Bay State voters just won't let go of corrupt status quo
by Barbara Anderson

The Salem News
Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Sure, we all say we want "change;" but let's face it, "change" can be scary. There's a lot to be said for "tried and true" familiarity, predictability, otherwise known as the status quo, otherwise known as "business as usual."

Take Massachusetts government and politics, please. In Washington, D.C., and in many states across the nation, citizens are facing "change" and "reform." Why, they don't know from one minute to the next what original idea some "reformer" might come up with to improve a situation. It must be downright unsettling to wake up each morning, never knowing what the day will bring!

Here in Massachusetts, we always know what we'll find when we pick up the daily newspaper, or turn on the radio or TV news: Another outrage, another scandal, another rip-off, another prediction of budget crisis accompanied by another plan for higher taxes. This soothing sameness is somehow not boring: there's always an original twist that makes one say, "I didn't know they could do that!"

I didn't know until I read it in The Salem News last week that a retired public employee could be paid for the holidays of the year following his retirement! And yet, as Salem's Mayor Kim Driscoll noted, "it's very common," as she objected to a just-retired police captain demanding to be paid over $17,000 for those upcoming holidays on top of the traditional tens of thousands for unused sick and vacation time.

I get a broader sense of government waste than most people because I catch the stories that many voters miss when I'm interviewed by investigative reporters for a comment, which is usually: "That's outrageous." Right before the election, the WBZ-TV I-Team interviewed me for a story about drug addicts getting taxpayer-funded limousine rides to methadone clinics.

The reporter, Kathy Curran, also asked me about another upcoming story, about the state's assistant court clerks getting three to four months of paid vacation/sick days each year.

"That's outrageous," I said on cue.

Both these stories ran right after the election, but it wouldn't have made any difference if they had run before. Voters would have had to be watching WBZ News the right evening, and they would have had to mind being ripped off.

Investigative news teams at many local channels cover stories like these all the time.

The patronage at the state Probation Department was known by political insiders for years, and was reported on by The Boston Globe before the election. An official state report detailing "systemic abuse and corruption" didn't come out until Nov. 18, but it wouldn't have mattered to the voters, who always choose patronizing Democrats anyhow.

Anyone out there believe that patronage defined as jobs going to the politically connected instead of the most qualified is business as usual only in the Probation Department?

Or that corruption is isolated in the law enforcement field?

I was called last week by the I-Team to comment on the fact that House Speaker DeLeo wouldn't consent to be interviewed on the probation scandal. It was after the election that had validated the status quo, so my comment was, "Why should he?"

Why should any politician go on camera or comment on the record when he can't give a good answer to the question: "Why do you hire your friends and campaign contributors instead of another citizen who is better qualified for the job?"

Why not just ignore the media, whose investigative reports are ignored by the voters?

Of course, in some instances those investigative reports are passed on to federal law enforcement, where they can lead to indictments. In Massachusetts, this is what it takes to remove misbehaving politicians from office, unless they choose to resign hoping to slide off the federal radar screen.

Right after the election, Gov. Deval Patrick brought out his plan to give illegal immigrants in-state tuition and driver's licenses, even though polls show that voters don't agree with him. Heck, they don't have to agree with him, they just have to keep electing him!

This time the Democrats were helped by some social conservatives, who were bragging that they'd helped defeat Charlie Baker because he is pro-choice and supports gay marriage. Somehow they missed the fact that by defeating him, they'd re-elected Patrick who disagrees with them even more. Is there some logic in here somewhere?

In a surprising flash of "change fever," voters elected some new Republican state reps, who ran on a platform of fiscal responsibility and tax limitation. Good thing, too, because right after the election an economist at a Boston economic conference noted that the Massachusetts structural deficit can be expected to grow.

According to the State House News Service, Alan Clayton-Matthews, director of the New England Economic Partnership, suggested that if the state were to set tax rates and fees at the average of all states, it could increase revenue by $5 billion above current levels, based on a New England Public Policy Center study.

Hey, why not? The majority of Massachusetts voters will probably be happy to pay $5 billion in new taxes to sustain Massachusetts' tried and true, familiar, business-as-usual political system.

It's so ... reliably, predictably outrageous.

The comments made and opinions expressed in her columns are those of Barbara Anderson
and do not necessarily reflect those of Citizens for Limited Taxation.

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

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