Spring 2010

Spring 2010

Galvin gets less secretive about tax credit recipients

Galvin gets less secretive about tax credit recipients

secretary of state William Galvin is starting to lift the veil of secrecy surrounding his management of the state’s historic rehabilitation tax credit program, which provides financial incentives for developers to restore historic buildings.

Galvin recently posted on his state website the names of companies and projects receiving tax credit awards during the latest round of the $50 million-a-year program. Previously, he had informed winners in writing if they were awarded tax credits, but released no information to the public.

The tax credit initiative has been the focus of several articles in CommonWealth magazine, which obtained data on the program by filing public records requests with its administrator, the Massachusetts Historical Commission. The commission reports to Galvin, who is the state’s chief public information officer and oversees the state’s public records law.

Galvin’s spokesman, in a terse email, offered little insight on why the information was now being posted. “Another way of making the information available,” wrote Brian McNiff.

The shift by Galvin comes as pressure builds to make the awarding of state tax credits a more transparent process.“It’s good to see that the latest round is on the website,” says James Igoe, president of Preservation Massachusetts, a nonprofit group that pushed for the creation of the historic rehabilitation tax credit. “Hopefully, future rounds will be reported in similar fashion.”

Before Galvin began posting his tax credit awards online, Preservation Massachusetts regularly polled its members to find out whether they had received any credits or not. The organization shared the information it gathered with members and also used it to lobby for the tax credit on Beacon Hill.

The shift by Galvin comes at a time when pressure is building on Beacon Hill to make the awarding of state tax credits a more transparent process. In his budget proposal, Gov. Deval Patrick called for agencies issuing tax credits to detail who is receiving them and the number and pay of jobs they are generating.

A similar measure nearly became law last year, but stalled when Patrick balked at a Senate provision that would have kept the names of tax credit recipients confidential.

Right now there is little rhyme or reason to the way state agencies handle tax credits. Movie producers, for example, receive film tax credits equal to 25 percent of whatever they spend shooting movies in Massachusetts. The Department of Revenue, which hands out the tax credits, considers the names of recipients confidential.

By contrast, the Massachusetts Life Science Center goes through a public process in awarding tax credits. Its board makes awards to specific companies at a public meeting and spells out how many jobs the recipient will be required to generate. If the company fails to meet its jobs goal, the Life Sciences Center reserves the right to recover its money.

CommonWealth reported in its Summer 2008 issue that Galvin was running the historic rehabilitation tax credit program like a personal fiefdom, deciding which developers would receive tax credits using a secretive selection process that created uncertainty for developers and maximized his political clout.

A breakdown of tax credit awards obtained through a public records request showed that the most tax credits have gone to the Boston Red Sox for the renovation and restoration of Fenway Park. According to the records, the Sox have received $15.85 million in historic rehabilitation tax credits and are still seeking millions more. The second-biggest recipient was the Liberty Hotel, which received a total of $9.1 million in tax credits.

During the last two rounds of tax credit awards, the Sox received nothing. Red Sox spokeswoman Susan Goodenow says the club remains interested in obtaining historic rehabilitation tax credits. “We have applied for them and we’re going to keep applying,” she says.

During the most recent round of tax credit awards in December, Galvin handed out a total of 49, most of them for $500,000. The largest award, for $600,000, went to Stratford Capital Group LLC for a project in Athol.

Despite the tough economy and developers clamoring for financial help, records obtained through a Public Records Act request show Galvin did not give out the entire $50 million in tax credits last year; he carried $5.5 million over into this year.

Ka-ching!

Ka-ching!

A Pennsylvania city finds out what happens when a casino moves into the neighborhood

UPDATE: On April 7, after two months of deliberation, Pennsylvania’s gaming control board renewed the Sands’ operating license and approved the casino’s application to introduce table games in Bethlehem. At the same hearing, the Sands announced that the community would not have to wait much longer for the long-stalled hotel; construction will resume in May. “The mayor and I are pretty happy with the news,” says Tony Hanna, Bethlehem’s economic development director.

Also: CW reporter Alison Lobron appeared on WGBH-FM’s Emily Rooney Show to talk about the effects of a casino on the surrounding community. Listen to the April 12 program on the WGBH website.


 
 ILLUSTRATION BY RAFAEL RICOY

Michael DiLorenzo laughs when he remembers all the talk about hookers. “People said that if a casino came to town, they would be hanging out everywhere,” he recalls. A slight, dark-eyed man with a quick smile, DiLorenzo is sitting behind the cash register at Franklin Hill Vineyards in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, on a quiet Wednesday evening. He gestures out the liquor store’s front window at Bethlehem’s Main Street, a lantern-lit stretch of cafés, gift shops, and Colonial Era homes. “The hookers are not here,” he says.

A year after the Las Vegas Sands Corp. opened its first Northeastern casino, a mile from Bethlehem’s Main Street, DiLorenzo says he is barely aware the place exists. As he sees it, the casino, which opened in April 2009, hasn’t changed the historic character of the city, turned Main Street into the Las Vegas Strip, or wreaked any of the havoc he recalls local opponents predicting. “It’s definitely not the downfall of our community,” says DiLorenzo.

But, he adds, the Sands Casino hasn’t brought the windfall that local backers started promising as soon as Pennsylvania legalized slot machines in 2004. Despite talk of a tourism boom and a revenue boost for businesses in the city center, the Sands hasn’t finished building its long-awaited hotel, and DiLorenzo says he’s had exactly one customer come into his shop who was in town because of the casino. “I don’t think anything’s come of it,” DiLorenzo says. “But it’s still a very new thing.”

As Beacon Hill grapples again with introducing casinos in Massachusetts — this time with the House speaker, the Senate president, and governor all on board, to varying degrees — the experience of this Pennsylvania city of 75,000 is instructive. Like many areas of the Bay State, Bethlehem has struggled to replace lost manufacturing jobs, in particular those that vanished after the 1995 closure of the once-mighty Bethlehem Steel plant. The city’s tourism industry has many of the same strengths and weaknesses as communities outside Boston: historic sites and beautiful countryside coupled with lousy weather and casino competition just across the state border.

Soon after slot machines became legal in Pennsylvania, gaming proponents in Bethlehem offered many of the same arguments heard in the halls of the Massachusetts State House early this year. Gambling, they said, would spur economic development, create jobs, and prevent money from being sucked into casinos across the state border. Opponents, meanwhile, predicted that gambling would harm the fabric of communities, create social problems, and sap money away from local businesses and the state lottery.

On the whole, Bethlehem’s experience has been more positive than negative. The city has new jobs, and even the casino’s opponents acknowledge the community’s character feels unchanged. The state lottery’s sales have gone up, not down. At the same time, even the big supporters of Bethlehem Sands say that Massachusetts communities should beware of casinos that flash dollar signs before their eyes and should not rely on promised benefits. The jackpot, they say, may not be as big as predicted — and the most severe of human consequences may not appear for some time.

Serious money yet to arrive

As soon as Pennsylvania legalized casinos, Bethlehem’s mayor, John Callahan, knew he wanted one. Callahan, whom the local newspaper calls “the Sands’ head cheerleader,” has the boyish good looks of a homecoming king. He is now running for Congress, and when I meet him in his City Hall office, he’s quick to highlight what he sees as the Sands’ positive contributions to Bethlehem. First, he cites jobs: This casino of 5,000 slots has brought approximately 750 or 800 new full-time positions with benefits.

The Sands is a medium-sized casino, the fifth largest employer among the state’s nine gaming facilities. At the end of 2009, no casino in Pennsylvania directly employed more than 1,200 people — a number that could be a boon to the home communities, perhaps, but a far cry from the 20,000 permanent jobs that Gov. Deval Patrick predicted three resort casinos would bring to Massachusetts. In 2008, four years after legalization, Pennsylvania’s gaming industry employed fewer than 6,000 people.

Still, Callahan says that, when temporary construction jobs are counted, the economic benefits have been strong. “We grew 2,000 jobs in 2009,” he says. “Everywhere else you had lines at unemployment offices. Here, we were opening employment offices.”

He’s also pleased the city has avoided some of the anticipated drawbacks to a casino: Crime hasn’t gone up, traffic hasn’t gotten worse, and the city doesn’t look cosmetically different. Overall, crime in Bethlehem fell 9 percent the year the casino opened — perhaps because of the stepped-up police force, but more likely, the mayor thinks, because more people had jobs.

 
Bethlehem’s Main Street has seen little change since the casino opened.

“I want to be the place where people say, ‘They did casinos right,’” Callahan says. Holding up one hand, he ticks off a list for avoiding pitfalls that sounds something like this: Find the right site. Find the right operator. Get the zoning right. Work with your neighbors. Figure out infrastructure needs in advance.

Still, while the city is more than breaking even, it isn’t making serious money. Pennsylvania’s enabling legislation requires casinos to pay a 55 percent tax rate to the state on revenues, with 4 percent of the total going to the host communities. The casino’s gross terminal revenues — revenues after gambling winners are paid — totaled $153 million through the first eight months of the fiscal year ending July 2010. Among the nine casinos in Pennsylvania, the Sands accounts for just over 10 percent of the state’s total gambling revenues.

For Bethlehem, host fees came to $1.6 million in 2009, or $300,000 over what the mayor’s office had anticipated for this first partial year. In 2010, the first full year of operation — and a year in which the casino plans to add newly legalized table games to its current slot machines — the city projects $7.5 million in host fees. The mayor’s office says the financial benefits, which also include retail and land taxes, so far have outweighed the need for additional municipal expenses like an expansion of the city’s police force, from 144 to 161.

But Callahan is under pressure. The casino is the biggest thing to happen to Bethlehem during his tenure as mayor, but after five years of supporting the Sands, he’s frustrated that the “Casino Resort” is not yet a resort. The dream of a tourist destination, where people would stay, play, and spend, has yet to materialize.

In 2008, citing the economy, the Sands stopped construction on a 300-room hotel that was supposed to make Bethlehem a tourist destination. The hotel’s metal skeleton, cloaked in plastic wrap, is a blight on the Sands site akin to the empty foundation of Filene’s Basement in Boston’s Downtown Crossing.

“I want to see them finish it,” says Callahan.

Without a hotel, visitors to the Sands are now locals and day-trippers, meaning that Bethlehem doesn’t have new hotel jobs and isn’t collecting hotel taxes or meal taxes from overnight guests. Based on the impressions of local business owners, Sands visitors gamble, eat at on-site restaurants, shop at on-site retail, and then leave. They do not, at least according to anecdotal reports, cross the river and spend time in the historic city center, despite a city-run shuttle bus designed for that purpose. As the Sands approaches its first anniversary, Callahan and others are grateful for some of the benefits — and impatient for more of what they were promised.

From steel plant to slots

From the main road, the Bethlehem Sands looks nothing like a leisure destination of any kind, much less one with roots in Vegas. The casino itself, a nondescript structure of concrete and glass, was built to look old, says Bethlehem Sands president Robert DeSalvio. More specifically, it was built to look like what the site used to be: the Bethlehem Steel plant.

The casino itself rests on top of what was once the ore pit. The Sands painted one of the plant’s giant cranes black, hung their red logo on it, and then built the casino in the style of the plant’s other buildings, some of which are being refurbished into art spaces and an industrial museum.

For some in the city, the Sands not only respected the character of the original site, it provided a service the city couldn’t perform for over a decade: rebuilding a massive, historical brownfields site that contains the memories of generations.

“We were working on that site for 10 years and nothing was working,” remembers Tony Hanna, Bethlehem’s director of community and economic development. He says earlier plans to revitalize the abandoned plant — including one for a Faneuil Hall–style marketplace — lacked the investment to get off the ground. “We needed a powerful economic engine, and there are very few of them out there,” he recalls.

“You sort of make a Faustian bargain with gaming,” says Hanna. “But the good news is we did it because it was a way to jump-start redevelopment of the Bethlehem Steel site. If we didn’t do that, we wouldn’t have brought gambling to Bethlehem.”

 
A weekday afternoon inside the casino, whose ceiling was designed to resemble the steel plant that once stood here.

For Bethlehem, bringing a casino to town was inextricably linked to finding a company that would redevelop that particular site. As the mayor remembers it, the site was a hard sell with some of the gaming operators who expressed initial interest in the Lehigh Valley. Most wanted to be on the outskirts of town, just off the interstate highway. “I’d be cannibalizing my own downtown if the investments — the casino and the retail — all went up at the outskirts,” says Callahan. “So I had to find an operator who could get excited about [the former plant]. The Sands loved it. They loved the site, loved theming it around the steel industry and keeping the sense of place.” Callahan says the city negotiated with the casino company to determine which buildings would be torn down and which would be refurnished.

Linking the casino’s creation to the plant’s revitalization proved to be a key selling point for residents, who take pride in the plant that supplied steel to much of New York City’s skyline and fueled America’s efforts in both world wars. Tony Hanna says that soon after the state legislature approved slot machines in 2005, public opinion in Bethlehem was evenly divided on bringing a casino into town. “But it went to 60/40” — in favor of gaming — “when you asked people whether they approved of a casino if it would mean saving the Bethlehem Steel site,” Hanna recalls.

Most of the thematic links are structural: the massive black crane, the gray-and-glass exterior that blends into the rest of the plant, the ceiling arches that echo those of original Bethlehem Steel buildings. “We get older steelworkers who come in and are reduced to tears by the appearance,” says DeSalvio, the Sands president.

Working with neighbors

The casino sits near the border between the historic downtown and the grittier neighborhood of South Bethlehem, whose close-together cottages once housed generations of steelworkers, many of them immigrants. Today, Head Start buses roll through the area, and retail signs are a blend of English and Spanish. DeSalvio says the casino made a concerted effort to create an employee roster that reflected the significant Latino population of South Bethlehem.

Mayor Callahan says working with neighbors, assessing infrastructure needs, and re-thinking zoning were critical in ensuring the smoothness of the integration. The first meant agreeing with two neighboring communities, whose local governments also wanted a casino, that whoever did not get the facility would still collect a portion of the host fee. (The thinking behind shared host fees is that any negative effects — an increase in problem gambling, for example — would not stop at city lines.)

Assessing infrastructure meant gradually ramping up Bethlehem’s police force, adding four or five new officers each year — and building in an area that could withstand the road and parking needs of a casino. According to Hanna, the economic director, the Bethlehem Steel plant absorbed 30,000 workers every day at its peak, so the site was accustomed to heavy volume.

The city also put new zoning regulations in place, designed to ensure that the community’s fears — prostitutes, drugs, robbery, general sleaziness — don’t overwhelm South Bethlehem. The city council explicitly barred pawn shops, cash-checking establishments, and “adult entertainment” stores from locating within 5,000 feet of the casino. “I didn’t want a strip of pawn shops,” says the mayor. “You can’t prohibit them because they’re legal businesses, but if you don’t allow them to set up shop close to the casino, then they won’t come.”

Indeed, for those who dislike casinos on aesthetic grounds, there’s little about the Sands to cause offense. All hints of Vegas are confined behind windowless walls. The interior, to be sure, contains all the standard casino elements: flashing lights, massive neon dollar signs, and a swirl of cigarette smoke so thick the brand-new building already smells stale. But it’s easy to avoid this atmosphere. The only locals who have to confront the blinding lights and stale smoke are the ones who choose to go inside.

David Wickmann is president of the Northern Province of the Moravian Church, the Protestant denomination that founded Bethlehem several centuries ago. He was part of a vocal opposition to the Sands’ arrival because, as he puts it, “we felt that the presence of a casino would alter the character and fabric of a community in ways that would be detrimental to its future.”

He acknowledges that his fears have not come to pass. “The casino occupies a relatively small space within our community in terms of footprint. It has not had a positive or a negative effect on the fabric of the community,” he says.

Like their counterparts in Massachusetts, casino opponents in Pennsylvania argued that casino revenues wouldn’t really be new revenues. In other words, there’s only so much that a state’s residents will spend to gamble, and whatever is gained in casino taxes will likely be lost in state lottery revenues. That hasn’t happened so far in Pennsylvania. A Pennsylvania legislative committee last year studied the effect of casinos on the state’s lottery and found that, overall, average monthly lottery sales not only didn’t fall, they rose — from $247 million to $257 million between 2005 and 2009, a period in which Pennsylvania was steadily adding casinos. But while the statewide average was up, sales did fall by 1.7 percent in communities hosting casinos. “Competition from slots gaming cannot be discounted as a factor affecting Lottery sales,” the committee concluded.

While Bethlehem’s response to its casino seems to vacillate between neutral and positive, relations between city government and the casino have lately become tense over the lack of the promised hotel.

 
One of Bethlehem Steel’s old cranes welcomes visitors to the Sands.

Angered by reports that the Sands Corp. is considering a new casino development in Florida before it fulfills its commitment to Bethlehem, Callahan went before the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board in February and asked them to tie renewal of the Sands gaming license to completion of the hotel. The license is up for renewal this year, and, as of this writing, the board was still considering the mayor’s request.

Speaking for the Sands, DeSalvio says reports that the casino is building elsewhere are overblown. “We are always on the lookout for new possibilities, yes, but we have not announced a casino in Florida,” he says.

And he says the casino hasn’t committed to a restart date because they don’t know when new capital will be available. “We can’t do it out of internal cash flow, and the banks haven’t been willing to lend in order for us to restart building,” he says. The company has spent $743 million on Bethlehem so far and needs another $100 million to finish the hotel. It reported an operating loss of $1.16 million during the last six months of 2009.

In early March, Las Vegas Sands Chairman and CEO Sheldon Adelson, a Massachusetts native who has been rumored to be interested in building a Bay State casino, issued a press release declaring that the company was “mobilizing” to resume construction. The release was carefully worded and made no specific promises, stating only that the company “could restart construction on the 300-room hotel tower within the next several weeks, or as soon as subcontractors are lined up and activated.”

Addictive behavior

While the mayor simmers over the absence of promised tourism revenues, other problems may be simmering in the city, just as opponents predicted they would. Compulsive or problem gambling — a kind of addiction that can lead to bankruptcy and foreclosures — appears to be on the rise in Pennsylvania. Jim Pappas, executive director of the Council on Compulsive Gambling of Pennsylvania, says calls to his statewide hotline have nearly doubled since Pennsylvania’s first casinos opened in 2006. During the years when residents had to go to New Jersey to gamble, he’d get 600 or 700 calls a month. Now, he says he’s getting 1,300. (Like its Massachusetts counterpart, Pappas’s organization is neutral on legalized casinos; it exists only to help problem gamblers.)

Despite the argument advanced by casino proponents in Massachusetts — namely, that people will gamble anyway and why let the dollars go to Connecticut — Pennsylvania’s experience suggests that proximity counts: If the casino is just a mile away, residents with addictive tendencies will go more often, and lose more of their families’ rent and grocery accounts, than if they had to travel 100 miles. National studies have indicated that the “proximity effect” is not unique to Pennsylvania; a 1999 study found the rate of problem gambling to be twice as high within a casino’s 50-mile radius than outside that area. (See “Hitting the Jackpot,” CW, Spring 2005.)

Mayor Callahan says he’s not aware of additional gambling problems in Bethlehem, but acknowledges, “It’s early. People will say that compulsive gambling and other social consequences take some time to be seen.”

Still, the big sticking point in Bethlehem remains the hotel. And it’s a sticking point worth noting for all in Massachusetts who see “resort casinos” as the solution to economic woes: they may bring some revenues and they should, at the very least, not be costing more in municipal services than they provide in revenues. But just as the negative effects, like problem gambling, may take a long time to show themselves, sustainable profits — and jobs — may also be slower to arrive than expected.

As Tony Hanna, Bethlehem’s economic director puts it, “The Sands will be a billion-dollar project someday. We’d just hoped it would be a billion-dollar project now.”

Misdiagnosis

Misdiagnosis

The ratings given to Bay State nursing homes are not as informative, or as consistent, as they may first appear

it’s one thing to use five-star ratings to rank restaurants and movies, but is it possible to rate nursing homes the same way?

The federal government thinks it is. Just over a year ago, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) launched a new five-star rating system, available on its Nursing Home Compare website, that assigns star rankings to the more than 15,000 homes across the nation that accept public insurance. The rankings range from one star, for a home much below average, to five stars for a home much above average.

This system was intended to make it easier for families to research and compare nursing homes. But an analysis of the ratings for the 428 licensed homes in Massachusetts reveals flaws that can make the ratings misleading and confusing, in some cases disguising serious problems.

Within the January 2010 ratings, some homes receive top overall scores despite significant patient-care deficiencies. Because the ratings are based on a complex formula that weighs a number of factors, families who rely on the overall ratings to choose a nursing home may be missing critical information.

Ratings are heavily weighted by nursing home inspections, conducted by state surveyors, that vary considerably in scope and depth from state to state. National data show that Massachusetts homes overall benefit from a kind of grade inflation, driven in part by the relatively few citations of deficiencies given by the state Department of Public Health.

The uneven quality of the rating system led Martha Coakley and the attorney generals of 29 other states to petition CMS last year to suspend and revamp the five-star system. They argued that the system does not allow consumers to compare nursing homes across the country because facilities are graded on a curve within each state.

Some industry officials and consumer advocates say the rating system is well-intentioned but flawed. “This falls pretty short of being able to provide consumers with useful and complete information,” says Elissa Sherman, president of the Massachusetts Aging Services Association, whose members include the owners of not-for-profit nursing homes. “There’s not only inconsistency from state to state, there’s inconsistency within the state, depending on who’s doing the inspections.”

Edward F. Mortimer, technical director of the Survey and Certification Group for CMS, says the system is not intended to compare homes across state lines. He also says the star ratings should be only the starting point in the search for a nursing home, and he urged consumers to dig deeper into the information provided on the website and to visit homes in person.

“This is one tool to help families make decisions,” Mortimer says. “Consumers should look closely at inspection history, staffing levels, and quality measures and use this information as a springboard for a conversation with the administrator of a nursing home.”

Quotas may skew results

National data show that Massachusetts nursing homes are rated considerably higher than homes in most other states. What’s unclear is whether the homes are actually better or their scores are fueled partly by grade inflation.

Of the 428 Massachusetts nursing homes included in the Nursing Home Compare ratings in January, 79, or 18.5 percent, received the highest rating of five stars — compared to 13 percent of nursing homes nationally. Only 62 Massachusetts homes, or 14 percent, received a one-star rating — well below the national average of 20 percent.

Massachusetts homes are rated highly, but it’s unclear whether grade inflation is fueling scores.Part of the reason Massachusetts nursing homes rank so high is that they do well on state inspections and quality-of-care measures. On the federal website, each nursing home receives an overall star rating, but that rating is derived from stars awarded in three sub-areas. The most weight is given to results of the last three years of inspections, which are conducted in person by state surveyors every nine to 15 months.

The rating from inspection results is then adjusted up or down depending on two other categories: staffing levels and quality-of-care measures, both of which are self-reported by the nursing homes. Quality-of-care measures gauge key aspects of residents’ health, including the percentage whose mobility declines, whose need for help with daily activities increases, who are physically restrained, and who lose too much weight.

Some long-term-care advocates complain that the ratings are also subject to a quota system that, they say, skews the results. Under CMS rules, homes that rank in the top 10 percent in health inspections in each state receive five-star ratings in the inspection sub-area, while the bottom 20 percent receive one-star ratings. The quotas can allow homes with serious deficiencies to score high, as long as their inspection records are better than their peers, while homes with minimal problems could be pushed into the below-average tier.

“The quota system is a real problem,” Sherman says. “[Homes] are purposely put on a bell curve, which isn’t always representative of their actual performance.”

Some reports suggest that Massachusetts surveyors may not be as thorough in citing nursing homes for deficiencies as their peers in other states. A 2008 report by the inspector general of the Department of Health and Human Services found that Massachusetts ranked the second lowest nationally in the proportion of nursing homes that are cited for deficiencies — 80.3 percent in 2007. Thirty-five states had citation rates of greater than 90 percent.

The report also found that Massachusetts health inspectors reported fewer deficiencies in the nursing homes they surveyed than did inspectors in most other states — 5.5 per home, on average, compared to nine in Connecticut, eight in Vermont and 13.3 in Delaware. Only 14 states had lower deficiency averages than Massachusetts in 2007.

The relative lag in citations of deficiencies is notable because Massachusetts fares poorly in national comparisons of some quality measures that can indicate problems in care. According to CMS data from the third quarter of 2009, Massachusetts had the 12th highest rate of nursing home residents who were physically restrained, and the 18th highest rate of residents whose mobility declined.

In addition, a November 2009 report by the US Government Accountability Office cited Massachusetts as one of four states in which a high proportion of state health inspectors — more than 40 percent — reported that the process for resolving disputed deficiencies favored the concerns of nursing home operators over residents’ welfare.

Alice Bonner, a nurse practitioner named director of the quality bureau at the Massachusetts health department last October, said that while Massachusetts reports fewer overall deficiencies per home than other states, state inspectors cite serious deficiencies — those that cause actual harm to residents — at almost twice the national rate.

“If you’re being judicious in how we use the resources we have,” she said, noting reductions in survey staff in recent years, “it would make sense to target lower-performing facilities, as opposed to just a broad brush where we look at all facilities.”

She acknowledged that there is “a lot of inconsistency” among surveyors, both within the state and nationally, and that consistency is “something we’ll continue to strive for” in the department. She also said that Massachusetts nursing homes enjoy high ratings nationally because overall, their staffing levels and quality of care scores are strong.

“It’s a very tricky business to get the ratings right,” she said. “What we currently have is a very rough cut on this data and not a very precise matrix.”

Overall scores mask flaws

The uneven quality of ratings from state to state that was cited by the attorney generals is easy to see in a check of national data.

For example, a home in Rhode Island that received five stars for nursing care — the Alpine Nursing Home — provides one hour and 24 minutes of licensed nursing staff care per resident per day, the same as the national average. But a home in Tennessee, called Bethesda Health Care Center, which provides more licensed nursing staff care per resident — one hour and 38 minutes — received only two stars for staffing.

CMS officials said that, generally, ratings on staffing look not only at hours of care, but also take into account the overall needs of a home’s patient population, which can range from minimal to excessive. Still, CMS national data show that, regardless of patient care needs, staffing levels vary widely from state to state; the daily average of direct-care staffing per patient ranges from three hours in Illinois to 5.7 hours in Alaska.

“We strongly support a nationwide criterion-referenced evaluation methodology for establishing proficiency at all levels for nursing homes, as opposed to the normative state-by-state methodology presently utilized by CMS,” Coakley and her peers argued in their petition.

Even within individual states, the weighting of the different factors that go into a star rating means that some nursing homes can score high overall yet still have serious deficiencies. In Massachusetts, dozens of nursing homes that receive four or five stars nevertheless have deficiencies that consumers should be aware of. Some of these deficiencies are outlined on the federal website, but others are not. The only way a consumer can learn about them is to request detailed state inspection records.

A total of 51 Massachusetts nursing homes received “above average” overall ratings as of January, despite “below average” or “much below average” scores in quality-of-care measures, staffing, or health inspections. Some homes that received the above-average overall ratings had health care deficiencies that resulted in serious injuries of residents.

The Maristhill Nursing & Rehabilitation Center in Waltham, which received four stars, was cited for multiple deficiencies in a 2009 inspection, including negligence that caused “actual harm” to residents, according to inspection reports obtained from the state Department of Public Health. The reports indicate that the facility failed to provide adequate supervision for three residents at risk of falling. All three suffered falls resulting in fractures, lacerations, and other injuries. In one of the cases in which the staff was faulted for failing to keep a resident in a supervised area during the day, the resident was found on the floor of her room “in a large puddle of blood,” suffering from a head laceration that required five sutures.

The nursing home was also cited for medication errors, failing to provide diabetic foot care, and failing to ensure that food served to residents was “palatable” and served at the proper temperature, records show.

Maristhill administrators said by phone and in documents that they took steps to correct all of the deficiencies, including taking precautions to prevent injuries among “a number of very frail, ill residents” who were prone to falls.

Roscommon Extended Care Center of Mattapan, which also received four stars overall, was cited in March 2008 for serious deficiencies that caused “immediate jeopardy to resident health or safety.” An inspection report shows that the home failed to properly monitor a 76-year-old resident who was suffering from dementia and who had a history of “elopement,” or wandering away from the facility. The resident was found in the early morning of February 11, 2008, at a train station three miles away from the nursing home, dressed only in a “johnny” and jeans, in sub-freezing weather. He was taken to a hospital where he was treated for hypothermia.

According to the report, a nurse on duty acknowledged that she knew the man was not wearing his “wanderguard” bracelet; the report also indicated that the home was understaffed. The incident led federal officials to fine the home $5,850 and to deny federal payments for new admissions for two weeks. The home filed a corrective plan and has been cited for several less serious deficiencies since then.

Even some homes that were awarded five stars still got sub-par ratings on quality or staffing levels.The Golden Living Center in West Newton also received four stars overall in January, despite a below-average rating on health inspections stemming from numerous deficiencies in recent surveys. Among the citations in a December 2008 inspection was the failure of the facility to investigate a resident’s claim of sexual harassment by a roommate and failure to follow care plans for some residents needing special care to prevent illness and injuries, records show. The home filed a plan to correct the deficiencies.

Emerson Rehabilitation & Transitional Care Unit in West Concord received four stars overall, but it received only one star (“much below average”) for quality measures. Nearly half of all short-stay residents suffered from pressure ulcers or bedsores — more than triple the national and state average of 14 percent. Similarly, TCU–Brockton Hospital received four stars overall but got only one star on quality measures, in part because 36 percent of short-stay residents suffered from bedsores — more than double the state and national average.

Even some homes that received the top rating of five stars overall had below-average ratings on quality measures or staffing. The Jewish Rehabilitation Center for the Aged of the North Shore in Swampscott received only two stars on quality measures, including a higher-than-average proportion of long-stay residents whose need for help with activities of daily living increased.

The Tremont Rehabilitation & Skilled Care Center in Wareham also secured a five-star rating, despite the fact that registered nursing hours per resident per day fell far below the state average. The home provided 25 minutes of registered nursing care per resident per day, compared with the national average of 36 minutes and the average in Massachusetts of 42 minutes, according to a 2009 report.

One trend highlighted by the federal star ratings is the overall superiority of nonprofit nursing homes compared with for-profit homes, both in Massachusetts and nationally.

Among for-profit homes in the state, only 45 percent received four or five stars overall, compared to 61 percent of nonprofits. Nonprofits also did better on health inspections, with 45 percent receiving four or five stars, compared with 32 percent of for-profit homes.

But the difference is most striking on staffing levels. Only 55 percent of for-profits received four or five stars for staffing, compared with 87 percent of nonprofits. Only 7 percent of for-profit homes received the top rating of five stars on this measure, compared to 27 percent of nonprofit homes.

The state ratings mirror national results. A statistical review of nursing home research studies, published last year in the British Medical Journal, found that nonprofit homes, most based in the US, had more or higher-quality staffing, less prevalence of pressure ulcers or bedsores, and less frequent use of physical restraints. Experts say non-profits are able to devote more resources to patient care since they have no profit margins to meet.

According to federal data, more than 70 percent of Massachusetts nursing homes are for-profit — the 19th highest proportion of for-profit homes among the 50 states. The percentage of for-profit homes has climbed slightly in recent years; in 2003, 68 percent of Massachusetts homes were for-profit.

Digging below the stars

Elder-care experts and industry officials say the federal ratings are helpful, but only as long as consumers dig below the “stars” for detailed information on deficiencies, staffing, and quality.

“The rating system is useful, but it shouldn’t be the end of the story,” says Eric Carlson, a specialist in long-term-care issues at the National Senior Citizens Law Center and a leading consumer expert on nursing homes.

Janet Wells, director of public policy for an advocacy group called the National Consumer Voice for Quality Long-Term Care, agrees that while the rating system is a useful tool for consumers, it allows for “some huge outliers,” including some four- and five-star homes that have been cited for negligence that resulted in deaths or injuries of patients.

“People need to look at the star ratings as a way to ask questions, not as getting all the answers,” Wells says. She also noted that staffing information is questionable because it is “self-reported” by homes, despite advocates’ longstanding efforts to push CMS to use payroll records to determine accurate staffing levels.

“People need to look at the star ratings as a way to ask questions, not as getting all the answers.”W. Scott Plumb, senior vice president of the Massachusetts Senior Care Association, which represents nursing homes, says the rating system is a mixed bag.

“On the one hand, we [Massachusetts] look really good compared to other states, so we like it,” he says. “On the other hand, I don’t think it’s particularly useful, partly because it’s driven so much by the survey process, which is not a good proxy for the actual quality of patient care. Staffing and quality measures are in some ways more objective measures.”

Plumb says he is especially concerned that hospitals, lenders, and even insurance companies are starting to use the ratings to make decisions about nursing home performance. “We’re starting to see some groups attach too much significance to this thing, with all its warts,” Plumb says. “Our concern is that it’s starting to be used inappropriately.”

The Massachusetts Department of Public Health has its own website with information on nursing homes, including a tool that shows deficiencies and enforcement actions from the last three standard surveys and that evaluates homes in five areas: administration, nursing, resident rights, kitchen/food services, and environment. The website (www.mass.gov/dph) also includes nursing home satisfaction surveys, conducted in 2005 and 2007.

“The very best way to assess a nursing facility is to visit it,” advises Ann Harstein, the state’s secretary of elder affairs. “Be sure the facility’s services meet the patient’s needs. Visit the patient floors. Are they clean? Do the patients seem engaged? Is the staff accessible and friendly? Talk to patient family members and talk to the local ombudsman, whose name should be prominently displayed at the facility.”

Number 41

Number 41

As a first-term senator, Scott Brown is likely to burnish his credentials
as an independent

with his election win in January, Scott Brown disappointed a lot of Democrats. But aside from his opponent, Attorney General Martha Coakley, no one lost more in that election than Ben Nelson. A Nebraska Democrat, Nelson was considered the Democrats’ 60th vote before Brown knocked him down a peg. After Brown’s upset victory, Nelson is just No. 59, and in the Senate, where filibuster rules require 60 votes to get almost anything done, that’s a big difference.

As probably the most conservative Democrat in the chamber — and the last holdout when the Senate voted in December to approve a major health care overhaul — Nelson milked his vote for all it was worth, extorting his Democratic colleagues into agreeing to tap the federal treasury to cover any increase in Nebraska’s Medicaid costs that his state might incur as a result of the Senate bill becoming law.

Now Brown is the one with special status — the 41st vote — and the ability to wield more influence than a typical freshman senator. And his leverage could pay off for Massachusetts in the months to come. As Nelson’s experience in the health care debate shows, “when you are a crucial vote, you can get a lot of goodies,” says Brian Schaffner, a political science professor at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst.

In February, Brown defied his own party leadership to help the Democrats pass a tax credit for employers who hire new workers. But he retained his star-quality cachet with Republicans, who are just as readily offering favors to keep him on their side.

In March, Mitch McConnell, the Senate minority leader from Kentucky, said Brown would have seats on the Senate Armed Services Committee, with its control over billions in Pentagon spending, and on the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs panel, another prestigious assignment not typically handed to the lowest ranking member of the minority party. Republican Senate leaders, who make the committee assignments, said they hoped the assignments would give Brown a leg up as he begins to build a case for reelection in 2012.

Whether Brown can maintain the boy-wonder aura beyond an initial honeymoon is another question altogether. That’s because for every time Brown crosses the aisle to win a victory for Massachusetts, he figures to lose some chits with his fellow Republicans, who’ve adopted a strategy of stonewalling Obama in the hopes of parlaying the ensuing gridlock in Washington to a big GOP victory in November. And if more Republicans are elected this November, as is widely expected, Brown won’t be the Republicans’ 41st vote anymore, or the Democrats’ 60th either.

But for the moment, he may use his enviable status to reap the benefits that come with being a centrist. “I’m an independent voter and thinker. I always have been,” he said at a press conference upon arriving in Washington this winter. And though he quickly cast his first vote as Senate GOP hardliners wanted him to — helping to sink a union-backed nominee to the National Labor Relations Board — he said he wanted to make it clear that he was under no undue pressure from his party’s Senate leaders.

brown joins a team from the Bay State made up of 10 House Democrats and five-term Democratic Sen. John Kerry, and he told CommonWealth that he’s eager to make the case that having bipartisanship in the delegation is better than not. He says that “single-party political dominance, both on Beacon Hill and [in] Washington, DC, too often leads to bad government and poor decisions” and that his brand of independent Republicanism will help break the “partisan gridlock in Washington.”

Brown hopes that his brand of independent Republicanism will help break the “partisan gridlock in Washington.”The new senator claims his vision is one of collegial give-and-take. But experts say he’s more likely to reap rewards for the Bay State by playing hardball and then cutting deals. “Anytime you are the potential 60th vote, you have outsized power in the Senate,” says Matt Dallek, a former aide to then-House Democratic Leader Richard Gephardt of Missouri who’s now a visiting scholar at the Bipartisan Policy Center, a think tank in Washington that encourages the parties to work together.

However the deals are made, Brown will have to work with the Democrats to get things done. But to maximize his power, and his utility to the voters back home, Brown will have to do it while also maintaining his leverage with Senate GOP leaders. If he can do both, he may find he has a long Senate career ahead of him. But it’s not going to be easy, as the dismal, recent history of GOP moderates — Brown excepted — would indicate. Even Republicans wishing Brown the best say it would be just as easy for him to become an unexceptionable back-bencher, especially considering that he replaced Sen. Edward Kennedy, almost universally acknowledged as one of the most effective senators of all time. With all the uproar after Brown’s victory over Coakley, including questions about his presidential ambitions, a reality check is in order. “A senator is almost always more powerful and more effective if he is in the majority,” says

Frank Micciche, who headed former GOP Gov. Mitt Romney’s Washington office and is now a senior advisor at the law firm McKenna Long & Aldridge.

But Micciche also believes that the unique circumstances that brought Brown to power could give him the cachet necessary “to turn that on its head” and succeed both in serving Massachusetts well and setting himself up for reelection.

If Brown can hang on until Republicans reclaim the majority, his power will expand exponentially. Most political prognosticators say there is little chance the Republicans will gain control of the Senate in 2010, but it is likely that starting next year the bloc of GOP moderates will begin to expand after suffering severe contractions in the 2006 and 2008 elections. Moderate Republicans like Mike Castle of Delaware and Mark Kirk of Illinois are running strong for Senate seats this November. Combine them with Brown and Maine’s two moderate Republican senators, Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins, and you have a powerful coalition. “That bloc could be crucial to a lot of deals,” says Dallek.

A bigger bloc of GOP centrists also carries risks for Brown. He could easily fall into the trap that has befallen fellow Republican moderates in the past, from former Sen. Lincoln Chafee of Rhode Island to ex-Reps. Chris Shays of Connecticut and Charlie Bass of New Hampshire. All were unloved by their own leadership and undercut by criticism from their right flank before ultimately being unseated by Democrats. The threat of a conservative primary challenge last year actually pushed longtime GOP Sen. Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania to become a Democrat.

brown is clearly preparing for the future, surrounding himself with former aides to Romney — who perfected the balancing act between conservatism and bipartisan moderation that a Massachusetts Republican must perform. Among Brown’s first hires were chief of staff Steven Schrage, who advised Romney’s 2008 presidential campaign, and communications director Gail Gitcho, who was a campaign spokeswoman for Romney.

According to Micciche, another Romney administration veteran, Brown’s window to work with the other party is now. “Some of the ones who appear the toughest partisans, like Barney Frank, also seem to get the need to cross party lines at times. They won’t do him any favors. But Brown is in a position now where you wouldn’t want to pick a fight with him for the sake of picking a fight. He’s got political capital.”

If Brown were to cross the aisle to work with Frank, who chairs the House Financial Services Committee, on new banking regulations, he might make Frank amenable to helping him out down the road. Likewise, if Brown were to work with Kerry on climate change legislation — where Kerry is leading an effort to forge a bipartisan solution — Brown might make a fast friend of his senior colleague, who’s eager to bolster his legacy by tackling global warming. Notably, Brown, on Beacon Hill, was more likely to work with Democratic colleagues on environmental and energy issues than on any other area, according to an analysis of his votes conducted by the Washington Post.

Although the last two Republicans to serve Massachusetts in Congress — Danvers’s Peter Torkildsen and Shrewsbury’s Peter Blute — were defeated in the 1996 elections, there is some history of productive bipartisanship there, says Christian Zur, who was Torkildsen’s deputy chief of staff during his two House terms.

“The dean at the time was Joe Moakley, who was very kind to my former boss. They could work together,” says Zur. “Ted Kennedy would personally call my boss when he needed things done in the House.” Zur credits that cooperation with helping to secure funding for the Big Dig after Republicans, deeply skeptical of the project, seized the majority in both chambers in 1994.

For such cooperation to resurface, one of the delegation’s top Democrats will have to reach across the aisle. “Someone has to be truly magnanimous like Kennedy was, or totally unthreatened like Moakley,” says Zur.

While it’s still too early to tell if such relationships will emerge, at least for now Brown’s new Democratic colleagues are holding their fire. “On the great issues of the day, you can expect differences, but what to watch is the nitty-gritty stuff” that’s important to the Bay State, says Michael Capuano, the Somerville Democrat who lost his bid to challenge Brown to Coakley in the Democratic primary last year. “It’s about building personal relationships across the aisle. He has to make those choices and decide what kind of senator he wants to be.”

Hidden treasure

Hidden treasure

The state's library and archives are underfunded, understaffed, and inaccessible to both researchers and ordinary citizens

A sense of awe envelops Nancy Powell as she waxes eloquently about The Birds of America, a multi-volume set of John James Audubon’s hand-painted prints of life-size images of 435 birds like the ruff-necked hummingbird, the cerulean warbler, and the gold-winged woodpecker.

 
IMAGES FROM THE BIRDS OF AMERICA, COURTESY OF THE NATIONAL AUDUBON SOCIETY

“It is a staggering accomplishment,” says Powell, the curator at the Audubon Center in Audubon, Pennsylvania. “If you have a chance to see an original set of Audubon prints, nothing beats the experience. It is hard to wrap one’s mind around it until you actually see them.”

But that’s difficult in Massachusetts, even though the state owns one of the 200 or so sets of prints that Audubon produced. The state’s copy — purchased in 1833 for $800 and worth millions of dollars today — is stored deep in the bowels of the State House, largely hidden from public view because the State Library doesn’t have the funds to exhibit it.

It’s an all-too-familiar pattern in Massachusetts. The State Library and the Massachusetts Archives oversee a vast treasure trove of historic records and artifacts. They handle the basics of cataloguing them well, but they are woefully underfunded and, as a consequence, mount few exhibitions and do very little public outreach. They don’t have the resources to pursue lost, and likely stolen, items. And while other states are using the Internet to bring historic records to the public, the library and archives in Massachusetts operate websites that are little more than card catalogues for their collections.

“The State Library has an amazing collection. Some of the things there are priceless,” says Joffrey Smith, a member of the library’s board of trustees and a Worcester city councilor. “But the public has no idea that it exists. We need to do a much better job telling the public we’re here.”

William Fowler, a professor of history at Northeastern University and a former member of the archives advisory board, says the archives, overseen by Secretary of State William Galvin, is suffering from neglect. “It is scandalous that Secretary Galvin and the Legislature pay so little attention to the archives, which has one of the most incredible historical collections in the country,” he says. “I do not understand why they are not willing to invest in the archives. It’s a sad situation. It’s a very sad situation. They are neglecting our history.”

Galvin declined comment, but a top aide, Alan Cote, says funding is tight because there is little support on Beacon Hill for many of the tasks the archives performs. “We do the best we can with what they give us,” he says.

It’s gotten to the point where professional librarians and archivists alike are starting to wonder whether the state would be better off loaning out or selling off pieces of its collection to institutions willing and able to exhibit them properly.

Peter Drummey, the Stephen T. Riley Librarian at the nonprofit Massachusetts Historical Society, says the challenges facing the Massachusetts Archives and the State Library are the same challenges being confronted by many repositories of historical treasures across the country.

“If research collections are not protected and made available to the public in a responsible but reasonably convenient manner, they might as well not exist, and I would predict that in the not-very-long term they won’t,” Drummey says in an email. “The question then becomes whether to change the priorities of institutions and/or to rationally redistribute their holdings, or to see collections lost to neglect or worse.”

Dreary and uninviting

The Massachusetts Archives and the George Fingold State Library, named for a former attorney general, are the two primary repositories of the state’s documents and artifacts. Broadly stated, their mission is to collect, store, preserve, make available for individual use, and showcase records and artifacts that document and reflect the state’s history.

The distinction between what the State Library does and what the Massachusetts Archives does is lost on most people. Officials acknowledge their duties overlap, but the primary job of the archives is to collect primary source material — the permanent, noncurrent records of state administrations — whereas the library gathers secondary source, or published, materials.

The state archives is a fortress-like building that is rapidly running out of space for new documents.The library, part of the governor’s executive office of administration and finance, was established in 1826 by the Legislature because so many documents were literally piling up in the halls and chambers of the State House that lawmakers needed to find some place to put them.

Located on two separate floors of the State House, the library features a cavernous main room with publications allowing you to track the history of any piece of state legislation. There are many other state and some federal publications available as well. The library’s “special collections,” located in the basement of the State House, include rare books and maps, broadsides, the Audubon prints, and William Bradford’s manuscript history of Plymouth Colony from its founding to 1649.

The special collections room can best be described as dreary and uninviting. The storage areas may also not be safe for the many priceless documents. “Proper storage of the collection is a major problem,” says Sharen Leonard, a library trustee. “The humidity control in the basement is not good. It’s less than ideal conditions.”

The Massachusetts Archives used to be located at the State House. But after the state’s oldest document — the 1629 Charter of Massachusetts Bay — was stolen in 1984, the decision was made to build a new archives near the John F. Kennedy Library and Museum at Columbia Point in Dorchester. It is a fortress-like building that is rapidly running out of space for the paper records it is required by law to hold. Also at the facility are the State Records Center; the Commonwealth Museum, a sister agency that maintains an interactive exhibit on the history of Massachusetts and displays founding documents; and the Massachusetts Historical Commission, whose mission is to identify and preserve historic buildings.

The archives caters to a wide constituency, everyone from historical researchers to the reporters who sorted through former Gov. Mitt Romney’s records when he ran for president. The bulk of visitors, more than 12,000 a year, come to trace their genealogy using birth, death, and marriage certificates, as well as immigrant passenger manifests.

The Massachusetts Archives counts among its treasures the state’s own copies of the Declaration of Independence and the Bill of Rights, the 1780 Massachusetts Constitution, the recovered 1629 charter, and Revolutionary and Civil War records. It also has numerous documents signed by the likes of George Washington, John Adams, and John Hancock, as well as treaties made with Native American tribes, and slave and witchcraft records. There are also many artifacts, including Paul Revere’s engraving plate of the Boston Massacre, and military accouterment from the Civil War to World War I.

But as rich as the archives and library are in terms of history, financially they have not done well, particularly during the recent economic downturn. There was even talk of shutting the library down last October, but it survived with a state appropriation of $709,000, a 45 percent reduction from the previous year. Gov. Deval Patrick is proposing to cut $24,000 more from state funding for the next fiscal year. The number of library employees has fallen from 17 in fiscal 2008 to 10 this year and is expected to drop to nine next year. Elvernoy Johnson, the head librarian, is paid $100,000 a year.

The state appropriated $390,000 for the archives this year, a 29 percent reduction from the year before. State funding overall for the archives, the archives facility, and Commonwealth Museum is $951,000. The three agencies together, all overseen by Galvin, employ 26 people, with 12 at the archives, according to budget records. John Warner, the head archivist, makes $66,634 a year.

The archives budget appears to be one of the lowest in the country. Massachusetts did not respond to a 2008 survey conducted by the Council of State Archives, but its $550,000 budget for that year would rank it above only two of the 27 states that did report financial data. Comparing Massachusetts with the six states listed in the survey whose archives are managed the same way, Massachusetts ranked next to last. The Bay State was ahead of New Hampshire, whose budget then was $418,000, but well behind states like New Jersey ($33 million), Washington ($11.9 million), and Delaware ($2.5 million).

Sam Reed, the secretary of state in Washington, which has roughly the same population size as Massachusetts, says he constantly uses “my bully pulpit” to advocate for his archives. As for Massachusetts, he said, “I’m shocked to hear that a state with such an amazing collection has such a small budget.”

Warner says Washington’s archives operates very differently from the Massachusetts Archives. “Comparisons are rather invidious, in my opinion,” he says.

Exhibits few and far between

The key to running a successful archives or a state library is not simply storing historic documents and artifacts, but also introducing the materials to the public in an interesting and entertaining way. Across the country, state libraries and archives regularly host exhibits using their collections, and more and more of them are digitizing their holdings and presenting exhibits online.

“Fewer people are coming in to our physical location to view our collection,” says Bobbie Athon, public information officer for the agency that oversees the Kansas archives. The archives recently mounted an online exhibit called “Kansas War Letters,” which showcased letters sent to loved ones back home by soldiers who fought during conflicts ranging from the Civil War to the Vietnam War.

Visitors to the Maine State Archives website can view a wide range of documents, everything from a letter written by Daniel Webster to the governor of Maine to a mundane petition by George Woodcock seeking permission to change his name to George Woodman. There’s even a photo of Red Sox slugger Ted Williams fishing in Maine.

The archives and library are trying to keep up with other states, but limited budgets make it difficult.The Alabama Department of Archives and History, the first state archives in the nation, posts a lot of its documents online, including former Gov. George Wallace’s 1963 inaugural address in which he proclaims: “Segregation today, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever.”

“Our online presence is now our primary tool of service to the state as well as to people out of state,” says Edwin Bridges, director of the Alabama Archives. “It makes it far more convenient for the people we serve, and it frees up our staff to do other things.”

Sandra Treadway, the head librarian at the Virginia Library, which includes the state’s archives, says her state’s investment in a virtual online archives has paid off. “We find that researchers love the ability to do online investigation of our holdings on their own, and those who still need to visit us to use the collections in person are much better prepared and focused than they would be if they could not do preliminary reconnaissance,” she says.

In Massachusetts, the archives and State Library are trying to keep pace, but their limited budgets make it difficult. Exhibits at the archives are few and far between, and its website is basically a card catalogue of its collection. “The website is so basic it gives the impression that no one in government cares about it,” says Tom Now, marketing director for Website Marketing Now of Arlington.

The archives, through its sister agency, the Commonwealth Museum, has a permanent exhibition titled “Our Common Wealth: The Massachusetts Experiment in Democracy,” which attracts many student field trips.

The State Library, working with the library at the University of Massachusetts at Boston, has put more than 250,000 of the state’s acts and resolves online. It is scanning maps and manuscripts for an exhibit on transportation in the 19th and 20th centuries and it also mounts exhibits in glass cases just outside the library itself. The current exhibit is titled “Holyoke: Queen of Industrial Cities” and consists of papers written by a former state representative named Walter DeFilippi, a few maps, and some pictures of Mount Tom. The Holyoke exhibit is not viewable online.

 “They are really amazing treasures that we have, and these are the people’s treasures,” says Johnson, the head librarian. “I would love, love, love to show everything we have, but we don’t have the ability to do that. We don’t have that type of security in our cases.”

Both the library and the archives say they will bring out their historic treasures upon request by members of the public. Alison Singer, an intern at MassINC, put in a call to the archives and asked to view engravings done by Paul Revere that are stored in the archives vault. Michael Comeau, the assistant archivist, told Singer she could set up an appointment to come in and look at them.

I wasn’t so lucky. I asked to see the Audubon prints, but Johnson, the head librarian, declined, saying they were fragile. I called the library at a later time and asked staffer Lacy Crews if I could take a look at a few of the Audubon prints.?When a week passed without word, I followed up and was told by Crews that Johnson said, “I’m not bringing up the Audubon prints for anybody.”?Johnson later denied saying that, insisting that people can see the Audubon prints by making an appointment to come in. When asked about the discrepancy, Crews said, “It has been standard policy not to show the prints.”

Outside experts say the state’s historic treasures should be displayed for everyone to see. “If they’re not going to put the prints on display, they probably should sell them,” says Robert Newman, owner of the prestigious Old Print Shop in New York City. He says the last two sets of Audubon prints that were offered for sale netted their owners between $9 million and $12 million.

Treadway, the Virginia official, says public exhibition is always the goal. “If we have it, we will show it, unless there are legal restrictions, or the documents are still being processed,” she says. “We are the stewards for the people.”

Where have you gone, John Hancock, et al.?

Sometime in the 1940s, the Massachusetts Archives discovered that close to 400 documents from the 17th and 18th centuries documents were missing from its main collection. The documents included letters written by George Washington to John Hancock while Hancock was governor of Massachusetts, as well as letters from other luminaries such as John Adams, Paul Revere, Benjamin Franklin, Benedict Arnold, John Paul Jones, Abigail Adams, John Jay, and Marquis de Lafayette.

“There are certainly inidentified items that are missing from other series as well,” says Comeau, the assistant archivist. Martha Clark, the archives curator, says she lacks the resources to monitor eBay and other websites for dealers trying to sell documents belonging to the state.

Johnson, who has been head librarian at the State Library for the past two years, says she has no idea if anything is missing from its collections.

Other states are far more aggressive in pursuing missing documents. The Texas Archives, for example, lists its missing documents on its website, with the notation, “This list is published to create a greater public awareness, should any of these records be offered for sale.”

In 2005, North Carolina became involved in an FBI sting operation to recover its copy of the Bill of Rights that was stolen from the State Capitol by a Union soldier in 1865. The matter wound up in court, which, after a lot of legal wrangling, ruled in the state’s favor.

Jeffrey Crow, head of the North Carolina State Archives, says that the court’s decision underscores two important principles: Public records created by the state belong to the people of North Carolina, and North Carolina will not pay to have its public records returned. “We don’t apologize for going after what belongs to us,” Crow says.

Innovative funding elsewhere

Budget shortfalls are not unique to Massachusetts. Other state archives and libraries have been innovative in securing funding for their operations. The Maine State Archives, for example, has an online store where people can purchase prints and posters of items in the archives’ collection. David Cheever, the head of the Maine Archives, says that the revenue from the online store is used to purchase supplies and equipment.

The Alabama Archives sells autobiographies of some of its famous citizens, including Rosa Parks, Hank Aaron, Nat “King” Cole, and Paul “Bear” Bryant. The Maryland Archives will conduct specialized research for $50 an hour, while the South Carolina Archives will even do conservation work such as book repairs and encapsulations of documents for a fee.

Many states, including Georgia, Indiana, and Maryland, have groups that raise money for special projects. The Friends of the Maryland State Archives, for example, helped raise $625,000 in private matching funds to acquire George Washington’s personal copy of the speech he gave to the Continental Congress in 1783 at Annapolis, Maryland, in which he announced his resignation as commander-in-chief of the Continental Army. The Massachusetts Archives doesn’t have a “friends” group; the State Library has one, but no filing was listed for it with the attorney general’s charities division.

Some states, including Virginia, Texas, and Florida, consolidate their archives and library under one organization. Treadway, the head of the Virginia Library/Archives, says researchers like having the records all in one place.

Some states run their archives and libraries under one organization.“The advantages to having the library and archives within one organization are huge,” she says. “There are vast economies in the support services — HR, IT, fiscal services, etc. — by the state having one organization, not two, to cover the library and archival functions.”

New York established the New York State Archives Partnership Trust, a quasi-public entity focused on raising government and private money. Christine Ward, chief executive of the Archives Partnership, says the trust doesn’t raise money for the archives’ core functions but instead finds funding for projects with a strong educational component.

None of these approaches have been tried in Massachusetts. In addition, the Massachusetts Historical Records Advisory Board, which is coordinated by Warner as the head state archivist, was dormant for years. The board was set up to serve as the review body for grant proposals submitted to the federal government’s National Historical Publications and Records Commission, but the last grant the board received was in 2004. The state body was recently reactivated at the urging of the national commission’s executive director, Kathleen Williams.

Fowler, the Northeastern history professor, says one of the problems at the Massachusetts Archives is its management. He says Warner, the head archivist, “exhibits no leadership skills and has no vision.”

Warner brushes off Fowler’s criticisms by saying the archives are much better off today than they were before he arrived. But when asked about his biggest challenge, he acknowledges the difficulty he faces by using a biblical reference to doing a job without the proper resources. “You’re kind of making bricks without straw,” he says.

Political preview 2010

Political preview 2010

the surprise election of Republican Scott Brown as US Senator in January (get complete town-level results here) was only the beginning of what promises to be a tumultuous year of politics in Massachusetts. We’ve put together some stats on some of the major factors in statewide politics in the past and future.


party down

Democrats have outnumbered Republicans in Massachusetts for more than 60 years. But as the graph below shows, there has been considerable fluctuation in party strength over that time, and the “unenrolled” (the Bay State’s term for independents) are now on the upswing.

Allegiance to the Democrats was still fairly weak at the end of World War II, but the party began to sprint ahead of the GOP in the 1960s, after the election of John F. Kennedy as president. (The party has held both houses of the Legislature since 1958.) The Democrats hit a peak of 47 percent of the electorate in 1986, the year that Gov. Michael Dukakis was elected to a third term and began a presidential campaign based on the “Massachusetts Miracle.” Four years later, after Dukakis lost the White House and the state’s economy suffered a major breakdown, the Republicans won the governorship and unenrolled voters became the largest bloc in the state. In 2008, there was a surge in voter registration, fueled in part by interest in the fight for the presidential nomination between Democrats Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, but that was also the year that the unenrolled became an absolute majority in Massachusetts.

What of the GOP? It was just shy of 30 percent of the electorate during the Eisenhower administration and has been losing ground ever since, bottoming out at 12 percent in 2008. But Brown’s election this winter suggests that an overwhelming majority of independents are willing to vote Republican.

As the map below shows, Brown did better than the previous Republican to win a statewide race in Massachusetts — Gov. Mitt Romney in 2002 — in most of the state, especially in Plymouth and Worcester counties. What’s unclear is whether this was a surge for Republicanism or merely a backlash of independents against the ruling Democratic Party. If it’s the former, it’s good news for probable Republican gubernatorial nominee Charlie Baker. If the latter, Democrat-turned-independent Tim Cahill may be the principal opposition to Democratic Gov. Deval Patrick this fall.


contributing factors?

When candidates get generous with themselves, they can dwarf the campaign spending by political parties and “special interests.” This happened in 2006, when four of the top 10 contributors to Bay State campaigns in 2006 were people giving to themselves. None of them — gubernatorial candidates Chris Gabrieli, Kerry Healey, and Christy Mihos and lieutenant governor hopeful Deborah Goldberg — were successful. As the chart at right shows, self-contributions were by far the biggest source of campaign cash that year. (Food and liquor interests contributed heavily for and against a referendum to allow more supermarkets to sell alcohol.)

The governor’s race was ultimately won by Patrick (get complete town-level results here), who put a relatively paltry $181,000 — 4 percent of the total money he raised — into his own campaign, compared with Healey personally kicking in $10.3 million, equal to 74 percent of the total money she raised.

Patrick was easily outspent by Healey ($13.2 million to $8.9 million) over the course of the year. But he had a big advantage in individual contributions, raising $7.6 million from 381,157 individuals, while Healey reaped $3.6 million from 162,222 people. As the chart below shows, Patrick also had an edge in luck raising money in the traditional liberal bastions of Boston, Cambridge, Newton, and Brookline. (Healey’s hefty take from Beverly is almost entirely from her self-contribution.)

Sources: Massachusetts Secretary of State’s Office; Massachusetts Office of Campaign and Political Finance; National Institute on Money in State Politics.

Raised stakes

Raised stakes

any debate over the possible arrival of casinos in Massachusetts (see “Ka-ching”) has to take into account how much we already rely on the state lottery, and whether scratch ticket sales will suffer against a rival outlet for gambling. In FY 2008, according to the North American Association of State and Provincial Lotteries, the Bay State had lottery sales of $4.7 billion (exceeded only by Florida and New York), resulting in a profit — after prizes are paid out — of $913 million, or a little less than 2 percent of total state revenue. This comes out to $140 for every person living in the state.

The map below shows which states get the most in lottery profits per capita. Massachusetts finishes sixth, and Rhode Island and West Virginia lead the list; neither has casinos, but both have “racinos,” or racing tracks with gaming machines. It may not be a coincidence that lottery sales are generally higher in densely populated states, where millions of people live within a couple of blocks of convenience stores selling tickets. Sales aren’t quite as brisk in the West or in the “Mississippi riverboat” states of Iowa, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Missouri, which each have at least a dozen casinos. (Mississippi and Nevada make enough from taxes on casinos not to bother running a lottery at all.) Oregon and South Dakota, the only states west of the Mississippi with unusually high per-capita lottery profits, both have tribal casinos, suggesting that one form of gambling doesn’t necessarily cannibalize from the other.

According to 2006 Census data (the latest to compare state revenue from all kinds of gaming), New Jersey made more of a profit from its state lottery than from its prominent Atlantic City casinos. But while Connecticut took in more money from its lottery ($916 million) than from its taxes on casinos ($458 million), when you take out the $587 million paid out in lottery prizes, the casinos turned out to be more profitable.

A dynasty's demise

A dynasty’s demise

The Kennedy name is no longer enough to launch a political career

i have decided not to run for Congress. So you may stop reading and instead check msnbc.com to see what the talking heads are saying about me — unless you’re wondering why I imagine my decision to be worthy of a news story.

Of course it’s not, since my name is Lobron. But if my name were Kennedy — specifically, Joseph P. Kennedy III — and I had decided not to run for the congressional seat now held by William Delahunt, it would earn me front-page real estate in the Boston Globe.

A Kennedy who doesn’t run gets more attention than an ordinary citizen who does for lots of reasons: money, fundraising clout, name recognition, dazzling familiar teeth, etc. We’ve seen the possibility of Candidate Kennedy alter dozens of recent campaigns, from former US Rep. Joseph Kennedy II’s aborted gubernatorial bid in 1998 to rumors surrounding Sen. Edward Kennedy’s widow, Vicki, in the 2009 Senate special election primary. Now, into the third generation, the pattern continues. A Kennedy is rumored to be interested, the media blow their trumpets, and other hopeful candidates make noises of deference worthy of the Tudor court.

But lately, it’s always turned out that the Kennedy in question isn’t running, which makes me wonder if the Kennedys are more aware than the rest of us about a shift in the zeitgeist.

jeffrey thomas, a political analyst and former legislative aide to Edward M. Kennedy, thinks that voters’ fondness for the late senator isn’t translating into a desire for another generation. “I think there was a sense that the senator would go out like Strom Thurmond, at [age] 92,” says Thomas, who now advises Democratic donors. Among long-time liberals, Thomas sees more nostalgia for Ted than reflexive enthusiasm for grandchildren and grand-nephews who look the way Ted and his brothers did in 1960.

His analysis is born out by a recent Rasmussen poll, in which 58 percent of respondents felt the Kennedy dynasty was “over in Massachusetts.” The remaining 42 percent were split between those who felt the dynasty would continue and those who weren’t sure.

Massachusetts’ demographics have changed a lot in 50 years — we’re much less Irish and much less white — but if Scott Brown’s victory is an indication, there’s still plenty of enthusiasm for good-looking white politicos. But at this fleeting moment, the preference seems to be for the “regular guy” variety. The Kennedys, to their credit, have never pretended to be anything but exceptionally privileged.

At this fleeting moment, the preference seems to be for the “regular guy.”And privilege poses a political challenge in a recession. I conducted an informal poll of young staffers and interns in my office (average age: 23) about their attitude towards the Kennedys and their appetite for a new generation. This is a group of smart, accomplished college graduates who are encountering one of the bleakest employment climates in recent memories. Several are juggling waitstaff and retail jobs with unpaid internships in the hopes of landing full-time employment, and they showed a strong distaste for the idea that anyone can inherit a political seat — or any other job. “Nobody has a right to that job,” said one. “I’d look at him like anyone else,” said another.

But here’s the interesting thing: This group got interested in Joe III once they learned something about him beyond his last name. They admired his role as an assistant district attorney for the Cape Cod and the Islands, and his time with the Peace Corps in Latin America. They liked that he hasn’t been in the news for the embarrassing reasons — affairs, ugly divorces, illegal fireworks — that so crippled many of the male members of Joe II’s generation. What they don’t care much about is his role in the Kennedy family, especially since none were sure how he relates to the president or the late senator. As one said, “We’re getting pretty far down the food chain, at this point.”

But public service and international volunteering hold a strong appeal among a generation now volunteering in droves — at home and abroad — as both a means to a real job and a way of engaging with the world. If Joe III does some day launch a political career, 20-somethings may be interested in him. They’ll just be interested in spite of his last name rather than because of it.

Perhaps the Kennedy dynasty is over, or perhaps it is simply regrouping. Indeed, its best young hope may be quietly doing exactly what his generation admires: working hard to build credentials on his own terms.

Redefining parents

Redefining parents

by traditional definitions, the percentage of children living in “single-parent” households has risen steadily over the past few decades, both nationally and in Massachusetts. One measure is the share of all births to unmarried mothers; nationally, that’s gone from 28 percent in 1990 to 34 percent in 2000 to an estimated 40 percent in 2007. In the Bay State, the corresponding figures are 25 percent, 27 percent, and 33 percent. (Mississippi has hit 54 percent, and Utah is at the other end of the scale, with 20 percent.)

This trend is worrisome, given the numerous studies pointing to a correlation between single parents and poverty, but the numbers are skewed by a growing demographic group in America: children living with unmarried parents. Until recently, the Census Bureau counted any child without a legally married mother and father as living in a “single-parent” home. But the 2006-08 American Community Survey added estimates on the number of children in homes with an “unmarried partner of householder present” — mostly referring to opposite-sex couples but also including all same-sex couples in Massachusetts, since the federal government does not recognize any of them as married. The map below shows the percentage of children in larger cities living in homes without coupled adults, married or otherwise. The 2010 Census will be the first to include this data for all communities.

In Northampton, the percentage of “single-parent” children drops from 40 percent to 30 percent under the new definition. In New Bedford, 58 percent of children live in households without married parents, but the number drops to 46 percent (still an alarming number, to be sure) when unmarried partners are counted. Even under the new definition, a majority of children now live in households with one parent in Lawrence, Holyoke, and Springfield. And in addition to New Bedford, the figure is above 40 percent in Boston, Fall River, Lynn, and Worcester. But the redefinition pushes the number down to a mere 10 percent in the exurbs of Billerica and Plymouth.