• Debt, Economic Anxiety, and the Middle Class: Conversations from CW
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From CW magazine

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: Reality-based commentary

In the media

  • BRUCE MOHL on tax credits for the film industry

*Bruce Mohl

October 22, 2008

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.

Tom Finneran as
Speaker in 2002.
Photo by Peter

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 20, 2008

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.


October 08, 2008

Restaurants on the Boston Common?

Boston officials want to locate one or more restaurants on Boston Common, with a ramshackle bathroom in the center of the park a likely location for one of the facilities.

City Councilor Michael P. Ross, who led officials on a fact-finding tour to three New York City parks in June, says a restaurant or restaurants would attract crowds and inject new life into the Common. He is also in favor of a dog park in the area near where Charles and Beacon streets intersect and favors major improvements along the Tremont Street side of the Common.

The Shake Shack in New York's Madison Square Park

Ross said a spruced-up Boston Common would have a ripple effect on development in surrounding areas. “To me, if Boston Common was firing on all cylinders, I think you’d see Downtown Crossing ride the wave,” he said.

Ross is preparing a report that will recommend allowing the city to negotiate long-term contracts with restaurant operators and possibly award them a liquor license. Currently, city regulations bar vendor contracts longer than three years and prohibit drinking in parks.

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October 07, 2008

A capital gains nightmare

To get a sense of why the state is in financial trouble, take a look at your investment portfolio. Most people are watching the value of their stocks and bonds plummet. There aren't many capital gains to report. If anything, there are losses.

The downturn in the market is a nightmare for state budget officials who have become addicted to growing capital gains tax revenues. Between 2002 and 2006, according to MassINC research, capital gains tax revenues accounted for 54 percent of the state's growth in tax revenues.

The consensus state revenue estimate of $21.4 billion for this fiscal year includes a projection that capital gains tax revenues will be off 13 percent from last year. That's a drop of close to $300 million, but in today's environment it seems wildly optimistic. It's very likely that a new consensus revenue estimate coming out next week will project a much steeper decline in capital gains tax revenues.

How far will capital gains tax revenues fall? "Nobody really had a specific answer," said House Speaker Sal DiMasi after a meeting with economists and budget watchdogs.

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October 02, 2008

Revenue report cites tax credits

The Massachusetts Revenue Department says tax revenues took a major hit in September, falling nearly 5 percent below what they were a year ago and $188 million below the monthly benchmark set by state officials to balance the budget.

The weakening economy was the primary cause of the downturn, but the Revenue Department for the first time mentioned a new contributing factor: transferable tax credits.

Transferable tax credits are tax credits the government issues to film makers who shoot movies in Massachusetts and developers who rehab historic buildings. The film makers and developers typically sell, or transfer, their tax credits at a discount to raise money for their projects. The banks and utilities who buy the tax credits use them to reduce their tax liability. (See "Subsidizing the stars" and "Tax Credit Home Run," both in CommonWealth magazine.)

The tax credits have been hailed as a way to boost economic activity, but the September revenue report also shows these little-understood financial incentives come with a cost. The report said the tax credits, along with declining corporate profits, were the reason corporate and business tax collections plunged $61 million, or 13.4 percent, compared with the same month a year ago. They were off $51 million from the monthly benchmark.

Continue reading "Revenue report cites tax credits" »

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