CLT Update
Thursday, February 2, 2001

Teachers union is back for more, as usual ...
and an update on tax rollback attack

The Boston Herald
Thursday, February 1, 2001
Local briefs

Mass. Teachers unveil $5.8B education proposal

The Massachusetts Teachers Association unveiled legislative proposals that would create a $5.8 billion, five-year plan to reduce class sizes, mandate full-day kindergarten, raise teacher salaries and better serve at-risk students.

The spending proposals would rival the state's spending rate during the past seven years under its $7 billion education reform plan. It would also attend to the unfinished business of reshaping Bay State schools, officials for the 92,000-member union said.

The bills would revise the funding formula for state aid to schools, in addition to providing extra help for students struggling to pass the MCAS exam and revising the way schools are reimbursed for special education costs.

Who's worried about providing sufficient health care and human services to the needy - yesterday's crisis - now? Certainly not the Massachusetts Teachers Association. As usual, the greedy teachers union has its hand out reaching into our pockets for more, more, more. In their insatiable raid on the treasury they'll climb over everything and everyone in their way.

Seeking reward for incompetence, they now demand more for failure, even after last year's successful raid on taxpayers for their early retirement bonanza.

Isn't it great fun watching the Gimme Lobby cutting each other's throats for every drop of taxpayers' blood they can squeeze!

It's now clearly understandable why the MTA and NEA spent millions attempting to defeat Question 4, isn't it? Rejoice that we took the "temporary" tax out of their reach while we still could. Now all we've got to do is hang onto our victory,  and yesterday was a good start.

Many of you bombarded Sen. Richard Moore's office with phone calls and e-mail. He now denies that he ever proposed rescinding Question 4, that the Herald got it wrong. Barbara then informed him we also got our information from an in-depth State House News Service report. He still denies ... and in some responses from him forwarded to us by members, grossly obfuscated. [see Telegram & Gazette report below]

I think we shot down that first trial balloon before it got airborne and could do any damage. Good job, folks!

Chip Ford

State House News Service
Thursday, January 31, 2001

School finance group going to SJC
for $2-4 billion in new education aid

By Elisabeth J. Beardsley

STATE HOUSE, BOSTON, JAN. 31, 2001 ... Claiming the state is underfunding education by as much as $4 billion a year, school finance activists are preparing to go to the Supreme Judicial Court with a follow-up lawsuit to the landmark McDuffy case that led to the Education Reform Act of 1993.

The high court ruled in 1993 that the state had a constitutional duty to adequately fund all public schools, and ordered the state to eliminate drastic disparities between rich and poor school districts. Since then, state support for education has more than doubled, with Gov. Cellucci proposing $4.2 billion in the budget he filed last week.

But the Council for Fair School Financing, which brought the original lawsuit, says there's not enough money to support education reform's requirements. While funding disparities between districts are "much less" now than in 1993, the council says the state is not providing nearly enough money to implement new curriculum frameworks and standards-based accountability measures like the MCAS test.

Activists plan to head back to the SJC in February to begin arguing that the state has failed to meet the terms of the McDuffy case, said Council President Norma Shapiro, legislative director for the Massachusetts chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union. Unlike many government programs, the constitutional duty to adequately fund the schools is "enforceable" in the courts, she said.

"All of our public schools are under-funded. That's right, all," Shapiro said. "This has to come first because everyone who swore an oath to uphold the Constitution has sworn an oath to adequately fund the public schools because it is a duty of the Constitution."

The lead plaintiff in the new case is Julie Hancock, a 12-year-old Brockton girl. Fifteen school districts have signed on as co-plaintiffs, including Brockton, Leicester, Lowell, Winchendon, Lynn, Holyoke, Fitchburg and Taunton. All are from the bottom 25 percent of districts in terms of overall school funding, and suffer "serious problems" paying for the state's education reform program, Shapiro said.

The Council for Fair School Financing hired a national education economist and a team of experts to analyze the full cost of education reform, Shapiro said. The "investigation," which is ongoing, examined categories such as teacher training, professional development, technology and facilities, she said.

Details of the analysis will be released soon, but preliminary results indicate that every category is under-funded by 50-100 percent, Shapiro said. To "adequately" fund education right now would require between $6 billion and $8 billion per year, but that figure would grow over time with inflation, she said. By contrast, the state spends just under $5 billion per year on Medicaid, its largest account.

"No one here is asking for a pie in the sky," Shapiro said. "What people are asking for is what is required by education reform."

The McDuffy case was left open with a single justice in place to handle any complaints that arose about the state's remedies. That single justice was Ruth Abrams, who recently retired. Shapiro said she expects another justice to be assigned shortly, and then court proceedings will begin.

The lawsuit names Education Commissioner David Driscoll and the state Board of Education, Shapiro said. Board Chairman James Peyser said he is not familiar with the details of the lawsuit, but he said the 1993 funding formula was designed to pay for all the new reforms, not just the "status quo."

"I think it's pretty clear to even the casual observer that the state has made an extraordinary and sustained investment in education over the last eight years," Peyser said. "On the one hand, you could always do more. On the other hand, I think the level of increase is unprecedented."

House Speaker Thomas Finneran and Senate President Thomas Birmingham were unavailable for comment Wednesday, but both have warned that education funding cannot continue to grow at the exponential rates of the 1990s. Birmingham cites the constraints of the new income tax cut, and Finneran said earlier this month that the state has "met the financial test" of the Education Reform Act.

Gov. Paul Cellucci also feels that the state has done its part to carry out the court's 1993 directive, said spokesman John Birtwell. "My sense of it is that any objective observer that looks at it will find that the administration and the Legislature have a good track record in terms of trying to dramatically increase school spending and to eliminate disparities between districts," Birtwell said.

Also today, the Massachusetts Teachers Association released cost estimates for its legislative package, which includes many of the proposals that Shapiro says are necessary for the state to fulfill its McDuffy obligations. Those proposals include lowering K-3 class sizes to 15 students per classroom, providing statewide full-day kindergarten, boosting state aid for special education, giving schools $1,000 for every student who fails MCAS, and hiking teachers' starting salary from $18,000 to $40,000.

The union proposes phasing in the reforms over five years, said Jo Blum, MTA's director of governmental services. A "very rough" cost analysis indicates that the package would require $2.2 billion in new money, beyond what the state is currently project to spend in fiscal 2006, Blum said.

The calls for more money were not well received by the governor's office, which has been preaching the need for fiscal discipline. Birtwell accused the union, which is pushing to suspend MCAS as a graduation requirement, of trying to wiggle out of the accountability end of the education reform bargain.

"Very frankly, it'll never be enough (money)," Birtwell said. "It's the old infinity plus a dollar game. As long as they choose to focus on the dollar debate, it allows them to avoid the more serious question of accountability in the classroom."

The lawsuit that is nearing its day before the state's highest court was filed in December 1999.

The Telegram & Gazette
Worcester, Mass.
Thursday, February 1, 2001

GOP slams state tax-cut pullback
By Shaun Sutner
Telegram & Gazette Staff

BOSTON -- There is talk in the Legislature of watering down the ballot initiative passed by voters in November that phases in a $1.2 billion income tax cut over three years.

Republicans have promised a "war" if the idea, raised this week by state Sen. Richard T. Moore, D-Uxbridge, is ever transformed into action to reimpose higher tax rates or slow the tax cut phase-in.

Some partisan observers have suggested that such a rear-guard action on Question 4 could be a trial balloon on behalf of Senate President Thomas F. Birmingham, D-Chelsea, despite his claim that he does not support such a move.

Others think that the usually moderate Mr. Moore is seeking liberal support in an early bid to succeed Mr. Birmingham, who is expected to run for governor.

Mr. Moore, a top lieutenant of the Senate president, said it is too early to consider making changes to Question 4, and acknowledged that, for now, the idea has little chance of succeeding in the Legislature.

He added, however, "I wouldn't rule out anything.

"If we get to a certain point where people are in serious health problems because we don't have any money for them, or schools close, we clearly have a problem," he said.

Mr. Moore said there was merit to the plan introduced last year in the state House of Representatives to gradually reduce the income tax rate from 5.75 percent to 5 percent, but halt the phase-in if personal income growth in the state dropped below a specified level. The plan, supported by the nonpartisan Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation, was incorporated by the House in its proposed budget last year.

The Senate, however, rejected that plan.

Senate Minority Leader Brian P. Lees, R-East Longmeadow, blasted any suggestion that the Legislature should tinker with the ballot measure, which was approved by more than 60 percent of state voters Nov. 7.

"There will be out-and-out war if someone tries to do that," said Mr. Lees, who vowed to mount a filibuster if such a proposal ever made it to the Senate floor.

"The Democratic leadership has been very out of touch on this issue to begin with. Not only am I shocked, but it's an insult to voters," he said. "I think Sen. Moore has hurt himself drastically in his district with this."

Mr. Moore, Senate chairman of the Legislature's joint Health Care Committee, maintained that Republican Gov. Paul Cellucci's budget proposal for next year calls for a slew of cuts, totaling more than $20 million, in programs and services for cancer screening, osteoporosis, hepatitis C and community health centers.

Mr. Moore also charged that the governor is raiding state pension and tobacco funds to pay for the rest of his budget, which includes a relief plan for failing hospitals that the senator said he supports in principle.

"I think these things are very important," he said, referring to the health programs he cited. "If you ask the people with cancer, AIDS or hepatitis C, they'll tell you their lives are on the line."

John Birtwell, the governor's press secretary, countered that Mr. Cellucci's budget makes a serious commitment to health care by earmarking $250 million to help troubled hospitals, and by spending a total of $1 billion on health programs.

"Mr. Moore must have missed the overwhelming percentage of voters who thought their taxes were too high," he said. "We have budgeted as best we can for a variety of prevention and screening programs. It is true we tried to prioritize and look at every item."

Mr. Moore also took issue with optimistic revenue reports coming out of the governor's administration in recent days, numbers that appear to indicate the state is in better fiscal shape than legislative leaders claim.

State revenues for last month are expected to be 13 percent to 15 percent higher than last January, according to an administration source. By comparison, December's revenues were down 1.4 percent, which raised alarms.

Mr. Moore, however, noted that Federal Reserve Board Chairman Alan Greenspan has said the national economy has flattened out.

"Alan Greenspan, who I think has a better handle on the economy than anybody in the Cellucci administration, says there's flat growth," Mr. Moore said.

Mr. Moore conceded that it is unlikely that efforts to dilute Question 4 would succeed in the Legislature, much less survive a certain veto from the governor. He added that it is highly improbable voters would back the idea, at least for now.

"The voters have yet to support such an initiative," he said. "Until they start being heard about the effects of cuts, I don't think there will be any change in the tax laws."

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