The Boston Globe
Saturday, December 15, 2001
Restless legislators targeting Finneran
By Frank Phillips and Rick Klein
After a bruising budget process in which lawmakers complained they were deceived and
marginalized, a broad-based group of restless House members is preparing to mount a
challenge to House Speaker Thomas M. Finneran's authority that could include a motion to
oust him from office.
The challenge appears to be widespread and even includes at
least one member of Finneran's leadership team, House members said. The lawmakers said Finneran misled them,
concealing budget cuts and program changes that they unknowingly approved,
which hurt them with their constituents when the changes became public.
"There's a lot of people who are not happy," said Representative Daniel E. Bosley, a North
Adams Democrat who as chairman of the government regulations committee is part of
Finneran's leadership team.
"People are beginning to talk to each other," Bosley said.
"Whether it is a majority, who knows. But some are suggesting study groups to demand changes, some are talking of
pushing a motion to vacate the chair."
A spokesman for Finneran said the speaker would not comment
While Bosley insisted he is not involved in the insurgency
talk, House members say the disgruntled lawmakers are looking to the well-liked legislator to lead the fight against
Finneran, whose nearly six-year tenure as speaker has been marked by a tough, autocratic
style. Bosley was the highest-ranking House member to break with Finneran over the
Clean Elections Law this year.
State Representative Jay Kaufman, a Lexington Democrat and a
longtime Finneran critic, said the feelings are running deep not only among the usual House dissidents but among
many, like Bosley, who believe the recent budget process capped a long
list of abuses by the speaker and his leadership team.
"The discontent is widespread, and crossing all ideological
and party lines," Kaufman said. "Some members think we should reform the rules; others are more interested in changing the
In the past, Finneran has easily isolated his critics,
punishing dissidents with little fallout. But this year, with the fiscal and economic outlook worsening, members are
increasingly uneasy, sensing more anger from constituents toward Finneran -- and by extension, toward
One House member said the dissidents have so far gathered
commitments of up to 50 members, including some Republicans, to back a motion to remove Finneran. A motion
needs a majority of those present and voting in the 160-member House. But the
member cautioned that many lawmakers would desert the effort if it appeared unlikely to succeed.
The insurgents are eyeing January, when formal legislative sessions resume, as the time
to make a move, if they can gain the necessary support.
Two House members, who requested anonymity, said other
members of Finneran's leadership team are on board, but they would not name them.
Bosley and Kaufman said their colleagues feel increasingly
marginalized by Finneran on a number of issues, as the speaker maintains tight control over all significant legislation. That
frustration swelled into outright anger when Finneran and the Senate dragged out budget
negotiations for five months, then forced the lawmakers to vote on a controversial plan less
than 24 hours after it was made public, which included hundreds of millions of dollars in cuts
to social services. The members said they were not told by Finneran about all the provisions
in the budget plan, and learned of some of the changes later in the newspaper.
"The problem with the members is that we can't go back to
our constituents defending what's going on in the House when we don't know," Bosley said. "It's not an excuse."
Some members have expressed outrage over a series of moves
orchestrated by Finneran this year. He starved the voter-approved Clean Elections Law of funds, stripped judges of
the power to hire probation officers and transferred it to his friend, and used redistricting to
punish his political enemies, critics charge.
Also this year, his lieutenants engineered a move to ensure
that Finneran can serve as speaker for as long as he likes by removing the eight-year term limit on the post. And he has
kept scores of bills bottled up despite promises that they would reach the House floor for a
Other politicians who have traveled the state recently say
that legislators are feeling heat from their constituents over the budget debacle. The cutbacks and the way they were pushed
through seem to have intensified the public's distrust and anger toward legislative leaders.
Finneran, because of his style and visibility, is the number one target.
Finneran won the speakership in an insurgent campaign in
1996. He surprised the heavy favorite, then-Majority Leader Richard Voke, by forging an alliance with the Republicans to
create a majority bloc to elect him. The battle created deep divisions within the House and
still defines many of the relationships among members.
The last time a speaker was challenged was in 1984 when
House Speaker Thomas McGee, a Lynn Democrat, overstayed his welcome. His majority leader, George Keverian of Everett,
cobbled together a coalition that ousted McGee on a rule reform campaign, a brutal battle
that sharply divided the House and disrupted personal and political relationships as members
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The MetroWest Daily News
Saturday, December 15, 2001
Speaker Heep and the Micawbers
By Gene Cassidy
Our politicians are weak because that's what we demand of
From evil Richard Nixon to clumsy Gerald Ford to ineffective
Jimmy Carter to empty-headed Ronald Reagan to weak-willed George Bush to immoral Bill Clinton.
Why would anybody want to be a politician? Our presidents
are the symbols of our ultimate political success, and the things we remember most about them are their failings.
Being a politician is an invitation for the world to put on
heavy boots and kick you until it's bored.
So should we be surprised that what we have in Massachusetts
is the Uriah Heep Speaker of the House Tom Finneran and a claque of hand-wringing Micawbers whom he has the
In Dickens' David Copperfield, Heep wormed his way into
power by playing on people's fears, including the well-meaning but shiftless
In Massachusetts, Finneran solidifies his power by playing
on lawmakers' fears, most especially the fear of taking responsibility.
Here's how the game is played:
Finneran and pals cook up a budget in secret and reveal at
the last minute that they cut millions going to the least powerful people in the state -- the poor and old and mentally
ill and hard-working immigrants.
Our state reps and senators wail, "He did it in secret! An
And like Dickens' nobly shabby Micawber, they vow to make
And they do. They go from shlubs to heroes. Libraries,
roads, AIDS programs, day care, health care, you name it, every part of the state still takes it in the neck.
But every part of the state gets to keep its neck.
Which makes local politicians look better: Saying they have
to cut programs 10-15 percent?
Or saying they fought the brave fight against the
all-powerful Finneran and restored most of what he cut?
Either way, we get less bang for our buck from state
government. But look at it one way, our elected representatives are heroes. Look at it another way, they're in over their
You think Finneran doesn't control the senate?
Here's how that works.
The senate has proposed a $107 million supplemental state
budget to restore what Finneran cut. That budget has the chance of a mouse crossing Rte. 9 this morning, but the senate will
be able to say they did the right thing and Finneran will take the fall when it gets mangled.
They'd never tell you, but because he makes our legislators
look good, Finneran is their best friend, better than you and I will ever be.
He not only makes them look good, all the last minute
dithering draws everybody's attention away from the State House's inertia, ineffectiveness and worse.
But picking on politicians is self-defeating. It diminishes
respect for those who try to lead. It's another reason for the best and brightest to stay away.
So let me give you my nomination for politician of the year.
She has three little kids, commutes hours each way to work,
stands up for what she believes, sticks to her guns while being sniped at and stabbed from left, right and center, and
relentlessly battles the above-mentioned zombie-like Legislature and its oily maestro.
With credentials like that, Jane Swift would be anyone's
Wrong, she's our favorite punching bag.
Only we're the ones who are black and blue.
Maybe we're flailing away at the wrong person.
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The Boston Globe
Saturday, December 15, 2001
Birmingham says he will try to
open the budget process
By Rick Klein
Seeking to distance himself from House Speaker Thomas M.
Finneran, Senate President Thomas F. Birmingham yesterday announced he will seek to end the secretive negotiations
used to produce the state budget every year.
Birmingham said that this year's disappointing results --
the budget was five months late and was widely derided for its cuts to social programs -- convinced him that future budget
discussions should be public. That way, he said, the voting public will know how talks are
progressing and where state leaders are placing their priorities.
"The traditional process obviously is not working, to the
detriment of the conferees, to the detriment of the members, and to the detriment of the public," the Chelsea Democrat said.
"One definition of insanity is doing the same thing repeatedly and expecting a different result."
Birmingham is trying to assert his independence from the
House and the speaker in other avenues as he prepares his run for governor next year. On Thursday, Senate Ways and
Means Chairman Mark C. Montigny used an obscure legislative maneuver to propose an
appropriations bill -- which ordinarily must originate in the House -- to restore money for
social services. That put the Senate on record in support of a range of
programs, from foster care to food stamps.
"Those were all areas that we tried to get the House to
agree to," Birmingham said. "If the House chooses to not go along, that's their decision."
Birmingham has been battered in recent weeks by a host of
critics -- led by Acting Governor Jane Swift -- over the late budget and the damaging cuts enacted with little public input.
Massachusetts was the last state in the nation to finalize a
budget this year, and the Bay State held the same ignominious distinction with Birmingham and Finneran at the helm in 1999.
Birmingham and Finneran have been tangling over the state
budget since 1993, when both led their respective chambers' ways and means committees, and the two men are often
confused with each other by the public, even though Birmingham is far more liberal, socially
Birmingham's voice as a fighter for liberal values like
education and health care has been drowned in the din of outrage over the budget, said Elizabeth Sherman, a senior
fellow at the Center for Women in Politics and Public Policy at the University of Massachusetts at Boston.
"What went on this past year in terms of budget negotiations
has ended up hurting him terribly," Sherman said. "He's got to do everything in his power to salvage his candidacy for
the governorship. If this is his opening salvo, I think that's an important move."
Whether Birmingham can singlehandedly open up the budget
process is not clear. Finneran declined to comment through his spokesman, Charles Rasmussen. The speaker has defended
closed-door negotiations, saying they reduce political grandstanding, and he is not expected
to embrace Birmingham's idea.
Birmingham's critics called it disingenuous for the Senate
president to only now reach the conclusion that closed-door negotations don't work, and said he is doing so only to
minimize political damage. He has held more than his share of budgetary power in recent years, said
Kerry Murphy Healy, chairwoman of the state Republican Party.
"It's incredibly cynical for him to try to step back from
the process at this point and say it could have been better," Healy said. "It was in his hands to make it better. Now, for
him to try to cast himself as a reformer -- it's a deathbed conversion."
Birmingham conceded that he is abandoning a position he once
held as "an article of faith" by calling for public budget discussions, and acknowledged he has not fully developed his
idea for the public budget discussions.
His preference, he said, would be to have the six-member
budget conference committee -- made up of three House members and three senators -- engage in talks in a public setting.
That was the method by which budgets were negotiated until the early 1990s, when the
process was abandoned because it often devolved into political name-calling.
If the House is unwilling to go along with a return to that
process, Birmingham said, another option would be for the conference committee members to be free to disclose the content
of closed-door meetings to the press. Now it is rare for them to do so.
"The public should understand that there are real differences in principle," Birmingham said. "I
am not at all embarrassed about any of the issues that I have advocated for
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The Boston Globe
Friday, December 14, 2001
Opening up the budget process
By Thomas F. Birmingham
LIKE MY FRIEND and Chelsea neighbor, heavyweight champion John
Ruiz, I tend to look a little better before a fight than after, especially when the bout goes for more than 15 rounds.
This year's budget fight proved no exception.
After all the prolonged wrangling, we provided a spending
plan which could have looked, and been, better.
For the future, the administration and the Legislature
together owe the citizens of Massachusetts a better product and a better process.
From my perspective, the most important priorities in the
budget were issues fundamental to working people: public education, adequate state funding to our precarious health care
institutions, helping senior citizens purchase essential prescription drugs, and a small down
payment toward affordable housing.
These are the same issues that I have fought for over the
Because we would not compromise on these fundamental
priorities, the Senate contributed to the delay in the budget's passage.
The fight could have been over more quickly if we had
dropped our insistence on these and other important public priorities. But we took the punches for a prolonged impasse so
that we could better champion education, health care, senior citizens, and the cause of affordable
But we did not succeed in every fight. Cuts to higher
education, human services, and important public health programs could have been reduced or avoided if the acting governor
had supported my proposal to delay the income tax cut, which had the support of a majority
-- but probably not a veto-proof two-thirds -- of both the House and the Senate.
The acting governor's straitjacketed insistence that she
would veto any delay to the next scheduled income tax reduction, despite the radical change in our financial
condition, meant $200 million more in cuts this year and means $400 million next year.
Faced with declining revenues, cutting taxes means cutting
budgets. Had we averted this year's reduction in the income tax rate, we would have been able to direct $200 million more
to education, health care, and human services.
Next year the cost doubles. As we move forward, we should
leave open for consideration the proper mix between budget cuts and tax cuts.
Whether or not the governor steps up to the challenge of
difficult fiscal times, the Senate proposes to improve our approach to the budget process.
Although I have long favored candid private bargaining to
posturing public negotiations, closed-door budget discussions no longer seem tenable. It is time to open up the process.
Public negotiations will not be perfect. But while privacy
may encourage candor and flexibility in bargaining, it does not guarantee it. Even if some posturing will attend open
negotiations, at least the public will be able to assess our competing values and choices.
In the coming fiscal year we will pass a budget, and if I
have my way the Senate's work will continue to reflect the priorities of working families, in education and in health care
and in housing.
We will continue to fight for those values, and will make
sure that our policy disagreements with the House and the administration will be fully shared with the public.
There is nothing shameful about good-faith disagreements
over deeply held principles. In our budget discussions we should stop behaving as if there is.
I have learned from this year's experience. While the
process should change and become more open, I will continue to fight for what I have fought for in private negotiations --
better public schools, expanded health care, and a strong economy for working families.
Thomas F. Birmingham is president of the Massachusetts Senate.
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Saturday, December 15, 2001
Swift trumps Birmingham
as human services advocate - for now
By Leslie Miller
BOSTON -- Twice this week, acting Gov. Jane Swift invited
television cameras to record her visit with social workers and anti-poverty advocates. She met with them to denounce
Democratic lawmakers for failing to budget enough money for homeless and abused
On Tuesday, she stood outside a Boston homeless shelter and
said it would close if the Legislature didn't find enough money to help pay its bills.
She was in Worcester Friday, surrounded by foster families
and social workers at an old Catholic school that houses Youth Opportunities Upheld Inc.
Swift said she wanted lawmakers to approve about $59 million
for the kind of residential placement, foster care and support provided by the agency.
"Without full adoption of my recommendation and my supplemental budgets, I won't be able
to sleep at night because I'll know that there are too many children and too many
families that are needlessly being hurt by this budget," Swift said.
By attacking the Legislature for failing to budget for
social services, the Republican Swift has seized the bully pulpit of liberal advocacy from challenger Thomas Birmingham,
the son of a Chelsea longshoreman and Democrat.
As Senate president, Birmingham is probably the most
powerful officeholder of the five Democrats vying for governor. With a $3 million war chest, he's certainly the best financed.
But he has been all but invisible in the past few weeks as Swift has repeatedly made
television-friendly speeches bashing the Legislature.
Political observers say Birmingham must use the news media
to advocate for the dispossessed if he wants the support of core Democratic activists essential to winning the
"He's probably done good work behind the scenes for many
organizations and many individuals," said Dan Payne, a Democratic political consultant. "That doesn't matter."
A recent Boston Globe/University of Massachusetts-Boston
poll showed Birmingham with only a 9 percent favorability rating, just one point ahead of former Democratic National
Committee chairman Steve Grossman. The poll had a margin of error of five percent.
"It's clearly a wakeup call," Payne said. "But he's got
plenty of time to rectify that. His campaign staff will force his Senate staff to be more oriented to the outside world."
Tellingly, it was Senate Ways and Means Chairman Mark
Montigny who called the media on Thursday to announce the Senate had quietly passed a supplemental budget to spend $59
million for the Department of Social Services and $17.6 million for welfare and food stamps.
"We covered the most needy and vulnerable," said the New
Bedford Democrat, adding he hoped it would force the House to act.
Democrats are nevertheless sputtering with indignation that
Swift, who advocated an income tax cut, is portraying them as indifferent to the plight of people suffering from mental
illness and AIDS, homeless families, welfare recipients and abused children.
"For Jane Swift, who led voters down the primrose path in
2000 by telling them that their McDonald's tax giveback would not affect the very programs she now pretends to be
concerned about, it may be the most hypocritical thing I have personally
witnessed in 30 years of politics," said Michael Goldman, Democratic political consultant.
"Every Democratic candidate ought to be out there saying the
exact same thing I am."
Swift was also ignoring the fact that lawmakers had set
aside funds to pay the DSS and welfare bills as soon as it became clear how high the caseloads would be, said Birmingham
spokeswoman Alison Franklin.
"Tom feels actions speak louder than words," Franklin said.
Actions, though, don't make it onto the news.
Birmingham's silence opens him to criticism not just from
Swift, but from his Democratic competitors for governor.
"The proper course of action for Tom Birmingham was to stand
up during that budget stalemate and say, 'This is what I'm fighting for'," said former state Sen. Warren
Tolman. "Not after it's done and after it's voted on and after there's a
public outcry, should he say 'I didn't like that'."
Associated Press writer Adam Gorlick contributed to this story.
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The Cape Cod Times
Wednesday, December 12, 2001
Reform won't come easy
If Massachusetts legislators were employees in a private
company, they would have been on the dole by now. If the Speaker of the House and the Senate President were the CEOs of
our company, they would have been given the golden handshake long ago.
Our state legislators filed nearly 7,000 bills this year,
but enacted only 178. That's the fewest enacted in Massachusetts since 1858.
Of the 178 passed, 120 were almost all local matters that
merely required a legislative rubber stamp.
"I see a dysfunctional Legislature that has abdicated its
legislative responsibility and ceded its power to a power elite," said Richard Hogarty, senior fellow at the McCormack
Institute of Public Affairs at UMass-Boston. "Four white males hold all the power."
Almost all policy and spending decisions were negotiated in
secret by House Speaker Thomas Finneran, Senate President Thomas Birmingham and the two Ways and Means
chairmen. And Birmingham is running for governor.
To better illustrate how unproductive our state representatives were this year, consider that
they spent fewer than 18 working days in formal sessions, which allow rank-and-file
lawmakers to debate and vote on bills.
During the 324 days in which the Legislature was in
business, the House met in 35 formal sessions for 144 hours and 21 minutes. The Senate had 22 formal sessions that lasted 60
hours and 42 minutes -- or fewer than eight working days.
The 178 laws enacted so far this year represent less than
half the Legislature's own annual average of 438 over the past century.
Perhaps the laws enacted, however, were of such significance
that it took the legislators weeks to hammer out the details.
Right. New Bedford got a new liquor license. The visitor
center in Leominster was named after Johnny Appleseed. The third Sunday in October was designated Arthritis Awareness
Another path-breaking measure clarified that open bottles or
cans of alcohol were allowed in mobile homes, as long as the vehicles weren't moving. Now that was a burning issue that
demanded our legislators' attention.
Another law formally cleared the names of five alleged
witches who were hanged in Salem in 1692. Always timely, our Legislature approved that measure on Halloween.
Most important, our legislators passed 10 extensions
permitting more time for budget negotiations -- so that we could be the last state in the country to have a budget.
Meanwhile, bills on sentencing reform, affordable housing
and energy still languish in the Senate. Three anti-terrorism measures, a bill to index minimum wage and domestic partner
benefits for public employees have not been passed by the House.
Neither health-care nor banking has been reformed. Unemployment insurance rates will rise
in January because the Legislature did not freeze or decrease them.
Worst of all, the state's housing crisis was not addressed
because bills authorizing hundreds of millions of dollars for public housing stalled.
Despite the paucity of new laws, that doesn't mean senators
aren't working, said Alison Franklin, a spokeswoman for Birmingham.
"Those bills need to get through committee where the
decisions are made by committee members," she said.
But 15 committees -- including Criminal Justice, Energy,
Health Care, Human Services and Insurance -- didn't report out a single bill that became law in 2001. Thirteen committees
reported out fewer than five.
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Mass. Human Services Coalition
response to CLT's memo / Barbara's column
Received on Friday, December 14, 2001
Dear Ms. Anderson and all the wonderful folks at CLT&G,
Thank you for sharing your specious arguments, but it's "no
sale" here at MHSC. One area were we can agree is that the middle class is indeed unfairly and overly burdened with taxes.
Yes, wasteful boondoggles like the Big Dig, the Pike Authority and Massport have
something to do with it. But let's honestly examine the primary reason.
In the 1950's, for example, the highest marginal federal
income tax rate imposed on the highest income of the most extremely wealthy was 91%. Since the 1960's, powerful interests
representing major corporations and the most wealthy asset holders have been quite
successful in changing the rules and moving the tax burden off themselves and onto the backs
of middle class wage earners. Just compare how the percentages of state revenue collections
generated by corporate taxes versus those generated by the personal income tax have shifted
in the last twenty five years.
So, I will gladly discuss working in alliance with CLT&G --
and I will proudly be the first person to sign up for your "nyah,
nayh, we gotcha" sore winners' proposal for a voluntary check-off system for bleedin' heart liberals like me to pay the
state income tax at the "old" rates - IF I see two things happening:
1. How about some consistency in CLT&G's positions?
The public was told that Question 4 was all about making
sure that politicians KEEP THE PROMISE. During the campaign for Q. 4. Gov. Cellucci and then Lt. Gov. Swift repeatedly
assured voters that Q. 4 was affordable for the state. In a Boston Globe article on October
30, 2000, their Secretary of Admin. and Finance assured the public that the even with the
passage of Q.4, there would be "no material cuts" to any state programs, there would be a
$1 BILLION dollar surplus for fiscal year 2001, and state spending would increase by 5% in
FY02. (Gee, we have come up a wee be short there, now haven't we?)
I have not seen CLT&G besieging the State House to demand
that THAT PROMISE be kept.
2. Will you join us in addressing the real reason for high
taxes on the middle class?
Will you support efforts to demand that the Legislature
re-visit some of the special interest tax breaks handed out in the 1990's? Tax breaks that put millions into the pockets of
Raytheon Corporation, Fidelity Investments, and other corporate interests? Will you join us
in demanding that something be done about the disgraceful fact that the capital gains profits
of wealthy asset holders are not taxed at all or are taxed at a rate lower than the rate
imposed on the wages of the working man and woman?
If so, THEN we will have something to talk about. Until
then, I wish you and yours the happiest of holiday seasons -- and I look forward to future engagements in the FY03 budget
Stephen E. Collins
The Massachusetts Human Services Coalition
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