Thursday, June 28, 2012

Senate GOP Caucus Hails EBT, Immigration Reforms in Fiscal Year 2013 State Budget

The Massachusetts Senate Republican Caucus today welcomed a series of reform measures targeting abuses in the state’s public benefits programs, cracking down on unlicensed drivers, and expanding the use of immigrant status verification systems for MassHealth applicants, which they have fought to include in the state budget for the upcoming fiscal year.

The reforms were included in the Conference Committee report on the $32.5 billion Fiscal Year 2013 state budget, which was approved today by the Legislature. These reforms reflect many of the Caucus’ priorities initiated during the Senate budget debate in May by Senate Minority Leader Bruce Tarr (R-Gloucester), Assistant Minority Leader Robert L. Hedlund (R-Weymouth), Senate Minority Whip Richard J. Ross (R-Wrentham), and Senator Michael R. Knapik (R-Westfield), the Ranking Republican on the Senate Ways and Means Committee.

“The reforms included in the budget target two of the biggest problems we as a Caucus have been trying to address: the misuse of Electronic Benefit Transfer cards and the public safety issues raised by unlicensed drivers, including those who are in this country illegally,” said Senator Tarr. “For too long, individuals who do not qualify for public assistance have been receiving taxpayer-funded benefits, sometimes at the expense of those who truly need help. At the same time, unlicensed drivers continue to pose a serious public safety threat to all law-abiding citizens. The changes approved by the House and Senate today will help protect those residents who choose to play by the rules while punishing those individuals who would rather manipulate the system for their own advantage.”

Some of the Caucus reforms incorporated in the final budget include:

• expanded restrictions on the types of products and services that can be purchased with EBT cards, including a ban on tattoos, gambling and jewelry;

• increased penalties for unlawful purchases made with EBT cards, up to and including the potential loss of direct cash assistance;

• fines for individuals and organizations that traffick in food stamps;

• the establishment of a direct vendor payment program at the Department of Transitional Assistance for recipients who fail to pay rent and/or utilities on time;

• the creation of an independent commission to study and report on the development of a cashless payment system for EBT cards by December 31, 2012;

• a requirement that the Inspector General conduct a data match survey involving the case records for households receiving cash assistance benefits to identify inconsistent or contradictory information that might indicate fraud or abuse;

• a requirement that applicants provide a license, Social Security number, or other proof of legal residence when registering a motor vehicle;

• increased penalties for knowingly employing an unlicensed individual as a motor vehicle operator, or an individual whose license has been suspended or revoked

• expanded penalties for stealing, forging or counterfeiting a learner’s permit, license or ID card; and

• a requirement that MassHealth begin utilizing the federal Systematic Alien Verification for Entitlements (SAVE) system by July 31, 2013 to verify the immigration status of all applicants who apply for benefits with an alien admission number or alien file number

The budget now heads to Governor Deval Patrick, who will have 10 days to review the spending proposal and to issue any vetoes.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

A Compelling Editorial

Today the Eagle Tribune offers a very interesting perspective into the illegal immigration discussion that is happening across Massachusetts and the country. Importantly, the paper notes the stance Governor Patrick has taken in regards to the illegal immigration provisions passed by the House and Senate for inclusion in the FY’13 state budget.

It’s unfortunate that the governor would take such a position on a measure that hasn’t made its way to his desk yet. Before the governor formulates his opinion on the matter, he should at least collect input from the people he represents and then act accordingly after he’s had time to review it. To express your opinion on the subject, please contact Governor Patrick’s office. It is an extremely important issue that needs to be given time for careful consideration.

Please click here to read today’s editorial by the Eagle Tribune.

Senator Tarr On the Air with Michele McPhee

Today, Senate Minority Leader Bruce Tarr will be a guest on WRKO 680 AM’s The Michele McPhee Show, where they will discuss controls for illegal immigration. Please tune in to today’s radio broadcast or visit the posted website below at approximately 12:45 p.m. to listen to their lively discussion.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Senator Tarr on the Air with Fox 25

Last night, Senate Minority Leader Bruce Tarr had the opportunity to speak with news anchor Mark Ockerbloom of the Fox 25 Evening News to discuss MBTA funding legislation that was debated during yesterday’s formal Senate session and the need for more oversight. To view their discussion, please play the posted video below.

Votes to Note: MBTA Financial Accountability

Yesterday the Massachusetts State Senate debated a bailout proposal of $51 million dedicated to the MBTA to close the agency’s budgetary shortfall. The bill, S.2308, was ultimately approved by a 26 to 9 vote. The Senate Republican Caucus offered several amendments to improve our mass transportation system and provide safeguards that demonstrate fiscal responsibility.

One such measure the Caucus offered was an amendment that would require the MBTA to develop on its website a searchable database that would allow the public to research monetary data regarding the agency. The searchable information would include:

• a complete accounting of all capital assets under the control of the authority:

• operating expenses;

• monthly ridership data aggregated by each mode of transit;

• the fare recovery ratios for each mode of transit and by line; and

• the financial plans for any proposed expansion projects, and the development, conceptual planning, design and construction of any effort to expand the scope of MBTA services.

Unfortunately, the amendment did not pass and thus was not included in the final version of the Senate’s bill by a roll call vote of 12 voting in the affirmative to 25 in the negative. The amendment, if approved would have been a major victory for transparency and accountability. The Senate Republican Caucus will continue to fight for amendments like this one, so that everyone is given the opportunity to know how their taxpayer and ratepayer dollars are being utilized.

Posted below is the roll call vote of the amendment made by all the senators.

Amendment # 25 MBTA Financial Accountability

Yeas: 12

Nays: 25

Roll Call Votes: Yea/Nay

Frederick E. Berry: Did Not Vote

Stephen M. Brewer: Nay

William N. Brownsberger: Nay

Gale D. Candaras: Yea

Harriette L. Chandler: Nay

Sonia Chang-Diaz: Nay

Katherine Clark: Nay

Cynthia Stone Creem: Nay

Sal N. DiDomenico: Nay

Kenneth J. Donnelly: Nay

Eileen Donoghue: Yea

Benjamin B. Downing: Nay

James B. Eldridge: Nay

Susan C. Fargo: Nay

Barry Finegold: Yea

Jennifer L. Flanagan: Nay

John Hart: Nay

Robert L. Hedlund: Yea

Patricia D. Jehlen: Nay

Brian A. Joyce: Nay

John Keenan: Nay

Thomas P. Kennedy: Nay

Michael R. Knapik: Yea

Thomas M. McGee: Nay

Mark C. Montigny: Nay

Michael O. Moore: Yea

Richard T. Moore: Yea

Senate President Therese Murray: Did Not Vote

Marc R. Pacheco: Nay

Anthony Petruccelli: Nay

Michael Rodrigues: Nay

Stanley C. Rosenberg: Nay

Richard J. Ross: Yea

Michael Rush: Yea

Karen E. Spilka: Nay

Bruce E. Tarr: Yea

James E. Timilty: Yea

James Welch: Yea

Daniel Wolf: Nay

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Senate GOP Caucus Supports Bipartisan Control Board Plan to Address MBTA Crisis

Senator Gale D. Candaras (D–Wilbraham), Senate Minority Leader Bruce E. Tarr (R–Gloucester), Senator James Welch (D–West Springfield), Assistant Senate Minority Leader Robert Hedlund (R-Weymouth) and Senate Minority Whip Richard J. Ross (R-Wrentham) held a press conference at the State House this morning to announce the filing of an amendment to the MBTA bailout bill that would establish an MBTA Control Board.

The proposed Control Board, similar to the successful model used in Springfield in 2004, would be charged with crafting and implementing a plan for long term stability at the MBTA, while providing quality, affordable transit service.

“Everyone agrees that quality, affordable mass transit is essential to Massachusetts,” Candaras said. “In order to meet that goal, we need a team at the MBTA that is able to put the T on a sustainable path; another no-strings-attached bailout does not solve the problem.”

“We cannot continue to contribute large amounts of money to get the MBTA from one funding crisis to the next. Taxpayers, ratepayers and people who depend on public transportation need us to put the authority on a path to sustainability and efficiency as soon as possible, and through an effective method such as a control board,” said Senator Tarr.

“A healthy transit system is important to the continued growth and success of the Commonwealth,” said Senator Welch. “We need to ensure tax dollars are being used efficiently and effectively to create a long-term solution for the MBTA.”

The amendment provides a $51M loan to the MBTA to address immediate funding needs with the funds to be repaid in full by June 30, 2020. Additionally, the amendment would:

• Provide the Control Board with all the powers and authority granted to the MBTA Board of Directors and Advisory Board as well as grant additional authorities, including the ability to amend budgets, revise policy, create or eliminate positions, adjust fees, services, and rates

• Establish a Control Board liaison to the Office of the Attorney General

• Mandate the Control Board develop a long term sustainability plan for the MBTA

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Media Alert: Tarr on 'Broadside' Tonight

Senate Minority Leader Bruce Tarr will be joining Senator Brian Joyce of Milton and host Jim Braude as a guest on this evening’s episode of “Broadside” on New England Cable News. Tonight’s segment will focus on this year’s presidential election, the impact of the Wisconsin gubernatorial recall election, and the latest action on the Massachusetts Fiscal Year 2013 state budget.

Be sure to tune in tonight at 6:00 p.m. for the live broadcast, or watch the show when it re-airs at 8:00 p.m.

Monday, June 4, 2012

ON THE AIR: Senator Tarr Discusses Melissa's Bill on WBZ Radio with Dan Rea Tonight

Senate Minority Leader Bruce Tarr will be joining Les Gosule on Dan Rea’s “Nightside” program on WBZ radio tonight to discuss the current status of Melissa’s Bill.  Named in memory of Les’ 27-year-old daughter who was raped and murdered by a repeat offender in July of 1999, Melissa’s Bill seeks to protect the public by imposing stronger penalties against violent repeat offenders, including the possibility of lifetime imprisonment without parole for chronic offenders.  Les will be appearing in studio with Dan Rea beginning at 9 p.m., and Senator Tarr will be joining them shortly thereafter.  Be sure to tune in to 1030 AM tonight to hear their discussion of this important public safety proposal, or listen online at