Posts Tagged ‘Lester Black’

Session Featured Big Bills, Less Public View

Monday, August 20th, 2012

By Lester Black and Andrea Aldana

BOSTON – Not long after state lawmakers ended their formal work for 2011 with a near-midnight November session, they began congratulating themselves for an exemplary season of legislating.

Among those accomplishments: casinos with the promise of new jobs and tax revenue, a law allowing municipalities to negotiate health insurance for public workers, balancing a budget in tough economic times and stabilizing the state’s pension plan.

“I would say this was one of the most impressive sessions over the past 30 years in terms of legislation passed,” said Michael Widmer, president of the Massachusetts Taxpayers Association.
(more…)

Special Report: Openness and Productivity on Beacon Hill

Wednesday, January 4th, 2012

USA522letterBWPrintSession Featured Big Bills, Less Public View

BOSTON – Not long after state lawmakers ended their formal work for 2011 with a near-midnight November session, they began congratulating themselves for an exemplary season of legislating.

Among those accomplishments: casinos with the promise of new jobs and tax revenue, a law allowing municipalities to negotiate health insurance for public workers, balancing a budget in tough economic times and stabilizing the state’s pension plan.

“I would say this was one of the most impressive sessions over the past 30 years in terms of legislation passed,” said Michael Widmer, president of the Massachusetts Taxpayers Association.

But how much really got done this year, and, more importantly how much of the legislative process that moved these bills to law took place in public?

Numbers can be interpreted in different ways. Of the 206 bills passed in 2011, 39 – or 19 percent – affect the entire state – many in significant ways. Another 25 percent of the bills signed by Gov. Deval Patrick established sick leave banks for public employees. The rest were administrative laws pertaining to individual cities and towns, such as alcohol licenses and land transfers.

But behind the issue of legislative productivity looms a larger question about the process that moved various bills down the road, or left them on the roadside. A survey by the Boston University Statehouse Program of 19 major legislative committees that shape and move legislation found this process increasingly takes place outside the public view.

Among the findings:

– The staff for 15 of the committees polled said some voting is done through e-mails rather than in open executive sessions. The staff of 10 committees said the votes were not available to the public. State law requires that roll-call votes in executive sessions be recorded and made public. But committee rules do not address e-mail voting.

– Minutes and other details of committee meetings were not available from 18 of the committees, according to their staff. State law does not require such documentation of legislative committees, although it is required by other Massachusetts.

– Among the lack of documentation are records of attendance by committee members. Observers say fewer committee members now show up for public hearings as the work of the committees takes place through phone discussion or e-mail polls.

(more…)

Swampscott superintendent testifies on school aid

Wednesday, October 5th, 2011

By Lester BlackSalem News

Oct. 5, 2011

BOSTON — A North Shore educator joined with an area lawmaker yesterday to make a pitch for legislation that would raise minimum state funding for school districts across the commonwealth.

“We are one of 58 communities that have been underfunded, and for Swampscott that means $500,000 a year,” Lynne Celli, superintendent of schools in Swampscott, told the Joint Committee on Education.

The committee is considering a bill, proposed by Rep. Lori Ehrlich, D-Marblehead, that would require the state to follow through on its pledge to fund 17.5 percent of every district’s minimum budget — known as the foundation budget — within two years, restoring a higher level of state funding for schools under Chapter 70.

Each school district is required to make up the difference between its foundation budget and the state contribution, using local property taxes.

According to Ehrlich, the process hasn’t been fair.

“Some communities, based on those factors, sometimes for some fluky reasons, ended up with very little funding, with the majority of the burden on the local taxpayer,” she said.

The current funding formula directs more state aid to poorer communities, but some of the wealthier communities, including Swampscott, feel they are being shortchanged. Celli told the committee that the deficit represented 10 teachers for the Swampscott schools.

“It has impacted our ability to deliver the skills necessary for the 21st century,” she said after the meeting. “We have reduced our staff to the bare bones.”

The Legislature has attempted to raise the minimum level of funding in the past.

“Back in 2006, with all good intentions, the Legislature pledged to raise the minimum funding for all communities to 17.5 percent over a five-year period,” Ehrlich said. “When it got to the final year, the economy fell apart and the pledge never came through.”

Ehrlich said the failure to follow through on the pledge hurt school systems such as Swampscott.

“They were dependent on that promise being realized as they hired teachers, bought textbooks and did other budgetary things,” she said.

In addition to Swampscott, schools in Ipswich, Marblehead, Nahant and Saugus would receive more state funds if the legislation passes. Ehrlich said she felt good about the bill’s chances after yesterday’s meeting.

“I think they recognized that it was a commitment that the Legislature made and they need to follow through on it,” she said. “But with the legislative process I’ve learned to never count my eggs before they hatch.”