Limited Taxation
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Barbara's Column
January 2001 #1

Bay State government: Best & worst
by Barbara Anderson

The Salem Evening News
Wednesday, January 3, 2001

Replace the Christmas music with Ennio Morricone's "Film Music." It's time to make the list of "the good, the bad and the ugly" of Massachusetts politics in the past year.

In order to have a "good" category, I shall use the broad dictionary definition of politics as "the science of government" and include the "best" thing about the Massachusetts version:

The Massachusetts state constitution which gives us the right of initiative petition, so that citizens were able to vote themselves an income tax rollback and validate the charitable deduction already passed by the Legislature earlier in the year. Also good: the support for this petition from Governor Cellucci and several legislators.

Bad:  The politician part of the same November ballot, which gave very few legislative challengers a chance to do a better job than the incumbents featured in the next item.

Ugly:  The Massachusetts House passing a $22 billion state budget during an all-night "Animal House" session, and the members giving themselves a back-door pay-raise through their unaudited "expense" budgets.

Good:  "City and Town," the excellent monthly newsletter of the Department of Revenue's Division of Local Services. Its December issue featured a good thing that happened this year: the modifications to the school building assistance (SBA) program that now gives reimbursement for cost-effective alternatives to construction, and points for maintenance.

Although too late for those communities whose educational establishments neglected maintenance en route to getting state funding for new buildings, the SBA modifications should encourage more responsible management in the future.

Good:  The decision by legislators to allow more charter schools, a release from the teachers' union monopoly of education for children whose parents cannot afford private schools. Also, the determination of the Cellucci/Swift administration and, so far, the legislative leadership, to continue with MCAS instead of letting kids graduate without reaching certain standards.

Ugly:  The Mass. Teachers Association TV ads against MCAS which imply that students are being tortured by a requirement that they learn certain facts before being allowed to graduate.

Bad:  The Legislature's Teacher Retirement bill that will exacerbate the teacher shortage over the next few years; the bipartisan override of Governor Cellucci's veto of this bill.

Good:  The ongoing commitment to welfare reform, and the beginning of reform in the special education program.

Good:  New, long-overdue "Turning-22" program for mentally retarded adults. Unlike welfare and special ed, this is a human service program that can't be abused in a way that creates long-term greater problems. Elderly parents of mentally retarded adults will begin to receive services and a chance for community-based placements.

Bad:  The Legislature and Governor's willingness to take private property for the benefit of the Red Sox management.

Good:  The Boston City Council's resistance to this taking.

Good:  Andrew Natsios' closing of the credibility gap between the Big Dig management and the Feds, as well as the citizens of Massachusetts who were lied to for over a decade about the true cost of the enormous public works project.

Bad:  The increases in drivers' license fees to help pay for the pre-Natsios cost overruns.

Bad:  Radical anti-smoking regulations which hurt local restaurants and, at their most ridiculous, let zealots charge a veteran with the crime of letting someone smoke at the Marblehead VFW. (The trial is pending.)

Ugly:  The youth conference which, when it received state funding, was intended to encourage a safe environment for gay youth in commonwealth schools; instead it was a seminar on the joys of gay sex for very young teenagers. The three state employees who were part of this promotion of homosexual activity, which can be life-threatening to careless young men, were eventually dismissed.

Ugly:  The judicial decision to forbid dissemination of the tape of that gay sex-ed lecture which was made by two outraged Newton parents, who so far have each run up $20,000 in legal bills to defend themselves in a civil lawsuit. Quite a few other judicial decisions, including the light sentence for a young man who sliced his former girlfriend's throat and left her to die.

Bad:  Lawsuits and legislation that blame guns and tobacco for decisions made by bad or foolish adults.

Ugly:  A year in which personal responsibility, property rights, children and justice were under assault, as usual, in Massachusetts politics.

Good:  A political system that always lets us hope for improvement in the New Year.

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.

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