and the
Citizens Economic Research Foundation

Barbara's Column
April #2

Still hoping for end to self-service mentality on Beacon Hill
by Barbara Anderson

The Salem News
Thursday, April 10, 2008

-- Part 2 of 2 parts --

"There's no hope."
Jerry Williams, 1996

I am reading "Burning Up the Air: Jerry Williams, Talk Radio, and the Life in Between" by Steve Elman and Alan Tolz.

I was often a guest on Jerry's WRKO show. Between 1988 and 1996, I was there every Tuesday for a two-hour segment called "The Governors," first with Howie Carr, then with Bob Katzen. But for me it was just part of my job as a taxpayer activist: I missed a lot of the drama swirling around me that I am now learning about in this fascinating book.

Unfortunately, my last recollections include my frustrations with Jerry's new mantra, his response to the political news and to callers' outrage: "There's no hope."

An activist like me didn't relate to hopelessness. I'd get frustrated when I presented my solutions only to be met with a pitying glance from the host. We create our own hope, I'd insist. Call talk radio. Write letters to editors. Get signatures. Run against incumbents. Vote.

How upbeat. How optimistic. How annoying. More than 10 years later, I'm beginning to annoy myself.

Last week I wrote an optimistic column about a proposal by Governor Patrick, House Speaker DiMasi and Senate President Murray to address the "only in Massachusetts" police details. This, I predicted, could herald a new era in which our elected representatives no longer exist to serve the public employee unions; an era in which public employee benefits are no longer the main reason for government's existence.

The day the column ran, Governor Patrick seemed to be backing off the proposal during his monthly visit with to the Eagan/Braude radio show on WTKK.

"The more I think about this" he said, "the less certain I am that we can fix this top down, you know, by just saying, 'Here's the governor's policy or the state government's policy,' because the conditions are so different at local levels. There's a lot we can do about how we deploy the state police at the state level, but I think we're going to have to show some respect for the judgments at local levels and create some space when public safety permits and makes prudent the use of flagmen."

Later that day the Massachusetts Senate added police-detail language to a Transportation Bond bill. It called for the state to establish a plan determining which state roads need police, and which can use civilian flagmen. Then things got confusing, as the Senate decided to let the cities and towns deal with the detail issue on their own, allowing local cops to continue doing details if it's in their contracts.

The media coverage and public response to this language was mixed: It ranged from outrage that the Senate had capitulated to the local unions, to praise for taking the first step. Meanwhile, the police unions were trying to get the language removed in the House during the final vote on the Transportation Bond bill. They were unsuccessful and the bill with the police detail language is heading for the governor's desk.

I, the optimist, think that Patrick, DiMasi and Murray wouldn't have started this controversial conversation if they didn't intend to follow through. I think they are taking it easy at first, giving the union leaders a chance to be reasonable, to give up the taxpayer rip-off on secondary roads before public anger banishes them completely from the highways.

As Democrats, they are reluctant to interfere with collective bargaining, anachronistic as that union tradition may be. Instead, they are giving moral support to mayors and selectmen who want to drop the details on their secondary streets while they consider removing the unions' veto from local management decisions on other employee benefits.

That's my optimistic analysis, and I'm sticking to it for now. Though Jerry may have been right at the time that there was no hope for the commonwealth this could be the year that hope returns.

-- Read Part 1 --

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.