It's a legitimate question, and the only possible conclusion to be drawn once one connects the series of dots that have been lining up over the past couple of weeks.
First, there was the Democratic leadership's refusal to allow "plan design," a proposal that would allow cities and towns to save millions by designing their own employee health benefit packages, into a piece of legislation misleadingly called the Municipal Relief Act. "Too controversial," declared Rep. Paul Donato, chair of the committee that is supposed to look out for our communities. (More on plan design here). According to the Mass Municipal Association, plan design would save cities and towns approximately $100 million per year. Local officials feel so strongly about plan design that a bipartisan group of 20 mayors last week announced a plan to go straight to the ballot to seek the authority that the gutless wonders in the legislature refuse to even debate. From the State House News Service:
Over 20 mayors and municipal officials from across the state are plotting an end-run around Beacon Hill, taking to voters a bid to relieve local budgets by wresting control of employee health plans from labor unions.Then we have the Globe's recent renewed attention on a perennial proposal to remove union impediments to joining city and town health plans to the state's larger plan, known as the Group Insurance Commission (the GIC). (More on Municipal GIC here). According to a recent study by the Boston Foundation, Boston alone could save $45 million per year by joining the GIC. In the aggregate, the Commonwealth's cities and towns would save several hundred million dollars. Asked by the Globe last week to comment on legislative prospects for removing the absolute veto currently held by local unions on proposals to join the GIC, House Speaker DeLeo and Senate President Murray demurred, citing the importance of collective bargaining.
And this morning, the final dot. Top Mass. legislators warn cities, towns to prepare for a 5% cut in coming fiscal year, reads the headline in the Springfield Republican. That's the word out of a two hour, closed door (of course!) meeting of the House Democratic caucus yesterday. Here's an excerpt from the Republican (the non-partisan newspaper):
After leaving the closed meeting at the Statehouse, several House members, including Reps. Anne M. Gobi, D-Spencer, Benjamin Swan, D-Springfield, and Kathi-Anne Reinstein, D-Revere, said communities should brace for a 5 percent reduction in local aid.So how many dollars is that? Again from the Republican:
“Considering all the obligations we do have, that is reasonable to plan for,” Gobi said.
Gobi said unrestricted government aid and Chapter 70 education aid could each be cut.
Rep. Ellen Story, D-Amherst, and Swan said they would support up to a 5 percent cut in local aid in order to avoid massive reductions in human services.
“If we level fund local aid, it seems we will devastate health and human services,” Story said.
“We’re not going to be able to hold local aid harmless,” Swan added.
Local aid, which also includes money for specific programs such as reimbursements for regional school transportation, totals $5.2 billion, or 18 percent of the budget. A 5 percent cut would be about $250 million.$250 million. Plan design could take an estimated $100 million bite out of that, but it is "too controversial" even to discuss. Municipal GIC could eliminate that $250 million cut entirely.
One might think that yet another cut in local aid - in an election year - would be a bit "controversial" in itself. And indeed, apparently it is. House Republicans are pushing for a vote on a resolution that would commit the House to maintaining current local aid levels. DeLeo is blocking that vote, handing the growing number of Republican legislative candidates a very ripe issue for the stump. That isn't sitting well with embattled Democratic rank-and-file Reps, one of whom told the State House News yesterday, anonymously, "That gets everybody really [expletive] fired up... [The Speaker] doesn’t want to do anything because he doesn’t want to take the vote that early."
So to review: (1) Plan Design is "too controversial" even to debate, because the unions oppose it. (2) Municipal GIC is a no-go, because the unions oppose it. And (3) already strapped cities and towns are being warned to brace for another five percent cut to local aid - which, by the way, will result in another round of property tax increases next year. Conclusion? The Beacon Hill Democrats who represent the vast majority of our cities and towns would rather cut aid - again! - to our communities than risk annoying the state's politically powerful unions in an election year.
For all the money and manpower the union bosses put into Democrats' campaigns in this state, there is one essential electoral commodity that they do not control - our votes. Which is why you should call your Democratic state representatives and senators and ask them why union political support is more important to them than local aid.