Warning status lifted for Triton Regional


Governor Deval Patrick says a proposed ballot question that would end the state income tax is "just a dumb idea" that would set the state on a road to fiscal ruin....

Carla Howell of the Committee For Small Government says there is plenty to cut in the state budget and the ballot question would give lawmakers an incentive to make reductions.

"They need to spend the money they have right and cut all the waste and the damaging and destructive programs out of the state government that do more harm than good," she said. "If they do that, we will have 20 times more than we need for roads and bridges."

Asked to name a damaging or destructive program that should be cut, Howell declined to answer, saying the burden is on lawmakers to justify each program....

In 2002, Howell and other supporters gathered enough signatures to put the income tax question on the ballot. They did little to promote the question and opponents did less to fight it, assuming voters would handily reject it.

Of the 2.2 million who cast votes that year, 40 percent voted in favor, 48 percent voted against, and 12 percent left the question blank. That was close enough to rattle opponents, who have vowed to mount a vigorous campaign against the question if it goes before voters on the 2008 ballot.

Associated Press
Monday, December 24, 2007
Patrick says eliminating income tax would be ruinous


In August, Howell's Committee for Small Government filed its updated ballot language, and Michael Widmer of the Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation wasted no time pouring scorn on it. (Its name notwithstanding, the Taxpayers Foundation is a business lobby that often opposes broad-based tax relief.) Howell's proposal is "absolutely unreasonable," Widmer snorted. "Essentially she's trying to repeal the 20th century." ...

"Civilization costs something," the governor says, echoing the 1904 dictum of Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr.: "Taxes are the price we pay for civilized society."

Maybe so. But in Massachusetts lately, taxes are also the price we pay for Big Dig corruption, for larcenous public-employee pensions, for state-owned golf courses, and for wretched public schools. Higher taxes are no guarantee of a more civilized society.

As a matter of fact, when Holmes defended taxes as the price tag of civilization, there were no federal and state income taxes....

As Howell's ballot proposal advances, the fearmongers will shrilly warn that voting yes will plunge us into the Dark Ages. Like all addicts, those hooked on high taxes are terrified by the prospect of giving up their drug....

Nine states -- Alaska, Florida, Nevada, New Hampshire, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Washington, and Wyoming -- have no income tax. In 2008, Massachusetts has another chance to make it 10. Last time, the repeal campaign came close. Next year, let's put it over the top.

The Boston Globe
Sunday, December 30, 2007
A resolution: Abolish the income tax
By Jeff Jacoby


The Bad

State officials and fiscal analysts yesterday predicted relatively small increases of 2.4 percent to 4.1 percent in state tax collections next year, saying the rise will not be enough to close a projected budget gap for the 2009 fiscal year that could top $1 billion.

"What this says for the fiscal '09 budget is that the Commonwealth is in deep trouble," said Michael Widmer, president of the Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation, who is warning the shortfall could balloon to $1.5 billion because of spending increases that are built into the budget.

The slowing economy, stagnant corporate profits, and declining capital gains are sparking the state revenue dip, said several who testified at a State House hearing yesterday....

Widmer had the most pessimistic projection -- 2.4 percent growth from fiscal year 2008 to 2009 -- while the Beacon Hill Institute, a conservative think tank, offered the most optimistic estimate, 4.1 percent.

The Boston Globe
Friday, December 14, 2007
Larger state deficit predicted
due to near-static tax revenue


The Ugly

Those who wonder why homeowners are fed up with paying ever higher property taxes to support their municipal government need only look at the story of one police officer's shameful behavior and the inability, or rather, the unwillingness, of his superiors to do anything about it. It's possibly the worst case of mismanagement we've seen....

Taxpayers are fed up with being asked to pay more and more and getting in return public "servants" like this. They're tired of shelling out money for "paid administrative leaves" and settlements with people who didn't deserve their jobs in the first place.

And they're tired mostly of municipal leaders who countenance it all, who can't even make a case for firing the worst of the worst, who pay these leeches to go away, or worse, let them stay on and hope they keep quiet -- the better to cover their own bungling and incompetence.

None of this will change until taxpayers stand up and say, "No more!" They must insist that new contracts with individual public employees and agreements with unions protect their interests, not the employees'.

Elected officials need constant reminding they work for the taxpayers. It's time they stand up and do their jobs.

A Salem News editorial
Thursday, December 20, 2007
Yet another reason taxpayers are fed up


Several weeks ago, with very little debate and even less public notice, the Massachusetts Legislature enacted a so-called "deficiency budget" which the governor promptly signed into law. With the stroke of a pen, nearly $450 million in new-found "surplus" funds was quietly spent during a single afternoon. Yet the message from Beacon Hill could not have been louder: there will be no additional local aid from the state this year to our struggling cities and towns....

In reality, despite the repeated "warnings" about a $1 billion budgetary shortfall, nearly $450 million in surplus funds was "found" and promptly spent on such critical new items as pay raises for elected constitutional officers, doubling the size of the Governor's Office in Washington, D.C., and (accounting for the bulk of the spending) the full funding of numerous union contracts.

Notwithstanding the staggering deficiencies in municipal budgets that all our local communities are experiencing, not one penny of the $450 million was spent that afternoon on additional municipal assistance. So much for all the talk on Beacon Hill about meaningful property tax relief....

At the same time that cities and towns were taking money out of their stabilization funds just to maintain services, the commonwealth's Rainy Day Fund doubled in size - and is now at more than $2 billion. Indeed, when the state budget was enacted earlier this year it was supposed to be balanced by withdrawing $450 million from this stabilization fund -- a withdrawal which never occurred because even more revenues (i.e., taxes) were collected than anticipated.

The Milford Daily News
Wednesday, December 26, 2007
Public must fight for needed state aid
By State Rep. Paul J.P. Loscocco


It's time for Andover leaders to stop kicking the tires on a new vehicle-use policy and enact it for the good of town taxpayers....

The new policy could lower the number of vehicles the town owns and the way employees are allowed to use them. The end result should be less money spent of vehicles both in the immediate and long-term future.

For the past few years, leaders have discussed pursuing a Proposition 2 override just to keep the town running as it is. This year, the talk appears more serious than ever. Efforts to reduce current and future expenses need to be pursued even more seriously before residents should consider an override. The time for limiting the expense of vehicles is overdue....

A pending state court case will determine whether the value of having a take-home car should be included in calculating employees' pensions. In other words, even after someone retires and will never be called in the middle of the night -- the reason they needed a take-home vehicle -- they may still get money towards a car. And they will receive this extra cash for the rest of their life, meaning taxpayers will pick up this extra expense for the rest of their lives.

An Andover Townsman editorial
Thursday, December 27, 2007
Time to drive home new message


Chip Ford's CLT Commentary

Happy New Year one and all!

As this seems the time for retrospectives of the past year, I thought it appropriate to reflect on where we as taxpayers stand, how we made out over the past year.  It was a mixed result.

There were no new taxes on the state level, a plus -- but there were no tax cuts either, and Gov. Patrick's promise for "property tax relief" has gone nowhere but in the dumper of history.  Though the state stumbled upon a $450 million revenue surplus from out of the blue (surprise, surprise!) --  the Democrat-controlled Legislature and governor quickly spent it, as usual.

Michael Widmer, president of the so-called Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation, is already crying that the sky is falling in the next fiscal year -- as he did last year at about this time, before the Legislature tripped over a misplaced $450 million of taxpayers' overpayments.  Widmer was over a billion dollars off his estimate last year;  any bets on how much he'll be off in the year ahead?

Carla Howell and her staunch band of activists and petitioners who form The Committee for Small Government collected well more than enough signatures to put repeal of the state income tax on the upcoming November ballot, once again.  When it appeared there in 2002 it received almost 46 percent of the vote, stunning and staggering the establishment tax-and-spenders, like Widmer.  Watch for him and his so-called non-partisan Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation and its Fat-Cat Big-Business membership to lead the opposition ballot campaign next fall with coffers of cash, right alongside the state teachers union, the Massachusetts Teachers Association.

As usual, tax cut proponents are being asked the ridiculous question intended to deflect the issue:  "Where would you cut?"  CLT devised the perfect response years ago, providing a list of places then telling the interrogator to make a few then come back for more; we'll keep the list coming.  We've never been taken up on any of our suggestions, so why bother answering a foolish question that's just a meaningless diversion to change the subject.

Public employees' exceptional perks were big news over the past year -- garnering much media attention at last.  Gov. Patrick's plan to replace individual municipal health insurance plans with the state plan fizzled; it required public employee unions to endorse the switchover, and that's rarely happened.  Even when it was considered, the public employees have had the audacity to demand that they, not the taxpayers, receive the savings.

Public employee abuses proliferate still, but are more often being uncovered and revealed.  This is a good start, and probably accounts for so many failures of Proposition 2 overrides across the Commonwealth over this past year.  Taxpayers are being educated, informed, and are reacting the only way they can for self-preservation.  They are cutting off the excesses at their source -- higher taxes -- and telling their elected public officials to deal with it better; or at least deal with it at last.

So as we taxpayers enter 2008 we will remain necessarily vigilant as always.  Won't it be nice to see a ballot question to completely abolish the state income tax on the ballot come November, something to look forward to?  Won't it be fun to watch how the Legislature and governor react should it pass?!?

Chip Ford

 


The Good

The Boston Globe - North edition
Thursday, December 20, 2007

Warning status lifted for Triton Regional
By John Laidler


Citing the restoration of teacher jobs and other positive changes, an independent panel has lifted the warning status it had placed on Triton Regional High School's accreditation last year.

Triton officials, who learned of the action in a recent letter from the Commission on Public Secondary Schools, welcomed it as recognition of the progress the school is making with an increase in the district's budget voted by its three towns last spring.

"We were fairly confident that it was going to happen because we had addressed most of the things they had brought up as concerns," said High School principal Kevin McLaughlin. But he added, "It's like anything. Until you get official word, you kind of hold your breath a little."

The commission had placed the school on warning status in November 2006, citing a lack of revenue for the kindergarten to 12th grade district, which serves Newbury, Rowley, and Salisbury. It noted that the budget shortfall had resulted in increased class sizes and an elimination of after-school athletics and performing arts.

The financial squeeze stemmed from the rejection of Proposition 2 overrides by voters in all three towns in 2006, a defeat that forced the district to reduce its planned budget increase for fiscal 2007 from 13.9 percent to 4.1 percent. Twenty-six teaching jobs were lost, three of them at the high school, and all after-school programs became entirely fee-based. (Several jobs were later restored with receipt of higher-than-anticipated state aid funds, but not the high school teaching positions).

But last spring, the district's three towns approved a 6.99 percent budget increase for Triton for fiscal 2008. That increase was enough to hire 21.5 instructional employee positions, including three classroom teachers, a physical education teacher, and a part-time athletic director at the high school, according to the school district superintendent, Sandra J. Halloran. All 4.5 high school positions were restorations of previous job cuts.

Additional money also allowed a lowering of athletic user fees and elimination of most other user fees at the 980-student high school in Newbury.

"I'm very pleased that we were taken off warning and that our accreditation has been continued. I was hoping the commission would take us off warning status because the high school has done a lot of work," Halloran said. "The support of the communities is what really enabled us to put the things into place for the current school year and to address the issues" raised by the commission.

The average fiscal 2008 increase in assessments for the three towns was 12 percent. Rowley approved an override to fund its assessment. Salisbury rejected an override, but later was able to cover its assessment without one. Newbury approved its share without an override attempt.

McLaughlin, who assumed his post last July, said there is a "negative implication to being on warning status. Anybody outside the district or even inside the district who doesn't look closely at what it's about could have some negative thoughts about the district that may or may not be valid." Lifting the warning designation "removes that and allows us an opportunity to move forward and try to get better at what we do."

The commission is an arm of the New England Association of Schools and Colleges, which provides voluntary accreditation to public and private educational institutions in New England. A school whose accreditation is on warning status is required to address the issues raised by the commission. Failure to do so can lead to its accreditation being placed on probation and eventually to a potential loss of accreditation.

In a Nov. 20 letter to McLaughlin, commission director Pamela-Gray Bennett said the agency at its September meeting reviewed the two-year progress report Triton had prepared since its last 10-year accreditation in 2005, continued the school's accreditation, and removed the warning status.

She said the commission was pleased to learn of the "positive impact" of the fiscal 2008 budget increase, including teacher hirings and lowering or eliminating of user fees, along with reduced class sizes, more funding for technology in the media center, improved storage of student records, and voters' support of a tax override last spring.

The commission commended the school for some other positives, including the use of a mission statement in guiding decision making, and a 30 percent increase in the number of computers at the school. It asked for a progress report by next November on a number of recommendations, particularly one suggesting the district provide more time for teachers to collaborate on planning.

"We are very pleased with the voters in the towns for their support of the budget," said Regional School Committee chairwoman Susan C. Fish of Salisbury. Referring to the removal of the accreditation warning, she said, "I think this reassures parents that we are back on track and things are moving forward from here. It's always a good thing to see a warning status removed."

McLaughlin said the teacher hirings at the high school have had an immediate positive impact on class size. Before, there were a large number of classes with more than 25 students, he said, whereas now there are only two.

He said he is optimistic the school will avoid a return of its accreditation to warning status, noting, "I have a kind of positive feeling about the communities seeing the importance of keeping us on the right path."


The Good

Associated Press
Monday, December 24, 2007

Patrick says eliminating income tax would be ruinous
Repairs planned on infrastructure
By Steve LeBlanc


Governor Deval Patrick says a proposed ballot question that would end the state income tax is "just a dumb idea" that would set the state on a road to fiscal ruin.

In an interview with the Associated Press, Patrick said he has lived in places with no taxes, including the time he spent in Darfur 30 years ago. He says there were also no bridges, no good roads, and no public safety there.

"Civilization costs something," he said. "If we could have something for nothing, which is the fiction that has been sold by the right for some time now, then we wouldn't have a $19 billion upkeep backlog for the roads and bridges."

Patrick might have to get used to making that argument over the next year. Supporters of the ballot question gathered enough signatures to clear a major hurdle to getting it on the 2008 ballot.

Carla Howell of the Committee For Small Government says there is plenty to cut in the state budget and the ballot question would give lawmakers an incentive to make reductions.

"They need to spend the money they have right and cut all the waste and the damaging and destructive programs out of the state government that do more harm than good," she said. "If they do that, we will have 20 times more than we need for roads and bridges."

Asked to name a damaging or destructive program that should be cut, Howell declined to answer, saying the burden is on lawmakers to justify each program.

Patrick said that while it is important to "demand that government be responsible and efficient and accountable" with tax dollars, it is unrealistic to think that the state can absorb the loss of $11 billion in annual income taxes -- about 40 percent of its revenue -- without dire consequences.

Patrick said the loss of revenue would also come at a time when the state is trying to find an estimated $15 to $19 billion the next two decades to fix the state's aging roads and crumbling bridges.

He also said he won't be pushing for a cut in the state income tax to 5 percent. Voters overwhelming approve the cut in 2000, but lawmakers froze it at 5.3 percent.

"Unless people are prepared to say they will do without public transportation, or they will do without an airport, or they are content to have the homeless population increase . . . or they are prepared frankly to have their property taxes shoot up even faster than they have, then we can't responsibly move toward lowering the rate of the income tax now," Patrick said.

"People talk about it being their money. They're right," he added. "But it's also their broken bridge and their broken road and their broken neighborhood and broken school."

In 2002, Howell and other supporters gathered enough signatures to put the income tax question on the ballot. They did little to promote the question and opponents did less to fight it, assuming voters would handily reject it.

Of the 2.2 million who cast votes that year, 40 percent voted in favor, 48 percent voted against, and 12 percent left the question blank. That was close enough to rattle opponents, who have vowed to mount a vigorous campaign against the question if it goes before voters on the 2008 ballot.

Patrick was more circumspect about two other questions that could be headed for the ballot. One would ban greyhound dog racing. Another would decriminalize possession of an ounce or less of marijuana.

Patrick said he will consult with Kevin M. Burke, secretary of public safety, and Dr. JudyAnn Bigby, secretary of health and human services, about the marijuana question. "I think they are both skeptical," he said.

Seven years ago, a ballot question to ban greyhound racing was defeated by a margin of 48.6 percent to 46.7 percent.

The questions now head to the Legislature, where lawmakers have the option of adopting them. If they opt not to take action, activists have to gather another 11,099 signatures by the middle of next year to get the proposals on the 2008 ballot.


The Good

The Boston Globe
Sunday, December 30, 2007

A resolution: Abolish the income tax
By Jeff Jacoby


On Election Day five years ago, 885,683 Massachusetts citizens voted for a ballot measure to abolish the Massachusetts income tax -- a 45 percent level of support that shocked the state's political establishment, which had expected the question to go down to ignominious defeat, not come within a few percentage points of passing. So when Libertarian leader Carla Howell launched a new effort to junk the income tax earlier this year, the powers that be made it clear that this time they would do everything they could to discredit it.

In August, Howell's Committee for Small Government filed its updated ballot language, and Michael Widmer of the Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation wasted no time pouring scorn on it. (Its name notwithstanding, the Taxpayers Foundation is a business lobby that often opposes broad-based tax relief.) Howell's proposal is "absolutely unreasonable," Widmer snorted. "Essentially she's trying to repeal the 20th century."

Undeterred, tax-repeal supporters collected 100,000 voter signatures on initiative petitions, well above the number required to move the measure forward. So Governor Deval Patrick is cranking up the rhetoric. He told the Associated Press last week that undoing the income tax is "just a dumb idea" that would utterly devastate Massachusetts.

"Patrick said he has lived in places with no taxes, including the time he spent in Darfur 30 years ago," AP's Steve LeBlanc reported. "He says there were also no bridges, no good roads, and no public safety there. 'Civilization costs something,' he said. 'If we could have something for nothing, which is the fiction that has been sold by the right for some time now, then we wouldn't have a $19 billion upkeep backlog for the roads and bridges.' "

If that is Patrick's best case for preserving inviolate the state income tax, maybe he shouldn't be tossing the word "dumb" around quite so freely.

To begin with, Massachusetts without a personal income tax would not be a "place with no taxes." It would be a place with corporate income taxes, sales taxes, property taxes, gasoline taxes, meals taxes, hotel taxes, excise taxes, workers' compensation taxes, estate taxes, capital gains taxes, cigarette taxes, wine and liquor taxes, motor vehicle taxes, and real estate transfer taxes, not to mention the taxes ("license fees") imposed on a vast array of professions and occupations. The $11 billion collected in personal income taxes accounts for only 40 percent of state revenue. Take that away and the government of Massachusetts still helps itself to more than $16 billion a year. That's not exactly "no taxes."

It's not exactly Darfur, either. What a shameless comparison. Even Patrick cannot possibly believe that the misery and horror of Darfur is caused by insufficient taxation. A ballot initiative to repeal the state income tax is not an invitation to choose between life as we know it today or a life of poverty, lawlessness, and war. To suggest that those are the stakes is both ridiculous and disgraceful.

"Civilization costs something," the governor says, echoing the 1904 dictum of Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr.: "Taxes are the price we pay for civilized society."

Maybe so. But in Massachusetts lately, taxes are also the price we pay for Big Dig corruption, for larcenous public-employee pensions, for state-owned golf courses, and for wretched public schools. Higher taxes are no guarantee of a more civilized society.

As a matter of fact, when Holmes defended taxes as the price tag of civilization, there were no federal and state income taxes. Massachusetts didn't begin taxing incomes until 1916, which means that for most of its history, the Bay State survived -- even thrived -- without an income tax. As Howell's ballot proposal advances, the fearmongers will shrilly warn that voting yes will plunge us into the Dark Ages. Like all addicts, those hooked on high taxes are terrified by the prospect of giving up their drug. They cannot imagine how much better they will feel when they learn to live without it.

Eliminating the state income tax would reduce government spending by about $11 billion, shrinking the budget to its 1995 level. But that $11 billion would not be lost. It would be back in the private sector -- back in the hands of the men and women who earned it, and who are far more likely to spend, invest, or donate it wisely than the bloated state bureaucracy it goes to now.

Nine states -- Alaska, Florida, Nevada, New Hampshire, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Washington, and Wyoming -- have no income tax. In 2008, Massachusetts has another chance to make it 10. Last time, the repeal campaign came close. Next year, let's put it over the top.


The Bad

The Boston Globe
Friday, December 14, 2007

Larger state deficit predicted
due to near-static tax revenue
By Andrea Estes


State officials and fiscal analysts yesterday predicted relatively small increases of 2.4 percent to 4.1 percent in state tax collections next year, saying the rise will not be enough to close a projected budget gap for the 2009 fiscal year that could top $1 billion.

"What this says for the fiscal '09 budget is that the Commonwealth is in deep trouble," said Michael Widmer, president of the Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation, who is warning the shortfall could balloon to $1.5 billion because of spending increases that are built into the budget.

The slowing economy, stagnant corporate profits, and declining capital gains are sparking the state revenue dip, said several who testified at a State House hearing yesterday.

In addition, though poised to post its highest revenues ever, the state lottery will not be able to meet overly optimistic expectations built into the budget or continue to grow in the future, said State Treasurer Timothy Cahill. The lottery provides about $900 million to cities and towns, which have come to expect annual increases, said Cahill.

The officials and fiscal analysts appeared before a joint hearing of the Senate and House Committees on Ways and Means, who are working to come up with a revenue estimate that will guide Governor Deval Patrick and lawmakers as they put together next year's budget. Patrick is expected to unveil his budget plan on Jan. 23.

All the fiscal analysts predicted revenues would grow modestly in the next fiscal year, which begins July 1. In a budget of more than $20 billion, the differences among estimates were relatively minor.

Widmer had the most pessimistic projection -- 2.4 percent growth from fiscal year 2008 to 2009 -- while the Beacon Hill Institute, a conservative think tank, offered the most optimistic estimate, 4.1 percent.

The predictions of lower revenue led lawmakers to raise questions about potential new revenue generators, such as casinos, and the governor's proposal to close corporate loopholes.

Cahill predicted casinos could "produce a tremendous amount of revenue" for the state based on the spending habits of Massachusetts residents who, he said, spend far more on the lottery per capita than residents of any other state.

"I think they will be very, very successful," he said.

He acknowledged that introduction of casinos would hurt the lottery in the short term, siphoning off between 3 to 8 percent a year. But ultimately, he predicted, lottery players would return.

Cahill was asked whether the state should now sell the lottery to private investors to reap a huge windfall, a proposal recently floated by some Republican lawmakers. Cahill said interest has evaporated since last summer, when several investment firms were offering billions of dollars to buy or lease the lottery.

He suggested that the state instead look for ways to undo the built-in deficit that has been created by state employee health insurance and pension costs that are growing faster than revenues.

"We cannot pay for them indefinitely," he said. "It's not possible. We do not have the structure in place to support these programs at the level we desire."

Jonathan Haughton of the Beacon Hill Institute suggested the state raise the 23.5-cent-per-gallon gas tax and impose more fees on highway and bridge users, suggestions also made by a recent legislative Transportation Finance Commission.

Meanwhile, voters next fall could be asked to eliminate the most basic source of state revenue, the income tax.

Secretary of State William F. Galvin yesterday ruled that proponents of a ballot question that would repeal the state income tax had collected more than the 66,593 signatures required to send the petition to the Legislature. If lawmakers fail to vote on the matter before May 6, proponents can put the question on the Nov. 4 ballot by collecting 11,099 more signatures by July 3.

When it last appeared on the ballot in 2002, the measure was defeated, but received more than 45 percent of the vote.


The Ugly

The Salem News
Thursday, December 20, 2007

A Salem News editorial
Yet another reason taxpayers are fed up


Those who wonder why homeowners are fed up with paying ever higher property taxes to support their municipal government need only look at the story of one police officer's shameful behavior and the inability, or rather, the unwillingness, of his superiors to do anything about it. It's possibly the worst case of mismanagement we've seen.

Gloucester Patrolman Stephen Lamberis was placed on paid administrative leave starting on Aug. 11, 2005, which was changed to medical leave for several months and finally ended this past January after 17 months. He collected $136,000 for performing no work during that time.

Worse, at the end of all that time, the city's own lawyers concluded that police Chief John Beaudette had mishandled the case so badly that the city could not defend its reasons for placing Lamberis on leave. Nor, they said, could it defend Beaudette's decision that Lamberis was not fit to return to duty. The attorneys also concluded that the city would lose if it fought a threatened lawsuit by Lamberis alleging that he, the department's only black officer, had been a target of racial discrimination.

So, not only was Lamberis paid $136,000 for all that time off, but the City Council also voted to approve a $25,000 settlement to eliminate his threatened discrimination lawsuit. He was allowed to return to work, where he spent the first couple of months filing more grievances.

What had Lamberis done to merit suspension?

The bill of particulars against Lamberis -- or much of it -- finally came to light last week with the release of documents that the city had fought for two years to keep from our sister newspaper, the Gloucester Daily Times. It took an order by the state supervisor of public records to pry them loose, though some details continue to be withheld by the city.

Nevertheless, the specifics that have been made public are both shocking and appalling.

Perhaps the most egregious conduct occurred Aug. 9, 2005, when Lamberis failed to respond to an emergency call that a woman was unconscious and not breathing. Lamberis was working a private detail just around the corner and could have been there in seconds. Instead, it took other officers seven minutes to respond.

Later, according to the police chief, Lamberis lied multiple times in an attempt to cover up his inaction. He lied about his cell phone battery being dead and about where he was when the call came in. He lied about needing to stay at the detail site and he lied about not hearing the exact address of the emergency.

Then he badgered those at the work site to lie in his behalf to cover for his dereliction of duty.

And that is not the only incident of misconduct. Another memo from the chief says Lamberis tried to intimidate a contractor into saying a job had taken longer than it did so he could collect an extra hour of pay. And he'd been reprimanded previously for trying to gain extra time for a court appearance.

During all that time the only thing city officials would say in response to questions about why Lamberis was suspended was that he had "a past record of poor judgment."

Poor judgment? These were deliberate, premeditated acts that would bring shame and dishonor on an average citizen, never mind a police officer.

If it's not possible to fire an officer for this kind of conduct, what does it take? Yet Lamberis, whose dossier includes a record of lies and intimidation, received what amounted to a 17-month paid vacation along with a $25,000 bonus, and remains a law enforcement officer in Gloucester.

The shame and dishonor go well beyond Lamberis to the chief himself, to the police union, to the mayor and to the City Council. Every taxpayer ought to be outraged.

Taxpayers are fed up with being asked to pay more and more and getting in return public "servants" like this. They're tired of shelling out money for "paid administrative leaves" and settlements with people who didn't deserve their jobs in the first place.

And they're tired mostly of municipal leaders who countenance it all, who can't even make a case for firing the worst of the worst, who pay these leeches to go away, or worse, let them stay on and hope they keep quiet -- the better to cover their own bungling and incompetence.

None of this will change until taxpayers stand up and say, "No more!" They must insist that new contracts with individual public employees and agreements with unions protect their interests, not the employees'.

Elected officials need constant reminding they work for the taxpayers. It's time they stand up and do their jobs.


The Ugly

The Milford Daily News
Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Public must fight for needed state aid
By State Rep. Paul J.P. Loscocco


Several weeks ago, with very little debate and even less public notice, the Massachusetts Legislature enacted a so-called "deficiency budget" which the governor promptly signed into law. With the stroke of a pen, nearly $450 million in new-found "surplus" funds was quietly spent during a single afternoon. Yet the message from Beacon Hill could not have been louder: there will be no additional local aid from the state this year to our struggling cities and towns.

In theory, a deficiency budget is supposed to use additional available funds to cover actual "deficiencies" in current spending during a fiscal year. In reality, despite the repeated "warnings" about a $1 billion budgetary shortfall, nearly $450 million in surplus funds was "found" and promptly spent on such critical new items as pay raises for elected constitutional officers, doubling the size of the Governor's Office in Washington, D.C., and (accounting for the bulk of the spending) the full funding of numerous union contracts.

Notwithstanding the staggering deficiencies in municipal budgets that all our local communities are experiencing, not one penny of the $450 million was spent that afternoon on additional municipal assistance. So much for all the talk on Beacon Hill about meaningful property tax relief.

Coincidentally, this $450 million figure plays prominently in what should be the cause of consternation -- if not outrage -- by those in our communities facing significantly increasing property tax bills and the prospect of even further Proposition 2 overrides. For three fiscal years in a row the state budget "capped" the amount of lottery aid -- meaning, in essence, that the state "skimmed" funds from lottery collections which by law were supposed to be distributed to all municipalities in the commonwealth under a specific formula.

And the total amount diverted from local aid to help the state cover its budget shortfalls? -- you guessed it, $450 million. The net result of this diversion of funds is that our local communities were forced to make up this difference.

But hindsight shows that withholding this much money was not necessary to help our state get through difficult financial times. At the same time that cities and towns were taking money out of their stabilization funds just to maintain services, the commonwealth's Rainy Day Fund doubled in size - and is now at more than $2 billion. Indeed, when the state budget was enacted earlier this year it was supposed to be balanced by withdrawing $450 million from this stabilization fund -- a withdrawal which never occurred because even more revenues (i.e., taxes) were collected than anticipated.

Now don't get confused because the numbers are the same -- not only is the state still holding the $450 million in its Rainy Day Fund (which it was going to spend but didn't because of the extra $450 million in taxes collected) but the Legislature actually spent an additional $450 million in the deficiency budget -- with no extra spending for municipal assistance. Meanwhile, despite other significant increases in the local aid formula, our communities are now left facing serious continued budget shortfalls.

During the limited deficiency budget debate, I co-sponsored an amendment requiring the immediate distribution of this $450 million to municipalities as a one-time unrestricted local aid payment based on the lottery formula. In Holliston, for example, (where local officials are struggling to address a deficit currently projected at $1.3 million) the proposed distribution would mean $729,144 in additional funds. Similar examples are found in nearly every municipality in the commonwealth. Unfortunately, this amendment was not adopted -- and other spending priorities prevailed.

I have since co-sponsored a bill, along with several of my legislative colleagues, that again tries to force the immediate return to municipalities of the $450 million that was diverted during the state's fiscal crisis. This bill is currently pending as House Docket 4651 before the Rules Committee in the House of Representatives where I will relentlessly push for its passage.

Those in the Legislature with other spending priorities will recite that the commonwealth cannot afford to spend an additional $450 million in local aid -- notwithstanding that earlier this year many of these same legislators were proudly declaring that they had balanced the state budget by proposing to withdraw the very same $450 million from the Rainy Day Fund as a measure of "fiscal responsibility." The stark reality is that it's pouring rain -- our cities and towns are in fiscal crisis and desperately need these additional local aid funds right now.

This proposed legislation is asking nothing more than the return to our communities of this "extra" money that was previously taken (before it all gets spent) at a time when immediate receipt of these funds will make a meaningful difference -- as local budgets are being discussed for the upcoming fiscal year and difficult choices are being made. There should be no higher spending priority in the Legislature at present. Simply put: there is no substitute for public outcry on this issue of critical importance -- and the time to voice your support is right now.

If you would like further information on this legislation and what you can do to help, you may contact me at the State House -- (617) 722-2800 x8438 -- or by e-mail at rep.paulloscocco@hou.state.ma.us

State Representative Paul J.P. Loscocco represents the people of the 8th Middlesex District in the Massachusetts House of Representatives which includes the towns of Holliston, Hopkinton, Medway, Southborough, and Westborough. He is a member of the House Committees on Ways and Means, Transportation, Housing, and Labor and Workforce Development.


The Ugly

The Andover Townsman
Thursday, December27, 2007

An Andover Townsman editorial
Time to drive home new message


It's time for Andover leaders to stop kicking the tires on a new vehicle-use policy and enact it for the good of town taxpayers.

Two selectmen, Mary Lyman and Alex Vispoli, have spent close to two years looking at how Andover workers use town vehicles -- including take-home vehicles -- and how their perks compare to those in other communities. The full board is expected to vote next month on their recommendations. The new policy could lower the number of vehicles the town owns and the way employees are allowed to use them. The end result should be less money spent of vehicles both in the immediate and long-term future.

For the past few years, leaders have discussed pursuing a Proposition 2 override just to keep the town running as it is. This year, the talk appears more serious than ever. Efforts to reduce current and future expenses need to be pursued even more seriously before residents should consider an override. The time for limiting the expense of vehicles is overdue.

The use of take-home vehicles provides a clear example of just one area selectmen could cut. The town of Andover gives to 17 employees vehicles they can drive home, and spends more than $100,000 on gas and other take-home-car expenses each year. Emergency workers such as the top police and fire personnel may need take-home vehicles because of the unusual nature of their job. But many other workers do not. Department heads argue that all 17 people, including themselves, deserve the vehicles because they can be called into work at any hour of the day. Of course, in the private sector many people -- from technology experts to plant operators -- can be called into work at any hour and would never dream of needing a company car. For most, driving to work in their own car is part of having a job.

The expense may not even end when the employee retires. A pending state court case will determine whether the value of having a take-home car should be included in calculating employees' pensions. In other words, even after someone retires and will never be called in the middle of the night -- the reason they needed a take-home vehicle -- they may still get money towards a car. And they will receive this extra cash for the rest of their life, meaning taxpayers will pick up this extra expense for the rest of their lives.

Lyman and Vispoli deserve credit for tackling this issue, and the rest of the board can earn credit by following through and approving change in the interest of taxpayers.


NOTE: In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. section 107, this material is distributed without profit or payment to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving this information for non-profit research and educational purposes only. For more information go to: http://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/17/107.shtml


Return to CLT Updates page