And the Lights All Went Out In Taxachusetts

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Dude, these increases are re-taaahded

My parents, still residents of the great Commonwealth of Massachusetts, are consistent kvetchers about their ever-expanding property tax burden; money required to pay for brilliant boondoggles like the Big Dig, state employees receiving payment for unused sick days, rising public sector pay and unsustainable municipal health care costs. An investigation by The Boston Globe found that "that municipal health plans, which cover employees, retirees, and elected officials, provide benefit levels largely unheard of in the private sector." A (longish) sample of their findings:

Copays are much lower. Some communities do not force retirees onto Medicare at age 65. Many citizens on elected boards—some after serving as few as six years—receive coverage for life, too.

As medical costs across the board rose over the past decade, municipal health care expenses exploded, draining local budgets and forcing major cuts in services, higher property tax bills, and billions in new debt.

"It has got to be dealt with," said Richard Fortucci , the chief financial officer in Lynn. "Or we will all go bankrupt."

The cost of municipal health care more than doubled from fiscal 2001 to 2008, adding more than $1 billion in all to city and town budgets, according to state Department of Revenue data. A Globe survey of 25 communities found that they now devote, on average, 14 percent of their budgets to health care, up from 8 percent a decade ago. Somerville, for one, spends $20 million more annually than it did 10 years ago, now devoting almost 20 percent of its budget to health care.

So far, with powerful labor unions resistant to giving away hard-won benefits and a lack of political will in the state Legislature to force changes, efforts to overhaul the system have fallen short.

To be sure, many municipal employees, elected officials, and retirees are paying a greater percentage of their health premiums than ever. Still, almost all of the increase in municipal health care costs in the past 10 years has been shouldered by taxpayers, who are subsidizing plans that are often superior to their own.

"It's a nice deal," said Debski, now a part-time planner in Malden.

She could get insurance through her husband's employer but doesn't, for a simple reason: The municipal plan is far more generous and costs less….

The consequences of failing to face this crisis are on display in many cities and towns, nowhere more vividly than in Lawrence.

In that city, on Feb. 1, children were momentarily trapped in a burning apartment building, down the street from a fire station. But the city had recently shuttered the station, to help close a $24 million budget gap, and firefighters had to race from another location. The children escaped, but the fire chief warned the city it may not be so lucky next time.

Meanwhile, Lawrence, one of the poorest municipalities in Massachusetts, continues to pay among the highest rates in the state for health care benefits. The city's health care kitty, which it uses to pay for coverage, is currently $4 million in the red.

Health care costs are not the only budget-buster for cities and towns, of course, but their rise has led not just to fewer firefighters in Lawrence but diminished services across the state.

Library hours have been cut in Wayland and Hull. Wakefield has deferred road and sidewalk repairs. Malden has introduced fees for trash pickup. Class sizes have increased in Chelsea. Major layoffs have hit, among others, Boston, New Bedford, Worcester, and Brockton—with officials in all those communities citing rising health care costs as a major factor. Revere last year closed City Hall on Fridays, to save cash.

"What am I going to do next, put a padlock on the police station and tell people to call the State Police instead?" asked Mayor Thomas G. Ambrosino of Revere, who, like other mayors, is covered by municipal insurance.

Full story.

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  1. A Bee Gees reference?

    1. journey

    2. The White House acknowledged Friday that it is considering a proposal that would significantly alter the way it awards federal contracts, but said the discussions are in early stages and that no immediate policy changes are forthcoming.
      The proposal, dubbed the “High Road Contracting Policy,” was first reported by The Daily Caller in early February. According multiple sources familiar with the discussions, the proposal would give preference to government contractors that pay their hourly workers a “living wage” and provide additional benefits such as health insurance, employer-funded retirement plans and paid sick leave.

      http://dailycaller.com/2010/03…..n-industry

  2. money required to pay for…state employees receiving payment for unused sick days

    Of all the things there are to bitch about, this ain’t one of them. Sick days and vacation days are earned benefits and part of a compensation package. There is no doubt that public employees are grossly overcompensated. The fact that the work has a sufficiently low level of stress and the state is so generous with holidays, vacation and sick days that employees have some left over at the end of the year is an issue worth examining. But buying back unused days is not a problem in and of itself.

    1. use them or lose them.

      1. That is what they do in the federal system. It is amazing. Ten years ago, the federal system was the place to be. Now the states are much more generous.

    2. I agree this is small potatoes, but if the unions won’t even yield on said small potatoes then there seems to be little hope of getting them to give up anything bigger.

    3. Sick days are stupid. Consider it all Paid Time-Off. Calling it sick days instead of vacation just means honest people use them when sick and everyone else uses them as vacation.

    4. It’s CA (and think MT) state law that earned vacation time can’t be taken away. Some companies put a cap on how much you can earn, but all earned hours must be paid for.

      I don’t know about sick time… it’s all vacation time for me.

  3. Library hours have been cut in Wayland and Hull. Wakefield has deferred road and sidewalk repairs. Malden has introduced fees for trash pickup.

    Oh the horrors! Lots of wailing and gnashing of teeth in Mass, eh?

  4. I will enjoy watching the Massholes crash and burn. Not really–there are plenty of people in MA who didn’t want this–but man, somebody deserves to pay for this stupidity.

    1. They tolerate Steve Smith in Massachusetts, dude. They deserve whatever happens.

      1. Would YOU risk the contact necessary to remove him from YOUR state?

      2. Smith was actually lurking around the baseball thread. No kidding. Sadly my camera jammed before I could get irrefutable film of him.

        1. If you want to die laughing, click on the link in his name to go to his site. The two pictures he chose of himself to put on his site are…just…amazing. Just go and look. I haven’t been so entertained since that 80s white rapper guy on Tosh.0.

        2. I saw that. Luckily, Epi chased him off before anyone was raped too badly.

      3. And isn’t, um, Lowell in Massachusetts?

        1. Lowell tolerates Steve Smith most of all. If you know what I’m saying.

  5. “The cost of municipal health care more than doubled from fiscal 2001 to 2008, adding more than $1 billion in all to city and town budgets, according to state Department of Revenue data.”

    That additional $1 billion went somewhere. It’s not as if they just amassed $1 billion in cash and set it ablaze.

    Money has a life of it’s own, so where, exactly did it end up?

  6. No doubt the lefties will say “well just raise taxes!” They can’t seem to grasp that taxpayers do not have infinite piles of money to fork over; eventually the government will be taking so much that it will be futile to even bother trying to make a living.

    1. Well it is only taxes on “the rich”! Doncha see?

    2. My guess is they will do one of the following.
      1) Blame the costs on greedy health care providers, and use this as an excuse for cost controls.
      2) Look to the feds to bail them out, i.e. get money from taxpayers in more solvent states, because those states deserve to be screwed for treating their public employees so poorly.

  7. Great alt text on the chart. Those increases are greater than inflation, aren’t they Chony?

  8. Challenge to Ken Schultz and Shriek:

    Re: Ken Schultz,

    Somehow I knew you would weasel out. Here are the links:

    http://hnn.us/blogs/entries/123737.html

    http://www.economicpolicyjourn…..-paul.html

  9. “It has got to be dealt with,” said Richard Fortucci , the chief financial officer in Lynn. “Or we will all go bankrupt.”

    This seems to be common refrain. However, my progressive acquaintances assure me that you never run out of other people’s money.

    1. Well, they have no idea what sort of rude reality check is coming their way pretty soon.

  10. This illustrates another great reason for keeping most local services private: the customers of the services will pay (or not pay) as they deem necessary. With these services public, then all sorts of non-customers -e.g. those who don’t use the libraries or have kids in school – get to vote, too; this often starves service improvements as the non-customers are more inclined to resist tax increases for things they don’t use.

  11. Isn’t it the case that Boston cops cannot smoke and anyone caught smoking was fired, in order to keep health care costs down. Guess that was justified.

    1. But smoking is an addiction, ergo, a disability.

  12. On another note. Wasn’t that universal coverage, removing obstacles to care, preventive services and complete access to health care supposed to save money in the long run. I guess that didn’t work out either.

  13. Meanwhile, southern NH gets more and more MA tax refugees.

    1. Build a wall and shoot to kill. There are probably some former East German engineers who will work for cheap.

      1. As a kid on family drives, we’d occasionally see someone driving like a real asshole. We’d guess “Massachusetts” or “Connecticut”. It was almost always one or the other.

        1. Incorrect. The only possible answers are “Massachusetts” or “Jersey”. Unless you’re in the Pacific NW, and then the answers are “everyone” or “British Columbians”.

          1. Rhode Island drivers are the worst. By far. Even us Massholes would wonder what the hell they were doing half the time.

            And for such a car dominated state, Cali is pretty bad. Left lane is for passing, not slow speed cruising, you donks.

            1. Driving back to Tidewater from Mammoth Cave I fell asleep after we passed the Cumberland gap. Woke up eventually, took one look at the road and said “We’ve crossed into Virgina, huh?” The SO said “Ten minutes ago.”

              Virginia might not have the worse drivers in the country, but they are pretty damn bad, absolutely pervasive, and easily distinguishable from other bad drivers.

              1. Meh. Spend a couple weeks driving in DC and it’s ‘burbs. You’ll be looking for ways to retrofit surplus military rockets on your car.

                “I nailed that line-cutting sonuvabitch with a Sidewinder, honey!”

  14. Also, yuh alt-text is wicked, Moynihan.

  15. People have gotten mortgages based on the income they were promised after retirement. People have sent their children to college based on the income they were promised. It’s not like public employees are just blowing all this money on hookers and you have the right to take it from them. They’re investing in the community with that money.

    1. No! State employees would never do that.

    2. They’re investing in the community with that money.

      So fucking what! If the money was left in my pocket, I’d be investing in the community.

    3. Waah! Waah! You promised me more than you could pay, and I am entitled to collect my above-market benefits no matter how many of my fellow citizens you have to impoverish to do it!

      1. Those fellow citizens signed a valid contract with state employees, through their duly elected representatives. If the fellow citizens don’t want to honor their agreement, they’re always free to move elsewhere (however douchey an action that would be). If they choose not to, that indicates that they enjoy the level of service provided with the blood, sweat, and tears of state employees.

        1. What about my link? You’re forgetting the sperm of state employees. Do you choose to enjoy the level of service with the sperm of your state employees?

    4. In the vacuum of a bankrupt nation, no one can hear a bureaucrat whine.

    5. Go on, try to collect that pension check when all the private sector workers are in Texas.

      You want your entire state to look like the City of Detroit, go ahead and yell about promises instead of adjusting to reality.

  16. So far, with powerful labor unions resistant to giving away hard-won benefits

    Bullshit! There is nothing hard-won about it. The unions and the Democrats that tend to run city and state governments are in cahoots. The Democratic Party takes a tithing off every union member’s pay packet. Therefore, it is better for the Democrats that the government employees are union. At least there is conflict between private employers and unionized employees. There is no conflict between public employers and the unions because the Unions, government officials and employees are all the same people.

  17. One part of the solution, require all people that get their healthcare from the state to be a fit skinny non smoker.

    That will either shrink the size of government, or lower government healthcare costs. Either way a win/win, lol

  18. May I please vent?

    I am in Boston, and today I received the new premium rates for government required health insurance. Over the past three years, my premium has increased by 70%

    There is no controlling the costs resulting from requiring everyone to buy a product from a limited number of government approved providers. I am contemplating termination and paying the tax fine.

    November: Bring. It. On.

    1. I grew up in Boston, and all my friends who still live there have told me the same story that you just did. And they appear to be just as pissed as you are.

      The Brown election may not have been that big a deal to the rest of the nation, but to people from Taxachusetts, it was HUGE. Like epic, even. Teddy’s seat? Republican? Unpossible.

      It’s the beginning of a major backlash against the idiots in office who have taken a bad situation and made it exponentially worse. They deserve to be out on the street they have so poorly maintained.

      1. Chris Matthews told me that the Massachusetts voters were just so happy with their state universal health care that they didn’t want to share it with the rest of the country. Those Kulaks.

    2. “and paying the tax fine.”

      It’s not a tax, damnit!

  19. I’m truly sorry MA is so fucked, because I have a particular love of Boston & the accents found therein.

    1. Hey, the people of Massachusetts got exactly what they wanted: to cover everybody.

      Well guess what folks: that costs money, and lots of it.

      Any politician in either party who tells you that you can provide full coverage for everybody and lower costs at the same time without implementing some kind of rationing is lying to you. This isn’t rocket science, and I don’t who would ever believe something so preposterous.

      1. It’s not a fair comparison. A state system is always going to have the problem of people who don’t want to pay their fair share moving to a less enlightened bordering state (and possibly commuting back to the enlightened state, which means they are still most likely to end up in the enlightened state’s ERs).

        If we have a national health care mandate, then it will be a lot more difficult for people to avoid paying their fair share, mainly because we don’t have any less enlightened neighboring countries, which should tell you something.

        1. The problem of humans migrating away from lords and tyrants is best solved by building a wall so they can’t escape or making them so poor they don’t have the energy.

        2. You’re serious??? Or did Mexico get universal health care while I wasn’t watching? And I assume “enlightened” means self-destructive and delusional?

        3. “A state system is always going to have the problem of people who don’t want to pay their fair share”

          Their fair share of what? In my case, my rates went up 70% over the course of three short years, I cannot get in to see a physician, they ran completely out of all flu shots (including the seasonal one), and I spent weeks sick as hell from the flu.

          I pay the same for insurance that I pay for my mortgage, and I cannot even secure medical attention when I need it. Paying my fair share of my health care means paying zero: I got no health care, I suffered from a serious flu for several weeks, my rates are still skyrocketing, and there is no end in sight to the radically increasing costs.

          If you want to cut me a check — you know, pay your “fair share” of my health needs — do let us all know.

        4. Holy Shit Gump…

          Did you read what you wrote? You are advocating the destruction of choice. Why did the slaves want freedom? They wanted the choice and oppurtunity to go and do what they wanted to do, just like their masters. Now, you are advocating walling us all in a massive plantation surrounded by arguably shittier plantations in a world full of them, for the benefit of the “people”. Sonofabitch. Get back to Ping Pong, Running, Fishing, and having sex with crack whores. Your ideas are Orwellian.

  20. You guys are going to let a chump-change troll like Forrest zing you? Back in my day, we had joe. joe! you kids these days…*mutters incoherently*

  21. I live in MA. Sure, the Big Dig was a boondoggle, but anyone who says it hasn’t massively improved the city didn’t leave here in the mid-90s (or earlier) or is just being contrarian. 30 years from now, no-one will remember the costs of the Big Dig, but people and businesses will still reap the benefits.

    Finally, despite our health care mandate, I haven’t had to face a death panel yet.

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