The Boston Herald
Friday, May 10, 2002
Cover your wallets, here they come again
by Howie Carr
Memo to the Legislature: Take your stinking paws off
Still, it's easy enough to understand why the legislative
leadership despises Prop 2½ so much.
It lets the voters vote.
It lets the electorate elect how much more they want to pay
In other words, it's democracy, and we can't allow that, not
around here, not anymore. On Beacon Hill, under the thumb of the House Speaker, Tommy Taxes, nobody listens to the
vox populi anymore. Not when they can listen to the unions and the welfare "advocates," the
vox hacki you might say.
Over the last few years, this rubber-stamp Legislature has
pretty much abolished the referendum process. Oh sure, you can still put a measure on the ballot, but if the hacks don't
like it (and why else would you need to have a referendum?), they'll wreck it, even if the
question passes in a landslide, with 1.5 million votes. Clean elections, the income-tax cut,
charitable deductions - do you get the picture?
And now Prop 2½ is on the chopping block, or was. A
60-year-old freshman from Framingham, Rep. Deborah Blumer, floated it out as a trial balloon. The morning the story
appeared on the front page, Blumer got a good swift boot in the bloomers - a guy in her
district stepped forward and announced his intention to run against her on stickers.
Eeeck, an opponent! She and her husband Irwin might actually
have to spend the summer in Framingham. And what if she somehow, gulp, lost, which would require her to go out and ...
get a job, a real job.
Instantaneously, she backpedaled, and her proposal to gut
2½ became a call for a study by a "blue-ribbon commission."
Pabst Blue Ribbon.
I called Rep. Blumer to ask her if she could remember when
there was no 2½, and the hacks could raise property taxes whenever they needed to put a few more of their nephews
and nieces on the town payroll.
She did not call back, which is too bad, because I wanted to
remind her of those wonderful days when the average property tax bill went up 12 percent a year, when the auto-excise tax
was $66 per $1,000, not $25. Senior citizens on fixed incomes could no longer pay their
taxes, and were forced to unload their property and move into nursing homes.
It was good, compassionate liberalism at work. Squeeze them
dry with high taxes, force them onto Medicaid, and then jack up the taxes again, on their kids, to pay for the old-folks'
homes they're warehoused in.
If it is set up, what exactly will this latest Pabst Blue
Ribbon Commission study?
Democracy - you're either for it or ag'in it. Who should
make the call on higher taxes - the tapped-out people who work for a living, or the townie pols controlled by teachers unions
flush with cash from their mandatory dues?
Who could possibly be against a free people exercising their
franchise? Who indeed, except for Tommy Taxes and his thugs.
Let's go to the numbers. The City of Newton had an override
vote - and the people who didn't want to pay higher taxes lost, thanks to a dirty trick involving the U.S. Mail. Still,
13,521 voters, 49 percent, voted to hold taxes down.
Down in Stoughton, the electorate used Prop 2½ to keep a
lid on property taxes. The vote was 4,161 to 1,648.
So just in those two (of 351) cities and towns in the state,
17,382 people voted in recent days against increasing their property taxes, and 15,920 cast ballots for higher property
Meanwhile, the House speaker, Tommy Taxes, who could kill
2½ in the wink of an eye, won his current term with 8,172 votes.
What is wrong with this picture? A guy who was elected by
8,172 people can summarily strip more than 6 million residents of the commonwealth of their franchise.
Tommy Taxes' legbreaker, er, floor leader, is one Sal
DiMasi, whose picture amazingly appeared on the front page of The Wall Street Journal yesterday. There was, alas, no
mention of the fact that Sal's phone number was once found in the address book of a Mafia
monster named Vinny "the Animal" Ferrara, or that he thinks the plural of "you" is
Anyway, like his boss Tommy Taxes, Sal runs unopposed in a
rotten borough in the city of Boston. Last time, he got 9,349 votes.
These are the strong-arms who wrecked the referendum
process. Now they're coming after 2½, if not this week, then soon enough. I ask the 158 other members of the House, are
you men, or are you sheep? And don't everyone say Baaaahh at once.
Howie Carr's radio show can be heard every weekday afternoon on
WRKO-AM 680, WHYN-AM 560, WGAN-AM 560, WEIM-AM 1280, WXTK 95.1 FM or online at
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The Boston Globe
Thursday, May 9, 2002
New style of leading bolsters Finneran
By Rick Klein and Frank Phillips
Discontent over Speaker Thomas M. Finneran's leadership,
which just five months ago threatened his power, has all but evaporated in the House, as Finneran has silenced his critics
with unusually inclusive negotiations and a big political victory over taxes.
House members are cautious, as they begin what is expected
to be a contentious budget debate this week. But even those who led the effort to overthrow Finneran now seem
content with their leader.
"At the moment, there's no reason fairly to complain," said
Representative Michael E. Festa, a Melrose Democrat who was among the leaders of last year's revolt. "Now that things are
going well, would I say, 'Let's still go after his head'? No, I wouldn't."
In December, Finneran's grip on power appeared more
precarious than at any other point in his six years as speaker. Dozens of restless House members were talking publicly about
trying to topple him, and even when that movement lost steam, agreement began to coalesce
around rules changes that would empower rank-and-file members. Some Finneran critics
talked of recruiting legislative candidates who would commit to anti-Finneran platforms.
All that has quieted, and as last week's 131-to-24 House
vote in favor of a $1.06 billion tax package demonstrated, Finneran is, in many ways, in a stronger position than ever.
It didn't happen overnight. Finneran carefully launched a
statewide campaign, starting in January, to lay the groundwork for the tax vote, and to give members political cover if they
backed tax hikes.
And the speaker, who had surrounded himself with veteran,
male House loyalists who critics say play to his worst instinct for the politics of punishment and revenge, quietly assembled a
small team of savvy strategists, some of whom have counseled presidential candidates,
senators, and governors around the country.
The group began quietly meeting with Finneran for lunches in
his office late last year. They include: John Sasso, one of the nation's leading Democratic strategists, who resurrected
Michael Dukakis in 1982, ran his presidential campaign, and now advises state and national
Democrats; Joseph Ricca, a former top Dukakis presidential campaign aide who was senior
staff member in Al Gore's 2000 presidential campaign; Mary Ann Marsh, a former aide and
current political adviser to US Senator John F. Kerry who works with Ricca at the political
strategy firm Dewey Square Group; Andrew J. Calamare Jr., former state
banking commissioner and State House strategist who heads the Boston office of the Life Insurance
Association of America; and Cheryl Cronin, a lawyer who represents political figures on
ethics issues. A Democrat, Cronin has provided legal representation and political advice to
such diverse figures as Finneran and Acting Governor Jane Swift.
None of the group would comment about the advice they've
offered Finneran - or what advice he has taken.
"This guy does not need a political tutorial from us," Ricca
But one source familiar with the talks said the group has
helped the speaker reach out, beyond Beacon Hill, and influence public opinion more broadly.
Finneran spent countless hours talking to newspaper
editorial boards, and business and opinion leaders in members' districts all over the state. He also reached out to his
members, including relatively obscure rank-and-file representatives. He included members in working
groups on major budget areas and polled them repeatedly about their views on
"This is the way that legislation is supposed to happen,"
said Representative Daniel E. Bosley, a North Adams Democrat who was the insurgents' choice to replace Finneran late
last year in a short-lived campaign to oust the speaker. "We have had a say in what goes on.
He opened the budget up and reached a consensus on taxes."
Representative Douglas W. Petersen, a member of Finneran's
leadership team who has grown increasingly critical of him in recent years, said: "The speaker made an effort to go
around to various groups and explain the situation. It was a participatory and open process.
Members have been clamoring for this for some time, and this time we got it."
It was a far cry from last year's budget process, when many
rank-and-file lawmakers complained that they had been completely shut out. The final version of that budget was five
months late, and contained program cuts that were secretly negotiated by Finneran, his top
lieutenants, and Senate leaders. Some House members had to log in to the Legislature's
Web site in the middle of a November night just to find out what they'd be voting on hours later.
Some members said they were misled by Finneran and unknowingly voted to approve
budget cuts that they later had to defend to their constituents.
This year, not only did the process involve more rank-and-file members, but the final
package of tax hikes struck most House members as basically fair, with rich and poor
being required to chip in together to help the state out of a $2 billion hole next year. Finneran was
able to shepherd through the first major tax bill in a dozen years, with the
only major dissent coming from some of the House's vastly outnumbered Republicans, who accused him of
rushing to raise taxes.
The speaker's harshest critics from the left of his party
wound up withdrawing their own package of taxes in favor of Finneran's. They were left admiring his handiwork, even while
disagreeing with him on some specifics.
"It certainly was a remarkable lovefest last week," said
Representative Jay R. Kaufman, a Lexington Democrat who clashes frequently with Finneran. "It shows a really deft mind and
deft hand. Tom Finneran is capable of brilliant leadership. We saw that last week, and I wish
we had seen it all along."
House Taxation Committee Chairman Paul C. Casey, who helped
Finneran develop the tax package, said the speaker knew from the start that taxes are too explosive an issue to dictate
policy on from the top down. With most lawmakers facing their first tough tax votes ever,
Finneran knew that he had to proceed slowly, with consultation from members and interest
groups, he said.
"Because it was so new, so novel, I think it needed airing
out, and it needed maturation," said Casey, a Winchester Democrat. "It allowed unprecedented participation. It takes
away the argument that you're steamrolling, or you're not letting us be heard. I'm thrilled that people
weren't saying that it was a ram job."
Casey predicted that Finneran will replicate the process in
future issues of wide impact and interest to members, perhaps starting with casino gambling, which has gained currency on
Beacon Hill in recent months.
For now, at least, Finneran's new friends from the progressive wing of his party say they're
cautiously optimistic about the future. Several privately say they'd still like a new
speaker, and Bosley said he still wants the job, but they say Finneran will have plenty of chances -
starting with this week's budget debate - to show whether he really intends to be
a different leader.
"I would certainly hope that on future issues, there would
be that kind of inclusion and open discussion," said Representative Ruth B. Balser, a Newton Democrat. "But if at
any point there isn't, many of the members will be vigilant."
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