As we await our presidential primary, it's good to
keep in mind that this is also a legislative campaign year. And as
Governor Patrick files his budget, and cities and towns attempt to
balance theirs, local issues will be a part of the political scene.
Taxpayers might want to pay attention.
Since there are some races coming up soon to replace legislators who
recently left their jobs, various interest groups are already reaching
out to determine candidates' compatibility with their goals.
Citizens for Limited Taxation (CLT) sends candidates its "Taxpayer
Protection Pledge" asking them to promise not to vote for a tax
increase. The Gun Owners Action League is looking for support for the
Second Amendment. Traditional family groups are focused on traditional
family issues, while gay activists are looking for support for gay
Since we are mostly dealing with strangers, some of us use
questionnaires to get a sense of the person who is running. CLT's
questionnaire asks about support for the voter-passed income tax
rollback, protection for Proposition 2½, repeal of the nursing home tax,
and opposition to eminent domain takings.
The most telling questions, from the point of view of a taxpayer, are
those in the 2008 "Candidate Questionnaire for State Senator or
Representative" sent out by the Massachusetts Teachers Association
Candidate Recommendation Committee. Candidates are given the MTA
positions on various issues and asked if they agree or disagree with the
The questions fall into three categories: First is "Strengthening our
public schools, colleges and the University." While I'd agree with
increased state funding for special education costs, I suspect I can't
afford some of the other items like increasing the education foundation
budget for early education (3- and 4-year-olds, full-day kindergarten);
raising the minimum teacher salary to $45,000; and hiring mentor
teachers for new teachers. Can't the older teachers just mentor their
union brothers and sisters for free?
I disagree with the MTA's desired moratorium on new commonwealth charter
schools - in fact, I'd like to see more choice for parents, more
competition in education, more schools independent of the unions.
Naturally, the MTA opposes vouchers, tuition tax credits, and "any ...
statewide ballot initiative that permits spending of public tax dollars
for these purposes."
Naturally again, "MTA supports increasing revenues to adequately fund
public education and opposes major tax cuts that adversely affect public
By the union's historic definition of "adequate," this means support for
Prop 2½ overrides and not only opposition to the voter-supported income
tax rollback to a 5 percent rate, but increasing that rate again. Never
mind that the kids' tax-paying parents might have a use for the money
themselves; the MTA liked the rate at its previous 6.25 percent.
The second category on the questionnaire is called "Maximizing student
learning." For some reason this includes MTA opposition to MCAS - an
essential ingredient to determining if students are maximizing their
MTA notes that it opposed the ballot question passed by voters that
eliminated bilingual education, and wants candidates to agree to some
bilingual programs (notwithstanding, once again, the will of the
voters). It also asks for funding for "healthy, modern and
technologically updated facilities." (Like the proposed $186 million
Newton North High School?)
Final category: "Defending and Promoting Rights and Benefits of Public
Employees." Space does not allow the entire list of 12 "Rights and
Benefits to be Defended," but here is a sample:
MTA wants: Retention of the current defined-benefit pension system and a
new way to increase said benefits; ongoing support for the collective
bargaining process that has created the existing benefits; and support
for a professional standards board (composed of a majority of certified
teachers) that will set licensure and recertification criteria for
MTA opposes "cost shifting or a decrease in health insurance benefits
through ... legislative action, and privatization of services" - no
matter how much such sensible adjustments might save the communities and
The teachers union, of course is also "opposed to 'schemes' that would
tie pay or job security to individual student performance." This means
no rewards for the innovative teacher of difficult students.
I suspect that if I were a candidate I wouldn't be getting the MTA
endorsement, even if I weren't already identified with another of those
MTA- opposed ballot questions, Proposition 2½.
The MTA tells candidates that "Massachusetts spending on pre-K-12
education was about 4.2 percent of personal income, below the national
average of 4.6 percent". However, it is important to note that
Massachusetts' personal income is among the highest in the nation, so a
4.2 percent share is a fair amount of money. But isn't the relevant
point the number of students actually in the school system? The cover
letter doesn't mention that per-pupil spending K-12 is fifth highest in
the nation, and 29.5 percent above the national average.
For the MTA, more money is never enough to cover the "Rights and
Benefits of Public Employees." Taxpayers should note which candidates
get the MTA endorsement, and vote instead for fiscal responsibility and
the future of their kids, the future taxpayers of the commonwealth.
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.