CITIZENS   FOR  LIMITED  TAXATION  &  GOVERNMENT
and the
Citizens Economic Research Foundation

 

CLT UPDATE
Thursday, May 16, 2002

Report of Sen. Baddour's forum


Speaker Thomas M. Finneran acknowledged yesterday that the House has probably spent itself into the red, gobbling up most of the $1.065 billion tax-hike package without taking into account this week's latest revenue crash....

When pressed on how he would balance the budget, as required by the Constitution, Finneran said the media hadn't yet figured out the full extent of fee hikes hidden in the House's massive budget document.

The Boston Herald
May 16, 2002
Bottom line: Speaker $ees red:
Deficit next year to push $2.4 billion


House members appeared likely to appropriate virtually all of the $1.1 billion in new taxes and fees they approved two weeks ago ...

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....

Under the House plan, state aid to cities and towns would stay about the same next year - $4.6 billion....

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."

The Boston Globe
May 16, 2002
House closes in on $22b budget


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....

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.

Samuel R. Tyler of the Municipal Research Bureau... 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."

The Boston Globe
May 16, 2002
Fears of drastic cuts ease


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.

The Boston Globe
May 16, 2002
House members reach compromise on judiciary


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 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....

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.

The Boston Globe
May 16, 2002
Fund-raising interlude for Finneran


To no one's surprise, the latest attempt to rewrite Proposition 2 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 2 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 2 without people coming undone....

Proposition 2 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....

A MetroWest Daily News editorial
May 16, 2002
Reconsider Proposition 2?


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....

If ever there was a time to start the rallying cry, "Throw the bums out," it is now.

A Brockton Enterprise editorial
May 15, 2002
Political cabal hits a new low


Chip Ford's CLT Commentary

Last night's forum, "How to Balance the State Budget," hosted by State Senator Steve Baddour (D-Methuen) at the Northern Essex Community College was quite interesting, considering the premise that seemed to be assumed by all participants: that more revenue was essential to the solution.

At least the senator seemed to be on the right track with his opening questions: "Should tax increases even be considered before all the waste and patronage is squeezed from the budget?" and "Should tax increases be considered before the 'rainy day' fund is depleted?"

Gov. Swift's Secretary of Administration and Finance, Kevin Sullivan, stuck by the tax rollback, calling it a mistake to freeze it. The one thing I disagreed with in his comments was his use of "slowing the growth" in the state budget. As far as I'm concerned, there's no need for growth in a $24 billion budget that's grown a billion dollars a year for too many years.

State Senator Bruce Tarr (R-Gloucester) also attended and participated on the panel (taking the seat of the no-show AFL-CIO representative) to speak on a bill he and Sen. Baddour are co-sponsoring, which CLT supports: Zero-Based Budgeting. I will get into that further in a future Update.

CLT members Tom Murphy, Jamie Pelagatti, Norm & Joan Paley, Anne Hilbert, John Goggin, Richard Hoover, Bob & Doris Gates and probably a couple more I'm unintentionally overlooking attended and asked some of the better questions of the panel.

In my opening remarks, I thanked the senator for inviting at least one representative of regular taxpayers among those representing business interests and the Gimme Lobby to the event. I warned that I was about to speak blasphemously, then asserted that the state does not have a "fiscal crisis" ... what it has is a spending crisis, then went on from there.

During the Q&A period, my best retort was when a member of the audience rose and stated that he's a taxpayer and I do not represent him. He stated that he's in favor of tax increases, TEAM's Jimmy St. George, also a panelist, immediately shot up his hand and said "me too!" and I shouted out "Quick, somebody pass the hat!"

There were a few zealous tax-and-spenders in the audience of about 50-60, but the best and toughest questioning of the panel was by CLT members and a few others in the audience. To them I say, thank you for your support: You saw the overall effect you had on the evening just by being part of that audience!

The business community represented on the panel by the Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation, Associated Industries of Massachusetts and our usual allies, the Massachusetts High Tech Council, last night were promoting their latest "plan" -- a bill to cap spending growth. Apparently is was unveiled yesterday at the State House, as the Boston Globe reported:

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.

I told the audience that this is just another stupid "trigger mechanism" that sounds good but will never happen. We've experienced just too many of those scams, ie., the "Rainy Day" fund that was supposed to spill over into the Tax Reduction Fund when it reached a statutory level -- except that every time we taxpayers made it to the twenty yard line with goal to go, the pols simply moved the goal post forty yards further back. I also reminded the audience of the 13-year old "temporary" tax hike that would be rolled back to 5 percent "as soon as the bonds are paid off" -- which they were in the mid-'90s without the promised rollback.

Any promised "spending cap" will never occur, despite the glowing words and misplaced hope. When the time comes for it to kick in, the Legislature will change its mind and kill it too.

How about all those "reformers" in the House yesterday. They were going to insist that the 400 patronage jobs forced on the court system that the courts didn't want or need ($50 million worth!) were going to be cut. Instead, they settled for a compromise: the 400 patronage positions for Finneran's Friends will remain: in exchange, Finneran won't do any further damage to the judiciary, right now.

It is indeed pathetic what passes for Profiles in Courage and success on Beacon Hill these days.

Chip Ford


The Boston Herald
Thursday, May 16, 2002

Bottom line: Speaker $ees red:
Deficit next year to push $2.4 billion

by Elisabeth J. Beardsley

Speaker Thomas M. Finneran acknowledged yesterday that the House has probably spent itself into the red, gobbling up most of the $1.065 billion tax-hike package without taking into account this week's latest revenue crash.

State revenue officials announced late Monday afternoon that tax collections had imploded again, opening a new $400 million hole in the current year, and pushing next year's deficit close to $2.4 billion.

In the two days since receiving that news, House lawmakers have tacked another $638 million onto the bottom line, pushing perilously close to maxing out the billion-dollar tax hike package.

"I'm not suggesting ... that we have accounted for (the new shortfall), that we're perfectly balanced," Finneran said.

When pressed on how he would balance the budget, as required by the Constitution, Finneran said the media hadn't yet figured out the full extent of fee hikes hidden in the House's massive budget document.

"We're not as imbalanced or unbalanced as a superficial look might suggest," Finneran said.

Yesterday, even as they prepared to pour more money into environmental protection, the judiciary and transportation, the House passed a bill to close a deficit that stood at $689 million less than a month ago.

That plan doesn't address the new $400 million deficit, and neither Finneran nor acting Gov. Jane M. Swift had solutions yesterday.

The speaker and Swift teamed up to trumpet a proposal to limit annual spending increases and restrict the amount of revenues - particularly capital gains - that are available for spending each year.

"It's a truth in budgeting exercise," Finneran said.

The plan doesn't apply amid the current crisis, given that it would only kick in if the state had a tax collection surplus.

The proposal, which Finneran said would be attached to the House budget via rider yesterday, would still require Senate approval.

Upper Branch approval could be a dicey thing, given that Senate President Thomas F. Birmingham, a gubernatorial candidate who favors higher taxes and more spending, was not invited to the event.

Senate Ways and Means Chairman Mark C. Montigny said he wouldn't reject it outright, but grumbled about not being given a heads-up.

"It seems a little cute," said Montigny (D-New Bedford). "It's a relative waste of time to be talking about long-term solutions when we have acute short-term problems."

Back on the House floor, a threatened battle over the judiciary fizzled out. Finneran's lieutenants dropped their direct bid to seize control of court hiring and discipline, and liberal lawmakers abandoned their efforts to wipe out court patronage.

Rules Committee Chairman Angelo M. Scaccia (D-Readville), who filed the rider to upend court management, took to the floor and publicly groveled to Finneran. "You were criticized severely and for that, I apologize," Scaccia said.

And Rep. Michael E. Festa (D-Melrose), who led the anti-patronage charge that never materialized, lavished praise on Finneran's plan to set up a commission to "study" court management practices.

With virtually no further debate, lawmakers quietly restored $26 million of the $60 million in court cuts.

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The Boston Globe
Thursday, May 16, 2002

House closes in on $22b budget
Medicaid financing, Clean Elections Law are stumbling blocks

By Rick Klein
Globe Staff

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
Globe Staff

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 cuts.

But Medford Mayor Michael McGlynn, president of the Massachusetts Municipal Association, said yesterday that the House plan would "save cities and towns from enduring tremendous hardship."

"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 10 percent.

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 holding back.

"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
Globe Staff

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 Legislature's.

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
Globe Staff

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 returned.

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 now."

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

Editorial
Reconsider Proposition 2?

To no one's surprise, the latest attempt to rewrite Proposition 2 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 2 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 2 without people coming undone. But the view from here is that the virtues of that watershed measure outweigh its shortcomings.

Proposition 2 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 2 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 2 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 2 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 2 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

Editorial
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 competition.

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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