A Ballot Committee of Citizens for Limited Taxation

Barbara Anderson is executive director of Citizens for Limited Taxation. Her syndicated columns appear weekly in the Salem Evening News and the Lowell Sun; bi-weekly in the Tinytown Gazette; and occasionally in other newspapers.

April 25, 2000

New Big Dig Czar Natsios: Wiser and tougher
By Barbara Anderson

The Massachusetts House voted at 9:58 PM on Thursday, April 13th to stay up past its bedtime. This led to hours of semi-conscious and even unconscious voting on the twenty-two billion dollar state budget until the House version was finished.

There was no reason to suspend the House rule that forbids working after 10 PM; the budget they pulled an all-nighter to complete will just sit there for a month or two until the Senate does its version.

Two Republicans and most Democrats voted to stay in session that night and are responsible for the silliness that followed on the part of some: drinking wine and beer, sleeping during debate, pushing rollcall buttons for absent colleagues, yelling "toga toga toga" while Rep. Sal DiMasi tried to call "Animal House" (his words, not mine) to order. The five Democrats  who voted sensibly to put off debate until everyone was awake were not from Essex County. However, all local Republicans did the sensible thing. I have the roll call, and I thought you should know.

Well, there's nothing we can do about the House. At least we don't have to worry about the  Big Dig anymore, now that Andrew Natsios is on the job.

I first met Andrew in 1978, when I was secretary to Citizens for Limited Taxation's executive director just as the property tax revolt was beginning.

Perhaps "met" isn't the right word; I was working in the next room as my boss and several Republican legislators tried to draft the first version of Proposition 2 together.

This was the beginning of the sometimes stormy relationship between CLT and the Republicans on Beacon Hill. We eventually had two versions of Prop 2: the legislators' version was floated around Beacon Hill as "the responsible alternative" to CLT's initiative petition.

Negotiations were intense, though we all agreed on certain key provisions, some of which  were drafted by Rep. Natsios (R-Holliston). He helped communities live with property tax  limitation by forbidding new state mandates on the cities and towns unless the state included funding; to oversee this provision he created the state Division of Local Mandates.

Andrew and the other fiscal conservatives took their less dramatic version to the Massachusetts House. The majority of legislators were not interested in property tax limitation, "responsible" or otherwise, so in the end the CLT version was on the 1980 ballot and the voters found it responsible enough for them.

Andrew became one of Prop 2's strongest defenders in the Massachusetts House, debating every attempt by its enemies to water it down. The rest is history, and Andrew Natsios is the kind of man who learns from history and is therefore not doomed to repeat it.

Last year, as Governor Cellucci's Secretary of Administration and Finance, he supported taking the Governor's income tax rollback directly to the people, and has refused to be distracted by the so-called "responsible" alternative floated this time by the so-called Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation (MTF). Most legislators are not interested in rolling the income tax rate back to 5 percent, over three years as in the initiative petition, or over many years as proposed by MTF. But Natsios recognizes that legislators may use the latter to prevent the former, then discard the whole idea; he is wiser and tougher than he was twenty years ago.

This is a very good thing, because he is now in charge of the Big Dig, the state's biggest headache. From now on, we and the Feds will get the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth; Andrew will give it to us whether we're ready for it or not.

He once tried to tell the voters the truth about the Massachusetts Legislature and its democracy-abusing rules. A passionate convert to the initiative petition process, he brought the Republican State Committee, of which he was chairman, into the 1983 Coalition for Legislative Rules Reform which included us, Common Cause, Citizens for Participation in Political Action (CPPAX) and a group of dissident Democrat activists.

After a successful petition drive, legislative reform was thrown out by the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court on the grounds that the legislature's internal process was none of the people's business, an argument too bizarre to comprehend. It is still, however, popular on Beacon Hill, as evidenced by the House budget debate with its uncontrollable spending, increase in legislators' slush funds, and effective murder of a voter-passed initiative law on campaign finance.

The latter happened in the middle of the night, the time when Andrew and other Republican House members would be most vigilant in fighting the majority leadership, back in the good old days of an opposition party. Now, though they battle hard on tax cuts, the Republican legislators seem to have given up on "good government."

I can relate to that; I've given up on it too. But I'll bet Andrew hasn't, and if he can get control of the Big Dig, we might in the future define "good government" as him.

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