Leave Prop 21/2 alone

From all I hear, Jay Ash is an excellent city manager, and we appreciate his kind words about Proposition 2½ and his concern for its continued viability. I hope he will appreciate the response here of the organization that created it, which I think reflects the opinion of the voters who voted for it in 1980 and the even larger number who would vote for it today: Leave Prop 2½ alone!

Jay (“Tax cap courts tra­g­edy,” Spring ’10) complains that “inflation has outpaced the 2.5 percent property tax allowance,” which is accurate but meaningless considering that the 2.5 percent allowance has been increased by new growth. New growth state­wide has more than doubled the allowance, easily keeping pace for most of the past 30 years with inflation. The community also gets fees and local aid to spend. If it wants more, it can ask voters for an override. If they are presently uninterested, it’s because many of them are in revolt against government excess.

The ballot question couldn’t tell mayors, city managers, and selectmen not to give in to the public employee unions. When all that local aid was available, much of it went to creating “fixed costs” that are now becoming unaffordable. There’s a big problem with spending and unfunded liabilities, but there’s nothing wrong with Massachusetts that higher property taxes would fix.

Barbara Anderson
Executive Director, Citizens for Limited Taxation

Nursing homes aren’t movies

Evaluating a nursing home for a parent or grandparent isn’t as easy as choosing where to eat or what movie to see.  While the federal government’s Nursing Home Compare website is a tool that consumers can use to get basic information on health inspection results, staffing, and whether the facility meets certain quality standards, it is no substitute for visiting a facility and talking with residents, families, and staff.

Unfortunately, in your recent article about nursing homes (“Mis­diag­no­sis,” Spring ’10), it doesn’t appear that your reporter ever left her computer screen to visit any Massachu­setts nursing homes.  If she had, she might not have taken such a negative view of the state’s 430 nursing facilities or suggested that the only reason that they score so highly on the federal web­site is because of some kind of  “grade inflation.” Couldn’t it simply be that Massachusetts nursing homes have higher staffing levels and better quality-of-care scores compared to other states, as noted by the state’s chief nursing home regulator?

Consider the following: In a new independent survey of 20,000 family members conducted by Market Deci­sions and the Rutgers University Institute for Health, Health Care Policy and Aging Research, nine out of 10 family members said they would recommend their loved one’s nursing home to others. The primary reasons families cited were nursing facility staff and the physical environment of the nursing home.

Or consider this: More than 85 percent of nursing home residents are now referred directly by hospitals. Because of the care they receive in nursing homes, more than half are able to return to their own homes within a month.

The remarkable thing is that nursing homes are able to achieve these results despite the lack of adequate financing. Today, nearly 7 in 10 of the state’s 45,000 nursing home residents rely on the state Medicaid program to pay for their care. Medicaid funding for nursing home care has not in­creased in the past two years, and payments are now well below the actual cost of care.

The nursing home community continues to strive to provide high quality, compassionate care, but it needs the support of its largest payer—the state. Without that support, we won’t need to look at a federal website to figure out if nursing home care is good or not. We’ll see the effects all around us.?

Abraham E. Morse
President, Massachusetts Senior Care Association?
Newton Lower Falls

Gambling article evenhanded

I commend CommonWealth for the evenhanded article by Alison Lobron describing the inconclusive effect of casinos on Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, after one year (“Ka-ching!” Spring ’10). We need more reports like hers.

I am an opponent of increasing the availability of gambling in Massa­chusetts because I believe the long-term costs (increases in addictions of all kinds, crime, suicides, recidivism, bankruptcy, and domestic violence) will eventually outweigh the short-term benefits (jobs).

I acknowledge opponents tend to maximize costs and minimize benefits. Proponents do the opposite. That’s why we need an independent cost-benefit analysis, which is supported?by Gov. Deval Patrick but not?supported by House Speaker Robert DeLeo.?DeLeo did not even bother to have public hearings. A market study of potential jobs, provided by the speaker,?is a benefit analysis, not a cost-benefit analysis.

Tom Larkin

Gambling article not up to standards

As a reader of CommonWealth magazine since its inception, I found the Spring cover story on the Bethlehem, Penn­syl­vania, casino well beneath its usual standard.

Historically, CommonWealth has been an important source of information for opinion leaders and concerned citizens across the state, and its writers are among the best. It built its reputation on well-researched, data-driven journalism, yet its recent casino piece, timed to release on the eve of the House debate to maximize its reach, represents the total opposite of that tradition. In eyebrow-raising fashion, it based much of its analysis on just a handful of in­terviews, three of which were major boosters of the Bethlehem casino project from the outset.

A typical CommonWealth investigation would have in­cluded a stop at the widely advertised Pennsylvania Gam­ing Congress held in February, where the state’s casino operators like Parx Casino President Dave Jonas candidly spoke about how their business really operates. Jonas said his revenue comes almost exclusively from local low rollers “who give us $30 five times a week,” 150 to 200 times a year, and tend to live within 20 miles of the casino. He said it didn’t take much to lure them, beyond proximity, free valet parking, and $50 comps. “If you live 15 minutes away, you really don’t need a room,” Jonas said. “They come in, grab a hot dog or maybe a chicken sandwich, gamble three hours, then go home and sleep in their own bed.” This reality best explains why Sands Bethlehem opened its casino and did not build the hotel it promised during the approval process.

Typical CommonWealth coverage would have referenced the Lehigh Val­ley Research Consortium survey re­leased in March that showed a whopping 48 percent of those below the poverty line in the Bethlehem area said they intended to frequent the casino compared with 20 percent of those making more than $100,000.

Typical CommonWealth coverage would have looked at the research findings of Natasha Schull, associate professor in MIT’s Program in Science, Technology, and Society, who has prom­inently testified that the electronic gambling machines at Sands Bethlehem and elsewhere are designed to get every user “to play to extinction’’ —until all their money is gone—by using technology that has been labeled a “high-tech version of loaded dice.’’ While CommonWealth used a picture of a slot machine on the magazine’s cover, it included not one reference to the design and technology behind the machines within the story.

Typical CommonWealth coverage would have pointed out the Lehigh Valley Express-Times report in late Feb­ruary that Las Vegas Sands wants to sell its Bethlehem slots parlor because the company is disappointed in the facility’s financial returns.
There are many people across Massa­chusetts who talk about casinos yet know virtually nothing about the casino business model, its “products and services,” and why it is the most predatory business in America today. Regret­fully, after reading Common­Wealth’s most recent story, that still remains true.

Les Bernal
Executive Director,
Stop Predatory Gambling

Bad judgment at archives

Thank you for taking on the Massa­chu­setts Archives’ poor treatment of the state’s valuable documents (“Hid­den Treasure,” Spring ’10). When the new “fortress” was built at Columbia Point, those in charge showed bad judgment in not allocating funds for proper, safe displays. Their overreaction to the 1984 burglary of the Bay Colony’s Charter—an inexcusable loss—was simply to put everything in vaults.

Not only does the state of Massa­chusetts own a full set of Audubon’s The Birds of America, but also the original watercolors for the three-volume (93 plates) Birds of Massa­chusetts by Edward Howe Forbush. In the early 1980s, as staff for Sen. Chester Atkins, then-chairman of the Senate Ways and Means Committee, I talked the curator into putting the Forbush watercolors on exhibit, launching the show with the customary white wine and brie. They have probably never been seen since.

The author’s interviews with other states’ curators make it clear that more than money is needed to get the Massa­­chu­setts Archives staff to allow the public to see the wealth of materials in our state’s possession.

Deborah Stark Ecker