The Boston Globe
Tuesday, February 8, 2000
A Boston Globe Editorial
Ask House Speaker Thomas Finneran what his biggest worry is these
days, and he will tell you of his fears that the Commonwealth is becoming a financial
binge drinker. He says that almost every state program is being financed at 5, 6, or 7
percent higher than the year before, and, like alcoholics, they always come back for more.
On top of this, politicians who should know better are talking about unwise tax cuts that
would make the situation worse.
It reminds him of the bad old days in the late 1980s and early '90s,
when the state overextended itself, thinking that the "Massachusetts Miracle"
would never end, only to be brought up terribl short when the economy started south.
Finneran remembers there were a few small voices shouting warnings in the wilderness --
Steve Pierce, Jack Flood -- but no one was payin attention, letting the good times
roll. Finneran himself was not in a position of responsibility the way he is now, but he
regrets that he too went along with the financial chug-a-lug.
The state went through some hard times following the last fiscal
flop. But here we are not 10 years later and once again the Commonwealth is assuming that
somehow, this time, the business cycle has been repealed and there need be no limits.
The Big Dig is revising its cost estimates upward and will probably
do so again before it's finished. There is a big commitment to education reform. Harvard
Pilgrim Health Care is in receivership, and who knows where that will end. And State
Treasurer Shannon O'Brien has found that the state's unfunded pension liability is some $2
billion to $4 billion. Its revenue stream has, in the past, been reduced on the
expectation that the stock market has nowhere to go but up. The "experience
studies" that were mandated by law were never conducted. In addition, "we are
picking up spending shortfalls from the federal government," says O'Brien. Now that
we have all this money in surpluses it is hard to rein in spending, she adds.
Massachusetts' taste for champagne and its faith in a never-ending
bull market are going to leave faces more than red when the bubble bursts. Speaker
Finneran is right to be worried.
The Boston Globe
Tuesday, February 8, 2000
For politicians, tax cut pandering has lost its magic
By Joan Vennochi
Senator John F. Kerry, who supports Vice President Al Gore, says:
"John McCain has it right. You need some investment, some tax cuts, that go to people
who deserve them."
Kerry says McCain understands what the Republican establishment still
doesn't quite get: "The American voter has smartened up. You can't pander to them on
But that doesn't mean someone won't try.
Right here in Massachusetts, Governor Cellucci is pushing a plan to
cut the income tax to 5 percent.
Incredibly, Cellucci said he is sticking with the plan even after the
news that the cost of the Big Dig is expected to jump $1.4 billion, to $12.2 billion. He
would rather raise tolls so he can give back tax money.
At a child-care education center in Weymouth yesterday, Kerry equated
the amount of money it would need to give every child in Massachusetts a quality education
with the amount Cellucci i proposing to give back in taxes -- roughly $1.1 billion.
John Brockelman, executive director of the Massachusetts Republican
Party, insists that he is "convinced, absolutely" that Massachusetts voters want
what Cellucci is determined to give them -- $1.64 a day for a family of four.
As proof of that, he points to two old polls and the fact that Bill
Clinton called for a $350 million tax cut in his recent State of the Union Message.
"We know that Bill Clinton is one of those politicians who poll on a daily
basis," says Brockelman, "and if he didn't think people wanted a tax cut, he
wouldn't have asked for one."
Ultimately, the tax cut debate in Massachusetts is a microcosm of the
larger national debate.
How much should we spend, how much should we save, and how much do we
really expect back?
Are we willing to put our money where we say our priorities are -- in
education, technology, and infrastructure?
What do we think is worthy of public investment? Nationally, that
means deciding how much to commit to shoring up Medicare and Social Security. Locally, it
could mean choosing between plugging the gap for a bankrupt HMO or building a new
The Boston Globe
Tuesday, February 8, 2000
Legislators outside Hub fight Turnpike toll hike
By Tina Cassidy
Rebelling against toll increases, a group of lawmakers is rallying
colleagues to find "more equitable ways" to pay off the soaring costs of the Big
Dig, now expected to reach $12.2 billion.
Legislators from the North Shore and western suburbs, whose
constituents face doubling of harbor tunnel tolls and increases of some Massachusetts
Turnpike tolls early next year, are discussing everything from a 25-cent gas tax to
reinstating Registry of Motor Vehicle fees to avoid the toll increases.
Senator David P. Magnani (D-Framingham) said he and other opponents
of the toll increases would go to court to prevent them.
Meanwhile, House Speaker Thomas M. Finneran and Senate President
Thomas F. Birmingham signaled they are open to considering legislation to prevent higher
tolls. Such a move would create a major political headache for Governor Paul Cellucci, who
has argued that a $1.4 billion Central Artery shortfall can be paid off through Turnpike
"If there's continued absence of leadership on this issue, we're
not going to stand idly by," Birmingham said.
Magnani has organized a caucus of five senators and 12
representatives to meet next week to come up with a plan. Meanwhile, 24 legislators from
Essex County, on the North Shore, plan to hold their own strategy session on the issue,
perhaps as soon as today.
And yesterday, House majority whip Barbara Gardner of Holliston met
with Finneran to plead her case against toll increases.
"I expressed my deep concern and encouraged him to have a
conversation with the senate president about alternatives, one of which would be to
reintroduce the idea of licensure fees and registration fees, which we phased out,"
In 1996, then Governor William F. Weld did away with $30
car-registration renewal fees, which were charged every two years, instead instituting a
one-time $30 fee good for the life of the car. Weld also ordered that driver's license
renewal fees be slashed from $33.75 to $2 in 2001.
The higher fees would be reinstated to pay for Big Dig costs, under
"That would bring in about $100 million," Garnder said.
"Every motorist virtually in the Commonwealth would be footing some of the bill, as
opposed to people to the west of the city."
"I don't think people go to the Registry expecting to get a free
license," she said. "When you're faced with a crisis, you're trying to look at a
solution that would be fair."
The legislators also are mulling a plan to give regular commuters
from the suburbs west of Boston and the North Shore discounts or exemptions from the toll
Chelsea, Charlestown, East Boston, and South Boston all get
significant discounts when they use the harbor tunnels and Tobin Bridge. Chelsea
residents, for example, pay only 30 cents on the $1 bridge toll. Under a plan already
passed by the House, suburban commuters would get similar reductions. The proposal, part
of the transportation bond bill, is now before the Senate.
There is already a push to "maintain that and maybe strengthen
it," Gardner said.
Representative Douglas W. Petersen of Marblehead, who is organizing
the North Shore legislators, said he is talking about raising the gas tax by 25 cents and
dedicating a portion of the sales tax to cover the project shortfall. Petersen said those
measures would "allow for the rest of the Commonwealth ... to share the costs."
Petersen said legislators are angered by the continued reliance on
tolls and the lack of control over costs of the project.
"It's got me all worked up," he said, adding that
"there may be enough of sizable group where we can hopefully convince our colleagues
that this is a matter of justice. So we'll see."
Magnani said he would be blunt with his colleagues from other
regions: If they do not support capping tolls, they can forget about his support when they
He said he would tell them: "The next time an issue comes to
your district, why would you assume to come to us, Metrowest, for support, if you can't
respond to our situation here? It's not a threat. It's simply a sense of articulating the
need for equity and reciprocity."
But the problem for Magnani and others is that the Legislature does
not have the authority to dictate the cost of tolls. That power falls under the
Massachusetts Turnpike Authority, which must pay for the Big Dig.
What the Legislature could do, however, is "pass a bill to make
something not happen," such as prohibiting further toll increases, Magnani said.
"And that's always much tougher."
Magnani said he feared a ballot initiative that would provide tax
credits for excise tax and toll payments will gain steam if the Legislature does not offer
drivers some relief from rising tolls. The measure would cost the state $700 million in
revenue, according to official estimates.
"If folks aren't giving us any alternative, what do you say to
them?" he asked.
Meanwhile yesterday, Turnpike Authority officials met with financial
advisers to determine whether there is a better way to cover the shortfall.
Big Dig chief of staff Jeremy Crockford said "there are a number
of options on the table right now. We're going through each of them."