State pols "move to hike their earnings" ... again

QUESTION 1:  Proposed Amendment to the Constitution
Setting Compensation of State Legislators

A "Yes" vote would change the state constitution to prohibit legislators from voting to increase their own base salaries. It would freeze these salaries until the year 2001 and the legislators' salaries would be tied to the increase or decrease in the median income in Massachusetts. It would also remove legislators from the awkward and inherently controversial practice of voting for their own pay levels.

If the median household income increases, then legislators' pay would increase by that same rate. If the median household income decreases, legislators' salaries would decrease by that same rate. The salaries of legislators -- just like the salaries of everyone else -- will be tied to the economy.

A "yes" vote will prohibit legislators from voting themselves across-the-board pay raises.

1998 Official Mass. Information
for Voters Guide

Remember Question One on the 1998 ballot (above)? Remember how it was going to end once and for all legislators' perennial raids for more money? Remember how we warned that they'd just find "more creative" ways to stuff their pockets once their salaries were constitutionally protected, automatic pay raises enshrined forever?

Using Clintonesque parsing, the House of Reprehensibles has struck again. It just proposed a $10,000 per-member raid on the treasury.

Another broken promise.

No money for tax cuts, they announced earlier this week; but plenty to put in their pockets. Even when our tax rollback is fully phased-in we won't be increasing our net worth by $10,000 a year, like they will. "Cost of living," they claim, don't you know.

Campaign finance reform advocate David Donnelly said the per diem hike may well be in line with the rate of inflation. What happened to Question One's promise: "The salaries of legislators -- just like the salaries of everyone else -- will be tied to the economy"?

"Reformer" Donnelly added that "the hike in office expenses was his idea for making the bill more acceptable to lawmakers." I'll bet there are very few politicians who would oppose any campaign finance scheme -- constitutional or otherwise -- if we were to just buy them off up front, make it worth their while. That too would likely be "acceptable."

So many naive voters thought they had done just that by voting for the pols' constitutional amendment. When will voters ever learn? More Is Never Enough.

House Ways and Means Chairman Paul Haley said: "increases would help lawmakers comply with the new campaign finance law." When is the last time you were paid ten grand to comply with a law? We mere mortals are fined or jailed by the pols if we don't comply!

Ah, but it's only "a matter of fairness, a matter of equity," Haley piously asserts. That explains everything!

"Every tax is a pay cut," goes the CLT slogan, "A tax cut is a pay raise." Just to further illustrate what a different world politicians live in, they get their raises by not cutting taxes -- and especially by breaking promises and lying.

$10,000 more, just a little extra walking-around money for pols; let the taxpayers eat cake.

One more broken promise scam, folks. Hope you're keeping score.

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Chip Ford

The Boston Herald
Thursday, March 30, 2000

State lawmakers move to hike their own earnings
by Ellen J. Silberman

House leaders have slipped in a budget provision to boost lawmakers' earnings by up to $10,000 per year in exchange for fully funding a voter-approved campaign finance reform law.

House Ways and Means Chairman Paul Haley confirmed last night that his fiscal 2001 budget, slated to be released this morning, doubles the controversial "per diem" travel allowance earned by lawmakers.

The budget also doubles -- to $7,200 a year -- the amount lawmakers can spend on district office and other "constituent services."

Haley said the increases would help lawmakers comply with the new campaign finance law that, starting next year, severely limits campaign spending in exchange for public financing. "There are legitimate constituent expenses related to constituent services that are being paid for out of campaign funds."

Without the "per diem" and office expense hike, no House or Senate member could participate in the "Clean Elections" public finance law, Haley said.

The House budget also sets aside $10 million to fund the campaign finance law.

"It's a matter of fairness, a matter of equity," Haley said. "I don't see how this could possibly be assailed."

Campaign finance reform advocate David Donnelly said he was pleased with the compromise because it didn't "have the kinds of strings attached that last year's House budget had."

And Donnelly said the per diem hike may well be in line with the rate of inflation.

But the "per diem" -- a travel allowance which gives Boston area lawmakers $5 for every day they come to work and Berkshire legislators $45 performing the same duties -- has long been seen a lawmakers' slush fund.

In the 1994 gubernatorial campaign, then-Rep. Mark Roosevelt (D-Boston) was pilloried by former Gov. William F. Weld for collecting $6,000 over seven years -- even though he lived on Beacon Hill just steps from the State House.

That same year, state Rep. Peter Larkin (D-Pittsfield) came under fire for collecting more than $2,600 in "per diem" reimbursements for 59 days that he never showed up at the Statehouse.

In addition, any lawmaker who lives more than 50 miles from the Statehouse can claim a federal tax deduction that is so generous it all but cancels their federal tax bills.

Administration sources said last night that they would immediately jump on the increase.

"I can't believe they'd be that dumb," said an administration source.

Lawmakers are slated to get their first automatic cost-of-living adjustment in January.

This is the second time in recent months that Haley has tried to hike his colleagues' pay to help them cope with the new campaign finance law.

Last November, Haley allowed an amendment opening the door for future legislative pay raises to a bill hiking the pay of constitutional office holders. Haley's Ways and Means Committee approved the amendment, but House Speaker Thomas M. Finneran (D-Mattapan) killed the idea after it became public.

Haley said this year was different because he was proposing the increases "in the light of day."

Last year, during a late night session the House added a budget amendment that would have sent the campaign finance reform bill back to the voters for a second opinion.

That idea died during the lengthy House-Senate budget conference but conferees added provisions to let lawmakers raise and spend money freely until six months before an election -- and still qualify for public campaign funds.

Gov. Paul Cellucci vetoed the change after critics charged that would allow incumbents to load up on special interest donations -- and scare off challengers.

Cellucci's vetoed touched off an unusually charged spat with Senate President Thomas F. Birmingham (D-Chelsea). Cellucci accused Birmingham of holding up a pay raise for constitutional office holders as retribution for the campaign finance veto.

Donnelly said the hike in office expenses was his idea for making the bill more acceptable to lawmakers.

Currently, lawmakers use their campaign war chests to pay for district offices, mailings and other activities that fall in the gray area between official business and campaign activities.

A study, drafted by campaign finance reform advocates led by Donnelly, found the average House member spends $10,000 a year on "constituent service" and the average senator spends $40,000.

The Boston Herald
Thursday, March 30, 2000
A Boston Herald editorial

Reform the gas tax, now

With gasoline prices about to climb again under summer's heavy demand, Massachusetts politicians have proved once again that "Taxachusetts" can rise from the grave like the unkillable villain of a low-budget slasher move.

Unless something is done, the state's gasoline tax will go up too, by a penny a gallon this spring, and perhaps by another 2 cents per gallon by the end of the summer. Gov. Paul Cellucci, actin  through Lt. Gov. Jane Swift, is proposing legislation to freeze the tax at its current level, 21.5 cents per gallon. Our lawmakers should resist the temptation to grab the extra $28 million a year each penny increase brings in and quickly approve the governor's proposal.

The increase would happen automatically because the tax is levied as a percentage of the pre-tax average price for a three-month period.

So the tax went down when the price plunged in 1998 and 1999, right? You couldn't be more wrong. Our lawmakers specified a floor below which the tax could not fall (21 cents plus a half-cent for cleanup of leaking underground tanks). They specified no ceiling. How convenient.

The mandatory floor enabled the state to gouge up to 9 cents a gallon more than the percentage levy would have yielded in those two years. In other words, the policy was "Heads we win, tails you lose." Any legislator who tries to preserve such unfairness deserves punishment by the voters.

The Boston Herald
Thursday, March 30, 2000

Labor, activists clash over new Fenway

Activists and labor leaders got into a verbal bruiser yesterday over plans for a new Fenway Park.

Just hours after a broad coalition of activists said they would join together to fight any taxpayer subsidies for a new Fenway, labor leaders fired back that the ballpark is just what workers need.

"The construction of the new park will generate thousands of jobs in the buildings trades," say labor leaders in a letter to Rob Sargent, legislative director of the Massachusetts Public Interest Research Group. MassPIRG is one of the members of Citizens Against Stadium Subsidies, the new coalition formed by activists opposed to a subsidized stadium.

The team has made clear that it wants residents to foot part of the cost of a stadium plan unveiled 10 months ago. The plan features a new Fenway, two garages, road improvements and land-takings. Taxpayer costs could run to more than $250 million. The team has yet to formally deliver a financing plan to the legislature. At least two more meetings are scheduled between the staff of House Speaker Thomas Finneran and the team, said Frank Shea, a Finneran special assistant.

"You need to nail down (the team's) role so when they do draft a proposal they know where to start," said Shea, explaining the purpose of the meetings.

"We're working hard to get it finished," said Kathryn St. John, a Red Sox spokeswoman.

But one key lawmaker, Rep. Michael Ruane (D-Salem), worried that if the team doesn't hand over a plan soon, lawmakers may not have time to review it before the legislative year ends in July Ruane chairs the Fenway Park Study Commission, a legislative group appointed by Finneran.

When a plan arrives, Citizens Against Stadium Subsidies said they will be ready. "To give money to wealthy people, taken from working class people is wrong," said Barbara Anderson, executive director of Citizens For Limited Taxation. Other members of Citizens Against Stadium Subsidies are Citizens for Participation in Political Action, United for a Fair Economy and neighborhood groups.

Some members of the group may hire a lawyer to fight any landtakings for the proposed 14-acre project site, said Peter Catalano, of the Fenway Action Coalition. "Some well-heeled abutters are not going to give up their property easily," he said.

Anderson and Sargent said the glue that holds the diverse coalition together is that all the groups represent those who have been shut out of closed-door talks between team executives and key lawmakers. "We're concerned that by the time it goes public the skids will be greased for a taxpayer bailout," Sargent said.

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