Boston Municipal Research Bureau 'Update' Has Me Thinking Thoughts of PILOTS

Monday, October 23, 2017

I always thought that hospitals and universities owned most of the tax-exempt land in the City of Boston.  Boy was I mistaken.

The total area of Boston consists of 47.84 square miles.  Of that total, 49 percent, or 23.44 square miles is tax-exempt.  And of those 23.44 tax-exempt square miles, only 4.98 square miles are owned by institutions devoted to medicine and health care, higher education, cultural pursuits and worship (churches, synagogues, mosques), etc.  The rest is mainly owned by the government.
I got this information from the latest (10-3-17) “Bureau Update” from the Boston Municipal Research Bureau, an independent organization that’s been keeping tabs on Boston’s finances since 1932.  Thank you, BMRB.

Here are some other things I gleaned:
  • The state government owns 48.5% of all the tax-exempt land in the city.
  • The city and federal governments own, respectively, 28.6%  and 1.6% of all the tax-exempt land.
  • The total assessed value of all the property in Boston is $190.3 billion.
  • Of all the property in Boston, the value of the taxable property is $138.1 billion, whereas the value of all of the tax-exempt property is $52.2 billion. (That’s a 72.6 to 27.4 percentage split.)
Many large owners of tax-exempt property in Boston make annual payments in lieu of taxes (PILOTS) to the city.

Every once in a while, an elected official at the local or state level will complain that PILOTS to Boston are way too small.  They will demand that the largest non-profits, for example, Massachusetts General Hospital, increase their PILOTS substantially; or, they will call upon the legislature to pass a bill stripping them of their tax-exempt status altogether. 
After a bit of media coverage, the issue dies down without anything having changed.

The City of Boston is doing very well today, so much so that its bid to be the second headquarters of Amazon is seriously considered as one of the two or three strongest in a nationwide competition.
Boston’s economy is really cranking and the city today is a far wealthier place than it was 25 (never mind 50) years ago.  To those of us who grew up in this area during the Fifties and Sixties, there is an almost OZ-like quality to Boston’s current wealth, appeal, confidence and national standing. 

I’m no economist.  But given how well Boston is doing, and given how much its hospitals, medical research centers, universities and cultural institutions contribute to the city’s success and appeal, I’d say there’s no case for increasing PILOTS or eliminating anyone’s tax-exempt status. The whole mix of property uses and tax categories in Boston, as old and idiosyncratic as it may be, seems to be working just fine.

You can find the complete update at:

http://bmrb.org/government-owns-79-of-bostons-exempt-area/
 

Let's Hope Moulton's View on Gun Slaughter Moments of Silence Is Contagious

Monday, October 2, 2017

Seth Moulton has the right idea about those weak and perfunctory and unproductive moments of silence at the Capitol after mass shootings like the one Sunday night in Las Vegas.

“As after #Orlando, I will NOT be joining my colleagues in a moment of silence on the House Floor that just becomes an excuse for inaction.  Now is not the moment for silence; it’s a time for action.” Moulton tweeted earlier today.
The action he referred to is voting on new gun control measures.  I like what Moulton’s doing but have to say good luck with that voting thing.

After more than 20 first graders were mowed down by a deranged young loner in Sandy Hook, Connecticut, in 2012, many thought it would be the atrocity of atrocities that finally spurred Congress to ban the sale of assault weapons.  Of course, we all underestimated the ability of the Republicans running D.C. to take massacres in stride.
Moulton, an Iraq War hero who represents the Sixth Massachusetts District, also tweeted, “Thinking of everyone in #Las Vegas, and praying Congress will have the courage to do more than stand in silence to commemorate them.”

Amen.

Moulton has been a Congressman for only three years, but he has a smitten national following so large and a buzz about him so insistent that many Millenials (Americans born from the mid-1990s to the early-2000s) are talking seriously about him as a Democrat candidate for President of the United States.
In the Sunday New York Times yesterday, Moulton was mentioned in an article in the Opinion section headlined, “Who Can Beat Trump in 2020?”  Here’s what the Times said about him:

“Seth Moulton…is a charismatic, intelligent Iraq war veterans who isn’t afraid to call out party elders like Nancy Pelosi.  He’s only 38, and it’s almost certainly too soon for him to have much of a chance of winning the nomination, but it doesn’t hurt to put his name into the 2020 veepstakes.”
Wouldn’t it be something if this exceptional man from Salem made it to a national political ticket.

FOOTNOTE: The online satirical newspaper "The Onion" had the most apropos headline on the horror in Las Vegas: 'No way to Prevent This,' Says Only Nation Where This Regularly Happens.

 

 

This Month in Corruption: Improper Billing, Double Dipping, Disability Faking, etc.

Saturday, September 30, 2017

A Dream Most Improper.  On September 4, announcements came from the offices of the U.S. Attorney for Massachusetts and the Massachusetts Attorney General that Dental Dreams, a national dental chain with locations in Massachusetts, had agreed to pay $1.375 million to resolve allegations that it improperly billed the Massachusetts Medicaid program, known as MassHealth, for unnecessary and unjustifiable dental procedures.

"Dental Dreams enriched itself at taxpayer expense by improperly billing Medicaid," said Acting U.S. Attorney William D. Weinreb.  "We will continue to work with our law enforcement partners to ensure that federal and state health care dollars are spent properly."

Dental Dreams "took advantage of a vulnerable patient population when it submitted claims to MassHealth for medically unnecessary and unreasonable dental procedures," said Harold H. Shaw, Special Agent in Charge of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Boston Field Division.  "Today's settlement underscores the FBI's commitment to investigate health care providers who overbill federal and private health insurance programs to maximize profits.  We urge anyone with information regarding overbilling practices to contact us."

A Different Kind of Vacation for Police Officer.  On September 7, a former lieutenant with the Quincy Police Department was sentenced in federal court in Boston after a jury found him guilty of collecting double pay in 2015.

According to the Office of Acting U.S. Attorney William D. Weinreb, Thomas Corliss, age 52, was sentenced  by U.S. District Court Judge Leo T. Sorokin to one year and one day in prison and one year of supervised release  In June, 2017, Corliss was convicted following an eight-day jury trial of 10 counts of mail fraud and one count of fraud involving federal funds.

A press release from Weinreb's office states that an internal investigation  by the Quincy Police Department revealed that Corliss had "double dipped," or collected double pay for working multiple details and/or police shifts that overlapped on multiple occasions in 2015.

While on vacation in the Bahamas and on Martha's Vineyard in 2015, the release states, Corliss left himself on the daily roster rather than using vacation time.

In total, Corliss defrauded the Quincy Police Department (and, by extension, the taxpayers of Quincy) of more than $8,000, according to Weinreb.

A 'Disabled' Officer Quite Able in Business. On September 8, Richard A. Mariani, age 76, a resident of Dennis and a former transportation security officer at the Barnstable Municipal Airport, pleaded guilty to one count of fraud in obtaining federal employee compensation, according to the Office of Acting U.S. Attorney William D. Weinreb. 

U.S. District Court Magistrate Judge M. Page Kelly sentenced Mariani on that day to six months of probation and ordered him to pay $38,052 in restitution to the federal Department of Labor.

Here's how Weinreb's office described the case against Mariani:

"From February, 2002, to February, 2011, Mariani was employed as a transportation security officer at the Barnstable Municipal Airport.  After a workplace injury in 2011 that he claimed rendered him unable to work and imposed severe limitations on physical activities, Mariani began collecting workers' compensation benefits.  However, in August, 2015, Mariani began providing lawn irrigation services to various clients who paid him in cash for his work.  In doing so, Mariani was engaged in many of the physical activities he previously claimed to be unable to do.  In addition, he lied on a form to the U.S. Department of Labor stating that he did not earn any income other than his disability benefits.  For August, 2015, to August, 2016, Mariani fraudulently received $38,052 in federal benefits."

A Shady Transaction at Social Security.  On September 29, Julio Klapper, age 40, a resident of Worcester and a former Social Security Administration (SSA) employee, was sentenced in federal court, Boston, to 15 months in prison and three years of supervised release, and was ordered to pay restitution of $70,337 and forfeiture of $17,800, according to the office of Acting U.S. Attorney William D. Weinreb.  Klapper had pleaded guilty in June, 2017, to one count of bribery "for accepting a payment for submitting a fraudulent claim for payment to SSA on behalf of a beneficiary," Weinreb's press release stated.

The press release explained that: "Between Aug. 30, 2016, and Sept. 27, 2016, Klapper used his position with SSA to submit a request for release of Supplemental Security Income Disabled Child (SSIDC) funds by falsely claiming that the person representing the child was purchasing a car for the benefit of the SSIDC beneficiary, even though Klapper knew that the child's representative was not intending to purchase a car with the SSIDC funds.  Klapper provided false documentation to the SSA in support of the submitted claim.  In exchange for Klapper's submission of the false claim and documentation, Klapper received $2,000 from the child's representative."

After Hurricanes, the MA-Puerto Rico Connection Comes into Sharper Focus

Friday, September 29, 2017

This past Wednesday, Jeff Sanchez of Jamaica Plain, a proud son of Puerto Rico and one of the most powerful members of the legislature, came to the podium in the House chamber to call attention to those in the Caribbean suffering greatly because of recent hurricanes.

“I stand here to ask for a moment of silence for the victims of Hurricane Irma, Hurricane Maria and the affected regions of the Caribbean, Puerto Rico in particular: 3.5 million United States citizens are crying for help right now in a way that so many of us would expect to be heard from this commonwealth if we were in the same situation,” said Sanchez, who was recently appointed chairman of the House Ways & Means Committee. 
“Puerto Rico is a United States territory, a commonwealth,” Sanchez continued, “and the U.S. citizens there are seeking help.  I want to thank all of you for the outreach and the outpouring of help so many have come to us offering.  Make no mistake, the (electric) lines are down, the communications are down, people are crying, people are hurting.  Hospitals are inundated with water.  I want to recognize this travesty with a moment of silence.”

That same day, Governor Charlie Baker telephoned Ricardo Rossello, Governor of Puerto Rico, to offer assistance in the island’s recovery effort.
Puerto Ricans are not just citizens who reside in a distant U.S. territory.  They have been, for generations, our neighbors here in Massachusetts.  According to the 2010 U.S. census, the last definitive national population count, two of the 10 U.S. cities with the largest Puerto Rican populations are in Massachusetts. Springfield is Number 4 on the list with 50,798 Puerto Ricans, (exceeded only by New York, Philadelphia and Chicago), and Boston is Number 9 with 30,201. 

The 2010 census pegged the total Puerto Rican population of Massachusetts at 266,125 -- 5.76% of our entire population at that time.    
I thought that the unprecedented damage done to Puerto Rico by Irma and Maria might bring the subject of statehood to the fore again, but so far that has not happened. 

Not four months ago, on Sunday, June 11, the latest in a widely intermittent series of plebiscites on whether Puerto Rico should try to become the 51st state was held.  Ninety-seven percent of the Puerto Ricans who voted that day favored statehood.  
Only the U.S. Congress can grant statehood. With Republicans controlling both branches of the Congress, nothing will be done any time soon to advance the cause of statehood because Puerto Rico would be entitled to two U.S. Senators and three U.S. Representatives. Republicans know that Democrats would be likely capture most if not all of those seats.

I think that’s too bad, not for partisan reasons, but rather for peace and prosperity in the Western Hemisphere and for the security of our nation.
A long time ago, a very astute person, my older brother, Jim, said to me, “I don’t know why we (the U.S.) spend hundreds of billions of dollars every year stationing troops overseas and keeping the sea lanes in the Middle East open for oil shipments.  We’d do way more for our security by building the best possible relationships with our neighbors in the Americas.  Think about it.  If the Canadians and the Mexicans and all of the people in the Caribbean love us and trust us, who could ever defeat us militarily -- or economically?”

Elevating the status of a strategically important island some one thousand miles from our shores, an island whose residents are already citizens of the U.S., would make us a stronger and safer nation in the long run.  It would also convey respect for all of the Spanish-speaking nations in the region, strengthening the peaceful bonds we have with them.

If anyone’s interested in contributing to the relief and rebuilding of Puerto Rico, one of the organizations worthy of donations is “United for Puerto Rico.”  For more information, go to:


 

  

 

It's Inevitable that MA Legislature Will Give us 'End of Life Options'

Forty-five of the 200 members (22.5%) of the Massachusetts legislature are sponsoring a bill, An Act Relative to End of Life Options, that would allow persons with terminal illnesses to get prescriptions for suicide drugs.

You will not find the words “suicide drugs” in the bill.  That’s my term. The bill calls these pharmaceuticals “aid in dying medication.”  To get them, a person would have to fill out a form that goes like this:
“I, [Insert Name], am an adult of sound mind and a resident of the State of Massachusetts.  I am suffering from [Insert Deadly Condition], which my attending physician has determined is a terminal illness or condition which can reasonably be expected to cause death within 6 months.  This diagnosis has been medically confirmed, as required by law.

“I have been fully informed of my diagnosis, prognosis, the nature of the aid in dying medication to be prescribed and potential associated risks, the expected result, and the feasible alternatives and additional treatment opportunities, including comfort care, hospice care, and pain control.
“I request that my attending physician prescribe aid in dying medication that will end my life in a peaceful manner if I choose to take it, and I authorize my attending physician to contact any pharmacist to fill the prescription.

“I understand that I have the right to rescind this request at any time.  I understand the full import of this request and I expect to die if I take the aid in dying medication to be prescribed.  I further understand that, although most deaths occur within three hours, my death may take longer and my physician has counseled me about this possibility.  I make this request voluntarily, without reservation, and without being coerced, and I accept full responsibility for my actions.”
The person seeking such medication would have to sign this form in the presence of two witnesses, who would also have to sign it.  The person would also have to be adjudged by a mental health professional fully capable of making the decision to end her life.

That so many legislators are sponsoring An Act Relative to End of Life Options does not mean the bill is an odds-on favorite for enactment during the 2017-18 legislative session.  But I would not be surprised if it does become law. 
When a referendum question to legalize physician assisted suicide appeared on the statewide Massachusetts ballot in 2012, it came within 2.3 percentage points of passing.  Physician assisted suicide -- again, my term; it is not found in the bill text -- has the feel of recreational marijuana prior to the election of November, 2016: an idea whose time has come. 

Laws like this are already on the books in California, Colorado, Montana, Oregon, Vermont, Washington, and Washington, D.C.
The Joint Committee on Public Health conducted a hearing on An Act Relative to End of Life Options on Tuesday of this week.  Among the many witnesses who testified in favor of the bill were Framingham State Rep. Christopher Walsh, who is undergoing treatment for Stage 4 Lymphoma, and Allison Scobie-Carroll, Massachusetts President of the National Association of Social Workers.  As reported by the State House News Service:

Walsh said, “I had to come to terms with this idea when I got this diagnosis, which is: Am I afraid of dying?  I’m much more afraid of not living well.”
Scobie-Carroll said, “Those facing a prognosis of death in just a matter of months, secondary to an illness that will erode their personal agency and quality of life should be afforded the ability to decide the manner in which they wish to die.”

The case against An Act Relative to End of Life Options is fundamentally theological -- and theology has never occupied a comfortable spot in our constitutional system.
Traditional Western theology holds that life is a gift from God, that human beings are incapable of comprehending God’s ultimate nature and purposes, and that human beings must not expropriate the powers of God but rather submit to God’s will and design, or else risk eternal damnation.

I or any number of my fellow citizens may bow to tradition, but so what?  America in its founding document committed itself to the pursuit of happiness (and, by implication comfort). 
Human beings have always had the ability to end their lives by means violent (rope ) or passive (self-starvation) any time they chose.  Today, however, we possess the blessings of pharmacology and may bring about our deaths quickly and nearly painlessly.  The desperation and fierce will needed to self-inflict fatal damage are no longer required.  Thus, it is only a matter of time before An Act Relative to End of Life Options or something like it is enshrined in Massachusetts law and more people start taking their own lives.

 

Voters Don't Seem to Be Holding Social Media Slip Against Rep in Mayor's Race

Thursday, September 21, 2017

If you’re running for public office and make a slip on social media, even a small one, it can take months to live it down.  Just ask Paul Heroux, who’s running for mayor of Attleboro and is the favorite in the race after Tuesday’s preliminary election in the town.

Three months ago, on Facebook, Heroux sent this message to a former girlfriend, thinking it was for her eyes only: “What you don’t know was behind the scenes I applied for a couple of jobs.  I have several job opportunities available to me in New York.  I don’t want to run for mayor.  I’d much rather go down there and rebuild with you.  I’m pretty sure that’s not an option though, for you that is. What do you say?”
Heroux accidentally posted the message publicly.  Within minutes, his political adversaries learned of it, and, within an hour, they were distributing print copies of it around town.  Heroux found out and promptly removed it from Facebook.  This all happened in the early morning hours of June 22.

With his commitment to a mayoral campaign questioned, Heroux did the best he could to explain away the situation.  According to an account in the Sun Chronicle newspaper, he said that he had made it clear when he first announced he was running for mayor that it was not a move he ever envisioned for himself. There are other goals in life he wanted to pursue, he told the Sun Chronicle, but he saw it as his duty to run.
The question dogged Heroux’s campaign and will continue to pose a problem for him until the final election on November 7, although probably not a fatal one.  On Tuesday, he topped the ticket in the preliminary, receiving 2,217 votes -- 251 more than the incumbent, Mayor Kevin Dumas, who received 1,966 votes.  The third-place candidate in the preliminary, retired Attleboro Fire Chief Ronald Churchill, got 587 votes.

You can be sure that Dumas, who’s been mayor for 14 years, will campaign hard to hold onto his job and not hesitate to remind voters that, mere weeks ago, Heroux was musing about starting a new life for himself in New York, so how seriously can he be taking this mayor thing?
On the last day before the preliminary, Heroux, interestingly, turned to Facebook to demonstrate how much he wanted to be mayor, posting an account of how he had just been bitten by dog while out on the streets campaigning.  The story was accompanied by photos of a bloody, torn sock and of Heroux in a medical office. 

“I have been bitten six times knocking on doors,” Heroux wrote.  “I still love dogs.  But if anybody ever questions whether or not I want to be mayor, they really should think again.”
Paul Heroux is one of the most highly educated members of the legislature.  He holds a bachelor’s degree in psychology and neuroscience from the University of Southern California, a master’s in criminology from the University of Pennsylvania, a master’s in international relations from the London School of Economics, and a master’s in public administration from the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard.  He’s 41 years old and has been in the House since January of 2013.  He’s at the point in life where most men and women do some very hard thinking about the direction of their lives and careers.  By deciding to stay in politics, he may well be closing down permanently routes to some very lucrative and exciting alternatives to public life.  I don’t feel bad for him because his political adversaries have been tormenting him with questions about his commitment to public service.  He brought the problem on himself. 

But it’s no big deal, and certainly no evidence of a character flaw, that he was privately weighing other options.  (Who, by the way, reading the message to the former girlfriend cannot be touched by the cautious hope of a reignited romance and a new life together in the capital of the world – the idea that he’d ditch politics for the woman he still loved but who may not love him?  Heroux, of course, is a Democrat.)  If I were a resident of Attleboro, I would not hesitate to give him my vote for mayor.

 

This Month in Corruption: Different Schemes to Yield False IDs, Free Cocaine

Thursday, August 31, 2017

Last December, with just a few days left in 2016, I decided to devote some time each month during the upcoming year to tracking new cases of public corruption and providing a summary of those cases in an end-of-the-month blog post for an entire year.

Out of simple curiosity, I’d been reading, for years, every press release out of the offices of the Massachusetts Attorney General, the Massachusetts Inspector General, and the United States Attorney for Massachusetts, a habit that always left me shaking my head.
I’d be amazed by how much corruption “business” these offices had and by how few of the corruption cases, whether they were at the point of indictment or sentencing or somewhere in between, were reported upon in the mainstream media. 

With the opportunity to be a breaker of news, albeit a modest one, I could not help but unleash “This Month in Corruption” on an indifferent world.  It’s been an interesting exercise, bordering at times on the comedic.  [Think “the gang that couldn’t shoot straight.”]  More often it’s been rather depressing, which is why I’ll close it down on 12-31-17. 
Now to our fleet-footed Month 8:

Aggravated Identity Theft.  Who Knew There Was Such a Thing?  This month was only two days old when word came from the U.S. Justice Department that four employees of the Massachusetts Registry of Motor Vehicles (RMV) were among six persons arrested and charged with aggravated identity theft in connection with an alleged scheme to produce false identification documents. 
According to the State House News Service, federal authorities allege that Bivian Yohanny Brea, 41, and Rafael Bonano, 32, also known as “Flako,” conspired with four RMV clerks, who were identified as: Evelyn Medina, 56; Annette Gracia, 37; Kimberly Jordan, 33; and David Brimage, 46.

The Department of Justice claims that Bonano sold Puerto Rican birth certificates and U.S. Social Security cards to Brea for about $900, and that Brea then sold the stolen identities for more than $2,000 to clients seeking legitimate identities in Massachusetts.  The department further alleges that the employees in question accepted cash to use the stolen identities to illegally issue authentic RMV documents, including driver’s licenses and state ID cards.
There’s a mandatory minimum sentence of two years in prison for persons convicted of aggravated identity theft, which none of the above have yet been.

Shady Cops Squeezing Drug Dealers.  Everyone Knows There Is Such a Thing. The U.S. Attorney’s Office announced earlier today (8-31) that John Desantis, Jr., 45, a resident of Methuen and a member of the Lawrence Police Department for 16 years, had agreed to plead guilty to the crime of using his official position to extort cocaine from a drug dealer.  The charge against him is one count of “extortion and attempted extortion under color of official right and through the use of threatened force and fear.”
U.S. District Court Judge Dennis Saylor, IV, deferred acceptance of the guilty plea until Desantis’s sentencing hearing on Nov. 17.

According to federal prosecutors, Desantis purchased small amounts of cocaine from a drug trafficker once or twice a week for 10 months to a year without identifying himself as a police officer.  However, during a drug deal at his home on May 16, 2016, federal prosecutors said, Desantis displayed his badge and firearm, seized his drug dealer’s cocaine, and threatened to arrest the trafficker if he did not continue to supply drugs to him. 
The U.S. Attorney’s Office said Desantis will be sentenced to no less than 12 months and no more than 18 months in prison, should the court accept his plea.