His Mighty Deeds for GOP Forgotten, Weld Needed Dem to Get on Ballot Here

Tuesday, December 31, 2019

With dignity and utter seriousness, Mayflower descendant William F. Weld soldiers on, Quixote-like, in his doomed quest to take the Republican nomination for president from Donald Trump.  The man who began and made possible a long reign of Republican governors in a state dominated by Democrats remains overlooked by the media and dismissed by the mass of Republicans, in Massachusetts and around the nation.  The Trump-drunk legions heap scorn upon him.  No matter: Weld's stature as a human being is now in inverse proportion to the size of his political prospects.

In the Massachusetts presidential primary election on March 3, 2020, Weld's name will appear on the Republican ballot, along with that of Trump and Joseph Walsh, a former Illinois congressman and Tea Party darling.  Weld owes that accomplishment to Massachusetts Secretary of State William Galvin, a Democrat, who exercised his right under state law -- in the case of Weld and others -- to put a candidate on the presidential primary ballot if that candidate is "generally advocated or recognized in national news media throughout the United States."

Earlier this month, the Massachusetts Republican Party, in accordance with state election law,  submitted its list of credible Republican presidential primary candidates to Secretary Galvin.  That list had only one name on it, President Donald J. Trump.

Jim Lyons, former Republican rep from Andover and current Republican Party chair, said in his submission letter to Galvin that "Having a sitting President as the only name on the potential candidate list is not unprecedented, and is in fact, an established procedure."  In that letter, Lyons also said:

"As you are certainly aware, according to your office's own archives, during an incumbent presidency neither political party has submitted names other than that of the incumbent, first-term president.  We will follow set protocol and do the same, as has been done in 2012 under Democratic President Barack Obama and in 2004 under Republican President George W.  Bush."

Such an explanation seemed intended by Lyons to inoculate himself against complaints that he was being unfair and/or disrespectful to Weld, an Olympian figure, a certifiable hero, in the history of the Republican Party of Massachusetts, and, not for nothing, the person who brought current Republican Governor Charlie Baker into public life in 1991 and who inspired Baker to run for governor himself (unsuccessfully in 2010 and successfully in 2014 and 2018).

Weld is truly Baker's political godfather.  The two share a deep respect and affection.  It must have pained Baker to see his mentor slighted by their own party's hierarchy.  Then again Baker has had his own difficulties with Lyons, a natural contrarian.

Lyons has a gift for making enemies almost equal to that of 2016 Republican presidential candidate Ted Cruz, the senator from Texas whose campaign in Massachusetts campaign Lyons headed.

Lyons may take refuge behind the cool reasoning of his Galvin letter. Political observers know better: Lyons can't stand Weld and is eager to stomp on his presidential dreams.  The letter also gave Lyons an opportunity to demonstrate to Trump that his days as a Cruz acolyte are far in the past and that Trumpism is now his heartfelt creed.

Question: Does Trump love anything more than when a former foe goes all Lindsey Graham on him and turns lapdog?  (When Lyons ran for chair of the party in January, 2019, the Trump administration was on record as favoring his opponent in that race, Brent Anderson.)

On Feb. 15, 2019, Weld announced he was running for the GOP presidential nomination. Before the sun set on that short winter day, Lyons had issued a statement predicting that "his (Weld's) self-seeking ploy to divide Republicans will fail." He added:

"Weld is the same ex-Republican who deserted Massachusetts for New York; who endorsed President Barack Obama over John McCain for President; who renounced the GOP for the Libertarian Party; who ran against the Trump-Pence ticket in 2016, while cozying up to Democrat Hillary Clinton.  After abandoning Republicans, Democrats and Libertarians, Weld demands that faithful Republicans consider him as their standard bearer.  Even Benedict Arnold switched allegiances less often!  We Republicans will put partisanship aside, reach across the aisle to Democrats and Libertarians, and reject Bill Weld."

During his time in the House (2011-18), Lyons had more than his share of enemies.  They included a significant percentage of the small contingent of House Republicans and of House Republican staff members.  That 2/15/19 statement reminded me why. Lyons always had the knife out.  Give him this: he has a flair for political invective, and speech of that nature is often exciting/entertaining.

If Lyons's slashes and the skirmishes around the primary ballot bothered Weld, there's scant sign of him countering the blows or complaining.  That's another thing to admire in our former governor: he almost always greets the pain of politics with bemused silence or light-hearted rejoinders.

Minimum Wage Earners Will Be Toasting the New Year, Though Not with Champagne

Friday, December 27, 2019

There are 400,000-plus Massachusetts persons who have good reasons to be looking with eager eyes to the new year.

These are the folks who, slugging it out every day at minimum wage jobs, will be getting a legally mandated increase in their hourly pay, from $12.00 to $12.75, as of Wednesday, Jan. 1.

A minimum wage earner who works 40 hours a week will thus see her weekly before-tax earnings jump by $30, or $1,560 for the entirety of 2020.

Grossing $30 more a week may not sound exciting to most of us.

But for those at the bottom of the pay ladder, that thirty bucks is a big deal -- perhaps even the difference between making their rent on Feb. 1 or facing eviction, homelessness and all the sorrow and indignities that involves.

In 2018, the Massachusetts legislature passed, and Governor Charlie Baker signed into law, a bill that is, in five yearly increments of 75 cents, hiking the minimum wage to $15.00 by Jan. 1, 2023.  (The first of those increases took place on Jan. 1 of this year.)

The Massachusetts Budget and Policy Center, a non-profit that advocated long and hard for the $15 minimum wage law, earlier this month produced a helpful analysis of the impact of the imminent increase to $12.75, which showed that:

  • 420,600 workers statewide will be getting this raise
  • Cumulatively, it will be putting $410 million more in people's paychecks over the course of the year
  • 45% of workers getting the raise are employed in food services, and 25% in retail 
  • Among those benefitting here, 89% are adults, 40% are persons of color, 60% are women, and 79% have at least a high school education

In a Dec. 23 press release, Marie-Frances Rivera, president of the Massachusetts Budget and Policy Center, said, "This planned increase in the minimum wage will make it easier for our lowest paid workers to make ends meet.  Though, more still needs to be done to ensure that in a high-cost state like ours, we can achieve a truly inclusive economy that works for everyone."

The Center points out that Massachusetts is one of several states that will see an increase in the minimum wage in the New Year, and that California and Washington state will have higher hourly rates than Massachusetts, at $13.00 and $13.50, respectively, as will the nation's capital, the District of Columbia, where workers are already earning $14 an hour and will get a raise to $15 on July 1, 2020.

When I toast the New Year next Tuesday night, I'm going raise at least one glass to a "truly inclusive economy" and ponder the dumb luck that has spared me from every having to get by on only the minimum wage.  

To view the analysis cited above, go to www.massbudget.org. Click on "Research Areas," click on "All Reports," then click on "Impact of the Increase in the Massachusetts Minimum Wage to $12.75".

It Says Here 'Teflon Charlie' Won't Seek a Third Term

Thursday, December 19, 2019

If the careers of successful governors in recent times are a reliable guide -- and I believe they are -- Charlie Baker would be an odds-on favorite to win a third consecutive term if he sought re-election in 2022.

Item: Smart Politics reported back in March of 2017 that "Governors seeking their third consecutive four-year terms have won nine elections in a row since 1994 and 20 of 24 dating back to 1970."

Since taking office in January of 2015, our governor has maintained a remarkably high level of popularity with the electorate, polling early on as the most popular governor in the nation.

Back then, many professional pollsters and political know-it-all's predicted that Baker's approval rating would inevitably, swiftly tumble.

Boy, were they wrong.

Two months ago, for example, 73% of registered Massachusetts voters approved of the job Baker is doing in a Morning Consult poll.  The Boston Globe article (10-17-19) on that poll appeared under this headline:

Teflon Charlie: Baker sky-high popularity holds amid RMV scandal, T troubles

Baker's finishing the first year of his second term and he has not ruled out running again. Based solely on gut instinct, I believe this term will be his last.

My reasons are like me: simple and obvious.

First, Baker will be 66 years old in 2022 and it will be time for him to make some serious money again... because, one, he can, and, two, he'd be crazy not to maximize his earnings then for the sake of himself, his wife, their children, and their children's future children.  As governor, Baker earns $185,000 a year.  For an indication of what he could be earning, look at what he made as chief executive of Harvard Pilgrim Health Care: well over a million dollars a year during his final years there.

Two, Baker will be pretty tired by 2022 of working as hard as he does at being governor, of dealing with the endless frustrations of running the vast state bureaucracy -- How would you like to "own" the MBTA and the Registry of Motor Vehicles, not to mention the Department of Children & Families? -- and of feeling, in his heart of hearts, that he is not sufficiently appreciated for the caliber of his intelligence, the depth of his knowledge and experience, and the squeaky cleanness of his ethics.   Try as he does to conceal it, and to present as just "one of the guys" in public, Baker is almost always the smartest human being in the room.  Three years from now, I say his ability to suffer fools gladly will have been totally exhausted.

There's going to be a hell of an election for governor of Massachusetts in 2022, a race that will likely see Charlie Baker campaigning dutifully hard for his lieutenant governor and mutual admirer, Karyn Polito, versus our attorney general (and also Baker's mutual admirer and fellow Harvard alum), Maura Healey.  Let the fundraising begin!

Governors Fill Register of Probate Vacancies, Artfully

Saturday, November 30, 2019

Gina DeRossi was far into her second six-year term as the elected Register of Probate for Bristol County when word came she was in line to be the next administrator of the Massachusetts Appeals Court.  This is a coveted, highly compensated ($161,180 per year) position in our court system.

Mark Green, Chief Justice of the Appeals Court, made the news official on Oct. 31, 2018, when he announced the DeRossi appointment.

A graduate of Providence College and the New England School of Law in Boston, DeRossi seems to have been contemplating a switch to the appointed side of public service for quite some time: in 2017, she earned a certificate in judicial administration from Michigan State University.

DeRossi moved on, her longtime second-in-command, Assistant Register of Probate Jason Catron, became acting register, and the world went back to ignoring what happens in the Registries of Probate in Bristol and in the 13 other counties of the Commonwealth...until Monday, Aug. 5, 2019, when Republican Governor Charlie Baker announced he was appointing Taunton Mayor Thomas Hoye, a Democrat, interim Register of Probate in Bristol County.

The appointment was for the unexpired portion of DeRossi's term, which runs through 2020.  Hoye will have to run for the office next fall to hold onto it.  Most certainly he shall run.

The deadline for filing nomination papers for the fall 2019 elections in Taunton, including the office of mayor, was 5:00 p.m. on the day following Baker's announcement of the Hoye appointment, Tuesday, Aug. 6.

Immediately after Baker's announcement on Monday, Aug. 5, Taunton's Republican state representative, Shaunna O'Connell, announced she was running for mayor.

Democrats cried foul, claiming Baker had obviously given O'Connell a heads-up so that she'd be primed to obtain the signatures needed on her nomination papers for mayor and that other potential candidates would be disadvantaged, time-wise, in obtaining their signatures.

With typical hyperbole, Gus Bickford, chairman of the Massachusetts Democratic Party, said Baker's scheduling of the Hoye announcement was "the kind of tactic preferred by dictators."

Marc Pacheco, Taunton's Democratic state senator, said, "I clearly believe that there was an attempt to remove the voters from the selection of the person that would hold the seat and the office of the mayor."

Democrats accused Baker directly of elevating Hoye to clear the way for O'Connell to become mayor, but Hoye eventually let it be known that it was Lieutenant Governor Karyn Polito who initially approached him and inquired as to his interest in Register of Probate.  This was, I believe, a significant data point.

If the timing did give an advantage to O'Connell, it was small and not decisive.

Only 25 certified signatures are needed to qualify for a mayoral election in Taunton.  Any half-good politician can gather the signatures of 25 registered voters in his hometown in half a day or less.

By 5:00 p.m. on Aug. 6, O'Connell was one of four candidates who submitted nomination papers with sufficient signatures; the others were Estele Borges, a member of the Taunton City Council, Mark Baptiste and Peter Bzudula.

O'Connell and Borges finished number one and two in the Sept. 24 preliminary election. In the Nov. 5 final, O'Connell beat Borges by a better-than-two-to-one margin, 3,224 votes to 1,507.

For discussion purposes, let's say Charlie Baker does not seek a third term in 2022, in which case Karyn Polito would be the odds-on favorite to be her party's gubernatorial nominee that year.  A former state rep from Shrewsbury, Polito is a shrewd politician, keen strategist, and prodigious fundraiser.

Let's say also that Polito easily doubled the value of the political IOUs she's holding here.

A popular, trusted leader in Taunton (Hoye) will be forever grateful to her for getting a better-paying, less-politically-risky job than mayor, while another such leader in the same community (O'Connell) will always appreciate that Polito made it a little easier for her to get her mayoral candidacy quickly off the ground.

No doubt Polito would have supported her fellow Republican in the Taunton mayoral race regardless of the circumstances or the opposition.  However, she would have perceived (and been comforted by) the negligible impact upon her of offending O'Connell's most likely opponent in that race, City Councilor Borges.  Borges, you see, had challenged O'Connell when she last stood for re-election as state rep, in 2018, and had lost to O'Connell by 26 percentage points.  Borges was likely to lose another contest with O'Connell undertaken so soon after the previous one.  Polito did not have to worry much about ticking off a future mayor.  


Register of Probate an Overlooked Gem in State Payroll Jewelry Case

Wednesday, November 27, 2019

If I believed in reincarnation, on my deathbed I'd pray to be a register of probate in my next life.

The job pays over $130,000 a year, has good benefits, and comes with the kind of pension one can no longer find in the private sector.  And a register of probate's term runs for six long years. That's like the longest time you get in elective office around here.

Consider also the job's low-low profile and how that automatically improves an incumbent's odds of being re-elected.

In Massachusetts, there are 14 registers of probate, one for each county. Do you think one person in a hundred in any county could tell you the name of his/her register of probate?

You disappear in plain sight on becoming a register of probate, meaning you duck the contentious issues of the day and avoid the prying eyes of media scandal mongers.  This job entails zero risk of offending large segments of the public.  How good is that.

I'm not saying registers of probate don't do much or are unimportant.  Their work, while lacking excitement, is significant and vital.

Thinking about writing this post, I looked up stuff on the Internet regarding the responsibilities -- the purview -- of a  register of probate.

One of the most succinct descriptions I found was from the archives of WGBH radio, 89.7.  In a September 10, 2014, report on "Bottom of the Ballot" races,  Edgar B. Herwick, III, wrote:

"Getting a divorce? Probate court.  Want to establish a will?  Probate court.  Collecting your inheritance?  Adopting a child?  Changing your last name?  Probate court."

I found a longer, good explanation in an August 22, 2018, interview by reporter Brian Dowd of the Martha's Vineyard Times with two candidates then running for the position in the Democratic primary in Dukes County, Acting Register of Probate Daphne DeVries and challenger Gail Barmakian, an attorney and select person in Oak Bluffs.  Responding to "Why are you running?", Barmakian said:

"The mission of the Probate and Family Court is to deliver timely justice, equal access and assistance with impartiality and respect, which begins at the Probate and Family Court Office.  The Register of Probate is, in essence, the face of that court, and is responsible for seeing that the duties and responsibilities of the office are carried out.  This includes ensuring that paperwork is in order and meets the criteria set out by rules and policy, managing the efficient flow of cases, prioritizing time-sensitive issues, handling matters that are emotional and troubling, with respect and impartiality, and helping to effectuate the just and speedy resolution of family law cases when possible.  The jurisdiction of the court is broad, and doesn't only address the probate of estates, divorces, and child-related issues.  It includes the real issues we see today: providing for elders who can no longer care for themselves; providing for the children of parents who cannot manage them; providing for unmarried couples and the issues of their children when the parents cannot agree; providing for estates for those who have passed away and the aftermath; providing for real estate matters when the owners cannot agree; and consideration of the law as it addresses domestic violence here in our community and throughout the Commonwealth.  As an attorney and an elected public official who is faced with addressing these problems, I believe my qualifications are best suited to fulfill the role of Register of Probate."

If I lived on Martha's Vineyard, I think I would have voted for Barmakian due solely to the breadth and cogency of that response.  I would have been in the minority.

Illustrating that it's hard to lose one of these jobs, Acting Register of Probate DeVries bested Barmakian in the primary, 2,210 votes to 1,636. In the November final, DeVries was unopposed.

BTW, you don't have to be an attorney to run for and serve as a register of probate -- yet another reason every jealous knucklehead can dream the register of probate dream.

Surprise! Deval Patrick May Lead Strike from the Center Against Warren.

Monday, November 11, 2019

The reason for President Trump's Ukraine caper can be summed up in 10 words:  Trump would rather run against Elizabeth Warren than Joe Biden.

Amazingly, Democratic primary voters may grant the president his wish -- but not if the Mike Bloombergs and Deval Patricks of the world have their way.

Yes, I said Deval Patrick.

There were reports just a few hours ago that our former governor is reconsidering his decision not to seek the Democratic nomination for president in 2020, his good relationship with our senior U.S. Senator, Ms. Warren, notwithstanding.

Were he to declare, Patrick would immediately become a contender in New Hampshire's first primary.  He's well known there from eight years as the governor next door.

Patrick has to act fast: the deadline for entering the NH primary is this Friday, Nov. 15.  We'll know soon if he's in or out.

What Patrick obviously shares with Bloomberg (and millions of other Democrats) is a concern that Warren is like someone Trump would order up from Rent-a-Candidate, that is, she's the perfect size for the socialist clown costume Trump has ready for her in his armoire.

Now, I have great respect for Warren.  I love the way she clawed her way up from near-poverty in Oklahoma.  I admire her greatly for being super-intelligent, unpretentious, tough-minded and pretty much invincible on a Democratic debate stage.

So, I'll let someone else's words encapsulate why she would likely not stand a chance in November of 2020 against Trump.  Here's New York Times columnist Bret Stephens in an October 25 piece titled, "Elizabeth Warren Wants to Lose Your Vote":

"You don't have to think that fracking is an unalloyed blessing -- much less deny that tough safety standards are necessary -- to acknowledge its benefits.  You might also argue that curbs on oil and gas production are needed both to preserve the environment and accelerate a transition to renewables.  Fine.

"Yet it takes a peculiar sort of political audacity to pledge, as the Massachusetts senator did last month, to 'ban fracking -- everywhere.'  Warren also favors a ban on fossil-fuel exports -- another U.S. industry that has seen dramatic growth in recent years -- and a 'total moratorium' on new fossil fuel leases on federal lands, which generate billions every year in federal and state tax revenue.

"American Indian tribes also got about $1 billion from those leases in 2018.  Isn't the Warren campaign supposed to be about sticking it to richer Americans instead of poorer ones?

"That's a question that would-be Warren supporters might ask a little more insistently as she approaches front-runner status.

"Take health care.  As an ethical matter, it may be defensible for Warren to argue that Medicare for All is fairer than the current system.  As an economic matter, she could be right that overall costs will come down under her scheme.  And as a political matter, it isn't surprising that she has been less than forthright about the middle-class tax increases her plan will require.

"But what about the fact that Warren isn't merely proposing a dramatic change in the way 170 million or so Americans obtain health insurance?  She is advocating the abolition of an entire industry, one that employs approximately 550,000 people.  Whatever one thinks of health-insurance companies (and most Americans seem satisfied with the coverage they have), isn't it worth wondering what these half-million workers might do with themselves after being put out of work -- or, as voters, what they might think of Warren's designs for their future?

"Then there's big tech, another industry Warren doesn't like and promises to 'break up' by turning Facebook, Amazon and Google into regulated utilities.  For this task, involving some 800,000 workers and companies with about $500 billion in revenues, she has...a 1,700-word plan."

Democrats, I think, ought not give Trump what he most desires in a Democratic opponent.

That Deval Patrick feels that way -- and that he is seriously contemplating a leap into the race at this late date -- suggests that Warren's candidacy may never get stronger than it is today.

More Blogster's Miscellany -- Meaning More to Shake Our Heads At

Sunday, October 27, 2019

COME ON GUV, GET STUPID AND GET INVOLVED: The leadership of the Massachusetts Democratic Party regularly goes through the political equivalent of a high-intensity aerobic workout trying to tie Charlie Baker to Donald Trump. If I saw someone at a health club straining as hard as some Dems do when arguing that our governor must do more to distance himself from our president, I'd hand him a bottle of cold water and beg him to take a breather. Example:  In an interview broadcast Sept. 9 on WGBH radio, Baker responded "I don't want to get involved" when asked if he'd be comfortable with the idea of a second Trump term.  Before the day was over, Gus Bickford,  Democratic state party chair, released this boiling-hot statement:  "It is outrageous that Charlie Baker cannot tell his constituents whether he is concerned about the possibility that the most dangerous President this country has ever seen could be re-elected to another four-year term.  Trump is a racist who is pushing a nationalist agenda from the White House, but Charlie Baker doesn't want to get involved.  Trump attacks women and wants to defund Planned Parenthood, but Charlie Baker doesn't want to get involved.  Trump is attacking the transgender community, stripping people of basic protections, but Charlie Baker doesn't want to get involved.  Trump is ripping children from their families and putting them in cages, but Charlie Baker doesn't want to get involved.  It is disgraceful that Charlie Baker doesn't think the most consequential Presidential race of our lifetime is worthy of him getting involved.  Governor Baker's silence indicates that he is either worried about upsetting the extreme right-wing of his Party, or he supports his party's President."  Three years of this stuff hasn't had an impact on Baker's poll numbers.  Maybe it's time, guys, to try something new?

MAYBE THEY HAD A REASON AND FORGOT IT: Two members of the Governor's Council, that living fossil of the Massachusetts Colonial Era, have been voting no lately on authorizing the state's financial warrants.  And they won't say why.  State Comptroller Andrew Maylor wanted to smoke out the opposition, so he sent a friendly letter on Oct. 18 to all Council members offering to attend an upcoming meeting and answer any questions they may have.  Warrant naysayers Robert Jubinville and Marilyn Devaney have so far not reacted publicly to the Maylor mailer.  Warrants need to be authorized to pay state employees and state bills.  My guess is Jubinville and Devaney have a beef with someone on the state payroll or have developed a dislike for a particular state office or function.  Whatever's motivating them, you can bet your paycheck it is the opposite of profound.  This is the Governor's Council.  They don't have enough to do and no one pays them enough attention.  Mischief is inevitable

MITT COULDN'T MAKE JV AT TRICKSTERS U: By now you've likely heard that Mitt Romney, former Massachusetts governor and current U.S. senator from Utah, has been maintaining a secret Twitter account under the delicious name of Pierre Delecto.  This enabled him to comment anonymously on events and persons in the public sphere.  Romney himself set off the media sleuthing that showed him to be a "lurker" -- that's the slang term for secret Twitter users -- when, unprompted, he told a writer for the Atlantic that he owned such an account. He has to be the only high office holder in the land who'd tell on himself when engaging in the grey arts of political skullduggery, which is why I love the guy. Even when going rogue, he acts almost like an Eagle Scout. Newshounds carefully reviewed every tweet by "Pierre" and found nothing especially rotten, nasty or underhanded -- and nothing terribly interesting, either.

Blogster's Miscellany: Question Not to Ask Guv, and the Meanings of Ways & Means

Thursday, October 24, 2019

NOT HIRED FOR PUNDITRY: Be sure not to ask our Republican governor how he feels about the folks now running for president, including the two Bay Staters in the field, Democrat Elizabeth Warren and Republican Bill Weld, and the combustible incumbent from his own party, Donald Trump. Charlie Baker was on a live radio call-in show last week when someone phoned to ask, "Why do you think Elizabeth Warren would be a bad president?"  Baker bristled: "I've been very particular and specific...about staying out of presidential politics and I continue to plan to stay there because the one thing I do know is the minute I get into talking about presidential politics, that's all anybody's going to want to talk to me about every single day and I would much rather talk about issues that I was hired by the people of Massachusetts to work on."  There's a man who knows how to avoid tripping into hot water.  Which is probably why he remains, five years into his governorship, the most popular governor in the U.S.  Seventy-three percent of Massachusetts citizens contacted in a recent nationwide poll indicated they approve of the job Baker's doing.

RODRIGUES TAKING PASS ON PRESIDENCY: Chairing the Ways & Means Committee in either the Massachusetts House or Senate is a great way to become House Speaker or Senate President.  For proof, look no farther than the careers of the current Speaker and President, Bob DeLeo and Karen Spilka; both chaired W&M in their branches immediately before ascending to the top jobs. That's why something jumped off the page when I happened recently to be catching up on a profile of Senate W&M Chair Mike Rodrigues that ran late last winter in SouthCoast Today, ("Mike Rodrigues: The Westport centrist will now manage the state budget," 3-9-19), by contributing writer Susannah Subborough.  Rodrigues "sees the appointment to Ways and Means chair as the highlight of his career and said he is not interested in becoming Senate president in the future," Subborough wrote.  I was surprised he took himself so early out of a race that is likely six or eight years in the future. I find it hard to believe he's really ruled out a shot at the job for all time.  If so, it is a mistake and a shame.  Rodrigues would make an excellent Senate President one day.

RODRIGUES'S RISE IN A NUTSHELL?: In that same profile, Susannah Subborough wrote that Mike Rodrigues's "most notable success, and what many people believe is the reason Spilka picked him for Ways and Means chair," was his handling of the investigation into former Senate President Stan Rosenberg when Rodrigues chaired the (Senate) Ethics Committee.  She paraphrased Senator Mark Montigny, D-New Bedford -- "a close colleague and friend of Rodrigues," she called him -- as saying he did not think anyone managing the Rosenberg investigation would get through it unscathed, especially he (Montigny) and Rodrigues because they had been friendly with Rosenberg and had been appointed to important positions by him.  She then quoted Montigny directly: "I thought he (Rodrigues) would come out bruised, meaning there would be damaged relationships as a result. But he didn't, and I think that's why she (Spilka) picked him."

CENTRIST A BAD WORD FOR SOME: In a Senate dominated as never before by liberals, Mike Rodrigues stands out for his "centrism."  That's how he describes himself: centrist.  To some, that means he's really a conservative -- and really tight with a dollar.  Rodrigues does have a powerful instinct to save money during flush times, like our state has been experiencing now for a long stretch of years. The state's Rainy Day Fund is a thing of great beauty to Rodrigues. In this, he's like former House W&M chairmen Tom Finneran and Bob DeLeo.  Susannah Subborough, in that SouthCoast Today profile, cited a Commonwealth magazine column by Jonathan Cohn, chairman of the issues committee for the group Progressive Massachusetts.  Cohn wrote that progressives should  be concerned about Rodrigues's centrism and asserted that Rodrigues has a significantly conservative voting record.

YES TO POWERFUL JOB, BUT ONLY IF YOU CAN SAY NO:  The reality is that, when you are a major architect of the state budget as a W&M chair, you have to squash a great many of the pet spending proposals brought to you by your colleagues, men and women you've known for years and are very fond of in many cases.  This is not easy.  Many good and talented legislators could never do so.  Years ago, when Bob DeLeo was first appointed House W&M chair by then Speaker Sal DiMasi, the shorthand explanation around the State House was: "Bobby DeLeo was the only one of Sal's friends who could say no to people."   Like DeLeo, Rodrigues has the ability to say no and make people like it.  The strength of our Commonwealth depends upon it.

RODRIGUES KEPT HIS DISTANCE: Mark Montigny's comments on how well Mike Rodrigues handled the Ethics Committee investigation of Stan Rosenberg  -- who ended up resigning -- recalled for me the scene at the State House on a February afternoon in 2018, just before former Boston senator Linda Dorcena Forry gave her farewell speech.  Because the Senate chamber was undergoing major renovations, the speech was scheduled for the House chamber.  Didn't want to miss it, so I arrived early and put myself in a front row, center seat in the gallery, where I could almost reach out and touch the Sacred Cod.  I was well situated to watch senators (and others) file in and take seats.  Senators seemed to concentrate themselves at the back of the chamber, down on my left.  Rosenberg, who had voluntarily stepped down as president while the investigation was ongoing, arrived later than most, but well before Forry spoke.  He was warmly greeted by his longtime colleagues.  Some jumped up to shake his hand; some Rosenberg approached in their seats.  But Rodrigues remained in his seat and Rosenberg remained a safe distance from him.  It wasn't because they dislike each other; the opposite is the case, I am sure. It was because Rodrigues was leading the investigation, and, in those circumstances, had to keep a discernable professional barrier between them.

To Run or Not to Run? That Is the (Pretend) Question for JPK III.

Sunday, September 15, 2019

I guess it's possible to believe that U.S. Rep. Joseph P. Kennedy, III, is truly agonizing over his decision to challenge U.S. Senator Edward J. Markey in the Democratic primary next year.

It's also possible to believe that Donald Trump's face looks orange on TV because of Obama-mandated energy efficient lightbulbs (as the president told fellow Republicans yesterday in Baltimore).

Me, I'm keeping it simple.  This is the great-grandson and namesake of the patriarch of the Kennedy political dynasty.  If it seems like he's dragging out this decision to keep hogging the media spotlight, create suspense for the moment when he inevitably announces he's running, and torture his future opponent, it's because he is.

Old Joe wouldn't have had it any other way.

Joe the Third, most would agree, looked like a Senate candidate today when he left the Massachusetts Democratic Party convention in Springfield and walked across the street to address supporters at a "Jump in Joe" meet-and-greet, even though he coyly told them it was "not an easy thing" to make a decision on challenging Markey.  They no doubt felt his pain.

Markey has been in the Congress for 43 years -- longer than JPK III has been alive.  He's been a good senator, and before that, a good U.S. Rep.  There's no mandatory retirement age and no term limits for members of Congress.  Why shouldn't Markey run for re-election?

And why shouldn't anyone who dreams of replacing him run, too, despite hand-wringing from the likes of Barney Frank.  Frank and many others see a Kennedy-Markey primary in 2020 as a pointless, massive, destructive waste of Democratic campaign resources (money), given how ideologically close these two are.

House Speaker Robert DeLeo, a man who always thinks before he speaks, who always chooses his words carefully, had it right this past Monday when he was asked by the State House News Service if he will stand by the re-election endorsement he gave to Markey before JPK III told the world he was thinking of taking Markey on.

"I've known the senator since he was a congressman in my particular district," DeLeo responded.  "Known him for a period of time, respect the work he did.  In addition to that, I have to say I've also worked with and known Congressman Kennedy, as well, and respect the work he does in Congress, but I would also intend to keep my commitment to Senator Markey."

SHNS reporter Matt Murphy asked DeLeo if an intraparty fight for U.S. Senate in Massachusetts could be harmful to Democrats?  He would not be surprised to hear some people say that, DeLeo said, but he doesn't see it that way.

In our democracy, he said, "Everyone and anyone has a right to choose to run for whatever seat they wish to do so -- and that's the democratic way."

Joe Kennedy's great-grandson told reporters in Springfield today he doesn't "think primaries are something people should shy away from."

I'd think that, too, if I were a boyish 38 years old, had a beautiful head of auburn hair, and the Kennedy mystique emanated from me like a mysterious light.

Unlike his great-grandfather, young Joe is no businessman.  But it's not hard to see him sending a trusted underling to Markey one morning fairly soon with this message: "The boss says, 'It's nothing personal.  He's always liked you. It's just business.' He's announcing at noon."

Thoughts on Aviation's Importance and What Might Have Been for Revere

Saturday, August 31, 2019

Reading a press release the other day from the Massachusetts Department of Transportation on federal grants for improvements to ten "general aviation" airports in the state, I found myself thinking about the long-vanished airport in the city where I grew up.

The Revere Airport, in existence for only 34 years (1927-61), was located off of Squire Road (Route 60) on a site now mainly occupied by the Northgate Shopping Center.  It adjoined Rumney Marsh, a huge tidal basin and marshland on the back side of Revere Beach.  Within the marsh was a seaplane basin, remnants of which can still be seen from a passing vehicle on the Northeast Expressway.

Decades before tycoons began spinning dreams of travelling to meetings in Boston on seaplanes to the Seaport District, a.k.a. the South Boston Waterfront, there were seaplanes touching down in the great city of Revere, Massachusetts.

When he was looking for something to do with us after church on a Sunday morning, my father would drive with me and two or three of my brothers to the parking lot of the Revere Airport to watch planes take off and land.  An hour of this counted as real fun for kids in late-1950s America.

I don't know what fascinated us most about plane-watching in Revere.  It had something to do, I think, with the size of the planes -- they were so tiny against the immensity of the sky and seemingly so fragile as they bounced down on the runway -- and something to do with the great distances they may have traveled and the unknown places they may have visited.  They were marvelous machines from far away, imagination stokers.

Considering how much aviation and air travel have changed in the nearly 60 years since the demise of the Revere Airport, it's easy to dismiss that time and place as insignificant and quaint.

Had one now-forgotten-but-fate-making decision gone differently, however, we might be talking today about Revere as the home of one of the nation's (and the world's) super-airports and, hence, as an economic powerhouse.  

In 1939, Revere was under serious consideration as the site of Massachusetts's first state airport, a selection that fell to Jeffrey Field in East Boston, and that led, of course, to the colossus we know and depend upon today as Logan International Airport.

Revere Airport and Jeffrey Field did not differ much in 1939.  Revere Airport was a sleepy, small-time operation consisting of 156 acres of mostly empty land.  Jeffrey Field occupied 189 acres of smelly tidal flats, had one runway paved with cinders, and was used primarily as a base for the U.S. Army Air Corps and the Massachusetts Air National Guard, then the poor stepchildren of national defense.

No one could have foreseen in 1939 how important, how incredibly large, how far reaching aviation would become in the modern world, nor predict its contributions to our prosperity and way of life, nor fathom the ways it would affect our understandings of our planet and its distances...

And, as the August 28th press release I mentioned at the beginning attests, it is not just the Logans of the world that matter greatly to us.

There are 38 entities in Massachusetts categorized as "public use airports," not including airports like Logan and Hanscom in Bedford.  Collectively, they support more than 199,000 jobs, with $7.2 billion in total annual payroll, and generate annual economic activity totaling $24.7 billion, according to the 8-28-19 release, ("MassDOT Announces Award of $27 Million in Federal Aviation Administration Airport Improvement Program Grants").

The new Airport Improvement Program grants, or AIPS, in Massachusetts were as follows:
  • $904,000 to Barnstable Municipal Airport (Hyannis) to update its Airport Master Plan Study;
  • $1.8 million to Beverly Regional Airport to develop an Airport Master Plan Study and  reconstruct its runway;
  • $13.8 million to Fitchburg Municipal Airport to extend and reconstruct its runway and  rehabilitate its taxiway;
  • $1 million to Martha's Vineyard Airport to acquire an aircraft rescue and firefighting vehicle and conduct an environmental study;
  • $106,000 to New Bedford Regional Airport to install perimeter fencing;
  • $131,855 to North Adams Municipal Airport to install perimeter fencing and conduct a wildlife hazard assessment;
  • $53,550 to Orange Municipal Airport for an environmental assessment pertaining to a new hazard beacon light for navigation;
  • $152,292 to Plymouth Municipal Airport for the demolition of an existing administration building;
  • $2.3 million to Provincetown Municipal Airport to construct a taxiway, install perimeter fencing and do environmental mitigation work;
  • $6.9 million to Westfield-Barnes Regional Airport in Westfield for runway reconstruction and improvements.
Public use airport projects are eligible for AIP grants if they are included in the National Plan of Integrated Airport Systems.  Published every two years, this plan identifies public-use airports that are "important to public transportation and also contribute to the needs of civil aviation, national defense and the U.S. Postal Service."

This Moment in Corrution: Yet Another Misbehaving Home Health Agency

Thursday, August 22, 2019

In the latest announcement (Aug. 15) from Attorney General Maura Healey concerning the work of her department's Medicaid Fraud Division, we learn that a Boston-based home health company, Guardian Healthcare, will be paying $1.95 million "to resolve allegations that it filed claims for payment...that were not certified as medically necessary."

From April 2010 through July 2016, the AG's office said, Guardian "failed to obtain and/or maintain plans of care authorized by a physician for certain patients."

In order for a home health agency to bill MassHealth (the name we give to Medicaid in Massachusetts), a MassHealth patient's physician must review and sign a plan of care certifying that home health services are medically necessary.  Further, home health agencies are required to maintain good records for at least six years after care has been provided and claims for payment have been made.

In addition to laying nearly $2 million on the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, Guardian has agreed to implement "a multi-year, independent compliance program which will involve updating its policies and procedures, training its staff, and conducting annual audits to ensure compliance with federal and state regulations."

The AG's office said the Guardian settlement "is part of a larger effort to combat fraud in the home health program," and cited these other cases:
  • The conviction of the owner of a home health company in May on charges related to fraudulent billing to the tune of $2.5 million.
  • The payment in April of more than $10 million by two home health companies to resolve allegations of billing for unauthorized services.
  • The conviction of the owner of a Boston home health company in August of 2018 on charges stemming from a scheme "to steal millions from MassHealth."
At roughly $17 billion in total spending, MassHealth will account for more than 40 percent of the entire state budget during the current fiscal year, 2020.  (It's important to note that the federal government will reimburse the state for more than half of all that spending.)  The program covers 1.8 million Massachusetts residents, one in every four.

The latest available figures indicate that, in FY 2018, Healey's Medicaid Fraud Division recovered over $45 million for MassHealth.

Spending tax proceeds on the Medicaid Fraud Division is a good investment.  For every dollar earmarked by the legislature for this purpose in FY 18, the Division recovered $11 from the program's bad actors. 

If Former Gaming Chair's a Little Worried, Maybe We All Should Be

Friday, August 9, 2019

The Boston Globe's Shirley Leung had a great idea for a column this past week: invite Steve Crosby, the original (now former) chair of the Massachusetts Gaming Commission, to lunch at the newly opened Encore Boston Harbor casino in Everett and get his reactions to the Wynn Corporation's lavish gambling mecca on the Mystic, ("Ex-chief of gaming panel is wowed by new casino," 8-8-2019). It was Crosby's first visit to the completed casino.

Now, Crosby did a superb job as founding chief executive of the government entity that had the tall order of bringing casino gambling appropriately to life -- of actualizing the will and the vision of the legislature when, in 2011, it legalized gambling at one slots parlor and as many as three casinos in Massachusetts.

He has not yet received the credit due for his model service as commission chair. Over time, I hope what Crosby did in that high-pressure/high-stakes role will be seen in a proper light and he will be esteemed accordingly.

The best part of Leung's column, I felt, was its conclusion, where Crosby expressed concern that Encore Boston Harbor might not generate sufficient revenue to justify the Wynn Corporation's multi-billion-dollar investment -- that is, to make it sufficiently profitable in the eyes of those who make big investments in publicly traded companies. 

My long-lingering, oft-expressed fear that, one day in the not-too-distant future, we will see a casino rescue bill filed in the Massachusetts legislature seemed all of a sudden reasonable.

Excerpt from Leung:

"...then there's the question of whether Wynn Resorts can make a return on its investment.  When the company won the license in 2014, it planned to spend only $1.6 billion, not a billion dollars beyond that.

" 'It's got to cause everyone to pause,' Crosby said. 'Now we all just hold our breath and hope it works.'

"As for his role in shaping the state's casino industry, here's a bit of self reflection: 'Even with many years of experience in high level politics and public life, I underestimated the PR, political and legal maelstrom that establishing casinos would engender.  On top of it, I made my share of mistakes.  So how has it worked out?  I would say so far, so good.  But the truth is we will not know the long-term cost/benefit trade-offs of destination resort casinos for years or even decades.' "

We can thank Crosby for his honesty and candor. 

How's this whole thing with casinos going to work out for Massachusetts?  Who really knows?  Time will tell.

In the meantime, I'd say the odds of a bill being filed to reduce the level of taxation on gambling establishment proceeds from 25%, where it now stands, to somewhere between 15% and 20%, are better than even. 

If the rate isn't cut, gambling chiefs will say, many hundreds of casino and slots parlor jobs will have to be eliminated.

Consider that, in April, revenue at the MGM casino in downtown Springfield was $4 million lower than it had been in March, and that, in no month since it opened (in August, 2018), has MGM Springfield reached its pre-opening projections of $34.8 million in monthly gross revenues.    In April, for example, it grossed $21.8 million.

MGM Springfield officials say they are pleased with its overall performance.  How long will their patience last?

Pledge Dukakis Made 31 Years Ago this Summer Still Challenges the Nation

Thursday, August 8, 2019

More than 30 years have passed since Mike Dukakis was nominated for president by the Democratic Party.  He was in his third term as Massachusetts governor when he accepted the nomination on the final night of the Democratic national convention, July 31, 1988. 

The day after his acceptance speech, Dukakis had a lead in the polls of 17 percentage points over his Republican opponent, Vice President George H.W. Bush.
I remember very well watching that speech on television.  It was a hot night, an exciting night: The Duke was on a path that few ever get to tread.  My extended family and I were vacationing on Cape Cod, staying in a rented house in Harwich, not far from Red River Beach.  I especially remember the pledge given at the conclusion of the speech. 

On the most prominent stage he had ever stood upon, here is what our governor told the world:
“…as I accept your nomination tonight, I can’t help recalling that the first marathon was run in ancient Greece, and that on important occasions like this one, the people of Athens would complete their ceremonies by taking a pledge.

“That pledge – that covenant – is as eloquent and as timely today as it was 2,000 years ago:
‘We will never bring disgrace to this, our country.  We will never bring disgrace to this our country by acts of dishonesty or of cowardice.  We will fight for the ideals of this, our country.  We will revere and obey the law.  We will strive to quicken our sense of civic duty.  Thus, in all these ways, we will transmit this country greater, stronger, prouder and more beautiful than it was transmitted to us.’

“That is my pledge to you, my fellow Democrats.
“And that is my pledge to you, my fellow Americans.”

After that convention, Lee Atwater, the Bush family retainer then serving as chairman of the Republican National Committee, infamously said he was going “to strip the bark off the little bastard (Dukakis)” and “make Willie Horton his running mate.”
Horton was an African American who, while on furlough from a prison in Massachusetts in the time of Dukakis’s governorship, raped a woman in Maryland. 

Team Atwater made a TV ad for Bush on the Horton case that stoked white-vs-black fears and biases.  It was a racist, dishonest piece of propaganda for which Atwater kind of apologized later, shortly before his death at 40 from brain cancer.
“I am sorry for both statements,” Atwater said, meaning his desire to (a) strip the bark off Dukakis, and (b) make Horton his running mate.  He added that he was sorry for the first part because of its “naked cruelty,” and for the second because it made him “sound racist, which I am not.”

He owned up only to doing something that multitudes – mistakenly, in his view -- experienced as racist; he was sorry he had made them feel that way because he himself, of course, was not a racist.  We hear similar things today.
By the end of September 1988, Dukakis’s lead over Bush evaporated.  Five weeks later, Dukakis lost to Bush by more than seven million votes and carried only 10 states and the District of Columbia in the electoral college.

If our country, as transmitted to us down to this moment, is greater, stronger, prouder and more beautiful than it was in 1988, and if dishonesty (on racism, for example) and cowardice (on gun control, for example) have diminished over the past 31 years, I’m having a hard time this week seeing it.




Dem Congressional Primary Choice: Budget Prizes or Progressive Wish List

Saturday, July 27, 2019

I cannot predict who will be voting for Alex Morse in the Democratic primary election for the U.S. House in the First Massachusetts District in September of 2020, but I can tell you who will be voting against Morse in droves: elected and appointed officials in Springfield, Pittsfield, North Adams and many other cities and towns in western Massachusetts.  They won't want to lose the juice of longtime First District incumbent Richard Neal, Morse's primary opponent.  (Nor would I if I lived or held office in that district.)

Neal has been in the Congress as long as Morse has been alive, 30 years.  Now, at the pinnacle of his political career, Neal is at last chairing the Ways & Means Committee, meaning he influences every major budgetary decision at the federal level, including which local, in-state projects get funds from Uncle Sam.

Springfield Mayor Domenic Sarno is one of many office holders in western Massachusetts who are dreaming big because of Neal's newly acquired power.

During a meeting this past Tuesday of the East-West Passenger Rail Advisory Committee, which is reviewing options for binding Springfield to Boston via high-speed rail, Sarno mused on how this could actually be the moment when the people Massachusetts might get the feds to write big checks for the rail link.  "With Neal there, if they (the Congress) do infrastructure (this session), it could happen," he said. 

Sarno was referring to a bill -- long talked about in D.C., supposedly supported by majorities in both parties, but not yet filed -- that would address major infrastructure needs around the nation.

Since 1993, when Neal was first appointed to Ways & Means, pundits and plainfolk have speculated on the positive implications for his district and the entire Commonwealth if he were to become Ways & Means chair one day.

Now that that day has arrived, it's hard to imagine -- but certainly not out of the question -- that the First District would kick Neal to the curb and hand his job to Morse.  After Ayanna Pressley soundly beat 20-year-incumbent Mike Capuano in the Seventh Massachusetts House District last September, we don't laugh at longshots any more.

By the way, Morse told the publication "Mother Jones" he'd "be thrilled to be welcomed into the Squad," the foursome of first-term women members of the House, including Pressley, who have been pushed to the center of the nation's political discourse by President Trump's strategy of endlessly vilifying them on Twitter and at rallies. 

Could Morse be hoping Trump will start assassinating his character, too, thereby eliciting support and donations for his insurgent campaign from Trump haters everywhere?  In the theater of politics, persecution is good box office.

For old line Democrats in the Congress, a new world seems to be taking shape.  They now have to fear being "primaried" from the left by progressives almost as much as Republicans have for 10 years feared Tea Partiers coming at them from the right.

Morse, a graduate of Brown University, achieved boy wonder status in politics on Nov. 8, 2011, when he was elected, at age 22, as the youngest-ever mayor of Holyoke.  He was an even bigger boy wonder than Neal in his day.  (The guy everyone knows as Richie was 30 when elected Springfield City Council president and 34 when elected mayor.) 

We have here a clash both of ideals and generations.  The passions unleashed in contests of this nature guarantee that the race for the Democratic nomination in the First House District will be fierce. 

Neal wins in the end, I say, because he's is more naturally genial and humble than Capuano was, the First District is inherently more conservative than the Seventh, the First District needs the largesse of the federal government more desperately than the Seventh, and a Ways & Means potentate can deliver the goods better than a Squad newbie.


Hats Off to (a) the Inspector General, and (b) the Secretary of State

Monday, July 8, 2019

Let's hope this is an idea whose time has come.

For the second legislative session in a row, Inspector General Glenn Cunha is advocating for a bill that would require trustees of public colleges and universities in Massachusetts to undergo oversight training.

The idea is that many (volunteer) trustees, through no fault of their own, don't understand or fully grasp their powers and responsibilities to police what goes on at their institutions and that they could be whiffing on opportunities to make (paid) administrators toe the line.

When Cunha testified on behalf of House Bill 8, An Act Relative to Higher Education Boards of Trustees, on June 11, he cited the case of former Westfield State University President Evan Dobelle. 

A former mayor of Pittsfield, Dobelle was found in 2014 to have "misused thousands of (state/university) dollars" on personal purchases and international travel, Cunha said in testimony before the Joint Committee on Higher Education.  At the time of the misspending, Westfield State trustees were "unaware" they had the ability to question Dobelle's conduct, Cunha explained.

Previously, Cunha has said Dobelle "set up a dynamic where the board (members) thought they worked for him, rather than the other way around."

If HB 8 were to become law, members of the boards at all public colleges and universities -- there are 29 of them -- would have to go through a day of training devoted to topics such as the state's open meeting law, procurement practices, fraud prevention, fiduciary responsibilities, conflicts of interest, and what constitutes a public record.  Roughly 250 trustees would be covered by the mandate.

During the 2017-18 session, the Joint Committee on Higher Education gave an earlier, identical iteration of the bill a favorable report and sent it to the House Committee on Steering, Policy and Scheduling in the hope that it could be put on the calendar for a vote in the lower branch.  But time ran out: the legislature adjourned on July 31, 2018, without giving it a vote.

Speaking of oversight (and ethics), I'd like to direct your attention to an excellent article by Michael Jonas, which appeared yesterday in the online version of CommonWealth Magazine, "Old friends now in Beacon Hill face-off," https://commonwealthmagazine.org/courts/old-friends-now-in-beacon-hill-face-off/

It concerns the Joe-Friday/by-the-book approach taken by Secretary of State Bill Galvin to the attempt by former House Speaker Sal DiMasi to register as a lobbyist.  When DiMasi tried to register with the Lobbyist Division in the Secretary of State's office, Galvin rejected his application on the ground that DiMasi had been convicted of federal corruption charges and would not be eligible to become a lobbyist, under state law, until 10 years had elapsed since the conviction.  The two have known each other for decades and often socialized during their early days together in the House.

"To longtime Beacon Hill observers, the clash of the two State House veterans is playing out as an awkward conflict between one-time friends," Jonas writes. Galvin, through a spokeswoman, dismisses such talk. 

"It isn't awkward," he bristles, "it's the law."

No matter what is ever said about Bill Galvin, he knows the law, he's honest, and he's got a backbone.

This Moment in Corruption: Fare Collection Boxes Were T Employee's Piggy Bank

Tuesday, July 2, 2019

As a daily rider, I find myself drawn to the bad news emanating from the MBTA with morbid fascination.  There's nearly always something to be fascinated by.

Take the fare hikes that went into effect on July 1, which beaten-down commuters have been yipping about for weeks.  The heat is on every Boston politician to condemn the higher fares and the thinking that led to them.

Or take the scary shortfall in the taxpayer-subsidized T employees pension fund, which provides the unavailable-in-private-sector option of a very early retirement, with lifetime pensions.

The Boston Globe reported on June 29 that the fund is in "the danger zone" because, for the first time in at least three decades, it is less than 50% funded.  "At the close of last year," the Globe article said, "the MBTA Retirement Fund's liabilities climbed past $2.91 billion, more than double the $1.45 billion it reported in assets..."  The fund is under water.

Fact: In 2018, one in three MBTA retirees was younger than 55.

Not all the discouraging T news gets the attention it deserves.  If you have seen anything in the last few days, for example, about the former T employee who pleaded guilty to stealing more than $450,000 from fare collection boxes he was responsible for repairing, you haven't seen (or heard) much. 

One solitary employee-thief was closing in on half a mill in ill-gotten gains when someone finally suspected something funny and ran a sting to bring him down!

According to a press release from the office of MA Attorney General Maura Healey, Stephen P. Fagerberg, age 54, of Dedham, pleaded guilty in Suffolk Superior Court on June 28 to two counts of Larceny Over $1,200 in a Continuous Scheme. 

Judge Linda Giles sentenced Fagerberg to a two-year split sentence, with six months to serve in prison and the balance suspended for two years.  Fagerberg will also have to serve two years of probation on conditions that include his paying $458,694 in restitution and forfeiting all contributions he made to the MBTA Retirement Fund.

As an automated fare technician, Fagerberg repaired fare collection boxes on T buses parked in South Boston.  Healey's office began investigating him in April, 2018.

"Following an undercover operation that included planting marked bills in fare collection boxes that Fagerberg services," the press release said, "authorities found that the defendant deposited the marked bills into his personal bank account via a drive-up ATM."

Fagerberg was indicted in September, 2018.

Let's hope he makes good on the commitment to full restitution.

It Happens in Massachusetts Politics That...

Tuesday, June 25, 2019

-It is just a matter of time before a casino rescue bill is filed in the Massachusetts legislature now that the Encore Boston Harbor resort casino has opened for business in Everett.  Within five years, I predict, Encore owners, likely joined by owners of the MGM casino in Springfield, will be asking their hometown legislators to file a bill to reduce the percentage of their gross receipts taxable by the state from 25 percent, its current limit, to somewhere between 15 and 20 percent.  Without that reduction, they'll be telling us, "Layoffs will begin."  Cue the march on the State House by several hundred vociferous, off-duty casino employees demanding enactment of casino rescue bill.

-The City of Revere is twisting in the wind, all leverage-less, asking in on the casino impacts mitigation game long after it declined to accept its game ticket.  Former Revere Mayor Dan Rizzo, you may recall, fully supported the company that proposed a resort casino for Suffolk Downs, the old racetrack on the East Boston-Revere line, and that was competing for the Eastern Massachusetts casino license against Wynn Resorts and its proposed site, the former locale of a Monsanto chemical factory in Everett.  After Wynn Resorts won the license, Rizzo refused to negotiate a mitigation package with the company to compensate Revere for hardships a casino in Everett might bring, such as increased traffic and smaller bottom lines at local restaurants.  He was holding out hope that the MA Gaming Commission would reverse its Wynn-favorable decision on appeal and grant the license to the Suffolk Downs group.  Today, communities as far away from Everett as Melrose have mitigation deals with Encore but next-door Revere has zip.  Encore execs say the ship sailed long ago for Revere, mitigation-wise.  Nevertheless, current Revere Mayor Brian Arrigo has formed a local Casino Advisory Commission "to track and review the impacts of the opening of Encore Boston Harbor on the local community and businesses."  Arrigo vows he won't stop looking for "alternative avenues to ensure impacts on Revere can be addressed and mitigated appropriately..."

-U.S. Senator Edward J. Markey delivered a statement pulsing with strong words in response to President Trump's authorization of military strikes against Iran for having shot down a U.S. surveillance drone and for Trump's abrupt cancellation of strikes 10 minutes before they were to be executed.  "Pushed by warmonger John Bolton and Secretary Pompeo," Markey said, "President Trump has abandoned a functioning Iran deal, imposed unnecessary sanctions, re-deployed thousands of U.S. troops to the Middle East, threatened the 'official end of Iran,' and nearly executed an unconstitutional, over-reactive military strike early this morning." 

-True to form, President Trump did not hesitate to pick a fight with the hierarchy of the firefighters union after the union endorsed the presidential candidacy of former Vice President Joe Biden.  Trump dismissed the leaders of the International Association of Fire Fighters as "dues-sucking people" and predicted "the firefighters are going to be voting for me."  In reporting Trump's put-down, the State House News Service pointed out that Ed Kelly, the IAFF's secretary-treasurer, is from Dorchester. 

-Ultimate power broker Jack Connors, Jr., a friend to every deep-pocketed mover and shaker from Massachusetts and beyond, has tentatively climbed aboard the bandwagon of Mayor Pete Buttigieg of South Bend, Indiana, one of 22 Democrat -- or is it 24? -- candidates for President of the U.S.  There was a fundraiser for Buttigieg in Boston (6-20-19) hosted by Connors, Brian Rafanelli and Sharon McNally.  The trio wrote in an invitation email,  "We believe that Mayor Pete Buttigieg just might be the right person to turn the ship around."  And if Pete ain't, Jack, et al. will identify and align with the next right person.

-U.S. Senator Tom Cotton, R-Arkansas, a staunch supporter and defender of President Trump damned U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren with faint praise when he was in Boston in May and sitting for a radio interview on his newly published book, "Sacred Duty: A Soldier's Tour at Arlington National Cemetery."  Said Cotton, "My history with Elizabeth Warren goes far beyond the U.S. Senate.  She was my very first professor on my first day of law school (at Harvard).  I think Liz was a better professor than she is a senator."  If Cotton wants to stay on the Trump varsity, he'll have to do better than that.

-Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey has a good way of deflecting a couple of questions on everyone's mind: one, will she run for governor in 2022, and, two, does she think she could beat Charlie Baker if he decided to seek a third term?  "I'm not in the business of punditry," Healey responded in an interview with WCVB's Ed Harding, adding, "You know, I say this in all seriousness.  I'll continue to say this because I'll probably continue to be asked.  I actually love my job.  I like doing my job.  And it may seem funny for folks to hear that somebody is in a job that they like doing, they're focused on that.  To me, even 2020 and the presidential (race) is just too far away.  We've got to stay focused on what is before us."

-Maura Healey, asked in that same interview how Charlie Baker is doing as governor, was the soul of magnanimity.  "I think he's doing a good job on a lot of fronts," she said.

-Maura Healey is in the thick of the lawsuit filed this week in D.C. against the proposed merger of T-Mobile and Sprint.  "Our year-long investigation," Healey said, referring to the work of the 13 state attorney generals who are party to this action, "found that the proposed merger would give the new company the power to raise prices, significantly reduce competition for customers, lower quality, and cost thousands of retail workers their jobs.  We are challenging this merger to protect a service that matters to everyone."

-Talk about not getting the memo.  A recent audit by the office of State Auditor Suzanne Bump revealed that the Massachusetts Office of Business Development, an agency within the Executive Office of Housing and Economic Development, has never implemented the Buy Massachusetts Program, which was mandated by the legislature 26 years ago.  The program aims to connect MA companies and encourage them to purchase needed goods and services from each other, rather than from out-of-state or foreign companies.

Of All the Jobs in All the World, Sal DiMasi Had to Choose This One?

Friday, June 14, 2019

Secretary of State Bill Galvin is blocking the ill-advised attempt by former House Speaker Sal DiMasi to become a lobbyist now that he's on parole and his cancer (throat and prostate) is in remission. 

"Lobbying is a constitutional right," DiMasi rightly asserts.  Though it seems far from right that he should become a lobbyist after having been convicted in 2011 of scheming to rig a state contract for a particular software company. 

Lobbying falls under the right "to petition the Government for a redress of grievances," as granted to all citizens by the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. 

DiMasi's appealing Galvin's decision to deny his request to register as a lobbyist with the Secretary of State's office.  A preliminary hearing on that appeal was held yesterday.  It could take several months to resolve the matter, during which DiMasi must remain on the outside looking in to the world of paid advocacy. 

I don't know what Aaron Michlewitz is thinking about this situation but I have to imagine he's wishing it would go away.  He served as a top aide to DiMasi when he was Speaker before running successfully to succeed DiMasi in his Boston House district, centered on the North End. 

A popular and highly capable legislator, Michlewitz ascended this session to the chairmanship of House Ways & Means, one of the four most powerful positions in the legislature (Speaker, Senate President, and Chair of Senate Ways & Means being the others). 

No doubt Michlewitz feels a great deal of affection and loyalty to DiMasi. He would not be where he is today were it not for being hired long ago by DiMasi.  But does Michlewitz want the media and casual observers thinking he'd do anything special for his former boss were he to make a successful turn to lobbying?   Ways & Means is a lobbyist magnet.

The reality is Michlewitz would be extremely careful in any official dealings with DiMasi.  The perception of the cynics would be different.  There's no shortage of cynics.  Michlewitz and his staff don't need this headache.

When DiMasi went to prison, I wrote two or three posts expressing sympathy for him.  I said he was a good, kind-hearted human being and pointed out that he had done a lot of good for persons outside his district who were down on their luck, for progressive causes he believed in, and for often-overlooked constituencies and groups yearning to be heard in the corridors of power.  I thought DiMasi had been subjected to desultory medical care and harsh treatment when shuttled from one prison to another, and I said so. 

When he was paroled for medical reasons after serving more than five years, I applauded his release.  Even 30 days in jail is a long time, I said, and DiMasi's time in prison was the opposite of getting off easy.  His crimes ought to be forgiven, I said, and he should be allowed to live out his days in peace.  I like Sal.  I don't want him to suffer further.  

Bill Galvin, however, is right: DiMasi should not be allowed to register (and earn money) as a lobbyist until 10 years have passed since the date of his 2011 conviction, as stipulated by Massachusetts law. 

In the interim, I would suggest that he put his extensive experience, skills and personal warmth to good use as an unpaid advocate for organizations and causes he cares deeply about.  Generally speaking, you don't have to register as a lobbyist if you're not getting paid to do it.

Cape Cod Voters Are Not Quite There Yet with Shark Barriers

Monday, May 20, 2019

Voters in the idyllic Cape Cod town of Chatham rejected a proposal at their latest Town Meeting to spend $100,000 on a proposal to study and build a shark barrier at a beach where little kids are taught to swim.

That is unlikely to be the last vote on Cape Cod in response to two nightmarish shark attacks on human beings, one of them fatal, last year in the waters near Chatham, which are teeming with seals and the Great White Sharks that feed upon them.

There are now estimated to be upwards of 40,000 Grey Seals and Harbor Seals residing on Monomoy Island, the long, narrow appendage of sand hanging from the elbow of Cape Cod.  Monomoy's seal colony is now so large it can be seen from space.

Once hunted to the brink of extinction, seals have made a dramatic comeback in Massachusetts waters, thanks to the federal Marine Mammals Protection Act, which makes it a crime to harass, harm or kill them. 

Not surprisingly, some folks on Cape Cod, including commercial fishermen concerned by how much fish that myriad of seals consumes, are saying those protections should be lifted, that it's time to cull seals the way deer and other animals are culled on land, i.e., for the greater good.

I did a little research and found that the average male Grey Seal weighs approximately 880 pounds and requires 35 to 52 pounds of food every day.  His diet consists mainly of fish, crustaceans, squid and octopuses.

From those figures, I made a quick calculation.  I set the average daily weight of live food eaten by a Grey Seal at 43.5 pounds and multiplied that by 40,000, coming up with an estimate of 1.74 million pounds of fish and other marine delicacies that go down the throats of those Monomoy seals every day.  Multiplying that by the days in a year, 365, I got slightly over 635 million pounds, the rough amount of food those seals are eating on an annual  basis!  No wonder fishermen on the Cape are ticked.  

I don't think a majority of the population on Cape Cod would support the kind of slaughter required to make a serious dent in the local seal population, regardless of whether it was motivated by a desire to protect the fishery or to reduce the number of sharks that prey on seals and pose a danger to persons in the water. 

Seals are fascinating and lovable-looking creatures.  Like us, they are living, breathing, feeling and breeding mammals.  Their suffering at the hands of hunters would be significant, not to mention heart-wrenching for those who witnessed it on TV and other media.

But the day may come -- after more swimmers and surfers on the Cape are injured or killed by Great Whites, after fish populations are decimated, after beaches are closed due to bacteria from seal excrement -- when the federal government allows the seals of Monomoy to be hunted and killed in large numbers.

My family and I have vacationed on Cape Cod for decades, mainly in Harwich, next door to Chatham.  We have swum frequently in beaches not far from Monomoy, as the seagull flies, such as Harding's Beach and Ridgevale Beach in Chatham. Until now, I have never worried about being bitten by a shark.  When my children were little and asked about sharks, I would tell them I had been swimming in the ocean since I was a kid and had never seen or felt a shark.  "It's a big ocean.  They don't care about us," I would say.

Then, last summer, I saw a video taken early one morning by a woman walking a beach in Dennis, just a few miles from where I like to take an early-morning swim at Red River Beach in Harwich.  Recorded on a smart phone, the video showed a Great White swimming slowly, parallel to the shore, no more than eight feet from dry land.

And, last week,  I happened to read an article in Boston Magazine by Casey Sherman, "The Shark Attack That Changed Cape Cod Forever."  It quoted the marine explorer, Barry Clifford, who knows the waters of Cape Cod better than all but a few human beings.  He said:

"Right now, I would never dream of swimming off the Cape or allow my children or grandchildren to swim there."


Even the Great DeNiro Can't Make This Rep Believe in Film Tax Credits

Thursday, May 2, 2019

There was good stuff to be found in the State House News Service account of the April 22nd discussion on a proposed budget amendment that would have prevented companies from selling tax credits they earn by making movies and TV shows in Massachusetts.  I smiled my way through it.

Did you know that Robert DeNiro, the Academy Award-winning actor, has personally lobbied Angelo Scaccia, the state-rep-for-life from the Readville section of Boston, urging Scash to abandon his longtime opposition to the state's triple-barreled film tax credit, which incentivizes Hollywood producers to do shoots here?  (As the Massachusetts Film Office explains on its website: "Massachusetts provides filmmakers with a highly competitive package of tax incentives: a 25% production credit, a 25% payroll credit, and a sales tax exemption.")

Did you know that the House Revenue Committee is working on a new "package of revenue enhancements" to be rolled out at some unspecified point for action (or not) in the lower branch?

And did you know there's some kind of analysis of the film tax credit due to be served up on May 15?  (If I could, I'd make a reservation to read the first copy.)

Well, this is the kind of stuff you can learn if you're willing to wade through -- as I can't help myself from doing -- the thousands of words the State House News Service devotes to in-depth coverage of all that happens on the floors of the House and Senate.  At no time is this "work" more rewarding than when the legislature is putting together the massive state budget for the upcoming fiscal year.

The budget debate this year happened to begin with Scaccia, the longest-serving member, the Dean of the House, speaking on an amendment he sponsored, which, if ultimately adopted, would have prevented companies from selling their film tax credits, as they are allowed by law to do.  This selling is quite a business, with sales annually totaling in the tens of millions of dollars.  Scaccia has never been a fan of the film tax credit and he particularly hates that filmmakers can make a killing by selling them off, post-production.

Here's where I'll turn to the SHNS account of Scaccia's remarks that day:

“It seems that I am the lead-off figure every year when it comes to the taxable part of the state budget. I have discussed this issue in the chamber for probably the last six or seven years. This year, we have a new chairperson of Ways and Means (Aaron Michlewitz of Boston) and a new chairperson in the Committee on Revenue (Mark Cusack of Braintree). It is my intent to explain this amendment, especially to the newer members who have not heard me discuss this (during past budget sessions) for an hour-plus.

“I still don't think people understand what I say when we talk about the film tax credit. I am going to withdraw the amendments at the end because the gentleman from Braintree who is the new chair of revenue has said to this House that he is going to come back with a package, a package of revenue enhancements, or, in this case, maybe the ability to tax an industry that pays no taxes at all. In fact, this industry has such a great deal that they accumulate over the years tax credits, which they sell (at) 90% value to insurance companies, banks, etc. etc.  

"So, the banks and the insurance companies pay less tax than other people and these folks who run the film industry walk away paying nothing – nothing! --to the people of Massachusetts. I can't understand for the life of me why we allow one of the richest sectors in the United States of America to come here, make tons of money, and pay nothing to the people of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. I must be missing something."

“From 2004 to 2010, they paid a total of (only) $3 million to the Commonwealth. But that wasn't good enough. In 2010, this legislature came up with two, not one but two, tax credits: one 25%, which is unheard of, for production, and one 25% for wages.

“I use my dear friend who used to call me before and now does not; his name is Robert De Niro. I don't know if you younger folks have heard of the gentleman. He would come in here, make a film in less than two weeks, and walk away a multi-million-dollar winner -- and pay the donut in taxation to the people of this Commonwealth!

“I can't understand how we as a body have allowed over the last nine years the accumulation of $863 million in tax credits that they (the film industry) sell on the open market to the largest corporations in Massachusetts. They not only don’t pay taxes, they make $863 million in transferable tax credits. How would you like to be in a business like that?

“Now, my dear friend who will come to the microphone after me, the gentleman from Quincy (House Majority Leader Ronald Mariano), at least he is consistent. He doesn't think we should tax these folks at all. He also doesn't think we should tax millionaires in the Commonwealth. At least he's consistent: he is against taxing people who make a ton of money. I prefer that honestly, people who want to tax people who make more than a million bucks a year and who live here and pay all the other (state) taxes, etc., to these folks who come and go like the winter snow. They drift from place to place and think they beautify the scenery with their darling angel faces. It is not fair and it is not right.

“I will give (time to) the gentleman from Braintree, who has come before this House and said we are going to look at the total tax package in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.  And I want him to know I am coming back. It is one thing to tax people here more than they are being taxed. It doesn't make sense not to tax people who don't even live here.

“Eighty-seven percent of the jobs (in the local film industry category) come and go.  They don't stay. There are people who are in this industry and could continue to work in this industry without the large tax breaks they get. Could you imagine if every business in Massachusetts not only didn't have to pay taxes, but also got credits and turned those credits into $863 million, the accumulated amount since 2010?

"There is a report coming out May 15 -- I wish the (House) budget didn't come out before then -- with a new analysis on this issue. We haven't seen yet how much more money we are going to give in tax credits in the next two years.

"There was a blockbuster film ('Patriot’s Day') that came out a couple years ago displaying one of the greatest mayors in America, a kid from Readville by the name of Tom Menino. That film is going to cost us a lot of money in tax credits. Interesting (that) we pay people who are actors and actresses, who play someone else in a (movie) role, and they walk away rich folk.

"I hope that someday very shortly we're going to end this giveaway and we're going to come to our senses. I looked at the budget this year and we have baseline tax growth for FY2020 at $1.26 billion. And, at the same time, there are six (new) items in the budget that total more than that amount. Six items! Technically, we're in a deficit.

"We can't afford to lose revenue because I don't know if the appetite in this House is to come forward and tax the people who live here more money in the future. I think it's needed. It took me an hour and 20 minutes to get here this morning from Readville, which is nine miles away. [Note: This refers to the need for massive upgrades to the state's transportation infrastructure.] 

"I think the young man from the North End (Aaron Michlewitz) did a great job for the City of Boston, especially when it comes to charter schools.   In two years, the (state’s) whole Chapter 70 (public school education allocation) would have gone to pay for charter schools alone and he recognized that issue. He has risen to the occasion and is taking steps to improve that...

"There is the story of the great meal in the New Testament where the loaves and fishes were multiplied by the thousands. That's pretty much what the last three chairmen (of the House Ways & Means Committee) have done in the last few years. They have performed in a miraculous way to keep us afloat. But it is issues like this (film industry tax credits) that create pain for us, financially. It is people who are rich and do not even live here. I won't get into that stuff about Hollywood and the folks that are out there, but I'll tell you some of them are not paragons of virtue."

Here's Majority Leader Ronald Mariano's rejoinder to Rep. Scaccia, as recounted by the SHNS:
"I do take a bit of an issue with the gentleman. I hope I can help him understand why I feel that this is an important economic driver in the Commonwealth. I certainly understand his longstanding objection to this (the film industry tax credit)…

"We have a real philosophical difference on this. It is very difficult to determine the benefits because of the ancillary industries that are created because of the films that are being made here. They are here consistently, and, as we move into a new era in entertainment where there is a need to fill hours and hours of TV content, you are seeing series being filmed here so these people are staying.  They are not in and out. We're trying to get these jobs here, and if you visit the soundstage at Devens, you will find it is booked solid and the average salaries are pretty good.

"We (Mariano and Scaccia) can almost give each other's testimony on this, we've done it so long. I'm not going to get into an awful lot of reading, but I want people to know how many colleges have developed film programs to educate a workforce which will be housed in Massachusetts. Over 260 cities and towns have directly benefited from productions. I have 'Imagine' magazine at my desk, a magazine of the film industry. I want to take a minute and talk about some of the ads here from small Massachusetts companies. One is a CPA firm in Braintree that I'm familiar with; there is a Maynard lighting company; there is Clocktower Associates, but I don't know exactly where they are. We have two pages of small ads to deal with catering, lighting, trailer rentals, costume cleaning, agents, photographers, and more. All of these are a direct result of the film tax credit that has not been measured in any of the statistics I've seen from the (Massachusetts) Department of Revenue. They have not done that outreach. We are not really comparing the direct benefits with the cost of the tax credit. That is where we have our disagreement.

"I did see the movie the gentleman mentioned with the mayor (Menino). It was an outstanding movie. We get benefits; the benefits go to the small businesses of Massachusetts. All of these businesses exist or prosper because of the film tax credit. We will, I hope, be able to have this discussion further as we move to a wider and broader discussion of revenue going forward.

"I applaud the gentleman's (Scaccia's) decision to wait and see what the revenue options are on the table as we move forward. Thank you."

Here's Rep. Ann-Margaret Ferrante, House chair of the Joint Committee on Economic Development and Emerging Technologies, amplifying Leader Mariano's remarks and providing a spirited defense of the film tax credit, based at least partially on how the program has been a boon to Cape Ann:
"I rise in opposition to the amendment and I want to clarify some of the words that were spoken to the effect that no taxes were paid. It is a 25% payroll or production credit. As the gentleman from Quincy said, think of the investment of an industry being built here.

"Right now, 4,000 students in Massachusetts are studying in fields related to the film industry. We have created an industry here. I can show any (House) member this cluster map that we have developed showing what has been filmed in Massachusetts and the other benefits.

"Let's talk about New England Studios: $41 million in investment and potentially five series being filmed in Massachusetts.

"We created 10,000 jobs from 2006 to 2012.

"When the gentleman from Readville said, Can you believe an actor could walk away with that much money, what that shows me is that there is someone out there who wants to pass judgment on the employment of others.

"If someone wants to be an actor and is successful, far be it from me to criticize their job. These productions spend significant amounts of money per day in our towns. In my district alone [Gloucester, Rockport, Essex], we had movie companies come in and rebuild critical town infrastructure in order to film there, and to be a good partner.

"I think the film tax credit is a wise investment and encourage members to vote in opposition to this amendment."

The discussion on the amendment ended here.  True to his word, Rep. Scaccia withdrew the amendment, meaning he killed his own idea, for the time being.  Debating the merits of the film tax credit is one of those Beacon Hill arguments that never ends.