The House last night was close to finalizing a $22.9 billion
budget for next year that would trim spending in most areas, including education, the environment, and health care, but
avoid the deep reductions threatened by House leaders three weeks ago.
Late in the evening, House members were trying to reach a
compromise on controversial areas, including the Medicaid funding and the Clean Elections Law. They ended their session
at 10:25, and planned a final day of debate today.
House members appeared likely to appropriate virtually all
of the $1.1 billion in new taxes and fees they approved two weeks ago, and members said they hope the extra cash would
lessen the impact of the fiscal downturn on state government. Still, at least $150 million in
reductions are likely to stand....
The budget, as agreed upon so far by House members, calls
for an increase of less than half of 1 percent over this year's spending, which would represent the smallest increase in annual
spending in a decade. Funding for most departments would be scaled back or held
level, or level-funded while one huge area of the budget - Medicaid spending - would increase by
about 5 percent.
The spending plan for fiscal 2003, which begins July 1, will
be sent to the Senate after approval by the House. The Senate is expected to take it up early next month. The House
and Senate will then work out their differences before sending the budget to Acting Governor
Jane Swift, who can veto portions of the budget, though the overwhelming Democratic
majorities in both the House and the Senate can easily override her.
Under the House plan, state aid to cities and towns would
stay about the same next year - $4.6 billion. Municipal officials, who were worried about the state cutbacks, came to
Beacon Hill to rally for tax increases to provide the money for communities.
The budget calls for reducing education programs by about 1
percent, though members voted to reverse a 10 percent cut to basic K-12 education originally proposed by the House
Ways and Means Committee. Reductions that remain - to MCAS tutoring, school building
assistance, and class-size reduction - could sacrifice some of the gains of the past decade,
said Stephen E. Gorrie, president of the Massachusetts Teachers Association.
While higher education was trimmed by just $14 million, or
1.4 percent, that's on top of $57 million in cuts that took effect this year, meaning higher tuition and fees at public
colleges and faculty layoffs, Gorrie said.
"Certainly we're pleased that they've made the restorations
that they have, but we don't want to have the public misled that everything is OK in public education," Gorrie said. "This
is not maintaining the commitment under education reform made to the students of Massachusetts."
Public health programs would be trimmed $35 million, or 6.5
percent, with various disease detection and prevention efforts virtually gutted. Environmental agencies would have their
funding cut by $11 million, or 5 percent.
"We were underfunded in '02, so this puts a further strain
on us," said Jim Gomes, president of the Environmental League of Massachusetts.
Stephen E. Collins, executive director of the Massachusetts
Human Services Coalition, said the House acted responsibly by spreading the burden of budget cuts across state programs.
Still, he said, some of the cuts - including the elimination of a program that provides
emergency rent assistance to poor families - "will have dire consequences if they emerge in
the final budget."
"We have done better than we expected, but not as well as we
hoped we might," Collins said. "We should not be forcing parents in desperate situations to choose between income
and shelter for their families."
Spending on public safety would increase by $54 million
under the House plan, but school police and fire safety programs would be cut by nearly 60 percent. State funding on
housing programs would drop by close to 20 percent, or $24 million.
Michael J. Widmer, president of the Massachusetts Taxpayers
Foundation, said that although the House budget essentially level-funds most areas of government, some
departments may struggle more than others, especially if they must pay
previously negotiated salary raises or face other unavoidable increases in their costs. And with fresh news that the
state is facing a revenue gap this year that could reach $400 million,
the entire document could be too optimistic.
The expected final budget plan is not nearly as dire as that
proposed three weeks ago by the House Ways and Means Committee, a document that even the committee chairman
described as "inhumane." It was explained at the time as the only way to
deal with the budget shortfall, unless new revenue sources were found.
Heeding that warning, the House overwhelmingly supported a
$1.06 billion package of tax hikes, freezing the voter-approved income tax cut, increasing the tax on capital gains and
cigarettes, eliminating the state tax deduction for charitable contributions, and reducing the
amount of income that isn't subject to state taxes.
The spending plan slated to be approved by the House also
would impose about $70 million in new fees, boosting the charge for a driver's license renewal from $33.75 to $40, raising
auto registration fees by $6 to $36, and increasing the charge for state bar examinations by
$110, to $385.
Earlier in the day, Finneran and Swift announced a joint
proposal for future budgets that they said would better prepare the state for the next fiscal downturn. They proposed limiting
annual budget growth to 2 percentage points above inflation, with excess revenue paying for
capital improvements, tax rebates, and to replenish the state's rainy day fund.
"It will protect against the peaks and valleys that have
challenged us so much this year," Finneran said. The House voted to insert the growth limit bill into the budget, and
Montigny said he favors the concept in principle but is waiting to examine the specifics.
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The Boston Globe
Thursday, May 16, 2002
Fears of drastic cuts ease
By Scott S. Greenberger
Mayors and school superintendents were bracing for the
worst: Warned by state-budget writers that plunging revenues would mean far less money for cities and towns, local officials
talked about firing police officers, shelving plans for new schools, and shutting down pools.
Many of those officials breathed a sigh of relief yesterday
after learning that the House had restored a big chunk of that money late Tuesday night. The House slightly increased some
categories of city and school spending for the budget year that starts July 1, though it
trimmed others - a dramatic change from predictions that the House would cut all local aid
by 10 percent.
"It'll give us the opportunity to go back and fund those
areas that are so crucial to fund, many of which have already been identified: restoring the cuts in the arts, funding two
additional police classes, and the significant needs of the public schools," Boston City Councilor
Michael Ross said yesterday.
Many city and school officials note that because of their
rising fixed costs, getting the same funding or only slightly more than in fiscal year 2002, will still force them to make
But Medford Mayor Michael McGlynn, president of the
Massachusetts Municipal Association, said yesterday that the House plan would "save cities and towns from enduring
"There still will be serious belt-tightening, and there
could be some loss of positions, but the widespread devastation has been put off until another day," said McGlynn, adding that
his city had been planning to lay off a total of 100 teachers, police officers and firefighters when
state budget-writers predicted several months ago that they would cut local aid by
Some municipal officials said it's too early to discuss how
to spend the additional dollars, because the Senate hasn't yet come up with its own spending plan. Daniel Morgado,
Shrewsbury's town manager, said his city will "hold to our numbers" until the state budget is
final. Ashland, which planned for a 10 percent cut in key state programs, is also
"I have not gone to the bank at all," Town Manager Dexter
Blois said yesterday.
But the Senate, headed by Thomas F. Birmingham, a Democratic
candidate for governor, is likely to be even more generous to localities than the House. Last month, Birmingham
described the barebones House Ways and Means Committee's school budget as a
"nighmarish vision" that he promised to fight "with every fiber of my being."
In Boston, Mayor Thomas M. Menino drafted his $1.78 billion
budget plan based on a 10 percent cut in local aid - or a $60 million cut from this year's general fund. Yesterday, Lisa
Signori, Boston's budget director, said the House plan might restore as much as $40 million.
She cautioned that the gains would be partially offset by
larger-than-anticipated cuts in certain state grants.
"It's all the same pot of city money," Signori said. "Is the
mayor going to shut down homeless beds, because we've lost the state grants? No. We're going to cover that cost."
But it will be hard to squelch discussions on how to spend
the extra dollars. Advocates and members of the City Council, who have spent the past few weeks reviewing the mayor's
plan, have criticized some of his cuts.
Kathy Brown, who heads the Boston Tenants Council, said her
group and other affordable housing advocates will wield the rosy Beacon Hill budget news when they come to a City
Council hearing later this week to ask for more spending.
"We understand there are other pressing needs, but housing
is a huge priority and a huge human need," Brown said, noting that in a citywide poll released this week, Bostonians
ranked housing by far as their number one priority. "While we appreciate the efforts the
mayor has made, more needs to happen."
Boston school officials, meanwhile, were heartened by the
House's restoration of funding for Metco, the voluntary desegregation plan under which black students from Boston and
Springfield attend suburban schools. The House Ways and Means Committee had proposed
cuts which would have sent an estimated 1,500 students back to the city's public schools
before classes start next fall. For the past two weeks, Boston school officials have been
frantically devising plans for the expected influx.
Samuel R. Tyler of the Municipal Research Bureau, a
business-funded government watchdog group, said Menino's budget includes money-saving reforms that shouldn't be scrapped just
because there will be more state dollars.
Tyler said the cut in local aid "created the pressure, after
years of growth, to step back and take a look" at city spending. "Frankly, that's a positive situation, instead of
continuing to add and add and add and not evaluate services you're providing and how you're providing them."
Globe Staff writer Anand Vaishnav and Globe Staff correspondent
Scott Helman contributed to this report.
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The Boston Globe
Thursday, May 16, 2002
House members reach compromise on judiciary
Panel to study funding issues
By Rick Klein
Averting a showdown on the floor, House members who were
poised to clash over management of the judiciary reached a compromise yesterday that would ship contentious
issues of court funding and administration to a study commission.
As part of the compromise, a top deputy to House Speaker
Thomas M. Finneran agreed to withdraw an amendment that would strip judges of most of their management authority in
their own courthouses. The liberal lawmakers pushing a measure to cut funding for the
Boston Municipal Court also agreed to give up their bid.
"I believe that the commission ... will effectively examine
the entire panoply of concerns," said state Representative Michael E. Festa, a Melrose Democrat who had sought to slash
the Boston Municipal Court's budget by 25 percent in an attempt to root out patronage. "There
are problems in the current system. There are serious problems of allocation of resources."
Representative Angelo M. Scaccia, a close Finneran ally who
was seeking to empower clerk magistrates to hire for court posts and to supervise judges, took to the House floor in an
unusual address to apologize publicly to Finneran for not telling him about his amendment
before he filed it. He suggested that he had received a dressing down after he filed
the amendment, though it was not clear if it was from Finneran personally, or members of the
speaker's leadership team.
"After going to the woodshed twice, I want to apologize,"
said Scaccia, a Hyde Park Democrat who is chairman of the House Rules Committee. Addressing Finneran directly, he
said, "I didn't pass it by you, you were criticized severely, and for that I apologize."
But critics of the amendment said Scaccia's speech looked
like an attempt to shield Finneran from further criticism. James Dolan, retired chief justice of the Dorchester District
Court, said that Finneran probably had more to do with pushing the amendment, and then retreating from
it, than Scaccia let on.
"One would have to be pretty skeptical," said Dolan, who has
become increasingly critical of Finneran's attempts to exert more control over the judiciary. "It would be uncharacteristic
of someone with no previous interest in this to propose a comprehensive reorganization with no
consultation from outside. It probably served the purpose for which it was intended: to
send a message to the courts, specifically to the judges, that if you want to assert your
independence, there may be a price."
Tensions have run high between the judicial branch and the
Legislature in recent months, in part because of the Supreme Judicial Court's ordering of funding for the Clean Elections
Law. Late last year Finneran pushed through a move to strip judges of their power to hire
probation officers, and in February he suggested that Bay State judges may have to stand
for election in the future if they continue to involve themselves in areas that he considers solely
The compromise amendment, hammered out over several hours,
passed on the House floor, 151-2. It also included an agreement to appropriate $262 million for the judiciary, a 2
percent decline over this year's funding, but less severe than the 10 percent reduction
originally proposed by House leaders.
Festa and his cosponsor, state Representative David P.
Linsky, said they relented in their bid to cut funding for the Boston Municipal Court when it became clear they would lose a
fight on the House floor. The Pioneer Institute issued a report in March suggesting that the court's
budget has been swollen by the Legislature beyond reason, in part so that lawmakers could
make patronage appointments.
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The Boston Globe
Thursday, May 16, 2002
Fund-raising interlude for Finneran
By Rick Klein and Benjamin Gedan
As House members worked into the evening on the annual
budget, Speaker Thomas M. Finneran slipped out to Anthony's Pier 4 last night for a campaign fund-raiser that drew
swarms of lobbyists and others with business before the state.
The fund-raiser - Finneran's biggest of the year - was
expected to generate as much as $100,000 for the speaker's campaign fund, although he is unopposed for reelection.
The timing of the event set off outrage and concern about
lobbyists' influence over public policy, since the state budget represents the most significant bill that the Legislature
handles every year, and Finneran closely involves himself in appropriations decisions.
"It's designed to cash in on his position of power, because
the event is targeted to lobbyists, PACs, and Beacon Hill insiders," said George Pillsbury, director of the Massachusetts
Money and Politics Project. " It sets a price on access during the budget debate."
The crowd of about 200 at the waterfront restaurant snaked
out the door of the restaurant, as Finneran stood, receiving-line style, greeting those arriving with handshakes.
Inside, donors were treated to an open bar and appetizers, from mini-quiches to chicken wings.
Back at the State House, little action occurred on the House floor, with the expectation that
big budget issues of Medicaid and Clean Elections would be taken up when Finneran
One state official who attended described the event as a
who's who of State House interests, including many with interests in the budget. "Everybody with a line item was
there," said the official, who would not be named.
Among those in attendance were former House Speaker Charles
Flaherty, now a lobbyist, and former Attorney General Francis X. Bellotti. Others spotted at the event include Suffolk
Superior Court Clerk John Nucci; former Boston City Councilor and Finneran adviser Larry
DiCara; state Senator John Hart of South Boston; Boston University Chancellor John Silber;
and state Auditor Joseph DeNucci.
About 30 protesters marched from South Station to the
restaurant, with one dressed as an enormous, cartoonish likeness of the speaker in barrister's dress and wig. The
protester, Eric Weltman, organizing director of Citizens for Participation in Political Action, had what
appeared to be hundred-dollar bills rubber-banded to enormous ghoulish hands.
"I am Lord Finneran. I own all of you," he shouted to puzzled passersby.
Some of the protesters expressed anger over Finneran's
continued resistance to funding the Clean Elections campaign finance law, which aimed to curb the influence of lobbyists'
and special interest money in politics.
"At best, it raises serious questions of conflict of
interest, with the person who's presiding over budget deliberations accepting money from lobbyists while the budget
is being debated," said David Donnelly, director of Massachusetts Voters for Clean Elections, who
has battled Finneran over the campaign finance law. "At worst, it's influence-peddling."
Finneran arrived at the fund-raiser at 5:50 p.m., whisked
from Beacon Hill in a car driven by an aide, and smiled broadly as the enormous likeness of him bobbed in the distance behind
his head. With a mock imperious tone, he said to protesters: "You are mere voters."
Finneran, dismissed protesters' impact, but said, "They have
a democratic right to assemble."
Finneran's annual event at the restaurant is typically timed
for May, around the time that the House debates the budget. Earlier in the day, Finneran said he did not intend for the
fund-raiser to occur in the midst of House budget debate.
"All I can say is that the scheduling of that is something
that is made months and months and months ago," Finneran said. "I fully expected that the budget would have been concluded by
Finneran also said before the event that he never solicits
contributions from lobbyists, though he acknowledged that some would attend last night.
Finneran entered 2002 with more than $500,000 in his
campaign account, by far the most of any member of the Legislature who isn't running for statewide office this year.
The Mattapan Democrat hasn't had an opponent in a decade, and no candidates have filed papers to
challenge him this year.
Last year's event brought in more than $100,000 for
Finneran's campaign, representing about a third of his total fund-raising for 2001, according to the Massachusetts Money and
Politics Project. Tickets to last night's fund-raiser cost $125 per person.
In the absence of competition, the speaker uses his campaign
account for other activities, including donations to the House
colleagues who support him.
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The MetroWest Daily News
Thursday, May 16, 2002
Reconsider Proposition 2½?
To no one's surprise, the latest attempt to rewrite
Proposition 2½ went nowhere. After her initial plan to change the rules limiting property tax increases sparked
furious opposition, Rep. Debby Blumer, D-Framingham, beat a hasty retreat. Her call for a commission to study
Proposition 2½ was resoundingly defeated this week by the House.
The reaction to Blumer's proposal may have been over the
top. After 22 years, we ought to be able to discuss the virtues and shortcomings of Proposition
2½ without people coming undone. But the view from here is that the virtues of that
watershed measure outweigh its shortcomings.
Proposition 2½ has done what it was intended to do.
Property taxes have still gone up, enough to cause real hardship for some residents in many communities, but not nearly
as much as if the levy-limiting system not been in place.
That's good, because the property tax is the least efficient
and the least fair of our major taxes. Property tax bills are based on real estate holdings, which is a poor approximation of
wealth and has nothing to do with anyone's ability to pay. It puts a heavier burden on
communities with a limited commercial tax base. Dependence on the property tax to support
local education encourages poor land use decisions, rewarding communities that invite
commercial sprawl but lock out housing that might add to school enrollment.
Proposition 2½ doesn't prohibit local tax increases; it
just gives citizens a vote on them. Overrides are no longer a novelty in most MetroWest communities. Some are approved,
some rejected. When an override wins, it usually means the backers have come up with a
reasonable proposal, made a convincing case for it, and mobilized their supporters. When it
loses, they go back to the drawing boards and come back with a better idea, a
more effective message or a broader-based organization.
There's a word for this phenomenon: democracy. In an age
when scandal, apathy and the corrosive influence of big money have made electoral politics less democratic, Proposition
2½ has kept grassroots democracy alive at the local level. Override questions always boost
voter turnout, mobilizing people who care about schools and public services as well as
those opposed to higher taxes.
But the fact that it has been more successful than its early
critics like to admit doesn't make Proposition 2½ a sacred text immune from revision. The 2.5 percent increase in the
property tax levy was arbitrary from the beginning. Had it not been for generous increases in state aid
in the mid-'80s and late-'90s, that too-low number would have crippled local
government or forced far more operating overrides. As Blumer suggests, a percentage more closely keyed
to inflationary increases in government costs would make it easier for local
government to stay afloat, reserving overrides for major capital projects and the expansion of town services.
Just increasing the size of routine property tax increases,
however, is not the answer. Massachusetts must free its municipalities, and especially its schools, from an
over-reliance on property taxes. Cities and towns don't need higher property tax rates; they need alternate
revenue streams that are more equitable than property taxes and more dependable
than state aid.
Proposition 2½ should be revisited and reformed, but only
in the broader context of coming up with a better way to pay for public education and municipal services. Give a commission
that mandate, and we'll be happy to support it.
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The Brockton Enterprise
Wednesday, May 15, 2002
Political cabal hits a new low
How low can the Legislature go? How desperate can politicians be? What extreme and
sordid lengths will your elected officials go to so they will have no competition?
You have no idea.
Everyone already knows that most House members, taking
marching orders from Speaker Thomas Finneran, are opposed to the Clean Elections Law that publicly funds some
campaigns. Most people also know the embarrassing maneuvers Finneran and
his henchman have made to thwart the law, including an unconscionable decision to ignore the state
Supreme Judicial Court. People have followed the auction of state-owned cars to
fund the law and attempts to auction the office furniture of Finneran and his inner circle. All this has
made Massachusetts the laughing stock of the nation, but House members don't care.
In fact, it gets worse.
One of Finneran's just-taking-orders lackeys, Elections Laws
Committee Chairman Joseph F. Wagner, D-Chicopee, filed an amendment that would force any Clean Elections candidate
who does not make the ballot to repay the money to the state. This measure is aimed directly
at gubernatorial candidate Warren Tolman, who has received nearly $700,000 but is in
danger of not getting enough support at the Democratic convention later
this month to make the primary ballot.
But the real intent of the amendment is to destroy Clean
Elections by threatening the personal financial destruction of any candidate who would be so bold as to follow the law. It
says to candidates: If you don't play by our rules, we will bankrupt you.
This is blackmail, no more or less. It also is laughably
illegal, although that doesn't stop Wagner from keeping a straight face as he defends such a ludicrous attempt to crush
Your Legislature is a national embarrassment. It acts
unconstitutionally; it makes up its own rules and laws as it goes along; it is a haven for felons and thugs and bullies; it
steals money from your wallet and lies about the budget "crisis." And any dissenters are punished severely.
Wagner is just the latest disgraceful practitioner of the
art of political ham-handedness. If ever there was a time to start the rallying cry, "Throw the bums out," it is now.
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