Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Scott Brown Talks Health Care

Former Wrentham State Senator Scott Brown stunned the Democratic establishment when he captured the vacant U.S. Senate seat from Massachusetts in January, in part due to voter anger over the national health care reform debate. With President Obama signing off on Congress' $940 billion health care overhaul plan last week, Senator Brown is speaking out against the new federal law and moving ahead with plans to file legislation that would provide an "opt out" provision for the states. Be sure to check out his op-ed in today's Boston Globe, entitled "The Health Care Fight is Not Over".

Monday, March 29, 2010

In Case You Missed It...

Senate Minority Leader Richard Tisei talked politics with veteran journalists Janet Wu and Ed Harding Sunday morning when he appeared on WCVB-TV's "On The Record". Topics included Richard's campaign for Lieutenant Governor on the Baker-Tisei ticket, casino gambling and health care reform. Richard also fielded a series of questions as part of the show's weekly pop quiz feature. Be sure to check out his appearance by clicking here.

Friday, March 26, 2010

ON THE AIR: Senator Hedlund on Emily Rooney's 'Week In Review' Today at Noon

Senate Minority Whip Robert L. Hedlund (left) will be a guest today on The Emily Rooney Show’s Week in Review. The show airs from noon to 1 p.m. on 89.7 WGBH-FM, and can be heard online as well. Other guests include former state Senator Jarrett Barrios and Boston Globe columnist Scot Lehigh.

Senator Tisei Goes 'On The Record'

Senate Minority Leader Richard Tisei will join co-hosts Janet Wu and Ed Harding as the in-studio guest on the next edition of WCVB-TV's weekly political talk show, "On The Record". The show, which was launched last October, features a lively roundtable discussion with elected officials and candidates for public office, as well as a pop quiz on current events. The show airs on Sunday mornings from 11-11:30 a.m. on Channel 5.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Senator Tisei Issues Statement on Today's Passage of Lawrence Bailout Bill in Senate

Senate Minority Leader Richard R. Tisei issued the following statement today, following the Senate’s 31-4 vote authorizing the City of Lawrence to borrow up to $35 million to address a growing budget deficit (members of the Senate Republican Caucus voted against the bill):

“The bill the Senate passed today will authorize the City of Lawrence to borrow up to $35 million to address a budget deficit that is at least $24.5 million. Clearly, the situation is so bad in Lawrence right now that the state has no choice but to step in to make sure the city doesn’t go bankrupt. However, I still think we’re making a huge mistake by not putting a finance control board in place right from the start, which is what the Senate Republican Caucus has been advocating.

I realize there is language in the bill that would allow a state-appointed overseer to request a finance control board at any time, but I don’t see why we should wait any longer and let the city fall into an even bigger financial hole in the meantime.

When this bill was filed in December, Lawrence was looking at a budget shortfall of $9.5 million. Here we are, three months later, and the deficit has more than doubled – in fact, it’s now almost triple the original estimates. That shows me that immediate and decisive action is needed to get the city’s fiscal problems under control, and that’s exactly what a finance control board would be able to do.

I know some people have argued this is not a bailout bill because we’re not lending the money to Lawrence, but let’s be honest, what else can you call it? We’re allowing Lawrence to exceed its borrowing limit by issuing municipal bonds, and we’re allowing those bonds to be backed up by future local aid payments from the state. If Lawrence defaults on its loan repayments, it will be the taxpayers who are left holding the bag.

It’s ironic that on the very same day we first debated this bill back on March 9, the Superintendent of the Lawrence Public Schools was indicted on several counts of fraud and embezzlement. Clearly, Lawrence is dealing with many underlying issues that need to be resolved before it can achieve fiscal stability.

We should not be throwing good money after bad by allowing Lawrence to borrow this money without having the proper safeguards in place right from the start. A finance control board will help to protect the interests of all the state’s taxpayers, especially the residents of Lawrence, because it will make the tough but necessary decisions on spending and reforms from day one.”

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

This is One Paper Cut Worth Supporting

WBZ-TV unveiled a new I-Team investigative piece last night detailing the millions of dollars the state is spending each year to print and distribute agency reports. According to the I-Team, the state is wasting tens of millions of taxpayer dollars a year on reports that mostly go unread, with the state’s executive branch alone spending $35 million a year on paper and toner.

This news didn’t exactly come as a surprise to us here at Scaling The Hill, since the Senate Republican Caucus has been looking to eliminate this wasteful practice for some time now. In fact, during the last two budget cycles, the Caucus filed language that would require state agencies to post their reports online, while allowing for a very limited number of paper copies to be made available upon request. This would eliminate the bulk of the printing costs but still ensure that the information contained in the reports is readily available to legislators and the general public.

The Caucus’ proposal has drawn support in the Senate, which previously endorsed this cost-saving measure. The problem is, the language has yet to survive conference committee and make it into the final budget. But with the Patrick Administration identifying a new $300 million shortfall in the current state budget – and a structural deficit of several billion dollars anticipated in FY2011 – it’s long past time to implement this cost-saving reform.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Senator Tisei Appears on 'Sacred Codcast'

Senate Minority Leader Richard Tisei was the guest on MassBeacon.com's "Sacred Codcast" yesterday afternoon. During the interview with MassBeacon.com founder Conor Yunits, Tisei touched on several topics, including his decision to run for Lieutenant Governor, the similarities between the 2010 and 1990 elections, and the potential for Republicans to pick up additional seats in the House and Senate this fall. Be sure to check it out by clicking here.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

GOP Discusses Jobs, Economy ... and Holidays

It was standing room only yesterday when Senate Minority Leader Richard Tisei hosted a joint caucus of House and Senate Republican leaders to discuss jobs and the economy. But when the meeting was opened to the press, most of the reporters' questions were about the Evacuation Day and Bunker Hill Day holidays, and the GOP's efforts to repeal them.

Be sure to check out the State House News Service's video clip from the joint caucus, along with additional TV coverage from Channel 5, Channel 7, New England Cable News and Fox25, radio coverage from WBUR, and print coverage from the Springfield Republican, Lawrence Eagle Tribune, Boston Herald, Boston Globe and Attleboro Sun Chronicle.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

GOP Members Working on Evacuation Day

The Judiciary Committee may have nixed the proposed repeal of Evacuation Day and Bunker Hill Day as paid holidays by placing Senator Michael Knapik's bill in a study order, but House and Senate Republicans will be at the State House today, ready to assist constituents and to talk jobs and the economy.

Members are planning an open caucus and press availability for noon today, following a meeting with Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation President Michael Widmer and Bill Vernon of the National Federation of Independent Business.

Meanwhile, the repeal effort continues to gain support in the media. Check out today's Boston Herald editorial, as well as Metro Boston and the Springfield Republican.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Happy Evacuation Day Eve!

Tomorrow is Evacuation Day, and state employees in Suffolk County have the day off to commemorate the British fleeing Boston after an 11-month siege, or so we would like to think. It just also happens to be St. Patrick’s Day, and individuals who have tomorrow off will likely be celebrating the fleeing of snakes from Ireland, not the British leaving Boston.

However, just like our counterparts in the private sector, members of the House and Senate Republican Caucuses will be treating tomorrow like a regular workday, staffing their offices and handling constituent calls.

We here at Scaling the Hill fully respect the significance of Evacuation Day in the history of the Commonwealth and the United State of America; however, we strongly believe there is a better way to observe this holiday than allowing a select group of public employees a paid day off. We find it inappropriate to shut down all state and municipal offices in Suffolk County for a holiday that does not extend to the vast majority of our state’s workforce.

Apparently, the Judiciary Committee feels otherwise. Earlier today, the committee voted to place a proposed repeal of Evacuation Day and another Suffolk-county-only holiday (Bunker Hill Day) into a study order, even though eliminating the two paid holidays would save taxpayers an estimated $5 million a year.

To learn more about the holiday repeal effort, check out some of the recent coverage provided by the Worcester Telegram & Gazette and WBZ-TV.

House and Senate Republicans to Discuss Jobs, Hold Open Caucus on Evacuation Day

With the state unemployment rate at 9.5 percent – the highest it’s been in 34 years – and more than 320,000 Massachusetts residents out of work, House and Senate Republican leaders plan to meet at the State House on Evacuation Day (March 17) to discuss jobs and the economy with a leading local economist and respected small business advocate.

At 11 a.m. tomorrow, GOP leaders will be meeting with Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation President Michael Widmer and National Federation of Independent Business-Massachusetts State Director Bill Vernon in the office of Senate Minority Leader Richard R. Tisei. The meeting will focus on the state’s economic outlook and strategies for getting Massachusetts residents back to work.

Immediately following the hour-long meeting, there will be an open caucus. At that time, members of the House and Senate Republican leadership teams will be available to answer questions from the press.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Ode To Massachusetts' Taxpayers

Senate Minority Leader Richard Tisei delivered the following "Ode To Massachusetts' Taxpayers" at the GOP8 St. Patrick's Day Breakfast in Scituate on Sunday morning:

Four years ago, our state’s voters were told
By a newcomer who emerged from the Democratic fold

Together we can! Deval Patrick’s my name,
If you vote for me I promise you … that I’m not more of the same.

The voters were angry, they had had enough
Of paying high taxes when times were so tough.

So they voted in Patrick, and then waited to see
What the promised relief on their property tax bills would be.

The voters were patient, but try as they might,
No matter where they looked … there was no tax relief in sight.

Patrick reassured them, yes, I know what I said,
But I need a new car and drapes for my office instead.

And then while we’re at it, why don’t we restore
All of those cuts made by Romney, as he walked out the door.

He spent lots of money and hired many a friend
And soon our rainy day fund was drained to the end.

The spending spree continued with new programs and more
He even found time to sign up for a new book and a tour.

But the economy soon tanked and we all know the rest
Rather than make the swift cuts … he though tax hikes were best!

The sales tax was raised as the economy dropped
And off to New Hampshire they all went to shop.

And a meals tax soon followed on our burgers and fries
But he could not raise the gas tax no matter how hard he tried.

Yes, the new tax on beer was difficult to swallow,
… a new tax on candy and soda will be the next to follow.

And it’s not just taxes, but all the new fees,
That have the state’s taxpayers down on their knees.

So here we are now, four long years have gone by,
And Patrick’s property tax pledge has been exposed as a lie.

Taxes have gone up $2 billion and more,
And who knows what else this man has in store?

But have some faith, and don’t despair
Keep in mind, it’s an election year.

We made a mistake and hired a faker.
This November we will fix things when we elect Charlie Baker!

Friday, March 12, 2010

ON THE AIR: Senator Knapik Discusses Passage of Anti-Bullying Legislation

Senator Michael R. Knapik from Westfield was interviewed by several media outlets yesterday to discuss the anti-bullying legislation which was unanimously passed by the Senate. See what Senator Knapik had to say to the Associated Press, WBZ-TV38, Channel 5 and the ABC40/Fox6 Springfield affiliate.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Poll: Baker, Patrick in Dead Heat

A new Rasmussen poll out today shows Charlie Baker gaining further momentum in his bid for Governor, while incumbent Deval Patrick is treading water and independent Tim Cahill’s numbers are sinking.

The poll shows Baker and Patrick in a statistical tie, with Patrick at 35 percent and Baker at 32 percent, up from 28 percent in a previous Rasmussen poll conducted last November. Cahill, who was at 25 percent in the November poll, has dropped to 19 percent.

Patrick scored low in terms of favorability and job performance in the latest poll. Of the 500 likely voters surveyed, only 13 percent gave the Governor a “very favorable” rating, while 30 percent gave him a “somewhat favorable” rating. The majority of voters have an unfavorable opinion of the sitting Governor, with 25 percent viewing Patrick “somewhat unfavorably” and 30 percent expressing a “very unfavorable” opinion of him.

The majority of voters also don’t give Patrick high marks for the work he’s done as Governor. Sixty-one percent say they disapprove of his job performance, including 37 percent who “strongly disapprove”. Only 14 percent “strongly approve” of his job performance.

Lawrence Bailout Approved as School Supt. Indicted for Fraud and Embezzlement

Just how bad do things need to get in the City of Lawrence before the state decides the time is right to send in a finance control board?

As the Senate was giving final approval to a $35 million bailout bill for the cash-strapped city yesterday, School Superintendent Wilfredo Laboy was being indicted on eight counts of fraud and embezzlement. Laboy, who has been on paid administrative leave since June of 2009, is scheduled to be arraigned tomorrow in Salem Superior Court.

The Senate Republican Caucus has been pushing for the creation of a finance control board from the start as a condition for giving Lawrence officials the authority to borrow up to $35 million through the sale of municipal bonds. With a structural deficit that has ballooned from $9.5 million to $24.5 million in the last three months, it’s obvious that Lawrence’s problems require immediate intervention and the type of tough decision-making that can only be carried out by a finance control board. Why let the situation deteriorate even further?

When the Caucus proposal was put to a vote yesterday, only three Democrats supported the measure, with the majority opting for the appointment of a state overseer with limited powers. The bill allows – but does not require – the overseer to call in a finance control board at any time. But this does nothing in the interim to protect the interests of the state’s taxpayers, who will get stuck picking up the bill if Lawrence defaults on paying back its loans.

Lawrence’s structural deficit can’t be solved by simply throwing money at the problem. If the state is serious about identifying and correcting the root causes of Lawrence’s fiscal woes, and protecting the state’s taxpayers in the process, then nothing short of a strong fiscal control board is acceptable.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

ON THE AIR: Senator Tarr on 'Broadside'

Assistant Senate Minority Leader Bruce E. Tarr and Representative William Straus were the in-studio guests on Monday night's “Broadside with Jim Braude” on New England Cable News (NECN). The program featured a discussion of Congressman Bill Delahunt’s decision not to run for re-election and what that means for the State Republican Party, Governor Romney’s potential presidential run in 2012, and President Obama’s deadline to Congress for action on health care reform. If you missed it, you can watch the clip by clicking here.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Senate Republican Caucus Pushes for Repeal of State's Controversial Nursing Home Tax

The Massachusetts Senate Republican Caucus is pushing for the repeal of the state's controversial nursing home tax on non-Medicare patients.

The tax was introduced in 2002, and was recently increased by the Patrick Administration to $19.17 a day. Over the last eight years, the Caucus has repeatedly filed legislation and offered budget amendments to eliminate the tax.

The latest Caucus proposal, Senate Bill 305, was filed in January of 2009 and heard by the Joint Committee on Elder Affairs on May 6, 2009. Ten months after the hearing, the bill is still awaiting committee action.

Senate Minority Leader Richard R. Tisei has written to the committee on behalf of the Caucus to ask that the bill be reported out with a favorable recommendation. If the committee does not release the bill, the Caucus is prepared to file another budget amendment to repeal the nursing home tax.

The following is the text of Senator Tisei's letter:

March 8, 2010

The Honorable Patricia D. Jehlen, Senate Chair
The Honorable Alice K. Wolf, House Chair
Joint Committee on Elder Affairs
State House, Room 167
Boston, MA 02133

Dear Chairwoman Jehlen & Chairwoman Wolf:

I am writing to urge that you take swift and favorable action on Senate Bill 305, An Act to Repeal the Nursing Home Tax, which is currently pending before the Joint Committee on Elder Affairs.

The nursing home tax - which was first implemented as part of the Fiscal Year 2003 state budget - constitutes an onerous penalty that unfairly targets those individuals who had the foresight to plan ahead and save for their long-term health care needs. Those who privately pay for their nursing home care and don't have to rely on the state for assistance should not be penalized by having to pay a tax.

When the nursing home tax was first introduced, non-Medicare patients were being assessed $9.60 a day. Now they are being charged $19.17 a day, nearly double the original assessment. To charge private-pay patients an additional $575 a month is not only unfair, but counterproductive, and places an unnecessary financial burden on our seniors and their families.

The Lowell Sun recently reported that only $15 of the $19.17 collected actually finds its way back into the system. The rest is being used by the Patrick Administration to help balance the state budget, and not for its original purpose of helping nursing homes remain financially solvent.

I have opposed the nursing home tax as bad public policy since its inception, and have been actively working for its repeal ever since. The Senate Republican Caucus has offered a series of repeal bills and budget amendments in each of the last four legislative sessions, and is prepared to raise this issue again during the upcoming budget debate if the committee fails to act in a timely manner.

As a member of the Elder Affairs Committee, I am urging you to expedite the bill's release from the committee with a favorable report. Doing so will allow the House and Senate to begin the process of repealing this misguided tax once and for all.

Richard R. Tisei

ON THE AIR: Tisei Discusses Finance Control Board for Lawrence on Fox 25 Morning News

Senate Minority Leader Richard R. Tisei appeared live on the Fox 25 Morning News today to discuss the Senate Republican Caucus' proposal to install a finance control board to oversee spending decisions and help restore fiscal stability to the cash-strapped city of Lawrence. The Senate is expected to debate a $35 million bailout bill for Lawrence on Tuesday afternoon. You can watch the interview in its entirety by clicking here.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Senate Republicans To Push For Finance Control Board For Lawrence

The Massachusetts Senate Republican Caucus will be filing an amendment to the Lawrence bailout bill requiring the immediate appointment of a finance control board to manage the city’s finances.

“Our plan is to offer a strong control board to ensure that fiscally responsible decisions are being made on behalf of the taxpayers in Lawrence,” said Senate Minority Leader Richard R. Tisei. “Anything short of that is nothing more than an ill-advised giveaway.”

The Senate is slated to consider the Lawrence bailout bill next Tuesday. Under the House version of the bill approved this week, the city would be authorized to borrow up to $35 million by issuing municipal bonds backed by the city’s future local aid payments from the state.

The House bill does not call for the immediate creation of a finance control board, but provides that option if city officials are unable to close an estimated $24.5 million deficit with the assistance of a special state-appointed overseer who will work hand-in-hand with the mayor and city council. Tisei said the extent of Lawrence’s fiscal problems requires more expedient action.

“I’m concerned that the $35 million Governor Patrick has proposed for Lawrence is essentially throwing good money after bad,” said Tisei. “There’s nothing I’ve seen or heard about the current situation that would make me feel at all comfortable that this is a good investment on behalf of the taxpayers.

“What Lawrence needs to get out of its fiscal crisis and address the root causes of its ongoing budget problems is a combination of stability and predictability,” Tisei added. “Clearly, the only way we’re going to do that is by putting a control board in place to make the tough decisions needed from the outset, rather than allowing the situation to deteriorate any further.”

Thursday, March 4, 2010

SHNS Exposes Behind the Scenes Maneuvers on Governor Patrick's 'Bridge To Nowhere'

Chances are, you’ve heard about the Patrick Administration’s unsuccessful attempts last year to funnel $9 million in federal stimulus funding to New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft to pay for the construction of a footbridge connecting two parking lots Kraft owns along Route 1 in Foxborough. What you may not know, however, is just how far the Administration was willing to go to justify using taxpayer dollars to benefit the financial interests of a multi-millionaire donor like Kraft.

The State House News Service, citing internal communications it obtained from the Administration through a public records request, recently reported that the governor’s senior aides “worked aggressively last fall to rebut negative stories and cast a positive glow to White House questions about Patrick channeling funds to a pedestrian footbridge near Gilette Stadium, the football venue owned by the governor’s friend and political benefactor Robert Kraft…” Reportedly, aides to Vice President Joe Biden had contacted Jeffrey Simon, the state’s federal stimulus czar, “asking him to defend” the funding of the Kraft project when it became public.

According to the News Service, “Patrick and other administration officials had vigorously defended the footbridge on economic development and public safety grounds, after repeated media questions about the friendship between New England Patriots owner Kraft and Patrick, who exchanged prized box seats during State of the Commonwealth speeches and Patriots games.”

Despite an all-out push by the governor, the footbridge was soon pulled from the list of approved projects.

Unemployment Rate Hits 9.5 Percent

The state’s unemployment rate jumped to 9.5 percent in January, according to figures released today by the Executive Office of Labor and Workforce Development. State labor officials also announced that December’s unemployment figures had to be revised upwards, from 9.1 percent to 9.3 percent.

The latest jobless figures put Massachusetts dangerously close to the national unemployment rate of 9.7 percent. There are now 329,100 Massachusetts residents out of work, which does not bode well for the state’s economic recovery.

One thing the rising unemployment numbers make clear is that the Patrick Administration’s economic policy has been a failure. The lack of a comprehensive jobs creation plan is hurting Massachusetts and putting the Commonwealth at a huge competitive disadvantage. The policies enacted over the past three years are hurting Massachusetts and have made a bad situation even worse. The question now is, just how high does the unemployment rate need to go before the Patrick Administration finally gets serious about taking action to put people back to work?

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

ON THE AIR: Senator Knapik Appears on Howie Carr To Discuss Suffolk Holidays Bill

Senator Michael Knapik was on the Howie Carr show last night to discuss his attempts to do away with Evacuation Day and Bunker Hill Day. His bill to eliminate the two holidays was heard before the Joint Committee on the Judiciary yesterday.

Greeting the Senator on the Committee’s panel were none other than Senator Jack Hart (D-South Boston) and Representative Eugene O’Flaherty (D-Chelsea), both of whom have been outspoken in their opposition to this initiative. Be sure to check out the Boston Herald’s article to see how things went down at the hearing.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Herald Report: Governor Patrick To Suspend New $5 RMV Branch Fee

Score one for the state's consumers!

The Boston Herald is reporting that Governor Deval Patrick has announced he will suspend a controversial new $5 fee implemented at the Registry of Motor Vehicles this week. The fee targetted consumers who opted to visit an RMV branch office or speak with an RMV representative by phone when conducting certain transactions, including renewing their driver's license.

The Senate Republican Caucus announced yesterday that it would offer an amendment during today's Senate debate on the Safe Driving Bill to rescind the fee. Facing strong opposition from not only the Senate, but also thousands of angry motorists, the Governor rightly chose to abandon this anti-consumer fee.

Holidays Bill Up For Debate Today

We can't blame you if you missed it, but buried somewhere in the extensive list of over 120 (!) bills crammed on the agenda for today's Judiciary Committee public hearing is Senate Bill 1735, the Senate Republican Caucus-sponsored proposal to eliminate the Evacuation Day and Bunker Hill Day holidays.

If you ask us, it's no coincidence that this bill -- which was filed 14 months ago -- is finally coming up for a hearing just a couple of weeks before Evacuation Day (St. Patrick's Day). The timing of the hearing virtually guarantees that we will be stuck with these two wasteful holidays for at least one more year, at a cost of millions of dollars to the state's taxpayers, not to mention the thousands of hours of lost productivity for government workers in Suffolk County who will get these days off.

Monday, March 1, 2010

RMV Hits Drivers With Back-Door Tax

Drivers beware: If you try to renew your license or registration in-person at one of the Registry of Motor Vehicle’s branch offices – or attempt to speak with an RMV representative over the phone – be prepared to dig even deeper into your wallet.

The Boston Herald reports that, beginning today, the Patrick Administration is hitting drivers with a new $5 “back-door tax.” The new fee applies if a customer visits an RMV branch or speaks with an RMV representative on the phone to renew their license or registration; obtain a duplicate license or Massachusetts ID; or request an attested driving record.

Massachusetts drivers are already paying an extra $10 for a license renewal, thanks to a series of fee increases approved last year that are collectively costing the state’s hard-working taxpayers an estimated $75 million more a year. But the new $5 fee – implemented without any advance warning to the general public – shows the Patrick Administration’s policy of nickel-and-diming the public knows no bounds.

It would be one thing if the RMV made customer service its top priority, as it did in the days when Dan Grabauskas was running the agency. But the reality is, the RMV now expects the public to just “pay up and shut up.”

We have news for the Patrick Administration: the public is sick and tired of being asked to pay more money for less service. Rest assured, the Senate Republican Caucus will do everything it can to repeal this ludicrous back-door tax.