Senate Wants to Spend $2 Million to Gain Much More Than That in Tobacco Taxes

Friday, May 22, 2015

Before long we could have a new, state-funded team of revenue agents targeting the illegal sale of tobacco products in Massachusetts, a surprisingly profitable criminal endeavor.

This past week, the Massachusetts Senate included $2 million in its version of the new state budget to create a “multi-agency illegal tobacco task force.”   The House of Representatives and governor still have to give their approvals before the expenditure can go forward.
The case for spending that money is convincing.  I’d be surprised if the envisaged task force is not up and running by the fall under the auspices of the Department of Revenue.  A specially appointed nine-member group known as the Commission on Illegal Tobacco, which studied the issue back in 2013-14, estimated the state could operate a 20-member task force on an annual budget of $2 million.

In recommending a new task force, the commission said “lost revenue from illegal tobacco distribution” ranged from $62 million to $246 million per year.  It noted that, if the state could recover even 10% of those sums, “revenue protection and enhancement of between $6.2 and $24.6 million” would result.  
In other words, a $2 million task force would pay for itself many times over.

Massachusetts is a hotbed of illegal selling of cigarettes, cigars and related products, such as chewing tobacco, for the simple reason that we tax the hell out of these products.  The higher the taxes on anything, the harder and more ingeniously some persons work to beat the system.
According to the commission’s formal report, submitted March 1, 2014, “Violators avoid paying the tobacco excise and sales taxes in Massachusetts in multiple ways, including individual bootlegging, organized wholesale domestic smuggling, international smuggling, and counterfeits,” that is, cigarettes made in unlicensed facilities and packaged for sale as established brands.

At $3.51 a pack, Massachusetts has the second-highest taxes on cigarettes in the U.S., behind New York, which taxes them at the rate of $4.35. 
By contrast, Vermont taxes cigarettes at $2.62, the 9th highest rate; Maine at $2.00, 12th highest; and New Hampshire at $1.78, 18th highest. 

The other New England states, Rhode Island and Connecticut, have the third- and fourth-highest cigarette tax rates, respectively:  Rhode Island’s is $3.50, one penny below Massachusetts;  Connecticut’s is $3.40.
The Massachusetts legislature voted in 2013 to raise the per-pack taxes on cigarettes by $1 to $3.51.  The commission estimated the impact of that change at $157 million in annual additional state revenue.  The commission also estimated that the total cost of cigarette tax avoidance would rise by $24 million per year to $129 million.

Thus, the net advantage to the state of the new rate would be $133 million, ($157 million minus $24 million).
Out there in our big state, I’m sure there are folks who believe we’re overdoing it with tobacco taxes, that we’re forcing ordinary citizens into criminal behaviors by having the second-highest cigarette taxes.  Why can’t we be more reasonable, they probably wonder -- like, say, Ohio, which has a cigarette tax of $1.25 (28th highest)?

I understand that view but I’ll never be won over by it.  Our “unreasonable” taxes have produced a smoking rate among Massachusetts high school students of $10.7% versus a national average among high schoolers of 15.7%. 
Anything that keeps kids off the cancer feed is good.

 

 

 

Blogster's Miscellany, or How FBI Could Be as Stupid as Any Other Outfit in History

Friday, May 15, 2015

‘DON’T WORRY, MR. HOOVER, WE’RE ALL OVER THAT DANGEROUS SONG.’  From the story of Whitey Bulger and the unfaithful federal agents he bent to his will, we know the Federal Bureau of Investigation is vulnerable to corruption.  From the story of Jack Ely, we know the FBI is vulnerable to idiocy.  Ely, who died last month at age 71 in Oregon, was the lead vocalist for The Kingsmen.  In 1963, he recorded a famously incomprehensible version of “Louie Louie,” one of the most frequently heard, not to mention overrated, songs of the Sixties and Seventies.  The way Ely performed it, you couldn’t tell what the hell he was saying.  Many listeners, straining to discern the messages they felt certain were hidden in the garble, concluded the words were dirty.  In 1964, an Indiana parent wrote to then Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy, complaining about “Louie Louie” and declaring, “The lyrics are so filthy that I cannot enclose them in this letter.”   RFK turned the matter over to J. Edgar Hoover.  Next thing you know, the FBI and other agencies were conducting a full-scale investigation, complete with serious attempts at decrypting the lyrics in an FBI audio lab.  In an obituary on Ely published April 29, the New York Times reported that, “…After more than two years and a 455-page report, the bureau concluded that three governmental agencies dropped their investigations because they were unable to determine what the lyrics of the song were, even after listening to the records at speeds ranging from 16 r.p.m. to 78 r.p.m.”  There’s no comparison between corruption in the Boston office and a crazy quest for evidence of obscenity in the agency’s Washington headquarters.  People got wasted in Boston.  Only time and taxpayer dollars were wasted in D.C.

THAT STATE HOUSE AIN’T ALL IT’S CRACKED UP TO BE: When interviewing the author of a book on the astronauts, Stephen Colbert, late of the Daily Show and soon to be David Letterman’s replacement, noted that more astronauts have come from Ohio than any other state.  Colbert asked, “What is it about Ohio that makes people want to flee this world?”  Observing recent developments in the legislature, it’s only right to paraphrase Colbert by asking, “What is it about the State House that makes people want to flee to city halls?”  Yesterday, The Republican newspaper of Springfield had a report on the latest legislator to announce his candidacy for mayor. Third-term State Rep. Mike Finn, who was just re-elected in November, will be a candidate for mayor of West Springfield this year.  “No matter how many miles I have commuted to Boston the last several years, I have never lost focus on what matters most to me – serving West Springfield and its citizens,” Finn was quoted as saying.  Given that it’s a four-hour commute to Boston, two hours each way, Finn may have unconsciously offered up a motivational key: the not-unreasonable desire to spend less time behind the wheel, dodging tractor trailer trucks on the merciless Mass. Pike.  Not two weeks ago, longtime State Senator Bob Hedlund, a rock and roll aficionado who can probably recite the actual lyrics of “Louie Louie,” announced he would be a candidate for mayor of Weymouth.  If his decision to take on the incumbent, Mayor Susan Kay, pans out, Hedlund would potentially put the Republican Party in a bind.  He is one of only six Republicans in the 40-member Senate.  Republicans will not have an easy time holding onto the seat if Hedlund, who has the gift of being effortlessly likeable, is not on the ballot in the Plymouth/Norfolk senatorial district.  Other legislators who have decided to run for mayor in their respective communities are Rep. Steve DiNatale of Fitchburg and Rep. Thomas Stanley of Waltham. And Rep. Paul Donato, according to the State House News Service, has said he is considering a run for the mayor’s office in Medford, which will be vacated at the end of this year by the dean of all Massachusetts mayors, the incomparable Michael McGlynn, who is retiring, like Rocky Marciano, undefeated. 

TRY TITLE ‘MADAME MAYOR’ ON FOR SIZE, MARTHA:  Looking at that open mayor’s seat in Medford, and recalling a recent news article in which former Attorney General Martha Coakley of Medford said she intends to keep trying to influence public policy in areas she cares about, I thought: Why not run for mayor, Martha?  I am serious.  Coakley still has much to offer the public, and she’s way too young to retire.  The problem is that most politicians are not willing ever to take what might be perceived as a downward step.  I contend, on the other hand, that the example of John Quincy Adams, the sixth President of the United States, should have long ago removed for all time the stigma from such a move in this great country of ours.  After losing his presidential re-election bid in 1828, Adams ran for the U.S. House of Representatives from Massachusetts and went on to serve with distinction for 17 years, almost nine terms, in what  was then often referred to as “the people’s House.”  He distinguished himself as a fierce and relentless enemy of slavery, driving his southern colleagues nearly out of their minds with anger.  (The defenders of that most odious of institutions were so rattled by Adams they passed a binding resolution preventing him from continuing to introduce anti-slavery resolutions.)  Martha, think about it.  There must be plenty of things in your city worth your fighting  for.

HAPPY THE MAN WHOSE BOYHOOD DREAM COMES TRUE: I don’t know how he did it. Mike McGlynn, who has served as mayor of Medford since 1988, has aged like every other mortal.  Unlike most of us, however, Mike retains a youthful delight with his lot in life.  Perhaps that’s the key to his equally phenomenal energy and popularity.  Upon the announcement of his decision to retire from politics, McGlynn was quoted by Wicked Local Medford as saying, “We live in a great city with a diverse population, rich with history, and I am grateful to all of Medford’s residents for the privilege to serve them.  I met President-Elect John F. Kennedy, on January 9, 1961, at the State house with my father, Jack McGlynn, who was then the mayor and the state representative, and with my godfather/uncle, State Rep. Michael Catino.  That night, before bedtime, I told my father I wanted to be the mayor of Medford.  He said, ‘Go to bed, we will talk about it in the morning.’  Thank you, JFK, Dad, and the City of Medford.”   

NEVER GOT THE MEMO ABOUT NEVER SAYING NEVER:   I like how he said it -- plain and direct, with no fuzziness or weasel words -- but I can’t figure out why he said it.  While being interviewed on stage at the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum on the night of April 21 by Boston Globe editor Brian McGrory, Governor Charlie Baker was asked if he would ever run for president of the United States.  “No, I’m never running for president,” he said without hesitation. “I had enough trouble running for governor.”  Very “unpolitical” of Baker, I'd say.  Why, so early in what is shaping up to be a very promising governorship, close off the possibility of serving in the world’s highest and most enviable office, especially when you belong to a party that is desperate for centrist, non-ideological, straight-shooting problem-solvers like yourself?  Why not at least leave the door open a crack and say something like, “I’m flattered even to be asked that question.  But it’s way too early to speculate on what I might do in the future.  I’m concentrating totally on my job as governor.”  Could it be that simple? Could Baker be different from most men and women who have ever won a race for governor, you know, the garden-variety, wildly ambitious folks who immediately indulge themselves in the fantasy, the dream, at least the glimmer of a dream, of one day occupying the White House?  As we chin-rubbers like to say, Time will tell.

 

 

Biz Groups with Statewide Outlook Cry for Solution to MBTA Quagmire

Friday, May 8, 2015

I am starting to think something might actually be done to fix the MBTA.  At the end of that process we might even have a public transportation system as good, say, as Chicago’s, where the trains don’t break down when it gets really cold and snow falls furiously from the sky.

I say that because Charlie Baker stuck his neck out a mile when he took “ownership” of the T:  the governor wants to get re-elected and could have a hard time doing that if obvious progress has not been made at the T by November, 2018.
I’m also encouraged that the state’s heavy hitters are trying to keep the spotlight on the MBTA at precisely the time when the longer days and warmer breezes of spring are otherwise softening our memories of what it was like to ride the T in February.   Even knee-jerk skeptics like myself, who suffer from acute post-mass-transpo traumatic stress syndrome, are already looking back on the winter of 2014-15 and saying things like, “You know, it really wasn’t that bad that night they put us off the trains and I was stranded in zero-degree weather for over two hours.  It wasn’t like I was being held hostage by terrorists or something.”

On April 29, a coalition of 25 business associations urged the governor and legislature to adopt the recommendations of the governor’s Special Panel to Review the MBTA.  It’s time to “swiftly begin the task of fixing the state’s public transit system,” coalition members said.
The Business Coalition, as it calls itself, includes the Associated Industries of Massachusetts, the 495/MetroWest Partnership, the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce, the Affiliated Chambers of Commerce of Greater Springfield, the Massachusetts Biotechnology Council, the Massachusetts High Tech Council, the Massachusetts Restaurant Association, the Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation, the Massachusetts Business Roundtable, the Retailers Association of Massachusetts, the Massachusetts Lodging Association, the Greater Boston Real Estate Board, and the Massachusetts chapter of the National Association of Industrial and Office Properties.

The statewide orientation of most coalition members is pertinent in the extreme as it evidences an historic co-dependence.  A high-functioning transportation system in Greater Boston is intrinsic to the health of the entire Massachusetts economy, and vice versa.
Here’s how the Business Coalition summarized the effects of the MBTA’s massive winter-time failure:

“The unreliability of our public transit system caused many businesses to lose substantial revenues from the loss of productivity due to delays and/or the inability of workers to get to work.  Many hourly workers forfeited wages; and the Commonwealth forfeited the income, sales and meals tax associated therewith.  A sub-optimal public transit system also caused roadways to be more congested than usual and commuting times to grow to unreasonable lengths for those who opted to drive or were transporting goods.  The adverse financial impacts totaled in the billions of dollars.  This is unacceptable and must not be repeated.”
This must be repeated: “The adverse financial impacts totaled in the billions of dollars.”

Here’s another, new way of measuring the benefits of good public transportation and the costs of bad.

The New York Times reported yesterday on the latest results from a long-term study of upward mobility by a team of Harvard academics.  Commuting time “has emerged as the single strongest factor in the odds of escaping poverty,” the Times said.  “The longer an average commute in a given county, the worse the chances of low-income families there moving up the ladder.”
Paraphrasing Nathaniel Hendren, a Harvard economist and researcher, the Times said: “The impact of transportation on social mobility is stronger than several other factors, like crime, elementary-school test scores or the percentage of two-parent families in a community.”

So, bad public transportation not only suppresses economic activity and reduces the tax revenue that supports all governmental services, it also makes it harder for persons to rise out of poverty and for poor parents to set their children up for better lives.
The state of the MBTA is a much bigger story than we customarily believe it to be. 

You can read that New York Times piece, “Transportation Emerges as Crucial to Escaping Poverty,” by going to:


 

House Budget Debate Flares into Actual Debate, re: Delay of Earned Sick Time Law

Friday, May 1, 2015

Republicans in the Massachusetts House made a spirited attempt this week to delay implementation of a new earned sick time law through an amendment to the House version of the new state budget, but with only ten Democrats voting for the amendment, it didn’t have a chance.

Will advocates of delay, who include a well-respected Democratic state senator and the Associated Industries of Massachusetts, the state’s premier business group, throw in the towel?  Or will they make another stab at postponement during upcoming Senate budget deliberations?

As we chin-rubbers like to say: time will tell.

The amendment in question would have delayed implementation of Chapter 505 of the Acts of 2014 for three months after the day on which the attorney general releases the final regulations spelling out how employers are to comply with the law.

Chapter 505 requires all businesses with 11 or more employees to give everyone 40 hours of paid sick time per year, and businesses with fewer than 11 employees to allow unpaid sick time of at least 40 hours.

In November, 2014, voters approved (59-41 percent) a statewide referendum mandating earned sick time across the board. The measure was subsequently codified in Chapter 505, with the stipulation the law take effect on July 1, 2015.  As is often the case, the law directed the attorney general to adopt rules and regulations necessary to carry out the purpose and provisions of the legislation.

Attorney General Maura Healey filed a draft set of Chapter 505 regulations with the office of the secretary of state on Friday, April 24, and announced a schedule of six public hearings where anyone may suggest changes to the regulations.  The hearings will be held at locations around the state, starting  May 18 and ending June 5.  Healey has said she will accept comments on the regulations through June 10 and expects to issue the final set sometime around the middle of June.  She has made it clear that, barring some new action by the legislature and governor, the law will go into effect on July 1.

It should be noted that, under the draft regulations, employees would begin to accrue sick time on the dates they were hired.

House Minority Leader Brad Jones of North Reading originally filed an amendment to the House budget that would have delayed implementation of Chapter 505 until January 1, 2016.  He subsequently changed the wording so as to delay implementation until “90 days following the promulgation and release of regulations by the office of the attorney general…”

Thus, if Jones’s amendment had been adopted in the House, and if a similar measure were adopted in the Senate, and if the governor were to approve that measure as part of the overall new budget, Chapter 505 would take effect sometime in mid-September, rather than on July 1.  We’re talking a two-and-a-half month delay here.

Just after 2:00 P.M. this Wednesday (April 29), Jones rose on the House floor to explain the amendment.  He said, in part, “Just this week the regulations came out in a draft form for a public comment that ends in June. So the regulations wouldn't be finalized until just days before this takes effect, so businesses will have only a matter of days to make changes to payroll and how they run their business.”

Jones emphasized, “This (amendment) does not seek any changes to the law made by voters. I'm sensitive to the fact that voters chose this law. But the regulatory framework is far behind, especially as this chamber has kept treble damages. I'll harken back to the tech tax and it took effect before the Department of Revenue even knew what it all meant."

[NOTE:  All statements by legislators quoted in this post have been excerpted from a State House News Service account of the proceedings in the House on the afternoon of April 29.]

Rep. John Scibak, a Democrat from South Hadley, spoke next.  “It's an interesting situation that we're in,” he said. “We had a referendum vote in November. The vote was clear. The gentleman (Jones) said we're not changing anything. In reality we are. Suspending this for 90 days means an employee can't accrue that sick time. It's true the regulations were released Friday. The attorney general is seeking feedback on the draft. We should let the process play out. We're looking at a change based on speculation. So we’re being asked to delay this without any hearing, any input, but just a feeling.”

In reply, Jones said, “I appreciate the comments of the gentleman from the west, but are they saying the draft regulations are a done deal and the public comment period is a ministerial fa├žade? That concerns me. It sounds like we don't care. We know what the regulations are. They came out last Friday. Look at the tech tax, done in a rush. We're not proposing one i or dot be changed. We just say let there be a 90- day period as there is with most laws we pass, so people know what the ground rules are. I don't think that's unreasonable.”

With the “tech tax,” Jones was referring to a controversial 6.24% sales tax on a range of computer and software services, which was passed by the legislature early in 2013 as part of a transportation infrastructure funding bill.  Once the business community realized the impacts the tax would have, it mobilized against the law in a way seldom seen in Massachusetts.  Many businesses threatened to leave the state if the law stayed on the books.  The legislature quickly repealed it, and the governor just as quickly signed the repeal into law.

Rep. Sheila Harrington, a Republican from Groton, said, “What we learned from the tech tax was that we found out we made a few mistakes and we repealed it. Let's make sure we don't have egg on our face three months after the law is implemented. I think the tech tax taught us a lesson. We don't know all the facts right now, and we may have a lot of problems with the implementation.”

Rep. Kenneth Gordon, a Democrat from Bedford, said, “This is a matter of carrying out the will of the ballot initiative. And we're talking about calculating dates, here.  In 90 days, there are people who will get sick. The balance is important to take into account. People who are getting sick are relying on this.”

Rep. Shauna O'Connell, a Republican from Taunton, said, “I think it's interesting that there is talk of not ignoring the will of the voters, but that certainly did happen when voters decided to roll back the income tax to 5 percent. That was supposed to be a temporary tax. Now we're not going to give the business community a break. This does a great injustice to the small business communities, to people who are self-employed. Ninety days is perfectly reasonable.”

Rep. Denise Provost, a Democrat from Somerville, said, “…the analogy to the tech tax is not a good one at all. There is no ambiguity in the parameters of the sick leave law. It was clear on the ballot.
Whereas (with) the tech tax, it was never clear what the entity was that was going to be taxed, and that's why some of us voted against it.”

Rep. Byron Rushing, a Democrat from Boston, said, “I want to speak against this amendment because we do this process all the time and it is unusual that when we have laws passed by the people directly - and when was it passed? It was passed in November. In November businesses could begin thinking, What are the problems they need to solve to carry out this law in July?

“I don't know how many businesses belong to associations, but I do know that most of the organizations spent tons of money mailing me. They are out there working to change laws all the time. Most of the businesses in this state have sources. They have help in what they are asking for, changes in the preliminary regulations. If they are given another three months they will come to us at the beginning of the fall saying delay it again.

“Let us let the process go. Look at the preliminary regulations and give all the opinions they wish to give. Let's see what those permanent regulations are. If the attorney general is not having hearings, or it is a setup process like the minority leader suggested, then let us come back here. We're not going anywhere. We have a lot of work to do. But let us not assume that the system is not going to work. I think the system's going to work and I think we have time if, in some strange happening, the system falls apart and we come to the end of May and it looks like no one knows what they're doing.”

At Jones’s request, there was a roll call vote on the amendment, meaning every member in the House chamber at that time was recorded in favor or opposed.  This differed from the quick voice votes on which most budget amendments are decided in the legislature.

Forty-five representatives were recorded in favor of the Jones amendment and 114 were in opposition.  One member of the House, Edward Coppinger, a Democrat from Boston, was absent at the time.

Of the 160 members of the House, 35 are Republicans.

Of the 125 Democrats in the House, 10 voted in favor of the Jones amendment.  Those 10 are:

Bruce Ayers of Quincy, Thomas Calter of Kingston, Josh Cutler of Duxbury, Stephen  DiNatale of Fitchburg, James Dwyer of Woburn, Colleen Garry of Dracut, William Pignatelli of Lee, Dennis Rosa of Leominster, Walter Timilty of Milton, and Jonathan Zlotnik of Gardner.

 

 

My Top 10 Reasons Why Charlie Baker's Favorability Rating Is through the Roof

Friday, April 24, 2015

Earlier this week, Suffolk University’s Political Research Center released a poll showing that 74 percent of registered voters in blue-blue Massachusetts have a favorable view of Republican Governor Charlie Baker.

Better still for our rookie guv, 70% percent of respondents in the Suffolk poll approve of the way he’s doing his job, while only 6% disapprove.
Everywhere I went the last couple of days, folks were talking about Baker’s high “favorables.” They were all pontificating on why he became so popular so fast. 

Remember, this is a guy who won election barely six months ago by just over two percentage points.   
I hate it when people insist on giving me their opinions, as this cuts down on the time needed for what really matters: my opinions. I like to be in a position where I’m honoring the rule my father laid down when we were kids.  “When I want your opinion,” he would say, “I’ll tell you what it is.”
Well, sorry, Dad, for never shutting up. 

And, sorry, David Letterman, for using (misusing!) your formula to deliver my thoughts on this particular matter.

Herewith my top 10 reasons why Charlie Baker’s favorability rating is through the roof:

10. He did not go all Patton on us at the Framingham bunker this winter.
9.   He hasn't called anybody sweetheart in public since the campaign.

8.   He has not yet gone on an overseas "trade mission."

7.   He talks Charlie to legislators and makes them like it.
6.   His relatives and close friends have so far avoided embarrassing situations.

5.   He raised a quarter of a million dollars for charity by having a buzz cut.

4.   He exhibits a manly indifference to his appearance.  (See reason #5)
3.   His Eagle Scout-like fascination with solving problems is genuine.

2.   He did not blame or criticize predecessor for leaving him a $750-million budget deficit.
1.   He's crazy enough to want to own the disaster that is the MBTA.

 

Weld Poked for Comforting Dems...and Other Disparate, Attention-Grabbing Items

Friday, April 17, 2015

GROUP QUESTIONS EX-GOV’S GOP BONA FIDES: An organization that bills itself as “the Republican Wing of the Republican Party” is no fan of one of the most beloved Republicans in the history of Massachusetts, former Governor Bill Weld.  This past Monday, the Massachusetts Republican Assembly (MARA) issued a press release simultaneously congratulating Caroline Colarusso on her April 7 election to the Stoneham Board of Selectmen and blasting Weld for having endorsed Colarusso’s opponent, Michael Day, in the fall of 2014 when she and Day were battling for the House seat in the 31st Middlesex District (Stoneham-Winchester).  Day won that race and now sits in the House.  MARA President Mary Lou Daxland was quoted as saying, “Bill Weld kept her (Colarusso) out of the Statehouse, for now, but he couldn’t keep her out of City Hall.”  The release went on to say that “Mrs. Daxland’s comments concerning former Mass. Republican Gov. William Weld were made to underscore how voters are fighting back against a complacent MassGOP that has taken no action against Mr. Weld, who had once again stepped across party lines.  Last fall, Mr. Weld joined the Democrat opposition against Ms. Colarusso in her razor-close state representative race.  She was edged out by approximately 1% of the vote.  Mr. Weld has a history of supporting Democrats and ultra-liberal, big-spending tax raisers, including endorsing President Barack Hussein Obama.”  (Memo to MARA: Stoneham is a town, not a city; therefore, by your logic, Weld was unable to keep Colarusso out of town hall.)  If you wish to know more about MARA, visit its web site: http://massra.com

ONE OPENING CAUSES MULTIPLE MOVES: As we see, the Massachusetts Republican Assembly likes to credit Bill Weld for Mike Day being in the Massachusetts House, but, from another perspective, you can more easily credit U.S. Senator Edward J. Markey, the pride of Malden’s Edgeworth neighborhood, who, incidentally, got his start in politics back in the 1970s by winning a place in the Massachusetts House. When Markey ran for and won John Kerry’s Senate seat, State Senator Katherine Clark of Melrose ran for and won Markey’s seat in the U.S. House, whereupon State Representative Jason Lewis, D-Stoneham, ran for and won Clark’s seat, creating the opening for Day, who had previously run unsuccessfully for the Massachusetts Senate against Katherine Clark.

HE GOES WALKING, THEY ALL COME TALKING: Speaking of Ed Markey, our state’s junior senator was interviewed on the run by State House News Service reporter Mike Deehan when he was spotted in the corridors of the State House on Tuesday, March 31.  Asked the reason for being at the capitol, Markey said, “Just, you know, moving around, talking to people.”  That’s a pretty good definition of politics, or lobbying for that matter -- moving around, talking to people -- although neither is really that simple, or that easy.  Markey elaborated: “I’m meeting with legislators and talking about issues that might be of concern to them.  Just kind of listening and hearing what their concerns are, and their vision is, for the state and how the federal government can be helpful to them.”  While at the State House, he made separate visits to House Speaker Bob DeLeo and Senate President Stan Rosenberg.  It’s good to see that becoming a member of the Senate, 100 of the most special and most fawned upon persons in the world, hasn’t gone to Markey’s head. At 68, he’s still Ed from Edgeworth, moving around, all humble and helpful-like.  He’ll be unbeatable as long as he remains so.

BTW, CHUCK, ED’S TOTALLY WITH YOU: Notably, Ed Markey veered from local matters to the question of future U.S. Senate leadership during his impromptu conference with the State House News Service on March 31, and I wouldn’t say that was accidental.  As Deehan reported it: “Markey told the News Service he supports New York Sen. Chuck Schumer’s bid to become the next Democratic leader in the Senate after the retirement of Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) next year.”  Markey effused, “I’m a big Chuck Schumer fan.  He and I were elected to the House years ago and we’re very good friends.  And he’s going to be a truly great majority leader of the Senate when he takes over in January, 2017.”  That’s a twofer.  Schumer, who holds undergraduate and law degrees from Harvard, gets a puff of wind in his mainsail from a loyal friend and the loyal friend gets to show the folks back home he’s tight with the man who could replace Mitch McConnell at the top of the Senate heap.  Schumer holds the Number 3 spot in Senate Democratic leadership as vice chair of the Democratic Conference, behind Minority Whip Dick Durbin of Illinois. Interestingly, Schumer’s embroiled in a dispute with Durbin over a supposed commitment Schumer made to Durbin to keep him as whip when he takes over.  Politico reports that Schumer has angered Durbin by hinting he may favor Washington Senator Patty Murray as his putative second-in-command.  Markey no doubt is steering clear of that unpleasantness.
WORTHY FOOTSTEPS FOR FOLLOWING: Newly elected Lynn State Representative Brendan Crighton has a good head on his shoulders.  He aims to walk in the footsteps of his mentor, Lynn state senator Tom McGee.  Crighton, who served most recently as McGee’s chief of staff, told the Lynn Item, “I was with him (McGee) for nine years and he’s a person who has always done it for all the right reasons.  I’ve learned a lot from him, and I hope to model my career after him.”  Since Senator McGee learned at the elbow of his late father, legendary House Speaker Tom McGee, it can be said that young Crighton is treading in the footsteps of Speaker McGee.  The Speaker was renowned for his devotion to constituent services and for declaring any day a good day when he was able to help at least one person in need.

State GOP Can't Wait to Audit Auditor's Emails with Former First Deputy

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Given the number of public officials who have been hurt by something they wrote in an email, it only makes sense for Republicans to try to get their hands on any emails State Auditor Suzanne Bump, a Democrat, may have exchanged with a disgruntled former underling. 

With the casualness of everyday conversation and the permanence of a legal record, emails are almost always a disaster waiting to happen.
This past August, you may recall, Bump was sued by Laura Marlin, who had been her First Deputy Auditor and before that her campaign manager.

In early 2014 or thereabouts, the duo had some kind of falling out, which turned acrimonious, and Bump gave Marlin an ultimatum: resign or be fired.  Marlin resigned.  Shortly thereafter, she filed a wrongful termination lawsuit.
In the lawsuit, Marlin claimed, among other things, that Bump had pulled her punches during an audit of the Department of Children and Families (DCF) because many of the department’s employees are members of the Service Employees International Union and she hoped the union would endorse her re-election bid.  Bump denied it unequivocally.  “…I have never allowed any organization or individual to influence the conduct or independence of an audit,” she said.

On March 10 of this year, it was learned that Bump had settled the Marlin lawsuit out of court.  The State House News Service reported that Bump had agreed to a $115,000 payment to Marlin (one-third of which will go to her lawyers) and that the money would be taken from a state government account set up to cover such settlements.  The public is paying for this deal.
Asked if she was admitting any fault, Bump said, “No, absolutely not.”

The Republican Party promptly said it was “outrageous that Massachusetts taxpayers are being forced to foot the bill” for the settlement. Bump “needs to pay this settlement with her own funds,” it demanded.
With the Marlin lawsuit put to bed, there seems to be only one possible way now for the public to find out if there’s any substance to Marlin’s claim that Bump took it easy on the DCF to court favor with a politically powerful union: a public information request by the Massachusetts Republican Party to obtain copies of all messages via email between Bump and Marlin. The GOP filed the request last fall, shortly after Marlin sued. 

Even if Republicans find nothing that proves problematic, ethically or legally, for Bump, chances are they’ll find something that turns her face red and puts her in an uncomfortable media spotlight for a day or two.
Bump and Marlin were once very close.  Their alliance was sealed in the intensity of the political arena.  For a time, their futures were intertwined.  When relationships like that go bad, emotions tend to overflow and the principals tend to say things they later wish they hadn’t.