Pinch Me, I Must Be Dreaming

( – promoted by Cool Cal)

I feel as if I woke up and today, not yesterday, is April Fools Day. Could it really be that the Democractic leaders in the legislature are getting serious about systemic reforms?

Even the Globe’s Scott Lehigh is wondering if he wandered into the wrong state house.

The taxpayer’s best friend, Sal DiMasi is “determined to press ahead” with a plan to give municipal leaders sole authority to have their cities or towns join the state’s Group Insurance Commission, eliminating the unions’ effective veto power. The savings to cities and towns: $2.5 BILLION over ten years.

(My sense of surrealism is even more enhanced by the suggestion from Geoffrey Beckwith, executive director of the Massachusetts Municipal Association, that cities and towns be given the same power the state has to design health plans without going through collective bargaining. As one of the most liberal members of the House during the 1980’s, he seems to have figured out the magic of pleasing your employer!)

My optimism is slightly more subdued when it comes to the news regarding the proposed elimination of mandatory police details. When  I read that “the state’s transportation and public-safety experts” are going to “develop regulations specifying when the state and localities should use police details and when flagmen are more appropriate,” I don’t get goosebumps. What “public safety experts” are they talking about? A bunch of cops? State Police brass? And when are these regulations going to be published for hearing? Call me in a year.

And the comment from Senate Transportation chair Steve Baddour that “this issue raises so much controversy that you have to do it one step at a time” suggests baby steps, not leaps and bounds.

One step at a time is not a mantra that connotes bold moves.

One thing that would indicate that these folks are truly serious about the reform effort would be if they listened to my friend Steve Silveira, who chaired the Transportation Finance Commission. The commission’s report regarding the (conservatively estimated) $15 to $19 BILLION dollar funding gap for transportation infrastructure maintenance and repair is now a year old, and it seems already to be gathering dust alongside all of the other reports that are delivered to legislative leaders for their consideration.

Silveira implores leaders to adopt FIVE of the commission’s 22 recommendations for cost cutting before any revenue raising is put on the table:

1. Replace the free PPO health coverage for all MBTA retirees to simple HMO coverage (sort of like downsizing from a Cadillac to a Crown Vic);

2. Shift 1,000 MHD employees from the capital budget to the operating budget. (The fact that there are so many employees on the capital budget is a sure sign of systemic funding failures in the first place.)

3. Move to flagmen (see above).

4. Forward fund the regional transportation agencies (another basic refom that is long overdue).

5. Provide the transportation agencies with the same tort claim protections as other government agencies have. (As the former general counsel of the MBTA, I can just hear the hue and cry from all of the personal injury lawyers out there who make their living suing the T for slip-and-falls at Park Street.)

Silveira says these reforms will reduce the funding deficit by TWO BILLION DOLLARS.

Now that’s talking real money.

If you start to see a gas tax or cigarette tax increase moving before all of these five cost cutting are adopted, then you’ll know that the dream is not real.

About wavemaker