1 Baker budget 2016

^ Governor Baker : working hard not to disappoint — which is the first step in any smart reform

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Already the laundry lists are being presented to Goveror Baker : und this — no, fund that; allow this — no, prevent that. The MBTA, the 2024 Olympics, DCF, local aid, funds for early education, tackling opioid addiction….

There’s impatience in the air now, words of frustration. Reasons are being advanced why this initiative shouldn’t happen or why that one should happen NOW if not sooner.To all of these the Governor has so far responded as he should : first we must solve the budget imbalance.

Not everybody accepts that. Advocates seek new funding for the MBTA, even before the Governor’s MBTA panel comes back with its reform recommendations. Homelessness, child care, Gateway Cities initiatives all await immediate action by “Mr. Fix It.” (NOTE: on the Gateway Cities front, Baker scored a huge victory this week by way of Amazon committing to building a huge facility in Fall River, one that will create at least 500 full time jobs in a region that sorely needs them.)

To all the advocates now pressinng their cases for more money i have one word ; patience. We can’t set the State’s budget right in just a few months. Baker was left with a $ 768 million budget deficit for last year and faces a $ 1.8 billion minus this year as well. (NOTE : the legislature has moved swiftly to make these deficits good. I congratulate the members.) As Massachusetts doesn’t mint its own money, it can’t operate in the red; and funds allocated that later have to be drawn back — as happened as a matter of course in the prior Governor’s time — is no way to run a responsible state administration either. Baker has moved resolutely to place the upcoming budget year’s revenue in reality mode — gto estimate the state’s intake conservatively, so that if there are any surprises, they’ll be good news, not bad. This is exactly the right decision.

Baker’s skeptical udget plannning means that many needy initiatives will have to wait. But their wait will be rewarded. Even in the 2016 fiscal budget, Baker has increased allocations to the MBTA, to chapter 70 state education aid, and to the local aid fund. These are only the beginning. Once Baker’s team has a handle on this year’s revenues it can begin to make increase of funds decisions that won’t have to be taken back. These will almost certaily be featured in NEXT year’s state budget.

It may seem harsh to ask child care advocates, MBTA reformers, workplace and education initiatives, and supporters of the 2024 Olympics wait for state action, but better the pain of patience than the pleasantries of hurry that lead to cancellations or excuses. We want the Baker reforms to take hold and stick, not to veer off. Meanwhile, the recommendations will come, in formal messages, and discussions will continue, as advocates tweak their requests to the state’s economy delivering its reveue facts. Let the process go forward, step by step. We’ll all be better off for it.

One Baker initiative seems ready to hit the streets right away : cancelling the State’s Film Tax Credit and replacing it with an expansion of the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) for low-income working families. It’s a instant “up” for many hard working Massachusetts people who need an “up” or two in their difficult economic lives.

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere


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On March 31st voters of Shrewsbury and two precincts of Westborough will elct a new State4 Representative, a successor to Matt Beaton, who was named our State’s Energy Secretary by new Governor Charlie Baker.

Two candidates are running : Jason Palitsch, a member of the Shrewsbury School Committee, and Hannah Elizabeth Kane, who is Beaton’s partner in their environmentally oriented construction firm and a member of Shrewsbury’s Finance committee. We endorse Kane’s candidacy.

I have watched the 11th Worcester campaign closely since January, on social media and in person. I attended the League of Women Voters’ candidates’ debate of March 16th and tweeted it live. I have followed both candidates since then as well. My personal choice has been Kane from the first night that I heard her speak, two months ago; but I now write this formal endorsement because what i have seen of the two candidates requires it.

Kane takes a flexib;e, practical approach to policy questions. She supports charter school reform but also works to improve her district’s standard public schools. She agrees with Governor baker that there should not be new taxes in the coming fiscal year, but as a member of Shrewsury’s Finance Committee supported a (successful) Proposition 2 1/2 override. Ending homelessness is a priority for her, as is assuring that Shrewsbury and Westborough receive every dollar of local aid accorded them in budget legislation. Kane also supports women’s health care rights and marriage equality.

Kane’s opponent, Jason Palitsch, has run an energetic campaign, door to door with numerous meet and greet events that captured the attention of many, myself included. He articulated issues, sometimes boldly even when not to his advantage : opposing charter school expansion, as he declared at the LWV debate, certainly seems risky in a district as suburban as the 11th Worcester. Palitsch also demonstrates mastery of school administration issues and state mandates. He’s not afraid to articulate his knowledge. Doubtless he would be somewhat challenging for Speaker Robert DeLeo to blend into his caucus, and definitely the 11th Worcester — not a Democratic district since the 1980s — expects its state house voice to be a challenger.

It took Kane quite awhile to find her campaign stride. Palitsch had the momentum and the intensity. But then, about a week before the LWV debate, Kane revamped her social media presentation, posting one after another lengthy, issues and achievement endorsements by well known Shrewsbury and Westborough leaders accompanied by their picture. Then came the LWV debate, at which Kane answered questions in a voice as knowledgeable as mellow.

Kane’s candidacy has boomed ever since that debate. Governor Baker has joined her for door-knocking. I take this as indication that Kane fully supports Baker’s agenda, as do we. that’s reason enough for us to endorse her election on March 31st, a week from today.

—– Mike Freedberg / here and Sphere


1 netanyahu wins1 aymen odeh

^ PM Netanyahu, a Jewish version of Turkey’s PM Erdogan now; Aymen Odeh, leader of the Israeli Arab Joint List party, with 14 seats in the Knesset

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We’ve taken a few days before opining on Israel’s election because we did not want to write while passions remained high. however, enough time has now elapsed for us to say it : this was a fateful election for a nation that has scant room for tempting fates.

By re-electing Benjamin Netanyahu as Prime minister, given the campaign that he mounted, a plurality — not a majority — of Israeli voters has chosen tribalism as its mission. To the Netanyahu plurality — about 24 percent of the vote — he will now add sufficient Knesset seats to give himself a government based almost entirely on the primciple that non-Jews are to be treated as enemies, as a matter of governing policy. This is a tragic development.

That Netanyahu now rejects a two-state solution for Israel and its West Bank neighbors is sad ennough. Yet given the reality on the ground, a two-state solution already seemed out of reach. Recognizing that fact should never mean that the Homeland’s non-Jews must be cast out, or subject forever to occupation. There lies disaster.

Netanyahu did not stop there. He also demonized Israel’s own Arab citizens, who total about 20 percent of the nation and whose political party, the Joint List, is now the Knesset’s third largest.

I see little difference between how Netanyahu now addresses his nation’s Arab citizens and how Turkey’s Prime Minister Erdogan treats that country’s Kurds. Both men see their minority peoples as enemies of the state. This is Middle Eastern tribalism at its zero-sum ugliest.

It is that tribalism which I find so repugnant in the Netanyahu message. Israel began life as a European democracy, secular and inclusive, Jewish but with rights for all. This was the vision that gave israel great legitimacy even as the Shoah gave Israel its moral imperative. For a long time now, however, Israel has been moving away from that vision. Constant wars and violence directed against it, by the vast enemies that encircle it, have worn down Israeli citizens’ confidence and optimism. Today eough Jews live embattled in fear to have moved from embracing freedoms to circling the wagons. It’s a password mentality, a fortress life.

But as Napoleon so sagely noted, “it is an axiom of the art of war that the side that stays within its fortiications is beaten.” Israel may wield the high card in the game of weaponry that holds the Middle East in thrall, but it also once held the high card in the moral struggle that engages the whole world. No more is that so.

Israel needs to ensure full rights and paticipation to its own Arab citizens, embrace their aspirations and prospects, and demonstrate to the Palestinians who border it that they have a future as part of, or allied with, an inclusive Israel. It can be done. Few Palestinains other than their often cowardly or corrupt leadership want to live in strife. Almost no Arab citizen of israel wants strife either.

Embracing its Arab citizens fully, all in, would defend Israel more effectively than sixteen decades of tribal exclusion can ever do.

Granted, that in today’s Middle East the only practical alternative to tribal exclusion is brutal dictatorship. Saddam Hussein lorded equally over Turkmen, Kurds, Assyriuans, Mandeans, Shiites and Sunni Arabs. The military ruler of Egypt today has extended protection to his country’s ten million Coptic Christians — effective because of his iron rule. Israel is not that kind of tyranny, nor is it likely ever to be one. Thus the descent into tribalism.

This tribalism can work only so long as Israel can crush its enemies in war — and war there certainly will be, again and again. Another way of saying the same thing is that Israel tribalism can work only as long as the people being excluded remain powerless. In the Middle east, that too is all too common a way of life : the strong lord it, the weak get crushed.

Netanyahu’s tribal nation will probably be able to lord it for quite a while. It is nonetheless the way of disaster, because Israel is too small, and too outnumbered, to survive every one of its enemies forever. The rivalries ongoing between its many enemies certainly gives Israel much space and time; but friends also matter, and who are israel’s friends in the region other than the brave — and currently much more inclusive — Kurds ?

Netanyahu’s tribe — i hate to call israel’s Jews that — can also rely on strong ties with neighboring Jordan and the tacit support of authoritarian Egypt. As long as these two nations (and even more powerful Saudi Arabia) are, along with the Kurds, threatened by the same brutal forces — ISIS and Iranian proxies — israel can prosper by the principle of “the enemy of my enemy is my friend.” Yet all of this is a wartime calculation, made by a man who has committed his nation to a pemanent war footing, with all of its fear, suspicion, exclusion, and bitter endings.

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere


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^ opposition to school closures and funding allocations, but not one word on how to pay for any of it

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In a handout given to attendees at last night’s Schools Budget Hearing, one read, among other words, the following three sentences :

“Despite a healthy 4.0 % increase in the Genera,l Fund appropriation, the FY 16 structural imbalance was $34M.”

“What contributes to this structural imbalance ?”

“A compensation system where the cost of salaries and benefits for employees exceeds any expectations of revenue growth.”

Keep these sentences sharply in mind as you read the rest of my report on last night’s meeting, the final one before the Boston School Committee votes the proposed Budget on Tuesday.

There is more in that same handout, titled “FY16 Budget Recommendation Update.” In it we are informed, for example, that Boston’s public school transportation system is “the most costly in the nation,” that “we spend $ 100 million, or 10% of our entire budget on transportation.” We also find out that the cost of merely maintaining the same school services as exist in this budget year would go up by $ 58,000,000 in FY 2016, were no changes made. That $ 58 million more than wipes out the entire $ 38.5 million increase granted by Mayor Walsh to Boston’s public school system — a grant far larger than walsh has given to any other City department.

Keep these things in mind, too, as you read my report.

The Budget hearing at English high school was well attended. At meeting’s beginning the auditorium was full — probably 300 people. Maybe 50 of these testified in the “public comment” portion of the School Committee hearing. Before they spoke, Superintedent McDonough delivered his personal memorandum, copies of which were also handed out. In it he addressed, again, all the Budget shortfall responses that he proposed when the FY 2016 Budget process began : staff reductions, school closures, expanding the use of MBTA transportation, changes in funds allocated to individual schools, and reforms to the school lunch program.

No one testified in opposition to central office staff reductions — which are severe : 134 positions are being eliminated, every administrative segment being affected. $ 16,600,000 will be saved via these layoffs.

It isn’t enough to close the $ 34 million “structural imablance” (in other words, deficit), and so the Budget also proposes a $ 9.5 million reduction in transportation costs, a $ 4 million slash to school lunch services, and school closures providing a $ 2.5 million saving.

To these reductions there was plenty of opposition, much of it passionate, a lot of it spoken by current students, many of whom read prepared statements. There was similar opposition to reallocations of school funds by students (and some staff) of schools losing funding, especially Madison Park High School, which Mayor Walsh in his 2013 campiagn assured would become the locus of a state of the art vocational high school. Evidently that vision has been deferred to needs deemed more pressing. Which is where that sentence I quoted up top, about the upward pressure of salaries and benefits, comes in.

It was difficult not to conclude that the testimony given at last night’s hearing was — most of it — directed by the Boston Teachers’ Union (BTU), whose operatives were seen in the foyer outside the hearing room. Blame for the cuts and closures was laid to charter schools and “outside operators” — the BTU wants both of them gone. No testimony at all was said about the upward pressure of salaries, and the only witness reference made to the “co-teacher” situation (in which teachers not hired by any Boston public school are kept on payroll and sent to other teachers’ classrooms to assist, I guess) attacked the Boston Herald story in which the practice was revealed to readers. Nor did any of the witnesses asking to keep open the three schools to be closed say one word about how to pay or it.

Councillor Tito Jackson decried the closure of the Elihu Greenwood Leadership Academy, whose “5th year of turnaround status,” as McDonough’s memorandum put it, Jackson attributed to the school being operated by “outsiders.” Jackson called for more use of school system “insiders,” without one word as to the upward salary and benefits pressures that insiders are imposing on the Boston school budget.

Meanwhile, school consolidation goes forward, as the Superintendent pursues effectiveness first, second, third, by any and all means available within the small manoeuever space he has managed to stake out.

Testimony by Madison Park High school people certainly made sense. Why isn’t Madison Park High School being transformed to the cuttng edge vocational high school Walsh wanted in 2013 and, presumably, still wants ? Evidently the $ 5 million budgeted to fund teachers’ compensation for the Extended Learning Time agreement — by which the school day will be lengthened 40 minutes, in 60 schools, 20 of them this first year — comes before.

I can’t disagree, but it’s a shame that a school district as huge as Boston’s, with a budget of
$ 1,013.5 billion, can only implement one small reform at a time.

At some point, something has got to give. Because one small reform at a time is barely worth the effort — a full year of effort, of staff, preparation, and hearings — that goes into making it happen.

But if worthwhile reform is to proceed, staff salary hikes will have to take a time out. Teachers, aides, principals will all have to repurpose, forge new work rules, and re-budget. If not, then the number of charter schools will be increased — by overwhelming public support — and public school systems like Boston’s will be superseded by a new model of public education.

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere


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^ schools reformers trying not to be left behind by the inexorable demands of every day in a student’s life : (L) superintendent John McDonough and School Committee chair Mike O’Neill (R) incoming Boston school superintendent Tommy Chung (with newswoman and Mayor Marty Walsh)

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Schools exist for the sake of the students who will learn in them. That’s the mission, no more, no less.

This axiom now seems, finally, to be guiding the Boston School District. As is another axiom : more often gets done when there is less to do it with.

Sharply reduced infusions of outside funds has forced Boston school superintendent McDonough to make the kind of difficult decisions that misdirected bureaucracies hate : becoming more efficient at everything, and settling for a Chevrolet solution when one’s appetite lusts for a Cadillac.

The FY 2016 School Budget calls or central office layoffs, greater use of MBTA by 7th and 8th grade students, closure of some under-attended schools, and a narrower school lunch menu.
Not all the downsizing measures seem smart. The school lunch program, for eample, will now offer less choice but the wrong choices. Peanut butter and jam snadwiches don’t seem to represent what kids should be eating. how about veggies and fruits, nuts and breads ? Still, most of the cut-backs remove layers of distraction from the essential job : teaching students the skills and knowledge necessary or employemnt and the moral and civics lessons that will make them good citizens.

But is school reform — McDonough calls it “adjustment” — happening fast enough to outpace the charter school initiative ? I think not. Today’s boston Globe offers the story I’ve linked below, in which a six-year stanford university study shows that charter school studehts enormpously out-perform students in traditional public schools; and that charter students in Boston out-perform by an even larger margin, in both math and reading. the story also shows that the performance difference is greater among students of color.

I have more to say about this matter — much more — but first you should read “Charter school students show striking gains,” the Boston Globe story, here :,d.cWc

I hate to have to say it, but teachers’ unions continue to pose the biggest obstacle to improving the education opportunities for many children of color or who live in low-income neighborhoods. Teachers’ unions oppose giving school principals a free hand gto hire and ire staff. They are only reluctantly acceoting a longer school day (and even then, the teaching day at charter schools continues to be more than an hiour longer than in B oston public schools). They resist assignment to poor-neighborhood schools. It would be nice if more Boston teachers were people of color, and there’s a Court order in place requiring that at least 25 percent be such; yet many years ater the order was made, Boston’s teaching staff continues in violation of this requirement.

It’s not that the teacher unions won;t change their ways. they will. they have to. But who has the time to wait for them to happen ? kids need education every day. They can’t wait ten, fifteen years to get the education that they should have now, and can have now, in charter schools and othyer innovative settings.

As for doing more with less, the median Boston teacher earns $ 88,000; the median Boston charter school teacher earns about half that. I have no problem at all with Boston teachers earning $ 88,000; but I see no justification at all for their not then providing an education twice as effective as the result in charter schools. Shouldn’t pay be directly related to result ?

Otherwise we’re paying teachers for some other reason. (A good example of this is the current “co-teacher” system, by which teachers who no principal would hire for his or her staff are assigned to teach alongside another, hired teacher, rather than simply being laid off. Basically, we are paying these people not to teach but tio be re-trained. that may be OK; but the resources taken up by “co-teachers” — the Boston Herald pegs it at $ 6,000,000 this year alone — are resources not being used for transportation, school lunches, a digital school pilot project, or administrative staff.)

My feeling is that the snail’s pace of Boston school reform — a small victory here, a minuscule improvement there — can’t cut it. All the good intentions in the world, and John McDonough has good intentions and a mind hugely shrewd, can’t get to the finish line in time to outweigh the benefits of charter cap expansion. Authorizing nore charter schools, and a wider array of school arrangements, can spur change to standard public schools that would otherwise take forever to accomplish. Authorizing more charter schools would make McDonough’s task easier. it will give incoming school boss Tommy Chung’s term a weapon to wield against the opponents of radical school transformation.

There are plenty of teachers in Boston’s public schools who can’t stand the stubbornness of their union leadership. I hear from them all the time. Teachers who want to innovate, who want to teach a longer day, teachers who can design a curriculum smarter than what State law requires. Teachers who resent that the union spends so much time supporting the economic agendas of other unions. The way things stand, however, they’ll have to teach at a charter school.

Pedagogy, I was taught long ago, was, as the saying went, me at one end of a bench and a teacher at the other. we need to get education back to basic pedagogy — albeit updated for the digital age as “me at one end of the smartphone or iPad and my teacher at the other.” Add to that, learning in a communal setting, because good citizenship is also a skill students need to learn. All else than these is padding, or puffery, or incompetent profusion.

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere


1 John Ellis Bush family

^ John Ellis Bush (“Jeb”) and family : he must run, and for very serious reasons in the national interest

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Events of the past week have made it clear, were there any doubt, that the national Republican party is not fit to govern anything. For that reason alone, John Ellis Bush — familiarly known as “Jeb” — must run or President and must win the GOP nomination.

He must run for the same reasons that Charlie Baker had almost a duty to run for Governor of Massachusetts : to make the GOP useful again, render its voice realistic, win it away from the dilettantes, fanatics, and cynical manipulators who have glued the party to interests that despise the national consensus and look down upon most of its people.

We forget now just how antithetical the Massachusetts GOP was, barely a yerar ago, to the vast majority of our state’s voters. The party platform rejected values dear to almost 80 percent of Massachsetts voters — made second class citizens of many. So rejectionist was the platform that the party chair, Kirsten Hughes, felt compelled to oppose it publicly. At the same time Baker chose as his running mate a person whose most recent political news was her being guest of honor at a Tea Party fest at which the odious (former congressman) Allen West was keynote speaker.

As it turned out, of course, baker ran the boldest campaign of outreach to everyone that we’ve seen from a GOP candidate since maybe the 1970s. On the issues, he embraced positions opposite to the party platform and to the major interest gtroups involved in party affairs. Baker doubled down on every one of those refotrm positions as the campaign devloped, and his running mate, Karyn Polito, embraced them too and articulated them even bolder, in some cases, than Baker.

Baker and Polito campaigned to the voters — not to the party. they won, and sure enough, the party activists have come aboard — and how ! — even as Baker and Polito take their social progressivism and reform positions farther and farther into policy objectives associated almost exclusively with Democrats, even as they add to their policy prescriptions the managerial care and money stewardship that the traditional GOP stood for and which made it a party people wanted to vote for.

This is why John Ellis Bush must run for President and how he should do it. He only, of all the likely GOP candidates, seems to understand that the GOP has tied itself to issues unpopular with voters un-useful to the future, divisive, exclusionary, pessimistic.

This was so even before the now infamous Letter to Iran was written and sent, signed by 47 of the Senate’s 54 GOP members.

The entire story of that letter stupefies. How did a rookie Senator, Tom Cotton, barely two months in office, get 47 Senators to sign it ? Withoiut any GOP caucus discussion of its import ? In what way did this letter not undercut whatever opportunity GOP Senatotrs had of overriding a Presidential veto of sanctions legislation ?

Beyond those questions stands an even deeper disgrace. How came it that the GOP in Congress became campiagners for Israel’s Benjamin Netanyahu, who faces an election on Tuesday ? Because it was Netanyahu, the campaigner, who spoke to Congress. There he attacked vehemently the agreement that America (and five other, not minor nation) are close to reaching with Iran. On what fool mission did Congress deliver our national negotiation into the mouth of another nation’s leader — and one who, at that, may well be beaten for re-election ? How — why ? — did our Congress allow itself to adopt Netanyahu’s doomsday outlook ? Is not our Congress ours, not Israel’s ?

America’s elected officials should be making America’s foreign policy, based on America’s interests. These may coincide with *Israel’s, and often do ; but they might also differ. There is much in Netanyahu’s terms as Prime Minister that has shoved Israel down slippery slopes we cannot like. I doubt we would sign on to the tribal, exclusionist legislation he is now pushing, nor should we. The settler movement — which Netanyahu champions — has made peace between Israel and the Palestinians all but impossible. is that in our interest ? i doubt it. Nor should our nation share his apocalyptic view of Iran, much less do so in a letter to Iran at a crucial time in  the negotiations being conducted by our President !

It now looks as if Netanyahu will lose on Tuesday; that the Zionist/Labor coalition led by Isaac Herzog and Tzipi Livni will win quite handily; and that they will add the Arab list party — representing 20 percent of Israel’s population — to their coalition. How must Herzog and Lipni feel about America knowing that almost half of its Senate worked for their opposition ?

While most GOP candidates for President rushed to sign the Iran letter, John Ellis Bush did not. He stood with the seven GOP Senators who declined Cotton’s gambit.

Bush has said, more than once,that he will not bend his message to the GOP “base” no mtter what. Even before the Cotton letter, that was the wise choice. Now it’s imperative.

He knows it. How can he not ?

Bush — and only Bush — has the name, the reputation, the courage, the maturity (and the donors aboard) to run his own campaign, free of demagoguery, of talk shows, of the entire dark side the national GOP has collapsed down to. If he runs a campaign as bold as was baker’s; if he campaigns to all the voters; if he embraces immigrants — as he has — and issues of income inequality; if he eschews the baleful influence of religionists; if, if, if he does all this and if he then wins the presidency, he can — probably will — remake the GOP. There can be no greater service he can render a nation that needs two forward political parties, not one forward and one backward.

These are a lot of if’s, I’ll grant you. But they’re worth moving from “if” to “:is.’ John Ellis Bush must run, must win the nomination, and — possibly — must win.

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere


^ The Governor has so much to do, so little money to do it with

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Charlie Baker is the real deal —  a reform Governor. Luckily ior Massachusetts.

The more I study the State’s responsibilities, the more I cringe at the immensity of what’s needed. Badly needed. Baker is climbing these uphills one by one and seems to enjoy the sweat. For all this he practically begged the state’s voters to elect him. I hope that he retains his optimism and energy as the tasks deepen and complicate.

Baker has taken on : 1. fixing the MBTA 2. reshaping our schools — elementary, middle, high school, early ed, higher education 3. balancing the state’s $ 38.1 billion annual budget without hurting programs readily bruised 4. figuring out if the 2024 Olympics benefits the State or sidetracks it 5. connecting school graduates to actual jobs 6. addressing the Opioid addiction and recovery challenge 7. reforming public employee pension administration 8. bringing some level of economic dynamism to cities beyond the Boston area 9. assuring the State’s 351 towns and cities every penny of local aid the law requires 10. lowering health care costs.

Any one of these tasks entails political risk. All ten together make Baker a kind of political bungee jumper. Little wonder that he is taking his time gathering information and advice before initiating action.

Eventually the time for jumping will come. Where, then, the money ? The State has badly overestimated its revenue stream. Result : not reform but retreat. Most state budget items have been cut or level-funded. Items being raised are adding money chiefly to pay salary hikes.

Meanwhile, the talk is of outlandish public employee incomes — some police earn over
$ 250,000 — of the hundreds of T employees who called out sick on February’s worst snow days, of expanding education but not having the money to pay for it; of reforming the MBTA’s management substantially, or drastically– or altogether —  in hopes that millions of dollars can be saved so that the T’s facilities can be made to work properly.

Everybody has a T reform plan. Pioneer Institute has one : receivership and drastic reorganization. The Globe’s Scot Lehigh today offered his own plan ; a financial control board and privatization of T facillity care-taking. I presented my T reform plan in these pages about three weeks ago. Jim Aloisi, who served as Mass DOT Secretary under Governor Patrick,. offered his superbly comprehensive plan in Commonwealth magazine. State Senator Jamie Eldridge, and others, want new revenue — because just to bring the T’s maintenance backlog up to date will cost billions that no program of reformation can produce. The Boston 2024 Olympics committee has offered radical T modernization as one of its key tasks — and key benefit to the State. Governor Baker’s own MBTA task force will surely have a plan that talks money allocation.

That’s a lot of public policy at work, a lot of well-dressed and well-paid policy consultants thinking long hard thoughts on just one of the State’s way overdue fixes.

What will come of all this discussing, researching, numbers crunching, priority picking ? And the T is only one such cluster-crunch.

Think now of education : the Boston school district is downsizing almost every department, cutting costs in transportation and ood services, closing schools and consolidating. Boston’s school budget is actually increasing by four percent — from some $ 970 million to $ 1,013,500,000 billion — yet it’s not close tyo enough, says Superinhtendent McDonough, because State aid via chapter 70 compensation funding is declining, as is Federal aid. And so the District is laying off 67 central office administrators and 58 full time employees elsewhere.

Meanwhile, says Governor Baker, 40,000 students await placement in charter schools too few in number to take them, and no prospect in sight for changing that, because the teachers’ unions and their parent allies are — or have so far been — too strong in too many legislators’ districts for charter school advocates to overcome. Yet overcome, charter schools somehow must, because given the state’s $ 1,800,000,000 budgtrt shortfall for fiscal 2016, Baker is sure to cut districts’ compensation further, and the legislature is likely to go along — Speaker DeLeo, like Baker, has vowed no new taxes or fees will be enacted in this legislative year.

I have no idea what Baker’s plan will be to get Massachusetts schools from here to where they need be. If the permitted number of charter schools can be raised, chapter 70 requires that money compensation to school districts — for students who would have been educated in district but now will not be — must increase; yet there is no money to do that. How, too, will Baker fund the money to expand early education, a program that most parents very much want ? How will Baker move to cap higher education tuitions, without risking the loss of well paid professors or less attended courses ? Higher eduaction, I should note, employs almost a quarter of all state employees and accounts fotr about the same percentage of State spending. It’s not a minor item, far from it; with a powerful constituency behind it to keep state money pumping its way.

Yet Baker, quite reasonably,l wants the state’s graduations to connect readily to employment after graduation; and that means shifting many curremt curricula toward technology, vocation, and English language learning for students from other cultures. Doing all this means new teacher hires and new administrators. Who will pay for them and where will they come from ?

And what of the opioid addiction and recovery crisis that Baker and Health Secretary Sudders are now working up a response to ? Who will be in charge, where will it operate from, and how will the program be paid for ?

Baker is going to have to missionize a large part of state administration : less current administering, more re-purposing. State agencies attuned — well or not so well — to present duties, and with scant money to think otherwise, will need to think otherwise, money or no money, if they’re to be of service going forward rather than a scandal or an obstacle. Some of Baker’s top cabinet people are eager to do that and capable of it. Others, I’m not so sure.

The time for discussion, research, and numbers calculation is running its course. By Fall 2015 at the latest the processes will need to get tweaked, rebuilt, invented. That means new money — how can it not ? Fiscal year 2017’s budget should be interesting.

—- Mike freedberg / Here and Sphere


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^ The Mayor stands in the target spot (L) (R) CEO Rich Davey feels the heat

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Even before I read Yvonne Abraham’s timely column in today’s Boston Globe, I was set to write what I am about to. You’ll just have to believe me on this, OK ?

I’ve been thinking a lot about our City’s Olympics Bid and the dynamics of it. Those who know me as “all in for Boston 2024” may think I’m an uncritical cheerleader. Not so. Just because I join a team doesn’t mean I let its mistakes slide. With the Olympics bid process there have been — continue to be — many mistakes.

Surely the big mistake is for the committee to allow it to become basically a thing of the Massachusetts Democratic party. The participation of leading Democrats — Juliette Kayyem, Steve Kerrigan, Doug Rubin, and Rich Davey —  is fine, but the absence from Boston 2024’s Team of leading Republicans is not fine. The Olympics bid should not be a party matter. What was already an obvious mistake a month ago has now become a blue wound, as Mayor Walsh and his team — all Democrats, of course — have taken over.

Is the Committee tone deaf ? Just this week, former Governor Deval Patrick has been added as a pitchman.

Has no one at the Bid Committee learned that our Governor now is a Republican ? Charlie Baker has had a great past month, moving to fix broken parts of state government — and of the MBTA — and he has also notably kept his distance from the 2024 Bid even as serious opposition to it has coalesced on several fronts. Is the Bid Committee assessing what Baker’s distancing might mean ? They should.

Just last week, East Boston nominated a new state representative, quietly backed by Baker and his local team, over an opponent vigorously supported by Mayor Walsh. The Olympics didn’t become an open issue, but I couldn’t miss noticing that opponents of it, or skeptics, aligned with the “Baker guy” even as the Bid’s strongest supporters plunked for the “Walsh guy.”

It would be wise for the Bid Committed to give prominent roles to some Republican A-listers. So far I haven’t seen it.

As if these signals aren’t enough, it’s hard to miss that at least a couple of Boston politicians are moving aggressively across the city — one of them very loudly — as the City gears up for this year’s Council elections with ther 2017 Mayor election portending. Three months ago, as the Mayor delivered a fighting, confident state of the City speech to a gathered audience of local Biggies, it was quite unthinkable to see him seriously challenged for re-election. One ambitious person to whom I talk almost daily told me, “Michael, he’s gonna be unbeatable.” I wonder what that person would say to me today.

The Olympics bid has fierce, ferocious opponents. The City’s Caucasian progressives, other than those who are union activists (these are Walsh’s Core) dislike itvintensely. They don’t like its plans, its site uses, its big projects, its appropriations of public space, its open-ended budgets. They scorn its cloakroom deal making. They distrust its big capitalist backers. Walsh might as well kiss these voters good bye. He probably already has.

He can be thankful there’s no such radical opposition in Boston’s communities of color. These seem, from what I can tell, ready to embrace the Games as long as it brings jobs and money into the community and that “what the City looks like” be reflected as the Olympics staffs up. These are easy objections to satisfy, and the Bid Committee seems very sensitive about it.

But what if a Black candidate is Mayor Walsh’s 2017 opponent in November ? Boston’s communities of color were very frustrated not to have at least a finalist in 2013. The power elite in these communities endorsed Walsh over Connolly at least in part because he was the weaker, electorally, of the two men, thus easier to beat in 2017.

Given that prospect, the voters Walsh can count on are almost the same people as those who now support the Olympics Bid : the City’s unions, most City workers, activists who make a living from incumbency, and the developers whose building boom business Mayor Walsh touts endlessly because they’re who pay the big real estate taxes and employ his core constituency : union labor.

It is not enough.

Two big voting blocs remain up for grabs, and they could be the deciders : schools people, and Governor Baker’s team. The two overlap.

In part, Mayor Walsh’s Boston schools record depends on Tommy Chang, newly appointed as School District superintendent. But equally it lies with charter cap lift legislation sure to be pushed vigorously by Baker. Which side eill Walsh back ? No matter which, he risks a split. The Mayor cannot feel confident that schools constituencies will be a plus for him in 2017, and there is really no way, so far, that he can anticipate how Baker’s decisions in school issues it will play out.

One thing he has to know : the Olympics bid fight will only intensify, and polarize, as its decision year approaches. That year is also 2017.

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere


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^ (L) Boston 2024 CEO Rich Davey held his own (R) Franklin Park Coalition’s Corey Allen had to upbraid an audience intent on disrupting

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Last night it was the Franklin Park Coalition’s turn to discover just how much time can be wasted at a public meeting called to discuss important matters.

The matters at hand were the Boston 2024 Olympics Committee’s plans for games in Franklin Park. There will be two : equestrian games and a stadium game. This muchh we lerned, and that the committee will construct a permanent swimming pool on site at White Stadium, which it plans also to renovate. (White stadium sits at the northwest corner of the Park and has for a long time hosted High School sports events.)

The presentation of these plans had not finished before some in the approximately 125 people on hand were interrupting. When at last the committee architect was allowed to complete his talk, and public comment began, it was off to the races with what the interrupters really wanted to discuss not Franklin park at all, just the same old same old comp;laints about funding and costs, profits and priorities that those who aggressively oppose Boston hosting the games complain about at every public Boston 2024 meeting so far.

At first the 2024 committee’s CEO, Rich Davey, attempted to respond; but soon he realized that to respond was to inflame; so he moved to mute, listened to each rant, then moved on to the next one.

I saw frustration in his eyes and anger, too, and I can’t blame him. He and fellow committee members had taken time, at night, to address a meeting of people interested in Park issues, and the same was true of the coalition’s leaders (Corey Allen and Christine Poff) and the architect working on Park renovation. Itead of a fruitful discussion about those issues they met ambush.

Not everyone at the Franklin Park golf house felt that way. Many people vocally supported bringing the games to Boston. Yet few supporters spoke to Franklin Park matters.

The ambush constituency did stress one argument that deserves response because it seems so symptomatic of their view, that any argument, no matter how refutable, will do if it helps to sidetrack the Games. The argument I refer to is the claim, made by some, that Frederick Law Olmstead, who designed the Park well over 120 years ago, intended it for quiet walking and peaceful meadows, not for Olympic games.

Think about that or a minute. We are supposed, so it is claimed, to do according to the will of a man who died before any of us now living was born.

As if the Park were not a living thing, to be used by living people according to our own needs of it !

The argument is also fake. 40 years ago I enjoyed several huge outdoor concerts at the Park, big ticket items — I saw the O’Jays, Parliament-Funkadelic, The Temptations and many more — charging big ticket prices. Thousands came, smoked, enjoyed.

No “community meetings” were held to approve these concerts, nor did anyone complain of it. The producer simply got his permit from city hall, bought an insurance policy, hired security and — boom ! the concerts took place.

No one even held a seance to seek out permission from the mouldy ghost of Frederick Law Olmstead…

Can there any doubt, after last night’s show, that the “community meetings” being held all over Boston to discuss the Games are the biggest wate of time and space since port-a-potties were left stinking on Boston common after marijuana smoke-ins a few years ago ?

The small group of organized no-Games extremists is not interested in discussion or information, they’re only about disruption, distraction, and rant. They’re also highly unrepresentative. Franklin park sits in the heart of Boston’s black community, yet by far the majority of those in attendance last night were Caucasian and mostly from Jamaica Plain, on the other side of the Park.

The few attendees of color who did ask questions seemed pretty much focused on one goal : that the games engage people of color, hire them for its staff, and bring money into the community. This the Comittee has promised to do and almost certainly will do.

— Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere


1 Baker budget 2016

^ The Governor wearing his Budget Battle face. It’s 2016 time on that front…

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Charlie Baker promised, in his campaign, to be the State’s Mr, Fix-It, and for state budget matters he has delivered big. Handed a surprise, $ 768 million dollar shortfall in last year’s budget, he devised remedies and won swift approval of them from an almost unanimous legislature. now comes the 2016 budget, Baker’s first, and it looks as smart as bold.

Bold it has to be, because the state’s leading budget watchdog, the Msssachusetts Taxpyers, forecasts that the previously planned 2016 budget would, via an eight percent spending increase, suffer a $ 1.8 billion shortfall. Baker’s version erases the shortfall, as it has to, even while epanding certain visionary initiatives. How has he done it ?

Before reading my take on it, you might want to read the Baker budget proposal for yourself via this link :

And you might want to see how the Baker 2016 budget differs from the previous administration’s 2016 plan :

Of the new budget’s many noteworthy features, I single out these :

1.eliminates the state’s tax credit for film makers, which according to a tweet this morning by Department of Economic Opportunity policy director (and former journalist) Paul McMorrow, “costs far more than it generates in overall economic activity. $ 169M losses to date.”

2.level-funded most departments of the State’s vast courts and criminal justice system; decreased a few parts of it; increased (by small amounts) the Suffolk, Worcester, Middlesex, Essex, and Bristol District attorneys offices

3.cut the Officve of the Governor’s budget by about 30 percent and eliminated several one-time FY 2015 expenses

4.cut administrative costs at the Secretary’s ofice by about 25 percent; cut some $ 150,000 from the Treasurer’s budget

5.increased costs of state debt servicing by about $ 100 million, an unavoidable expnse because obligations are obligations

6.increased information technology (IT) cost sby about $ 500,000, much of it for reapirs to the Health Connector

7.increased aid to Veterans, including to homeless veterans, hy about five percent

8.decreased Medical assistance Triust Fund expenses by about $ 165,000,000 — but increased its “Delivery System Transformation Initiatives Trust Fund” allocation by about 67 million

9.established an End Homelessness Reserve und totaling $ 20 million

10.$34 million increase, or 3.6%, in unrestricted local aid to $980 million

11.$105.3 million increase in Chapter 70 funding, which increases funding for all 321 school districts

12. a phase in of the Earned Income Tax Credit to 30% of the Federal limit while phasing out the Film Tax Credit

13.Funding local aid by 75% of revenue growth, a 3.6% increase

14.Increasing transportation spending by 20%, including $187 million, or a 53% increase, in direct aid to the MBTA

15.An early retirement incentive program to responsibly reduce the state’s administrative spending by purchasing the vested pay of up to 4,500 state employees

16. $ 7,290,000 for “social innovation financing”

17. increase of $ 11,000,000 or ‘supportive child care”


18. a large appropriation, of about $ 60,000,000, for technology upgrades to just about every division of state government.

Several state programs were eliminated entirely. None of those eliminated had i heard of before. Still, they surely have their supporters. We will likely hear from them as the Governor’s budget message gets debated by the legislature.

It’s still a very large budget, some $ 38.1 billion, and provides a large palette of services to just about every resident of the state. The appropriation isn’t assured; almost every change ite, in it talks of “projected need” or “projected revenue.” Projections can change and probably will.

Will the legislature adopt it as is? Probably the legislature won’t. The interests whose appropriations are being cut, and even some being level-funded, have already expressed unhappiness : the court system; Medicaid applicants on the borderline of eligibility; the Film industry and the unions who benefit by it; various laboratories; the eduaction establishment — to name a few. Some of these exert significant clout among legislators. Yet the budget already meets one of Speaker Robert DeLeo’s own criteria : it seeks no new fees or revenues.

Meanwhile, the legislature will also be assailed in a positive direction by those interests who the budget graces : the MBTA, Homelessnes advocates, municipalities (local aid), advocates for families needing its greatly expanded EITC; child care advocates; and bankers who care about the State’s credit rating.

Some have complained that the 2016 budget lacks vision, that all it does to keep the State from falling behind, that the state needs to be far more pro-active in finacing educational reform, bridge and road repair, and transit expansion. I do not disagree iwth any of these ambitions. Yet 2016 is not the last year on earth. Soon there will come the 2017 budget. In that budget the state, now restored to fiscal reality, can ask voters to trust it again to spend new money wisely, to embrace the huge expenses of renewing education,l transport, anmd social services.

Right now, that voter trust isn’t there. If the Baker budget works, it might return. Restoring it is the inescapable overture to the symphony of reforms advocates rightly trumpet. Let the overture begin.

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere