Broken Promises, Greed and Vice:
Pols Pack Budget with Pork

Overall, the House budget is about $400 million more expensive than the proposal submitted by Governor Paul Cellucci earlier this year. The Senate plans to release its budget in May.

Michael Widmer of the Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation said the plan struck a reasonable balance between new spending and fiscal caution. But noting that its price tag is 7.5 percent larger than last year's budget, he warned that the Legislature cannot continue that pace of spending indefinitely.

The Boston Globe
Friday, March 31, 2000
Budget debate: no big gap on key issues
By Michael Crowley

So very much needs to be reported; it's again feeding frenzy time at the trough up on Bacon Hill. Sorry about the length of these Updates, but it's unavoidable these outrageous days.

More than another billion dollars is about to be added to a state budget that's been doubled to $21 Billion in only the last dozen years.

In "Field of Dreams" the promise was "build it and they will come." In Massachusetts it's "if it's there spend it."

The Bacon Hill pols are killing themselves to get rid of that mountain of excess cash before they have to somehow explain why voters should vote against our tax rollback ballot question and their own interests in November.

Hey, if they need more cash later, they'll just raise our taxes again.

Hidden in an outside section of the proposed House budget released yesterday is -- get this! -- another promise to eventually roll back the income tax to 5 percent ... starting after 2003! This is no more than a sop to help defuse our ballot question with "a more reasonable plan."

How stupid to they think we are?

I guess we'll find out in November.

Remember the Boston Sunday Globe report on Feb. 27th about cities and towns also being awash in cash?

Buoyed by a decade of prosperity, real estate development, and unprecedented levels of state aid, local governments are amassing cash reserves four times as great as what they held in the early 1990s.

According to the state Department of Revenue, which tracks local budgets, free cash accounts and so-called rainy day funds held by the state's 351 cities and towns soared from $166 million in 1992 to $773 million last year.

And total local reserves are probably closer to $1 billion because some cities and towns conceal surpluses in accounts that, on paper, are earmarked for other purposes.

If you can believe it (and at this point in our state's history, why wouldn't you?), now even the mayors are crying out for more (see story below) from our tax over-payment! Ugly naked greed is running rampant like a plague among salivating politicians throughout the Peoples Republic of Taxachusetts.

This feeding frenzy is taking on historic proportions, a truly defining moment in Massachusetts.

CFord-Sig2.gif (4854 bytes)

Chip Ford

ATTENTION! Our petition now sits in the Legislature's Committee on Taxation. The Legislature must vote it up or down by the first Wednesday in May. If they don't adopt our petition (trust me, they won't) then we need to collect another roughly 10,000 signatures to put it on the ballot.

The Committee on Taxation will hold its hearing on our tax rollback petition on NEXT WEDNESDAY, April 5th. The hearing for H.4981 will be held in the Gardner Auditorium, in the basement of the State House with testimony beginning at 12:00 noon.

We hope to see you there, if at all possible, for the fireworks!

CLT Memo to the Legislature

To: Members of the General Court
March 31, 2000
Re: Haley budget

Broken Promises, Greed and Vice

The House Ways & Means Committee does not keep the Legislature's promise to rollback the income tax rate to 5 percent, while it breaks the Legislature's promise that a vote for Question On in 1998 would mean that legislators no longer hike their own pay.

The Committee wants to grab more cash for incumbent legislators while denying Massachusetts working people a promised income tax reduction as it spends more of their tax dollars to urge them to gamble more.

The Committee insists the Commonwealth cannot afford to cut the income tax rate to 5.6 percent, the first phase in Governor Cellucci's proposal, moving it closer toward the promised 5 percent; but it can afford the increase in each legislator's personal "getting re-elected slush fun" and an advertising campaign to coax citizens to gamble.

Once taxpayers were promised that the state gas tax would reflect the economy, and rise and fall with the price of gas. The promise was broken when the Legislature later voted to put a floor on the fall. We await the cap on the rise.

Broken promises, greed and vice: a budget document for the new millennium. Nice start. House members can do better during the debate, with a vote to cut the income tax rate, remove the legislative pay raise, cut the gambling incentive, and prevent the automatic gas tax hike.

P.S.  Re: Outside Section 66, the Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation proposal which "promises" to roll back the income tax rate beginning in 2003 by .10 percent a year if the moon is in the 7th house and Jupiter collides with Mars. Voters have been promised that  1) the auto excise, sales tax, deed  excise hike, income tax rate hike and Turnpike tolls were temporary;  2) the gas tax would dro  with the price;  3) the Big Dig wouldn't take highway funds from local projects;  4) the Big Dig would only cost $2.6 billion;  5) legislators wouldn't vote anymore for their own pay hikes; and by the way,  6) the mandatory seat belt law would never be primary enforcement. Now you hope to convince them that if they don't vote for the initiative petition in November you'll keep this promise three years from now through the end of the decade? Using what for credibility?

P.P.S.  We wonder why MTF fails to see the correlation between its opposition to Governor Cellucci's tax rollback and its annual need to warn about the rate of growth in state spending.

The Boston Herald
Friday, March 31, 2000

Pols pack budget with pork
by Ellen J. Silberman and Joe Battenfeld

House lawmakers have fattened their $21.7 billion budget with more than $4 million in pet spending projects -- including another bailout for the Sail Boston extravaganza -- and a $3,600 back door raise for each legislator.

The new details emerging from the budget plan yesterday infuriated Cellucci administration officials as well as campaign finance reform advocates and tax cut proponents.

House budget leaders inserted $4.3 million into the state tourism budget for questionable projects, including $750,000 for the controversial Sail Boston event, $30,000 for a clock in Haverhill, $30,000 for a reproduction Civil War cannon and $200,000 for a new air conditioning system at the John F. Kennedy museum in Hyannis.

Several of the budget items -- which weren't requested by the tourism office -- appear to have little to do with tourism.

"I'm shell-shocked," said Mary Jane McKenna, state tourism director. "I know this is an election year but this is outrageous."

The $750,000 contribution to Sail Boston, the tall ships parade scheduled for this July, is the second time in the last six months state officials have funneled public money into the corporate-sponsored event.

Gov. Paul Cellucci gave the organizers $1.5 million in tourism money last fall. Since 1998, $2.5 million in state taxpayer money has been poured into the event.

McKenna said she opposes the latest public bailout because the money would pay for berthing spots for the ships.

"Setting up thingamajigs in the water ... is not exactly what we're all about," she said. Sail Boston representatives could not be reached for comment.

As the Herald reported yesterday, the House budget would double members' "per diem" travel allowances and office expense accounts.

The move to double office expenses, which will cost taxpayers $720,000 a year, is particularly controversial because lawmakers collect the allowances in monthly checks and aren't required to account for how they spend the cash. "It might as well be handed over to them in a brown bag,  Barbara Anderson of Citizens for Limited Taxation and Government said.

In fact, the state reports the office expenses to the Internal Revenue Service on 1099 forms and lawmakers are free to pocket whatever they don't spend on paper clips and phone calls. And sources say many lawmakers don't like to part with a dime -- even when the stationery runs out.

"Some of them treat it like their salary," one State House source said.

Lawmakers -- particularly those who live more than 50 miles from the State House - also add thousands to their salaries with "per diem" allowances meant to offset those travel costs.

House Ways and Means Chairman Paul Haley (D-Weymouth) defended the increases, saying the office expense money would allow lawmakers to abide by the "Clean Elections" campaign finance reform law by absorbing some of the "constituent service" expenses they currently pay out of their campaign funds. The voter-approved law offers candidates public funds if they agree to limit their campaign spending.

But the lack of accounting is raising concerns among campaign finance advocates who pushed to get office expenses covered.

"There's no reporting whatsoever," said David Donnelly, director of Mass Voters for Clean Elections.

The stipend increases come less than two years after voters approved a Constitutional amendment that automatically increases lawmakers' salaries every two years. If the economy continues to grow at the current rate, rank and file members will see their pay jump in January  more  than $3,000 to $49,000 a year. House Speaker Thomas M. Finneran (D-Mattapan) and Senate President Thomas F. Birmingham (D-Chelsea) could see their salaries soar to $85,000 a year.

The House budget also allows for spending of just 30 percent of the state's tobacco trust fund, as opposed to the 50 percent Cellucci wants to spend on hospital bailouts.

And while House leaders in their budget rejected Cellucci's plan to privatize the Massachusetts Water Resources Authority, they embraced the governor's controversial prison work program tha  would allow inmates to qualify for fringe benefits like unemployment insurance and workers compensation.

House lawmakers don't include any new tax cut in their budget, and, as expected, tie future tax cuts starting in 2003 to economic indicators. Cellucci is pushing a November ballot initiative that would cut the tax rate from its current 5.85 to 5 percent.

Other spending proposals in the House budget include:

  • $175 million from existing income tax revenues to support $750 million in borrowing for statewide road and bridge projects and other infrastructure work.

  • Funding to add 11 new Appeals Court associate justices and 27 Trial Court justices.

  • $90 million for new housing initiatives.

Cosmo Macero Jr. contributed to this report.

The Boston Herald
Friday, March 31, 2000

Bay State mayors unite to request more local aid
by Steve Marantz

In a show of urban unity, seven mayors yesterday called on Beacon Hill to restore full funding for local aid to cities.

Unveiling the Massachusetts Mayors Association "New Cities" agenda at the Parkman House, the mayors asked for increases in funding for affordable housing, education, roads and bridges, and school buildings.

"Cities in our state have limited resources and great needs," said Boston Mayor Thomas M. Menino. "Many of our schools are aging and our roads and bridges need attention. We appreciate the commitment the State House has made to us in the past seven years. We are asking that our partnership continue and we ask your support renewing this partnership."

Menino was joined by the mayors of North Adams, Leominister, Somerville, Fitchburg, Lynn and Medford.

The mayors' agenda calls for restoration of $47 million in discretionary local aid in the governor's budget, and additional funds for affordable housing. It also asks for $272 million in education funds above the current year's level, and for restoring $50 million cut from local bridge and road projects.

The plan also opposes the diversion of federal funds earmarked for non-Big Dig projects. It asks Beacon Hill to protect school construction projects filed by the end of the current fiscal year.

Menino said the mayors are encouraged by budget proposals from both the Senate and House, but said they believe Gov. Paul Cellucci's budget needs to be revised.

The Boston Herald
Friday, March 31, 2000
A Boston Herald editorial

Getting grabby on Beacon Hill

How typical that our lawmakers on Beacon Hill would take care of themselves handsomely -- and stiff the taxpayers.

The budget proposal from the House Ways and Means Committee announced yesterday would double both the travel allowance (now $5 to $45 per day, depending on the distance from home to the State House) and the "constituent services" expense allowance (now $3,600).

But no tax cut, not even a baby one on the order of last year's reduction of 0.2 percentage points in the income tax rate.

The justification for such a raid on the treasury is absurd. The claim is that the reps and senators otherwise won't be able to afford to choose to run for re-election with the public funds available under the "Clean Elections" law passed by the voters at the last election.

Which is further confirmation that the travel and constituent services accounts have been campaign funds in disguise all along. When the rep buys a couple of tickets to somebody's testimonial dinner, what "service" is he providing? When he takes an ad in the dance program of the senior prom? When he picks up the check in a four-star restaurant for dinner with a few "key supporters?"

As for travel, we know the price of gasoline is going up, but it sure hasn't doubled. Don't forget, federal tax law permits legislators who live more than 50 miles from the State House (very roughly, on Cape Cod or west of Gardner, Spencer or Webster) to take a large tax break that can reduce the federal tax bills of some to nothing.

The new election finance law was supposed to cut down campaign spending. It does provide more funds for candidates whose opponents opt out of the system to evade spending limits. Jus  once, we'd like to see incumbents try to live by a law rather than jigger the system to provide themselves with incumbency protection provisions on the sly.

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