Saturday, November 24, 2007

Where Fiscal Discipline Is a Pipe Dream

In a Boston Globe op-ed, Lovett C. Peters, the founding chairman of the Pioneer Institute (what the Boston Globe would refer to as "a conservative think tank"), offers up a clear-eyed assessment of the Commonwealth's fiscal health and what measures are necessary to restore it. In many other locations of this country his suggestions would be regarded seriously. Here in Massachusetts, however, Peters' recommendations will receive as much consideration as any other idea coming out of a "conservative think tank:" None. I herein examine his observations and offer my own more jaded view of the status quo.
First, Peters sets the table nicely by ticking off the baseline facts to support the imposition of fiscal discipline:
Getting vertigo yet?
(Can we just save some time and cross off the biotech and commuter rail numbers? Please? The hottest venture capital sector in the country hardly needs taxpayer support; and the MBTA is in no shape to be larding another $21 million to its annual operating deficit.)
Then, in what has to be one of the singularly greatest uses of irony ever to appear on the Boston Globe editorial page (which is saying a lot), Peters quotes Sal DiMasi saying to a business group, "I like to say, 'What about efficiencies and cutting costs?'"
That Sal, what a card. Funny, the only thing I've known him to say is "you're away." So let's just kill that baby in its crib right now. Sal DiMasi's appetite for "cutting costs" could be measured at 4:00 p.m. on Thanksgiving Day.
But let's humor ourselves a bit longer while we examine Mr. Peters's eminently sensible recommendations:
1. Get public employee benefits under control.
Excellent idea. Elsewhere the idea that a person can collect his pension before his retirement age is a quaint notion. Here it is firmly embedded in state collective bargaining agreements. Ridiculous. Elsewhere, public employees pay at least 25% of their health insurance costs. Here it's 15% (up from 10%!).
This idea has about as much chance of being taken seriously as Dennis Kucinich's UFO claims. In fact, I'll bet there are some people who read Mr. Peters'editorial this morning and asked themselves, "what planet is he from?"
The bottom line is inescapable and irremediable: the Commonwealth of Massachusetts is a wholly owned subsidiary of the public employee unions. Without a hostile takeover, they'll be telling Sal DiMasi what to do before he gets to the second tee.

2. Eliminate mandatory union contracts in public construction.

See above. Peters tells us that only 20% of Massachusetts construction workers choose to join a union, even though 100% of public construction projects are done at the (euphemistically named) prevailing wage. The cost is about $120 million for every $1 billion spent. Wow, that adds up fast!
Where are the cities and towns who have to pay this tab? They're sitting over there in the corner with their hands in their pockets, waiting for more local aid. Where is Sal DiMasi? Putting out on two.
3. Eliminate Police traffic details.
Question: If such a vast majority of citizens in this state understand what a ridiculous waste of money this is, why does eliminating it never get past first base? See above. When you get that telephone call from the Police Benevolent Association, tell them you already gave, and gave, and gave.
Riddle: What do Mitt Romney and Deval Patrick have in common? They both publicly proposed eliminating police details and then ran and hid.
4. Privatize the Mass Pike.
This idea is far too cutting edge for us. Heck, Chicago only got $1.8 billion for its toll highway, that's not even real money. Besides, there isn't any way that Sal is going to give away all those "jobs." And given the insidious Pacheco Law (imagine how fatuous and vain you have to be to want your name attached to a law that squanders your constituents' money), a law that privatizes the second biggest public trough in the state would be tied up in court until the Segway becomes an accepted mode of urban transportation in Boston.
5. Privatize the Lottery.
The third biggest public trough? Next thing, you're going to want to take over the MBTA! Another Pacheco nightmare, too.
I admire and respect Mr. Lovett C. Peters, and I am thankful that the Pioneer Institute does the work that it does. That it has so few adherents in positions of power is lamentable -- in fact downright disgusting. But this is Massachusetts, after all, which stands before the nation as the paradigm of entrenched one-party rule.

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