Member of the reality-based community of progressive (not anonymous) Massachusetts blogs
Nothing brings out the community like a neighborhood disaster.
A backup of traffic, and a lot of sirens going by, got me to leave my TV (where I was actually keenly interested in one of the last new episodes of “The Closer”) to go see what was up. A neighbor pointed to the twilight sky, where a column of smoke was rising. Heart in my throat hoping it wasn’t some family’s house, or apartment, I headed down the street. Admittedly, I was not being an intrepid reporter, and didn’t take my smartphone with me for vid or photo or tweeting, but in a way, I was more a neighbor in this case than a blogger.
Hiking down Main St (Lincoln was seriously backed up both ways by rubbernecking and street cutoffs), I think every single neighbor was outside trying to make out what was going on. I gleamed some rumors and such from people I passed, but largely what I was told turned out to be actually correct according to the Sun. It was a commercial storage shed, not a residence, and that gave me some relief.
It was a pretty tough looking fire, where something inside there was burning pretty bad. Even once they seemed to have some control, the fire kept coming back, only to be doused again, and then back.
Our city’s finest did a great job protecting nearby property. At one point I saw a few adjacent tree limbs on fire, and given how dry our state is right now (if my lawn is any indication), that could have spelled disaster. Luckily no homes were in danger.
Over and over in my head, I thanked the stars I live in a state, and city, that believes in the Common Good, and not that we’re all on our own. Unlike some states and counties, we have striven not to gut our fire and police services, nor to force families to watch their homes burn to the ground with their pets inside for forgetting to pay a specific fee. Examples of why paying for our Common Good should not be voluntary or optional. Whether a $75 fee forgotten or not paid (or not affordable), or a corporation or very wealthy person paying zero dollars in taxes, it amounts to the same thing.
We’re all in this country together, and in many things, we’re better together than apart, and we should not punish the good people willing to donate to charity or service organizations, but consider it one’s duty as a citizen to pay into the pot so that we can all flourish. After all, a healthy society is actually better for even the most fortunate among us, in the end.
And above all, I’m grateful for the fact there are some brave people out there willing to put themselves in danger to help others. Grateful to the firefighters who are here to protect us, whether it’s a non-occupied commercial building, or a home where lives need saving. Thanks guys.
Update: City Council / Budget Hearing 3
Please start of by reading Gerry Nutter’s diary about last night. I don’t agree with his summation of the evening, but he does well laying out the nuts and bolts of the transactions.
Generally, I think the City Manager put forward a good budget. If my taxes go up 2-3 bucks a month, so be it. I’ll give the money, but my expectation is for greater value. If we are funding more summer recreational programs, make the most of it. If we are investing in capital improvement, don’t buy bandaids for buildings. Fix them, properly, so we don’t make the same repairs again in 3-5 years. Ensure the Lowell Stat program impresses it’s critics.
So, it makes sense to me if a majority cohort of Councilors; Broderick, Lorrey, Martin, Murphy & Nuon, effectively support the CM’s budget. They are seeing a “bang for the buck.”
With the CM’s budget buffered by the majority, four Councilors were presented a golden opportunity to “get caught trying.” Meaning, they were appealing to a specific voting block that wanted to see a 0% tax increase. To be fair, the majority of the Council was, imo, also playing politics. The votes to protect overtime and raises is done with election day votes in mind. YES! The city workers are due raises and just about any cop would rather have more OT, than a couple new cops on the force. That is obvious, in my eyes. It is also a smart political play to affirm that in the budget.
Let me hit a few points:
- Sup’t Lavallee made a great point. When cops are called in to work, they are due a 4 hour minimum. If they are on duty and their shift is extended, then it is done on an hourly basis. The Sup’t stated that it is more efficient to use OT around shift changes. This comes into play in the downtown when the bars close, for example.
- C.Elliott deserves some props. In the past, he attempted across the board cuts. In doing so, he was criticized for not seeking specific cuts. This budget cycle, he has been very specific. Not sure why he is honing in on what he has, like cost of living adjustments for workers, but he has responded to his critics in a thoughtful way. There is political gain in his tact. There is also, peril. He played his cards by his own rules. I don’t agree with his positions, but he has stuck his neck out.
- C.Mendonca stated early on, that he would seek to trim the budget. To know Joe is to understand his votes, last night. He is fiscally conservative. He is not a poser. That was clear when, having proposed and supported cuts throughout the night, he did not support the whack at the snow and ice budget. He knew it was merely kicking the can down the road. That is not a sound fiscal practice.
- Props to C.Broderick for walking back the talking points spouted by C.Elliott & C.Kennedy. You’d think the economy was on the verge of collapse or that City Hall was operated by nitwits, if you sucked up the rhetoric of Elliott and Kennedy. Broderick calmly explained the logic or legal footing for the proposal at hand. He did not gloss over or cheerlead the manager’s budget. He just presented a cool, matter of fact validation. C.Martin gets honorable mention here. Martin didn’t step in often, but when he did …. . Or, as one observer put it, “Billy brought his club.”
All in all, we are seeing how they make the sausage. For the mouth breathers that want to shrink government, so they can drown it in a bathtub, details are unrewarding. For those of us that feel government is our imperfect approach to propelling all of us forward, together; seeing the beatiful imperfections is compelling.
Or, as Cliff Krieger says, “There is no free lunch.”
You may recognize the graph I took the liberty of modifying. I started with a graph from the City Manager’s Budget Proposal. (h/t Gerry Nutter) If you click through, you will see the original graph on Page 17.
I took the liberty of “painting in” lines that show the tenure of the past City Managers: Richard Johnson (1991-1995), Brian Martin (1995-1999), John Cox (1999-2006) & Bernard Lynch (2006-Present). The BLACK verticle lines approximate each change in the Manager’s position. The YELLOW verticle lines approximate 1 year after a change because I am assuming the previous City Manager crafted the budget his successor worked with. The dollar value is the amount the average single family household tax increased in Lowell (the BLUE line) over the tenure of each City Manager.
Note: The annual demarcations occur mid-year, as the budget does. I’m not sure exactly what months any of the City Manager changes occured. Likely, not at mid-year. I think Lynch came in August 2006.
Lastly, the dollar figures are interpolated from the graph. I doubt CM Lynch adjusted 1990’s dollars for inflation. Thus, not to pick on Richard Johnson, we should think that “$500″ is a little heavier in today’s dollars.
Anyways, we are a City with “Taxes on the Brain.” For some it is a fetish. Others, an addiction. For several, it is a hackneyed talking point, plodded out on Local Cable and the Blog of Record to make political hay for the first two groups. For most of us, it is just a pain in the ass that we accept as the necessary cost of having the best City in the Commonwealth.
Update below the (more…)
Not so long ago, in a galaxy right here at home, Lowell had the Massachusetts Department of Revenue breathing down its neck, had gobbled up all its free cash and then some, and had what was effectively a structural deficit. When City Manager Lynch was hired, we were treading water near a very dangerous whirlpool. These budgets were the brainchild of the previous CM and rubberstamped by previous Councils - likely because the budgets were so obfuscated it was hard to tell what you were voting for.
That’s what makes Councilor Rodney Elliot’s comments at the meeting this week that Lynch is “addicted to taxes” so utterly ridiculous. Far from showcasing himself as the fiscal watchdog, Elliot seems to just be fiscally forgetful - and completely blind.
Let’s remember that the property tax increases of the last few years, while not zero, were NOT increased as high as they could have been (the levy limit, and beyond) like so many other struggling communities. Let’s also recall that the mere annual costs of doing business, and delivering the same level of service, go up, not down, and that the level of local aid has been - to say the least - a little rough, despite the state holding the line as best they could. Let’s also take a look at the charts that show the slow closing of the structural deficit, to a point where a negative balance in our free cash account has gone to a pretty impressive positive. Let’s also not forget that our cost of borrowing money has gone down because our fiscal house was put in order, with ratings increases for muni bonds saving us an awful lot of money.
All that could not have been accomplished by ZERO tax increases. Empty rhetoric notwithstanding.
Elliot is ridiculous and his math is sketchy. He constantly pretends he gives a crap about budgets but really, he’s just knee-jerk-reflexively anti-tax no matter the circumstance. That sort of leadership we could live without. I’d say we’re in damn good shape if Lynch is easing off the rather moderate tax increases of the last 5 years. Our budgets are clearer and better defined, and our free cash is once again where it should be. We here in Lowell are set up for a bright future, and if all Elliot can say is “I’ll believe it when I see it” because Lynch’s budget numbers cause him to sputter to come up with a way to be negative, well, he was on the Council back in the bad old days of structural deficits and I don’t remember him being quite so hard hitting back then.
I for one am glad our property taxes have been responsibly managed, that the city keeps on finding ways to become as efficient as possible, and that this year, the property tax increase will be minuscule. But let’s face it, a few tens of dollars extra per quarter for solving our budgetary near-crisis was a small price to pay for sitting pretty in the catbird seat right now. Unlike some people, I have a longer memory and can appreciate where we’re going by looking at where we’ve been before.
Kudos to the city administration for all the hard work - I know it’s a thankless job, but some of us at least understand what you’ve accomplished.
I am totally sorrowful in having to ask this question. I really am. You all know how I like Senator Eileen Donoghue. But what I want to know is, is she going all Beacon-Hill on us? Is she now living in the Beacon Hill bubble, espousing Beacon Hill talking points, instead of offering real solutions? Because that’s what it sounded like during her March 6th appearance on WCAP where she talked about the MBTA and its chronic budget woes (begins at the 6:36 mark).
This has been bugging me for days but I finally have time to write it all out.
Teddy Panos puts the question to Donoghue, about an idea being floated by a business group that the legislature should tap into the rainy day fund to help the MBTA budget this year. While I agree with the first part of Eileen’s response, she said some things that make me very angry. Because she is smart enough to do basic math, in my opinion. Let’s start with the answer to the specific rainy day question:
I don’t really think it’s a great idea, it’s a short term fix. I don’t think the MBTA is an emergency or a one-time thing, it’s a chronic problem with the MBTA, and you still have to fix the problem.
She’s totally right, here. This isn’t just a chronic problem, it’s been a decade-long chronic problem, with the can kicked down the road again, and again. However, where she and I part ways is that she appears to be relying on pat Beacon Hill “conventional wisdom.” Her next comments:
…you still have to fix the problem. And they just seem incapable of doing it. …One of the things, when they reorganized and changed…you know, forward funding for the MBTA, over ten years ago, I think the whole notion was to give the Board authority; they also took on some debt, but give them authority to start making…system-wide changes. And that doesn’t seem to have happened. So now when the MBTA comes up short for - and again, what could be their lack of action in making real important revisions to the way they run the system - they just turn to the legislature, put out their hand, and say “give us more money.”
I think until…we hear from the MBTA, from their Board how they’re going to fix this, what kind of changes they’ve implemented, I don’t think continuing to pour money when they come up short is the solution.
God, am I disappointed in our state Senator! Donoghue even mentions the forward funding and Big Dig debt problems, but glosses over them in order to blame the Board for not coming up with a miracle solution that doesn’t involve steep, steep cuts in services or huge rate increases, or both.
Pathetic, totally Beacon-Hill pass-the-buck bullshit.
Let’s review the history of the MBTA. Shall we? In the Wiki article, we have a nice outline of what happened to the MBTA in the year 2000:
A turning point in funding occurred in 2000. Prior to July 1, 2000, the MBTA was reimbursed by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts for all costs above revenue collected (net cost of service). Beginning on that date, the T was granted a dedicated revenue stream consisting of amounts assessed on served cities and towns, along with a dedicated 20% portion of the 5% state sales tax. The MBTA now must live within this “forward funding” budget.
The Commonwealth assigned to the MBTA responsibility for increasing public transit to compensate for increased automobile pollution from the Big Dig. The T submerged a nearby portion of the Green Line and rebuilt Haymarket and North Stations during Big Dig construction. However, these projects have strained the MBTA’s limited resources, since the Big Dig project did not include funding for these improvements.
Let me repeat:
Prior to July 1, 2000, the MBTA was reimbursed by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts for all costs above revenue collected (net cost of service).
OK, so the MTBA has fares, advertising revenue, station-naming-rights, etc, just to name some of its incoming revenue. Let’s call that amount “Bob.” Bob is limited, in that the ad and naming rights can only fetch so much (as much as the market will bear), and, if you want to keep fares affordable (and we had one of the most affordable public transit systems in the nation, and surprise! the one with the most ridership, too) you have a limit to what you can charge for fares. Poorer people can’t pay a lot of money to move around, even though moving around is key to finding and holding jobs.
If operating and capital investment costs are Bob + 20% (a made up number, BTW, for illustration purposes), that means that that extra 20% in cost is a shortfall in the MBTA’s budget. Got that math in your head? OK. So prior to 2000, that 20% shortfall was made up for in the general budget of the state (or federal or local, on some projects). This is based on the premise that public transit is a net common good, and we should encourage it and keep it affordable. It takes cars off the road (ask the Mr. how he commutes every day), it lowers traffic congestion, our carbon emissions, and gives the working class choices as to how many places they can live and work, a very important component in building economic equality.
All right. Let’s move on to the post-2000 world of the dumb idea of forward funding. We now have a fixed amount for the shortfall after revenues are collected from fares and ads and such. Not only is this a fixed percentage of the sales tax along with the assessment from served towns, but it is the fixed percent of a tax which, particularly in downturns like the one we’ve just been through, means fluctuating revenue for operating costs even while they are trying to serve pretty much the same, or even in some cases, more riders. After all, in a downturn, people might choose to get rid of the cost of an automobile and opt for public transit.
All of this was happening exactly while the MBTA was handed a huge debt load for expenses obligated by the Big Dig. (It’s a complicated history, where the MBTA became obligated to make capital improvements in order to increase ridership, so they could “offset” the increase in auto traffic due to the highway expansion. This was to qualify for a large chunk of federal money, and was set up prior to “forward funding” in 2000.)
Once forward funding comes in, you have created an agency which, if it had complete control over its capital investments, would choose only those investments that paid for themselves. After forward funding, the state’s credit is no longer available to the MBTA. It has to float bonds on its own credit. Credit is given to you when you can prove to a credit agency that you have the means to pay a loan back. In the state’s case this is due to being able to levy taxes. In the MBTA’s case it is due to the ability to raise rates (though that is a rather difficult process) and other fees, or building a capital project that increases its ridership, and hence its revenues.
But due, in large part, to its previous obligation (that the Big Dig imposed on it) and also political pressure, a capital improvement by the MBTA might wind up not paying for itself. No where is this demonstrated better than with the Greenbush south shore expansion.
A project like Greenbush flies in the face of forward funding. South Shore politicians wanted it, and wanted it bad, and it might have been been a great idea and a desirable project from a long term economic development view - over the next couple of decades, more development might be possible along its corridor, increasing jobs and housing and maybe, eventually, ridership. However, from the MBTA’s forward funding standpoint, it’s a dismal failure. According to the above-linked Boston.com article:
Three years after the Greenbush train made its inaugural run, ridership on the $534 million commuter rail extension is far below the MBTA’s projections, and those who do take it are more likely to be former passengers of the T’s own commuter boats than motorists lured away from the South Shore’s congested highways.
Last week, according to the T, an average of 2,133 weekday customers rode the line toward Boston, about half the 4,200 riders the transit agency had expected within three to five years of opening Greenbush.
That is certainly not paying for itself.
If you’re going to force an agency to forward fund, then you cannot dictate where it decides to put its capital investments. Even if it’s politically popular to add track or stations in your neighborhood, doesn’t mean the MBTA will be able to afford it in a forward funding scenario. And if the MBTA does decide on a station in your neighborhood, you shouldn’t force it - by political pressure - to make it some kind of intermodal economic-development extravaganza if the MBTA doesn’t think it will make its investment back. And yet, this is what is happening.
If we as a Commonwealth want to think beyond what will make the MBTA its investments back, then we need to invest extra public monies to its capital investments when those costs go beyond the scope of the MBTA’s forward funded budget. End of story.
Of course, the MBTA might be able to survive in a forward funding, willy-nilly-capital-investment world if it decided to go with enormous rate increases…but that has the potential to damage the ability for much its ridership to use the transit system. Thereby decreasing ridership, and the main revenue source of the MBTA. So, that would be kind of stupid. Also deeply unpopular.
So now the MBTA is obligated to take on more debt for capital improvements (improvements, you could argue, that were needed and desired, but we should have thought about how to pay for them first), on top of what is essentially a capped revenue from public sources.
So what the hell miracle solution is the frapping MBTA Board supposed to come up with? Are they supposed to apply bloody pixie dust to the thorny problems dropped on the MBTA by the legislature?? What solution is there other than the areas they have control over?? Which would be, huge rate increases and huge service cuts. Neither of which is good for the Commonwealth.
The state legislature, aka Beacon Hill, are a bunch of whiny asshole babies over this issue. They caused this problem in several ways, and now that the structural budget problems have come to a head for the MBTA, they’re like, “they need to stop coming to us with their hand out.” And yet the solutions floated, like a big jump in fares, or stopping its likely-revenue-losing weekend service, are not only wicked unpopular with the public (duh) but unacceptable to the politicians who have to take responsibility for a pissed off public!
What other math works, other than “we need to increase revenue by increasing fares, or decrease services drastically”??
I can tell you one thing. The MBTA, while being shite at its own PR and making huge gaffs in that arena, is one of the leanest-run public organizations out there. I dare anyone to find more than a piddling inconsequential amount of “fat” in the way they run the public transit system that millions rely on.
What miracle of “revisions” to the system can possibly fracking fix this?
Apparently, if you buy into the Beacon Hill conventional wisdom, it’s someone else’s miracle to produce. Luckily, being smarter and more informed than the average Beacon Hill bubblehead, I have some ideas.
My solution may not resolve the existing debt burden problem (personally, I think the legislature should grow up and help dig the MBTA out of the hole the legislature dug for them). But…IF they want to continue with the forward funding model for the MBTA (I’m not convinced ditching it would be a bad idea but there are reasons to think it could work) then the legislature needs to change the law to ensure that forward funding be limited to being spent on operating costs, maintenance, and pay-for-themselves MBTA-driven capital improvements (ie keep the politicians from meddling and adding scope to them). If the politicians want a project akin to the operating-at-a-loss Greenbush expansion, something that is not projected to pay for itself in a reasonable timeframe, but which is desired for other reasons like expanding economic opportunities, access for underserved neighborhoods, etc, then that should be paid for outside of the MBTA’s forward funding obligations.
The MBTA, under forward funding, should not have to consider how a project benefits a community, the environment, or traffic congestion. Remember, any side-benefits that the MBTA can create by its very existence don’t show up as credits on the forward-funding balance sheet - the MBTA just get the costs. Communities, the state, citizens, we might see benefits, but the MBTA in many of these projects only sees some return.
Under forward funding, the MBTA’s only consideration should be: can it pay for its own loan on a given project? That is the way that forward funding works. By putting such outside considerations and obligations upon the MBTA so that it winds up paying for projects of more benefit to other entities other than itself, you are asking it to do too much with the fixed amount of money it can produce and borrow. The legislature is bankrupting the MBTA with the obligations it put on it prior to 2000, and the pressure for big, giant, baby-kissing sorts of expansions now. You cannot have it both ways, Beacon Hill. Either you let the MBTA decide on all the expansions it will undertake under forward funding (keeping revenue generation and budget in mind) even if those projects aren’t good for ribbon cuttings or sucking up to your electorate…or pay for the capital investments in the system some other way.
The alternative is to trap the MBTA between a rock and a hard place, and then blame them when they can’t extract themselves. Which I guess is where we find ourselves. I just thought that Senator Donoghue was a lot better than your regular Beacon Hill insider. But it’s not too late for her to change her approach to this complex problem to something a little more nuanced than “I blame the MBTA Board for not performing miracles.”
Serious problems call for serious leadership. That’s all I’m sayin’.
I have more questions than answers. My Socratic muse drives me.
- Are the terms now public? Some of the terms were shared on WCAP. Was that a “breach” or a “Press Release.”
- The SC and UTL leadership have come to terms. Those terms must be disclosed to the membership for an up or down vote. If the rank and file can know the terms, why can’t we? Or, can we?
- If one term is 1.5% pay raise to start “immediately”, if they hit June of 2012 with no long term accord; does the current contract come back or has the SC just handed the membership a floor of 1.5%? I’m going to guess that the deal reached, if accepted by the membership, will exist in perpetuity until a 2012 deal is struck. Or 2013, 2014 …..
- Will the UTL now turn its attention on the City Manager and City Council? Really, how could UTL leadership bind its membership to a long term deal without having the “bookends” set on their health care costs?
- Did the SC miss an opportunity to stake the UTL down on wages, allowing potential health care savings to come back to taxpayers?
- Does the City Council really think they will get to play with savings on the School side, captured by “plan design,” as they see fit? Like give it back to the taxpayers?
The SC is not coached by Bill Belechick. The UTL has a better game plan. I’m not going out on a limb to say this punt was the best play available, for both sides.
Now we turn to Bernie Lynch and the importance of the City Council election.
Update: I’m rescinding my football metaphor and substituting a golf ball. Did the School Committee chip it forward into the rough, the fairway or deeper into the woods? You play the ball where it lays.
Are you sick of hearing them promise to not raises your taxes? Knowing damn well that promise is empty? Are you sick of listening to them praise the CM’s “fiscal” prowess, while pledging to subvert it?
Two week, folks. Two weeks!
The CM had his say in May 2011. Then he shut up. The “read my lips” crowd has been flapping their lips, pretty much since. Though, thankfully, some didn’t bother speaking until September. They must have gotten rest orders from “Doctor Summeroff.” :v/
.. Over the last month, City Manager Lynch and CFO Tom Moses have made the rounds of Neighborhood Group meetings across the City to provide an opportunity for residents to gain a better understanding of what is considered when preparing the City’s budget as well as the challenges unique to FY 12. The presentation, which has been well received, has provided a platform for residents to have their questions answered and to raise discussion around topics from property tax to city service levels. The last series of slides which illustrate the challenge presented in identifying cuts from the limited amount of discretionary budget dollars has been of particular interest to residents. …
Here is some video I recorded of his budget presentation at our CNAG meeting. Skip to 4:20, if you want red meat.
The Sun has an article about the school committee-teacher contract negotiations. I have a few things to say about it.
First, the reported rejection of the school committee’s offer. Look, I am sympathetic of the fact that the teachers have gone without a cost of living raise (just step increases) for the more than two years there has been no contract. It’s not fair, and it’s frustrating I am sure. Teachers work hard, and should be compensated like professionals. Their job is so important to a strong community.
However, I think asking for too much right now forces the school committee to choose between raises, and JOBS. Chapter 70 money is merely level-funded right now, if even that, and the city can hardly afford to greatly increase their part of the school budget, given the amount of local aid from the state. Medical insurance and other expenses are going up, up, up. This eats into the budget every year. We’re in a serious downtown for heaven’s sake! People are getting laid off right, left, and center in both the private AND the public sector. Why doesn’t this reality sink in? Accept a modest forward-going raise that kicks in over time so the school committee can feel confident they can fund it, or watch colleagues get laid off!!
I am a public and private union sympathizer, but Paul Georges sometimes make it VERY hard for me to sympathize with the teacher’s union and their demands. This isn’t the first time that’s happened. I know his job is to be a hard ass, but enough is enough.
However, that is not the only outrage in that article, and now we come to the real reason for this post. From the article (important part in bold):
As contract negotiations continue behind closed doors between the School Committee and United Teachers of Lowell, one School Committee member tells The Sun that union leaders refused a 3 percent raise offered by the committee this week.
“They are sharks,” said the committee member, who agreed to speak anonymously because negotiations are protected by executive-session privilege. “We have really extended ourselves with the best offer we could make, but it is not enough for them.”
Who the goddamned hell broke executive session rules to comment on the rejection in the first place??
I would like to see that person LOSE the upcoming election. What. An. IDIOT. We NEED to know who that person is.
Of course, the Sun went to Paul Georges for a reaction to the anonymous comment, which included a very incendiary “they are sharks.”
If you thought the negotiations have been grueling, unproductive, and contentious up til now, just wait. Thanks to this stupid farking anonymous School Committee member, the teachers now have an excuse to be even more pissed off. And rightly so. The rules of negotiation were violated by one party. This is not negotiating in good faith. Haven’t we had enough public personnel fights fought in the pages of the Lowell Sun (the former Superintendent) to be smart enough to refrain from this sort of ethical lapse?
My god. If we do not find out what elected moron commented and leaked executive session negotiations, then we need to concentrate on ousting all the incumbents we can and replacing them with all the challengers running. Even though I am a supporter of some of the incumbents.
If I were the rest of the School Committee, I would publicly come out and state they were not the leak, so by process of elimination, we can figure out who was. Sure, there’s a chance someone might lie about it, but if we continue to have elected officials undermining delicate negotiations, I am ready with the pitchfork of my vote to retire them posthaste. And you should be too.
Yesterday, the lower body of the Massachusetts state legislature passed the casino gambling bill. Yesterday, we took a step closer to allowing predatory gambling in our state, affecting thousands of families that otherwise would have not been torn apart by gambling addiction. It is a well-documented outcome that within a 50 mile radius of slot parlors and casinos, you increase the level of addiction. Proximity to slots means new addicts.
There has not been a true cost-benefit study, nor will there be. The proponents constantly cite job numbers and state revenues, stats which come direct from the casino lobbyists and their paid consultants. We have never heard of the estimated costs associated with predatory gambling in our backyard - such as mitigating increased crime rates (and there will be increased crime, and from the unlikeliest of people). Affecting public institutions, churches, nonprofits, and small businesses especially.
In CT, a state-commissioned study showed that the rate of embezzlement has gone up 10 times the national average there.
Among other associated costs (such as the millions needed to create an oversight agency), is the loss of state revenues from other sources which are taxed, as some people spend their discretionary monies on slots and gambling instead of other goods and services. There’s only so many ways to slice the pie. You can’t create more pie matter out of thin air.
The costs only go up over time. A decade from now, the number of addicts who commit crimes to support their habit, tear their families apart, and/or require addiction services from the state will only go up. Businesses in the vicinity of a casino may well not be able to compete and shut down. Cultural institutions closest to CT already have a hard time attracting the best acts to their stages, and this will also spread and worsen. This won’t happen all in the first year the casinos begin operating. But over the next two decades we’ll see increased effects from the life-sucking casinos and slot parlors.
Casino proponents say that you get increased tourism when you open a casino. This is only true if every state doesn’t already have one. We will not pull people from NV, or CT, or PA, or RI, or anywhere where else gambling is already accessible, with our shiny new casinos. This is a false hope and gets more false with every new state that adds casinos. We’d be better off focusing on our historic and cultural offerings to attract more visitors.
They say we’ll be adding jobs. But that is finite, the jobs are mostly low-paying, and the numbers they cite are usually overblown.
Think about your disposable income. You might go out to eat, buy a new couch, or go the the movies. Each one of these things supports a whole host of services and goods (farmers, small business owners, chefs, fabric companies, woodworkers, gaffers, costume designers, camera operators). Now, decide whether or not you can afford to buy a couch, or lose a thousand at a casino. What does the casino income support? A few paltry (mostly low paying) service jobs locally, a trickle to the state, and the rest pulled out of the state but not to support other producers - no, the bulk of the money goes straight to the pockets of the casino profiteers. Casinos are empty calories, like the guy who consumes a 2-liter bottle of Coke a day, is 50 lbs overweight, and wondering why.
Never mind the questionable morality and sustainability of the state being in the position of needing to create more gambling addicts to raise funds for schools. Studies show that at least 50% of the profits a casino makes are from the problem gamblers. That means 50% of the state revenues we get from casinos is sucked from people who cannot help gambling and will do so until they destroy their own lives and the lives of others. And slots, in particular, are rigged to make them particularly addictive (similar to adding chemicals to cigarettes to increase their addictiveness).
Casinos are going bankrupt and losing money in many states. States with casinos have huge budget problems as those revenues go into the tank, whereas Mass, with its infrastructure and high-level industry investments (such as in green and biotech) has seen amazing job and economic growth compared to other states. And we want to tie our future to those same gambling stars? Connecticut just raised sales and use taxes this summer to patch their big budget deficit. Oh yes, those casinos saved CT from economic ruin. (That’s sarcasm. Revenues for CT’s casinos are dropping alarmingly.)
So in sweeps DeLeo and his race track slot parlor mentality. And he begs, borrows, and twists arms to get enough votes to pass a bill includes a racino (an element that sank the last gambling bill in the Senate). But this time, closed door compromises between the Senate president, House Speaker, and Governor Patrick all but ensure there’s no hope now in the Senate, unless we see an upset.
Of course, we expect such short-sighted voting from some of our elected officials, such as Rep Tom Golden and Dave Nangle, as they have a history of such. However, my biggest disappointment is reserved for those who at least ought to know better about rosy projections that never have panned out in the past in other states. Who are smart and should be keenly interested in an independent, thorough evaluation before we commit an irreversible act to allow predatory gambling.
Politicians like Governor Deval Patrick, who I know is way smarter than this.
Progressive state reps that I have long supported, like Representative Jen Benson, who was a Yes vote on this bill.
And other progressives around the state, like Rep. Lori Ehrlich of Marblehead.
I call on our new state Senator Eileen Donoghue to vote NO on this casino bill. Donoghue, who is Chair of the Joint Committee on Tourism, Arts and Cultural Development, pointed out on Facebook, the other day, a Sun article outlining some meager possible protections for cultural institutions.
I hope this does not mean she is already a “Yes” vote. Senator Donoghue, you are not only Chair of that committee, but you are also on the committees for Community Development and Small Businesses, and Economic Development and Emerging Technologies. I entreat you to look at the casinos bill with your small business, cultural institution, and constituent eyes. Question what you have been told about the revenues for the state and the jobs numbers - look at what is happening to casino states all over the country right now. Understand that allowing casinos comes at a huge cost - not only to our citizens and our economic development, but to our politics, which will be further spoiled by the corruption that comes with the casino lobby parking itself permanently in our state.
Do you want to be noted in history as a person who enabled our state go from the strong economic engine that we are, which invests in its own people and businesses, to a state with many of the serious problems of others, states who thought they could make a quick and easy buck…by gambling? It doesn’t work for the poor schlub who thinks buying a lottery ticket every week is a good retirement plan, and it won’t work for Massachusetts, either.
You can’t make this stuff up. Senator Scott Brown wrote an op ed in the Boston Globe, noting that in after the 2001 dot-com crash, Massachusetts got itself out of recession with spending cuts and no tax hikes (bold added):
In 2001 to ’02, the bursting of the technology bubble hit the Massachusetts economy hard. Our unemployment rate was growing faster than any other state in the country, and we faced a fiscal crisis that many experts said was the worst since World War II. The projected deficit for 2003 was nearly $3 billion.
But instead of raising taxes, Democrats and Republicans worked across the aisle: We tightened our belts and balanced the books by cutting spending. It wasn’t easy, but after some tough negotiations and re-setting of priorities, we turned our deficit into a surplus and the economy and jobs started coming back.
Except, “hesterprynne” points out in her post, it isn’t true (bold mine):
A pretty story that neatly coincides with the Senator’s campaign platform. The only problem is that it’s not true. The state did raise taxes on income, capital gains and cigarettes in 2002, increasing revenues by $1 billion.
David, in promoting the diary, also points out that while Scott Brown appears to claim that S&P’s 2005 upgrade of Massachusetts’ credit rating had nothing to do with spending increases (since they didn’t happen according to him) but all because of the cuts, he’s wrong there too. From the op-ed:
In 2005, when S&P upgraded Massachusetts’ credit rating, it cited two key factors: reduced spending and greater budget certainty. Washington needs to do the same thing.
Funny, how that also isn’t true. In fact, that “greater budget certainty” cited had a lot to do with tax hikes (bold mine).
Gov. Mitt Romney lobbied the credit ratings agency Standard & Poor’s in 2004 to raise his state’s credit rating in part because Massachusetts had raised taxes during an economic downturn two years earlier.
The claim was part of a presentation to the ratings agency obtained by POLITICO under a state freedom of information law from the Massachusetts Executive Office of Administration and Finance.
(That article is interesting too, how Mitty is using this 2005 upgrade in his stump speech, but arguing for just spending cuts, when in reality the tax hikes had a lot to do with it. Oops, Mittsy!)
Anyway, is there any more proof you need that Scott Brown is an empty suit? Let’s hope the Globe isn’t shy about doing a followup, unless, you know, it wants to get the reputation of misleading its readers by allowing false information to go unchallenged by its op-ed writers. Just sayin’.
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