^ the Democrat with fewest weaknesses : Juliette Kayyem


^ the best potential governor, on an across-the-board basis : Charlie Baker (with Nightline’s Dan Rea)

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Two days ago, the Massachusetts House passed a big rise in the minimum wage, to $ 10.50 in 2015 and $ 11.00 in 2016. The House legislation included, however, a provision that the Senate bill does not : a give back of five percent, on the unemployment compensation portion that employees pay. That portion will rise from 15 % to 20 %.

Because the two bills do not mesh, a conference wil be held at which the two bills will be reconciled. Almost certainly the reconciliation will adopt the House version: because Senate President Murray is leaving, whole Speaker DeLeo is very much staying.

Such is the way of things in the Massachusetts legislature. The big result, however, is that the base wage for every Massachusetts worker now earning minimum wage will rise by over $ 3.00 an hour. Minimum wage earners will no longer need as much public, taxpayer-paid assistance as before; taxpayers will get some relief; and workers will have some money to spend into the discretionary economy. In Boston, $ 10.50 to 4 11.00 an hour is still nowhere near enough; not with  rentals costing $ 1,600 and up; but in outlying cities such as Worcester, New Bedford, Holyoke, and Fitchburg, the new minimum wage will provide a real boost to many, many families and thus to the economy of those cities.

There were 24 votes against the Raise. Their message was the same : the higher wage would mean fewer jobs.

Businesses that have been able to short-change employees and pass them off to taxpayers will now not have that taxpayer subsidy. Will these businesses close ? To ask the question is to answer it. What then will they do ? Easy. They will change their business model.

These businesses will be operating in a very different economy, one that will grow quite quickly at first as the boost in wage checks gets spent into the economy. And this is good all around. But it is far from being enough. Massachusetts needs much more reform in how it operates ; some of it economic reform, a lot of it structural.

Here’s what we would like to see happen ;

1.economic : expand the earned income credit to childless families who qualify on an income basis.

2.economic : give Boston granting authority over its liquor licenses. A home rule petition, by Councillor Ayanna Pressley now sits in the legislature awaiting action.

3.economic : enable innovation districts in neighborhoods of Boston, and in outlying cities, on the model of those currently operating in Cambridge and Seaport Boston. Local aid funding can help here.

4.structural : reconfigure the website interface and interactivity of every State department, from health connector to DCF to Secretary of State and permitting. Publish the State Budget online. Embed a mobile phone app into the State’s most-used Department websites, such as the DCF, RMV, DOR, and Transitional assistance.

5.encourage and establish the full range of public school reforms now being put in place in Boston by Superintendent John McDonough

6.human rights : eliminate mandatory sentencing; establish a prisoners’ bill of rights that would provide for legal remedies — including assigning public defenders to each state or county lock-up — to prisoners who are abused by incarceration personnel; pay minimum wage to prisoners doing work they are required to do by the institution; assure re-entry procedures that are fair and helpful to the released prisoner; restore voting rights to convicts who have finished their sentences;.

7.civil rights: extend the state’s transgender rights law to include places of public accommodation. grant driver’s licenses to undocumented immigrants and pass the Trust Act

8.gun control: require owners of guns (other than antique) to purchase liability insurance, as we now require owners of vehicles; require smart gun technology

9.transportation : review all transit and road budgets and cost-cut administration where feasible; repair and replace MBTA cars and buses, lines,a nd equipment; expand Green Line to West Medford; complete new stations on Fairmount Line; finish the South Coast rail Connector

10.DCF : hire sufficient case workers so that the state-mandated maximum case load is never breached; pay social workers a professional salary; require the DCF chief to circuit-ride from DCF office to office and to use mobile phone and ipad communication as a regular feature.

All of what we’d like to see is more than enough to challenge two governor terms, much less one. Some of this year’s Governor candidates want still more. That’s OK, for a wish list but not for the campaign, which we hope will be about now and the next four years, not times still over the horizon. After all, our list doesn’t even talk about climate change, alternative fuels, conservation, affordable housing, in-state tuition for undocumented immigrant kids, and local aid — any one of which could occupy an entire editorial.

— Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere



^ Massachusetts’s minimum wage is higher than most, but far behind our cost of living.It must be raised — and should be indexed to inflation

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A proposal has been offered, in my twitter feed, to index Massachusetts’s soon to be enacted Minimum wage hike to inflation. I support the proposal.

Inflation right now isn’t a worry. We haven’t had more than two percent inflation in almost a decade. A slow-growth economy with much unemployment and a lot of under-employment isn’t an inflation situation. Someday, however, inflation may well increase, to three percent annually or even four percent. Ten years of four percent inflation reduces any minimum wage figure we enact by 40 percent. that’s one of the reasons why we’re revisiting a minimum wage enacted many years ago,when price inflation stood a large chunk lower.

Indexing the proposed $ 11.00 an hour minimum wage to inflation will keep us from having to revisit the number. Revisiting doesn’t happen when it should; it waits until the number has been significantly degraded. That’s why we’re revisiting our state’s $ 7.80 minimum now. When originally enacted, it paid workers enough money to make ends meet without public assistance, Today, $ 7.80 doesn’t do that at all.

Full time workers should never have to need taxpayer assistance to pay their family’s vital bills. With an indexed minimum, full time workers in jobs paying minimum can at least keep pace. And while we’re at it, for goodness sake raise the minimum wage for tipped workers and airport employees.

Raising the minimum and indexing it help the economy. Need I say it again ? That if people can’t earn enough to participate in the growth economy, it grows less than it could ? And that that hurts all of us, including businesses ? Either we want a strong growth economy or we don’t. If we want it, we should enact laws that help bring it about.

To do otherwise is to force taxpayers to subsidize the low-wage policies of low-wage employers. There is no good policy reason at all why we should allow this. it is wrong economically and wrong morally. It is also a stupid business decision, because low-wage workers don’t stay on the job and don’t want to. They move on. Turnover is huge and wastefully expensive. Plus, a loyal work force is a motivated work force. Any business with any brains wants this.

Low-wage business interests will tell you that they don’t hire because of regulatory uncertainty or because the minimum wage will go up. Don’t belive it for a minute. Businesses hire because demand for their products or services increases. Consumer demand drives the economy. IT is the “job creator.”

So much for the argument about indexing a minimum wage. Yet indexing is also on the table with respect to the gas tax hike enacted by the Legislature and Governor last year as part of the large transportation Upgrade bill. I understand why the Transport bill included tax indexing; I agree with the added revenue’s purpose. But I also understand the constitutional argument adduced by the supporters of a referendum to eliminate the gas tax’s indexing feature. it is a shame that the Transport bill included a provision of specious constitutionality, because this has handed the anti-tax, anti-government crowd a persuasive case it doesn’t deserve.

The “Tank the Tax” crowd says that it’s opposed to indexing on classic taxation legislation principles. I don’t believe them for a minute. They’re opposed to taxes, period; opposed to State services; opposed to the people who need those services — public transportation included. It’s a shame that these folks are now able to cloak, inside a principle everyone holds dear, what they are really after : forcing Massachusetts residents who need public services to fend for themselves.

Let there be no mistake here. The people who wield now their high principle are the same ones talking about EBT fraud as if it were rampant, whereas it amounts to about 0.7 % of the entire EBT budget. They’re the same people who tout the Cato institute’s ridiculous claims that public assistance families average $ 40,000 in benefits, when in fact that the bulk of that figure includes retirees receiving social security, veterans and disabled veterans receiving benefits, and public workers drawing down their retirement payments. And they’re the same people who want to deny in-state tuition to children of undocumented workers — indeed, the same people who demonize undocumented workers as a group, even though undocumenteds work the hardest, for the least pay, at jobs few others will do at any price.

That the indexing feature of last year’s Transport Bill has offered these disconnected people a legitimate argument galls me. it should gall you. We need somehow to amend the Transport Bill so that indexing of its taxes is not needed. The “Tank the Tax” referendum will likely pass otherwise, with huge consequences for people struggling to make do, people who need public transit, people who do hard work beyond the imagining of those whose agenda is not the State’s friend.

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere



On March 4th the Democratic Primary voters of the 16th Suffolk State Representative District chose Revere’s Roselee Vincent to be their nominee. Observers commenting on her primary victory seem to assume that it’s election. It isn’t. On April 1st, Vincent faces Chelsea businessman Todd Taylor, the Republican candidate.

Taylor — who grew up in Arizona and has lived in Chelsea since 2000, and owns a staffing company at which he started many years ago as a waiter, working his way up — hopes to disprove the common perception of a Vincent victory. “We’ve been door knocking for two months now,” he told me at the Kow Loon restaurant in Saugus last night. “Lots of doors.”

“Have you door-knocked all the super voter doors,” I ask him ?

“By election day we will have done so, yes.” Taylor smiles a confident smile, a full shoulder smile.

Taylor’s literature spells out the same old “policies that spur job creation…reducing burdensome regulations” mantra that I see from every GOP legislative candidate these days; but when questioned on the issues, he sounds like an actual candidate.

“We’ve gotta get people working again,” he says. And concentrate on quality education for our kids. We have to lift the charter cap.”

I remind him that teachers unions an d public school advocates oppose lifting the cap, that they’re concerned about losing funding from their budgets, that they feel that charter schools are trying to replace them. Taylor rejects these arguments.

“Charter schools are a supplement, not a replacement,” he says passionately. As for the argument that charter schools don’t serve special education kids of English language learners (so called “ELL”‘s), he says, “Look. My kids attend the East Boston Br0oks school. it serves the ELL community well and special education kids too. Example : we have two Ethopian adopted kids at the school who have made made fantastic progress acquiring English. Brooks does the job !”

Is this a State wide issue, I ask Taylor, or is there a need in his Chelsea – Revere – Saugus district ? He concedes “not so much here as in the state’s underserved communities.” He gives Chelsea city manager Jay Ash “great credit turning Chelsea schools around. But state wide we need to anticipate problems, not play catch up. Charter schools force other schools to improve. It’s that simple.”

Taylor talks of arguments between “conservatives and liberals”; so I felt a need to ask him : for Governor, does he support Charlie Baker or Mark Fisher ? “I’m a Char;lie Baker supporter,” he says — firmly. “Charlie Baker is what we need.”

But Baker is running quite a progressive campaign, I remind Taylor — noticing, too, that Paul Craney of Mass Fiscal Alliance (MFA) is in the room, and that MFA opposes the minimum wage raise that Baker strongly supports.

Says Taylor t0 me, “by ‘conservative,’ I mean smaller and more effective government. Effective, efficient.”

Fair enough. So I ask Taylor another question that often outs GOP conservatives : “your district is filled with immigrants of all statuses. Moroccans, Brazilians, Hispanics. What do you feel about that and them ?”

Taylor’s answer surprises me. “Diversity is us’ he says. “My business employs 1000 people of all cultures, languages. Our nation is waves of immigration. We need to welcome people here. Both parties are responsible for the immigration problem, it’s not the immigrants’ fault.”

Taylor says that he’s “not a professional politician” and decries the system of people staying in politics all their lives; but his answers to my questions sound properly political to me. Thus I ask him, “OK, you sound like you hear your district’s voice” — he smiles that shoulder smile — “so tell me ; how are you, a Chelsea guy, going to beat Roselee Vincent, who was chief of staff to State Representative Kathi Reinstein (whose resignation occasioned this vacancy) and who has the entire Revere political establishment behind her ?”

“That’s exactly the problem,” says Taylor. “If we keep electing the same people, we’ll keep getting the same results. I have plenty of Revere support. You’ll see.”

I’m looking at Taylor’s staff — young and think-tank conservative, quite off to the side of a Massachusetts electorate, eighty percent of which supports raising the minimum wage and few of whom (including most GOP voters) want anything to do with the Party platform that Taylor’s campaign staffer just voted for.

There is disconnect between what he tells me and what the make-up of his support group suggests.

Taylor can’t miss the look of skepticism on my face. “I am going to surprise you,’ he grins. “I’m going to surprise a lot of people on April 1st.”

I believe that he means to do just that.

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere


Baker Jan 13th 2014

^ bold to the front of the discussion : Charlie Baker on income inequity

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Yesterday Charlie Baker, Republican candidate for Governor, made a bold move: he did the right thing. Bold, because doing the right thing doesn’t happen often in Republican campaigns these days.

This is what Baker said : “I agree with Governor Patrick that Massachusetts is a remarkable state with limitless potential, but also a place where far too many are struggling and others are falling behind.

But I believe we can grow our economy, improve our education system, and strengthen our communities without raising taxes again and depleting the Rainy Day fund. We did it during the Weld-Cellucci Administration, and it can be done again.

I also believe we should make work pay for struggling families by raising the minimum wage while also enacting pro-growth reforms like unemployment insurance reforms, and by expanding the earned income tax credit for Massachusetts workers.

Lastly, I think we need real focus on fixing our healthcare problems. Too many Massachusetts families are stuck in healthcare limbo – having been dropped from their health plan and unable to sign up because of a bungled transition to an inadequate federal law. We had a great state system that was working, and we should fight to preserve and protect it.”

Baker’s statement — first reported by my old Boston Phoenix colleague David Bernstein, now an editor at Boston Magazine — hit almost every mark that it aimed at. He supports raising the minimum wage, as does almost everyone : but unlike any of his Democratic rivals, he also accepts Speaker DeLeo demand for adjusting unemployment insurance.

That’s the way for a Massachusetts Governor — of any party — to get his legislation enacted. It’s the only way. The Speaker rules. It’s been that way in Massachusetts for decades. The Democratic candidates for Governor either don’t understand this or are unwilling to admit it. Asked by State Representative Jay Kaufman, at his Lexington Governor Forum recently, “what will you do if the Speaker declines to support your legislation ?” Every single one of the five Democrats — including both the flamboyant Don Berwick and the earnest Steve Grossman, ducked or evaded the question. They looked weak, weak candidates for a weak office.

Baker has beaten them all here. By endorsing the minimum wage, he supports a pressing issue that almost everyone in the state wants. By endorsing Speaker DeLeo’s version of the minimum wage legislation, he ensures its enactment. Game and set, Baker.

He did more. In the words that I quoted, Baker also advocated raising the earned income credit. Not one of the Democratic candidates — only Berwick has mentioned it — has put support for an increase in the earned income credit forward in a context of and on a path to enactment. Game, set AND match, Baker.

Baker both congratulated Deval Patrick and gave one critique — of Massachusetts’s flawed health care connector. For most Republicans, a criticism of how the ACA has been implemented would just sound same old, same old. Not with Baker. By stepping up to the income inequity issue as he has, and by congratulating Patrick for his achievements, Baker has given his one critique a context of fairness that will garner attention, not a shrug.

Three weeks ago Baker released a Homelessness Crisis Paper that was a model of thorough and benefit. No Democrat has even now offered anything close, although some have said fine words, Berwick especially. Indeed, Baker looks more like a governor right now than any of the Democrats except Steve Grossman. If they’re the two who make it to the November election, Massachusetts will have two solid choices, with Baker perhaps the bolder and more progressive. I would not, quite frankly, have guessed this outcome as recently as six weeks ago. And I am glad to have been wrong.

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere



Coakley the Chin attacks more thin than win

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In this era of talk show politics, candidates have learned that they can draw attention by attacking opponents early and often. Attention practically erupts when the attacking comes from a surprise direction. It was so, yesterday, when Martha Coakley attcked Charlie Baker for — so she claimed — opposing the minimum wage hike now awaiting enactment by our legislature. Who expected to hear Coakley, the poster child for dull campaigning, signing chin music ?

Coakley’s attack certainly got Baker’s attention. His spokesman Tim Buckley shot back a quick response : that Baker is “open to raising the state’s minimum wage but aslo has other suggestions for putting more money in low-wage workers’ wallets : increasing the earned income tax credit and assuring such workers of longer hours.

To the knee jerk ear Baker’s response sounds like waffling. it isn’t. His earned income tax credot increase is a solid idea, and so is his assurance of longer hours. Too many minimum wage workers aren’t given a 40 hour work week. An employer doesn’t have to provide healh insurance and othetr benefits to workers on the job less than full time; many employers who pay low wages also use the short hours system to avoid incurring benefits. Voters who take the time to think seriously about Baker’s wage and employment ideas will find them quite reform=-minded.


^ a smile on his face : “thank you, Chin, for attacking me !”:

Coakley’s attack, on the other hand, came sucker-punch fashion : slam bang and out. No policy nuance, no ideation, just the one raise the wage do-it. I am all for raising the minimum wage gto # 11.00 an hoiur; we at Here and Sphere have editorialized often in favor of the raise, and we will probably say so again and again. But is “raise up” the only move worth making ? Why should it be ?
Moreover, Coakley added the two talking points being talked by all the standard-issue Democrats : the rause is “good for working families” and “Baker favors the top one percent.” This is dumb stuff. Coakley must know better. I get the impression, actually,l that her attack wasn’t directed at baker at all but a her Democratyic rivals. Coaklehy isn’t runnihg against baker right now;. She is running against Steve grossman, Juliette Kayyem, Don Berwick, and Joe Avellone. Her by-the-book talking points are what Democratic Primary — not November election — voters like to hear.

Coakley must think that by attacking Baker, she’ll be heard first (and she has been) and maybe foremost and that her rivals will have to play catch-up — somehow: because they can’t catch up by attacking Baker : that would look to voters like copy-catting and, well, catching up. We will soon find out how Kayyem, Berwick, Grossman, and Avellone respond to Coakley’s two-bank billiard shot. The winner, one hopes, will be the Coakley rivals who refiuse to play her game at all; who continue to present their own issues and agendas, in their own time and place, gathering support at the upcoming caucuses from activists who want a confident winner, not an attack game tactician. But I could be wrong.

As for Baker, he should send Coakley a thank-you gift. To be attacked so loudly, by such a lamed candidate, this early as the caucvus and convention season ios about to begin, is a blessing. Baker has to be smiling a big smile as I write this column tonight.

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere



^ collecting signatures : in huge amounts, too, to do the right thing

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Yesterday, a group of activists known as RaiseUpMass announced that they had gathered 275,828 (!) signatures on petitions to place on Massachusetts’s 2014 ballot a referendum hiking our state’s minimum wage to $ 11.00 an hour. The pay rise would take place in stages, achieving the $ 11.00 level by 2016.

We strongly support the proposal. We will advocate a Yes vote all the way until election day. RaiseUpMass says that more voter signatures than the already awesome total are arriving at its headquarters. We like this.

For far too long, workers in low-skill and service jobs have seen their take home pay stand pat, or increase by measly amounts and then only after years of service. So low is the pay of many thousands of workers that they and their families need EBT, section 8 housing certificates, food stamps and the like in order simply to survive. These aids paid for by taxpayers — who thus find their tax dollars subsidizing the low-wage policies of low-pay businesses. Why should taxpayers have to do this ? And, given the current climate in which some Massachusetts legislators seek votes by demonizing the poor, why should low-wage workers have to beg taxpayers for survival money ? Life is hard enough for low-wage workers without having to worry which vital assistance program upon which they depend will be cut next week.

Let us say it clearly : no full-time worker should ever have to need public assistance just to make basic ends meet.

The rise to $ 11.00 is not enough. That it will take three years to reach that figure is not good. Still, passage of this pay hike law gives low-wage workers assurance that their continued hard work will we rewarded somewhat. We can hope that the Legislature enact legislation filed by State Rep. Denise Provost of Somerville : it calls for a rise to $12.50 an hour by 2016. At that figure, a full-time low-wage worker would earn $ 500 a week, $ 26,000.00 a year. A family with two such workers would then earn enough to enter the discretionary spending market. Consumers’ discretionary spending is what really boosts the economy. Survival spending — for food, rent, utilities, and clothes — matters, but discretionary spending — for cell phones, cable television, a car, summer camp for the kids, day care, maybe even a movie or a restaurant — pumps the economy much more. Getting as many people as possible into the growth economy should be a vital policy goal. Enacting a $ 12.50 wage will get us there.

The American economy faces no threat graver than huge income inequality. How can an economy grow best if less and less people can participate in it except on the margins ? The top one percent of earners have taken lots of lumps lately for the gross hugeness of their pay checks, but they seldom get nailed for the worst consequence thereof : that multi-million-dollar incomes simply CANNOT be spent. Even the most expensive food, homes, cars, and vacations only cost so much. All the rest of these multi-million pay checks gets shoveled into hedge and private equity funds, where the money simply rolls over from one paper investment vehicle to the next in search of arbitrage. It is money TAKEN OUT OF the real economy. It stunts economic growth.

Investment money that invests only in paper self-defeats. Investment money should invest in businesses; innovation; real people doing real things. A lot of investment money does do that, but nowhere near enough.

Because investment multi-millions, left to themselves, simply attract to them more and more of the money that should be funding the economy, legislation must set at least a bottom limit on how much of the economy’s money excess earnings can take. A reasonably capitalist economy cannot, and should not, legislate pay equality. But we can, and should, legislate a minimum pay sufficient to free full-time workers from needing taxpayer dollars.

So be it.

Lastly, we reject the arguments of those who oppose minimum wage legislation. They adduce that raising the minimum wage will stifle employment of teens. Well ? We like teenagers as much as anyone. we approve of their wanting to work. but the first obligation of our society’s economy is to families — to adult, full-time wage earners. Scant wages earned by teenagers won’t do anybody any good if they come at the expense of mothers, fathers, uncles and aunts who can’t make ends meet without public assistance that can be cut any time “welfare reform” politicians decide to throw poison darts at it.

As for businesses that complain that higher work pay will force them to close or lay off workers, we repeat what Boston mayor candidate John Barros said at a Forum : “If you can’t afford to pay your workers fairly you can’t afford to open a business.” Another way of saying this is, “you don’t like unions ? You don’t fancy the intimidation and violence that often accompany job actions ? Then don’t force workers to go that route in order to get decently paid !”

We’ll say it again: vote “yes” on this referendum !

— Michael Freedberg / Here and Sphere

PS : while we’re at it, yes : we also support paid sick leave.