The Boston Herald
Saturday, April 15, 2000
House pols spend freely in wee hours
House passes 2001 budget in a spending spree
by Ellen J. Silberman and Joe Battenfeld
House lawmakers, in an unprecedented
all-night spending spree yesterday, iced the state's tough campaign finance law and blew
huge loopholes in lobbying laws designed to keep track of special interest spending.
The assault on the reform measures came
as legislators approved, in a 153 to 2 vote, a $21.8 billion fiscal 2001 budget that even
the top House budget chief admitted could be out of balance.
"(I'm) very nervous about what we've
spent this week. We just don't have the room," House Ways and Means Chairman Paul
Haley (D-Weymouth) said in a stunning admission.
The move to shelve the campaign finance
law and severely weaken lobbying restriction angered legislative watchdogs who called the
move payback for the recent crackdown on abuse.
"It's incredible," Secretary of
State William Galvin said. "This is a banner budget ... It's the lobbyists' Christmas
Among the lobbying provisions removed by
lawmakers -- which were offered by lame duck Republican Kevin Finnegan of Newburyport at
the direction of House Speaker Thomas M. Finneran, sources said -- is a law requiring
businesses to report if they pay drink and meal tabs under $35 for lawmakers.
The change in the law was dubbed the
"21st Amendment" amendment -- referring to the bar across the street from the
State House where legislators frequently retire.
In another big loophole, House lawmakers
wiped out a provision requiring employers to report the total amount they pay to their
The new language allows businesses to
exclude costs such as rent, staff salaries and public relations not related to direct
Galvin last year began strictly enforcing
the law, requiring such high-profile lobbyists such as former Massport director Stephen
Tocco and Cellucci fund-raiser Alexander "Sandy" Tennant to fully disclose their
lobbying activities and fees.
The House budget amendment also
eliminated a provision which banned lobbyists from splitting lobbying expenses "for
the purpose of evading" the law.
"It (the new language) was written
by the lobbyists and they've been cackling about it all day," Galvin said.
The attack on lobbying laws also came
just hours before lawmakers voted to freeze the state's "clean elections" law by
sending it out for study. The voters-approved law provides public financing for candidates
who agree to spending limits.
Both the House and Senate would have to
approve changes recommended by the state-funded Office of Campaign and Political Finance
before the law went into effect. The amendment gives no timetable for the legislative
"OCPF is being told to tailor a
report specifically to what the Legislature wants," said Ken White, executive
director of Common Cause of Massachusetts, who worries that lawmakers will deep-six any
changes they don't like.
The amendment came just two weeks after
Haley defended doubling lawmakers' "per diem" travel expenses and office
budgets, saying they needed the extra money to pay for "constituent services"
that are currently paid out of campaign funds.
"There are legitimate constituent
expenses related to constituent services that are being paid for out of campaign
Without the "per diem" and
office expense hike, no House or Senate member could participate in the "Clean
Elections" public finance law, Haley told the Herald last month.
"It's a matter of fairness, a matter
of equity," Haley said at the time. Haley could not be reached last night for
"They claimed that the $1 million
increase in the 'per diem' and personal office expenses was to alleviate the pressure
of'Clean Elections,' but it turns out the real purpose was just to jack up those
perks," said John Brockelman, executive director of the Massachusetts Republican
Michael Widmer, president of the
Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation, estimated that lawmakers added $150 million to the
bottom line during their four days of debate.
At the last minute, lawmakers scuttled a
plan to give $7,500 in extra cash to two dozen of Finneran's closest allies. The
amendment's sponsor backed away from a plan to pad the paychecks of selected chairmen,
vice chairmen and ranking minority members after state Rep. James Marzilli (D-Arlington)
reminded House leaders that internal rules prohibit lawmakers from raising their pay
within six months of an election.
The House budget also includes:
A controversial re-write of the state's
special education laws which opponents say will deprive 30,000 students of needed
A $10,000 pay hike for the
much-ridiculed Governor's Council.
Tax cuts possibly beginning in 2003.
A boost in teachers' pensions to
encourage early retirements.
An increase in welfare payments for the
first time since 1988.
The Boston Globe
Saturday, April 15, 2000
Mass. House waters down key reforms
By Michael Crowley and Frank Phillips
In the wee hours of the morning with no
debate, House leaders pushed through a measure Friday that would erode a keypart of
anticorruption laws and allow special interests to wine and dine lawmakers without
reporting much of the expense.
The measure weakens tough reforms passed
in 1994 that sought to end the coziness between lawmakers and the lobbyists and
corporations that seek to influence them. The changes had bee prompted by a federal
inquiry that led to the downfall of then-House Speaker Charles F. Flaherty.
As they rushed to approve their $21.9
billion budget, House members also quietly attached a rider that would suspend the state's
so-called clean elections law, which would publicly finance state elections, until the
Office of Campaign and Political Finance produces a report on the law's financial impact.
The Legislature would then have to
approve the agency's report before the law -- enacted by voters in 1998 -- goes into
effect, essentially giving lawmakers control over whether it is implemented.
The state's political establishment
strongly dislikes the elections law, which would give challengers a more even footing with
Many legislators had not seen the
clean-elections rider when it was gaveled through about 5:30 a.m. Although budget
amendments were supposed to be handed in last week, members can substantially modify
amendments at the last minute.
House Speaker Thomas M. Finneran last
night defended the House's actions, saying the clean elections law needs closer scrutiny
before it is implemented, and changes to the lobbying law address recent disputes over
interpretations of the statute. He also defended the process of slipping the sweeping
changes into the final hours of budget debate when most of the state was sleeping.
"A distant observer might say, 'Gee
this seems a little strange. Why can't they do it at 3 in the afternoon?' But the process
works," Finneran said. "You [the news media] bring in the light, and in the
light we have to make these decisions."
Debate on the budget now moves to the
Senate, which will take up its version of the 2001 spending plan next month.
The House amendment on lobbying would
change regulations that require corporations that lobby Beacon Hill to report all meal
expenses for legislators or state officials. The change would allow corporate executives
to buy meals for the public officials and not report them, as long as an official's
individual share of the meal does not exceed $35. Registered lobbyists hired by the
corporations would still be banned from buying the officials meals or gifts.
"There's going to be a lot of $34.99
specials at the Beacon Hill restaurants if this goes through," said Secretary of
State William F. Galvin, who denounced the House move.
The changes also would allow lobbyists
and their special-interest employers to hide from public view much of their other work --
such as mailings, public relations, rent, and other incidental expenses -- to influence
public policy, according to regulators and public interest advocates.
Galvin, whose office regulates lobbyists,
said the lobbying-related amendment is "the first assault" on the tough measures
put in place in 1994.
"It is a blatant effort to hide from
the public the activities of people who are hired to influence state officials and public
policy," he said.
One lawmaker who has been critical of
Finneran, Representative Christopher J. Hodgkins, a Democrat from Lee, tried at 6:15 a.m.
to force a debate on the amendment revamping lobbying regulations. But he was unable to
win support from his colleagues to hold a roll call, which records how each individual
"What we did in the middle of the
night in this chamber is to turn back the clock on fair and open government,"
Hodgkins told his colleagues, as he pleaded for the vote.
Ken White, executive director of Common
Cause/Massachusetts, a public interest watchdog group, said the House was engaging in
"absolutely outrageous assaults on the anticorruption laws that are designed to curb
abuses of power."
The House action occurred while Galvin
and lobbyists face off in a contentious struggle over how much information the public
deserves to know about lobbying activities on Beacon Hill.
Galvin has demanded that several
influential figures on Beacon Hill, including friends of the governor, register as
lobbyists because they are seeking to influence policy and decisions.
The individuals previously skirted the
law by saying they were simply strategists or led a lobbying firm without personally
lobbying. Galvin has also pushed for more detailed disclosure of lobbyists' fees and
Lobbyists used their considerable clout
on Beacon Hill to push for the changes.
The budget debate finally finished just
before 10 a.m. when members took a final vote approving their annual spending plan, whose
bottom line grew by more than $150 million since the debate began last Monday.
The House abandoned another controversial
proposal to raise salaries for dozens of House leaders by $7,500 after learning the
measure was not permitted under the chamber's internal rules. But it gave the eight
members of the Governor's Council raises of nearly $10,000.
The lawmakers also voted to increase
their daily-expense allowances by much as $10,000 per year for some. But some critics, who
charge that the increases are back-door pay raises, say the action also violates House
The frenzy of activity completed a budget
process in which the House considered about 1,400 amendments.
The final spending plan included sweeping
changes to the state's special education laws and a first-in-the-nation program to insure
seniors citizens against catastrophic prescription drug costs.
Michael Widmer of the Massachusetts
Taxpayers Association said he was deeply troubled by the growth of the House budget during
the past week, noting that the House added about $150 million in spending to its original
$21.73 billion plan through amendments. That would bring the budget's final price tag to
Widmer said such growth, an increase of
about 5 percent over the state's current $20.80 billion budget, is "not
"This begins to look like a return
to the late 1980s," when runaway budget spending contributed to a deep fiscal crisis,
Much of the extra spending came in the
form of pork-barrel projects in the districts of House members.
The House also approved an extra $50
million for a statewide road-and-bridge project fund and $25 million in added Medicaid
Not counted in that total, Widmer warned,
are two other big-ticket items: the prescription drug insurance program and a new pension
plan for state teachers.
Antismoking advocates were also outraged
yesterday at what they called strong-arm tactics by House leaders to kill a popular
amendment that would have restored $10 million diverted from a state tobacco-control fund.
The advocates said a provision to spend
the $10 million on school nurses violated an agreement made last year on how to allocate
the state's share of a national tobacco lawsuit settlement.
The advocates had been able to restore $5
million of the funding but said it was not enough.
"You couldn't have given the tobacco
industry a nicer Easter present than this," said Graham Kelder, managing
attorney of the Tobacco Resource Center at the Northeastern University School of Law.
Friday, April 14, 2000
House budget calls for drug coverage, special ed
By Jean Mcmillan
BOSTON (AP) A first-in-the-nation
prescription drug program, an overhaul of special education and a potential tax cut
beginning in 2003 were all provisions passed by the House in a more than $21.7 billion
budget during an all-night session that ended Friday morning.
House Speaker Thomas Finneran said
members showed restraint in these good times, while House Minority Leader Francis Marini,
R-Hanson, was among those who said the budget was too large.
"We're just spending a lot of money
and I think part of it is due to the fact that the taxpayers have an opportunity in
November to cut their taxes and we didn't want to leave any money on the table that they
think might encourage people to do just that," Marini said.
He was referring to a ballot question
being promoted by Gov. Paul Cellucci and others to cut the state income tax to 5 percent
over three years.
Finneran, D-Boston, said the better tax
cut proposal was the one in the House budget, which would cut state income taxes beginning
in 2003 by .10 percent for every 2.5 percent growth in state personal income.
"For every period or phase of real
economic growth, there will be a real tax cut delivered to the citizens of
Massachusetts," Finneran said.
Under previous cuts passed by the House,
the state income tax cut will drop to 5.75 percent in 2002 from the current 5.85 percent.
Michael Widmer, president of the
Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation, said he supported the House tax cut, which was
proposed by MTF, but was disturbed by the spending proposals.
Although the effect of the more than
1,400 amendments taken up by the House was not immediately known, Widmer said his
organization estimated at least $100 million was added to the bottom line of the $21.7
billion proposal unveiled last month.
He said that including the amendments,
the spending plan, which is for the fiscal year beginning in July, would represent a more
than 8 percent increase over the current year's budget of $20.8 billion.
"There's no way the state can
maintain those kinds of spending increases," he said.
The drug prescription coverage plan could
ultimately burden taxpayers by several hundred million a year, he said.
Finneran praised the plan, saying its
basic insurance principles and inclusion of the middle class will help sustain it, along
with the roughly $72 million a year the state currently spends on such programs....
The budget plan now heads to the Senate.
A reconciled version will then be forwarded to Cellucci.
A stalemate between the House and Senate
caused the budget to be more than four months late last year, but Finneran said he is
hopeful that legislators will make the July deadline this year.