Entries by Taylor Armerding

Benefit of the doubt? Not for Murray

Lieut. Gov. Tim Murray has forfeited the benefit of the doubt. Murray, in a recent letter to political supporters, complained that he has been subjected to “false rumors and wild speculation” in connection with the crash of a state-owned car last Nov. 2 on Interstate 190 in Sterling. Perhaps he would have had a legitimate complaint if he had been completely transparent from the start. But his account of the crash is contradicted in almost every detail by what was more recently revealed from the vehicle’s black box. If anybody is causing problems by saying things that are false, it is Murray. The lieutenant governor claimed he had been obeying the 65 mph speed limit. He wasn’t. The black box data […]

Frank: One of a kind, but not in a good way

Massachusetts Congressman Barney Frank’s retirement announcement prompted this from President Obama. “This country has never had a congressman like Barney Frank, and the House of Representatives will not be the same without him.” I’m no fan of the president, but in this case, I think he nailed it. It is the kind of “compliment” that could just as easily be an insult. It calls to mind the famous scene from “Amadeus,” after Mozart has just suffered through a lumbering, turgid opera composed by his rival, Salieri. “I never knew music like that was possible.” Mozart tells him, followed by, “One hears such sounds and what can one say but … ‘Salieri.’” Indeed, Obama could say what he said about Barney […]

Preserving benefits trumps public safety

Police union leaders are forever claiming that their highest priority is public safety. But the evidence says otherwise – it is more about money, even if that means cannibalizing their ranks. As the Boston Globe reports, a lawsuit brought by Boston police went before the Supreme Judicial Court this week. And if the union wins, the likely outcome will be cuts in police staffing throughout the state. The suit is over funding for the Police Career Incentive Pay Program, more commonly known as the Quinn Bill, which has drained public safety funding since 1970. It is one of the reasons that police base pay, which the unions regularly cite to claim that officers are underpaid, is such a fiction. In […]

Elizabeth Warren – selectively smart

Politicians have all sorts of ways of avoiding questions they don’t like. There’s VP Joe Biden’s recent, “Don’t mess with me,” threat to a reporter. There’s the standard, “That’s a great question … “ followed by an answer or a speech about something entirely off the topic and unresponsive to the question. But it seems like false humility is gaining some traction too, as in: “I can’t answer your question because I’m not smart enough.” The Boston Herald reports that Elizabeth Warren, seeking to unseat Massachusetts Sen. Scott Brown, wasn’t very responsive recently when she was asked by Jim Braude on the Jim & Margery radio show about “the symbolism of President Obama tapping GE president Jeffery Immelt to serve […]

Pension reform is reform-lite

More proof that those employed in Massachusetts’ public sector live in a parallel universe: The gentle – very gentle – reforms approved by the state Senate last week to head off a total collapse of the pension system are being portrayed as cruel and unusual punishment. Take a look at the specifics. The reforms, if adopted, would: – Raise the retirement age for most employees from 55 to 60. – Calculate pensions based on the top five earning years instead of the top three. – Raise the age for maximum retirement benefits from 65 to 67. And, to offset such draconian pain, the reform would cut contributions for some veteran employees and provide all pensioners with larger cost-of-living increases. Also, […]

Unions have a right to fight – legally

Unions have plenty of rights. They have the right to strike, and to picket the employer with whom they are aggrieved. They have a right, as striking Verizon workers did in Massachusetts this past week, to have a giant, inflated rat at their pickets, if they are dumb enough to think that is going to bring them some public support. They have a right to shout insults and obscenities at those who cross the picket line to go to work, although it has always mystified me why they think acting like elementary school bullies earns them any respect. But they do not have a right to commit crimes – to sabotage equipment, to threaten those who don’t agree with them, […]

Their solution is dilution

If there was any confusion about what Massachusetts public employee union leaders mean when they keep saying they just want to be “part of the solution” to the struggles municipalities are having with health care costs, the budget just signed by Gov. Deval Patrick should remove it. To them, being part of the solution means to dilute it – to water it down. And Gov. Deval Patrick was happy to roll over for them and help with the dilution. The first attempt at reform – a bill approved by the House – actually offered a credible solution by eliminating the automatic veto power Patrick had granted to the unions if municipal leaders tried to move them into the less expensive […]

State budget: Late and not so great

With the next fiscal year now the current fiscal year, it’s good of the Legislature finally to have approved a state budget – unless Gov. Deval Patrick, who has 10 days to review it, refuses to sign it. It is another reminder that those who make the rules don’t abide by the rules. If we miss a deadline to pay our taxes, we get penalized with interest charges. If we don’t get our car inspected on time, we can get fined and towed. If they’re late approving a budget, they spend the next several days congratulating themselves on all the hard work and tough decisions they made. The congratulations, besides being unseemly, are also premature – as Joshua Archambault notes […]

Senate mischief prove collusion with unions

Two thoughts to add to Jim Stergios’s excellent post below on the state Senate’s cloaked attempt to gut a good-faith effort by the House to give municipalities the tools they need to control employee health care costs. The House plan would let cities and towns save as much as $100 million a year – money that could be put toward sustaining public services. Amendments to the Senate budget would take it all away. First, the Senate’s mischief is a classic example of the collusion between elected officials and the unions, when the parties are supposed to be on opposite sides of the table. The reason cities and towns are in the trouble they are in now is because at contract […]

Kerry should leave lending standards alone

Our compassionate Sen. John Kerry is at it again, in behalf of the demographic he professes to understand so well – the middle class. The multi-millionaire Massachusetts senator is complaining that the federal lending rules created to prevent another mortgage meltdown will prevent middle-class, credit-worthy borrowers from buying a home. What he dislikes in particular is a proposed regulation that would require some homebuyers to make a down payment of 20 percent to qualify for a low-interest loan. In a letter to Shaun Donovan, secretary of the US Department of Housing and Urban Development; Federal Reserve chairman Ben S. Bernanke; and Sheila C. Bair, head of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp., Kerry wrote, “None of us — and none of you […]

Bob Haynes will leave labor worse than he found it

Nobody should shed any tears for Bobby Haynes, the longtime president of the Massachusetts AFL-CIO, when he rides off this fall into the kind of gilded retirement he generally decries for private-sector CEOs – unless, of course, it is an $11-million package for the former CEO of a nonprofit health corporation on whose board Haynes is paid a cool $72,000 to sit. Nor should they give him any thanks. Haynes, who announced his retirement this week, is leaving labor worse than he found it. And not because public employee unions look to be “losing” a battle on Beacon Hill over health care benefits. It is because Haynes, described by the Boston Globe as a “tough-talking former iron worker,” is more […]

Your vote is sacred, unless we don’t like it

The vote of the people is sacred. Except when it’s not. And it obviously is not sacred in Nahant, where town officials are perpetuating a dangerous trend – if your vote doesn’t conform with the wishes of those in power, you have to vote again. On April 30, voters in the town election rejected a proposed $260,000 override for the local schools. So, earlier this week, after receiving a petition from 173 residents, the Board of Selectmen voted to hold a special election on June 25 to reconsider it. Such things don’t happen often, but they should never happen. The justifications for it are the same lame talking points always presented in such circumstances, the worst of which is the […]

Pay-to-play is rampant in Boston

Interesting juxtaposition in the news of the week. Sal DiMasi, the former Massachusetts House Speaker, is now on trial for allegedly taking thousands of dollars in payoffs from software company Cognos, in exchange for steering state contracts its way. Meanwhile, Boston Mayor Tom Menino persists in publicly demanding payoffs – ranging from tens of thousands to hundreds of thousands – from a select group of local nonprofits, in the form of payments in lieu of taxes worth 25 percent of what they would owe if they were not tax-exempt. Yes, they are tax exempt. The law says they owe no property taxes. But, apparently, since Boston is a city of men, not laws, Menino is putting the hammer down on […]

Jobs for kids? Try cutting the minimum wage

The Boston Globe remains an unapologetic public-relations arm for government at all levels. Yet another story in today’s paper unquestioningly feeds us the government line that government funding is a requirement for kids aged 14-21 to get summer jobs. It opens with the obligatory anecdote – the teen who suggests that if government hadn’t provided a job for him, he would have spent last summer either idle or hanging out on the street, getting in trouble. See, your tax dollars are hard at work not only transforming the lives of teens, but cutting crime! It bemoaned the fact that funding for YouthWorks, the state jobs program, has declined from $8 million to $6 million this year – largely because one-time […]

Labor leader admits it – unions have bought the Legislature

Robert Haynes supposedly represents organized labor, as head of the Massachusetts AFL-CIO. But lately he is becoming a walking, talking advertisement for why public-employee union power needs to be restrained. Haynes admitted publicly this week what everybody knows – that those unions have bought the overwhelmingly Democratic Legislature. Now that there is a possibility (and only a possibility) that they won’t get what they paid for in one instance, they are mad as hell and not going to take it any more. His rant came at midweek, after the House voted overwhelmingly, 111-42, to strip municipal employees of their right to bargain over health care benefits – a move launched by, of all people, House Speaker Robert DeLeo. “It’s pretty […]

R.I.P. to a stellar public servant

There have been, and will be, hundreds of good things said about Sam Zoll, who died this week of cancer at 76 – all of them true and all of them deserved. But I’m going to pile on anyway. Zoll, for 28 years the chief justice of the Massachusetts District Courts and also a former Salem city councilor, state rep and mayor, did not just talk about good government. He lived it – personified it. The high-profile story about him helping U.S. Senator Scott Brown turn his life around when he was a 12-year-old shoplifter is inspiring, but to those who knew Judge Zoll, it is not the least surprising. It was typical. He did things like that thousands of […]

Tax-exempt only in name

“Fairness” is one of the most abused words in politics. And it is taking a beating again by the City of Boston, in its quest to find yet another way – any way – to avoid controlling its spending. Nonprofits aren’t a new target – they have been a target for decades. Legally, they are exempt from property taxes. But municipal officials throughout the state have for years been “asking” them to “contribute” a PILOT – payment in lieu of taxes – to cover the cost of whatever government services might be provided to them. You know, as a matter of fairness. These “requests” are a bit like Don Corleone making someone an offer he can’t refuse. If a standard […]

It’s not what you say, it’s how you cloak it

It has been said before, but it bears repeating: Control the language of the debate and you control the debate. Witness President Obama’s studious effort to take control of the debate Wednesday in his speech on how he would slow the runaway federal budget deficit. Like most politicians who want to raise taxes, the president will do almost any rhetorical tap dance to avoid saying the word unless it takes the general form of, “tax breaks for the wealthy” or “unaffordable tax cuts for millionaires and billionaires.” We have as many euphemisms for raising taxes as Eskimos have for snow. Unions insist that “revenues” must be on the table in any debate on deficits. Gov. Deval Patrick talks about preserving […]

Fix Social Security? Just do what FDR did

It is time for baby boomers (like me) to stop whining about reform of Social Security. If FDR was still around, they might be facing a bigger whack than what is being proposed. And it is good that there is at least a discussion going on about it in Congress. According to the Boston Globe, U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan, Wisconsin Republican, chairman of the House Budget Committee and author of a plan to cut trillions in future federal spending, is optimistic about entitlement cuts beyond Medicare and Medicaid. “Social Security reform, hopefully, is an area where we might have a shot at a bipartisan agreement this summer,” he said. We should all hope so. Getting the grandfather of entitlement programs […]

Labor leader in a glass house

Talk about throwing stones from a glass house. Robert Haynes, president of the Massachusetts AFL-CIO played the predictable, tired class envy card in response to the recent report by the Boston Foundation and Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation on the “gilded” health plans enjoyed by municipal workers. Haynes didn’t dispute or even address any of the statistics in the report, which showed municipal workers receive health coverage averaging 37 percent sweeter than those in the private sector. He couldn’t challenge the report on the merits. So instead he went on about how much money the heads of the report’s two sponsoring groups, Paul Grogan at the Boston Foundation and Michael Widmer at MTF, were making. This would be the same Robert Haynes, […]

Gilded benefits clash with ‘fair share’

Public employee unions leaders love to talk about “fair share” when they are trying to score even sweeter contracts than the ones they enjoy now. It is the classic class envy diversion – it can’t be fair if anybody out there is making more than they are. If the idle rich just paid their fair share in taxes, then there would be plenty of money for government to pay their hard-working members bigger raises and provide even better benefits. It doesn’t seem to occur to them that most rich people got that way by working hard. But that is a topic for another post. What is interesting here is that in the long-overdue focus on public employee health benefits, you […]

A way to bend the cost curve up

Minimum staffing provisions in public sector union contracts – largely in police and fire departments – are a major reasons those services are so expensive. They lead to massive, unnecessary overtime costs and are easily abused – it is simple for a worker to call in sick so a friend can pick up some extra OT. It also turns the proper relationship of manager and worker on its head – employees, not management, dictate how many people are required to do a task. The union, naturally, wants as many people as possible on a task, a vehicle, a shift. It undermines efficiency and productivity, by design. Gov. Deval Patrick and state legislators, who huff and puff about “bending the cost […]

Obamacare superstar sales team goes missing

Here’s yet more evidence that, in the year since Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid presided over the ramming of Obamacare through Congress, the dust has yet to settle – the Democratic superstars who were supposed to be trumpeting its virtues are in hiding. Jennifer Haberkorn has a piece on Politico noting that the Health Information Campaign, launched with great fanfare last June, is all but defunct. Wal-Mart Watch founder Andrew Grossman unveiled the Health Information Campaign with great fanfare last June. Tom Daschle and Ted Kennedy’s widow, Vicki, were expected to lead the effort. They’d have help from former White House Communications Director Anita Dunn. They’d have an office in Washington with 10 or 15 operatives backing the Affordable Care Act […]

Public pension tension is warranted

Interesting juxtaposition in the Globe recently on public pensions. First came columnist Renee Loth, carrying water for the Massachusetts Budget and Policy Center, formerly the Tax Equity Alliance of Massachusetts. The rumor, when they changed their name, was that the group did it because the nickname Barbara Anderson’s group Citizens for Limited Taxation had given them – “Tax Everything And More” – had gained some serious traction. Loth rehashed the favored talking point of the past couple of years from public employee unions. “Independent” studies by groups like MBPC find that public employees actually make less than those in the private sector, when compared with those with similar education. The “penalty” for those with college degrees working in the public […]

It’s not where the gov is, it’s the business climate

The timing was lousy. Gov. Deval Patrick was on his big “trade mission” to Israel and England when the giant sucking sound came from Marlborough – Fidelity announced it was essentially shuttering its operation there, moving 1,100 jobs to Merrimack, N.H. and Rhode Island. It tended to take the wind out of the governor’s announcement that this 10-day junket might bring all of 50 jobs to Massachusetts. Patrick didn’t help his cause much, declaring from London that he was “deeply frustrated” that the company had blindsided him, and later demanding that they “tell me to my face” that the decision is final. What does he expect – that CEOs are going to check with him first, or ask his permission […]