Monday, January 14, 2013

Gov. Deval Patrick Set to Curb Public Employee Retirement and Health Benefits and “Double Dipping” – Unions Quietly Balk – As Goes Massachusetts – so goes the Nation.

Pictured: Deval Patrick, Barack Obama (background), David Axelrod (mentor, campaign manager and adviser to both). From Black and, article: the Last Black President

Governor Deval Patrick has set what some have noted as a very ambitious agenda in his, self-stated, final term as governor of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. In fact, if one looks at the majority of the proposed changes to the way the State runs, one would think Patrick was more of a Republican than a Progressive, especially when dealing with Public Employee Unions. If Patrick were to announce next that the State would be become “right-to-work” it would not be surprising, considering the focus on public employees.

The first step came last year, when Governor Deval Patrick, approached by two dozen municipalities, including Amherst, MA regarding the growing problem with municipal funded unemployment benefits, called for a study which was a real eye-opener. . The Springfield Republican headlined this past week: “Deval Patrick plan looks to stop municipal unemployment insurance abuse in Massachusetts” which will stop the practice of those employees “double-dipping”, or receiving retirement pensions, working several months, then collecting unemployment. Those who are collecting benefits, including teachers, safety workers, election officials and school bus drivers, have done so within the current letter of the law. Yet the cost is, to say the least, in the millions each year, and has becoming increasingly burdensome to those towns and cities, where keeping a taxpayer is growing increasingly more difficult. Massachusetts is not the hot destination for those seeking employment, etc. to relocate, in fact just the opposite as Massachusetts loss in population cost a Congressional Seat as a result of the 2010 census, and most likely will stand to lose another within the next 10 years. Therefore, to keep the ship afloat, there has to be cuts in government spending.

Patrick decided to start with the Municipal Employees, where, as proven in bankrupt states and cities (See California) elsewhere in the U.S. are largest expense of a state, municipalities, other than, in Massachusetts, the entitlement programs.

Next on the agenda The Springfield Republican headlines: “Gov. Deval Patrick unveils plan to overhaul Massachusetts retiree health insurance for government employees” , whereby the Governor plans to change the retirement age, upward, increase the “time-worked” in order to be eligible for benefits from 10 to 20 years, and also includes the notion that public employees pay for part of their insurance benefits. The towns and municipalities insist this does not go far enough, as they are spending a rather large percentage of their budget on the current system. According to the Republican article, the state and municipalities now face a 46 Billion bill due on unfunded retiree benefits. The unions are not particularly pleased: WWLP (Local NBC Affiliate), suggests that the Nurses Unions is “upset” that the Governor is forcing municipal workers to pay more for their health insurance(and making them work an extra 10 years to be eligible for benefits, and so on.).

Unlike Republican Governors in other states where measures to curb Union excesses have resulted in massive demonstrations, none are taking place in Massachusetts. On the contrary, it is quiet on the Western Front.

It’s possible that there may be a kick back of sorts for the Teamsters (employees of the Mass Turnpike system) in the Governor’s plan, that will be announced today, to Overhaul the Public Transportation Financing(Boston Herald). Then again, perhaps not, given the fact that Patrick has crossed the line in public retiree benefits. Those who are heavily vested in Public Transportation in Western Mass, are hoping for “investments” from the State when the plans are released, and ways to pay for those investments, including higher gasoline taxes, and possibly a raise in the stales sales tax. (The sales tax was increased within the last two years, sending scores of residents to New Hampshire to shop). That said, it was noted in the Republican (Mass Live) article that those asking for increases in state funding, “are aware of the distaste for Government spending”. Apparently that distaste is also present in Massachusetts.

Further, Patrick is ready to consolidate and eliminate state agencies to cut costs! As noted in Metro-West’s editorial, “And that’s just the first week”.

Those reading these articles and following the Commonwealth’s Governor, may feel they woke up in Texas, or at the last Wisconsin following the series of suggested “reforms”. Some commenting on the articles suggest that perhaps Deval Patrick plans a run for the Presidency in 2016, perhaps, but more likely perhaps not. It may be that, as in the past, Massachusetts is used as “testing ground” for national programs and campaigns (from “Yes we can” (2006 Deval Patrick Campaign for Governor and the Massachusetts Health care Plan – now known as “Obama-care – to name two that might ring a bell). Therefore, it is not a stretch of the imagination to suggest that perhaps, just perhaps, there may be an overhaul of the Federal system, and or other states with huge state and municipal employee dept, should Patrick quietly succeed with little or no pushback from the unions. There is also little found on these "reforms" broadcast outside of the Commonwealth.

For now, suffice it to say, the Governor, who a year before he was up for his last re-election, went on a “taxing spree”, raising 19 different taxes, the Head of a State where corruption is rampant and double dipping is the least of the problems, suddenly sounds like a Tea-Party fiscal conservative. Or perhaps it’s just a dose of reality mixed with the fact that legacy’s are used to promote larger price tags on speaking engagements (ok, cynical). Regardless, if public employee unions across the nation are thinking it’s going to be smooth sailing from now to eternity in those bankrupt states and the federal government, they may want to think again, if history repeats itself, as it is so often prone to do.

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