Even in Massachusetts politics, hope springs eternal
© by Barbara Anderson

The Salem News
Thursday, March 19, 2015


So there I was, having my traditional St. Patrick’s Day shamrock shake at McDonald’s with a Fillet-O-Fish sandwich, thinking about the election that was occurring in Israel and hoping Benjamin Netanyahu would win, when I realized: Even though many people think that peace in the Mideast is impossible, that’s what we thought about peace in northern Ireland, not long ago. And peace in the Balkans and a peaceful resolution in South Africa…

Yes, in the spirit of spring, arriving here tomorrow, let’s dwell for a while on the positive. For instance: Here in Massachusetts, things are getting better!

Gov. Charlie Baker, after dealing responsibly with the present budget’s shortfall left by his predecessor, filed his proposed budget for the state fiscal year (fiscal year 2016) beginning July 1, 2015. His spending growth for fiscal year 2016, while an increase of roughly a billion dollars, is below the projected rate of revenue growth, showing fiscal restraint for the first time in years. As the governor promised, there are no new taxes or fees; the nursing home tax won’t increase. It will be interesting to watch the coming battle concerning his proposal to phase out the film tax credit, with which taxpayers subsidize the ability of state politicians to hobnob with famous actors.

Gov. Baker’s focus is on economic competitiveness and job creation. His promised increases in local aid will help communities with unexpected snow removal costs. The outrageous growth in MassHealth costs is curtailed, partly by limiting the subsidies to people who actually qualify for them.

Though the governor’s budget will be replaced by versions crafted by the House, and then the Senate, I found it a hopeful sign that Gov. Baker, Senate President Rosenberg and House Speaker DeLeo have seemed quite compatible lately. They appeared together on WGBH’s Greater Boston, where Jim Braude is replacing Emily Rooney as host; his opening show was a paean to the usually unrealistic fantasy, “Can’t they all just get along?” The Big Three guests agreed on the basic need to get spending under control, reform Mass Transit (again), and create jobs.

There was the same getting-along at the annual St. Patrick’s Day breakfast, televised last Sunday on NECN; again, we were treated to the sight of usually adversarial politicians seeming to enjoy each other’s company. I myself missed the humor in the MBTA breakdown jokes, but there were some laugh-out-loud moments, and Charlie Baker was dignified as he took a few moments to talk about the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in South Boston, the first in the nation.

While politicians bond, some interesting things have been happening in activist circles. As part of its ongoing education about Massachusetts education, the Pioneer Institute is holding a breakfast forum this coming Thursday, March 26. There will be four Pulitzer Prize-winning historians for “‘Tear Down This Wall!: Teaching the Cold War in Schools,” speaking about the History of the Iron Curtain, Ronald Reagan, former Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev, John F. Kennedy, and China’s gulag.

With the federal government getting involved in education with Common Core, it’s essential that we find a way to teach children the truth about the American Way through our local school systems. Also, it’s a shame the Legislature refuses to raise the cap on charter schools; I hope Gov. Baker can get legislators to understand the need for more parental choice.

One reason they don’t understand it now is the mind-melting from the state teacher unions, which dislike having non-union public schools competing with them. Another activist group is addressing the general union issue, with a lawsuit seeking to close “the union loophole” in Massachusetts campaign finance law.

Early this month, two companies (1A Auto Inc. of Pepperell and 126 self-Storage Inc. of Ashland) affiliated with the Massachusetts Fiscal Alliance filed the lawsuit in coordination with the Goldwater Institute. It’s ridiculous that, even in this Blue State, unions can contribute as much as $15,000 to state candidates, while individuals are permitted to contribute no more than $1,000. After unions have donated $15,000 to a campaign, their political action committees (PACs) can contribute even more; businesses and business PACs are banned from contributing at all. Unfortunately, last year’s legislative reform effort to close the union loophole was overwhelmingly defeated.

So, the plaintiffs are asking the Massachusetts courts to apply the same campaign finance limitations to unions and businesses, in order to create a level playing field for state elections. On such a field, voters might find it would be easier to “all get along” if there were a tad more balance in the Legislature.

What is it with the Legislature — what does it have against “fairness” for parents who want a chance for their children and citizens who want a level playing field in campaign finance laws?

This week is “Sunshine Week” and some media leaders are supporting more public records access; most normal people think the Legislature should also abide by the open meeting laws that city/town officials must obey. Can’t we all just get along more openly?

Let’s hope Gov. Charlie can pull this all together to make the commonwealth work — so we can point to a small victory for hope trumping experience.

Bibi Netanyahu seems to have been re-elected Israeli Prime Minister. Our own USA 2016 election is beginning with forays into New Hampshire by prospective candidates. Spring arrives tomorrow after record winter snowfall. Never give up.

Barbara Anderson of Marblehead is president of Citizens for Limited Taxation and a Salem News columnist.

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.

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