Member of the reality-based community of progressive (not anonymous) Massachusetts blogs
I wanted to take a moment to teach our new Mayor some things he already ought to know about the city’s money reserves, about saving taxpayer dollars, and proper budgeting. Since he thinks he knows better than a professional city manager who has taken us from negative $4.5M in reserves to a cozy but not complete positive, and all of that negative drawdown of free cash and then some happened on Rodney’s watch during the Cox years, I figured maybe he just doesn’t really understand budgets. I mean, he claims to all the time, dubbing himself a fiscal watchdog, but every time he opens his mouth, he belies this supposed expertise.
I hope he finds this primer informative! I certainly look forward to his better understanding showing itself in future discussions. Click to read more: (more…)
(What follows is a very long, comprehensive post filled to the brim with everything I’ve learned about going solar. Our installation is now feeding green energy into the grid, I obsess about cloudy days, and I’m looking forward to our new investment paying us back in both money, and in knowing we’re contributing a great deal towards a green future.)
The flurry of activity in and around my homestead during two days in the week of October 7th was very disturbing to my poor dogs, but exciting for us. After a journey of more than five years in researching and planning (more on that in a bit) the contractors we hired, NuWatt Energy Inc, were on our roof installing our 4.16kWh solar electric system. A system that, it is estimated, will be providing around 80% of our current electricity usage.
Why did it take us so long, and how did we finally decide on the path we did? The answer to that, I’m hoping, will give other people a shortcut to the knowledge we got the hard way, and give you several paths to solar for your own home or business if you think you’ve got the roof for it. (more…)
So here it is folks. The pièce de résistance. Official Left in Lowell candidate questionnaire answers! They are on their own web page, which you can find here.
On a side note, I really REALLY like this format. Comparing lots of apples to lots of other apples, and a few places for candidates to show off their knowledge. This could be the format going forward. Also, lots and lots of props to my wonderful husband who whipped the submitted answers into a format that I could literally copy and paste into the page for the data table. Love you hon!!!
Thanks also to our amazing readers for a very large chunk of the questions. Crowd sourcing works!
I am considering reopening up for submissions after the preliminary, since my timeframe was crushed a bit leading up to next Tuesday’s election. The unfair part is that anyone submitting answers after publication is getting an advantage of seeing what everyone else said; but if I were to notate who passed answers in after the prelim, would you want to see more answers from more candidates? Honest question. I’m good either way.
Good news, everyone! Moody and S&P know there’s a lot to like about Lowell (city press release):
Standard & Poor Upgrades Lowell’s Bond Rating
Moody’s Assigns a Positive Outlook for the City
(Lowell, MA) – - September 5, 2013, – As a result of very favorable impressions about the City during their recent bus tour of various economic development sites in Lowell, two rating agencies upgraded their outlook for the Cities future. Standard & Poor’s upgraded Lowell’s long-term bond rating from A to A+. S & P cited a stable tax base poised for future growth and development, stronger reserves, operational flexibility through some unused levy capacity and low overall debt burden. They praised management for “continually working toward mitigating the effects of long-term pension and other postemployment benefit (OPEB) liabilities.” The ratings agency reclassified Lowell’s reserve levels from “adequate” to “good.”
While Moody’s Investors Services affirmed Lowell’s long-term bond rating of A1, it assigned a new “positive” outlook to the City. “The A1 rating reflects the city’s sizeable and diverse tax base and manageable debt burden. The positive outlook reflects the city’s improved financial position, including an increase in excess levy capacity to $12 million, and reductions in the city’s long term OPEB liability.” Moody’s cited as strengths the presence of higher education and regional health care institutions, development in the Hamilton Canal District, conservative budgeting, and financial forecasts and policies.
Lowell City Manager Bernard F. Lynch call the ratings reports “Votes of confidence that reflect a drastic improvement from 2007 when Moody’s rated Lowell’s bonds A3 with a “negative” outlook and from 1997 when the bonds were rated Baa2. Our financial flexibility is greater than it has been since 2003.”
Challenges remain for the City, primarily to continue to build reserves and control long-term liabilities.
If you have further questions, please contact CFO, Tom Moses at firstname.lastname@example.org. Full texts of both reports are available on the city’s website, http://www.lowellma.gov
In a full, regular session CM Bernie Lynch made his case for what he views as the most fiscally prudent way forward, taking into account the $6.4Million the Commonwealth has certified as Free Cash. The CM presented a detailed slide presentation in an effort to convince a majority of the City Council to support his fiscal sensibilities. Your mileage may vary, but Lowell is doing swell on so many fronts. Shouldn’t we just follow along?
A lazy man may say “Yes.” But, we have a Plan E Charter and our Council cannot, in good faith, simply roll over should this manager, or any manager, wink. Fortunately, CM Lynch presents a very solid case for the fine shape we are in. That fact makes it that much tougher to recklessly bat at his logic.
Below we find two of Lynch’s favorite metrics: Cash Reserves & Excess Levy Capacity
These metrics are measures of frugality. We don’t blow our budget and we don’t, contrary to popular myth, tax Lowellelians to death. (The last point drives UTL President Paul Georges nuts.) The take away here is that it is good to build up a rainy day fund, while concurrently leaving money in folks pockets. Some may argue that raising taxes EVER is a torrential downpour. They are full of crap, imho. Next…
It’s streamlined and easier to understand, unveiled at tonight’s meeting. It includes the ability to register, if you like, and get emails every time a new bill gets issued. Very useful. From the front page of the pay section:
The City of Lowell offers residents an easy and secure way to view, print and pay their real estate tax, personal property tax, motor vehicle tax and water bills online. We support electronic bill presentment (viewing) and payment because it is more convenient for residents and better for the environment.
Online Bill Payment, in partnership with Invoice Cloud, offers the following benefits:
- No registration required
- You have the option to pay immediately or schedule a payment
- Get an emailed confirmation of payment or print a receipt
- You may sign up for automatic payments
- You may choose to “Go Paperless” to reduce clutter and help the environment
- E-check is less than the cost of a stamp!
The following bills are available for online payment:
- Real Estate Taxes
- Personal Property Taxes
- Water/Sewer/Refuse Utility Billing
- Motor Vehicle Excise Taxes
- Boat Excise Taxes
- Parking Tickets
Visa, Mastercard, Discover and echeck are accepted. The convenience fee for echecks is only $.40, it’s $1-$3.95 for credit cards.
After clicking around a bit, this appears to be a vast improvement over the previous system, so thumbs up.
It’s easier to do a search (at least for real estate taxes) as they explained tonight. Since real estate taxes are public info, all you need is any part of your name (though if it’s “John” you search for you’ll get a million results) or address, or bill # if you have it, and you can see your past and current bills. Other billpays need the bill# as a required search term.
I just returned from a roundtable event with Elizabeth Warren here in Lowell at Mambo Grill, focused on women-owned small businesses, where I got to both be at the table, and also tweet my little heart out. (Dick Howe Jr, sitting nearby, was likely feeling a bit smug over that.) If you happened to catch my Twitter stream this afternoon, you would have been treated to quotes and photos from the event.
The local visit is part of the rolling out of the latest Warren endorsement - not only was Elizabeth joined by first-Congressperson-to-endorse Rep. Niki Tsongas, but also by Sheila Bair, former chair of the FDIC, a Republican who has never endorsed or campaigned for a Democrat but has decided to wade into this race. A G.W. Bush appointee, Bair worked with Warren on issues of stopping foreclosures and helping consumers during the financial meltdown, then also when Warren had oversight of the TARP program and the formation of the CFPB.
In the toss-around that is the rather tired old “bipartisan endorsement” game in the Commonwealth these days, why should you care about Sheila Bair’s? Because unlike other endorsements, this one has gravitas. It might not be a recognizable name to you, but in terms of really knowing Warren and her work, in places where it matters to average people, you can’t beat this former Chair of the FDIC.
It was great to hear Bair in person, and her reasons for endorsing Warren that go beyond party lines. For her, it’s about Warren’s real, tangible work on behalf of consumers, the middle class, homeowners, and squaring the financial system so that it’s fair for all. She said, specifically, that Warren is not anti-bank or anti-business, but rather is for an equal playing field for citizens and businesses alike.
Oh hell, I was on fire on my smartphone, I’m just going to include my own tweets here:
— LeftinLowell.com (@leftinlowell) October 17, 2012
[Apologies, previous Tweet has a smartphone-induced typo in Bair’s name.]
Bair: “Until we end ‘too big to fail,’ we won’t have a stable financial system…that’s why I have endorsed @elizabethforma.”— LeftinLowell.com (@leftinlowell) October 17, 2012
When a reporter asked the obligatory question about bipartisaniness, Bair responded with concrete examples of why Elizabeth Warren was the one who would do the real work:
— LeftinLowell.com (@leftinlowell) October 17, 2012
Two things of gleeful personal note: the silly press people had to ask Warren about the asbestos lawsuit thing, again, which I imagine has to be tiresome beyond belief, but in her response, Warren cited the asbestos union, the many victims, and the victims’ lawyers who’ve expressed dismay over Brown’s lies about the case. Glad to have helped with that.
Second, I got to ask a roundtable question, and I was debating talking about DBE issues (Disadvantaged Business Enterprise, a designation for federal DOT work as a women- or minority-owned business, for which my business was certified for several years) but…I decided to air out a long-standing frustration I have with a simple and obvious way that Dems can combat the “deregulate and untax businesses and they’ll grow!” idiocy from Republicans. I mentioned my own personal experience - that it’s the DEMAND from customers, not taxes, which are the arbiters of whether or not I expand as a business. If I have more work than I can handle, I hire. If it dries up, I shrink. Taxes and regulation have very little to do with it. If I can make money by expanding, of course I will!
This has been annoying the hell out of me - it’s such a simple, easily understood concept Dems could use to whack their Ayn Randian Republican opponents over the head with in debates and on the stump. Warren was all over it - citing the jobs bills that Brown voted against and helped to kill, which would have increased spending money in the hands of the employed, indirectly helping even my B-to-B business, nevermind the construction and infrastructure jobs bill which, as a WBE/DBE at the time, might have helped me land some really big contracts. Which would have forced me to hire, in all likelihood.
[Note to LiL readers: if this sounds familiar, it’s because I’ve said it before, and certainly the Mr. has said it before, to whom I give original credit.]
Anyway, I was grateful to finally get that little gem out in a meaningful way. I hope it is useful to her and she uses it! Now I just need to find a roundtable with Obama that I can crash…
Poor Gov. Chris Christie. Coming off an awful Republican convention in which he was a keynote, Standard and Poor’s “lowered its credit outlook for New Jersey from stable to negative.” Why so? (Bold mine.)
While Standard & Poor’s did not change the state’s AA- rating — one of the worst among the states — it warned the more drastic step of a lower rating loomed if Christie’s nearly 8 percent growth in revenue failed to materialize.
“We revised the outlook to reflect our view of the risk of revenue assumptions we view as optimistic, continued reliance on one-time measures to offset revenue shortfalls, and longer-term growing expenditure pressures,” John Sugden, a credit analyst for Standard & Poor’s, said.
Christie has spent much of the year boasting of a “Jersey Comeback” — an assertion that has fizzled in recent months as state revenue has fallen short of expectations, unemployment has risen and foreclosures remain a drag on the real estate market.
What’s Christie’s risky revenue assumption? That cutting taxes will increase the state’s revenues! The Governor’s response to S&P? Double down!
Unswayed by the latest batch of economic news, Christie repeated his call for an income tax cut at an appearance in Bergen County and said it was a “joke” that Democrats had not yet delivered the cut.
I hate having to state the obvious, but…trickle-down economics doesn’t work. Cutting taxes does not increase revenues. It decreases revenues. If I get a pay cut at work, I don’t take in more money than I did before the cut.
Why is basic math so hard for conservatives to understand? Look, we can disagree, and do, about what government should be involved in and how much it should spend. But can we, please, just agree on basic freaking addition and subtraction? George H.W. Bush called Reagan’s supply-side plans “voodoo economics” over thirty years ago - he was right then, and he’s still right. Tax cuts have slashed revenues in states who have implemented them, and destroyed our national budgets. Conservatives complain about deficits but make them worse…the Bush tax cuts account for a very large percent of our deficit right now, along with his war bill, and the severe downturn he left behind him.
If I was a more cynical sort, I’d say that most trickle-down adherents actually know that what they peddle is a crock of snake oil, but they inflict the country with this policy anyway so that when the deficit inevitably balloons, they can slash the budget in places that will hurt the worst off in our country - that they really, underneath it all, mean “trickle-UP” - cutting taxes for the wealthy so their buddies can get even more gawd-awfully rich and the gap between them and the rest of us gets wider.
And a number of conservatives do know this, and do do this, aka the Norquist “drown it in a bathtub” admission. But I believe the real core of the Republican party, especially its voters, are merely obsessed with “supply-side economics” in a religious way, clinging to trickle-down dogma. You know, like when you see an interview with Tom Cruise, and the host tries to talk about the science of mental health, and Tom Cruise bounces up and down on the couch in denial that mental disease even exists, because his crazy ass religion tells him so. You can try to get him to stop bouncing and listen to the empirical evidence, but dogma prevents him from hearing you.
Well, that’s most trickle-down adherents for you. They keep bouncing, because if they stop and actually think logically, never mind view and digest the evidence against it, it would throw their entire worldview upside down, and that is a very uncomfortable place to be.
(Article via dkos.)
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.
As Lynne reminds us: How Quickly We Forget
Councilor Elliott’s fiscal “acumen” leads us this way:
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