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
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