Tuesday, July 27, 2010

More Business As Usual on Beacon Hill

Last week, we told you about the Patrick-Murray Administration’s decision to abandon the MCAS exam and the state’s top-rated academic standards in favor of the national Common Core education model. This occurred just days after Governor Patrick received the endorsement of the MA Teachers Association – the same teachers union that pumped $2.6 million into his 2006 campaign for governor (see our July 20th posting, “MTA + $$ = The End of MCAS”).

This week, it was more “business as usual” on Beacon Hill. With Governor Patrick visiting the troops in Iraq, Lieutenant Governor Tim Murray used his powers as Acting Governor to sign legislation that just so happens to benefit one of his major campaign donors.

Today’s Boston Herald reports the chief executive officer of the Savings Bank Life Insurance Co. made out a $500 check to Murray – the maximum contribution allowed under law – just six days before Murray signed a bill that will allow the company to begin charging different insurance rates for men and women. According to the Herald, SBLI CEO Robert K. Sheridan has made a total of $1,450 in contributions to Murray over the last four years.

The Patrick-Murray Administration denies there was any quid pro quo, but the situation seems anything but transparent – and it certainly doesn’t seem to pass the smell test.

Monday, July 26, 2010

GOP Leaders Hit Closed-Door Casino Talks

Senate Minority Leader Richard R. Tisei and House Minority Leader Bradley H. Jones, Jr. today criticized House and Senate leadership for excluding Republican negotiators from a late-afternoon summit on casino gambling.

The State House News Service reports that following today’s leadership meeting with Governor Deval Patrick, Senate President Therese Murray and House Speaker Robert DeLeo are meeting with House and Senate conferees in a “last-ditch effort to salvage” the casino bill before the end of session. However, neither of the two Republicans serving on the conference committee – Senator Richard Ross and Representative Paul Frost – has been asked to participate in the meeting.

“It’s pretty pathetic that it’s come down to this, where decisions on a proposal that will dramatically impact the landscape of the entire state are being made behind closed doors without input from Republican members,” said Senator Tisei. “It’s ironic this is happening under the watch of the same governor who campaigned on a promise of more openness and transparency in state government. This is nothing more than the same old ‘business as usual’ on Beacon Hill.”

“This latest stunt further highlights that the status quo is alive and well on Beacon Hill,” said Representative Jones. “It is this kind of shady behavior that the people of Massachusetts are fed up with and though I am not surprised by this latest display of arrogance, I am indeed disappointed and frustrated especially since this is an issue where Republicans have been supportive.”

The casino gambling bill has been in conference committee since July 6. Unless the House and Senate agree on a compromise by July 31, the bill will have to be re-filed for the 2011-2012 session.

In Case You Missed It: Another Newspaper Backs Senator Tisei on National Popular Vote

Another newspaper is backing Senate Minority Leader Richard R. Tisei (right) in his efforts to block the passage of the pending National Popular Vote bill.

Tisei opposes the bill, which he sees as nothing more than an attempt to circumvent the Constitution and the way we elect our U.S. President. The bill would require Massachusetts to commit its electoral college votes to the candidate who wins the popular vote nationwide -- even if that candidate fails to receive the support of a majority of the state's voters.

Tisei believes the National Popular Vote would disenfranchise many smaller states, a concern shared by the Newburyport Daily News. In a recent editorial, the newspaper noted that:

"The election of the president is, by the design of the founders, a contest to win states, not merely to win votes. That legislators in this state, one of the original adopters of the Constitution, would subvert that design in the name of a fashionable populism is horrifying."

To read the editorial in its entirety, click here.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

MTA + $$ = The End of MCAS

We all knew the days of the Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System (MCAS) test were numbered when Governor Patrick decided to name Paul Reville – a strident opponent of the MCAS – to the Board of Education. It was really just a question of when the Governor would finally drop the charade and go back on his oft-repeated assertion that “we’re not walking away from the MCAS.”

Last Friday, Education Commissioner Mitchell Chester made it official when he released a memo recommending that Massachusetts adopt the proposed national Common Core standards. Tomorrow, the Board of Education is scheduled to vote on his recommendation (be sure to check out today’s Boston Herald editorial, “Slipping Standards”).

If this vote had taken place prior to Governor Patrick’s education reorganization, we would have expected the board to engage in a spirited debate, while holding the Patrick-Murray Administration’s feet to the fire and forcing them to defend the rationale of abandoning a test that is recognized as the best in the nation. But that was back when the board still clung to its long and proud history of independence; the reorganization has left the board a shell of its former shelf, and there’s little doubt how the vote will go.

So what proved to be the tipping point for the Patrick-Murray Administration?

For starters, the federal government dangled the prospect of the state qualifying for up to $250 million in one-time federal aid if it adopts the national standards by August 2. That money would come in handy, but is it really worth dumbing down our highest-in-the-nation academic standards to get it? We don’t think so.

Then, of course, there is the influence of the state’s teachers’ unions, which have long opposed the MCAS. Patrick is clearly beholden to the unions. In fact, the Massachusetts Teachers Association pumped nearly $2.6 million into his 2006 campaign for Governor, and endorsed his re-election just days before Commissioner Chester released his memo.

A quid pro quo? You be the judge.

In Case You Missed It...

For the second week in a row, Assistant Senate Minority Leader Bruce Tarr (left) filled in for Michael Sullivan on Fox 25's "Monday Morning Quarterbacks" segment. Tarr joined former Attorney General Scott Harshbarger live in the Beacon Hill studio yesterday morning to discuss the latest state and national political news, including small business healthcare concerns; U.S. Senator Scott Brown's vote for the federal finance bill; the recent war of words between members of the NAACP and the Tea Party movement; and President Obama's vacation controversy.

In case you missed it, you can watch the clip here. But be forewarned, the closing seconds of the 10-minute segment include an off-key rendition of Neil Diamond's "Sweet Caroline" sung by Harshbarger at the urging of Fox Morning News co-host Kim Carrigan.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

If It's Bad News, It Must Be Friday

Last October, the State House News Service observed that the Patrick-Murray Administration seems to have a "mildly pathological fixation" with dumping bad news on a Friday afternoon in an attempt to minimize the need for PR damage control.

The Administration was at it again late yesterday, disclosing not one but two pieces of bad news. First, Governor Patrick announced that his embattled nominee to the Middlesex Family and Probate Court, Attorney David Aptaker, had withdrawn his name from consideration in the wake of growing opposition to his candidacy. The Senate Republican Caucus called for Aptaker's resignation two weeks ago, following revelations that he had failed to disclose hundreds of dollars in questionable campaign contributions on his judicial application.

But the bad news didn't end there. Word also leaked out late yesterday afternoon that the Patrick-Murray Administration is poised to dump the Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment Systems (MCAS) test and replace it with what is sure to be a less-rigorous and watered-down national standard. This would represent a major step backwards for education reform, given that the high standards set by the MCAS have resulted in Massachusetts' students leading the nation in a number of testing categories.

It's not surprising to see this full-scale attack on the MCAS. After all, this is the same Governor who stripped the state's Board of Education of its long-standing independence, politicized the charter school approval process, and used one of his first appointments to name one of the MCAS' most strident opponents to the board. And let's not forget that Patrick is also beholden to the anti-MCAS teachers unions, which have donated heavily to his campaign.

The Governor's latest actions remind us of an Associated Press story that appeared last fall, in which Boston University communications professor Tobe Berkovitz compared the Administration's Friday-afternoon press dumps to what happened in the final days of the Nixon White House.

"It's right out of the Dick Nixon playbook," Berkovitz told the Associated Press. "During Watergate, they would always unload everything at 20 after 6, just before the network news went on the air at 6:30 p.m."

One can only imagine how many more bad news stories the Patrick-Murray Administration will be looking to bury on a Friday in the coming weeks.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Senator Hedlund Talks Casinos on Fox25

Senate Minority Whip Robert L. Hedlund (left) filled-in for Rob Gray during this week’s Tolman & Gray spot on the Fox 25 Morning News. Watch his take on casinos, and the ongoing legislative logjam.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Where Was Tim?

Beleaguered Patrick Administration judicial appointee David Aptaker was on the hot seat yesterday, appearing before the Governor’s Council and trying to explain why he failed to disclose certain questionable campaign donations on his application.

But Lieutenant Governor Tim Murray – who normally chairs the Council’s meetings and has been one of Aptaker’s biggest supporters – was nowhere to be found. Instead, the meeting was presided over by Councilor Tom Merrigan who, ironically, was the beneficiary of special legislation that has allowed him to continue to practice law before state agencies, despite the obvious conflict of interest.

Aptaker – who has been nominated to serve on the Middlesex Probate and Family Court – claims he made “an honest mistake” and had “no intention of trying to deceive” the Governor’s Council when he failed to disclose $200 in donations to former State Senator Jim Marzilli and $550 in contributions to former Middlesex Registrar of Probate John Buonomo. Marzilli is facing multiple charges of indecent sexual assault involving four women, while Buonomo was convicted of stealing money from the court’s copier machines.

On July 2 – the day after these revelations came to light – the Senate Republican Caucus called on Governor Patrick to rescind Aptaker’s nomination, saying he had “blatantly obfuscated and misrepresented his position” and that his actions “call into question his character and qualifications to serve on the Probate Court.”

Two weeks ago, Tim Murray pulled a Sergeant Schultz (“I hear nothing, I see nothing, I know nothing!”), saying the concerns should have been brought up earlier. At the time, Murray was willing to look the other way and let Aptaker’s nomination vote proceed, despite valid concerns about his candidacy. Now it appears he’s doing it again, running for cover as the fallout continues.

Stay tuned.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

In Case You Missed It...

Assistant Senate Minority Leader Bruce E. Tarr took part in the popular "Monday Morning Quarterbacks" segment on the Fox 25 Morning News yesterday.

Senator Tarr joined former Attorney General Scott Harshbarger in the Beacon Hill studio to discuss the Russian spy case; Charlie Baker's latest political ads targetting Governor Deval Patrick; the mid-term Congressional elections; the hoopla surrounding NBA superstar Lebron James' decision to leave Cleveland and sign with the Miami Heat; and Spain's weekend victory in the World Cup tournament.

Senator Tarr will be back next Monday morning to do another live segment on Fox 25.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Worcester Telegram & Gazette: 'Tisei is Right' About National Popular Vote Proposal

The Worcester Telegram & Gazette ran an editorial yesterday backing Senate Minority Leader Richard Tisei's claims that the proposed National Popular Vote bill represents "an end-run around the Constitution."

The editorial calls on the Senate to reject the "NPV scheme," which would drastically change the way states choose a U.S. President every four years.

"Any state joining the compact of states would agree to award its Electoral College votes to the presidential candidate winning the most votes nationwide," the editorial notes. "In some cases, that could mean overturning the expressed will of the people in a given state, merely to satisfy the sense of entitlement that clings to the 'winner' of the popular vote for president."

The Senate is scheduled to resume debate on the National Popular Vote bill on Tuesday, with several amendments still pending.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

ON THE AIR: Senator Tisei Promotes Sales Tax Holiday to Give Consumers, Retailers a Break

Senate Minority Leader Richard R. Tisei (right) has been hitting the airwaves this week to call for the reinstatement of a statewide sales tax holiday, which hasn't been offered in Massachusetts since 2008.

Tisei was a guest this morning on RushRadio 1200's Jeff Katz Show, where he talked about the House Republican Caucus' successful effort to designate August 14-15 as a tax-free weekend for consumers and retailers. Tisei also discussed the benefits of a sales tax holiday on WRKO's Tom & Todd Show and with WBZ Radio's Jon MacLean yesterday.

A longtime advocate for establishing an annual tax-free weekend in Massachusetts, Tisei is leading the charge to get the Senate to approve a new sales tax holiday before formal sessions end on July 31.

Senator Tarr Talks Casinos on NECN

Assistant Senate Minority Leader Bruce E. Tarr (left) was a guest this week on New England Cable News' "Broadside". Tarr and host Jim Braude had a lively discussion about expanded gaming in the Commonwealth, including the likelihood that the House and Senate can resolve their differences and deliver a casino bill to Governor Patrick's desk before the end of session on July 31.

Click here to watch the interview.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Herald: Give Consumers a Break

An editorial in today’s Boston Herald makes a strong case for offering another sales tax holiday this year, the first since 2008.

Introduced in 2004 as a one-day event, the sales tax holiday expanded to a full weekend in 2005 and has grown in popularity ever since. Between 2004 and 2008, the sales tax holiday was an annual summer event that gave tax-weary consumers a break while also helping businesses through what has traditionally been a slow sales period for retailers.

Last year, of course, the state offered no sales tax holiday. Instead, consumers were hit with a 25 percent increase in the sales tax, which jumped from 5 percent to 6.25 percent and put many local businesses at a competitive disadvantage compared to their out-of-state counterparts.

House Republicans have filed an amendment for a sales tax holiday that could come up for a vote as early as today. This is good news for taxpayers as well as merchants. As the Herald notes, the $14.9 million in sales tax revenues the state lost during the 2008 sales tax holiday is “essentially, a rounding error in the context of a $28 billion budget,” and it will help draw customers into stores and provide additional individual and corporate income tax revenues for the state.

The Senate Republican Caucus has tried to make the sales tax holiday permanent, but so far Beacon Hill has resisted this proposal, opting instead to decide if and when one will be offered on a year-to-year basis. A permanent tax holiday would take the politics out of the process, while helping employers and taxpayers.

The Herald is right: it’s time to give consumers – and businesses – a break!

Sunday, July 4, 2010


As families across Massachusetts and the rest of the country gather to celebrate our nation's birth this Fourth of July, we here at Scaling The Hill 2010 would like to wish everyone a very safe and happy Independence Day.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Tim Murray Pulls A Sergeant Schultz

Lieutenant Governor Tim Murray is sounding a lot like Sergeant Schultz these days. You know, the fictional bumbling character from Hogan’s Heroes known for constantly repeating the refrain “I hear nothing, I see nothing, I know nothing!”

How else do you explain the Lieutenant Governor’s actions at last Wednesday’s Governor’s Council confirmation hearing for Arlington Attorney David Aptaker, who was nominated by Governor Patrick to serve as the new Associate Justice of the Middlesex County Family and Probate Court? As the State House News Service has reported, Murray was willing to look the other way despite valid concerns about Aptaker’s candidacy and revelations that he was less than forthcoming on the questionnaire that accompanied his nomination application.

It seems that Aptaker neglected to mention hundreds of dollars in campaign contributions he made to disgraced former Senator Jim Marzilli (who is now facing sexual assault charges) and former Middlesex Register of Probate John Buonomo (who was imprisoned after being convicted on theft charges). Aptaker made two $100 donations to Marzilli in 2007, along with a combined $550 in donations to Buonomo in 2006 and 2008.

Aptaker also claimed to have contributed to President Barack Obama and Congressman Michael Capuano, but Governor’s Councilor Marilyn Devaney has been unable to verify those donations. Devaney and fellow Councilor MaryEllen Manning successfully moved to delay the vote on Aptaker’s nomination until July 14, despite Murray’s eagerness to dismiss their concerns and move ahead with a vote anyway.

Today, the Senate Republican Caucus hand-delivered a letter to Governor Patrick, which calls on him to rescind Aptaker’s nomination.

“Judicial nominees in Massachusetts must always be held to the highest standard,” the Caucus wrote. “The fact that Mr. Aptaker lied on his application and omitted important information about questionable campaign contributions calls into question his character and qualifications to serve on the Probate Court. The Governor’s Council should not be asked to compromise the integrity of the judicial system by rubber-stamping a candidate who has so blatantly obfuscated and misrepresented his position.”

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Republican Leaders' Statement on FY11 Budget

Senate Minority Leader Richard R. Tisei and House Minority Leader Bradley H. Jones, Jr. released the following statement regarding Governor Deval Patrick’s signing of the Fiscal Year 2011 state budget yesterday:

“The Fiscal Year 2011 budget signed by Governor Patrick is a testament to yet another missed opportunity by the Legislature and the Corner Office to implement real reforms in the way state government operates.

Once again, the budget relies heavily on the use of one-time revenues, including federal stimulus funding that will no longer be available next year. Governor Patrick has also failed to address the $160 million hole that has been created by Social Security reimbursements that have yet to be paid to the state, or to account for the $300 million hole created by a debt restructuring plan that is still waiting authorization by the Senate. In doing so, the Governor has simply pushed off the day of reckoning and has failed to address the serious financial crisis Massachusetts is now facing.

The state is facing a structural deficit of between $2 billion and $3 billion in Fiscal Year 2011. By taking a band-aid approach, the Governor and the Legislature continue to avoid making the tough decisions and adopting the fiscal discipline needed to rein in spending and dig the state out of its fiscal mess. This budget may be on time, but it is certainly not balanced and is anything but responsible.”