Money for More Pay Raises, Early Retirement,
and "Dramatic New Commitments" ...
but None for Keeping a Promise

"We recognize that despite the fact we have made so many improvements to so many programs to every single population in the commonwealth, there is still a need to do more.... Over these last 10 years, we have done the job in meeting the need of virtually every population that's out there....

"My last message to you is you can't have it both ways -- dramatically cut back your revenue base and at the same time, make dramatic new commitments."

House Ways and Means Committee
Chairman Paul Haley (D-Weymouth)
opening House budget debate
Apr. 10, 2000
State House News Service

"New commitments."

That's the new spin word on Bacon Hill. We say "promises," they counter with "new commitments," meaning they're spending it as fast as they can with the intent of spending it all before we can get our hands on any of it.

It was "dramatic new commitments" like Dukakis' "Universal Health Care" that drove the state over the financial cliff back in the late-80s, that caused the "temporary" income tax hike.

"Those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it."

They cry that there's no money for our tax rollback, but by god, there's sure enough to spread around to "every single population in the commonwealth" while breaking their promise year after year for a decade now.

It would appear today that the teachers union's early retirement scheme is on the fast track this year, which will cost taxpayers only $49 million a year. What a deal!

And brother, it's such a heavy burden always being so darned right with our predictions, able to see the locomotive coming around the bend before it even gets close. But then, predicting that a scorpion will sting if  pestered doesn't require a crystal ball: it's simply the scorpion's nature.

We warned that if the Legislature was able to carve itself a guaranteed salary and an automatic pay raise into the state constitution, shelter it forever from the voters, the pols would find other, more creative ways to increase their income ... we even said back then that "leadership" pay would be regularly increased and more "leadership" positions would be created until every member of the majority party held one.

Last week the proposal for doubling of the Bacon Hill Cabal's "per diem" and office expenses to $10,000 was announced; today it's a proposal for increased "leadership" bonuses ... and increased "leadership" positions.

In Finneran's House and Birmingham's Senate, this is false advertising. These positions -- awarded at the sole discretion of the Speaker of the House or Senate President for abject fealty -- should be renamed "followership" position. Expect there to soon be 200 "followership" slots and perpetual "bonus" increases.

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."

Right, and pigs fly. But the voters thought they could buy legislators' integrity where too little if any exists.

More Is Never Enough!

Those suckers who voted in the last election for the Question 1 Big Lie should be feeling pretty abused right about now, pretty stupid -- if they can grasp the concept of again being played for fools by the Bacon Hill Cabal.

The budget feeding frenzy will be going on late into the night for the rest of the week, with over a thousand amendments being offered. Grab your wallets and purses with both hands --  the pols are looking to "make dramatic new commitments" and you can be sure that's going to cost us big time.

Fortunately, as yesterday's Worcester Telegram & Gazette observed in its editorial [last article below]: "The crisis is long past. If the Legislature fails to roll back the rate, voters will do it for them this fall."

It's never been so obvious that that's the only way we'll ever pry our tax overpayment from their greedy hands.

CFord-Sig2.gif (4854 bytes)

Chip Ford

PS.  Read yesterday's House debate over rolling back the "temporary" income tax rate to 5 percent and other tax reduction amendments -- they were defeated as "we can't afford them," of course, after the Republicans put up a great if futile battle.

The Boston Herald
Tuesday, April 11, 2000

Pay raise for House leadership proposed
by Ellen J. Silberman

Two dozen of House Speaker Thomas M. Finneran's closest allies would see their pay jump by $7,500 under a proposal the House is slated to consider this week.

The raises, doled out to the chairmen, vice chairmen and ranking minority members scattered across a dozen committees, come on top of a plan to double the "per diem" travel expenses and office budgets of every member of the Legislature.

The amendment also leaves the door open for Finneran, a Mattapan Democrat, and Senate President Thomas F. Birmingham (D-Chelsea) to create new chairmanships and offer $7,500 bonuses to whomever they please. The leadership pay raise proposal is tucked in an amendment to the House's $21.7 billion fiscal 2001 budget. The amendment, number 1401 of 1433, rests at the "back of the can" where it could linger with little scrutiny awaiting swift and silent passage.

The budget, always hard to follow because of the rapid-fire approval and rejection of dozens of amendments at a time, is even more so this year since WGBH is not broadcasting the evening session.

But State House sources predicted the measure would not survive the light of day.

"If you report it, it won't happen. If you don't report it, it will happen," said a source.

Among those who would benefit from the change is the sponsor of the amendment, Rep. Anthony Giglio (D-Medford), vice chairman of the Science and Technology Committee and a member of the powerful budget-writing Ways and Means Committee. Giglio, who could not be reached for comment last night, would see his pay jump from $46,410 to $53,910 a year.

House Transportation Committee Chairman Joseph Sullivan (D-Braintree), who is responsible for oversight of the Big Dig, would see his pay jump from $53,910 to $61,410.

In other budget news, the House yesterday easily approved a plan to freeze the gas tax at 21 cents, bringing Gov. Paul Cellucci's plan a step closer to reality.

"It makes no sense to start whacking people with more gas taxes (when prices are rising)," said Assistant Minority Leader Ronald Gauch (R-Shrewsbury). "It's irresponsible that we would even consider that."

Taxation Committee Chairman John Rogers (D-Norwood) agreed, saying it was time to undo a tax passed during the 1980s.

The near unanimous vote -- 149-6 -- came on the first day of debate on the House budget.

In a victory for Finneran, lawmakers affirmed his plan to allow cities and towns to cut services for disabled students by switching to the tighter federal standards for special education.

After a week of lobbying by advocates and nearly two hours of debate, the House voted 105-48 to keep Finneran's less-generous plan in place.

House debates are scheduled to run from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. every day this week.

Associated Press
Monday, April 10, 2000

Plan would allow more teachers to retire earlier
By Jean McMillan

BOSTON (AP) Backers of hiking early retirement benefits for teachers are banking on a scaled-down proposal to make it into law this year.

They argue the move would allow veteran teachers to retire with dignity while infusing classrooms with younger, newer teachers who would be working at lower salaries.

But critics say the measure is too costly and would drain too many teachers from the system at a time when educators are in great demand.

"I'm not going to support any legislation that's going to allow thousands and thousands of our best teachers to leave when we need them the most," said Gov. Paul Cellucci on Monday. "I'll look at this, but it doesn't sound to me that it's improved things."

Under the plan, retirement benefits for teachers would be increased by 2 percent for every year they serve after 24 years.

But unlike last year's measure, teachers would have to put in 30 years of service before being able to take advantage of the benefit and would have to contribute 11 percent of their salary for at least five years, instead of three.

Rep. John Slattery, D-Peabody, sponsor of the measure, estimated that it would cost $49 million a year, down from the estimated $145 million that last year's plan would have cost.

Slattery estimated 3,000 to 6,000 a year would take advantage of it.

Pensions are capped at 80 percent of annual salary and are based on years of service and age.

Slattery filed the plan as an amendment to the budget being debated this week by the House, but said it may instead be taken up as a separate bill as soon as this week.

He said the measure was a compromise between the unions and the House leadership.

Last year, the proposal passed the House and Senate, was vetoed by Cellucci, and was not taken up for an override by the House.

Slattery said that he hoped that with House Speaker Thomas Finneran's support, this year's plan would become law.

"I think this bill certainly goes a long way to treating the long-term service more fairly," said Stephen Gorrie, head of the Massachusetts Teachers Association.

Gorrie said the measure would encourage would-be teachers here and stem the flow of teachers to competing states, including Connecticut and Rhode Island.

But Administration and Finance Secretary Andrew Natsios said other states have learned that early retirement incentives can backfire. In a letter to legislators, Natsios said other states have been forced to hire back retired teachers, paying them both retirement benefits and regular salaries.

Slattery said his proposal includes a two-year "buffer" during which teachers could not be hired back. After that, he said, they could be hired as mentors to younger teachers or as regular classroom teachers.

The Telegram & Gazette
(Worcester, Mass.)
Monday, April 10, 2000

Tax rollback
Cellucci proposal deserves legislative support

Gov. Paul Cellucci made his latest pitch for an income tax rollback before the Taxation Committee this week and, as expected, got a cool reception.

His plan, which would make good on a longstanding legislative commitment to roll back the state income tax rate to 5 percent, is slated to go before the voters on the Nov. 7 ballot. Last year the Legislature voted to cut the tax from 5.95 percent to 5.85 percent in January of this year and to 5.75 percent in January of 2001.

Lawmakers' resistance to income tax relief has become increasingly difficult to justify. The treasury is overflowing and the Legislature has tucked away billions of dollars in various contingency funds.

The excuses are becoming increasingly transparent. Last year they argued against a tax cut because of health and education priorities, this year it's the Big Dig.

Rolling back the income tax would spur economic activity and directly benefit working families.

The House fiscal 2001 budget proposal underscores the hazards of maintaining an overheated revenue stream. Lawmakers seem determined to spend every cent that comes in. Every special interest group -- this week it's the Massachusetts Hospital Association -- is looking for a bigger piece of the pie.

It was similar wallowing in unsustainable spending in the 1980s that led to the ill-fated Massachusetts Miracle. The Legislature was forced to impose a "temporary" income tax increase to help the state recover from that fiscal crisis.

The crisis is long past. If the Legislature fails to roll back the rate, voters will do it for them this fall.

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