The Boston Globe
Wednesday, June 21, 2000
House panel OK's broader pension improvements
By Michael Crowley
On the eve of an expected legislative override of a new
teacher early retirement plan, a key House panel yesterday approved a broad measure sweetening pensions for public safety
A divided House Ways and Means Committee also approved a
bill increasing the number of experimental charter schools from 50 to 120, setting up a potentially rancorous House debate
The new pension measure -- which would allow thousands of
police officers, firefighters and other officials to retire after 25 years of service and collect pension benefits
equaling 75 percent of their salaries -- quickly confirmed the worst fears of some fiscal watchdogs.
"As predicted, the teachers' retirement bill has created a
steamroller which is going to be very expensive for taxpayers over the next 20 years," said Michael Widmer, executive
director of the Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundaton, a business-funded group.
Geoffrey Beckwith of the Massachusetts Municipal Association
called the House's move "amazing," and warned that it would strain pension systems statewide.
"This legislation would allow public safety employees to
retire at 75 percent of their pay when they're in their 40s," Beckwith said. "That is an an extraordinarily generous and
The improvements would require employees to contribute
substantially more money into pensions. But Beckwith added there has been no thorough study of the bill's financial
impact, which would be felt primarily by cities and towns.
The Ways and Means Committee approved the public safety
employees' pension bill a day before the full House plans to override Governor Paul Cellucci's veto of the teacher
retirement plan. The Senate is likely to follow suit soon. The measures precede a day of
important House union votes.
With the two pension bills expected to pass easily, some
lawmakers speculated that House leaders are taking up the charter schools issue now because the teachers' unions -- which
oppose more new charter schools -- are focussed on the retirement bill.
The Senate passed a similar charter-school bill last fall.
Teacher retirement bill backers argued that it will allow
burned-out educators with 30 or more years of experience to leave the classroom. They add that Massachusetts must offer
more generous pension benefits to compete with other states for top-notch teachers.
But the governor counters that the measure, estimated to add
about $50 million per year to the state budget, will drain thousands of veteran teachers from classrooms, at a key
juncture in the education reform movement.
Both of the pension proposals would be optional for current
employees and mandatory for new ones. The public employee measure lets local communities decide whether or not to
While House action on the teacher retirement bill was
expected, many observers were surprised by the approval of the public-safety measure. Similar efforts to sweeten public
employee pensions have failed for over a decade.
But some backers of the measure said they believed lawmakers
couldn't easily oppose it, because teachers are being offered new benefits.
"I know that with the teacher bill, it's very hard for them
not to take up other retirement issues," said James Machado, legislative director of the Massachusetts Police Association.
Still, such a domino-effect mentality was no good reason to
retool huge pension plans, Beckwith said.
"The argument that certain groups of public employees
deserve special retirement benefits is not based on any argument of need or merit," he said. "Political equity should
never be confused with real equity and with need and merit."
The Boston Herald
Tuesday, June 20, 2000
Gov brushes off group's bid to broker debate on tax cut
by Ellen J. Silberman
Gov. Paul Cellucci yesterday rejected a challenge to debate
his $1.2 billion tax cut plan, saying the anti-tax cut organization's leader didn't deserve his time.
"I don't even think I know the guy," Cellucci said of Jim
St. George, the executive director of anti-tax cut Campaign for Massachusetts' Future. "He needs to get a few preliminary bouts
before he gets up here."
Cellucci has made rolling back the income tax rate from 5.85
to 5 percent his top priority and was instrumental in putting the issue on the fall ballot after the Legislature rejected the
proposal last year.
St. George, who yesterday sent a letter to Cellucci suggesting a series of debates on the tax
cut, said the governor intentionally misunderstood.
"What we want to negotiate is who on the campaign would in
fact debate the governor," St. George said, suggesting Senate President Thomas F. Birmingham (D-Chelsea), House
Speaker Thomas M. Finneran (D-Mattapan) or State Treasurer Shannon P. O'Brien, all of
whom are working to defeat the tax cut plan.
"He feels the less people know the better and we know that
the more people know about it, the less likely they are to support (the tax cut)," St. George said.
But Cellucci spokesman John Birtwell said the governor would
be out stumping for his tax cut -- and will happily mix it up with the anti-campaign's marquee names.
"We're very much in favor of debates," Birtwell said. "We'll
meet every tax increase supporter on every street corner on every soap box or on every podium in order to help voters
decide to repeal this so-called temporary tax."
Cellucci says lawmakers promised in the early 1990s to roll
back the income tax rate as soon as the fiscal crisis was over.
The Boston Herald
Wednesday, June 21, 2000
Cellucci, Birmingham will debate tax cut plan
by Ellen J. Silberman and Cosmo Macero Jr.
Gov. Paul Cellucci and his potential gubernatorial campaign
rival Senate President Thomas F. Birmingham, who have long sparred over education and tax policy, yesterday agreed to
formally debate Cellucci's $1.2 billion tax cut plan this fall.
"I'd welcome the opportunity to debate the governor on
this," said Birmingham, a Chelsea Democrat, who has pledged to lead the charge against the ballot question.
The tax cut, rejected by the Legislature, is headed to the
fall ballot and each side says debates will help sell their position to voters.
"We can beat the governor's income tax proposal. It's an
uphill fight ... but we have a decent chance," Birmingham said.
Cellucci said: "The facts are overwhelming in support of
this tax cut. I look forward to debating. He's going to say that if we pass this tax cut people are going to die in the
streets. I didn't believe it in the late '80s and I don't believe it now."
The agreement on debates came as Cellucci prepared to file a
$1.3 billion partial budget to prevent state services from screeching to a halt July 1.
House and Senate budget negotiators -- after a six-month
delay last year -- will not have the state's fiscal 2001 spending plan ready in time for Cellucci to review and sign by
Cellucci has campaigned for years to roll the income tax
back to the 5 percent rate of the early 1980s.
After lawmakers rejected Cellucci's plan in favor of a
slight rate drop, the governor pledged to put the issue to the voters. A question expected to be on November's ballot would
drop the rate from its current 5.85 percent to 5 percent over three years.
In 1990, the last time a tax rollback was on the ballot,
opponents ran a vigorous campaign and won.
With Birmingham already traveling around the state to raise
his profile and pad his campaign war chest, the tax debates, which have not yet been scheduled, could offer a glimpse of the
2002 gubernatorial campaign.
But the prospect of another budget delay threatens political
damage to both Birmingham and his House and Senate colleagues.
"It looks like we're not going to get it this week," said
Cort Boulanger, a spokesman for the Executive Office of Administration and Finance. "We hope this is the only (partial
budget) we will have to file."
Senate Ways and Means Chairman Mark Montigny (D-New Bedford)
said that while a budget conference committee is "making significant progress," he is "afraid to predict" when
an agreement will be reached.
"We don't want to do it a day later than necessary nor an
hour earlier than is needed to produce a quality budget," Montigny said. "You cannot go through thousands of line items
and billions of dollars in a hasty way."