Auditor candidates have different views on privatization law

Campaign questionnaires highlight stances of Amore, DiZoglio

IN THE RACE for state auditor, the Democratic and Republican candidates have very different positions on a key responsibility of the office – giving approval for the privatization of public services. 

Under state law, the auditor is charged with evaluating privatization proposals and certifying the initiatives will not only save money but also maintain at least the same level of service already provided. Critics say the law’s provisions make privatization nearly impossible, while supporters say the requirements are merely common sense steps to assure quality service.

Gov. Charlie Baker in 2015 sought and won approval from the Legislature for a three-year exemption from the law. MBTA managers privatized a number of services and used the threat of privatization to extract significant concessions from MBTA unions, saving hundreds of millions of dollars. 

The two candidates for auditor – Democratic Sen. Diana DiZoglio of Methuen and Republican Anthony Amore, the director of security at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum – shared their views on the law in answering questionnaires submitted by union groups that are strongly in favor of the law.

DiZoglio is closely aligned with the state’s unions. In response to a single question about the privatization law on an AFL-CIO questionnaire, she noted the author of the law, Sen. Marc Pacheco of Taunton, is supporting her candidacy. The law is called the Taxpayer Protection Act, but most people refer to it as the Pacheco law.

“My stance is clear: a public process allows for the proper vetting of contracts and prevents unfettered privatization,” said DiZoglio. “As auditor, I have pledged to conduct regular audits to ensure we are fulfilling our commitments made through legislative efforts.”

Amore answered a much more detailed series of questions about the law from Council 93 of the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees, which represents public sector unions that have a strong interest in the law’s enforcement. Asked his opinion of privatization, Amore said he starts with the premise that government administrators have the public’s best interest at heart.

“If the leaders of a state agency believe that privatization serves the public’s interest, then I would be open to giving a fair and impartial look at privatization as state auditor,” he said.

As for the Pacheco law itself, Amore said, it has advantages and disadvantages. He said the law “strengthens our ability to offer good-paying jobs with great retirement benefits to state employees,” but he said it makes it more difficult for the state to hire construction firms run by women and people of color.

These firms, which are much smaller than the larger players in this space, are private and often cannot meet the Pacheco law’s requirements to offer wages and benefits on par with those of public employees.” Amore said. “In order to address our state’s racial wealth gap, I believe that the Supplier Diversity Office should be granted flexibility when recommending women and minority-owned firms for such state contracts.”

Amore said he would oppose efforts to weaken the law except in instances where exceptions might be beneficial – for example, to offer flexible work opportunities to state retirees, to better meet climate change obligations, or to increase workforce diversity.

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Bruce Mohl

Editor, CommonWealth

About Bruce Mohl

Bruce Mohl is the editor of CommonWealth magazine. Bruce came to CommonWealth from the Boston Globe, where he spent nearly 30 years in a wide variety of positions covering business and politics. He covered the Massachusetts State House and served as the Globe’s State House bureau chief in the late 1980s. He also reported for the Globe’s Spotlight Team, winning a Loeb award in 1992 for coverage of conflicts of interest in the state’s pension system. He served as the Globe’s political editor in 1994 and went on to cover consumer issues for the newspaper. At CommonWealth, Bruce helped launch the magazine’s website and has written about a wide range of issues with a special focus on politics, tax policy, energy, and gambling. Bruce is a graduate of Ohio Wesleyan University and the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. He lives in Dorchester.

About Bruce Mohl

Bruce Mohl is the editor of CommonWealth magazine. Bruce came to CommonWealth from the Boston Globe, where he spent nearly 30 years in a wide variety of positions covering business and politics. He covered the Massachusetts State House and served as the Globe’s State House bureau chief in the late 1980s. He also reported for the Globe’s Spotlight Team, winning a Loeb award in 1992 for coverage of conflicts of interest in the state’s pension system. He served as the Globe’s political editor in 1994 and went on to cover consumer issues for the newspaper. At CommonWealth, Bruce helped launch the magazine’s website and has written about a wide range of issues with a special focus on politics, tax policy, energy, and gambling. Bruce is a graduate of Ohio Wesleyan University and the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. He lives in Dorchester.

Amore said he would not support extending the Pacheco law to cover municipal privatization efforts.

The whole issue of making candidate questionnaires public surfaced in the Democratic primary for auditor. Chris Dempsey, who lost in the primary to DiZoglio, made all but one of his 17 questionnaires public in the interest of transparency. (The one questionnaire he did not release was from an abortion rights advocacy group, which asked that it not be made public.)

DiZoglio responded by releasing 11 questionnaires, while Amore has released six. Unfortunately, there is little overlap among the released questionnaires, so direct comparisons of the candidates on specific issues is difficult. Maura Healey, the Democratic candidate for governor, is refusing to release any of her answers to questionnaires.