Sunday, June 27, 2010
Perhaps the most crucial trend for Baker is this: as voters become familiar with the first-time candidate, his support is steadily increasing. Baker is now within striking distance of Patrick, with fully 45% of the electorate telling the Globe's pollster that they are still unfamiliar with him.
Patrick, on the other hand, is below 40% - with a mere 2% of the electorate saying they don't know enough about him to give an opinion.
Thursday, June 24, 2010
Overlooking warnings that it would harm the competitiveness of planned gambling venues and cut into expected state revenues, the Senate voted 24-15 Thursday to ban smoking in casinos, citing public health concerns and a desire to uphold the state's workplace smoking ban.Aren't these people just precious? Now, don't get me wrong. I don't like the idea of casinos in Massachusetts one little bit - especially since one of the most talked-about proposals would see a casino rise up within five miles of my home (oh yes, I'm NIMBY on this one, big-time, and unabashedly so). And I don't like ciggy-butts. Don't like to be anywhere near 'em, not unhappy that restaurants and bars don't allow 'em.
Arguing against the ban, Sen. Steven Panagiotakos (D-Lowell) said the Senate bill was "narrowly tailored" to permit - not require - casinos to set aside 25 percent of their gaming floors for smokers. He said the lack of smoking areas could chop up to $95 million off the state's expected take from expanded gambling. Panagiotakos also noted that exemptions to the workplace smoking ban already exist for cigar bars and private clubs.
Sen. Richard Moore (D-Uxbridge), who pushed the ban amendment to legislation authorizing three casinos, said permitting casinos to circumvent the smoking ban is "a travesty" that would harm the health of patrons and employees.
But anyone who has ever ventured to Foxwoods, Atlantic City or Vegas knows that, for whatever reason, a lot of gamblers are smokers. A lot lot. Since gamblers - the hard-core ones who spend the bucks, anyhow - tend to spend hours on end at the tables and the slots, it is not at all unreasonable to assume that some not insignificant number of them will be diverted by a Massachusetts smoking ban back to butt-friendlier venues in Connecticut and Rhode Island. Whether that knocks $95 million off of already baseless casino estimates or not, I don't know. But it will knock something off. It also might make developers just a little bit less enthusiastic about Massachusetts as a casino state. All to the good so far as I'm concerned.
Set that aside, and return to the absurdity of what is going on in the Massachusetts senate. They just banned smoking in casinos, because smoking is bad for the public. Now let's see... what else goes on in and around casinos that might be characterized by someone inclined to nanny-statism as "bad for the public."
Oh, I know! Drinking! Of ALCOHOL! People drink in casinos - sometimes for free! But, but, but - if they do that, then they might drink to excess. And if they do THAT, then they might drive. Best to ban alcohol, or at least free alcohol. Let the casinos sell energy drinks. No, no wait. Not energy drinks. Juice. 100% pure juice though, no sugar. What's that? Pure juice has 'natural sugar'??!! Water then. Tap water. No bottles.
And speaking of the obesity epidemic, no fried food at the buffet. And no high-sodium food either. Organic all around. Produced locally (by union labor. do we need to add that to the bill, or is it already in there?).
What else? Well, casinos are usually open 24 hours a day. But everyone knows that at least eight hours of quality sleep per night are crucial for a healthy lifestyle. We don't want state-licensed facilities actively promoting an unhealthy lifestyle. So the senate should probably impose a mandatory closing time on those casinos. Let's say 11 PM. No, let's say 10. Some of these casinos will be out in the boondocks, and we want to give people plenty of time to get home to bed.
You know, come to think of it, the last time I visited a casino those slot machine dings and beeps and bleeps were ringing in my ears for hours after I'd left. Who knows what long-term damage that cacophony may have done to my fragile eardrums. Decibel limits, that's the ticket. Or maybe a beep-per-minute cap. Which would be easier on the collective's ears? Better order a study!
And those lights - all those flashing lights! Bad for the eyes. Not to mention an enormous waste of energy! And don't even get me started on the implications of all those lights for epileptic gamblers, who should have as much right to visit a Massachusetts casino (between the hours of 9 AM and 10 PM) as anyone else. So no flashing lights. And the overheads had better not be incandescent bulbs.
I feel like I'm missing something. I'm sure there's something else "bad" that goes on in casinos. There's this big, pink, vaguely-elephant-shaped something sitting over there in the corner of the Senate chamber, but I just can't quite make it out.......
Hey, here's a thought: let's not try to balance our budget by throwing up a bunch of state-sanctioned vice-o-ramas. Then our poor, conflicted legislators won't have to worry their heads over all this stuff.
UPDATE June 26: Looks like they might undo the smoking ban. Now if we could just get the legislature to be as open-minded about revisiting some of their other recent bone-headed decisions. Like that 25% sales tax hike, for example...
This continues an established trend for first-time candidate Baker: as voters become familiar with him, his support increases. He is now up to forty-two percent support - a plurality - among the all-important unenrolled voters. Pundits credit his recent round of television ads with introducing Baker to a wider swath of the electorate.
For their part, Cahill's team calls the Baker ads “a desperate attempt to inflate their poll numbers to give their hollow candidacies some shred of credibility.”
... a reaction that firmly establishes Tim Cahill as the Black Knight of Massachusetts politics.
Tuesday, June 22, 2010
The second article, titled Treasurer hits jackpot with booze, Lottery, at first blush sounds more like an account of a Vegas bender than a political news piece. But it turns out to be just more of the same. Treasurer Tim oversees agencies that award lucrative state contracts (this time the liquor board and the lottery). Treasurer Tim rakes in big dollar contributions from the folks who bid on and win those contracts: $280,000 from donors with business before the liquor board, another $166,000 from donors with business interests in the lottery - including a whopping $63,000 from a single firm. Treasurer Tim adamantly denies any connection between the fund-raising and said contracts. At this point voters can be forgiven a massive yawn, not because such ostentatious displays of pay-to-play government aren't appalling - they are! - but because when it comes to Cahill, this story line has become so numbingly familiar.
Meanwhile, in another example of unfortunate timing, Cahill is out with another web ad that belatedly seeks to 'refute' charges leveled against him in those independent ads that saturated the airwaves a few weeks back; charges mostly involving - surprise! - Cahill's reputation for putting a price tag on doing business with the offices he oversees as Treasurer. I used scare quotes around 'refute' there because, as usual, Cahill does not so much 'refute' the charges - or even address them - as he whines about the fact that they were leveled in the first place.
“When they attack me, they attack all of us, and we’re better than that,” says Cahill in the ad's sanctimonious cap-line. Which I suppose makes sense, if by "all of us" Cahill means his donors who do business with the lottery or the liquor board ($446,000 in contributions);
and who get big contracts from the School Building Authority ($250,000);
and who work for the Commonwealth's patronage-laden probation department ($5,900 from 45 employees in a single month);
and who bid on multi-billion dollar contracts from the state pension board (more than $100,000);
and who work for law firms that represent the pension board ($115,000).
Totaled up that's $916,000 and change - nearly a third of the Treasurer's vaunted campaign account - that investigative reporters have tied directly to donors (many of whom do not even live in Massachusetts) who have direct business interests at stake with agencies and departments that the Treasurer oversees. And it's only June!
No wonder Cahill's people are so proud of how successfully they have "put the arm" on the Commonwealth's contractors. They're really good at it! Unfortunately, this steady drum-beat of coverage is irreconcilable with the political persona that Cahill is desperately trying to create for himself. 'Independent outsider.' At this point he might as well toss in 'Jedi Knight' too, just to keep things interesting.
As Boston University poli sci professor Bruce Shulman puts it in the Herald, “These contributions clearly just don’t fit this image of the independent reformer who’s going to clean up Beacon Hill... He’d be better off trying to portray [him]self as someone who knows the ins and outs of the place.”
Right. Or perhaps more accurately: as someone who knows how much cash one has to put 'in' to get what one wants 'out' of the place.
UPDATE: The folks over at RedMassGroup do a great job deconstructing Cahill's latest web ad:
Tuesday, June 15, 2010
Scott Lehigh's column in the Globe last week, titled "The transformation of Patrick," is the latest example of this phenomenon, but hardly the first. Quite a few local political pundits have of late echoed Lehigh's observations about "how different [Patrick] now is from the thin-skinned, tin-eared, quick-to-bristle novice of the first two years, a man who seemed to think he had been elected all-powerful CEO, and who often viewed political niceties as beneath his notice." Over in the Herald, unabashed Patrick sycophant Peter Gelzinis gushes that Patrick is "hitting his stride just in time." The blogs, too, have taken frequent note of the return after a three and a half year absence of the guy who voters elected in 2006 with a not inconsiderable amount of enthusiasm, and who abruptly disappeared shortly after Deval Patrick took the oath of office.
So what accounts for this sudden resurgence (whether it be real or imagined, lasting or temporary)? The answer is simple: Candidate Patrick is back on the scene. [And here I must acknowledge that I was completely and totally wrong in my oft-repeated prediction that Patrick would bow out of this year's race. I still cannot believe he didn't, but he didn't.]
You remember Candidate Patrick. He makes people feel good. He is a master of oratory, able to string together words to elicit deep emotional response, even when close analysis of his prose reveals no specific, discernible meaning. Candidate Patrick was elected by a wide margin in 2006. Candidate Patrick was the reason that Governor Patrick's personal approval ratings remained high well into the first year of his term, even as his job performance number plummeted. It took a while for Candidate Patrick to be eclipsed entirely by Governor Patrick. Now, at long last, Candidate Patrick is back - and the columnists (if not yet a majority of the voters) are ever so glad to see him.
The problem for Patrick is that his first term job performance proved indisputably that campaigning and governing are not at all the same thing, and that his undoubted skill in the former translates barely at all to the latter. "Together We Can" turned out to be pretty useless in the Corner Office.
Candidate Patrick is free to glide serenely over political and policy disputes alike, borne aloft on wings of inspiring rhetoric and empty promises. Governor Patrick was forced to grapple with the difficult realities of executive responsibility, which tend to be impervious to bumper sticker arguments and require more political courage and decisiveness than Governor Patrick could muster. Campaigning demands that a candidate inspire and persuade. Governing, done properly, demands leadership.
Unfortunately (or fortunately if you, like me, were never much a fan of either Deval Patrick), there's no way to elect Candidate Patrick. A vote for inspiring Candidate Patrick gets you... four more years of feckless Governor Patrick. The guy who abandoned Candidate Patrick's promise to reduce property taxes, and instead raised every tax he could get his hands on. The drapes and Caddy guy, Beacon Hill patron to Marian Walsh and Jim Aloisi, late-career endorser of felon Diane Wilkerson. The guy who can't seem to get a budget plan anywhere close to right, who increased the state workforce by thousands in his first year. A guy whose "transportation reform" left the toll-takers in charge of the Pike, whose "ethics reform" by-passed the patronage culture that still controls Beacon Hill, and whose "pension reform" left intact a system that pays a state pension to a guy in jail for stealing from the state.
And due to term limits, the second four years sought by Candidate Patrick would come without even the promise of an eventual return of the version of Patrick that some voters seem to like!
So sure, the return of his campaign persona will earn Patrick an uptick in the polls, much as a Facebook friend request from an old flame might temporarily quicken the pulse and call to mind fond and sanitized memories of youthful and naive lost love. Soon enough, though, voters outside of Patrick's hard left core (who never stopped loving him, even as he taxed and spent the Commonwealth to the brink) will remember why their 2006 ardor cooled so completely. This will be especially true when Patrick is forced to contrast himself with Charlie Baker, a guy who may not show the same campaign flash as Candidate Patrick, but whose bearing, demeanor and experience fairly scream 'competence' and 'leadership.' This contrast will not go well for Candidate Patrick, as Baker will inevitably remind independent voters of what they'd hoped to get, but never saw, from Governor Patrick.
Monday, June 14, 2010
Sunday, June 13, 2010
More than 320,000 Massachusetts residents remain out of work. We cannot settle for a mediocre recovery that leaves hundreds of thousands of unemployed people on the sidelines. I know we can do better.Read the whole thing here.
The remaining question as we try to pull out of the recession is whether monthly job growth will be part of a robust and sustained recovery, or merely the first small improvement in a prolonged boom and bust cycle. Troubling reports and indicators suggest that Massachusetts is not yet poised for the sort of rapid recovery we enjoyed in the 1990s, and may be set up for continued economic struggles.
Massachusetts is facing at least a $2 billion deficit for next year, and some budget experts expect that figure to climb even higher since growth remains sluggish and federal stimulus funds will dry up...
Fortunately, the same pro-growth measures and spending reforms that will reduce our massive deficit and get us back on sound fiscal footing will also encourage Massachusetts employers to grow here and hire new employees. I have a plan.
First, fundamental reforms that Beacon Hill has ducked for too long must be enacted. We cannot have a full and robust recovery without harnessing the millions of dollars in savings that will be released through reform of our Medicaid system, our public contract laws, local government health-care plans, our state and local pension systems, and reducing the number of state employees and agencies.
Second, we need to undo the damage wrought by anti-growth decisions made during the recession. The sales-tax hike must be reversed and the rate returned to 5 percent. Budget writers must end their reliance on one-time revenues, and the commonwealth's "rainy day" fund must be replenished.
Third, the commonwealth's citizens and its businesses need tax relief to spur a sharp and sustainable recovery. The income-tax rate needs to finally be returned to 5 percent, as the voters demanded a full decade ago.
Finally, we need to take a good, hard look at how we do things at every level of state government. Recent scandals, pay-to-play allegations and revelations of rampant waste and patronage on Beacon Hill have convinced the commonwealth's citizens that Beacon Hill cannot be trusted with their money. It is long past time to give them the kind of change that they have been promised and repeatedly denied in recent years.
Tuesday, June 8, 2010
That bit of political common sense came from senior voter Ann Caggianno, 86, commenting to the Globe on a recent campaign event held in Boston's North End by Democrat-turned-Independent gubernatorial candidate Tim Cahill.
The quote appears in a story today under the headline, "Cahill getting his message back on track," which begins:
Rows of bingo cards and Italian cookies were laid out on folding tables at the North End Seniors meeting. Timothy P. Cahill knew he was only the warm-up act. Cahill, standing with a microphone up front, explained to an audience of 50 at the Nazzaro Community Center last week that he was there to combat the barrage of negative advertisements against him on television. “And the radio, and the radio,’’ one woman interjected.Yeah... about that record. Elsewhere in the same edition of the Globe appears the latest in a long and growing series of investigative articles analyzing the signature characteristic of Tim Cahill's record as a two-term Beacon Hill incumbent: his well-established tendency to seek and accept massive campaign contributions from out-of-state firms looking to do business with the agencies he supervises (past examples here, here, and here).
“And the radio,’’ Cahill agreed, trying to move on. “Their ads were trying to poke holes in my record.’’
Here are the low-light's of today's installment, aptly titled "Campaigns funded by firms politicians oversee":
Three law firms that represent the state’s pension fund in securities litigation have become cash cows for the campaigns of the officials who oversee them. Two New York firms and one based in Boston account for $175,000 given in recent years to the campaigns of Treasurer Timothy P. Cahill and Attorney General Martha Coakley, a Globe review shows...The article contains the usual indignant denials, of course. Tens of thousands in out-of-state contributions, but no connection - none! nil! nada! - to any official decisions. These folks just really, really like Tim Cahill. Here's a question to anyone still inclined to believe such protestations: when is the last time you made a contribution to a candidate in another state just because you thought he was a swell fellow? Common sense rebels.
Cahill, who chairs the board that oversees the Pension Reserves Investment Trust Fund, is the chief beneficiary, reaping at least $115,495 since his first run for treasurer in 2002, including $16,000 since last July when he announced his independent candidacy for governor...
One of Cahill’s largest political benefactors is the New York firm of Labaton Sucharow LLP, whose attorneys and relatives have poured at least $73,800 into his campaign coffers in the past eight years. Last September, the Globe cited the firm’s heavy financial support of the campaigns of Cahill and two county treasurers, Norfolk’s Joseph A. Connolly and Plymouth’s Thomas J. O’Brien, who also chair boards that use the firm in securities litigation...
The third major funding source is the New York firm of Bernstein Liebhard LLP, which has represented the Pension Reserves Board in one case and whose attorneys and family members have contributed at least $12,500 to Cahill...
Cahill spends a lot of time of late grousing about "negative ads" and blaming them for his precipitous decline in recent polls. His much larger problem, though, is that the charges leveled in those independent ads are so frequently substantiated in the newspaper. He is unable to deny the core allegations leveled against him, so he is reduced to complaining about tone.
A majority of voters out there do not want to see Deval Patrick reelected. With each new revelation about the real Tim Cahill living behind the "independent" veneer constructed by his campaign consultants, more and more of those voters are reasonably coming to the same conclusion reached by Ms. Caggianno: "We don't want to waste votes, you know."
Meanwhile, Charlie Baker is traveling the state on his "Had Enough?" tour, speaking to enthusiastic crowds about the issues that matter to them: jobs, the economy, and voter frustration with Beacon Hill. From recent coverage in the Milford Daily News of a regional event on the tour:
Baker and Tisei have offered plans to save taxpayers roughly $1 billion through reforms and streamlining of state government, and are pushing for the income and the sales tax to be reduced to 5 percent, all measures that will dramatically improve the economic climate in Massachusetts and help small businesses grow. Currently, Baker said, employers are hesitant to rehire for jobs that were lost or expand because the tax climate is so volatile.As time passes and the election draws nearer, more and more of the voters who are fed up with Deval Patrick are going to hear Charlie Baker's message and realize that they don't have to waste their votes.
“Today I heard from a project manager from Needham who said he’s getting no help from the state to find a job, a construction manager from Framingham who doesn’t believe the governor is serious about competing for every job, and an office manager from Wakefield who said a lot of people have given up looking for a job,” Baker said. “This is not the Massachusetts that I know we can be.”
Baker continued: “Deval Patrick believes Massachusetts is heading in the right direction, but the truth is that 320,000 people are out of work. We can make Massachusetts great again, but it has to start with changing the leadership on Beacon Hill.”
Friday, June 4, 2010
Gov. Deval Patrick plans to send lawmakers a list of budget repairs next week to mend a potential shortfall of more than $600 million in the spending plan for the fiscal year starting next month. Patrick and the House built $608 million in federal Medicaid aid that state officials expected would have been authorized by now, but which hit a snare last week in the U.S. House of Representatives. The Senate, anticipating unemployment rates would factor into a larger share, relied on $689 million. The governor’s budget chief, Jay Gonzalez, told the News Service Thursday that Patrick would “likely propose reductions” to the budget next week, when a conference committee could be named.He did the same thing last year.
Here's how the budget planning system in Massachusetts is supposed to work: The Governor gets the first crack, submitting a bill traditionally called "House One" that lays out his proposed budget for the Commonwealth. This generally happens in January (keep in mind that the fiscal year starts in July, so in effect the budget process starts half a calendar year before the new fiscal year).
Some time later, usually within two or three months, the House hashes out its own plan. Then the Senate follows suit, a conference committee is appointed to bang out differences, and voila!, a budget is sent to the Governor for his signature, line vetoes and amendments. The Governor's proposed changes are voted on, and the final budget goes back to the Gov for signing - hopefully in time for the start of the new fiscal year on July 1. And that budget takes us through the fiscal year.
That's the way it is supposed to work. That's the way it generally did work, pre-Together We Can.
This governor, though... he likes to bite repeatedly at the apple. For two years in a row now, House One has proved to have the shelf life of soft cheese in direct sunlight.
A state budget plan is supposed to hold up for an entire fiscal year. But for the second year running, Governor Patrick's template did not even make it to day one of the fiscal year to which it supposedly applies.
Do we need to take the unprecedented step of going to monthly budgeting here in the Commonwealth so that the product of the long and costly budget negotiation process might have some relevance to the Commonwealth's actual operating budget?
Or... should we just elect a new Governor?
Thursday, June 3, 2010
Just in case anyone out there is still inclined to fall for Governor Patrick's renewed election year "outsider" shtick, here's a relevant little reminder:
Former state senator Dianne Wilkerson, who held office for nearly 16 years and was once considered an up-and-coming champion of good government, pleaded guilty today to eight counts of attempted extortion for allegedly taking thousands of dollars of bribes.
Under a plea agreement, prosecutors are recommending a sentence of up to four years in prison, with three years of supervised release. The defense can recommend less. US District Judge Douglas P. Woodlock emphasized that the sentence is up to him, setting a sentencing hearing for Sept. 2.
Outlining the case against Wilkerson before she entered her guilty pleas, prosecutor John T. McNeil said that federal investigators had made 150 recordings over an 18-month period that demonstrated her culpability.
Attorney Max D. Stern, who represented Wilkerson, said, "We don't necessarily agree with every characterization."
Woodlock then asked Wilkerson directly, "Is that what happened?"
After a pause of a few seconds, she answered, "Yes, your honor."...She had been reelected time and again, despite a 1997 guilty plea for failing to file tax returns, a 1998 probation violation that sent her to a halfway house for 30 days, and a 1998 finding that she had violated campaign finance laws dating back to her first Senate contest in 1992.
Reliance by the Patrick administration and the Democrats who control the House and Senate on nearly $700 million in additional health care funding has become a riskier proposition. Congress is balking at extending the funds, potentially creating a gap in the state’s fiscal 2011 budget just as lawmakers begin to work out differences in their proposals.It's bad enough that so much of this and next year's state budgets relied for 'balance' on one-time revenues like federal stimulus dollars and rainy day funds. At least those bucks were, for the time being, assured. What has happened here is even worse (and by "worse" I mean "more breathtakingly irresponsible"). Again from the State House News:
Aides to Patrick have reassured lawmakers for months that the funding was a near certainty, since Patrick assumed $608 million from an anticipated six-month extension to the FMAP program in his spending blueprint for the fiscal year that begins July 1. The House followed suit and the Senate ramped up its accounting over $680 million, calculating that the state's unemployment rate would dictate a higher pay-out from Washington.$608 million that Governor Patrick "assumed." $680 million that the Senate "assumed." $700 million that, it seems, might not be coming our way after all - a fact that all of the "assumers" on Beacon Hill surely knew was at least a distinct possibility, the ongoing DC spending orgy notwithstanding.
This is just an amplification of the root cause underlying much of the Commonwealth's budgetary distress since the renewal of one-party control imposed by the 2006 election: Beacon Hill Democrats are constantly making fiscal assumptions that prove to be far too optimistic. In the first year of the recession, against overwhelming evidence to the contrary, their revenue projections assumed continued robust growth. Lesser versions of the same wide-eyed optimism have prevailed each year since, resulting year after year in the ugly mid-cycle cuts that have become the signature feature of Governor Patrick's fiscal stewardship.
Now piled atop another round of patently unrealistic budget-writing and continued reliance on one-time revenues comes this latest potential calamity - nearly three quarters of a billion "assumed" dollars that may not be coming our way after all.
To paraphrase Charlie Baker, the responsible way to budget in tough times is to hope for the best but budget for the worst. Governor Patrick and his Beacon Hill allies have consistently turned that wisdom on its head, hoping for the best and budgeting for the even better. The fact that the bitter wages of that approach have come due virtually every quarter under his watch has deterred him from the approach not at all.
That old saying about what happens when one "assumes" takes on a new twist here in Massachusetts, one that is particularly salient in light of the Democratic party mascot:
In Massachusetts, it seems, 'When you assume, you make a Beacon Hill Democrat of u and me.'