and the
Citizens Economic Research Foundation

Barbara's Column
January #4

Beware the candidate wearing the teachers union label
by Barbara Anderson

The Salem News
Thursday, January 24, 2008

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 marriage.

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 2, 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 teachers union.

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 education."

By the union's historic definition of "adequate," this means support for Prop 2 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 learning!

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 teachers .

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 taxpayers.

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 2.

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.