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The 10 political regions of Massachusetts

Mass. links

  • Walking the Berkshires
  • The Eisenthal Report (notes from central Mass.)
  • Talking Politics (David Bernstein)
  • Politicker MA | Inside Politics for Political Insiders
  • Peter Porcupine (Cape Cod conservative)
  • New England First Amendment Center Home Page
  • MetroBoston DataCommon
  • Media Nation (Dan Kennedy)
  • Imagine Election for Massachusetts Voters
  • Don't Quote Me (Adam Reilly)
  • Dispatches from Seth Gitell
  • Blue Mass. Group invest in Telefonica shares: Reality-based commentary

In the media

  • BRUCE MOHL on tax credits for the film industry

October 22, 2008

Massachusetts ranks 39th in government employees per capita

The Census Bureau today released its every-5-year tabulation of state and local government workers, and the Bay State is on the low end of the workforce scale. (The Census Bureau's press release is typically horrible in terms of providing links to complete data; go here to get your stats.)

In 2007, Massachusetts had the equivalent of 332,957 full-time people working for state and local government (299,320 full-time employees and 92,864 part-timers.) That added up to 516 employees for every 10,000 people living in the state, or well below most states. The main reason for our low ranking seemed to be our reliance on the private sector for "eds and meds," or educational degrees and medical treatment. Only 3 percent of our public employees worked in hospitals (compared with 6 percent nationwide), and 9 percent worked in higher education (compared with 12 percent nationwide). We also had a relatively light number of people working in corrections and prison departments (2.6 percent of all public workers vs. 4.5 percent nationwide). Compared with other states, a larger proportion of our workforce were employed in elementary and secondary schools, police departments Buy Telefonica shares, and fire departments.

Continue reading "Massachusetts ranks 39th in government employees per capita" »

"Public records should be public"

But they're often not. Or they're prohibitively expensive, as CommonWealth magazine contributor Colman Herman explains in the Boston Globe today:

The Public Records Law encourages officials to waive fees for fulfilling document requests. Some did in response to my requests, but most didn't. The Massachusetts Port Authority, for example, initially tried to charge $1,641 for 300 pages of executive director Thomas Kinton's appointment calendar, including $141 an hour for Kinton himself to spend 4.5 hours reviewing redactions made by his lawyer. Massport later reduced its charge after I challenged the initial price.

The Globe column is a good primer on the topic. A more comprehensive look is in the current issue of CommonWealth.

Finneran could resume legal work

Former House Speaker Thomas M. Finneran should be able to resume practicing law in January, according to a decision issued Monday by a three-member panel of the Massachusetts Board of Bar Overseers.

Finneran, who is now a talk-show host on WRKO-AM, was suspended from the practice of law in January 2007 after pleading guilty to obstruction of justice charges for lying in court about his role in crafting a 2002 redistricting plan on Beacon Hill. After his conviction, Finneran was placed on 18 months of unsupervised probation and received a fine of $25,000. He resigned his job as president of the Massachusetts Biotechnology Council.

Finneranfall2002
Tom Finneran as
Speaker in 2002.
Photo by Peter
Urban.

Constance Vecchione, the bar counsel for the Board of Bar Overseers, recommended the former speaker be disbarred and not allowed to practice law again. Finneran had sought a one-year suspension of his license to practice law.

The three-member panel said Finneran's license to practice law should be suspended for two years, which would allow him to resume practicing law in January subject to a reinstatement hearing.

The panel said there were numerous mitigating circumstances that argued for a lesser punishment. For example, the panel said Finneran had accepted personal responsibilty for his offense and was distracted at the time of his court testimony by his own severe hip pain and concerns about his wife, who was undergoing knee surgery at Massachusetts General Hospital.

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October 21, 2008

Imagine who you can vote for...

A new Bay State website called Imagine Election lets you type in your address to see who will be appearing on your ballot on November 4, and then find out a little something about each candidate's background and "priorities if elected." Visit the site to find out whether you're one of the lucky ducks with a contested race for state legislator this year.

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The Fix We're In: Tamara Draut on "the deregulatory impulse"

With the stock market nosediving, credit lines freezing, retirement savings disappearing overnight, and the state budget on the chopping block, we are facing an economic peril as great as any since the Great Depression. What are we to make of these frightening times? We asked some leading voices in the world of economics, political science, and public policy to help make sense of the tumult we find ourselves in. See all of them here. Below, Strapped author Tamara Draut:

If I had to choose one word to describe the financial situation confronting the United States, it’d likely be “outrageous.” It’s outrageous that we find ourselves forced to spend billions of dollars to clean up another speculative bubble created by Wall Street. It’s outrageous that our economy is close to a collapse that was entirely preventable if certain key regulators (Alan Greenspan chief among them) had heeded numerous calls for more oversight of the sub-prime mortgage lending and financial derivatives markets. And it’s outrageous that millions of families will lose their homes as a result of toxic products pushed by unregulated mortgage lenders and brokers, who had the full backing of capital from august financial institutions.

As our nation’s economic morass spreads throughout the globe, high-level multi-national summits are planned, and American banks are nationalized, it’s easy to forget that the crisis began with the pedaling of sub-prime mortgages. Fueled more by demand from Wall Street than by demand from homebuyers or homeowners, a vast army of unregulated mortgage brokers barreled through down-on-their-luck neighborhoods offering salvation via cash-out refinancing in the form of exploding adjustable rate mortgages.

Continue reading "The Fix We're In: Tamara Draut on "the deregulatory impulse"" »

The Fix We're In: Edward Glaeser on "the silver lining of bleak fiscal times"

With the stock market nosediving, credit lines freezing, retirement savings disappearing overnight, and the state budget on the chopping block, we are facing an economic peril as great as any since the Great Depression.  What are we to make of these frightening times? We asked some leading voices in the world of economics, political science, and public policy to help make sense of the tumult we find ourselves in. See all of them here. Below, economist Edward Glaeser:

As Gov. Patrick tried this week to balance the state budget, he was also balancing his desire to provide social services with the need to respond to a $1.1 billion tax revenue shortfall. A nation can react to a financial crisis by borrowing billions, raising taxes or just printing more money. States have fewer options.  Raising taxes on business and the rich will prod them to locate elsewhere. The Commonwealth hasn’t printed its own currency for quite some time.   

The most natural way for state budgets to address the business cycle would be to borrow during lean years and save during fat ones. After all, it isn’t particularly sensible to cut social services when economic times get tough. The governor’s new budget proposals does a little bit of this kind of “income smoothing,” by drawing down $200 million out of the rainy day fund and by further delaying the date at which our pensions system will be fully funded. However, Article LXII of the state Constitution requires any large scale borrowing to get a two thirds super-majority of the Legislature, which pushes the state government to live, more or less, within its means. 

The silver lining of bleak fiscal times is that they push state leaders to try to trim fat from the state budget.  One of Gov. Patrick’s proposed cuts is a $20 million in “earmark spending” in the Massachusetts Office of Travel and Tourism. And the $22 million cut in Judiciary spending might actually pave the way towards much-needed, and long-discussed, improvements in the administration of our vital court system.

Continue reading "The Fix We're In: Edward Glaeser on "the silver lining of bleak fiscal times"" »

October 20, 2008

Wall Street Journal discovers Patrick-Obama connection

We thought the idea that there are similarities between the background, style, message and, by implication, substance of Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick and Barack Obama was a pretty old storyline by now. Apparently not to the Wall Street Journal, which devoted the upper half of its op-ed page on Friday to yet another account of this story. Journal editorial board member Matthew Kaminski offers all the well-known parallels: sons of single mothers, Chicago, Harvard Law School. But he keys in on their shared use of political consultant David Axelrod and the idea that Axelrod has successfully packaged the two pols (who are also good friends) under the gauzy, but content empty, banner of "hope" and "change."

It was a year and half ago that the Boston Globe made the connection.

Quincy insurer snubs its rep

Officials at Arbella Insurance Group of Quincy were no-shows at a recent award ceremony for their local state representative, Ronald Mariano, the House chairman of the Legislature's Committee on Financial Services.

Arbella officials say it was a "budgetary decision" not to put in an appearance at the Oct. 10 event, but industry officials say the Quincy company snubbed its own representative in the Legislature because of his strong support for auto insurance competition. Arbella was one of a handful of companies that initially resisted efforts by the Patrick administration to introduce "managed" auto insurance competition this year; Mariano was a supporter of greater competition.

Mariano was named Insurance Professional of the Year by the Insurance Library Association of Boston. Arbella chief executive John F. Donohue serves on the library association's board. The award ceremony was held at the Boston Harbor Hotel and tickets were $75 apiece, or $750 for a table.

Arbella spokesman Doug Bailey said the company, which had a $441 million surplus at the end of last year, is cutting back on events like the library association award. Bailey said the decision was "prompted in part by managed competition, which is a recent phenomenon." Arbella is the state's third largest automobile insurer.

One industry official doesn't buy Arbella's explanation. The official, who asked that he not be identified, said the absence of Arbella officials at the event was a sign of sore feelings. "If they're worried at Arbella about spending a few hundred dollars, I hope this doesn't mean they're facing financial problems," the official said.

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October 19, 2008

The Fix We're In: David Weil on transparency and the economic crisis

With the stock market nosediving, credit lines freezing, retirement savings disappearing overnight, and the state budget on the chopping block, we are facing an economic peril as great as any since the Great Depression.  What are we to make of these frightening times? We asked some leading voices in the world of economics, political science, and public policy to help make sense of the tumult we find ourselves in. See all of them here. Below, economist David Weil:

A recurring refrain of those discussing the way forward from the current economic crisis is the call for more transparency.  After Congressional passage of the Emergency Economic Stabilization Act on October 2, for example, Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson stated, “Transparency throughout this process will be important, and I look forward to providing regular updates as we move ahead to implement this strategy.” 

The value of transparency, like motherhood and apple pie, is easy to invoke. Yet the meaning of transparency can be elusive, particularly when applied to a crisis of the complexity and scale of the current one. I offer a few comments on where and how transparency may be useful in the short, medium, and long term.

The turbulence of the stock market in the days since passage of the “Bailout Bill” by Congress derives in part from the hour-by-hour (or minute-by-minute) effort by investors to read the tea leaves on whether or not markets have hit the bottom.  Emotions are driving behavior because we are in such uncharted waters.  Explanatory transparency can play an important role in the short term in moderating emotions.  In particular, we need greater transparency by Secretary Paulson, Federal Research Chairman Bernanke and other key public leaders in explaining to investors and the wider public how the various means that have been created to deal with the capital crisis actually work, thereby setting clearer expectations about how long they will take to implement and have their intended effects.

Continue reading "The Fix We're In: David Weil on transparency and the economic crisis" »

The Fix We're In: Stephen Crosby on budgeting in an economic crisis

With the stock market nosediving, credit lines freezing, retirement savings disappearing overnight, and the state budget on the chopping block, we are facing an economic peril as great as any since the Great Depression. What are we to make of these frightening times? We asked some leading voices in the world of economics, political science, and public policy to help make sense of the tumult we find ourselves in. See all of them here. Below, secretary of administration and finance Stephen Crosby:

So here we go again. 

Billion dollar deficits; tax revenues falling short of projection; 9C cuts emanating from the governor's office.  A national recession (never mind an international liquidity crisis) begets a local budget crunch, forcing state policymakers -- whose constitution forbids deficit spending -- to scramble to make ends meet.  We've gotten better at dealing with these slowdowns: At the end of the Massachusetts Miracle, the Dukakis administration had to raise the income tax, float bonds to pay operating expenses, borrow from the federal government to pay unemployment compensation, almost totally forgo paying for pension liability, and cut state spending dramatically. After recovering from the high tech collapse in the late '80s, the dot-com bust in the late 's, and years of fluctuating economy in the George W. Bush years, Massachusetts is in much better shape. We have $2 billion in various rainy day accounts; our pension funding schedule is steadily approaching current; we've relegated "Taxachusetts" to the dust bin with cumulative tax cuts that have saved taxpayers something like $4 billion annually. Yet with all that, the Massachusetts budget is once again in crisis.

The challenge for policy makers -- and having been a policy maker, I know just what a challenge this is -- is to react strategically, rather than tactically.  Mid-year budget cuts in state agencies -- the dreaded so called 9C cuts -- is no way to run a railroad. 

Continue reading "The Fix We're In: Stephen Crosby on budgeting in an economic crisis" »

The Fix We're In: Jacob Hacker on the "Great Risk Shift" hitting home

With the stock market nosediving, credit lines freezing, retirement savings disappearing overnight, and the state budget on the chopping block, we are facing an economic peril as great as any since the Great Depression. What are we to make of these frightening times? We asked some leading voices in the world of economics, political science, and public policy to help make sense of the tumult we find ourselves in. See all of them here. Below, Great Risk Shift author Jacob Hacker:

What is going on with our economy?

The stories in the headlines are about the financial crisis at the top. But the story that explains our deeper economic anxieties is the slow-moving financial crisis facing the rest of us. Over the last generation, as I wrote in my recent book, The Great Risk Shift, economic risk has shifted from the broad shoulders of government and corporations onto the fragile backs of American families.

The shift has occurred in nearly every area of our economic lives — our jobs, our health care, our retirement savings, our family finances. It is at the heart of Americans’ economic worries today. And addressing it is our nation’s biggest long-term economic challenge. More and more Americans are feeling insecure — and they’re right to. Job-based benefits like health insurance and retirement pensions are either disappearing or shifting more costs and risks onto workers, as in the shift from guaranteed pensions to 401(k) accounts. Bankruptcies and foreclosures are stunningly more common today than a generation ago, and most who experience these dislocations are in the middle class before they do.

Continue reading "The Fix We're In: Jacob Hacker on the "Great Risk Shift" hitting home" »

October 17, 2008

Is local aid next?

Though Gov. Deval Patrick has said weathering the fiscal storm must involve shared sacrifice, local aid to cities and towns and school funding were untouched by the $1 billion in budget cuts he announced on Wednesday. The cuts hit all sorts of direct service programs to youth, the elderly, and the poor, and today came the second-day stories on the human toll of the budget crisis. The Globe has a version, as does the Lowell Sun. Here's the view on the Cape. 

State leaders are loathe to slash local aid or school funding, but many think there is more cutting to come, and cities and towns may not be able to dodge the bullet next time. "There was a sense that local aid was sacrosant in the first cuts," says Bill Walczak, director of the Codman Square Health Center in Dorchester and president of the Massachusetts Nonprofit Network. "There is also a sense that there will be a second round, and that's where local aid may be cut." 

Look for state leaders to hold off until after the Nov. 4 election, however, before delivering such bad news. 

October 16, 2008

Never mind the red ink: Team Trans spreads the good news

If the audience at yesterday’s Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce Government Affairs breakfast forum were the chanting types, the refrain would have been: Go, team, go! Duly noted was the novelty of having the titans of the state’s transportation agencies breaking bread together.

The MBTA’s Dan Grabauskas, the Massachusetts Turnpike Authority’s Alan LeBovidge, and MassHighway’s Luisa Paiewonsky appeared at Boston Marriott Copley Place to discuss transportation policy. Massport’s Director of Maritime Mike Leone stood in for Massport CEO Thomas Kinton. Paiewonsky went so far as to call the gathering “unusual.”

The Patrick administration has taken on the unenviable mission of getting the rivalry-plagued agencies to play nicely in the Mobility Compact sandbox -- the year-old effort, much touted at the breakfast, to get the departments talking and working more broadly among themselves. (MassTrans, the proposal to bring state transportation agencies and authorities under one roof, is still an idea in search of support.)

The participants dialed up the good news. The Turnpike now makes Fast Lane transponders more widely available at registry offices. (Even as the administration begins work on legislation, slotted for January, on eliminating the authority and restructuring its debt.) It’s also full steam ahead on the planned I-93 Andover interchange for MassHighway. Logan International Airport, operated by Massport, has recovered from the effects of 9/11. MBTA ridership has reached a historic high. Grabauskas, in particular, brought along a laundry list of recent accomplishments: Lowest crime rate in 10 years. WiFi to be widely deployed on commuter rail. New Blue Line cars.

“Kind of wish I worked at the T, it sounds so good,” joked LeBovidge.

A pity party it was not.

Continue reading "Never mind the red ink: Team Trans spreads the good news" »

October 15, 2008

The Fix We're In: Alan Wolfe on "the utter failure of conservatism"

With the stock market nosediving, credit lines freezing, retirement savings disappearing overnight, and the state budget on the chopping block, we are facing an economic peril as great as any since the Great Depression. What are we to make of these frightening times? We asked some leading voices in the world of economics, political science, and public policy to help make sense of the tumult we find ourselves in. See all of them here. First up, author and Boston College professor Alan Wolfe:

For reasons known only to superior minds than my own, and perhaps not even to them, the stock markets are rebounding as I write, just after their worst week in modern history. Still, no one doubts that we are in something of an economic crisis and that much in this country will change.

I spoke yesterday at the John F. Kennedy Library at a forum in honor of the lives and work of Arthur Schlesinger Jr. and John Kenneth Galbraith. We were first treated to a video that Schlesinger made shortly before his death in which he asked how America, having made such a horrendous mistake in Vietnam, could repeat the same thing in Iraq. Much the same could be said about the economy: How, after finally learning in the 1930s the dangers of unregulated capitalism, could be have deregulated capitalism again?

If Iraq destroyed the credibility of one half of conservative ideology -- this is the half that says we can run the world anyway we choose -- the drying up of liquidity drains all appeal from the remaining 50 percent, which is that the best economic system is one that rewards the fewest with the most. I have not been witnessing much liberalism in American politics the past few decades. The utter, if predictable, failure of conservatism means I will seeing a lot more in the next couple of them.

The question is what kind of liberalism it will be.

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Plymouth movie studio gets generous treatment

The Patriot Ledger's Tamara Race reports that town officials in Plymouth are recommending a 75 percent property tax break for a 240-acre movie studio to be built off Route 3. Town meeting voters would have to approve the deal for Plymouth Rock Studios on October 27. As Race explains:

Based on a $388 million initial construction cost, the studio would generate nearly $4 million in property taxes without the break.

That drops to about $1 million with the tax break.

Hotel room taxes, excise taxes and property taxes on homes planned within the production studio complex would add $500,000 in tax revenue.

Denis Hanks, the town’s director of economic development, says the tax break is justified given the 2,000 jobs and long-term tax benefit the studio would bring to Plymouth.

CommonWealth magazine reported on the costly chase for film industry jobs in Massachusetts in our Spring issue. Also see yesterday's post on how other states are having second thoughts about their star-gazing.

October 14, 2008

Film tax credits: A state budget horror show?

State tax credits for the film industry, which received a tough review in the spring issue of CommonWealth magazine, got national treatment in Sunday's New York Times, which reports that some budget-strapped states are questioning whether the lucrative tax deals for moviemakers are a good deal for taxpayers.  The Times story quotes Noah Berger, executive director of the Massachusetts Budget and Policy Center, which issued a report in April on the state's film tax credit.  "There's no evidence yet that this is a particularly efficient or effective way to create jobs," says Berger.

Zoning laws: Wasilla is no Wayland

Sarah Palin has sought to connect with voters in the "lower 48" by telling them Alaska is just a microcosm of the United States.  It seems doubtful that the GOP vice presidential candidate has been to a town meeting in Massachusetts. 

Mainstwasilla

For while residents here treat proposals for zoning relief as nothing less than potential threats to life as we know it, Palin has had a decidedly different view of rules governing what gets built where:  She's against them. Perhaps it's because of the complete disconnect between the approaches to land use in Wasilla and Wayland that the Boston Globe's Sasha Issenberg reports a 1,400-word story from Wasilla on Palin's zoning record that has the feel of an anthropological account of a distant civilization.   

Issenberg reports that the centerpiece of then-city councilor Palin's 1996 victory over Wasilla's incumbent mayor was her opposition to his effort to introduce zoning to the community.  And the weak zoning plan approved over Palin's objections was hardly an obstacle to what one Wasilla city councilor calls the "willy-nilly" development of the small town into something that "looks like a big ugly strip mall from one end to the other."

The municipality Palin repeatedly heralded as a classic "small town" in her convention speech has no discernible center and a Main Street in name only.  To its critics, Wasilla has become a famously bad example of suburban growth even by the standards of Alaska, a place where city planners have long noted a dangerous combition of too much land and too few rules about how to build on it.

"Every time we meet with people for the first time, they say, 'We don't want our town to be like Wasilla,'" said Thea Agnew Bemben, a planner whose firm has worked in neighboring communities.

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