Mass Municipal Association Executive Director Geoffrey Beckwith has a guest column in this week's Newton Tab calling for municipal health insurance reform as a way to save taxpayers $100 million a year and thereby preserve local services: "We urge all voters and taxpayers to ask candidates for the Legislature for a commitment to pass strong municipal health insurance reform when the Legislature convenes in January. Otherwise, the fiscal problems we face will get worse, and local taxpayers will continue to pay more and get less in return."

Voters Count is contributing to this effort by surveying every incumbent and challenger on where they stand on this issue, and we will publish the results within the next few weeks. Sign up here to get alerted!
 
 
"State workers suspended from their jobs continue collecting paychecks for months, sometimes years, even after allegations of serious crimes, a FOX Undercover investigation has found."  Click HERE for the story.
 
 
Reporter Noah Bierman of the Boston Globe did a long piece on Sunday taking a look at Deval Patrick's record on reform:
"Patrick, over nearly four years in office, has steered the state through a number of high-profile changes in the way it does business. Aside from transportation, Patrick has signed or implemented overhauls of laws on ethics, pensions, criminal records, detail pay and education stipends for police, auto insurance, municipal health care, charter schools, and others. Patrick and his supporters say no governor has made so much progress taking on the entrenched political culture of Massachusetts, pointing to regular labor protests as evidence that he has taken on powerful constituencies. Steve Crosby, dean of the McCormack Graduate School of Policy Studies at the University of Massachusetts Boston, said Patrick deserves credit for taking on police details at construction sites and education incentives for law enforcement. “That’s threatening the police unions, the public safety unions, and most governors wouldn’t touch that with a 10-foot poll,’’ said Crosby, who is neutral in the race. “That takes a lot of nerve, a lot of courage.’"... “Reform has not been the administration’s first instinct,’’ said Michael J. Widmer, president of the Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation, a business-backed watchdog often consulted by lawmakers and the administration. “He does deserve some credit for doing some reforms, though in some cases he’s been dragged kicking and screaming, and others have been untouched.’’
 
 
Scot Lehigh writes about the gubernatorial candidates and what they're saying about reform... and whether their promises are realistic.
 
 
This editorial in yesterday's Newton Tab suggests voters ask candidates this question: "Will you support — and demand the Legislature’s leaders bring to a vote — legislation giving local officials the authority to bring health insurance costs under control?"
 
 
An editorial in yesterday's Salem News says if police want to keep winning road detail contracts, "They should lower their hourly rates, and get rid of the contract language that ensures they get paid for a minimum of four hours or work regardless of whether they work four hours or just 15 minutes. They should erase clauses that allow them to get paid for details that are canceled due to inclement weather. In other words, they should embrace that age-old American quality that has served as the backbone of our economy and society — competition."
 
 
From the Wall Street Journal today: "A Minnesota court on Wednesday will consider whether the state can curtail pension benefits for current retirees from state jobs, in a case that could affect struggling public pension funds nationwide."
 
 
This op-ed in today's New York Times has some sobering numbers regarding the combined underfunding of state public pension systems:

"If you use the most recent data from government accounting standards, the collective shortfall for state and local governments nationwide appears to be about $1 trillion. If you use corporate accounting standards to estimate the value of those public pensions, however, you come up with a shortfall two and a half times as large — about $2.5 trillion. Employing a third approach that assumes, as economists generally do, that even corporate accounting standards in this area are too lenient, public pension underfunding is about $3.5 trillion, or one-quarter of gross domestic product."

The op-ed concludes,  the social contracts that exist today in many places among taxpayers, beneficiaries of public services and public employees need to be renegotiated before a crisis arrives"
 
 
This Scot Lehigh column from a couple days ago emphasizes what we pointed out a few weeks ago - that when it comes to municipal health care reform, Charlie Baker is right and Deval Patrick is not:

"Patrick has shied away from one essential reform to reduce local costs: Giving municipalities the unrestricted right to join the state’s Group Insurance Commission, which provides health insurance plans for state employees, or granting them the same authority the state has to make adjustments in the design of health plans. Local unions currently have virtual veto power over their town’s ability to join the GIC, and any change in co-pays and other terms must be negotiated with those same unions.That reform would save $100 million in year one, and a lot more thereafter. Some of the savings would result from the lower rates the GIC enjoys because of its bargaining clout, some through raising uncommonly low co-pays and deductibles.

"But though Patrick has proposed weakening the union veto, he does not support giving local officials sole authority either to join the GIC or adjust plan features. The unions must have a place at the table, he insists.

"Why that stance? Well, preserving their generous benefits is a vital concern for labor. Having already strained his labor ties by pursuing other reforms, Patrick simply hasn’t been willing to seize the local budget-busting bull by its health care horns.
“I would have been out there campaigning . . . on behalf of this issue, building a case for it, creating a context where the Legislature would be compelled to do something about this,’’ Baker says."