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CLT&G Update
Friday, August 28 1998

This is an update on one of the Governor's vetoes. I don't know the story on each of the items mentioned in Wednesday's Boston Globe column [below] by Brian Mooney, but I know what's happening here in my town and extrapolate from that.

I told you before about the $250,000 request from our selectmen to study repair of the causeway to one of the most exclusive, wealthy areas of the state. Our state senator brought back not $250,000 but over $600,000! The Governor vetoed it. I wonder how many others of these projects contained more money than the proposers requested, just to use up the surplus.

The other local project was the clean-up of pollutants in one of our schools, whose maintenance had been neglected. We were told that it was mold and mildew as we were asked for a Prop 2 override for the project. The voters (not including me) agreed to the override. But in the meantime, our state rep. had put in for some of the money from the state from a law that allows state funding of asbestos removal (I guess they found some asbestos too). It was finally approved as part of this surplus gift package but the governor vetoed it.

Last week I read an item in the local daily newspaper that the governor is giving us the money after all, but from already existing emergency funds that were available without using the surplus that should be coming back to the taxpayers. Setting aside the question,"what emergency," since our weekly paper has reported that the work is already underway, I went looking for the answer to the question, "am I paying for this clean-up twice, both as a state taxpayer and a property taxpayer?"

Once I called it to his attention, our town accountant found that the state money requires a drop in the property tax rate, so as a property taxpayer I am off the hook! You taxpayers out there are paying for some of the deferred maintenance in my town's school system.

Thank you.

But of course I'll be paying for the projects, good and bad, in YOUR communities. Ain't government great?

Anyhow, I checked with the governor's legislative office, and it told me that the money for many of these approved projects is already available in other parts of the budget and there's no reason to use the surplus.

I have another question that I need help answering. How come some taxpayers who want the surplus returned to them are complaining about the vetoes of "essential projects"?

Are we for smaller government or aren't we?

Barbara Anderson --

The Boston Globe
Wednesday, August 26, 1998
Metro | Region

Spending vetoes may cost Cellucci
By Brian C. Mooney
Globe Staff

To override or not to override, that is the question.

From a purely partisan viewpoint, Acting Governor Paul Cellucci's vetoes of $200 million worth of local projects have presented the Democrat-controlled Legislature with some can't-lose, election-year options:

Legislators can override the vetoes quickly, win plaudits from constituents, and embarrass the Republican chief executive by making him appear ineffectual.

They can wait and let Cellucci saute in his own juices as angry editorialists and activists from Barnstable to the Berkshires continue to baste him and then use the issue against Republicans in the run-up to the November election.

But there's a minor glitch. The 1995 legislative rules reform, enacted to minimize the mixing of electioneering and lawmaking, required the session to end on July 31.

Senate President Thomas F. Birmingham is a strong advocate for suspending the rules and returning to work to override the Cellucci vetoes. House Speaker Thomas M. Finneran, meanwhile, is neutral on the issue, but a group of legislators is planning next week to press him to return to session.

Representative James J. Marzilli Jr., an Arlington Democrat, is organizing support on behalf of municipal officials and other advocates of local projects struck down by Cellucci's veto pen.

"My goal is to override as many of these vetoes as possible," said Marzilli, who expects many Republican legislators to be supportive.

Finneran left yesterday for a Salt Lake City conference of legislative leaders and could not be reached for comment.

But Birmingham said in an interview: "The Senate would come back in a nanosecond." The Chelsea Democrat believes the legislative rules have inadvertently invested Cellucci with power derived from a fluke in the calendar rather than from his office or the merits of his decisions.

To the astonishment of lawmakers in both parties, Cellucci on Aug. 10 announced his veto of scores of local library, environmental, and school technology projects. He soon began referring to his veto of "wasteful spending" in a campaign television commercial.

Cellucci said the funds, part of a $1 billion 1998 surplus, should be returned to taxpayers. Without legislative approval, however, the funds will revert to the state's reserve fund. Many projects, he said, circumvented the usual evaluation process. Yet a year ago, he failed to veto any of a number of similar projects in a supplemental budget, prompting charges now of an election-year conversion.

Birmingham says he is at a loss to understand either the political or policy basis of the Cellucci decision. He has plenty of company, including Republicans who are puzzled by a blunder that has reverberated around the state.

"Politically, I thought it made no sense," said Birmingham, who added that Cellucci "grabbed a nice round number in order to show his fiscal conservatism" in the face of a challenge from the right in the GOP primary by Treasurer Joseph D. Malone.

There was no policy-based reason for the vetoes, he said, calling the $200 million veto figure "a politically driven number to which meritorious projects were sacrificed."

Indeed, it's difficult to take seriously Cellucci's claims of fiscal austerity when, after provoking local outrage with his vetoes, he proposed funding from other sources for some projects. That's what happened in the case of a $3 million state contribution to match $12 million in federal funds earmarked to transform Route 18 in New Bedford into a tree-lined boulevard.

There are no obvious policy criteria driving the Cellucci veto choices. He vetoed $21 million in funds to build or renovate numerous libraries (including $2.1 million for Newburyport, which authorized its local share of the cost through a rare override of Proposition 2 1/2 last November) but spared $10 million to renovate the battleship USS Massachusetts, a tourist attraction supported by veterans groups, in Fall River.

Birmingham said Cellucci's other argument -- that many of these projects should go through the capital fund borrowing process -- makes no sense because it would incur interest costs.

So many choices for Democrats. Override before the Sept. 15 primary and allow Malone to drill Cellucci as a weak seat-warmer. Wait until after the primary and let the Democratic nominee carry the issue. Or do nothing and let Cellucci roast.


By Michael P. Norton
Monday, August 24, 1998

STATE HOUSE, BOSTON, AUG. 24, 1998 . . . Widely viewed as the only major obstacle to the Legislature's return to formal sessions this year, House Speaker Thomas Finneran was open to the idea today, refusing to rule it out but saying many lawmakers are concerned about violating rules reforms aimed at curbing election-year shenanigans in the Legislature.

Citing its joint rules, the Legislature ended formal sessions for the year on July 31. In doing so, lawmakers did not resolve issues important to many of them, including action on plans to increase the minimum wage, reform managed care, and ban ATM surcharges. Lawmakers are also disappointed about leaving for the year without advancing $200 million in popular education, infrastructure and environmental projects vetoed by Acting Gov. Paul Cellucci.

The Senate has indicated a willingness to return to formal sessions, but not the House, where Speaker Finneran has dictated the agenda since he took over in 1996. Initially, Finneran was firmly opposed to returning to formal sessions, saying members don't want to violate a 1995 rules reform designed to prevent the mixing of election-year politics with lawmaking.

Yet Finneran is hearing calls to reconvene -- calls that lawmakers are planning to formalize with a press conference early next week. And he's not ruling out a return to formal sessions.

"I have no position," Finneran said as he left the House today following an informal session during which only non-controversial matters are supposed to be considered. "I'm trying to just measure the sentiment of the membership. It's not out of the question."

The calls for additional formal sessions are most vocal in the Senate, where members feel the "slavish adherence" to legislative rules is tilting the balance of constitutional power in Cellucci's favor, according to Senate President Thomas Birmingham (D-Chelsea).

"I'm absolutely certain -- I'm rarely this emphatic -- but I'm absolutely certain that the Senate members are ready to come back," Birmingham said Monday. "I can only speak for the Senate, which is absolutely unqualifiedly prepared to come back in a nanosecond. We had discussions about this the last night of the session. I dare say that the Democratic members of the Senate would be unanimous in favor of coming back."

Because a single member can stop a bill from advancing during informal sessions, Finneran says the Legislature can accomplish important business informally because all matters advanced are presumed to have consensus. But overtly controversial matters like health care reform, budget vetoes and the minimum wage are considered formal session matters. And under the joint rules, the time for formal sessions this year has come and gone.

"There are some things that require a formal session," he said. "There are agood number of members who seem to want to abide by the letter and the spirit of the rules changes."

Second Assistant House Minority Leader Rep. Fran Marini (R-Sharon) would be surprised if Republicans, who are vastly outnumbered in the House, support a return to formal sessions.

Marini said members of both parties are upset about Cellucci vetoes that stopped projects that are popular with voters.

However, returning to formal sessions would be an acknowledgement that the Legislature can't keep its promises and can't get its work done on time -- in this case formal sessions spanned 18 months -- from January 1997 through July 1998.

But many House members say issues like budget vetoes and HMO reform are too important to leave unresolved because of a legislative rule. They're aware that critics will say efforts to spend $200 million on local projects in an election year is "pork barrel politics," but they disagree that the projects fall into the "pork" category characterized as wasteful spending.

After today's informal session, Rep. James Marzilli (D-Arlington) said House members are still itching to override Cellucci's capital project vetoes, which Marzilli called "bad politics and bad policy."

"Everyone is absolutely baffled by Governor Cellucci's vetoes," said Marzilli. "Certainly I think we should come back and override those vetoes."

Later today, an aide to Marzilli confirmed that he and other House members are planning a press conference for next Monday to declare their desire to return to overrride budget vetoes.

Cellucci vetoed the projects to control spending and because some of the projects didn't go through the state's screening process. Since then, the vetoes have been widely criticized in communities where popular projects on the verge of final passage were suddenly scrapped.

Rep. Anne Paulsen (D-Belmont) also supports returning to formal sessions. She said that Finneran has told her that he would think seriously about the idea. "It's quite clear in the rules that we have the ability to come back when business is unfinished," she said.

Sen. Lois Pines (D-Newton) also supports a special legislative session. Today, Pines called for lawmakers to reconvene and pass a ban on ATM surcharges. She pointed out that Fleet Bank and BankBoston have announced new surcharges since the July 31 end of "formals."

"When the Legislature closed down, the surcharge window opened up," Pines said. "We have a responsibility to consumers to act decisively and quickly to keep real competition alive between Massachusetts banks."

The governor has the ability to call the Legislature back into session, but Cellucci is happy that Democrats controlling the House and Senate are not crafting major laws this summer and fall. Absent a call to return from the governor, the Legislature can reconvene its formal sessions if a majority of the 40-member Senate and 160-member House agree to do so.

Birmingham said the reasons for not returning to formal sessions are not strong enough. If the desire is to prevent lame duck sessions, then formal sessions should end in October, just before the November elections, Birmingham said. And the current talk is not of returning for three more months, but for a more narrowly defined period to accomplish several tasks.

There are lawmakers anxious to pass an HMO reform law this year, but Birmingham added, "I'd have to say it is primarily the opportunity to override the vetoes."

On their merits, Birmingham said, overriding vetoed items to restore library funding and monies set aside for educational technology improvements is the right move. Using surplus funds to finance the initiatives will prevent the state from borrowing, and paying interest, he said.

Veto overrides require a two-thirds vote in each branch and must be recorded via a roll call in a formal legislative session. The House must act on any budget veto before the Senate.

Birmingham said that he has spoken to Finneran about the issue. He said the Speaker has cited concerns about the rules.

Marzilli said Finneran has been listening to House members.

"The rules of this Legislature put enormous authority in the hands of our presiding officers," Marzilli said. "The Speaker uses that power to advance an agenda that he crafts. It's impossible for a member to force us to come back. This has to be a decision that has to be made by the Speaker."

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