and the
Citizens Economic Research Foundation

Barbara's Column
June #3

First day of summer finds life in Bay State crazy as ever
by Barbara Anderson

The Salem News
Wednesday, June 20, 2007

For some reason that I have never understood, the very first day of summer is traditionally known as "Midsummer's Day," even though the middle of summer is really in August. If you count from solstice to solstice, today is actually Midyear's Day.

Nevertheless, it's always been one of my favorite holidays, resonating with romance and magic.

In June 1970, I wandered the woods outside Athens, imagining I'd find Shakespeare's Puck cavorting with Lysander and Hermia. Years later, I visited Bergen, Norway, the setting for "Song of Norway's" lovely duet, in which composer Edvard Grieg and his beloved Nina pledged to wed on Midsummer's Eve. Another Norwegian composer, Hugo Alfven, delights with his lively "Midsommarvaka," celebrating midsummer's madness. Of course there are many kinds of madness, some not quite delightful.

Except for Wiccans, who observe the summer solstice with celebration of the season's abundance, the closest we come to a holiday here is the notorious Bunker Hill Day, which applies only to those who work in Suffolk County, home of the Statehouse.

I'd forgotten about this paid politicians' holiday until I tried to call legislators Monday about the Revenue Committee hearing on a Proposition 2 bill filed by Citizens for Limited Taxation and several Republican senators. Senate 1702 would allow only one override attempt a year; if it failed, proponents couldn't come back and annoy the voters until at least 12 months later.

Another provision, filed by Rep. Paul Casey, D-Winchester, would give every community's voters the right to collect signatures and place a Prop 2 "underride" on their local ballot to cut property taxes. Right now only the cities and a few towns that have an initiative provision in their charters can do this.

This would be a handy law to have available just in case Gov. Patrick's promised "property tax relief" never materializes. Disappointed voters could enact their own relief, town by town.

Of course, Patrick might not be pleased with this version. He made it clear during the marriage amendment battle that he isn't a big fan of voters deciding issues. We were told that a gay marriage ballot campaign would be too divisive and everyone would benefit if the issue just disappeared from the public arena.

Maybe so; but why then, when they won, did gay activists announce their new campaign to change the Massachusetts law that doesn't allow gay couples from other states to get married here? Just a little midsummer's madness, I guess. Here's more:

  • President Bush and Sen. Kennedy are pushing their immigration bill again this week. John McCain insists that doing nothing is "de facto amnesty." Yes, but why is our choice between doing nothing and doing the wrong thing? Can't we just do the right thing and pass real reforms?

  •  So the incoming Salem school superintendent just signed a $133,000-a-year contract that includes a 40-day sick leave buyback when he retires. This particularly ridiculous public sector perk is another reason to hate the property tax. Why can't public employees just be grateful for good health?

  •  But my co-worker, Chip Faulkner of Wrentham, can top that story. The principal of the King Philip Regional High School, retiring after five years, has been given lifetime health insurance, with the school paying 75 percent of all premiums until he dies; his spouse will then get the plan for the rest of her life. As a result, the former principal's new employers in another state can afford to pay him a higher salary since they don't have to pay for his health insurance.

    In a burst of midsummer madness, Chip, a former teacher, has applied for the position, and provided a copy of his cover letter to his local papers.

    "I'm really looking forward to this job because I'm 61, intend only to be principal for five years and will then leave KP with the mother of all health insurance plans. ... Since I don't have a spouse, I intend to will the benefit to some person with longevity in their family so they can really milk this giveaway. Of course the King Philip school committee won't mind giving me this deal. They have plenty of money to spend otherwise they wouldn't have even dreamed of handing out this costly benefit. Keep in mind, though, through this whole process both the school committee and I agree on one thing: We're doing it for the children."

  •  Well, let's end this midsummer indulgence with some good news. Though we've been hearing about the decline in honeybees nationwide, my neighbor, Chip Ford, thinks he saw one in our adjoining yard.

    Of course, the yard is mostly clover, with some buttercups and dandelions. Wonder how many of the environmentalists who blame global warming for the decline of honeybees (as well as the decline of civilization in general) have a mowed meadow instead of an herbicide-controlled lawn?

    I also have a full-grown meadow that is my side yard with wild grasses -- the kind we used to carry between our lips, wild daisies, and a mock orange bush that scents the air in my office as I write this.

    Birds, bees, butterflies and squirrels are happy there, as am I. Happy summer to you all!

  • Barbara Anderson is executive director of Citizens for Limited Taxation. Her column appears weekly in the Salem News and Eagle Tribune, and often in the Newburyport Times, Gloucester Times, and Lowell Sun; bi-weekly in the Tinytown Gazette; and occasionally in the Providence (RI) Journal and other newspapers.