Winter 2003

Winter 2003

A transition of our own

A transition of our own

There comes a time in the life of every young organization, firm, or company when the founder moves on. It is a time of anxiety, but also a milestone of maturity, evidence that the entity can stand on its own two feet. At MassINC, the parent organization and publisher of CommonWealth, that time has come.

In 1995, the Massachusetts Institute for a New Commonwealth was but a twinkle in Tripp Jones’s eye. It was an idea that came out of seven years of public service and political activism, especially the frustrations that go with that life. His experience in government and politics convinced Tripp there was a need in this state for clear-eyed analysis and honest dialogue, free from the poison of partisanship, focused on the goal of growing and revitalizing the middle class. In retrospect, that proposition seems eminently reasonable, but at the time the notion of creating an organization to pursue such a mission was little short of fanciful. It’s safe to say the early benefactors, chief among them our first chairman, Mitchell Kertzman, were investing more in Tripp Jones, civic entrepreneur, than in the MassINC business plan.

Tripp has made good on those early votes of confidence. Working with other MassINC pioneers who have since moved on–notably Michael Gritton and Dave Denison–he built our humble think tank into a $2 million nonprofit enterprise. What we have to show for his efforts are a stack of groundbreaking research reports and a track record of public events that Tripp would undoubtedly call “spectacular,” reaching its pinnacle in the Politics Unusual anniversary gala last May. Then there is the magazine, of which this issue is the 29th published since launch in the spring of 1996 and the first number of our eighth volume.

Call me conceited, but I think CommonWealth is the most remarkable product of Tripp’s efforts, and easily the biggest act of faith associated with the entire MassINC venture. Not only did Tripp go against the counsel of his most trusted advisors in burdening his fledgling organization with such a risky project, but he showed further evidence of madness by granting his flagship publication wide editorial liberty. CommonWealth would not be a house organ, disseminating the MassINC party line, but a vehicle for truly independent journalism on politics, ideas, and civic life. By keeping himself, the publisher, at arm’s length from the contents, he achieved for this magazine an enviable degree of credibility not only among readers but among journalists who, like myself, consider themselves blessed to have such a publication to write for. This willingness to respect CommonWealth‘s editorial independence is all the more remarkable considering the grief he has taken from all sorts of dissatisfied customers.

Which is not to say that Tripp doesn’t share his thoughts about the magazine: The stories are too long and dense, not enough charts and graphs. I’m used to hearing that (and not only from him). But when it comes to my own writing, there’s no one whose opinion I value more than his. It’s a good feeling to know that MassINC, and CommonWealth, are ready to carry on without him but I, for one, do so grudgingly.

We all knew that one day Tripp Jones would move on. His talents and his passion for changing the world were always too great to be contained within any single venture, even one as ambitious and consuming as this one. Some of us wish that day had not come quite so soon. But that’s only because sharing Tripp’s vision, and feeding off his energy and enthusiasm, have been so much fun. For consolation, we remind ourselves that he won’t be going far, and that he’ll remain involved in MassINC, serving on the board of directors. No one here thinks we’ve heard the last of Hugh R. Jones III. And that’s a source of comfort as well.

Robert Keough
Editor

The budget and reform challenge ahead

If there were similarities between the gubernatorial campaigns of 1990 and 2002, the parallel between 1991 and 2003–new Republican governor facing fiscal crisis–is even closer. There are a handful of reasons to believe that Mitt Romney could be better able to manage the fiscal retrenchment and bureaucratic restructuring ahead than Bill Weld was in slaying his dragons in the early ’90s. Weld, after all, talked a good free-market game. But apart from his years in big-firm law practice, Weld was himself more a product of the public sector, namely the US Department of Justice, than the private. In contrast, Romney’s Bain Capital background gives him firsthand experience in the nuts and bolts of corporate restructuring. Though it may offend some to say so, the skills of a leveraged-buyout artist may be just what the state needs in this difficult time–the ability to identify the core business in a bloated enterprise, strip away the flab of redundancy and distraction, and make the firm once again fit for lean and muscular growth.

But there are at least as many reasons to believe that the Weld budget rollback–itself no picnic–was a piece of cake compared to the dislocations that will be necessary to balance the state’s books in the coming years. For one thing, the state has been through these convulsions once, and not so very long ago. Though there is always a certain amount of bloat, not to mention patronage payroll-padding, that can be wrung out after 10 years of expansion, the Republican retrenchment of a dozen years ago did a good deal to weed out ancient relics that bog down the modern mission of government.

We’re not just talking about low-hanging fruit here. The consolidation of state facilities–state mental hospitals, public-health hospitals, and state schools for the retarded–in the 1990s was a wrenching, if overdue, exercise for all concerned. There is no equivalent to facility consolidation in today’s budget, no similar vestige of the past just waiting for the combination of political will and fiscal necessity that could break through political resistance and bureaucratic inertia. It’s all well and good to talk about merging MassHighway and the Massachusetts Turnpike Authority, but the efficiencies to be reaped by consolidating road crews are a far cry from the savings gained by shutting down nine large, outmoded institutions.

But there is a more fundamental reason to believe it’s going to be more difficult to reduce spending this time around. Much of the growth in the state budget over the past decade has been concentrated in two areas, one of which has been grown deliberately, the other uncontrollably–education and health care, respectively.

At the trough of the last budget crisis, in fiscal 1992, state funding for education bottomed out at $1.4 billion (down from $1.7 billion in 1988). Since then, education local aid has risen steadily–the result of the 1993 Education Reform Act–reaching $4 billion in fiscal ’02. Over that time period, education spending grew from 10 percent of the state budget to 17 percent. This sustained funding commitment to education reform was the Commonwealth’s greatest investment of the 1990s and, politically, its proudest achievement. To go back on it now would be to make a mockery of the 1993 pledge to teach every child to high standards–a pledge the state is still struggling to fulfill.

Then there is health care. It is, like the consolidation of state facilities, an area of state expense in which most of the cards have already been played. Competition and managed care, the reforms of the early ’90s, held down health care costs through mid-decade. Medicaid, or MassHealth, the state’s largest health-care program, grew only modestly from fiscal ’92 to fiscal ’97, $2.8 billion to $3.6 billion over five years; as a percentage of the state budget, Medicaid actually declined slightly during that period. But then health-care inflation returned with a vengeance. Medicaid spending jumped to $5.4 billion over the next five years, and stands at $6 billion this year–25 percent of overall state spending.

So, it’s not for nothing that the early talk about the coming year’s inevitable budget-cutting has begun with trial balloons from House Speaker Thomas Finneran about trimming Medicaid. Such moves may be unavoidable, simply considering the magnitude of the impending deficit–$2 billion and possibly rising. But there are two problems, apart from the moral implications of rolling back health coverage for those who can afford it no other way, with looking to Medicaid as a source of savings. One is that Medicaid is not, by and large, growing because it’s an out-of-control state program, but because medical costs are on the rise for everybody. The 12 percent-per-year growth rate projected for state-paid health care is no worse than that facing private employers. The other is that Medicaid is not only a driver of spending; it is a source of revenue. Since the federal government shares the cost on a 50-50 basis, it takes $2 of service cuts to get $1 of actual savings for the state. To reach any given savings target, by means of reducing benefits or eligibility, we would have to do double the damage.

The present situation becomes even more discouraging when you consider how much of the growth of the state budget over the past decade has been concentrated in these two areas. According to calculations by the Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation, from fiscal ’92 to ’03, spending on education aid and Medicaid combined has grown at a rate of 5.3 percent per year above inflation, while the rest of state government has grown at an annual rate of just 1 percent in real terms. (The other largest chunk of the state budget–human services excluding Medicaid–has grown even more slowly, 0.2 percent above inflation.) As a result, Medicaid and school aid–$10 billion between them–now make up 42 percent of the state budget, up from 31 percent in 1992.

With this bleak backdrop in mind, I spent the fall paying visits to state budget experts past and present, gathering their ideas for savings and reform. I conducted these conversations, for the most part, on an off-the-record basis. The good news: There is no shortage of ideas for changing how the state spends its money in order to get more out of it. The bad news: I spoke to no one who had a $2 billion solution, or anything close to it. Reform may make state government more efficient and more effective in the long run but, our new governor’s campaign rhetoric notwithstanding, it will not close next year’s budget gap.

One of these budget sages reminded me that, in 1991, the incoming Weld administration put forward immediate budget cuts, to solve what was then a looming deficit, but also an 18-month “fiscal recovery plan,” which laid the groundwork for longer term restructuring and savings. The Romney administration would be wise to follow the same course. A reform plan won’t make the fiscal ’04 budget any easier to take–or put together–but it could make an innovation virtue out of today’s spending-cut necessity.

In my serial brainstorming sessions with number crunchers, several ideas kept coming up. Here, in my own words and combined with my own thoughts, are three broad themes to guide the coming forced-march reinvention of Massachusetts state government.

REORGANIZATION: There is already talk coming out of the new administration of a major reconfiguration of agencies in order to consolidate and streamline state government. Be prepared for the pooh-poohing of the idea that’s sure to follow: It’s a bureaucratic morass, the savings in administrative streamlining are miniscule, it’s rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic. Still, there’s been no major restructuring of state government for more than a generation (Weld’s effort to do so was largely stymied), and it’s long overdue. In addition, for an administration that is intent, by inclination and necessity, on prioritizing state responsibilities, a reorganization plan is an important statement of purpose. Without redefining the mission of agencies in the most powerful and transparent way, how are managers to be held accountable for results?

Nonetheless, much of the early talk has been about reshuffling cabinet positions, which reduces the process of restructuring state government to who gets the exalted title of “secretary” (so far, education, yes; economic development, no). That’s too bad, because I heard a fair amount of sentiment for abolishing the secretariats altogether. They are the useless middlemen of the bureaucracy, I was told, too far off the ground, and too much the captives of advocates and vendors, to exercise real control over the agencies underneath them. Better to consolidate the tiny (and some not so tiny) agencies and offices that now report to them into a few larger, functional departments. For instance, create a single environmental regulation and management agency out of the current hodgepodge (DEP and DEM; Department of Fisheries, Wildlife, and Environmental Law Enforcement; Department of Food and Agriculture; Metropolitan District Commission, etc.). Then move the Massachusetts Environmental Policy Act comprehensive permitting process, now in the Executive Office of Environmental Affairs, into a true planning agency, one that perhaps also incorporates the current Department of Economic Development and Department of Housing and Community Development. So far, the Romney administration has gone in the other direction, creating two über-secretaries in the governor’s office, one for planning, another for commerce and labor.

The major reorganization idea floated by Romney in the campaign would break up the huge health and human services secretariat into three components: public health, social and rehabilitation services, and financial assistance. Here, the devil will be in the details, and count on a fight over every single one. But the human-services system cries out for consolidation of some sort. Of two million active cases handled by the eight largest departments, 65 percent of clients are served by two or more agencies. Between central, regional, and local offices, departments within the secretariat take up 2.1 million square feet of space in 149 buildings, under 175 separate leases. In many cities across the Commonwealth, there are four or five agency offices, and clients shuttle between them. There has to be a better way, for the customer and the Commonwealth alike.

COMPETITION: The Weld administration’s campaign to contract out state services, conducted with zeal but rife with abuse, was brought to an abrupt end, in 1993, by the Pacheco Law, which set exacting (some say impossible) standards for privatization. Now, 10 years later, a variety of people told me, it is time to reopen the privatization discussion. The objective would not be to set off the wholesale replacement of state employees by underpaid contract labor, as the Pacheco Law rightly sought to prevent, but rather to inject the rigor of competition into the essential functions of state government.

“Reinventing government” gurus ranging from David Osborne to former Indianapolis mayor Stephen Goldsmith argue that the benefit of the privatization option lies not in the inherent efficiencies (or bargain-basement wages) of private-sector contractors but in the exercise of defining what it is a state agency wants done in terms that make it possible to consider different ways of doing it. In the Indianapolis example, Goldsmith has explained (see “Efficiency Expert,” CW, Spring 2002, for one such discussion), unionized public employees won many of the contracts that were put out to bid. They often did so by reorganizing the work process and squeezing out layers of supervision and middle management. We could use some of that here.

Though many public managers and government watchers long for the outright repeal of the Pacheco Law, realists recognize that’s not going to happen. But a discussion of how to use the mechanism of competition to provide incentives–if not pressure–for innovation up and down the public-sector chain of command is much needed, and likely to be critical in the coming period of budgetary stress. Such a discussion will have to include how the Pacheco Law could be modified to facilitate, rather than discourage, change in the means of delivering public services.

TECHNOLOGY: It took a while before the reality caught up to the cliché, but technology really has changed everything. Or at least it could if we put it into effect. The Commonwealth has made great progress on redesigning its Web portal to be inviting and useful, as well as user-friendly. But driver’s-license renewal aside, only a small portion of the dealings between the state and its citizens, vendors, etc., can be conducted online. Though the payoff may be long-term, rather than immediate, the Internet still holds plenty of promise for efficiencies that will save money and improve customer service.

More importantly, information technology may be the key to all sorts of management efficiencies throughout state government. Simply put, modern IT and business systems should make possible a degree of agency restructuring–actual or, in some cases, virtual–that a dozen years ago would have seemed outlandish. In a recent paper for the Pioneer Institute, former administration and finance secretary Charles D. Baker Jr. makes a compelling case that the biggest obstacles to improving efficiency and service in health and human-services are the silos of information and management responsibility created by agencies that are defined by service and/or disability category but actually minister to many of the same clients. That’s no different today than a generation ago. But to solve that problem years ago would have required creating a single, gargantuan bureaucracy. Today the technology exists to determine eligibility, assign, and track clients across agencies to coordinate services, case managers, and benefits. EOHHS is moving in that direction, with its MassCARES client-and-resource mapping system. With ancient information systems that don’t talk to one another, not to mention ancient bureaucratic antagonisms and legal barriers, still in place, that can be taken only so far. But even in the context of service cuts today, it will make sense to make the necessary investment in technology to streamline services tomorrow.

And that’s in a people-oriented bureaucracy. Imagine the online and automation possibilities in principally paper-pushing ones, like the registries of deeds. Even the judiciary. Today, in many district courts the goal is to finish all sessions by midday in order to have the afternoon free to do the resulting paperwork. What if there were no paperwork, the full record of every courtroom action entered instantly by the clerk at the bench? Given the snail’s pace and false starts of courthouse automation to date, despite a $75 million bond behind it, this paperless courtroom may be hard to envision. Still, at some point the challenge before the judiciary may not be figuring out how to avoid layoffs but appreciating how few assistant clerks are needed to keep the wheels of justice turning.

If there’s a single thread that runs through these three aspects of reform–reorganization, competition, and technology–it’s the idea that it may be possible for government to do more with less, not immediately, perhaps, but ultimately. During a time when agencies that have gotten used to doing more will be forced to do sharply less, that may be hard to believe, let alone keep in mind. Let’s hope the Commonwealth’s new chief executive officer will be able to do so.

Handing over the keys

Dear Mitt:

By now, I’m sure you’ve grown accustomed to the joys of being governor. You know what I’m talking about: The invitations to forums and events. The endless meeting requests. The hours of poring over your first budget proposal. You have close aides and advisors to help you sort those things out. Here is some advice only a former governor can give.

First, there’s the corner office. Let’s start with the facilities. You have to jiggle the handle on the private toilet to get it to flush. This was the best practical advice Gov. Cellucci gave me, and I gladly pass it along. Also, don’t put up any curtains. Those that were up when I moved in were fraying and decaying, and the one bold decorating decision I made was to take them down. I’ve heard of a study showing that schoolchildren think better in natural daylight. I don’t know if that’s true, but I know that the light pouring into the corner office on a sunny day was one of the best stress relievers I found.

Better yet is to get out of the office altogether, and the best way to do that is to visit a school. Children have a way of cutting through the clutter and focusing your mind on what’s important. In education, as in any important issue, it’s difficult to make good decisions if you never see the impact they have up close. But the sheer joy of these visits outweighs any other reason for them. Plus, school visits are great photo-ops for the local dailies and weeklies.

Another suggestion: Be kind to your lieutenant governor, especially after she tends to her primary constitutional duty–presiding over the Governor’s Council. This task will take more out of her than the few hours each week would suggest. And give her this advice from me, someone who presided over the council as lieutenant governor and governor both: First, don’t be surprised by the councilors’ requests. A councilor once asked the governor’s legal counsel and me if we could intervene on an issue regarding the performance of a youth hockey referee. Nod your head politely, see if you can get away with doing nothing, and hope you never hear about it again. Second, ignore the death stares bouncing around the room. You’re not the target. These people do not like each other. Third, work with the rules the councilors have developed for themselves as best you can but be prepared to scrap them when necessary. As you know, I presided over the council via speakerphone during my maternity leave. They raised a ruckus. Somehow, democracy endured.

You may not have the commute I had, but you’ll still be on the road a lot, and when you are, you’ll be on your cell phone. Beware of the various spots around the Commonwealth where there are signal gaps that will kill a crucial conversation with, say, the attorney general of the United States. Here are a few to watch out for:

  • Mass. Pike, Mile 74. Without fail, you will lose service for five miles or so on this long hill in Charlton. The night I withdrew from the governor’s race my cell phone rang and a woman identifying herself as a White House operator asked me to hold for the president. I noted with dread that we were approaching Mile 74. I frantically signaled the state trooper to pull over, and proceeded to sit on the grass and have a pleasant chat with President Bush. My heartbeat returned to normal at about Mile 60.

  • Route 2, Devens. My theory is that when Fort Devens was open the military found a way to block cell phone signals so they would not interfere with strategic communications. Whatever the reason, signal loss here is real and consistent.

  • Mt. Vernon Street, Boston. This is the Black Hole of Beacon Hill. One block in any direction you’ll get a strong signal, but Mt. Vernon Street is a dead zone. This one nailed me on more occasions than I care to recall. Why I could never learn to wait five minutes before starting to return my phone messages I can’t explain.

Enjoy the many wonderful people with whom you’ll come in contact as you cross the state on official and unofficial business. I’m not talking about the mayors and the selectmen and chamber-of-commerce presidents, though they can be wonderful, too. I’m talking about valets, toll collectors, sales clerks, and waiters. These are the people who will give you a commiserating look after you’ve read a dismal story in the morning paper, or give you a place to park when it’s pouring rain. And when they have something to tell you, listen. They talk to a lot of people and they hear things. I know I learned a lot from them.

When you establish your weekly routine, keep the Monday afternoon budget meetings that started in the Weld administration. You can relax, talk about movies or books, talk about your weekend, even talk about the budget. I’ve never had a confidence breached. And remember, between the House and Senate, Finneran’s popcorn is much better.

–Jane Swift

Unions look for relevance in job training

Unions look for relevance in job training

Workforce Development and the New Unionism
Edited by Penn Kemble; introduction by Morton Bahr
New Economy Information Service, Washington, DC, 210 pages.

The second half of 2002 showcased, in rapid sequence, the past, present, and (possibly) future of the American labor movement.

The contract dispute on the Pacific docks conjured up the Spirit of Labor Past: A tightly organized union astride a vital industrial chokepoint wins Cabinet-level paychecks for stevedores and clerks. Labor’s economic clout so overmatches employers that the president wades into the fight on management’s side. (When was the last time a reference to the Taft-Hartley Act appeared on the front page?) The scenario, once common, feels weirdly out of time, like spotting a grizzly on Boston Common. In labor’s mid-century heyday, over a third of the work force carried union cards. Today, after decades of damage from economic and political reversals, unions claim just 9 percent of private-sector workers, mostly huddled in stagnant or shrinking industries. The West Coast remake of On the Waterfront is a flashback, not a preview.

Today, unions claim just 9 percent of all private-sector workers.

The Washington imbroglio over work rules for the new Department of Homeland Security reflects the Spirit of Labor Present. As unionism shriveled in private industry, it surged in government. The public sector accounts for less than 16 percent of all jobs, but almost 45 percent of union jobs. Government employment offers a haven–for some lucky workers–from the harsh economic climate facing people without advanced skills, offering them better pay, richer benefits, and more security than the turbulent private sector does. Much of the labor movement’s mission, in recent years, has been shoring up this enclave.

And the “justice for janitors” campaign in Boston (and elsewhere) might signal the Spirit of Labor Future. The scrappy Service Employees International Union, using adroit tactics and appeals to the public’s conscience, has won serious wage and benefit gains for workers who–in our mostly poor, porous-bordered world –are almost infinitely replaceable. This is a dauntingly difficult but worthy goal, evoking the struggles of A. Philip Randolph, the Reuther brothers, Cesar Chavez, and other patron saints of American unionism. If the labor movement is once more to be (or deserves to be) a major player on the American scene, it’s not enough to defend the perquisites of dockworkers and GS-12s. Its mission has to be restoring America’s imperiled middle-class culture by narrowing the earnings gap–a gap fast becoming a chasm–between hyper-educated professionals and everyone else.

Asked over 100 years ago “What does labor want?” Samuel Gompers, the founder of the AFL, famously answered, “More.” What followed is less commonly quoted, but it should be: “We want more schoolhouses and less jails, more books and less arsenals, more learning and less vice, more constant work and less crime, more leisure and less greed, more justice and less revenge. In fact, more of the opportunities to cultivate our better natures, to make manhood more noble, womanhood more beautiful, and childhood more happy and bright.”

With a bit of updating for gender, this agenda remains hard to beat today. But there are at least three ways of pursuing “more.” One is classic organizing, to gain workplace leverage for labor. Another thrust is political, aggregating workers’ voices and votes to make public policy more labor-friendly. The third approach is essentially economic, in which unions become agents for increasing productivity. Without denying that each strategy has its place, it is worth noting that the third path is what the game theorists call “positive-sum.” Workers get “more” because they produce more; labor’s gain is nobody’s loss.

And this makes Workforce Development and the New Unionism a very interesting book. It’s interesting in part because of its content: 11 chapters covering various union-based efforts to boost workers’ skills and productivity. It’s even more interesting because of its provenance. This is a book of, by, and for the labor movement itself. The International Ladies’ Garment Workers’ Heritage Fund financed it. The authors are all labor stalwarts, including union presidents Morton Bahr of the Communications Workers of America and Sandra Feldman of the American Federation of Teachers. The volume seems to be circulating mainly within labor circles. (Unlike most books, even painfully obscure ones–my books, for instance —Workforce Development and the New Unionism isn’t available on Amazon. com; you have to order it from the New Economy Information Service at www.newecon.org.) The prose is heavy with the acronym-laden earnestness that labor adopts for conversations within the family. Eavesdropping on this conversation offers some intriguing insights into today’s mostly civil and hugely consequential struggle for the labor movement’s soul.

“We recognized that we could no longer promise our members job security.”

Bahr sets the tone. His Communications Workers of America–blue-collar aristocracy barely two decades ago–has been savaged by the perfect storm of deregulation, the Bell System breakup, and warp-speed technological change. “We recognized that we could no longer promise our members job security,” he recounts, so the union “changed our strategy to one of providing employment security–that is, providing the tools our members need to make them more employable…” Bahr spent some of the CWA’s few remaining chips at the bargaining table to lock up employer-funded worker training for his members.

Companies have always provided a fair amount of training, on their own nickel and in their own interests, but it’s mostly tilted toward managers and professionals. When the rank-and-file do get employer-funded training, it tends to be in company rules and procedures, proprietary software, the use of specialized equipment, and other skills that don’t boost earning power outside the company and hence don’t boost bargaining power inside the firm. Bahr urges other unions to follow this lead. “Our culture must change to one that fosters and supports lifelong learning..,” argues Bahr. “Done the right way, it can become an opportunity–perhaps a key to labor’s renewal.”

Bahr may not yet represent the labor movement’s mainstream, but he is far from alone. Workforce Development and the New Unionism presents abundant evidence that union involvement in education, training, and productivity improvement is neither recent nor rare. Retired union leader Gus Tyler recounts the skill-building efforts of the International Ladies’ Garment Workers’ Union in its formative years, including the establishment of a “Workers’ University” in World War I-era New York City. (A local-interest bonus here is the tale of the Katz family of Posen changing their name to “Filene”–“Feline” seemed too transparent–when they came to America. Staunch believers in what would today be called employee stock ownership, the Boston merchants were key allies in helping the ILGWU crack the New York garment trade.) Labor writer Beth Rogers explains how appalling rates of on-the-job fatalities inspired the formation of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers and led it to focus on training from the start. Since 1941 the IBEW and the electrical contractors’ trade association have jointly run a top-notch apprenticeship program. Rex Hardesty describes the Seafarers International Union’s sophisticated educational programs, which have made US merchant mariners worth their comparatively lofty pay as ships go high-tech. Former Clinton speechwriter David Kusnet reveals the role played by the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers in the performance-and-productivity campaign that resuscitated motorcycle manufacturer Harley-Davidson.

Will human-capital investment become a mainstay of union strategy? The jury is still out. In his introduction, editor Penn Kemble concedes that some unionists “may regard what is generally called work force development as a tepid, accommodationist strategy.” True enough, the term doesn’t lend itself to one of those hand-clapping, heart-stirring old union songs. (“Oh, a dose of work force development/Can keep those unions relevant!” Maybe not.) After decades of insults and injuries, on the political and economic fronts alike, some unionists are more inclined to man the barricades than to file into the classrooms. Skeptics from various factions of the labor movement question the payoff from training: Why waste labor’s leverage on undertakings that promise benefits that are, at best, diffused, delayed, and shared with management?

There’s also a potential dark side to labor’s role in work force development, what Kemble coyly refers to as “the influence it gives unions in shaping labor markets.” Education and training can be converted into a vehicle for turf protection, and at several points Workforce Development and the New Unionism hints that ramping up the anti-competitive aspects of training programs is a perennial temptation for labor. Of course, blue-collar unions are not the only ones who make use of formal credentials to limit entry; this is pretty much the whole idea behind the American Medical Association and other carriage-trade guilds. But supply restriction is a different strategy than real work force development, and ultimately a shabbier one. “More” for the duly credentialed union worker means “less” for others–consumers, investors, and the poor schlump who’s perfectly able to do the work but lacks the entry ticket–with no net value created.

Despite the barriers and hazards, however, unions may be uniquely positioned to play a pivotal role in work force development. It’s become a cliché–and like most clichés, a reality–that lifelong learning is the key to prosperity in our global, technology-driven economy. Yet sorting out responsibilities for funding, designing, and delivering worker training has proven to be a devilishly difficult piece of policy architecture. It’s hard to structure incentives, obligations, and information flows that induce the various players–employers, training providers, government, and workers themselves–to make efficient choices and to operate accountably. Labor unions may possess just the right mix of expertise, interest, and legitimacy to orchestrate work force development efforts. An emphasis on training that boosts both productivity and earning power, meanwhile, could simultaneously increase union appeal to workers and reduce employer resistance.

The story of the labor movement –a story as rich with glory and grief, virtue, shame, and triumph as any in American history–just might feature work force development as a central theme in its next chapter. It’s clear that the authors of Workforce Development and the New Unionism, at least, view skill building as a modern manifestation of the movement’s most red-blooded traditions. As Kemble puts it: “Those who are not born to education are undertaking a form of class struggle when they educate and train themselves, and help fellow workers do the same.” Maybe there’s a song in there after all.

John D. Donahue teaches at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government and held senior Labor Department posts in the Clinton Administration. His latest book is For the People: Can We Fix Public Service?, forthcoming from Brookings.

Our own set of experts gives the new governor advice on making good policy and good first impressions

Our own set of experts gives the new governor advice on making good policy and good first impressions

With a transition team of nearly 100 of the biggest movers and shakers in Massachusetts politics and business, Mitt Romney had no shortage of input as he took the helm of state government. But with the tough straits he’s in, we figure the new governor could use all the tips he can get. So we sought out a range of respected voices from across the state–some well known, others unsung–and asked them to offer some unsolicited advice to our state’s new leader. Here’s what they had to say.

Patricia McGovern

Special counsel and senior vice president,
Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, Boston
Chairman, Senate Ways and Means Committee, 1984-92

The governor has a great opportunity to be creative. He’s been elected in what in a very real sense was an upset. He can be a great change agent. He can do wonderful things for Massachusetts if he’s willing to take risks and use the opportunity he’s been given to try to make some profound changes in the way we run Massachusetts government: looking at laws that are no longer needed, looking at ways we can structurally change the government, looking at the ways in which we pay for certain things to be done.

He should think about restructuring government in a major way. Take everything having to do with health and put it in a secretariat, create a health czar. It’s our largest budget buster and the largest single cost item in the budget. Same thing with transportation. Taking all the transportation agencies and bringing them together into a secretariat that really does deal with transportation. There has been no transportation policy for years in the state. What are we doing? Is it rail? Is it roads? Is it planes? And how is it all integrated? And how are we going to pay for it all?

A test of leadership is making it happen. Put together a very bold, dramatic first budget that really will surprise people, that will take some major risks, that will try some profound structural change, and build public support for those changes through the media. Then work with the Legislature to convince them to get them on board and work through a negotiated process.

You have a much greater chance of success during an economic downturn and a financial crisis. When there’s a lot of money, no one will change anything; they just want more. I would think everything has got to be on the table, and the bolder the better, the more profound the better, the more you shake things up the better.

Stuart Altman

Sol C. Chaikin Professor of National Health Policy,
Brandeis University
Co-chairman, State Health Care Task Force

The state plays an important role in ensuring access to health care for our most vulnerable populations. I would strongly encourage him to preserve access for those populations. [But] we shouldn’t have an all-or-nothing policy where if you get on Medicaid, you get everything, and if you’re not on Medicaid, you get nothing. Many states are developing waivers to see if they can transfer some services that have less marginal value [out of the Medicaid program] in order to provide more services for more people.

We need to be mindful of making sure that we use our most expensive facilities and resources efficiently. That means where patients can be treated at lower-cost settings without any negative impact on quality, that should be encouraged. And it should start with Medicaid, where the state has the greatest responsibility.

The other thing the state can do is force the various institutions and payers to come up with a common terminology and information systems to talk to each other. There is a tremendous amount of waste and inefficiency generated by information systems that are outdated and don’t talk with each other. The problem is that each major hospital has its own information system and they would like everyone else to adopt theirs. Somebody needs to come in and say, “This is what it’s going to be.” It’s not going to happen voluntarily. The benefits are both in efficiency, or lower cost, and in reduced medical errors because you have better information and less places where the information gets lost.

Finally, it’s going to be appealing during a tight budget cycle to reduce provider payments. However, that tends to just shift costs from the state budget to private payers, because the providers, the hospitals, the doctors, the equipment manufacturers need to make up the difference. So you wind up having individual taxpayers pay it through their private health insurance premiums as opposed to their state taxes.

Helen Lemoine

Chairman, Framingham Planning Board
Chairman, MetroWest Growth Management Committee

I would encourage him to find some way to begin to change the culture of politics and government at the state level. The distrust has filtered down. These are literally the people who are living next door to us and around the corner from us, our neighbors, who automatically assume that local officials have sinister and hidden agendas. It becomes very hard to encourage people to get involved.

I also recommend that he reread de Tocqueville’s Democracy in America, because I think the state has forgotten that they get their power from us in the towns. It’s very difficult in regard to things like unfunded mandates that the state tells us to do but then doesn’t give us the wherewithal to do it. It’s become “them versus us,” when that’s really not what state government and local government was designed to be.

Two things are critical in terms of growth pressures. One is affordable housing. The biggest problem with affordable housing in many communities is a total lack of understanding and a fear of it, so it’s very hard to move forward with any positive initiatives. It’s fought all the way, mostly because of Chapter 40-B, which some look at as a carrot and a stick–which it is–but in many of the suburban communities it’s looked at as only a stick. Communities all have small committees and volunteer groups that are trying hard to educate the public, but it’s not working. We need a totally different policy and program approach at the state level.

I would also love to hear from Gov. Romney that there’s going to be a change in the mindset of pouring billions and billions of dollars into things like new lanes on routes 128 and 495, and instead take that money and talk seriously about mass transit and suburban mobility programs.

Alan Wolfe

Director, Boisi Center for Religion and American Public Life, Boston College

One issue that I’m particularly concerned about, which he is going to have a big impact on, is gambling in Massachusetts. I just assume there’s going to be huge pressure to go that way because we have a clear situation where there’s resistance to tax increases and yet the state is in deficit. Gambling will be put forward by lots of people as the way out, and I don’t think it’s a good idea.

I think there’s something morally problematic about the state being involved in gambling, even lotteries, let alone real casinos. I would hope that he would use his moral authority as a religious person to speak up for some of the negative consequences that follow when the state becomes deeply involved in such
problematic activities. I don’t have any objection to people who, from their private religious heritage, make larger points about public policy.

The poor tend to lose more money proportionately than the rich, so I think it can have negative consequences for income redistribution. But I also think the government should either be neutral on some of these big questions of right and wrong or should take the side of the right, the side of the angels. There just seems to me something unseemly about government relying for its revenue on behavior that’s self-destructive, that can cause huge problems for families.

Ray Stata

Chairman, Analog Devices, Norwood

I would like to see the new governor personally become the champion of a statewide science and technology policy and strategy. Nearly 20 percent of our employment comes from that sector, which is higher than any other state. Yet we’re 48th in terms of our investment in public higher education.

The state has been a passive observer of the successful growth of its most important industrial sector. The governor’s office has taken for granted that the great industry we’ve got here is just going to go on forever and continue to do great things. That’s got to stop. There are other states that are looking at our success and trying to figure out how to eat our lunch, and there’s no way we can continue without leadership and involvement from state government.

The University of Massachusetts in Amherst should be the equivalent of Berkeley in California, in terms of the prestige of the research and the ability to attract the best and brightest students. There’s no reason why it can’t be. But you don’t achieve excellence by one year inflating budgets and the next year depleting them. We’re blessed with very great private universities, but looking toward a more competitive future, we must strengthen the public university system as well.

The assumption that state government can stand on the sidelines as competitive states mount focused strategies to win the high-tech industrial sweepstakes is a mind-set that has to change. Romney, more than any governor we’ve had for as long as I can remember, has got the background and the credentials and should have the insight and understanding to be able to make state government a player in this game.

Celia Wcislo

President, Service Employees International Union, Local 285

For public sector workers, he’s got to realize that what the Commonwealth provides and delivers in terms of infrastructure, in terms of services, that’s all done by the regular frontline worker. He needs to look at putting resources toward the front line and maybe less toward the administrative and managerial. If he’s going to have to squeeze, look at protecting the services but cutting unnecessary duplication of services. I think public sector workers have taken hit after hit after hit. At some point, demoralization sets in, and it will impact quality and he needs to keep that in mind.

For health care workers, one of the biggest problems is staffing. For nurses or certified nursing assistants in nursing homes, there is a shortage. We can’t find the folks. Wages are going up as much because there’s a labor shortage as anything else.

He needs to put money and energy into training the work force that’s going to fill those jobs, and that means English, GED, basic technical skills, and college. Almost all the growth in our work force has been with immigrants. They go into nursing homes, they go into home care and entry-level positions in hospitals. We could have that work force become the professional and technical work force of the future if we put the resources into keeping them in health care and giving them the skills they need to move up. It means their lives are better, it means they can afford health insurance, it means we have a work force that’s not leaving but growing, and that’s important whether you’re the CEO of a Fortune 500 company or the governor of Massachusetts.

Kevin O’Sullivan

Vice president of development, Massachusetts Biomedical Initiative, Worcester
State representative, 13th Worcester District, 1987-94

I think the biggest issue right now is not only maintaining jobs but creating more jobs and creating a stronger economic base. It’s very unrealistic for us in the biomedical field or, for that matter, in the business community to think that there’s going to be an influx of investment or dollars in state government. It just isn’t going to happen.

My suggestion to Gov. Romney is to go directly to the existing toolbox of incentives–whether it’s the investment tax credit or the emerging technology fund. Those tools should be shaken off, sharpened, corrected, replaced, whatever has to be done. And I think he needs to pull all of his state bureaucrats together. All of those experts, the Mike Hogans from MassDevelopment, the Joe Donovans from the Department of Economic Development, and sit them down and say, “Okay, what do we need to do to be that much more effective, understanding the budget limitations we have here?”

The second thing I would advise him to do is continue to invest in our infrastructure. That would be everything from rail to roads to bridges to water and sewer, because I think the movement of people and goods and your infrastructure is really what makes your economy. I know that commuter rail and the Route 146-Mass. Pike project out here in central Massachusetts have made a whale of a difference, at least in our industry.

David Tibbetts

General counsel, Merrimack Valley Economic Development Council
State director of economic development, 1996-99

By embracing a community like New Bedford or Lowell or Lawrence, a community that has been challenged, he could make it a showcase for what state government can do when it puts its mind together with the private sector leadership, revitalizing neighborhoods, revitalizing downtowns. In each of those communities those things are starting to happen. They tend to escape the notice of the Beacon Hill powers that be. But they’re happening. They could get an incredible infusion of enthusiasm and energy and further private sector investment with a fairly modest investment of time and effort and resources by the Romney administration.

The University of Massachusetts at Dartmouth has played a tremendous role in the revitalization of downtown New Bedford and downtown Fall River. It has created campuses and presences in both of those communities, revitalizing old landmark buildings and bringing not only visible improvements to a community but also life in the form of students and new cafés and shops to serve those students. There’s a new vibrancy in downtown New Bedford and it’s starting to happen in downtown Fall River as well. That is clearly there because of the pump-priming done by the University of Massachusetts at Dartmouth. That’s not a huge investment of state resources. But it’s recognizing those kinds of efforts and then trying to replicate them and saying, for example, to the University of Massachusetts at Lowell, “Gee, look at what UMass-Dartmouth has done in Fall River and New Bedford. Have you thought about doing that in Lawrence and Haverhill?”

William Breault

Chairman, Main South Alliance for Public Safety, Worcester
Board member, Main South Community Development Corp.

Main South is a low-income area that’s been on the rebound the last 15 years or so. This area was wiped out by arson and crime and I don’t want to see us go back to that. We’ve made dramatic gains in housing, both nonprofit and for-profit.

He’s already taken new taxes off the table. I don’t know where the money is going to come from. I’m sure there are good and innovative ways to save money. When you start talking a billion or a billion and a half dollars, that’s beyond innovation. If we get into this area of slash and burn on housing, public safety, fire, I think we’re in for a devastating impact on the cities.

That so-called safety net people talk about, there’s no more net there. As we move forward, if there’s an additional billion [dollars] cut, who’s going to get hurt? It’s the people at the low end. We went through this in 1990. I saw what happened. I hope when he’s looking over what can be cut, he remembers what we said out here in Worcester.

Deborah Prothrow-Stith

Director, Division of Public Health Practice, Harvard School of Public Health
State commissioner of public health, 1987-89

I would encourage the governor to focus generally on prevention. And I underscore that because in times when the economy is not great, and cuts are made, they tend to be made in those things that are actually saving us money in the long run. Having served as the state public health commissioner, I know at times you have to cut some things, but the prevention work is the work that keeps us out of trouble in the long run.

I carry that same theme through to violence prevention. For so long society has taken the perspective that [violence is] inevitable and that the best we can do is respond aggressively with the police and with stiffer sentences and three strikes and all of that. But there is good evidence that violence can be prevented. Maybe not all of it, but a good deal of it, and violence is a lot more expensive to deal with than to prevent. There are wonderful school programs to reduce violence, teach conflict resolution. Those are small investments that can make a huge difference. I would be taking the “tough on crime” tone and adding to it “smart about prevention.” I think that begins to set the stage for a large array of strategies in the communities and in the schools.

The waste in government is not in “fat” and health and human services. The waste is in not providing quality public education, not providing universal access to health care, not providing family support services when a baby leaves the hospital and the visiting nurse to the home. That’s where we’re wasting money, because when the problems arise because we don’t do the prevention, then we have all this expensive stuff, whether it’s incarceration or major medical costs.

David Osborne

Managing Partner, Public Strategies Group, Essex
Co-author, Reinventor’s Fieldbook (2000); Reinventing Government (1993)

Start by defining the most important results you want to produce for the citizens, and then have your staff figure out which state programs have the most impact on those results and which have the least, and eliminate the least. He should frame everything in terms of results, because it speaks to the public.

He should use competition rather than consolidation as the driving force for savings. He’s talked a lot about consolidating these big bureaucracies, but when you consolidate big bureaucracies you just get bigger bureaucracies. The savings are often surprisingly slim, and the political and management troubles that result absorb a lot of your energy.

Make most internal services compete in a marketplace. There are lots of things in state government that serve other pieces of state government–maintenance, real estate, office space, vehicle fleet. Most of them don’t need to be a monopoly. Get the Legislature to repeal the Pacheco Bill. It’s the toughest thing, so I didn’t put it first. Then force a lot of service units in state government to compete with private bidders every three or four years.

When he proposes these kinds of reforms, he should give a list of those programs that would have to be cut or eliminated if the reforms were not passed. Make it clear that the price of not doing reform is throwing another 50,000 people off of Medicaid and shutting down low-income housing assistance programs, and cutting funding to public education, and cutting funding to local government. Then those people who benefit from the programs that he’s trying to save–he should try to organize them into a coalition to try to push for reform.

Dorothy Lopes

United Interfaith Action, coalition of South Coast religious congregations
Retired New Bedford school teacher

We have a large population of people who don’t have college degrees, many of them don’t have high schools degrees, many of them don’t speak English as a first language. The mills that have been in the city–those factories are gone. People need new skills. So we need real serious attention to job training or retraining for people to get decent paying jobs. I’m not talking about McDonald’s; I’m talking about raising a family on a decent salary, buying a home.

We have a serious problem with the dropout rate. We have several schools that were identified as under-performing schools on the recent MCAS tests. My personal feeling is that kids drop out of school long before they become 16 years old in high school. I know the schools aren’t the only answer. It’s school, it’s community organizations, it’s families. But we need a concrete plan.

All of these problems, they dovetail into one another, they’re all tentacles of the same monster. I know a lot of this is going to take money, and you look at the newspapers today and they’re giving a pretty bleak report in terms of Massachusetts’s state of affairs. Hopefully if he were listening, and if he were listening not only with his head but with his heart, he would find the means to begin addressing the problems here.

For a long time people have felt this is a neglected part of the state. He needs to come down and talk to the people. I don’t think people are looking for you to just hand it out. We have a reputation down here as people who have worked hard and come from families that work hard.

Andrea Cabral

Suffolk County Sheriff
Assistant District Attorney, 1993-2002

Certain aspects of corrections are routinely underfunded, DA’s offices are routinely underfunded. You have to have police officers on the streets, you have to have ADAs [assistant district attorneys] in the district courts, you have to have corrections officers on the tiers, and you have to have the money to do those things. Depending on what the budget is statewide, sacrifices will be made and budgets cuts will be made.I would like to see those areas prioritized. I’m sure if you talk to people in social services and in education, they’re saying the same thing. But whatever importance any elected official places on their safety and that of their loved ones should be directly reflected in the amount of funding that organizations charged with maintaining public safety receive.

The face of contemporary corrections is prisoner re-entry programs and reducing the rate of recidivism. It suits society’s needs and it’s just more cost-effective to keep people from coming back than to continually investigate, catch them, punish them for crime, and pay for the cost of warehousing them until they finish their punishment. Programs that are offered–not mandated–to inmates on their way out of the prison may have some positive effect on breaking some of these cycles. You can say everybody ought to have at least six months probation after they’re released from jail. Be prepared to fund that. Don’t say it and then don’t have enough probation officers.

Jay Healy

Owner, Hall Tavern Farm, Charlemont
State agriculture commissioner, 1992-2002

The state Department of Environmental Management owns 300,00 acres of land in the Commonwealth, and it is a shame it’s not looked at as a resource that could be helpful to rural economic development. I could take him to places where there are hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of lumber rotting in the woods because there is not a thoughtful vision past the acquisition of land. There’s no management, there’s very little stewardship of that land. Nobody should touch historic spots. But if the state owns 15,000 acres, as it does in a very rural town like Monroe, and there’s little economic development in that area, a more thoughtful program could be a winner with more jobs created and a little more income for the towns.

There’s an awful lot of really environmentally sound economic development that can be melded into good policy with all the land the state does own. Unfortunately, sometimes the urban areas view that as an oxymoron because of what they’ve learned from The New York Times. It gets wrapped up with what they’re doing with clear-cutting out in Montana or wherever, but there’s not even an analogy.

Having economically profitable businesses on [privately owned] land is equally important–not only preserving a land base for farmers but also understanding they’re no different from plastics in Pittsfield and paper in Fall River or high tech. They need the same targeted economic development assistance that we give to the Raytheons or the Fidelitys of the world. Otherwise, they’re going to be selling lots for $800,000 McMansions overlooking the Connecticut River.

Thomas Hollister

President and CEO, Citizens Bank of Massachusetts

As a member of Boston’s business community, I understand and appreciate the state’s fiscal crisis that Gov. Romney and his administration are facing. This must be the first order of business.

Looking further ahead, however, there are two areas I would suggest require focus and attention. The first area is the shortage of housing. With rising rents and housing costs, the lack of suitable and affordable housing is an issue facing an overwhelming majority of Massachusetts residents. This is both a competitiveness issue for the businesses in our state, and a fairness issue for us as a society. It would be instrumentally helpful to see the state take a leadership role on this issue, working with nonprofit agencies, community development corporations, city governments, and local developers to formulate a multi-pronged plan to increase our housing stock.

The second area of focus is the broad realm of the life sciences. Fortunately, we live and work in a state with enormous resources and services–world-renowned universities, premier teaching hospitals, and pioneering venture capital firms, to name a few. This position provides us with a competitive business advantage and one that we must fully leverage. Our new administration must encourage, support, and promote groundbreaking developments that our hospitals and biotech companies are making. They must work to educate the public on the impacts these institutions have on our lives and offer avenues to increase their significant presence in our Commonwealth. With the successful growth of this industry, we can move toward becoming the world’s biotechnology leader, thereby creating additional jobs and opportunities for Massachusetts residents.

David Cortiella

Executive director, Inquilinos Boricuas En Accion, Boston

Mr. Governor, you bring a vision to the state that is molded by your past business experience. Key among the assets that this Commonwealth has are its human assets, and it’s important that we start to invest in the job training essential for the competitive edge that the state needs to maintain.

Equally important is making technology accessible, especially in the urban areas, to low-income families and potential wage earners. Everybody talks about the digital divide. We recently completed wiring all 550 units of low-income housing here in Villa Victoria, a subsidized housing community in the South End. Through a collaboration between private industry, Cisco Systems, and ourselves, we provide the residents high-speed Internet access for a nominal fee.

We’re in a really tough economic situation, but it’s the time to be innovative and creative and start preparing for the economic upturn by taking a lead, issuing directives that any new housing or renovations funded by a state agency provide a link at least to [an Internet] hub. It’s a fallacy to think there has to be such a huge investment in this kind of technology. Pulling an extra wire when you’re pulling all the other wires, whether you’re renovating a unit or whether you’re building a new unit, is a very minimal cost in the total development budget. If we are able to expand this model throughout the entire Commonwealth, we will have embraced the notion that is essential that every single citizen is prepared for this knowledge-based economy.

The glory days of cub reporting

The glory days of cub reporting

First Job: A Memoir of Growing Up at Work
By Rinker Buck
Public Affairs, New York, 396 pages.

Several years ago I was at a reunion of journalism alumni at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst when I heard the following: “Heeeey! How ya doing? I haven’t seen you since that double fatal in Winchendon!”

This is not a greeting you would hear at a Harvard Law School reunion. But what young reporters lack in prestige and paycheck, they get to make up for with lines like that one. (Who else except for John Grisham gets up in the morning, goes to work, and by noon is up to his ears in carnage?) And though they’ll likely have to change careers to have a life like everyone else, with a family and a mortgage, it will be the strange stories and newsroom camaraderie of that first job in journalism that they’ll recall most fondly.

Buck stumbled into a job that striving journalism majors would have killed for.

At its best, Rinker Buck’s memoir of his first job–at The Berkshire Eagle in Pittsfield in the early 1970s –captures the fun and energy of a first job in newspapering. Freshly graduated from Bowdoin College but basically aimless, Buck stumbled into a job that striving journalism majors would have killed for back in those Watergate days. Under the ownership of the Miller family, the Eagle was one of the best small papers in the country, a recent winner of the Pulitzer for editorial writing. And Pittsfield was a happening place: General Electric was still a force in the city, providing a sense of prosperity that has long since evaporated.

When it works, Buck’s memoir is an entertaining account of life at the paper and in the Berkshires of those days, when the region had its own social structure and a thriving resort scene, and you really could get anything you want at Alice’s Restaurant. The Eagle also served as a feeder for bigger papers, and many of Boston’s journalistic elite have done stints there; Buck, for instance, eventually moved into a beat vacated by Nick King, who now edits The Boston Sunday Globe Magazine.

Newspapers may be staffed by more ambitious, smarter young things these days, but you’d be hard-pressed to duplicate the characters of the Eagle newsroom back then. There’s the eccentric and brilliant publisher Lawrence”Pete” Miller, a staunch environmentalist and such a Yankee that, while escorting Ted Kennedy around town, he stops to pick up a nickel from a restaurant floor. There’s the charming and funny Rory O’Connor, known for taking a nap–literally “sleeping on a story” –before cranking out his marvelous copy. And Pulitzer Prize-winning editorialist Roger Linscott becomes a lifelong friend, mentor, and mountain-climbing companion to Buck.

Though his salary is only $130 a week, Buck gets seduced by the Berkshires the way a lot of people do: He loves the outdoors, the mountains, the open spaces, the commute without a stoplight.

He also seems to do plenty of seducing himself, starting with a married Hadassah Woman of the Year he meets while writing a puff piece on her. Buck spares no details of his conquests, such as the night he makes love to three different women in three different far-flung Berkshire towns. Today, the drive alone would probably wear him out.

These revelations become gratuitous to the point of bragging, and an editor should have told him so. But sometimes the women and the work intersect in funny ways: He shares the attentions of one buxom girlfriend with aging journalist and Third Reich author William Shirer, who, it turns out, is as avid a skirt-chaser as Buck is. And he recruits another large-breasted ex-girlfriend to flirt with John Wayne during an interview. It works, of course, and Buck gets his scoop when the Duke launches into a hearty defense of then-President Richard Nixon.

There are funny observations of the odd, not-quite-Brahmin high society of the Berkshires, the tweedy set who lunch in the fancy dining room at the Red Lion Inn and raise money for Hancock Shaker Village, a favorite cause of Miller’s bouffant-haired wife, Amy Bess.

And there are lovingly told anecdotes about Miller, who later passes the paper on to his sons; and Linscott, with whom Buck shares many hours of hiking.

But I wanted more entertaining stories like the details of how different Pittsfield ethnic groups buried their dead. (The Italians went straight to Remo Dagnoli’s funeral home, and their obits had to list the province in Italy where they were born. The Irish didn’t care about their birthplaces, but they always sent their bodies to Devanny’s.) Or the night he covered the premiere of Deep Throat at the Lanesboro Drive-In, only to find Pittsfield’s upper crust in attendance. Or the story of the Great Berkshire Tornado that killed four people.

If Pittsfield is a shadow of its former self, so, too, are first jobs in journalism.

As a bit of Berkshire history, Buck’s book is incomplete. Back then, the departure of General Electric was probably in the air, and that event wrenched the city socially, economically, and environmentally. (Robert Reich was chided in last year’s gubernatorial primary campaign for not knowing where Pittsfield was; the sad fact is you no longer need to know where Pittsfield is to get elected.) There’s barely a mention of another larger-than-life character, Republican Congressman Silvio Conte, whose funeral in 1991 brought a sitting vice president to town–undoubtedly the last time that will ever happen.

If Pittsfield is a shadow of its former self, so, too, are first jobs in journalism. Most entry-level jobs at small newspapers now require an internship in addition to a degree, and, coincidentally, many entry-level jobs are filled by unpaid college interns. The Eagle, like most other family-owned papers, has since been bought up by a large chain, and publishers like Pete Miller live on only in the movies and our imaginations.

A bigger problem is that these jobs pay so little that today’s debt-burdened college grads–especially those from working-class backgrounds –can’t afford to take them. According to a University of Georgia study, the median starting salary for journalism grads is about $26,000, about $5,000 less than what an English lit major can expect to earn. One of my journalism students who graduated in 2002 returned recently to proudly show me the small daily he was working for; he had written three of the four front-page stories. His pay: $10 per hour.

It may be a reflection on young people as much as the newspaper industry, but returning grads often complain about uninspiring and unhappy editors who don’t edit and who are reluctant to try new approaches to covering news. Their first-job experiences in the newspaper world make graduate school, public relations, and even teaching jobs look more attractive.

Buck was a lucky guy. He entered the business at a paper that cared about quality at a time often thought of as the “golden age” of journalism. Despite his often hapless early adventures in reporting, he stayed in the business and now writes for The Hartford Courant. But he’s now in his 50s. For young people entering the field today, it’s a different world, and their “first job” in journalism is often their last. That’s a loss for us all.

Letters

Your article “On-the-job training” (Fall 2002) highlighted the CALL initiative of the Jewish Vocational Service of Greater Boston as providing essential post-employment follow-up services that are so critical to the long-term career success of our “at-risk” population.

Job Corps, the nation’s largest residential employment and educational-training program for economically disadvantaged youth, has also recognized and is responding to this need. Job Corps is a federal program administered by the US Department of Labor that specifically serves at-risk youth between the ages of 16 and 24. The program has been in existence since 1964, and we know from experience that our services must extend beyond job placement toward the long-term employability of our students.

Toward that end, Job Corps provides a combination of personalized career planning, academic and vocational training, social skills training, and practical learning experiences to prepare young people for stable, long-term, high-paying jobs. Our counselors work with graduates for up to a year after job placement to provide them with the support they need to continue working. This support varies according to the needs of the student, but may include assistance with work schedules, budgeting, housing, day care, health care, and transportation.

Beyond the logistics of this support, Job Corps employs a compassionate and dedicated team of instructors, career advisors, and counselors that truly care about improving the futures of our students.

For more information about Job Corps, visit www.nejobcorps.org or call 1-800-97-BEGIN.

Lenore Brill Wadman
Youth Services and Job Corps
US Department of Labor
Boston

STATE IS PLAYING CATCH-UP IN DETECTING CHILD ABUSE

Thanks very much for highlighting the frightening lack of child-abuse expertise among medical professionals in Massachusetts and the failure of the state to pay reasonable rates for child-abuse evaluations (“Misdiagnosis,” Fall 2002).

In addition to my role as director of the child-abuse clinic at New England Medical Center’s Floating Hospital for Children, I am also director of the Institute for Professional Education at the Massachusetts Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (MSPCC). I point this out because I believe our ultimate success depends upon the combined efforts of our medical institutions and the advocacy community. The mission of the Institute for Professional Education is to improve the understanding and competence of front-line health care and other professionals in the detection, prevention, treatment, and adjudication of child abuse and neglect.

MSPCC has a 124-year history of advocating for programs, policies, and resources that protect and promote the rights and well-being of children. Consistent with its history, MSPCC is throwing down the gauntlet on this issue and we plan to advocate for the following:

  • The official addition of a subspecialty on Child Maltreatment by the American Board of Pediatrics and the implementation of relevant training and fellowship programs;
  • Required training in child abuse and neglect at Massachusetts medical and dental schools for all medical students and specialized training in this field for pediatricians, family physicians, and emergency department physicians;
  • Third-party reimbursement rates for child-abuse evaluations that reflect the specialized nature of the evaluations as well as the time, multidisciplinary personnel, facilities, and equipment needed for this activity; and a
  • Massachusetts Board of Registration in Medicine requirement for continuing education in child abuse and domestic violence as a condition of licensure to practice.

MSPCC has worked diligently with state Sen. Susan Tucker to develop legislation that would establish regional child sexual abuse evaluation centers to meet the need for comprehensive evaluations of approximately 7,000 Massachusetts children who are alleged to have been the victims of abuse. These would be expanded in future legislation to include all forms of maltreatment (physical and sexual abuse and all forms of neglect) so that Massachusetts could finally take its place among other states that are moving aggressively to properly identify and treat child abuse.

Robert M. Reece, MD
New England Medical Center’s Floating Hospital for Children
Boston

GREYLOCK GLEN PROMISED AS ECONOMIC CATALYST

I must correct some of the misinformation that the obstructionists have placed in the article about the Greylock Glen site (“Last Resort,” Town Meeting Monitor).

Tad Ames, of the Berkshire Natural Resources Council claims that the site is a public reservation. It is not now nor has it ever been a public reservation. For many years the land in question was used as farms. The town of Adams received taxes on that property. The owners of the farms later sold the land to developers who planned various projects. The ponds on the site were built by one of the developers and used with the golf course that was on the site.

The state of Massachusetts took control of the land with the intent of developing the site into an economic catalyst for the town of Adams. Such development is required under the law by which the state took control of the property. Residents of Adams will consider it a violation of the law if the property in question is not developed to give Adams the economic benefit that the state promised.

The obstructionist groups have never proposed any viable alternatives to help Adams nor do they have any stake in what is best for the town of Adams.

David Charon
Adams

The smartgrowth movement meets its Waterloo in Kingston

KINGSTON–On windy days, commuters shield their eyes from the flecks of sand and dust blowing toward them as they step onto the commuter-rail platform in Kingston. Abutting the station is a desert-like expanse of 140 acres, and no one really knows when or how the land is going to be developed. Seven years ago, advocates of “smart growth”–an anti-sprawl concept that includes the creation of high-density housing near existing transportation resources–thought Kingston was an ideal laboratory for their ideas. So did town officials and civic leaders. But a large-enough minority of residents thought otherwise to kill the deal. Now smart growth is a no-go in this Plymouth County town of 11,800.

Kingston’s failure to approve cluster zoning (or to lift its current requirement of at least two acres for each new home) could be an ominous sign for the anti-sprawl movement in the Bay State. Mark Leff, senior vice-president of Salem Five Cents Savings Bank and chairman of the legislative committee of the Home Builders Association of Massachusetts, says that Kingston’s inaction “sends the message that smart growth proposals won’t work at the local level because people who live in the communities have no interest in it.”

Kingston Quick Facts

Founded: 1726
Population: 11,780
Town Meeting: Open

Facts:

  • Kingston covers 20 square miles of Plymouth County. It is located 32 miles from Boston and 65 miles from Providence.
  • According to the town Board of Assessors, the median price of a single-family home is $235,000.
  • Kingston is a residential community mostly consisting of commuters to Boston and cranberry growers. The largest employer is the Independence Mall. Other significant employers in this town of small businesses include R.S. Means, a publisher of construction industry materials; the Sullivan Brothers car dealership; and L. Knife & Son, a beer distributor.

One resident who voted against the 800-unit development known as the Village at Kingston says that townspeople are simply being cautious. “The concept of the town village has not been proven,” says Paul Tanous, who works as an MBTA bus driver. “Showing pictures to people of what the project is supposed to look like–ice cream, dry cleaners, clothing shops –is great, but there’s no guarantee that’s what’s going to happen there. There’s no guarantee at all, and that worried people.”

There have been a lot of worries in Kingston since the MBTA extended its Old Colony commuter-rail line here in 1997. From 1998 to 2002, average weekday boardings at Kingston Station doubled, to 1,558 people. Residents expected the train to draw even more newcomers to their already-booming town, and they were right. Kingston’s population has skyrocketed, rising nearly 30 percent in the past decade–one of the highest growth rates on the South Shore, according to the 2000 Census. And since the coming of the commuter-rail stop, the Board of Assessors reports, the average price of a Kingston home has increased by more than $50,000.

Not surprisingly, the land next to the train station–which is mere minutes from Route 3 and a neighbor to Kingston’s flourishing Independence Mall–has been seen as ripe for development. It’s currently zoned for industrial use, and Kingston Selectman Mark Beaton would like it to stay that way. Citing the successful 450-acre Plymouth Industrial Park, he wonders, “Why can’t we have what Plymouth has?” A warehouse or offices would bring revenue to the town, he explains, without the cost of new students flooding the schools.

But some residents and environmentalists from outside the town have long felt that the property has a higher calling: as a mixed-use development that would cluster new residents near the train station and preserve open space in other parts of the town. Bennet Heart, a senior attorney for the Conservation Law Foundation (who lives one-eighth of a mile from the commuter rail in Winchester) says that such transit-oriented development “protects basic environmental values like clean air and clean water.” At the same time, it can save towns money in infrastructure costs. Because development is concentrated in one compact area, he says, “you need fewer utility lines, sewer lines, new roads, wires to lay, telephone poles to hoist up, pavement and piping to put down.”

Even before the trains rolled into town, smart growth was catching on with town leaders in Kingston. In 1995, the Master Plan Implementation Committee–a 15-person group consisting of residents and town officials, as well as one representative each from the business and environmental communities–developed a proposal to harness growth and focus it near Independence Mall and the soon-to-open rail station. The master plan was adopted by town meeting in 1998; the vote tally wasn’t recorded, but according to the minutes, the committee was “graciously thanked with a warm round of applause by the town body.”

The plan declared that “now is the time to seize the opportunity to upgrade and streamline the Town’s land use regulations to ensure that Kingston experiences the kind of growth its residents desire in the areas that they prefer.” Explains town planner Tom Bott, “The whole idea was to take the people who were going to move to Kingston and put them by the T instead of other parts of the town.”

Simultaneously, the committee proposed that open space–particularly the cranberry bogs that have characterized the town for generations–be preserved by a “transferable development rights” clause. Developers would be allowed to purchase bog owners’ rights to build on their land –and then transfer those rights to a pre-approved location near the commuter rail. Such an arrangement would provide much-needed cash to farmers, direct development to the appropriate part of town, and give developers the right to build.

This smart-growth planning process reached fruition in December 2001, a few years after the commuter-rail station opened, when the Master Plan Implementation Committee presented a proposal at town meeting to change the adjacent parcel’s zoning from commercial-industrial to mixed-use. Advocates said the plan, known as the Village at Kingston, would not only control sprawl but also bring $1.8 million in additional tax revenue to the town’s coffers.

“The whole purpose of the Village at Kingston was to create a village in the true New England sense of the word,” says Selectman Richard Cretinon, who backed the proposal. Up to 800 new units of housing could have been created, he says, all in the kind of homes-and-shops mixture that marks traditional town centers. “There’s a shop at the bottom [floor], someone living on top of it, a day care, a grocery store–its own village in the town of Kingston.”

But the enthusiasm for smart growth apparently did not extend to the citizenry of Kingston–or at least not deeply enough into it. All zoning changes in Kingston (and, by state law, any community with a town meeting form of government) require a two-thirds vote at town meeting. But despite the enthusiastic response to the committee’s work just three years earlier, the Village proposal couldn’t even muster a simple majority, failing by a 172-151 margin.

The CLF’s Heart wasn’t completely surprised. “A new development is always next to somebody,” he notes. “There’s always going to be that ‘Not In My Backyard’ element. Connecting transit and land use is terribly important, but it’s difficult simply because it’s not commonly done.”

Advocates of the Village redoubled their efforts, with mixed results. “We tried public education forums, but they weren’t very well attended,” says Ralph Calderaro, former chair of the Master Plan Implementation Committee and, by day, general counsel for the state’s Disabled Persons Protection Commission. “We attempted to convince political poobahs in town that it was a good idea,” he recalls, and even produced “a plain English version” of the bylaw.

When the Master Plan committee brought the proposal back to town meeting last October, the pro-Village forces managed a stunning reversal of the previous year’s vote, winning 182-147. But that tally was still far short of the two-thirds needed to approve the measure.

The opposition had been reduced to a minority, but a minority large enough to wield veto power. For those who worried about growth of any sort, it seemed, smart growth was no solution. “There was enormous resistance because people saw it as changing the character of the town rather than preserving the character of the town,” says Calderaro. “In my mind, it was voted down because of fear more than anything else.”

Tanous, who lives near the parcel in question on Copper Beach Road, might agree. He says he voted against the proposal because several questions hadn’t been answered. For instance, he wonders how the town would handle the increased traffic, plus the demands on the schools, water, and sewer systems that would come with an influx of new residents.

Bott, the town planner, says those questions are premature. He notes that any developers seeking to create the Village at Kingston would have to submit detailed plans to the town planning board, water board, and conservation commission, among others. “All those issues would have to be addressed before anything was approved,” says Bott. The measure before town meeting, he says, “wasn’t a proposal for development, it was a proposal for a zoning change.”

But Selectman Beaton, who spoke against the proposal at Town Meeting, is skeptical. “I’ve seen the planning board make some horrendous decisions recently,” he says. “Who knows what the planning board is going to let them have or not have?”

In any case, the Master Plan Implementation Committee has given up the fight. There are no plans to bring the Village at Kingston proposal up for another vote.

All sides in the Kingston controversy say they have the same goal: to control the housing boom that threatens to overtake the town. The question is, which way to control growth is really the smart one?

Opponents of the Village at Kingston, like Tanous, believe that the town’s current law, which sets a two-acre minimum lot size for new homes, is the best antidote to overdevelopment. In addition, Kingston caps the building of new houses at 70 per year. By Beaton’s calculations, it would take the town at least 31 years to use up the developable land in Kingston. (The town has already purchased a number of parcels to preserve as open space.) That’s a slower growth rate than would be allowed under the Village at Kingston plan–though the village scheme would preserve more open space, thanks to the transferable development rights.

Other critics say that smart growth is not so smart if Kingston does it by itself. Lorrie Hall of the Massachusetts Coalition for Immigration Reform, based in neighboring Duxbury, predicts that, because of population pressures on the increasingly popular South Shore, sprawl is inevitable–and that the Village at Kingston, potentially squeezing in more than 1,000 people, would make the problem worse. “The smart growth idea was rejected by Kingston voters because they know unless you stop growth all around the edges, which they hadn’t, any big development by the train station would just add to all the people on their roads, schools, and facilities,” she says.

Advocates of transit-oriented development say Hall is missing the point. The goal, they say, should be limiting dependency on cars that clog streets as people have to drive miles to the grocery store and then miles in the opposite direction to enjoy a meal out. Rather than concentrate development in compact areas, regulations such as Kingston’s two-acre minimum for new housing “use up land at an alarming rate,” says Leff of the Home Builders Association of Massachusetts. “In the guise of community character, they create neighborhoods that are very unattractive and not very welcoming.”

Without zoning changes, however, more such neighborhoods will be coming, especially as cranberry growers are inspired by rising land prices to cash in. “We’re seeing more and more bogs being sold for [residential] development in the town of Kingston,” says Bott. He speculates that the Sisters of Divine Providence, an order that owns 597 acres of land, may also want to sell. Much of the bog land and the Sisters’ property is already zoned for residential use.

Other means of constraining development are limited. Beaton notes that Kingston has a history of snapping up significant properties, such as the 277-acre Cranberry Watershed Preserve and the 80-acre Silver Lake Sanctuary, both of which were purchased in 1998. But, as Calderaro points out, “That’s going to get harder and harder. Right now, there’s significant constraints on our budget, especially in light of the state budget problem, and there’s only so much you can tax.”

In 2001, Kingston voters rejected the Community Preservation Act by a margin of 55 percent to 45 percent. The ballot question would have allowed town officials to impose up to a 3 percent surcharge on property taxes. The funds, matched by the state, could have been used, in part, to purchase open space.

Right now, anti-sprawl activists are concerned about what’s going to happen to the 140-acre parcel next to the train stop. The Village at Kingston could get another chance if a developer takes up the mantle and requests another town meeting vote. Even Tanous admits that his mind could be changed. “If somebody could come up with concrete answers” to questions about traffic and infrastructure, he says, “then maybe the people would be more interested.”

Others say it’s more likely that a different sort of development will use up the land first. “Let’s face it,” says Selectman Cretinon. “It’s adjacent to the T station. More than 100 acres of available property. Without the controls the Master Plan Implementation Committee tried to put on it, it could be a free-for-all.”

That could mean a new industrial development, bringing with it tax revenue and jobs. Or, as Cretinon believes is more likely, it could mean affordable housing proposed under the state’s Chapter 40-B regulation, which allows developers to supersede local zoning laws and build larger developments.

Beaton dismisses talk of Chapter 40-B as a “scare tactic,” and notes the uncertainty of the law’s fate under Gov. Mitt Romney. But if a 40-B development did come in, the impact could be enormous, says Cretinon. “There’s enough property there to require one new school, if not two.”

Leff says that the failure of the Village at Kingston is proof that the smart-growth idea hasn’t connected with voters. “They say they’re interested,” he laments, “and they talk about planning, but they don’t really want it.” So for now, despite majority support in town meeting, Kingston doesn’t have it. Says Bott: “The market is going to dictate what happens now.”

Dorie Clark is a freelance writer living in Somerville.

The public never forgets a governors first year

The public never forgets a governors first year

For a newly elected governor, the transition to office is a heady time, but it’s also politically perilous. Buoyed by victory at the polls and stocked up with advice from the worthies on the transition team, any new chief executive comes into the corner office assuming a popular mandate to implement his vision of government. Whether he gets to do so, however, depends on rallying the public and wooing (or bulldozing) the Legislature during his first few months in office. As he begins his tenure, Gov. Mitt Romney should take note of the triumphs and snafus of the last nine Massachusetts governors in their first few months, as they struggled to get their sea legs, both politically and administratively.

Romney should note the past triumphs and snafus.

Our inquiry starts with Foster Furcolo, who was elected to a two-year term as governor in 1956. He had previously served in Congress and as state treasurer. In the 1956 campaign, he promised to improve public services and introduce new programs in health, education, and welfare. But a few days after his victory, the liberal Democrat realized that he would face serious problems advancing his ambitious program. He discovered that the state budget would have to rise from $363 million in fiscal year 1957 to $387 million the following year just to maintain existing services. His plans for expansion would depend on additional tax revenue.

The battle that ensued was not so much over the need for additional taxes as over which ones. Furcolo pushed for a new sales tax, the first in the state’s history, but it was a tough sell in the Legislature. On the left, organized labor and Americans for Democratic Action criticized the sales tax as regressive and preferred a graduated income tax as more equitable. At the other end of the spectrum, the Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation and the business community favored the sales tax, but they wanted to divert most of it for local aid in order to provide relief from increasingly burdensome property taxes.

Much of the debate in the Legislature focused on how the sales tax would adversely impact the poor. So Furcolo gave up on liberal support and staked his hopes on GOP legislators. After all, his predecessor, Republican Gov. Christian Herter, had endorsed the idea of a sales tax. In an effort to win Republican support, Furcolo agreed to allow three-fourths of the new revenue to go for local aid, but that concession undercut his argument that the sales tax was needed to balance the state budget. This proved to be a crippling blow, all the more so since the deal won him few supporters in the GOP. The measure was soundly defeated in the House by a vote of 130-105.

BOSTON HERALD

John Volpe, left, put Democrats on the defensive, but Frank Sargent made friends among legislative leaders. Michael Dukakis came across as arrogant, and “can do” Gov. Edward
King bungled things from the start.

The governor did recover from the sales-tax fight. Furcolo was re-elected in 1958, and his administration was a success on a number of fronts, including creation of a state scholarship program, a network of two-year community colleges, new state psychiatric clinics, and a housing program for the elderly. But the early sales-tax defeat hurt his image as a problem-solver. As one Democratic critic put it, “Who does Furcolo think he is–that he can solve all the state’s problems?”

Before leaving office in January 1961, Furcolo was asked if his tax proposal had been a mistake. He replied, “I was fully aware of the political consequences. Before I sent it in, I had a meeting of 26 people at the University Club, members of my staff and others. Twenty-five were against it. They were thinking politically, because 20 of the 26 agreed that the state should have a sales tax. Was it a politically wise thing to do? All 26, including me, agreed that it was not.”

“Vote the man”

Furcolo was succeeded as governor by Republican John Volpe, who started out in life as a hod carrier during the Great Depression and eventually built his own construction business. In the 1960 campaign, the Republican appealed to an increasingly Democratic electorate with the slogan “Vote the Man.” Promising to end scandal in government, he told The Boston Globe, “The one issue in this campaign is corruption, corruption, and corruption, which I am not only fighting against but will eliminate.” Volpe also had to contend with a Legislature that was by now majority Democratic in both houses. Like Furcolo, Volpe struggled without success to enact an unpopular sales tax in his first term. But Volpe had other successes that helped him to rise above the sales-tax quagmire.

Volpe gained a reputation as a businessman’s governor for the simple reason that the most important source of his political power was the business community. He had the support of the powerful Boston Coordinating Committee (otherwise known as “the Vault”), which consisted of 20 members from the big banks and the big insurance companies. With this backing, Volpe put the scandal-weakened Democrats on the defensive. He used his clout in 1962 to curb the power of the Massachusetts Turnpike Authority. This legislation required an annual audit of the authority’s books by the state auditor.

But such victories did not protect Volpe from upset in 1962, when he was defeated in his bid for re-election by Democrat Endicott Peabody. A Yankee Brahmin, an All-America football player at Harvard, and a decorated navy war hero, Peabody was endorsed by President John F. Kennedy and Congressman Tip O’Neill served as his campaign manager. In the primary, Peabody solicited the support of the recently chastened chairman of the turnpike authority, William “Big Bill” Callahan, whose political clout made him “the Maharajah of the Macadam.” Not only did Callahan put the word out that he was with Peabody, but he also raised $50,000 for Peabody’s campaign.

That was a boost in the primary, but it landed him in trouble as soon as he took office, when Peabody found himself embroiled in a bitter fight for the House speakership. Michael Paul Feeney, a state representative from Boston, challenged Speaker John Thompson, who was known as the “Iron Duke”–a well-deserved nickname derived from his tight-fisted rule over the House. Seeing the power struggle as a litmus test distinguishing reformers from insiders, Peabody came out against Thompson, who was an ally of Callahan’s. Feeney failed in his bid to unseat Thompson despite the support of the new governor. As a result of this bruising battle, Thompson became an aroused enemy of Peabody. Both Thompson and Callahan held personal grudges, and Peabody soon found himself frozen out of the Democratic establishment. Peabody also naively pushed a bill calling for the abolishment of capital punishment despite public sentiment heightened by the Boston Strangler case.

Peabody’s position within his own party was so weakened that Lt. Gov. Frank Bellotti defeated him in the 1964 Democratic primary. But the indomitable John Volpe made a stunning comeback, beating Bellotti by 23,000 votes in the general election. Volpe got off to a better start the second time around, even getting a sales tax passed over the objection of Democratic Senate President Maurice Donahue. The Legislature had voted down the measure six times by then, but the seventh time, apparently, was the charm. In 1966, Volpe also secured passage of a landmark Comprehensive Mental Health and Retardation Act.

Volpe was re-elected that same year, when gubernatorial terms were extended from two to four years. Longer terms made things easier for incoming governors by giving them more time to work up to difficult decisions or to recover from early missteps. But as an incumbent, Volpe did not need the extra time, nor did he even complete his four-year term. At the end of 1968, he resigned in order to become secretary of transportation under President Richard Nixon.

Ascending from the lieutenant governor’s office in 1969, Republican Frank Sargent made a relatively smooth transition. Interested in social reform and environmental protection, he was not a businessman’s governor like his predecessor. From the start, the liberal Sargent got along well with Democratic legislative leaders, making friends among them even as he infuriated the conservative wing of his own party. Endowed with an engaging personality and a great sense of humor, Sargent had a unique ability to connect with people across ethnic, racial, class, and party lines. His intention from the outset was to make himself a highly visible governor, a symbol of energy and motion, and to take risks on a broad range of public issues.

Nowhere was that more true than in the issue that dominated his first year in office: highways. Sargent, who had previously served as commissioner of public works, found himself bombarded by protests from neighborhoods and environmentalists over the five interstate expressway projects, including the Inner Belt and Southwest Expressway, that were tearing up much of greater Boston. Though he acted cautiously at first, appointing a task force to review the road-building agenda, in early 1970 Sargent went on television to declare a moratorium on the expressway projects, reversing not only his predecessors but also himself.

“Nearly everyone was sure highways were the only answer to transportation problems for years to come,” Sargent told the viewing public. “But we were wrong.” With this one stroke, Sargent reset the transportation agenda for years to come, and also defined himself as a bold leader with liberal appeal, which served him well in the election that year that put him in office for a full four-year term.

No “leadpipe” guarantees

In contrast, the Democrat who dislodged Sargent in 1974, Michael Dukakis, quickly established himself in style and temperament in ways that did not work to his political benefit. A policy wonk and “good government” reformer who had represented the town of Brookline in the Legislature, Dukakis shunned the trappings of office, riding to work every day on the MBTA Green Line and disdaining the politics of patronage and plunder. But to Democratic Party regulars, Dukakis came across as arrogant, aloof, and self-righteous. This cost him valuable allies when it turned out that Sargent had left him a large budget deficit, compounded by inflation that was fueled by a national energy crisis. Stubbornly clinging to his campaign “leadpipe guarantee” of no new taxes, Dukakis made deep cuts in welfare and social services, for which liberal Democrats did not forgive him when he ran for re-election in 1978.

This desertion left Dukakis vulnerable within his own party. Former Massport director Edward King, a conservative who wooed Democrats alienated by Dukakis’s suburban reformism, defeated him in the 1978 primary and went on to general election victory as a pro-business, pro-growth, and anti-tax candidate. His self-proclaimed image as a “can do” governor, however, was not enough to keep King from bungling things right from the start. The Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination accused the new governor of “purging” women and minorities from state government. Later, the House Post Audit and Oversight Committee called him to task for buying takeout lunches for his staff at a cost of $1,200 per day. Several high-level appointees admitted they had padded their resumes with falsified college degrees, while many lower-level appointments had gone to cousins, nephews, in-laws and the children of friends. Barry Locke, his secretary of transportation, was convicted of conspiracy to commit bribery and larceny and sent to prison.

Catering primarily to banking and industrial interests, King antagonized fellow Democrats and wrote off any possible support from environmentalists, consumer advocates, women’s groups, planned parenthood proponents, public service employee unions, welfare advocates, and a host of other constituencies that he tended to see as adversaries. As a New York Times reporter wrote, “In the year since his overwhelming election victory, Gov. Edward J. King of Massachusetts has managed to incur the enmity of every important local political figure, arouse the anger of most constituent groups and achieve an approval rating in the polls of just around 30 percent.” No modern chief executive has gotten off to a worse start, and things barely improved over the course of his one term in office.

After a hiatus of four years, which he spent teaching at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, Dukakis took the Democratic nomination back from King in the 1982 primary and recaptured the governorship. He got off to a better start the second time around, making peace with liberal Democrats who were sadder and wiser after the King experience. (Rep. Philip Johnston, who had railed against the Dukakis budget cuts from the floor of the House, joined the second Dukakis administration as secretary of human services.) Also, in contrast to his first term, when he seemed to serve as his own chief policy maker, Dukakis recruited “idea people” like Charles Atkins, Manuel Carballo, Thomas Glynn, Frank Keefe, Evelyn Murphy, Fred Salvucci, and John Sasso into his administration. Finally, Dukakis adopted a new modus operandi, reaching out to people for their advice and trying to build consensus proposals through an endless series of commissions and task forces. It was a leadership style that served him well through most of two terms, until a disappointing presidential bid in 1988, followed by the collapse of his cherished “Massachusetts Miracle”–and state revenues with it–turned him into an object of scorn.

Dukakis was succeeded by Republican William Weld, a transplanted New Yorker who breezed in and breezed out of Bay State politics. In 1990, he campaigned as an outsider, extolling the virtues of free enterprise and the workings of the marketplace. Despite an economic recession and declining state revenues, Weld pledged not to raise taxes and insisted on trimming spending to match available revenues. But he also preached a social-libertarian mantra that increased the GOP vote among women, pro-choice advocates, gays, minorities, and independents.

The “throw-the-bums-out” climate that prevailed after back-to-back tax hikes swept Weld to victory, along with enough GOP lawmakers to capture a veto-sustaining bloc of 16 seats in the state Senate. This was enough to give Weld surprising political leverage as he entered office. In addition, Weld recruited talented people to serve in or advise his administration, including Charles Baker, Eric Kriss, Gloria Larson, Peter Nessen, Kathy O’Toole, and Michael Porter. Weld got his first budget through the Legislature, inflicting cuts that bleeding-heart Democrats were loathe to accept but unable to stop. He won repeal of a recently enacted sales tax on services within a few weeks of taking office.

Running out of steam

Weld had his greatest success in those first few years in office. After that, he seemed to lose steam–and definitely lost leverage over the Legislature after the 1992 election, when the ranks of GOP state senators fell below the one-third necessary to thwart veto overrides. Weld had little trouble getting re-elected in 1994, but he resigned in 1996 to pursue nomination as ambassador to Mexico (a nomination that was killed in the US Senate).

Weld was succeeded by Lt. Gov. Paul Cellucci, who was as rightful an heir to the gubernatorial throne as anyone who has obtained it in that fashion. Weld and Cellucci had run as a slate as early as the 1990 Republican primary campaign–a novelty that has become a tradition in the GOP, and last fall spread to the Democrats as well–and Weld often referred to Cellucci as his “co-governor.” But Cellucci proved to be as much heir to the administration’s dissipating energies as to its political legacy. After winning the office in his own right in 1998, Cellucci made a show of assembling a “transition team” and making a fresh start. But the agenda he came up with was nothing beyond the one he had shared with Weld. All that seemed left to pursue was further tax cuts, and the only way to pursue them was by going around the veto-proof Legislature. The result was 2000’s Question 4, a ballot initiative that ordered a rollback of the state income tax to 5 percent.

Cellucci himself gave up the office before seeing that tax cut stopped in its tracks last summer, halted mid-phase-in because of the current budget crisis. Named US ambassador to Canada by President Bush in 2001, Cellucci turned the keys to the corner office over to his own hand-picked 1998 running mate, Lt. Gov. Jane Swift. This transition was awkward, to say the least. Swift was still recovering from several political missteps, such as asking state employees to baby-sit her children and using a state helicopter for private use, and she was pregnant with twins. In hopes of putting her own mark on the office, Swift launched a work force development initiative to boost adult education and job training, filed sentencing-reform legislation that included post-release supervision of criminal offenders, and announced tough new environmental standards. But she also quickly found herself embroiled in an ugly power struggle with board members of the Massachusetts Turnpike Authority over toll hikes scheduled to cover the cost of the Big Dig. By the time deteriorating economic conditions threw the state’s budget out of balance, putting Swift in even hotter water, Republican activists had begun their move to draft a white knight–Winter Olympics savior Mitt Romney–to hold onto the executive branch. Now Romney himself will try his hand at getting an administration off on the right foot.

It won’t be easy. Like Furcolo in 1957, Dukakis in 1975, and Weld in 1991, Romney faces a daunting budget deficit. Romney doesn’t seem inclined to shoot himself in the foot the way Furcolo did, by going to bat for additional tax revenue. But whether his vow of no new taxes will allow him to impose his will on a back-on-its-heels Legislature, like Weld, or infuriate everybody, like the first-term Dukakis, remains to be seen. Much will depend on his ability to attract talented people to work in his administration–as did Dukakis in his second term, and Weld in his first–and to set forth a compelling and courageous agenda that rides on the force of his own personality (Sargent, Weld), establish a framework for political consensus-building and accommodation (Dukakis II), or take his case to the people (Cellucci with his tax question). Failure to take at least one of these tacks will leave Romney isolated from the political class and the public both, like Peabody or King–and likely to suffer their one-term political fate.

Still, perhaps the best advice for Gov. Romney can be found in a realization Frank Sargent came to after a visit from Foster Furcolo just before Sargent became governor in 1969. Furcolo regaled Sargent with tales of his missteps and miscues as governor. “He was hilariously funny telling some of these stories on himself,” Sargent later recalled. “He and I both believe that you should take your job seriously, but not yourself.”

Contributing writer Richard A. Hogarty is emeritus professor of political science at the University of Massachusetts-Boston and the author of Massachusetts Politics and Public Policy.

Household tax burden

How much of a burden are taxes in Massachusetts compared with other states? It all depends on how you make the comparison. In one common measure–total tax burden (state and local tax revenue) per capita–the Bay state ranks near the top 94th in the nation in fiscal year 1999). But that ordering ignores differences in affluence. Some other rankings (see below, Table 1) judge tax burden against total personal income, which places Massachusetts below the middle. What this fails to take into accounct, however, is that income is spread unevenly among households, and more so in Massachusetts than in most states. So, in the other table below (Table 2) , we have ranked average tax burden as a percentage of median household income. The Bay State still comes in below the US average, but just barely–and in the top half of the pack.

Table 1

Rank State Total Tax Revenue As % of Total Personal Income, FY99
1. New York 13.8
2. Maine 13.6
3. Wisconsin 12.4
4. Hawaii 12.2
5. Minnesota 12.0
5. New Mexico 12.0
7. Vermont 11.9
8. Connecticut 11.8
9. West Virginia 11.5
10. North Dakota 11.4
10. Utah 11.4
12. Rhode Island 11.3
13. New Jersey 11.2
14. Wyoming 11.1
15. Arkansas 11.0
15. California 11.0
15. Delaware 11.0
15. Idaho 11.0
19. Kentucky 10.9
19. Michigan 10.9
19. Mississippi 10.9
22. Ohio 10.8
22. Washington 10.8
24. Louisiana 10.7
24. Montana 10.7
26. Iowa 10.6
26. Kansas 10.6
28. Massachusetts 10.5
28. Arizona 10.5
28. Nebraska 10.5
28. Pennsylvania 10.5
32. Georgia 10.4
33. Illinois 10.3
33. North Carolina 10.3
33. Oklahoma 10.3
36. Indiana 10.2
36. Maryland 10.2
36. South Carolina 10.2
39. Alaska 10.1
40. Colorado 9.9
40. Missouri 9.9
42. Florida 9.8
42. Nevada 9.8
42. Oregon 9.8
42. Virginia 9.8
46. South Dakota 9.3
46. Texas 9.3
48. Alabama 8.8
49. New Hampshire 8.6
49. Tennessee 8.6
US average 10.8

 

Table 2

Rank State Average Household Tax Burden as % of Median Household Income, FY99
1. New York 26.8
2. Connecticut 21.2
3. Maine 21.1
4. Hawaii 19.5
4. Louisiana 19.5
4. West Virginia 19.5
7. New Mexico 19.3
8. California 19.2
8. Minnesota 19.2
10. Wisconsin 19.1
11. New Jersey 18.7
11. North Dakota 18.7
13. Rhode Island 18.6
14. Mississippi 18.5
14. Wyoming 18.5
16. Pennsylvania 18.4
17. Kentucky 18.2
18. Vermont 18.1
19. Massachusetts 18.0
20. Illinois 17.7
20. Michigan 17.7
20. Nebraska 17.7
20. Ohio 17.7
24. Delaware 17.5
25. Washington 17.4
26. Kansas 17.3
26. Oklahoma 17.3
28. Idaho 17.2
28. Montana 17.2
30. Utah 17.0
31. Iowa 16.9
32. Arkansas 16.8
32. Georgia 16.8
32. Missouri 16.8
35. Texas 16.7
36. North Carolina 16.5
37. Florida 16.3
38. South Dakota 16.1
39. Indiana 16.0
40. Arizona 15.9
40. South Carolina 15.9
42. Maryland 15.8
42. Nevada 15.8
44. Oregon 15.6
45. Colorado 15.5
45. Virginia 15.5
47. Alaska 15.4
48. Alabama 14.8
49. Tennessee 14.5
50. New Hampshire 13.2
US average 18.4

Sources: Table 1: Measuring Up: Taxes and Spending in Massachusetts, Massachusetts Budget and Policy Center, April 2002. Table 2: US Census Bureau, CommonWealth calculations.