House Passes 2001 Budget
In Wee Hours Spending Spree

At 9:46 am House approves on 153-2 vote the $21.7 billion state budget proposal. Rep. Balser and Slattery voted against the proposals. Ways and Means Chairman Paul Haley says he's "very nervous about what we've spent this week. We just don't have the room." Speaker Finneran says he's comfortable with the level of spending added, noting that Ways and Means chairmen tend to fret about spending.

State House News Service
Apr. 14, 2000

"This begins to look like a return to the late 1980s," when runaway budget spending contributed to a deep fiscal crisis."

Michael Widmer, President
Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation
The Boston Globe
Apr.15, 2000

"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."

House Minority Leader Francis Marini, R-Hanson
Associated Press
Apr. 14, 2000

"There's no deliberate strategy to take money off the table for the purpose of denying a tax cut."

House Speaker Thomas Finneran
State House News Service
Apr. 14, 2000

[Widmer] 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."

Michael Widmer, President
Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation
Associated Press
Apr. 14, 2000

Quoting comedian Lily Tomlin, Barbara Anderson said, "No matter how cynical I get, I just can't keep up."

As they say on the Fox News channel, "we report [what the media reports] and you decide." Today there's enough news to outrage everyone without adding a thing ... except --

ATTENTION Michael Widmer, clueless president of the clueless so-called Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation: Will you ever wake up and smell the coffee, will you ever recognize that as long as our money is on their table they will spend every cent and more? Michael, are you incapable of understanding that the only way to save the fiscal future of the commonwealth -- to keep the pols from spending us into oblivion again -- is to take their toys away from them before they break'em and hurt themselves ... and us?

State government running utterly amok follows, the perfect reason why we absolutely must rollback the income tax rate for the salvation of the state's future.

We've got to do it "for the children" on Bacon Hill!

CFord-Sig2.gif (4854 bytes)

Chip Ford

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 gift."

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 lobbyists.

The new language allows businesses to exclude costs such as rent, staff salaries and public relations not related to direct lobbying.

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 vote.

"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 funds."

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 comment.

"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 Party.

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 services.

  • 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
Globe Staff

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 incumbents.

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 member voted.

"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 expenses.

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 rules.

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 $21.88 billion.

Widmer said such growth, an increase of about 5 percent over the state's current $20.80 billion budget, is "not sustainable."

"This begins to look like a return to the late 1980s," when runaway budget spending contributed to a deep fiscal crisis, Widmer said.

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 spending.

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.

Associated Press
Friday, April 14, 2000

House budget calls for drug coverage, special ed reform
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.

NOTE: In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. section 107, this material is distributed without profit or payment to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving this information for non-profit research and educational purposes only. For more information go to:

Return to CLT Updates page

Return to CLT home page