October 31,2005

              Eye on Romney by Andy Steinberg

SPRINGFIELD, THE “PROBLEM CHILD”

On June 16 Romney said, "Springfield is the problem child financially that has drawn huge interest and attention on my part and the part of my administration."

He announced 13 grants totaling $8.5million for work force technology training of 1,740 employees. Western MA Electric Co now has $188,000 for 310 employees; MA Mutual Life Insurance Co received $212,940 to train 154 employees. On the same day, June 16, Romney said that either labor union concessions or millions of more dollars in state aid are needed to balance Springfield’s budget. Also, Romney’s administration and finance secretary, Eric Kriss, told local legislators that the state-appointed Finance Control Board would be dissolved and Springfield “fend for itself” if its powers were not expanded. Among these new powers would be Kriss’s ability to select a labor contracts arbitrator himself, which Mayor Charles Ryan and others reminded him that it would be against collective bargaining. Romney denied comment on this ultimatum. D-West Springfield State Senator Stephen Buoniconti wrote a letter to Romney denouncing the ultimatum. Kriss also wants the Legislature to remove the fire chief and deputies, and police chief from Civil Service and be made accountable to the mayor. Romney also denied comment on this issue but said that Kriss can explore all options.

The City Council wants no change as the Civil Service system protects the chiefs from political pressure. Springfield Patrolmen’s union president Thomas Scanlon pointed out that his union has worked for 2 years without a contract with fewer than 200 officers. Union officials and the Finance Control Board have not yet reached an agreement. The $71million new MA Mutual Center opened on September 30 where Romney said, “Springfield is experiencing a renaissance”. Over 200 union picketers still working without contracts (some for 4 years) attended, along with Senator Stephen Buoniconti who marched with them and refused to attend the opening ceremonies.

HEALTH INSURANCE

7 % of the Massachusetts population, 460,000 people, have no health insurance according to a Romney estimate. He claims that his plan would insure all of them at no more cost to state money, under individual penalty of garnished wages or tax penalties if they don’t cooperate with his plan. His vision involves requiring all MA residents to have insurance by allowing private insurers to offer cheaper plans with fewer benefits, or agreeing to pay their own medical bills themselves. MassHealth and Medicaid would still be available for the poorest residents. ''It's the ultimate conservative idea, which is that people have responsibility for their own care, and they don't look to government to take (care) of them if they can afford to take care of themselves", he said. No states have a requirement like this.

The Washington DC Heritage Foundation (in a speech to the Heritage Foundation, the Governor called for putting foreign students under surveillance and wiretapping mosques), Blue Cross Blue Shield Foundation, CA Governor Schwarzenegger, and Newt Gingrich agree with Romney. The Commonwealth Fund, Kaiser Family Foundation, MA Board of Rabbis, MA Coalition for the Homeless, Health Care for All, Urban Institute, and Cato Institute disagree. I feel that Boston Temple Israel’s Rabbi Jonah Pesner said it best, ''I believe in individual responsibility, absolutely, but to step back from the shared responsibility, both of the government sector and the business sector, and put it all on the individual feels completely unacceptable to me”. Romney also wants to force half of the people currently on welfare to work, including some disabled and some pregnant women.

GOVERNOR ROMNEY VETOS THE STATE BUDGET

On June 30 the Governor signed the $23.8billion state budget and vetoed $110million from the Legislature’s plan. Romney’s vetoes include money for the state employees health insurance account, Governors Commission on Gay and Lesbian Youth, nursing homes, public health programs, manufacturing, sex offender registration, YMCA, living wage, and an international tourism company (because he is against a private company competing with the MA Office for Travel and Tourism). The Legislature needs a 2/3 majority in both chambers to override his vetoes.

BUDGET SURPLUS TO IMPROVE HIGER ED INFRASTRUCTURE

Governor Romney said that as of July 18 the budget surplus from state fiscal year 2005 is over $500million. He asked the Legislature to use $400 million for improvements at UMass including a new central heating plant and a new science building (he visited UMass on August 22 to promote this, speaking to President Jack Wilson, Chancellor John Lombardi, and 9 science and engineering professors and researchers), a student center at Springfield Technical Community College, and other state and community colleges. Another $100million would go to improvements in bridges and roads. With this surplus in existence, Romney wants to reduce the personal income tax rate to 5%, which would drain $600 million per year in revenue.

NEW TRUSTEES

Romney has also appointed more UMass trustees, Natick business executive Matthew Carlin and former Medicare/Medicaid administrator (under President Bush) Ruben King-Shaw Jr. Four of Romney’s aides have left his administration or are planning to do so: State Secretary of Environmental Affairs Ellen Herzfelder has been replaced by Stephen Pritchard, budget aide Eric Kriss by Thomas Trimarco, Health and Human Services Secretary Ronald Preston by Timothy Murphy, and Press Secretary Shawn Feddeman whose position is still vacant.

FLOODS IN WESTERN MASS

On October 12 the Governor promised to help the Western MA flooded businesses, roads, schools, sewers, dams, and the 100 people left homeless, with their $6.5million of damages which is the minimum amount required for qualify for federal aid. MA Democratic Party chairman Philip Johnston said, “Romney had no business being in North Carolina” (at a Republican fundraiser in a state where it is illegal for state government workers to unionize) “on Monday“ (October 10).

Romney said that the floods weren’t significant enough for his presence to make any difference.