Today's Boston Globe reports that 45 cities and towns have sent letters to the Department of Unemployment Assistance detailing what they see as abuses in the system:

■After taking mandatory retirement at age 65, some former police officers and firefighters collect unemployment benefits along with their pensions.

■Teachers who have been informed that their contracts may not be renewed for the following academic year receive a notification letter in the spring, and many receive a lump-sum payment in June to cover their salary through August. Despite being under contract, receiving pay and medical benefits, some file for and receive unemployment compensation benefits in July and August, then resume teaching when the school year begins.

■Teachers in an area of “critical need’’ are allowed to return to teach at full pay after they retire, without any income limitations or pension offsets. Once the school district fills the position, however, the retiree is allowed to collect unemployment benefits in addition to his/her pension.

■When they are paid by the municipality (and not the school district), some school bus drivers are eligible for unemployment benefits for school vacations, holidays, and other days off. (It was not mentioned in the letter, but municipal officials said that school crossing guards and substitute teachers also have filed for and received unemployment benefits because school was not in session or they were not called in to work.)

■One municipality hired a reserve police officer full time, and sent him to the state’s police academy. The recruit did not receive a passing grade at the academy and was returned to the reserve ranks, where he or she applied for and was granted unemployment benefits.

"Lynnfield Town Administrator Bill Gustus authored the letter that detailed holes in the state’s unemployment compensation system as it relates to municipal employees, including scenarios that were termed “questionable’’ or, in one case, defying “the laws of sanity.’’
 
 
From Boston.com:  "Cities and towns in Massachusetts do not have to pay the state's share of a career incentive program that rewards police with higher pay for advancing their education, the state's highest court ruled Wednesday.

...

"The case was closely watched by cities and towns. If the ruling had gone the other way, some Massachusetts communities would have been required to pay millions of dollars to make up for the state's underfunded half of the program."


 
 
From last week's Boston Herald:

"... it’s the latest scam involving untold armies of Massachusetts municipal employees: teachers, school bus drivers, volunteer firefighters, cops... we know they get generous retirement pensions plus very generous health care. But now, incredibly — hard to fathom even here in public corruption ground zero — they get unemployment, too."

(Margery Eagan asked Attorney General Martha Coakley about this on WTKK 96.9 radio last week and she agreed it was something that should be looked into)

 
 
According to the Courthouse News Service, "The Service Employees International Union claims Massachusetts violated the state's "Pacheco Law" by privatizing services in the Department of Mental Health, and laying off more than 100 case managers."

As we have detailed, the Pacheco Law sets extremely high barriers for privatization of state services, going beyond what virtually any other state in the country requires.
 
 
From today's New York Daily News: Governor Andrew Cuomo has told state lawmakers pension reform is his highest priority and he is willing to let the government shut down if they don't pass it.

"The reforms are projected to save the state and local governments $113 billion over 30 years, including $30 billion in savings for the city.  “The current pension system is great for the people who are in it, and it is an abject failure for the taxpayers of this state,” Cuomo said."



 
 
Governor Deval Patrick deserves credit for the reforms he has championed -- pension reform, municipal health care reform, and reining in police details

However Jim Stergios of the Pioneer Institute points out in last week's Boston Globe that there is still a long ways to go before Massachusetts is on sound financial footing:

"The fact is that the Bay State addressed its billion-dollar-plus structural deficit by pushing off the repayment date for the state’s $18.6 billion unfunded pension liability. In essence, we “refinanced’’ our pension debt by deciding that we will not repay the liability by 2025, instead electing to pay it off 15 years later, by 2040.

"Worse, the pension refinancing scheme killed the tacit agreement among legislators to pay out the pension liability by 2025 so we could begin paying down our other unfunded multibillion-dollar liability - the state’s $15.6 billion liability for health care coverage for retired state employees... The state will now pay billions of extra dollars in the future on the pension liability. That is an unfair burden to place on future generations, just so we can continue spending now."

 
 
Commonwealth Magazine ran a piece last week about all the politicians lining up lawyers in advance of possible charges in the Probation Department scandal.

"Campaign finance records indicate a number of lawmakers identified as frequent sponsors of job candidates at the Probation Department have hired lawyers using money from their political accounts. The payments don’t specify why the lawyers were hired, but the fees come at a time when nervousness about the probation investigations is reaching a fever pitch on Beacon Hill."
 
 
This morning's Globe op-ed by Scot Lehigh: "It's a battle some doubted would ever be waged, let alone won. But now, municipal health reform, which lets cities and towns bring local health care plans into line with state offerings, is paying big dividends."

- First-year savings expected to exceed $100 million
- Savings are being shared with local employees
- House Speaker Robert DeLeo and Ways and Means Committee Chairman Brian Dempsey deserve a lot of credit for their political courage in pushing the law through

Has your city or town taken advantage of the new law?
 
 
This morning's op-ed from Scot Lehigh: "It’s a battle some doubted would ever be waged, let alone won. But now, municipal health reform, which lets cities and towns bring local health care plans into line with state offerings, is paying big dividends."



 
 
__According to this January 26 Brockton Enterprise article, Brockton is considering taking advantage of the new municipal health care law passed last year (with the help of Voters Count) to negotiate less costly health care benefits for city workers.

"When the City Council’s Finance Committee meets on Feb. 6, its  members will be sitting between a rock and a hard place. On one side is Mayor Linda Balzotti, who wants to save the city millions of dollars by adopting the state’s municipal health care reform law.    On the other side are city unions are looking to protect their collective bargaining rights over health benefits."

The benefits to the city are huge: "If the city had the insurance reforms in place for the current fiscal year, it would have saved about $4 million in premiums, while employees and retirees would have saved $2 million, according to Balzotti." 

$4 million is a lot of money that Brockton could then apply toward schools, police and firefighters.

"She said saving $4 million next budget year – 25 percent of which would have to be returned in the first year to the employees hardest-hit by the insurance changes – would be a “huge” help in balancing the city’s budget."
 
In addition, "By switching to less expensive plans for current and retired workers, the city would also be decreasing the un-funded health benefits it owes its current and future retirees, currently valued at $693 million over the next 30 years."