The New Bedford Standard-Times
Wednesday, October 22, 2008
Question 1 foes raise about $4.5 million
By David Kibbee
Bolstered by heavy contributions from teachers unions, opponents of a
ballot question to abolish the state income tax have raised about $4.5
million this election cycle, according to disclosures filed with the
Office of Campaign and Political Finance this week.
In contrast, Carla Howell's Committee for Small Government had raised a
little over $431,000.
The union-backed Coalition for Our Communities had $845,196 on hand, two
weeks before the Nov. 4 election. Howell's group had a little over
Question 1 would abolish the state's 5.3 percent income tax, removing
$12.5 billion, or about 40 percent of the $28.2 billion state budget
signed by Gov. Deval Patrick in July.
The Massachusetts Teachers Association contributed $1.5 million to
oppose the question for the reporting period covering Oct. 2-15, while
the National Education Association of Washington, D.C., kicked in
$750,000. The American Federation of Teachers Massachusetts contributed
$70,000. The next report is due Nov. 5, the day after the election.
The opposition committee got nearly $520,000 in in-kind donations,
mostly from unions, for office space, staff and other services. The
committee's $3.65 million in expenses thus far have gone to consultants,
an advertising production company in Washington, D.C., campaign signs
Barbara Anderson, of
Citizens for Limited Taxation, which has endorsed
Howell's effort, called it a "David versus Goliath grassroots fight with
little David being overwhelmed — but winning the contest in the end
because his cause was just."
The Coalition for Our Communities has said Question 1 would devastate
state and local government services and trigger higher property taxes.
Howell has said it would merely cut the waste from state government.
Steve Crawford, a spokesman for the Coalition for Our Communities, noted
that a similar question to abolish the income tax nearly passed in 2002.
The question was defeated 48 percent to 40 percent, with 12 percent of
voters casting blanks.
"People who are concerned about the impact of this question want to make
sure that the campaign is aggressive and well financed and thorough in
getting the word out in just how monumental the impact of the passage of
Question 1 would be on the future of this state," Mr. Crawford said.
The Boston Herald
Wednesday, October 22, 2008
Gov. Deval Patrick has tie$ to embattled
By Dave Wedge
Gov. Deval Patrick, a national co-chairman of Barack Obama’s
presidential campaign, teamed up with the Illinois senator to represent
the controversy-plagued activist network ACORN in a 1993 case and
secured money for the group in this year’s state budget, the Herald has
Patrick secured a $33,000 grant for the Springfield branch of ACORN’s
housing program in April. ACORN Housing New England Regional Director
Theresa Naylor said the money was used for “foreclosure prevention.” She
also said the agency’s housing arm has “nothing to do with” the voter
registration program, which has been the subject of fraud allegations
that have dogged Obama because of his ties to the group.
“We’re sister companies, but we’re two different organizations,” Naylor
In 1993, Patrick, then a Department of Justice lawyer, and Obama, as a
private civil rights lawyer, teamed up to represent ACORN in a
successful suit that forced Illinois officials to implement the “motor
voter” law, which allows people to register to vote when they get a
ACORN has been accused of doctoring voter lists in key presidential
battleground states by submitting bogus names such as Mickey Mouse and
Dallas Cowboys players Tony Romo and Terrell Owens.
The agency’s Nevada offices were recently raided by state investigators,
and the FBI is reportedly investigating the accusations. Republicans in
Congress are also pushing for a probe. Obama has denied any involvement
of his campaign in the suspect registration efforts.
ACORN officials say they haven’t been contacted by any federal
investigators. In a statement on its Web site, the group says it closely
monitors voter lists and takes swift action against activists who submit
Of the governor’s ACORN ties, Patrick spokesman Kyle Sullivan said: “The
governor is very proud of his efforts at the Department of Justice and
at the State House to make it easier for citizens to legally register to
vote and to help families keep their homes.”
Republican National Committee spokeswoman Blair Latoff blasted Patrick,
saying: “The fact that Gov. Deval Patrick would even consider rewarding
ACORN with taxpayer dollars is astounding.”
The Salem News
Thursday, October 23, 2008
Bonfanti explains 9/11 pay decision
By Matthew K. Roy
PEABODY — Mayor Michael Bonfanti yesterday said the city did not mean to
disrespect Sept. 11 by making it a paid holiday in the new police
"I personally apologize to anyone who might be offended," Bonfanti said.
"That was not the intent."
The city and police union settled on a four-year contract earlier this
month that pays officers time-and-a-quarter on Sept. 11. The provision
has drawn fire from many who accuse the police of exploiting a tragedy
and drawn widespread local and national media scrutiny.
"All of us were surprised by the unintended consequences," said Bonfanti,
referring to those who negotiated the agreement on behalf of the city
and the police union.
The two sides have recently taken steps to modify the contract and
potentially separate the extra pay from Sept. 11.
"We have been discussing that for a couple of days," Bonfanti said.
The city and police union spent more than a year working out a deal.
Bonfanti, who leaves day-to-day negotiating to Assistant City Solicitor
Dan Cocuzzo, said he was aware the police had proposed adding a holiday,
but didn't know it was Sept. 11 until he signed a memorandum of
agreement on Oct. 2.
He didn't object, he said, because he looked at it the way the union
did, as a way to honor and memorialize a day when public safety
personnel responded bravely to a national tragedy.
"We certainly did not intend in any way, shape or form to be
disrespectful or dishonorable," Bonfanti said.
The mayor weighed the cost of including another holiday against the
strides the city made in requiring officers to pay more for their health
insurance. The holiday will cost Peabody between $20,000 and $22,000 a
year. Upping what officers pay for their health insurance premiums, from
10 to 15 percent, will save the city about $1 million a year, Bonfanti
During the course of negotiations, Bonfanti and Cocuzzo didn't want a
back-and-forth over a holiday to disrupt progress being made at the
bargaining table on more substantial issues.
"We didn't want a deal breaker," Bonfanti said.
The police union identified Sept. 11 as a holiday early on in contract
talks, Cocuzzo said.
"The intent behind it was genuine," Cocuzzo said. "It was not a matter
of being disrespectful."
Union president Manny Costa said earlier this week that the union
thought it would be an appropriate way to honor and remember Sept. 11,
and he was surprised by the negative backlash.
The 100 members of the police union will receive 13 percent raises over
four years, according to the new agreement.
In exchange, police agreed to contribute more toward their health
insurance premiums, pay more for doctor's office and emergency room
visits, and submit to random hair-follicle drug testing.
Bonfanti said "getting a foot in the door" on health insurance will
benefit taxpayers, and he highlighted what will be one of the stricter
drug-testing policies in the state.
But the focus yesterday in Peabody remained on the Sept. 11 holiday.
"This raises a red flag for me," City Councilor Ted Bettencourt said.
"It doesn't seem appropriate."
The concept should have originated in New York City, not Peabody, he
"Certainly, the City Council is going to have to look at this very
closely," Bettencourt said. While the council does not have a role in
contract negotiations, it does vote on the money needed to fund any
increase for this fiscal year.
The mayor said some of the vitriol recently directed at police has
unfairly tarnished a "good and decent department."
If the contract can't be amended, Bonfanti is prepared to honor it.
"In good faith, we signed a contract. Legally, we have to deal with that
contract," he said. "I signed the contract. I am the mayor. I take
The Boston Globe
Friday, October 24, 2008
Income tax fight costs a lot to wage
Question 1 foes outspend backers to make their case
By Eric Moskowitz
When voters faced a ballot question to repeal the state income tax six
years ago, tax supporters dismissed it as an outlandish idea and spent
just $4,600 to oppose the question. So they were stunned when it
collected 45 percent of the vote.
This time, Question 1 opponents say, they are taking no chances. They
formed the Coalition for Our Communities to raise money and make the
case for keeping the income tax, the elimination of which they say would
wipe out funding for schools, public safety, and other services and
create turmoil for the Massachusetts economy.
By Oct. 15, they had spent more than $3.5 million to make their case on
television and in print, as well as through door-to-door campaigning and
phone banks, compared with less than $400,000 by the Question 1 backers,
the Committee for Small Government, which is led by Carla Howell, a
A new poll released last night suggests that the anti-Question 1
investment is working. In a survey of 400 voters conducted Monday
through Wednesday, 59 percent said they oppose the question and 26
percent support it, according to a 7News/Suffolk University poll.
A Suffolk poll conducted in August showed 50 percent opposition and 36
"That's telling me the arguments on the no side actually have traction,"
said David Paleologos, director of Suf folk University's Political
Research Center. A majority of Republicans polled opposed the question,
as opposed to a majority who supported it in August, he said.
Steve Crawford, spokesman for the Coalition for Our Communities, said
the coalition has "mounted an aggressive campaign that includes all the
components that modern campaigns utilize."
Crawford declined to address the polls directly, but said, "We're not
taking anything for granted." Advertising will increase up to Election
Day, Nov. 4, he said.
Kamal Jain, spokesman for the Committee for Small Government, said
ballot questions are difficult to predict. Polls failed to predict the
support Question 1 received in 2002, when the economy weighed less
heavily on people's minds, he said.
Each side has received a majority of its donations from out of state,
according to analysis by the state Office of Campaign and Political
Finance, which collected finance reports through Oct. 15.
Almost 52 percent of the Coalition for Our Communities' $4.5 million in
cash and $520,000 in in-kind contributions, including use of office
space and staff time, came from out-of-state donors, overwhelmingly from
labor organizations. The National Education Association contributed $1.5
million, and its state affiliate, the Massachusetts Teachers
Association, gave almost $1.6 million in cash, plus another $225,000
Jain said the millions in opposition funding "from the people who make
their living off of tax dollars" illustrate why the tax must be
"They represent the special interests that lobby for spending," said
Jain, a former Libertarian candidate for several offices. He said
repealing the 5.3 percent tax - which would range widely but amount to
roughly $3,700, based on average income - would help middle-class
families afford to live in Massachusetts and force government to spend
more efficiently and with more transparency.
Jain, a Lowell resident who works for a software start-up, gave $4,600
to his own group, though on state disclosure forms he alternately
declined to list his occupation and employer or gave them as "hard
working taxpayer" and "not the government."
The Committee for Small Government had collected $431,489, almost 54
percent of which came from outside Massachusetts. The donors were mostly
individuals, like software executive Craig Franklin ($25,000) and
investor Jason Hommel ($10,000), both from California. The committee
received one in-kind contribution, a free magazine ad, worth $1,900,
from Dartmouth-based SoCo, which covers Southeastern Massachusetts.
Crawford said out-of-state donors to the other side "are using
Massachusetts as an experiment." The national unions, he said, all have
members here with a stake in the outcome.
The $1.5 million from the National Education Association presents a
significant piece of the tens of millions that the union is spending on
ballot questions and political campaigns across the country, said Karen
White, director of campaigns and elections for the Washington,
D.C.-based organization, which represents more than 3 million educators
and school staff.
"We spend money when we know we need to win an issue, and this is one of
the most critical issues to our members," said White, adding that the
money comes from political donations by members. "It's an important
contribution to a reckless initiative that we hope to defeat."
The question, brought by a voter petition organized by the Committee for
Small Government, would become law if approved. It would reduce the
state's income tax from 5.3 percent to 2.65 percent on Jan. 1 and
eliminate it entirely one year later. That would cut about $12.5
billion, or roughly 40 percent of the state's revenues, based on last
Those figures are enough to unite labor and business interests that
ordinarily might clash on Beacon Hill. It has also generated opposition
for Question 1 from many public officials.
On Monday, the Lexington firm Global Insight released a report
commissioned by Associated Industries of Massachusetts, Greater Boston
Chamber of Commerce, Massachusetts Business Roundtable, and
Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation that said Question 1 "goes too far."
Eliminating the income tax, particularly during a global financial
crisis, would ruin the ability of the state and its cities and towns to
borrow money, drive up other taxes and fees - like property tax, public
college tuition, and tolls - and spoil the state's attractiveness to
companies, the report said.
Also this week, the Boston City Council became the latest official board
to pass a resolution opposing Question 1; the list includes selectmen in
Wayland, where Howell, a former Libertarian gubernatorial candidate,
runs the pro-Question 1 effort from her home.
Yesterday, some of Boston's city councilors joined leaders from a host
of social service and community activist organizations at an
anti-Question 1 press conference downtown.
"Passing Question 1 would be a disaster," said Councilor Chuck Turner,
predicting a loss of $300 million in state aid to Boston, which would
trigger thousands of layoffs and eliminate or reduce all manner of
Friday, October 24, 2008
Poll: Mass. voters saying yes to pot, no to tax cut
Massachusetts voters appear to be resisting the chance to eliminate the
state income tax, according to a new poll that also found voters
supporting the easing of marijuana laws.
Voters seem evenly split over a third ballot question that would ban
The poll released yesterday by Suffolk University and WHDH-TV found the
most closely watched of the three ballot initiatives — Question One — is
struggling to gain traction.
Fifty-nine percent of voters polled said they oppose the elimination of
the state income tax, while 26 percent said they support it and 16
percent were undecided.
Critics of the question, fueled by millions in donations from unions,
have mounted a vigorous campaign including television ads.
Virtually every top political figure in the state, including Gov. Deval
Patrick, are is opposed, saying the question would wipe out 40 percent
of state revenues at a time when Massachusetts is already facing
troubled fiscal waters.
Supporters have held rallies and launched radio ads in support of the
measure, a version of which came close to passing in 2002.
The advertising by opponents has helped sway public sentiment, according
to David Paleologos, director of the Political Research Center at
"The margin was much closer back in August when no ads were running," he
Voters even seemed to be bracing for higher taxes, with 59 percent
saying they thought the state would have to raise taxes to deal with
fiscal problems, 28 percent saying no and 12 percent undecided.
An initiative to decriminalize an ounce or less of marijuana is having
Of those polled, 51 percent said they support the question, 32 percent
oppose it, and 16 percent were undecided.
Backers say the question would spare those found with small amounts of
pot from getting a criminal record. They would pay a $100 civil fine
instead. Opponents, including the state's 11 district attorneys, say it
would encourage more drug use.
Voters appear divided on a question to ban greyhound racing in
Massachusetts. A similar question narrowly lost eight years ago.
Of those polled 44 percent said they support the question, 43 percent
oppose it, and 13 percent were undecided.
Animal rights activists say greyhound racing harms dogs, but track
owners say the dogs are well treated and banning racing would also
eliminate 1,000 jobs.
The poll found incumbent Democratic Sen. John Kerry holding a 56 to 19
percent lead over Republican challenger Jeffrey Beatty and Libertarian
Robert Underwood (6 percent), with 18 percent undecided.
The Boston Globe
Friday, October 24, 2008
Special laws skirt pension system
Legislature boosts benefits for some police, firefighters
By Donovan Slack
It was about 3 a.m. in the Theatre District when Boston police Officer
William I. Griffiths wrenched his back during a struggle with a
gun-wielding drug suspect who fired a bullet that zipped past the
officer's head. The injuries he said he suffered during the July 2001
arrest, a herniated disc and traumatic stress, were so disabling that
Griffiths decided he could not return to the force.
But rather than applying for a disability pension, Griffiths went
another route. He went to City Hall and Beacon Hill and persuaded local
and state elected leaders to back a special state law granting him a
much larger pension - 100 percent of his salary, tax free - than most
disabled retirees receive.
The windfall added nearly $20,000 to his pension this year, which will
total $2 million more over the course of his expected lifetime, all with
no formal medical scrutiny required.
He is not alone.
A Globe review found 19 other Boston police officers and 11 firefighters
have benefited from laws granting them the same increased pensions and
benefits dating as far back as 1968. The city of Boston is paying them a
total of $2.34 million per year, at least $655,000 more per year than if
they were receiving disability pensions at the regular rate of 72
percent, records show.
In Griffiths's case, as in the 30 others, he also gets thousands of
dollars in raises each year that other disabled retirees don't get. When
he dies, his wife will receive 75 percent of his pension amount at the
time, monthly, for life.
Griffiths and the others were also not required to have their injuries
verified by a state panel of doctors as other disabled retirees must do.
They are not subject to future evaluation of their medical conditions as
other disabled retirees are. And their pensions will not be reduced if
they get another job, unlike the pensions of other disabled retirees.
Fiscal watchdogs say that passing laws to grant specific individuals
increased pensions and special benefits has been a common practice in
Massachusetts and could be costing taxpayers as much as $125 million per
year in extra pension costs.
In Boston, the special laws were backed by the City Council, Mayor
Thomas M. Menino, approved by the Legislature, and signed by governors,
including Republican Mitt Romney.
"It's simply unfair that people come up with trapdoors and they get
treated differently," said Steve Poftak, research director and head of
the Shamie Center for Better Government at the Pioneer Institute, a
fiscally conservative nonprofit think tank. He suggested that such deals
tarnish other public sector retirees.
"The average state pension is $22,000; the vast majority of pensioners
are not getting rich," he said.
Elected officials, even though they have no expertise on disability and
medical issues, say they passed the laws because of the seriousness of
the injuries suffered by the beneficiaries, some of whom were shot in
the line of duty.
But the process for awarding bigger pensions to people perceived as
heroes lacks any overarching policy goals, standard procedures, or
safeguards against abuse. Of the 31 cases involving Boston public safety
personnel, only six obtained verification of their injuries by a state
panel of doctors responsible for reviewing regular accidental disability
In Griffiths's case, Councilor Michael F. Flaherty flipped through some
medical records and looked at photos of the officer's back showing two
"He was banged up pretty good," Flaherty, who sponsored Griffiths's law,
said in a recent interview.
Griffiths says he had nothing to lose by asking for the larger pension,
which is worth $68,680 this year. If the law didn't go through, he said,
he would have applied for regular accidental disability.
"I just tried to go for the 100 percent," said Griffiths, who said he
still suffers disabling and chronic back pain.
Typical disability retirees, if they work in new jobs after they leave
the force, must report income they earn from employment each year. At
the discretion of the Boston Retirement Board, their pensions can be
reduced by an amount equal to the additional earnings. Not so the
beneficiaries of special pension laws. They are exempt from income
reporting requirements, fraud investigations by the state, and from any
future medical evaluations.
They are free to get new jobs, and some of them have done so.
Former Boston police officer Robert Welby, for example, won passage of a
special law in 2005 granting him an increased pension after he was shot
in the abdomen when he responded to a domestic dispute in Dorchester in
2003. He was recently seen working as a private security guard, however,
during the high-profile grand opening preview of the Apple Store in Back
Bay. It is unknown how regularly he works, or for what company. Welby
did not respond to requests for comment.
Councilor Rob Consalvo, who sponsored Welby's special law, said he did
not realize when he pushed the legislation through that it would exempt
Welby from a medical review, income reporting requirements, and regular
evaluations of his fitness to return to work.
"Given the information I had at the time on Robert Welby, I stand by my
decision," Consalvo said in an interview this week. "That being said, I
also think it's appropriate to take a fresh look at the process to
address any concerns as we move forward in the future."
Menino declined to comment on the details of individual cases but said
as a rule, he approves all proposals for state laws passed by the
"The mayor would not stand in the way of the council getting their
legislation heard at the state level," said the mayor's spokeswoman,
Not every one of the laws has passed the City Council without problem. A
fight erupted in the council chamber several years ago when Councilor
Stephen J. Murphy sponsored 100 percent pension legislation for a police
detective who had been shot in the face but recovered and returned to
work for eight more years on the police force before asking the council
for a disability pension. Another councilor, Peggy Davis-Mullen, called
it a questionable, back-room deal and suggested the detective submit to
an evaluation of his injuries by a state panel of doctors.
Nevertheless, the measure passed and was signed into law without any
formal medical reviews in 2001.
Murphy said yesterday that he now believes all applicants for 100
percent pensions should first go through a medical panel review.
At the State House, lawmakers routinely introduce bills benefiting
certain individuals by name.
The vast majority of the hundreds of measures introduced each year never
pass. But about 10 percent do.
The state lawmakers who introduced the measures on Beacon Hill on behalf
of the city of Boston say they are merely doing the bidding of local
politicians. Representatives Martin J. Walsh, Brian P. Wallace, Kevin G.
Honan and Walter F. Timilty all have sponsored the laws granting 100
percent pensions in recent years.
"We don't initiate these laws; these come up from the local government,"
The cochairman of the Legislature's Public Service Committee, which
reviews bills granting increased pensions to public safety employees,
"We have a hard time second-guessing bills that come to us with the full
support of the community," Representative Jay R. Kaufman said in a
Still, Kaufman said he is trying to tamp down the number of laws passed
to benefit specific individuals by name or at least require stricter
For example, one law passed in June granting an increased pension to an
injured firefighter in Worcester requires that he first be evaluated by
a state panel of doctors and then report earnings from future jobs that
could be deducted from his pension.
Governor Deval Patrick has signed into law five bills granting special
pension benefits to individuals by name in cities and towns other than
Boston since he took office in January 2007. He said in a statement
yesterday that he considers the bills on a case-by-case basis.
"The administration does not generally believe the public is well served
by making individual exceptions to a rule that is meant to apply to
everyone," said the statement issued by Patrick spokeswoman Rebecca
Deusser. "But, there are sometimes unique circumstances, not
contemplated by the existing rules, where special measures are needed to
address gaps in the law."
Though Patrick has not had to make a decision yet on any bills granting
increased pensions to Boston public safety employees, he may soon get
The City Council is considering a measure introduced by Councilor
Charles Yancey that would award the same increased pension and benefits
to former firefighter Allen Curry that Griffiths, Welby, and the others
Curry retired from the Fire Department in 1982 after he was injured
while showering in a Dorchester firehouse. Another firefighter poured
cleaning chemicals in a neighboring stall and Curry inhaled the fumes,
damaging his lungs, records show.
His disability status stood up under review by a state medical panel and
he has received 72 percent of his salary in disability pension payments
ever since. If Yancey's bill passes, he would receive 100 percent of
that salary, plus thousands of dollars in annual raises, retroactive to
his retirement 26 years ago.
"I just think it's a case of long overdue justice," Yancey said. "It
will be a substantial amount of money, but we have to ask what is fair
and what is just."
The Boston Herald
Thursday, October 23, 2008
$3.2B benefits IOU draining coffers
By Edward Mason
A staggering $3.2 billion IOU to pay off health and other benefits
lavished on city worker unions has come due in Boston as the city
grapples with a budget crisis that’s raising fears of massive layoffs
and service cuts and even tax hikes for Hub residents and businesses.
The huge payout - much of it incurred during the 15-year tenure of Mayor
Thomas M. Menino - is forcing the city to more than double its spending
on benefits over the next five years, to $220 million, or roughly
one-tenth of its current $2.4 billion budget.
“It’s the 500-pound gorilla no one wants to address,” said Sam Tyler,
president of the Boston Municipal Research Bureau. “But in every budget
going forward, this will be an issue.”
Added Steve Poftak, a benefits expert with the Pioneer Institute think
tank: “It’s going to require shared sacrifice - the city ponying up more
money, and retirees giving up some benefits.”
Lisa Signori, Menino’s budget chief, wouldn’t confirm whether the city
is considering deep budget cuts and other drastic measures as it moves
to meet its multibillion-dollar obligation to retirees.
But Barbara Anderson of
Citizens for Limited Taxation said city
officials are just sticking their heads in the sand.
“We call it the ostrich approach,” Anderson said. “When it comes to a
time of crisis, they think they can always raise taxes.”
This hefty benefits bill comes amid a citywide hiring freeze, expected
local aid cuts from Beacon Hill and fear the ongoing Wall Street
meltdown could force even more state cutbacks.
To help deal with the mounting debt, the city wants permission from the
Legislature to create an investment fund, similar to a pension fund, and
to cut worker benefits without bargaining with each of its 42 unions.
Both are mechanisms Menino officials say the state has at its disposal,
but unfairly denies its capital city.
“We want the same tools to make prudent decisions and to help adjust the
long-term costs of these benefits,” Signori said.
The $3.2 billion covers the current cost of health care and life
insurance benefits promised to present and future city retirees. The tab
is high because health care costs are soaring, which caused the IOU to
grow more than $500 million in the past two years.
Also, city workers can retire earlier than others, and people are living
longer in retirement.
The spiraling cost of these accumulated benefits went unnoticed for
years by state and city officials, said Elizabeth Keating, a Boston
College professor and expert on these obligations, until a government
accounting board required their disclosure recently.
“Can we say they should have known better? Yes,” Keating said. “But we
The city is spending $95 million this year on benefits and put aside an
additional $25 million toward future costs.
Signori believes she can limit the sticker shock and preserve critical
“It’s a commitment we made,” Signori said. “We need to address this even
in difficult times.”
The Boston Herald
Friday, October 24, 2008
A Boston Herald editorial
City system is sick
Taxpayers grew accustomed ages ago to government operating under the
“‘Wimpy” rule of benefits management. Like the old Popeye character,
they would gladly pay tomorrow for handing out generous employee
But that approach has come back to bite us all - especially cities and
towns. And despite taking a series of sensible steps to rein in its
retiree health care liability, the city of Boston still finds itself
$3.2 billion in the hole over the next 30 years for health care and life
insurance benefits for current and future retirees.
Of course there are broader steps that can be taken to mitigate the
shortfall. Currently, city retirees are not required to enroll in
Medicare once they become eligible - a step that, while it wouldn’t
close the gap, would still save taxpayers potentially millions of
Unions have long opposed such a change. But as Sam Tyler, president of
the Boston Municipal Research Bureau, points out, there is plenty of
room for compromise here. Even if the city agreed to pick up additional
costs incurred by its retirees on Medicare, the taxpayers would still
Meanwhile under a bill now pending on Beacon Hill, cities and towns
would be permitted to establish a retiree health care trust fund, which
could not be used for any other purpose but to finance the skyrocketing
cost of insuring retirees (the infamous “lockbox” approach). Tyler calls
it “frustrating” that the Legislature has yet to respond to that need.
Despite its eye-popping health-care liability, Boston is actually in
better shape than some communities, according to Tyler, which have done
nothing to prepare for the future.
But until there is a broad, statewide solution to this problem - akin to
the approach used to address the state’s once-massive pension shortfall
- the city can do little but chip away at the looming iceberg.
The Eagle Tribune
Thursday, October 23, 2008
An Eagle Tribune editorial
Crisis forces creation of a more efficient government
It is painful to cut budgets, no matter if they are personal or public.
But that painful process can produce some positive benefits if done
well. It prompts a more rigorous look at priorities — to make choices
between absolute necessities and laudable, but not critical, desires. It
forces leaders of families and governments to be much more focused about
how they can do things more efficiently, at less expense.
So far, that is what is happening in communities across our region as
municipal governments seek ways to cope with a $755 million reduction in
state spending. And at the state level, decisions long put off for
political reasons are now getting a second look.
In Lawrence, Mayor Michael Sullivan is considering a hiring freeze that
would leave 15 of 17 open jobs unfilled. Meanwhile, the City Council
eliminated one of two $100,000-a-year deputy chief positions. When
Deputy Chief Emil DeFusco retires this month, his position will go with
Cutting a top job in the department helps keep patrol officers on the
"I think the chief understands these are tough financial times," council
President Patrick Blanchette said. "The bottom line is we need to keep
men and women on the streets."
While there is some dispute between the mayor and the council over the
process of filling the deputy chief position in the future, the move was
a good one. It saves money while preserving as much in services to the
public as possible.
In Haverhill, city leaders are grappling with a cut of $1 million in
promised state aid, and the possibility that they could lose even more,
depending on the size of the budget gap at the state level.
The good news is that, even with a cut of this magnitude, no layoffs are
being proposed by Mayor James Fiorentini or the City Council.
But it is clear that some services will not be at ideal levels.
Fiorentini called for cutting $125,000 from the salary account of the
Police Department, which means the elimination of two vacant patrolman
positions. The department is also losing $85,000 in community policing
grant money, which will delay the purchase of portable radios and
all-terrain vehicles. The mayor also cut $90,000 from the Fire
Department overtime account.
Other cuts approved by the City Council include library staffing and
repairs to playground equipment at Plug Pond and the tennis courts at
Some councilors complained that the mayor did not involve them in
deciding what to cut. At Tuesday night's meeting, Councilor William
Macek said he thought the matter should have been sent to a council
Perhaps that would have helped. But it is just as likely that it would
have bogged down in arguments among councilors over favored services.
This was a situation that called for immediate action, and the mayor was
correct to make hard choices and send them to the council as quickly as
If councilors really want to be involved in trimming the budget, they
may get a chance. Councilor William Ryan believes this will not be the
last cut. "There's a storm coming, and the community needs to get ready
for it ... I hope I'm wrong," he said.
The state may be in even worse shape. The actual revenue shortfall may
be even larger than the current projection of $1.4 billion, according to
Rep. Robert DeLeo, who chairs the House Ways & Means Committee. DeLeo
told editors at our sister newspaper The Salem News that Gov. Deval
Patrick's assessment of the budget gap may be optimistic.
"We have to be very, very frugal," DeLeo said. It's the same message he
conveyed to members of the Massachusetts Municipal Association last
These are tough times, and cuts in public spending will produce a fair
amount of suffering. What hopefully emerges are the kind of efficiencies
seen in the private sector where doing more with less has been standard
operating procedure for the past several years.
DeLeo said that a previously reluctant Legislature may finally be ready
to act on the long-discussed proposal to consolidate the various state
transportation agencies, including the Massachusetts Turnpike and Port
"In difficult times people take different views," he observed.
Like most Americans, government is going to have to learn to change its
spending and borrowing habits. Now is the time for government leaders to
start looking at other ways to cut and to save. Our government may end
up leaner, but it will be better for their efforts.