Hurry up!
Another last-minute frenzy at the Statehouse

© by Barbara Anderson

The Salem News
Thursday, July 31, 2014


Yes, it’s the middle of the summer and we certainly don’t want to be discussing complicated, potentially mind-numbing things like campaign finance and racketeering. And yet, here we are.

This is the last week of the Massachusetts legislative session, when a pile of bills that were filed months ago, some as early as December 2012, are finally ready for their final vote, quickhurryup before the Legislature leaves for its three-month, election-year vacation. Saved for the very last minute were bills on gun control, economic development and job creation, environmental and energy programs, domestic violence, water infrastructure, substance abuse treatment, regulating e-cigarettes and robo-calls or automated texts to cell phones, major expansion of the Boston Convention Center, and some useful language on welfare reform, as well as bills increasing the fine for the illegal taking of eels and elvers.

Also, the Legislature has through Thursday to override vetoes Gov. Deval Patrick made to the fiscal year 2015 budget (H 4242), including $16.1 million in spending cuts.

As a good citizen, you must be feeling anxious about the fate of bills designating volleyball as the official recreational and team sport of the Commonwealth, and designating Ms. G of the Mass. Audubon Society Inc. as the state’s official groundhog. And it does seem past time to pass the bills to reform public housing authorities, after the former executive director of the Chelsea Housing Authority was discovered to be hiding a $360,000 salary and rigging the inspection process. (Thanks to the State House News Service for keeping track of all these bills, or this entire week would be one incomprehensible “bad government” blur.)

I’m of course interested in the date of the annual sales tax holiday, which they never get around to telling merchants until the last minute. But mostly I have to watch the campaign finance reform bill, known as “The Super PAC Disclosure Bill”, which for some reason has a provision beginning the destruction of the initiative petition process, an obsession of Sen. Stan Rosenberg. In the past his obsession was merely annoying, but now that he is about to become Senate president, with power over all legislators’ bills, it is becoming a serious threat to our citizens’ direct democracy.

The House version of the bill doesn’t say anything about initiative petitions, which have nothing to do with Super PACS, but the Senate version added language giving a future hostile governor space in the Secretary of State’s voter information booklet to attack an initiative petition he/she doesn’t like. If Rosenberg is successful in getting this, he will continue to attack direct democracy in future last-minute sessions, which reflect badly on representative democracy.

All of this stuff will come pouring out in this last week, at all hours, to be negotiated with other bills, voted on in haste, perhaps repented in leisure, but how else should it be done? One bill at a time, over the two-year session, with honest, transparent debate and intelligent final decision-making? That’s no fun.

While putting off action on all these bills, what have our legislators been doing? Some have probably been watching, perhaps with anxiety, the trial of former Probation Commissioner John O’Brien and his two top aides on racketeering charges, which is what I guess prosecutors call abuse of patronage.

Patronage itself was described to me by my mentor, Gordon Nelson, chairman of the Republican State Committee back when I started political activity, as sensibly hiring one’s friends instead of one’s enemies or strangers. Those were innocent times, when I guess it was assumed that said friends were actually qualified for the job and that other qualified, yet not-connected people, could also be chosen for responsible positions. Thirty years later, we see a putative “Patronage Czar” getting a hugely-inflated Probation Department budget with enormous power, while doing favors for legislators. And I understand his surprise when he was found guilty of racketeering/whatever, because Beacon Hill has reached a point where no one sees anything wrong with any of this, and no one can explain why there are so many scandals caused by incompetent managers and employees.

The ongoing discussions about campaign finance and patronage can today be simplified with this simple sentence: Government corrupts, and Big Government corrupts absolutely.

There is so much taxpayer money creating this giant government entity that no one can keep track of it all, never mind sort out the intended results from the unintended consequences. Both qualified and unqualified people want their piece of it.

Though legislators weren’t indicted for their parts in recommending their however-qualified constituents to the Probation Department, it’s generally thought that unelected officials considered it a “behooves” to serve elected officials who funded their departments. Powerless Republicans are asking whether powerful Democrats tried to stop the job-rigging scandal.

The answer is “of course not”, and the only solution is small government, which has fewer jobs to rig, less money to tempt, less power to share with friends. Candidates aren’t as likely to raise and spend large amounts for campaigns to get elected to small government. Capitalists can’t count on cronies to give them special treatment at the expense of other businesses.

Small government can get its limited job done in a timely manner, instead of waiting until the last minute hoping that the public isn’t paying attention in late July. And yet, here we are!

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.

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