CITIZENS   FOR  LIMITED  TAXATION  &  GOVERNMENT

 

CLT Update
Sunday, February 4, 2001

Leave the tax rollback alone;
State revenue up again over 2000, and;
Lawmakers spend campaign cash liberally


The Telegram & Gazette
Worcester, Mass.
Friday, February 2, 2001

Editorial
Reality check

Lawmakers are sadly mistaken if they think Massachusetts voters will stand by while they overturn or weaken the phased-in income tax rollback passed in November.

While Massachusetts has billions of dollars squirreled away in various "rainy day" and contingency accounts, Sen. Richard T. Moore of Uxbridge regrettably has taken the lead in a so-far fledgling campaign in the Senate to tinker with the hard-won tax relief.

Mr. Moore raises the specter of school closings due to lack of state funds and has issued ominous warnings of catastrophic cuts in health services, including community health centers and treatment for people with cancer and AIDS.

In fact, Gov. Paul Cellucci's budget proposal, which incorporates the income tax rollback, increases education aid -- especially to cities and fast-growing suburbs -- and earmarks $1 billion in spending on health programs in fiscal 2002.

More than a decade after lawmakers enacted a 20 percent increase in the income tax as a temporary measure to avoid insolvency, voters were forced last year to take the route of initiative petition to hold lawmakers to that promise.

Now, lawmakers once more appear to be considering defiance of the will of the people -- without even gauging the rollback's initial effects.

The voters' message in November was clear: They want prudent, sustainable growth in state government, not hyperinflated expansion.

Lawmakers should heed that message and forget about inventing dubious alibis for reversing or weakening the long-overdue rollback.


Associated Press
Friday, February 2, 2001

State revenues increase 15 percent in January

BOSTON (AP) State revenues increased 15 percent in January, despite predictions of an economic slowdown and calls for belt-tightening on Beacon Hill.

Revenues totaled $1.94 billion in January, up $254 million from January 2000, according to the Department of Revenue. The January report came as a surprise after revenues fell by 1.4 percent in December.

But Revenue Commissioner Frederick Laskey sounded a note of caution.

"Just as we did not panic when revenues were less than robust in November and December, we see no reason to celebrate now based on these numbers," he said in a statement. "One month does not make a trend."

Statehouse officials, especially in the Democrat-controlled Legislature, have predicted leaner times, particularly because of the income tax cut approved by voters in November. The tax cut is expected to reduce state revenues by $400 million this year.

Gov. Paul Cellucci's budget last week predicted that revenues would grow 6.6 percent this fiscal year, down from 10.2 percent last year.

But DOR officials said December's actual revenue numbers may have been higher than they appeared and January's lower than they appear because $30 or $40 million of December sales tax payments didn't arrive until January.

"They just got delayed in the holiday post," said Tim Connolly, a DOR spokesman.

Income tax collections for January totaled $1.4 billion, up 15 percent from a year ago. Sales tax collections were up 15 percent, and withholding tax collections increased 12 percent over January 2000.

Since the start of the fiscal year in July, the state has collected $9.5 billion in taxes, up 9 percent over last year at this time.


The MetroWest Daily News
Saturday, February 03, 2001

Lawmakers dip into campaign cash for cars,
restaurant bills and more

By David B. Caruso and John Gregg
News Staff Writers

BOSTON -- Efforts to gut the Clean Elections Law this winter could have a hidden benefit for legislators -- protecting a system that allows them to tap campaign funds for lavish perks often only marginally related to their State House jobs.

A News survey of campaign-spending records revealed dozens of examples where Beacon Hill's political elite spent the money, which is supposed to be used for political or official purposes, on activities that had clear personal benefits.

At least a dozen legislators used campaign cash last year to lease new cars. Others took frequent trips to exotic locales. Scores of lawmakers used donations to eat at expensive restaurants and buy wedding and christening gifts for political allies and supporters.

Among the year 2000 "campaign" expenses some lawmakers listed with the state:

-- House Speaker Thomas Finneran, a major critic of the Clean Elections Law, rang up more than $67,000 last year on his campaign credit card. Almost half that money paid for expensive dinners with political supporters and allies, gas for his car, and globetrotting trips that included a trade mission to Japan and Australia with his wife.

-- Rep. Salvatore DiMasi, D-Boston, spent $3,141 at three country clubs on frequent golf outings with constituents and colleagues.

-- Sen. Cheryl Jacques, D-Needham, rented a computer from her father, paying him more than $2,000 annually out of campaign funds.

-- Sen. Edward "Chip" Clancy Jr, D-Lynn, had his campaign committee pay $580 a month to lease and insure an Infiniti sedan, and Senate Minority Leader Brian Lees, R-East Longmeadow, spent $7,228 in campaign funds last year on his car.

-- Even Republican Gov. Paul Cellucci used campaign funds to splurge on $269 worth of wedding gifts from Tiffany's for two political supporters.

While not involving public funds, the spending is fueled by donations from constituents, lobbyists and other corporate and union interests -- many with active business before the state.

Such practices draw criticism from supporters of the Clean Elections Law, who say its voluntary spending limits and public financing will force lawmakers to devote the funds to obvious campaign and constituent services, such as newsletters and advertisements.

The meals and car payments struck a sour note with Citizens for Limited Taxation founder Barbara Anderson.

"C'mon, be reasonable. How can they represent their constituents if they have to walk everywhere and starve to death?" said Anderson, her voice dripping with sarcasm. "It's not like the rest of us, who have to pay for these things out of our personal paychecks. These are very important people."

"There's a lot of extraneous spending going on in their so-called campaign accounts," added George Pillsbury of the Massachusetts Money and Politics Project. "Most legislators don't have campaigns."

Under current law, Beacon Hill lawmakers are allowed to spend campaign funds on anything that "enhances" their political future, as long as it is not primarily for their personal use.

Lawmakers use that standard to say that meals with colleagues, cars to carry themselves to community meetings, even floral arrangements for constituents who have died, all serve a political purpose.

Denis Kennedy, spokesman for the Office of Campaign and Political Finance, conceded that the law has many "gray areas." But, he said, the required public disclosure of campaign spending serves as an important check to potential abuses.

"If something is questionable, or not covered in our law, at least it's disclosed, and the judgment can then be made by the constituent or the public about whether it's legitimate," Kennedy said."That's the flip side to having a vague standard."

'It's on me'

Some lawmakers use their campaign funds to finance what appears to be extraordinarily busy, and refined, social calendars.

DiMasi spent almost $4,000 on meals at pricey Boston-area restaurants, including Siro's, Davio's and the popular Beacon Hill hangout No. 9 Park.

Senate Ways and Means Chairman Mark Montigny last summer spent thousands of dollars treating friends to dinner at the Four Seasons and the Armani Cafe, and to" business meetings" at pubs and taverns like the Black Rose, Pravda 116 and the Gramercy Tavern in New York City.

In one three-day stretch in September, Cellucci, who supports the Clean Elections law, spent almost $800 in meals at Ciao Bella, Legal Sea Foods and Maison Robert. His chief of staff, Stephen O'Neill, dipped into the campaign account for several pricey meals that doubled as political meetings.

Jacques, the Needham Democrat now planning a run for lieutenant governor, spent thousands of dollars buying lunch, dinner and coffee for colleagues, constituents and herself. She said the expenses are justified.

"I meet a tremendous amount of people -- constituents, supporters, community leaders -- and more often than not, when we meet, we meet in a restaurant," Jacques said. "I absolutely feel compelled to pick up the tab. I don't know if people agree or disagree with that. But I feel I have to do it. And I couldn't pick it up out of my own pocket."

'I used to own a Cadillac'

Leasing cars with campaign funds is a common practice for several legislators.

Sen. Richard Moore, D-Uxbridge, leases his car for $400 a month, although he reimbursed the committee for about $845 for the time he spent driving the car on personal business, according to records.

Rep. Marie Parente, D-Milford, splits the lease payments on her Chevy Impala, picking up one-third of the cost herself and charging the remaining $245 a month to her campaign.

Parente said using campaign cash to pay for a car is legitimate because of the many meetings she must attend.

"The job requires travel," she said. "Why should I spend part of my hard-earned salary going to all the places the job takes me to? ... It's not the taxpayers' money."

Lawmakers are required to reimburse their campaign funds for the personal use of such cars, at the IRS rate of 32.5 cents per mile. But enforcement, for all practical purposes, relies on the honor system, and the campaign funds subsidize car costs for legislators, even if they pay for personal miles.

Clancy, a former Lynn city councilor who also practices law, said he reimburses his campaign between $250 and $300 a month for the personal use of his Infiniti sedan, generally regarded as a luxury car. His campaign spent $7,764 last year to lease, insure and maintain the vehicle.

Asked why he chose an Infiniti, Clancy said he does not live" extravagantly" and drove an even more expensive car before joining the Legislature.

"I used to own a Cadillac, and I pay in money every month as campaign finance requires," Clancy said.

Living large

Massachusetts lawmakers already receive base salaries of more than $50,000, with committee chairmen earning thousands more. Each representative and senator also receives $7,200 per year to cover job-related expenses, including mileage allowances and cellular phone service.

But many lawmakers use campaign cash to pick up the actual cost of travel, pocketing their legislative travel allowance for personal use.

"I declare my travel allowance as income. I pay taxes on it. It's not really for travel, "Parente said.

In addition, they are eligible for stipends of between $10 and $100 a day to cover trips into Boston, a perk worth up to $9,000 annually for some lawmakers.

House opponents of the Clean Elections Law, notably Finneran and DiMasi, are threatening to delay or scuttle implementation of the measure, which was approved by voters in 1998. Publicly, they say they oppose the law because it could give millions of dollars a year to fringe candidates, with no strings attached to how the money is spent.

David Donnelly of Massachusetts Voters for Clean Elections said the spending caps in the law would, in fact, discourage questionable use of campaign funds, besides its more obvious intention to level the playing field between challengers and incumbents.

"Candidates will have to think how best to communicate with voters, as opposed to potentially spending money that may not be directly related to their public functions of the job or their re-election campaigns," Donnelly said.

But some lawmakers have also argued that they use campaign funds for expenses that taxpayers might otherwise be asked to cover.

Finneran, who did not respond to an interview request Friday, dipped into his campaign coffers to buy $225 worth of firewood for his plush State House office. He spent another $320 to clean his office rugs.

But he also used campaign funds for other expenses, including $13,000 on a Pacific Rim trade mission that included his wife, and $5,951 for a car lease through Chrysler.

Home computer

Huge warchests also put lawmakers in an expansive mood.

Treasurer Shannon O'Brien used $5,472 in campaign funds for Boston Symphony Orchestra tickets, then held a fund-raising reception tied to the performance.

And, in a similar move, Auditor Joseph DeNucci spent $7,660 for greens fees and cart rentals to hold a fund-raiser at the Wayland Golf Club.

Montigny spent $113 on an unidentified "gift for colleague" at a duty-free shop in Frankfurt, Germany. He spent another $230 in November on "refreshments for colleagues" at a New Bedford-area liquor store.

Cellucci's campaign bought gifts for a staffer and fund-raising host who had invited the governor to weddings, according to Rob Gray, Cellucci's top political aide.

"He gets invited to a lot of weddings and occasions which he can't always attend, but itís appropriate to send a gift," Gray said.

Montigny used campaign cash last year to visit New York, Washington, D.C., Texas and Russia. He shelled out $2,581 for a trip to Cuba last month, where lawmakers delivered children's books to Cuban libraries.

And DeNucci, the auditor, spent $7,643 for six nights' lodging for himself and two aides at the Beverly Hilton during last summer's Democratic National Convention. Most of the other statewide candidates also had similar expenses related to the national conventions.

Moore, the Milford-area senator, said travel can serve a valuable legislative purpose -- especially if a committee chairman is attending a conference related to a particular area of expertise.

"You can even make an argument that the taxpayer should pick it up, because it is official business, "Moore said." I don't golf, so you won't see me golfing at a conference. I'm there to do work."

Even Jacques' arrangement to lease a computer from her father also appears to fall within campaign-finance standards, which allow market-rate transactions with relatives as long as a service or product is being provided.

Jacques' campaign paid her father $172 a month last year for use of an iMac computer, printer and scanner, in a leasing arrangement that has been in place for years.

Jacques said the practice started when, as a fledgling lawmaker, she could not afford to buy an up-to-date computer for her home office. She said her father wound up buying the new system, which he has periodically updated as part of their agreement.

"He has basically put out the thousands of dollars to buy the equipment, and I am leasing it back," Jacques said.

But some still wonder about the arrangement, given that sophisticated systems can be purchased for around $1,500.

"I can see you need a computer, but why would you rent one?" Anderson said.


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