AllenN's blog

The $125 Million Question

Acton has a $125 million unfunded liability for future health insurance and retirement benefits for town and school employees. This is the "present value" of these future obligations.

At last Tuesday's Finance Committee meeting (3/22/11), I was surprised to learn about these unfunded liabilities, their magnitude, and what it would cost in present-day dollars to fund them. The answers are disturbing, to say the least.

Can we ignore this conflict of interest?

It is gratifying when individuals agree to give up their free time to serve on all of the volunteer boards in town. We need these volunteers to make our local system of government work.

But while we appreciate their service, we also must insist that there are no conflicts of interest, or potential conflicts of interest.

In Acton, this is a fairly blurry line. In my view, we've done a very poor job of vetting people from conflicts of interest.

The Six Million Dollar Question

Acton's school payroll (salary and benefits) is approximately $30 million per year.

The Acton School Committee has recently voted to approve a contract extension to the Acton teachers. Overall compensation will be rising 3-4% per year for the next three years, according to the handouts provided by the School Committee. This is the "net increase" in salary and benefits, including the COLA raise, the step and lane raises, and the reduction in health insurance costs paid by the schools.

Teachers Win in Contract Negotiations

Acton's public school teachers have received a healthy raise in this year's teacher's union contract negotiations, which were approved by the School Committee in an unusual Friday night meeting (3/11/11) at around 9:30 pm. The new agreement covers the current fiscal year and two years into the future.

The agreement continues the steps, lanes, and supermax bonuses which represent an approximate 3% annual increase in compensation for the group.

In addition, the teachers will be getting a $750 annual Cost of Living raise in Fiscal Year 12 and a $1,000 raise in FY13.

School Committee: Do what is best for our children

The School Committee (SC) makes difficult decisions every meeting, but the one decision it doesn't need to make is whether it should balance what is good for the kids with what is good for taxpayers. They should always be on the side of the kids. That's their primary job.

Congratulations, Democrats!

Democrats in Massachusetts should feel pretty good about the statewide elections last Tuesday. They won a clean sweep of all the major offices, even as the national mood has shifted away from President Obama.

Congratulations, Democrats!

Most fiscally conservative voters chose to vote for Republicans or Independents, but the Democratic "machine" was simply too powerful, and the anti-incumbency feeling did not permeate very far here.

So now what? I would like to suggest that we give the Democrats what they want. Let me explain.

Boston Globe endorses Charles Manson for Governor

(BOSTON, MA) - Today's Boston Globe endorsed Charles Manson (D-Calif.) for governor of Massachusetts, calling him "not perfect, but better than the alternative."

"We were under a lot of pressure to endorse a Charlie, and this was the best we could do," they said in a prepared statement.

"Charlie Baker is a nice enough guy, but he just doesn't have the judicial experience that Mr. Manson has, and that could be necessary sometime over the next four years," the Globe editorial board said.

Atkins and Hayes for State Rep; Thompson for State Senator

There are two major criteria for picking who to vote for in an election. First, you can look at the candidates and decide who best reflects your opinions. But no one is going to exactly match what you think, and politicians are known to vote differently than promised on occasion, so that isn't a foolproof voting strategy.

The second is to make a judgment on elected officials if running for re-election.

Where's Ledoux?

Every three years, the School Committee makes its most important decision, which is to negotiate and approve new contracts with the school unions. There are three unions; one represents the custodial staff, one for office support staff, and one for teachers. Collectively, these agreements commit the town to about $75 million dollars in spending over three years.

Often, at Town Meeting, speakers lament that we get locked into these contracts and have over-committed our financial resources. So it is very important that when the contracts come up for renewal, we tread very carefully.

Middle Ground

I am a Scott Brown supporter, not just because he is a Republican, but because he is a moderate. And he is proving that nearly every week as he decides which Obama initiatives to support and which not to support.

But notice how his critics personally attack him when he disagrees with them, but praise him when he supports their position. Is it fair to commend him today and vilify him tomorrow? Isn't he the same person?

Looking into the Crystal Ball....

Town Manager Steve Ledoux has publicly stated that the union contracts he negotiates with the municipal unions will be "zero cost increase" contracts. This means that the increased cost to the town for all employee expenses will be zero over the next three years.

This doesn't mean that the employees will not get raises. The raises will be modest, but they will be balanced off with changes in the health insurance plans, so that the expensive plans will be phased out and lower-cost plans (HMOs) will be used by all.

The other shoe is dropping

When my favorite socialist, Barack Obama, was running for election, he claimed that he could cover his expensive social programs and unfunded mandates without raising taxes on the middle class. Remember that?

At first, he said that individuals making over $200,000 a year, or couples making over $250,000, would not see a tax increase under his administration. I never believed that assertion no matter how insistent he was in repeating it. Did you? Do you really think money grows on trees and the "wealthy" can pay for everything?

Acton School Committee Open Meeting Law Violations: THE COVERUP MAY BE WORSE THAN THE OFFENSE

When Charlie Kadlec and I filed the Open Meeting Law complaint against the School Committees in Acton, it took over nine months for the Middlesex DA to rule that eight meetings of the School Committee and/or its subcommittee had violated the Open Meeting Law. This issue was explored by the local paper as well as on Acton Forum SEE ARTICLE.

Teachers’ Union Demonstration – Rallying for Respect or Bullying for Benefits?

How ironic that the anti-bullying task force came back to report on its findings at the May 6, 2010 School Committee (SC) meeting the very same night that the teacher's union decided to try to bully the School Committee.

I don't know what else to call it, when over 200 staff members (two-thirds of the AEA membership) show up at a School Committee meeting to protest being "disrespected" by members of the School Committee.

If you've attended any School Committee meetings, you know that many of the SC members do act disrespectfully to the public. I've seen it, and I've experienced it.

Town Meeting - We could have done better on police union contract

On Monday night, April 5, Town Meeting will be asked to approve the funding for the first of several municipal union contracts that have expired. This one is for the police supervisor's union, which is comprised of eight officers. (The others are still in negotiation and won’t be presented to this Town Meeting.) Article 12 is for the last three years and Article 13 goes forward another three.

Which political party is more corrupt?

Which political party is more corrupt? Republicans or Democrats?

Before you answer, be careful: It is a trick question.

The answer is both of them. More accurately, it is all of them.

The communists are corrupt, the fascists are corrupt, and the socialists are corrupt. The federalists and the whigs were corrupt. Royalty is corrupt.

Politicians aren't the only ones. We know many business leaders are corrupt. Lawyers, accountants, doctors and dentists can be corrupt. People we trust with our lives and our life's savings can be corrupt.

Acton Needs an Endowment

Acton’s budget system is a mess. As a town, we rely on property taxes, which is a stable source of revenue, but we also depend on fees and state aid. State aid is particularly fickle. Every few years, there is a statewide crisis and that trickles down to us, which causes a local crisis.

And in a downturn, like we have now, we choose to spend reserves instead of cutting back expenses. This sets us up for an override in a future year. These overrides are divisive and cause catastrophe if they don’t pass. This is a terrible way to manage long-term finances.

Revenue versus Overhead

When President Obama says that his economic stimulus package is creating jobs, that is true. Several million jobs were created or saved by that spending.

When Senator Brown says that no jobs were created, he is also speaking a truth. If you create or save 2 million jobs here, but you lose 3 million jobs there, then your net is a loss of 1 million jobs.

But both politicians miss the point. It is very important what type of jobs you create (or save). We need to grow jobs that provide income, not expense. Let me explain.

Tim for Trouble

I am a believer in the two-party system of government. This belief was formed during a long-ago political science class which proposed the premise that in order to be legitimate, elected officials had to receive over 50% of the vote. This bedrock principle could be violated when you have a viable third-party candidate and the system allows someone to win when they have a plurality but not a majority. Electing candidates without majority support is fraught with danger for democracy.

Gov. Patrick announces new Auto Buying Initiative

April 1, 2010

(BOSTON) - Gov. Deval Patrick, citing the rising cost of automobile ownership in the Bay State, has announced a new program to allow "every working family access to a brand new vehicle at a reasonable cost."

Citing his recent decision last February 11 to cap rising health insurance premiums for small business, Patrick said this is the next logical step. "Getting to work is a right that every working family has. And we need to get our citizens back to work. If having a new car is necessary to achieve that goal, then I'm all for it."

Can we reduce Acton's labor costs?

The Commonwealth of Massachusetts has entered into a Faustian bargain with the public-sector employee unions, and that decision is going to cost taxpayers in Acton (and around the Commonwealth) a bundle.

State law gives public employees the right to negotiate their own union contracts so long as they agree not to strike. (Introduction to the law is here: http://www.mass.gov/lrc/publications/gb-introduction.pdf. The full explanation is here: http://www.mass.gov/lrc/publications/gb-all.pdf)

Brother, Can You Spare a Cup of Joe?

Health Insurance Reform, Part 2

In the first post, we discussed the so-called "death panels" and how the government would have to get involved in individual health-care decisions that are now made by patients, their doctors, and their insurers. We also talked about the potential demise of the best care available in the world when government mandates and cost-controls are imposed on doctors' salaries.

In this part, we will examine what happens when additional mandates like mandatory health insurance are added to the burden on business.

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Is Health Insurance a Right?

From President Obama on down, we have heard repeatedly in the healthcare debate that Americans have a "right" to affordable health insurance. In my view, this is the critical issue and perhaps the reason why Democrats and Republicans have not been able to (and perhaps never will) reach a compromise.

Deficit Spending makes a comeback

About six or seven years ago, in what I remember was my first Acton Town Meeting, I was in the audience when someone got up to complain about the budget being presented that night.

"This budget is out of balance. You are using one-time revenues, called Free Cash, in order to fund operations. This is unsustainable."

That statement seemed self-evident. I knew from "Accounting 101" that one-time revenues shouldn't fund recurring operations. It leads to overspending.

The Beacon on the Ropes

The Beacon, Acton’s weekly newspaper, is clearly suffering.

For this political observer, it takes about 2 minutes to read through the paper these days.

There are no compelling “letters to the editor,” unless you want to read "thank you" notes.

The news articles typically rehash what has happened at this or that local committee meeting. Nothing is covered consistently.