In March, hope of reform springs eternal
by Barbara Anderson

The Salem News
Saturday, March 26, 2011

The first day of spring is one thing, and the first spring day is another.

Henry Van Dyke.

Never mind the chilly air. The winter of our discontent comes to an end, so it's time for spring cleaning, and revolution. Grab a broom and pitchfork and follow me.

Sometimes you're the windshield, sometimes you're the union bug. Wisconsin March winds were at the back of Republicans who'd run on pledges to get the state budget under control. Gov. Scott Walker filed a budget that not only cut spending but removed some aspects of union collective bargaining that had driven unsustainable public employee pay and benefit increases.

Since spending items require a super-majority vote, some Democrats tried to prevent the cuts and reforms by hiding out in neighboring Illinois; while union teachers abandoned schoolchildren to rally at the statehouse.


After waiting for three weeks for everyone to return to their jobs, Republicans blew around them. Spending items were put on hold while a majority vote was taken to reform collective bargaining, abolishing it for health insurance and pension decisions. The hiding Democrats couldn't get back in time for the vote, which while presently being challenged in court, was a great moment in taxpayer housecleaning.

Another fun moment quickly followed, as the Massachusetts union leader, Bobby Haynes, AFL-CIO, was outed by the media as one of the Blue Cross/Blue Shield board members who voted to give $8.6 million in severance pay to departing chief executive Cleve Killingsworth, while himself being paid $73,000 a year by BC/BS. What made this outing so delicious is that he's spent his union career railing against fat-cat CEOs, and was now rewarding one such who had presided over extraordinary premium increases for "workers'" health plans.

Just as delicious was the presence of Paul Guzzi, executive director of the Boston Chamber of Commerce, on the BC/BC board for $84,000 a year, and voting for that severance windfall while Boston businesses struggle with the same huge premium hikes. On a NECN set last week, he asked me if we could all just get along. I said, "No."

Guzzi, like Haynes, has been on the other side of my initiative petition battles to get state spending under control. He never had any interest in hearing my side before he was caught this month "playing the game" of cahoots that is at the core of the ongoing Massachusetts fiscal dysfunction: Big Government, Big Business, Big Labor working against small business and private-sector working citizens. Enough!

While the fat cats from all three Big Power groups "get along" with each other, we alley cats fund the outrages including fat severance pay for failed CEOs and fat early pensions and lifetime health insurance for many favored public employees.

Meanwhile, the Massachusetts AFL-CIO is pushing legislation to raise the state income tax rate on working people and capital gains taxes on job-creating investors by $1.2 billion. The bill also increases the personal exemption to cut taxes for lower-income taxpayers. The last time they did this the "progressive" tax break was repealed as soon as the permanent rate increase was solidified.

Speaking of collective bargaining, because the hack holidays of Evacuation Day and Patriots Day are in their contracts, state employees must still be paid overtime or given comp time for working those days, even though the Legislature no longer closes down the Statehouse and Suffolk County to "honor our heritage." How's about we honor our heritage by passing a balanced budget?

And where is the state budget anyhow? Shouldn't the Massachusetts House be working on its version this month? And shouldn't it include language giving our cities and towns some control over their unions?

Well, the Legislature is busy having hearings on many bills, including some filed by Democratic liberals to kill the initiative petition process, the one tool we ordinary citizens have against the power of Big Government, Big Business and Big Labor. A proposed constitutional amendment heard by the Election Laws Committee this week wants to double the number of signatures required to get a petition on the ballot. This would have kept Proposition 2 off the 1980 ballot so the public employee unions wouldn't have needed to expend so much fruitless effort to defeat it and keep our property taxes the highest in the country.

Governor Deval Patrick created a commission on job creation two years ago to show his commitment to improving the state's economy, but I can find no record of it ever meeting. Meanwhile, more Fidelity Investment jobs are leaving the commonwealth, while Gov. Patrick was overseas urging investment in Massachusetts. Can't you just hear the pitch: "Come to Massachusetts, where we have the fifth highest per-capita tax burden in the U.S. (with the AFL-CIO wanting more), way-out-of-whack unemployment taxes and benefits, and who-knows-what falling on your head while you drive through the city tunnels."

One promising bit of spring cleaning: Because so many productive citizens are leaving Massachusetts, we are probably going to lose one congressional seat, which is to say, we'll soon be sending one less deficit-hiking, reform-resisting Democrat to Washington.

If voters really get into cleaning House and other political arenas, a true hopey-changey spring may yet arrive.

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.

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