Friday, February 26, 2010

New Poll: Baker Surging, Patrick Fading

There’s more bad news for Governor Patrick this morning. A new Suffolk University-7News poll shows that Patrick’s unfavorable rating has hit 50 percent, and only 29 percent of voters believe he deserves to be re-elected. Another 60 percent say it’s time for him to step aside.

As Patrick’s numbers continue to sink, Republican gubernatorial candidate Charlie Baker is gaining momentum and watching his numbers soar. The same poll shows Baker’s support jumping from 15 percent to 25 percent since a November 2009 poll, which puts him “within striking distance” of Governor Patrick and ahead of independent candidate Tim Cahill (23 percent). Baker has also turned the tables on GOP rival Christy Mihos: in November, he trailed Mihos (33-30), but now holds a commanding lead of 47 percent to 17 percent.

Suffolk University Political Research Center Director David Paleologos told the Boston Herald’s Jessica Van Sack that, while Patrick still leads the race “on paper”, it’s now a two-man race and “whoever emerges between the Baker-Cahill race is likely to be the winner” and the next Governor of the Commonwealth.

ON THE AIR: Senator Knapik Discusses Safe Driving Bill On WHYN-AM 560

Senator Michael R. Knapik (right), the ranking Republican on the Senate Ways and Means Committee, appeared this morning on the "The Morning Show with Bo & Brad" on WHYN-AM 560 to discuss the "Safe Driving Bill" that was released by the committee on Thursday. The bill is expected to be debated in the Senate on March 2. Click here to listen to the interview.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

ON THE AIR: Senator Hedlund Weighs In On Proposed 'Right To Repair' Bill On Fox 25 News

Senate Minority Whip Robert L. Hedlund (left) was featured in a Fox 25 news segment last night about the "Right To Repair" bill, which is currently pending in the Senate Committee on Bills in Third Reading. In case you missed it, just click here to watch the clip.

Monday, February 22, 2010

DDS Furloughs: Where Are The Cost Savings?

Governor Patrick is taking some heat from the Social Security Administration for his recent directive to employees working for the Department of Developmental Services (DDS).

In a move that defies logic, Patrick has ordered 228 of the 272 DDS employees that review applications for federal disability benefits to take furloughs. Other state employees have been asked to take furloughs as a cost-saving measure, but these DDS employees are paid with federal funds. Not only is the state not saving any money, but the furloughs are sure to slow down the processing of requests from residents seeking federal assistance.

In an interview with the Boston Herald, U.S. Social Security Commissioner Michael J. Astrue called Governor Patrick’s actions “incomprehensible.” Astrue noted that the average waiting period for an initial determination of eligibility has gone up “at an alarming rate” – from 82 days in 2008 to the current 96-day average – and also told the Herald he “cannot rule out legal action.”

So what does the Patrick Administration have to say about this? Spokesman Robert Bliss admitted to the Herald that the state won’t see any cost savings. Instead, he defended the Governor’s decision as an attempt to ensure the “equal treatment” of all state employees.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Patrick Administration A No-Show At Today's Fiscal Year 2011 Budget Hearing

When the House and Senate Ways and Means committees convened the first in a series of hearings on the Fiscal Year 2011 budget today, one key Constitutional office was noticeably absent from the proceedings. Although committee members heard testimony from the state treasurer, auditor, attorney general and secretary of state, Governor Patrick's Administration & Finance Secretary, Jay Gonzalez, was nowhere to be found.

As anyone who follows the annual budget process on Beacon Hill knows, the Secretary of A&F is traditionally first in line to offer testimony on the Governor's budget. But according to the State House News Service, Gonzalez could not testify today because he was "scheduled to be away". Instead, Gonzalez will attend the eighth and final budget hearing, which is still 2 1/2 weeks away, on March 5.

We have to wonder what could be so important that it would keep the Governor's chief budget-writer away from such a crucial hearing, especially when state revenues remain shaky and the Commonwealth is facing a structural deficit of as much as $3 billion. Is it possible the Patrick Administration thinks its budget plan is so indefensible, it wants to wait until everyone else has testified so it can get in the last word against the critics? Or is this a case of the Governor simply not being focused on the budget at such a critical juncture for the Commonwealth?

Friday, February 12, 2010

ON THE AIR: Senator Tarr Participates in WGBH Radio Panel Discussion Today at Noon

Assistant Senate Minority Leader Bruce E. Tarr (left) will be taking part in a panel discussion of current events on WGBH Radio (89.7 FM) today from noon-1 p.m. Joining Senator Tarr on the panel will be former Boston City Councilor and mayoral candidate Sam Yoon and Suffolk County Sheriff Andrea Cabral. Emily Rooney hosts.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Mixed Messages out of the Corner Office

Here at Scaling the Hill 2010, we rarely see eye to eye with Governor Patrick. But we have to give him credit for calling on University of Massachusetts President Jack Wilson to take one for the team and forego his $72,000 salary increase (see our January 20th posting, 'Wilson Hits The Jackpot').

Despite rising tuition costs and cutbacks throughout the state’s higher education system, Wilson’s compensation package now totals $546,000 a year. In addition to a $425,000 salary, Wilson also receives a $45,000 housing allowance, $25,000 in deferred compensation, a $51,000 retirement annuity and the use of a car. His $72,000 pay raise is more money than most Massachusetts residents make in a year.

While we’re happy the Governor has finally come out against Wilson’s 15 percent pay raise, we’re wondering why he still hasn’t done anything to block UMass-Dartmouth’s acquisition of the Southern New England School of Law, an unaccredited (!) school which is slated to become the state’s first public law school in September of 2010.

As exorbitant as Wilson’s pay raise is, it pales in comparison to what the law school is going to cost the taxpayers of the Commonwealth: more than $50 million over the next five years, according to the Pioneer Institute, based on projected annual subsidies of $8 million to $11 million. Talk about a waste of taxpayers’ money! If the Governor is really serious about reform, he can prove it by putting the brakes on this higher education boondoggle before it proceeds any further.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Lawrence Under Water

Yesterday's Ways and Means hearing failed to produce a consensus on what to do with Governor Patrick's proposed $35 million bailout bill for the City Of Lawrence. But one thing's for certain: when the bill does come up for a vote, it must include stronger safeguards to protect the state's taxpayers, including the immediate assignment of a finance control board with full veto powers to oversee the city's budget.

Under Patrick's proposal, the city would be allowed to borrow up to $35 million, while the newly-elected mayor and city council would work hand in hand with an appointed state overseer to try to close the budget shortfall. If they are unable to correct the problem by January 31, 2011, then a finance control board would step in and assume full control of the budget.

The financial obstacles facing Lawrence are considerable: In addition to a $10 million operating deficit, the city is carrying $1.8 milion in debt, a $5 million capital budget deficit, and a $1.6 million shortfall in its health insurance trust fund. It's also facing $2.5 million in unresolved collective bargaining issues and still has millions of dollars in uncollected taxes oustanding.

Although local officials and Administration and Finance Secretary Jay Gonzalez went to great lengths to reassure the committee that the struggling city can overcome its financial problems on its own by issuing new municipal bonds, legislators were rightfully concerned the state would be left holding the bag if Lawrence defaults on making its payments. With a $24.5 million deficit, the city can't afford to take any chances. The Governor's bill needs some teeth added to it, including provisions to put a finance control board in place immediately.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Senator Tisei's Statement on Economic Development and Jobs Creation Proposal

Senate Minority Leader Richard R. Tisei issued the following statement regarding today’s announcement of an economic development and jobs creation proposal by Governor Patrick and Senate President Therese Murray:

For the past three years, as the state was hemorrhaging jobs, Governor Patrick not only failed to offer any type of economic development plan to stop the bleeding, but he also put up additional roadblocks for employers that have cemented Massachusetts’ reputation as a state that is not welcoming to businesses. Now that the unemployment rate is at 9.4 percent, it seems the Governor and the Legislature are finally poised to act and focus on helping businesses and getting people back to work.

The proposal from the Senate President to streamline the state’s economic development agencies is a good idea that we should pursue. However, we should not be content to stop there. If we are serious about jobs creation and making Massachusetts more competitive, then we must establish a more business-friendly environment that includes a fair and equitable corporate tax rate, a less burdensome regulatory system for employers, and an economic development plan that will help all businesses and ensure that the Commonwealth achieves sustainable long-term growth.

The Governor’s proposal is nothing more than an election-year lifeline to try to save his own job, as opposed to creating jobs for the more than 323,000 Massachusetts residents who are out of work.

No Lawrence Bailout Without Oversight

Governor Patrick has filed a bailout bill for the City of Lawrence to help the financially-strapped community as it struggles to close a multi-million dollar budget deficit. But lawmakers – who are holding a joint House and Senate Ways and Means hearing on the matter tomorrow – should proceed with caution before writing local officials a blank check.

Under the Governor’s proposal, Lawrence would be authorized to borrow up to $35 million to balance its budget, with a state-appointed overseer assigned to work with local officials to get their financial house in order. If the city fails to achieve fiscal stability by January 31, 2011 then a financial control board would be set up to take over the city’s finances and assume responsibility for all budgetary decisions, which is what happened in Chelsea during the 1990s and in Springfield in 2004.

Here’s a better idea: Why not set up a financial control board immediately, rather than waiting almost another year to see if Lawrence can get back on its feet without sinking deeper in debt? All cities and towns are feeling the pressure from rising costs and reductions in state assistance, but Lawrence’s financial straits rise to a whole new level (an estimated $24.5 million shortfall this year and $15 million in Fiscal Year 2011). A deficit of this magnitude is too much for one city to handle on its own.

If legislators are so inclined to support the Governor’s bailout bill, they should insist on having the proper safeguards in place to protect the taxpayers’ investment. That means creating a financial control board that can get to work on day one and make the tough decisions needed to pull Lawrence back from the brink of bankruptcy.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

ON THE AIR: Stimulus Money Down the Drain

Channel 5's Investigative Team had an interesting report last night on some of the questionable uses the state has found for spending its share of the federal stimulus money. Senate Minority Leader Richard R. Tisei shared his thoughts with reporter Kelley Tuthill about the millions of dollars in "wasted money" that went to projects that won't produce a single new job for the 323,200 Massachusetts residents who are still out of work. In case you missed it, you can check out the full report here.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Press Hits 'Fuzzy Math' on Stimulus $$

The fallout continues over the news that the federal stimulus funding distributed under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) has done more to create jobs in the public sector than the private sector. Despite being awarded billions of dollars in stimulus funding, the Commonwealth's unemployment rate has skyrocketed to 9.4 percent.

A pair of editorials published in today's Boston Herald and Worcester Telegram & Gazette are worth checking out. The Herald hits the Patrick Administration for engaging in the same type of "fiscal shell games" the governor often accuses his Republican critics of using, noting that, "no one can do much to assure taxpayers that the so-called stimulus program amounts to more than an effort to protect existing government jobs." Meanwhile, the Telegram & Gazette offers this message: "The administrations in Washington and state capitals across the nation need to recognize a basic reality: Government cannot create wealth by simply shifting our money from one account to another, offering a raft of phony figures to justify its own existence."

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Herald Blasts Patrick Administration's 'Save-A-Hack' Stimulus Program

When Administration and Finance Secretary Jay Gonzalez and Director of Infrastructure Investment Jeffrey Simon testify before the Joint Committee on Federal Stimulus Oversight this afternoon, you can be sure the committee will have some questions about the front-page headlines in today’s Boston Herald.

The committee is trying to determine exactly how the federal funding received under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act is helping to create and sustain jobs in Massachusetts. But as the Herald reports today, the bulk of these jobs are being added in the public sector, even as the state’s unemployment rate has jumped to 9.4 percent and 323,200 Massachusetts residents remain out of work.

Four months ago, Governor Patrick credited federal stimulus money with creating or retaining 23,533 jobs. It turns out those numbers were grossly inflated, with the “official” number of jobs created in the last quarter now pegged at just 4,722.

According to the Herald’s review, about 71 percent of these jobs were government jobs paid either fully or partly through stimulus funding. Also, about 70 percent of the 4,722 total jobs listed in the official count were actually existing jobs that were simply “retained”, with only 1,389 “new” jobs created statewide.

It’s safe to say the public was sold a false bill of goods when the federal stimulus money was first announced with a promise of putting people back to work and funding “shovel-ready” projects in communities across the Commonwealth. Pioneer Institute Executive Director Jim Stergios probably summed it up best when he referred to the federal stimulus package as the “Public Sector Protection Act.”

Monday, February 1, 2010

Tisei Sees GOP Resurgence

The recent election of Scott Brown as Massachusetts' next U.S. Senator means the Senate Republican Caucus will soon see its numbers dwindle from five to just four. But Senate Minority Leader Richard R. Tisei thinks Brown's victory could be "a harbinger of things to come" for the Republican Party.

Longtime Boston journalist Peter Lucas, who now writes a weekly political column for the Lowell Sun, recently sat down with Tisei to discuss his run for Lieutenant Governor and the GOP's prospects in the 2010 state elections. Be sure to check out Tisei's comments on why he thinks the GOP is "not only poised to win the governor's office, but to increase its numbers in both the House and the Senate."