Limited Taxation
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Barbara's Column
November 2001 #2

Massport served up more scrod
by Barbara Anderson

The Salem Evening News
Friday, November 9, 2001

A tourist gets into a Boston cab and tells the driver to take him somewhere to get scrod. There are two different endings to the joke: in one, the cabbie takes the tourist to the Combat Zone, and in the other, he takes the tourist to the State House. Then there is some sort of discussion about present and past tense of the word "scrod."

True to the stereotype about women, I can't tell a joke. But you get the point.

I guarantee that Ginny Buckingham gets it: in the world of Massachusetts politics, it's screw or get scrod.

To put this column in the proper perspective, you have to know that Ginny and I are friends, or at least as I write this, we are. I've known her since we worked together on a ballot campaign in 1988.

She was recently out of college and was working for Steve Tocco at Associated Builders and Contractors. ABC was heading a campaign to repeal the prevailing wage law, which it lost to its construction union opponents.

Citizens for Limited Taxation was involved because when Proposition 2 passed we promised the Massachusetts Municipal Association that we would oppose unfunded state mandates; the prevailing wage law forced cities and towns to pay more than necessary for many of their public works projects. Tocco assured us all that the campaign would be "fun."

It wasn't. The construction unions weren't quite the same as our usual opponents, the Mass. Teachers Association and the League of Women Voters, who never tried to muscle our petitioners from their spots at the local mall. After the petition got on the ballot, the debates were intense, to say the least.

Tocco sent Ginny, who looked like an angel cheerleader in a flowered cotton dress. Her opponent, and much of the audience, was bigger, brawny and aggressive. She never flinched, just smiled sweetly and calmly made her point.

Having observed her in action then as well as later when she was Bill Weld's chief of staff, I was not among those who thought her unqualified for the position of MassPort director.  Of course, having hung around Beacon Hill for over twenty years, I admit I use a different definition for "qualified" in government work than I would in the private sector.

Qualified, private sector: has education and experience in the kind of work required.

Qualified, public sector: is loyal to a political sponsor, knows the rules about hiring people who a) helped said sponsor get elected or b)are connected to other political entities whose backs need scratching.

In addition, Ginny is smart, tough as nails, and a decent person. Instead of cruising and boozing, she worked hard toward the goal for which she was hired: get the new runway approved by coordinating the support of Massachusetts business organizations, listening to local activists without giving in to anti-runway demands, getting the message out to a friendly media that knew her from her earlier job as Weld's press secretary.

She was well paid for her efforts. I had heard she didn't want the job; in the private sector, you can get out of things by demanding more money than the employer is willing to pay.  This does not work in the public sector, especially at independent authorities like MassPort with money to burn.

So Ginny took the salary and benefits, and did her best with the job description given her by her board of directors, headed by another public-sector-"qualified" Chairman Mark Robinson. No one paid any attention to airport security, anymore than anyone ever had; and if she had thought about it, she would immediately have recognized that she had no power over the unions or airlines who were responsible for that security and no hope of getting any.

Then the unthinkable happened, and being unqualified in anti-terrorism as well as airport security, she couldn't fix the problem. Her public-sector-"qualified" security expert had the public-sector response: spin and dissemble: Joe Lawless was on our television screens insisting that security at Logan was among the best in the nation as he rejected assistance from the federal government. Ginny should have fired him the next day; instead, he was soon transferred to another high-paying MassPort job.

It was Ginny who was going to be fired, and by then she had been around long enough to know the drill: screw or be scrod. So she got her public-sector-"qualified" board, and the private-sector qualified incoming director who wanted her out of the way, to sign off on an absurd severance package.

Who got scrod? Not the taxpayers, since the Legislature long ago made MassPort a public authority so they wouldn't have to be responsible for it. The commercial entities who pay the MassPort fees and the Tobin Bridge tollpayers are being served up on the platter this time.

Do you think they get the joke?

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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