Limited Taxation
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Barbara's Column
June 2000 #2

Legislature's Payoff to Teachers Union
for Fighting Tax Rollback

The tension escalated this week when [Governor] Cellucci and Lieutenant Governor Jane Swift had a stormy private meeting with the GOP lawmakers and scolded them because they refused to help the governor block a lucrative teacher-retirement plan being pushed by Democrats and teachers' unions.

Rift seen growing in state GOP
By Frank Philips
The Boston Globe
Jun. 9, 2000

Legislature's Payoff to Teachers Union
for Fighting Tax Rollback

by Barbara Anderson

[The following column has so far been published in The Lowell Sun and The Salem Evening News; it has also been sent to other dailies.]

The Commonwealth of Massachusetts has a math and science teacher shortage. So the Massachusetts Legislature wants to let teachers retire after thirty years at up to 80 percent pay.

This makes sense only if you understand the following:

1. The Massachusetts Legislative leadership owes the Massachusetts Teachers Association (MTA) a big favor in return for its years of support for high taxes and opposition to broad-based tax cuts. The ability to retire comfortably at age 55 is a big favor.

2. Legislators who defy the MTA on tax issues figure they better not offend it any further, for fear that it will focus on them during the next election and accuse them of not caring about "education," which polls show voters support.

3. Voters with mush for brains will hear this accusation and think that legislators who do not vote for early retirement for teachers don't care about "education."

4. Legislators are not sure how many voters have mush for brains, so they assume the worst and pander to the teachers union.

Governor Paul Cellucci, possibly in the belief that most voters are intelligent enough to see that early teacher retirement has nothing to do with "education," or maybe just wanting to avoid worsening a math and science teacher shortage, has been attempting to make changes in the bill and now threatens to veto it.

The Legislature, still in debt to or in fear of the MTA but concerned about the teacher shortage, has added a provision that lets the retired teachers return to the classroom after two years of retirement, there to collect their regular pay as well as their tax-free pension. This now falls into the category of a VERY big favor.

Voters, most of whom cannot retire after 30 years with up to  80 percent pensions, nor return to their jobs in two years and collect both pay and pension, are expected let legislators get away with this taxpayer-funded gift to the teachers union lobby. To facilitate getting away with it, legislators passed the bill on a voice vote.

A roll call vote is required, however, to override the Governor's veto, so eventually you may know if your legislator was willing to let you pay for this VERY big favor to the MTA, which not only costs your tax dollars but drains the school system of both competent and incompetent teachers, at least for two years.

Then presumably teachers from both categories can be rehired. You can't tell the difference because the MTA is HIGHLY insulted that Governor Cellucci wants to test teachers, especially math teachers.

One of the whispered reasons for why some legislators support this bill is to help school administrators get rid of older incompetent teachers that are so bad they can be identified without testing, but not fired without upsetting the MTA. The only way, the argument goes, to get rid of the bad ones is to let them all leave early.

Then, the argument continues, new young teachers, presumed for some reason to be more competent, can be hired, and the lure of early retirement will encourage applications. Of course, application may be discouraged when young teachers realize they will have to pay more into the retirement system for the older teachers who retired early, and that legislators may renege on this scheme before the new teachers reach age 55.

So now that we understand why the teacher pension bill is not the solution to the long-standing shortage of math and science teachers, we can ask: what is? Even though I was once married to a public school English teacher, I can see the benefit of applying free market incentives to the education marketplace: why not pay math and science teachers more money if you can't get them to leave the private sector for what the more available liberal arts teachers make?

And why not pay good teachers more than merely adequate teachers? I don't mean just the relatively new merit bonuses and signing bonuses, but the base pay itself. Teachers would have more respect if they acted like professionals instead of insisting on union pay scales that reflect seniority and step increases instead of market demand and levels of competence.

Author Ayn Rand was once asked by a student what career he should choose if he wanted to advance her free-market, pro-freedom philosophy: a lawyer? A politician? A political activist? Ms. Rand responded, "become a teacher." But the reason he probably didn't take her advice is that the education field itself is anti-free market, and many of the best and the brightest college graduates prefer to advance on their own merit through life.

Some of these have eagerly embraced non-union charter schools. As more teachers who do not fear competition help create a dynamic education marketplace, more people will want to become valued teaching professionals. Until then, if the priorities of the MTA are any indication of its membership, we may have to settle for a lot of teachers who are thinking more about an early pension than they are about the kids.

Barbara Anderson is executive director of Citizens for Limited Taxation. Her syndicated columns appear weekly in the Salem Evening News and the Lowell Sun; bi-weekly in the Tinytown Gazette; and occasionally in other newspapers.

The MetroWest Daily News
Tuesday, June 6, 2000

Cellucci faces certain override on teacher bill
By David B. Caruso
News State House Bureau

BOSTON -- A bill that will allow thousands of Massachusetts teachers to take an early retirement could be headed for passage on Beacon Hill, despite Gov. Paul Cellucci's vow to veto the legislation this week.

House and Senate lawmakers rejected Cellucci's suggested revisions to the teacher retirement bill last week and say they can easily muster the two-thirds majority they need to override a veto.

"If it comes up on the floor, there is no question we would override the veto," said state Rep. John Stasik, D-Framingham. "This is an excellent bill."

Under the proposal, teachers will pay more to be part of the state's pension system, but will be able to retire with full benefits once they have been on the job for 30 years, regardless of their age.

Supporters, including the Massachusetts Teachers Association, say the plan will allow instructors to get out of the classroom before they burn out and clear the way for young, talented teachers to enter the profession.

But Cellucci and several fiscal watchdog groups claim that the retirement package will saddle local school districts with higher pension costs, and lead to an exodus of thousands of teachers at a time when some systems are struggling to find replacements.

"The sponsors of this bill have no plan to address what to do when all these teachers retire," said Cellucci spokesman John Birtwell. "It doesn't make any sense at all to rid the schools of their most experienced teachers without a plan to replace them."

Opponents of the bill also object to a provision that will allow retired teachers to go back to their old jobs in two years and earn a full salary without losing their pension payments.

Birtwell said the plan would, in effect, allow some teachers in their mid-50s to take a paid two-year vacation, then go back to the classroom at nearly double their old salary.

Both the House and Senate passed the bill last month. Cellucci returned the bill to the Legislature with an amendment that would have given an annual $5,000 bonus to teachers who decided not to retire early, but the suggestion died on the House floor.

Now Cellucci plans to veto the bill by week's end. But near unanimous support for the bill in the House and Senate make an override likely.

Stasik, who plans to retire from the Legislature this year and return to his old job as a science teacher in Weston, said the bill will update an antiquated retirement system that forces teachers to hang around for years after their prime.

He rejected the Cellucci administration's claim that the bill will prompt an exodus of qualified teachers.

"My feeling is that there will be a certain percentage of people who will take advantage of the system, but not so many that it will hurt the schools," Stasik said. "And frankly, there is a certain percentage of teachers who probably should retire."

He acknowledged, however, that some school systems might have to step up efforts to recruit new teachers, and might also have to give experienced teachers extra reasons to stay on after they hit their 30-year mark.

"If they are worried so much that experienced teachers are going to retire, then they should pay them to stay," Stasik said.

Birtwell said the governor, while not quite ready to acknowledge defeat, is aware that the bill's strong backing from the influential MTA may ensure its passage.

"We have had little or no support within the Legislature on this proposal," Birtwell said.

A similar teacher-retirement bill passed the Legislature last year, but was vetoed successfully by Cellucci. Like this year, the House and Senate had the votes to override the veto, but the issue was not brought to the floor before the legislative session expired in November.

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