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Fiscal concerns trump political loyalties

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The Massachusetts Legislature continued to put fiscal concerns ahead of political loyalties as the Senate voted 24-10 for a bill that would make new public employees work longer for less benefits.

The bill, which mirrors legislation filed by Gov. Deval Patrick, is designed to save the state $3 billion and municipalities $2 billion over the next 30 years by reducing retirement benefits for employees hired after January 1. A Boston Globe story says the measure would raise the minimum retirement age from 55 to 60 and from 65 to 67 for maximum benefits. The legislation also bases an employee’s retirement benefits on the top five years of earnings rather than the top three.

The vote was another setback for public sector unions in Massachusetts. Earlier this year, the Legislature passed and Patrick signed into law legislation that gave municipalities far greater power to curb rising health insurance costs.

Union leaders criticized the pension overhaul and warned it will lead to higher turnover in the public sector, but lawmakers said the measure is balanced and necessary to address the state’s $17 billion unfunded pension liability. Bond rating agencies were also watching. The Lowell Sun notes Standard & Poor’s has given Massachusetts a rating two notches below AAA but with a positive outlook.

On the bond front, Massachusetts appears to be bucking a national trend. A new Harvard Kennedy School study suggests states with weaker unions, weaker collective bargaining rights, and fewer Democratic state legislators tend to pay lower bond rates because they are considered a lower financial risk by financial analysts. By contrast, states with stronger unions and a higher proportion of Democrats tend to pay more to borrow money.

Among the states studied, Massachusetts had the highest proportion of Democrats in its Legislature and strong unions, yet its borrowing costs have returned to the level they were before the 2008 credit seizure.

                                                                                                                                                                                --BRUCE MOHL


BEACON HILL

CommonWealth looks at the breakdown of Wednesday night’s House vote for casinos, including what it says about Speaker Robert DeLeo’s grip on power. Also highlighted: the 10 Boston reps who supported the bill even though it means their constituents will be cut out of any say over the siting of a casino in Boston at Suffolk Downs. That’s also the focus of the Globe’s lead editorial today. CommonWealth’s Michael Jonas spotlights the number that casino proponents do their best to avoid or just deny altogether: the estimated 35 percent of casino revenues that come from problem gamblers.

In her weekly appearance on local radio station WATD, Senate President Therese Murray said the Senate is in no rush to take up the casino bill. Jon Keller says the evidence is pretty solid that casinos will create a short-term jobs boost in construction and initial hiring but the long-term prospects are far more dicey, so to speak. Universal Hub asked its readers what the state should do with gambling revenues and as of this morning, “Pay down the MBTA’s debt” had an overwhelming lead. The jobs touted as the biggest argument for casinos are likely to be years away. On the flip side: While waiting for those jobs to materialize, Bay State residents may be able to pass the time with some online poker action.

The state retirement board, to no one’s surprise, has suspended Sal DiMasi’s $5,000 a month pension.

Danvers state Rep. Ted Speliotis calls for a six-month residency requirement for emergency shelter services, the Salem News reports. He says out-of-state families are coming into the state in the morning and being granted a fully paid hotel room that evening. Currently, 128 homeless families are living in Danvers motels.

African-American clergymen call on Gov. Deval Patrick to reject redistricting plans that dilute the votes of minority residents.

The Legislature prepares to take up onshore wind turbine siting regulations.

TODDLER TRAGEDY

The agency that hired the van driver who left a Dorchester for hours in a sweltering day care transport van, where he died, had considered earlier this year having a second employee in all vans after a driver was accused of raping a 5-year-old girl, but decided against the plan.

MUNICIPAL MATTERS

Rockland officials are looking for Hanover and Abington to help out developing a “rail trail” along an abandoned railroad track through the three towns.

Pittsfield needs to solve the problem created by skateboarders and cyclists who use downtown sidewalks, says The Berkshire Eagle.

Arlington joins the GIC.

North Attleboro residents aren’t rolling out the red carpet for the Army Reserve.

NATIONAL POLITICS/WASHINGTON

House Speaker John Boehner throws red meat at the Club for Growth.

The 2012 federal budget will not get done on time. You are now free to pick your jaws off the floor.

A new federal report says the controversial Secure Communities deportation program has worsened relations with broad swaths of the immigrant community.

An Alabama county hurtles toward what could be the largest municipal bankruptcy in the country’s history.

ELECTION 2012

It was only a matter of time: Mitt Romney’s campaign starts playing the electability card as he vies with the fiery, but not always politic, Rick Perry.

US Senate candidate Elizabeth Warren visits Xenith, a sports-helmet manufacturer in Lowell, and walks away with a football helmet, the Lowell Sun reports. The helmet  could come in handy. She tells voters in Springfield, “I wasn’t born at Harvard.”

Echoing David Ortiz, the irrepressible James Carville tells the White House: It’s time to panic.

Republican state lawmakers are making a push to re-write election laws to disadvantage the voters likely to pull the lever for President Obama.

The New York Times wags a disapproving finger at this new collection of internet rumors that have been repackaged as a biography of maybe-candidate Sarah Palin.

BUSINESS/ECONOMY

Massachusetts job growth ground to a halt last month with state figures showing 9,000 jobs lost, though two-thirds of that was due to the Verizon strike, which took place while the survey was being performed.

The US Postal Service is considered shuttering and not replacing its massive central facility near South Station, a move that could mean the loss of 1,300 jobs.

A new study shows charities are barely raising enough money from new and repeat donors to make up for the gap of those who have ceased giving, with large and medium charities showing slight increases while smaller nonprofits, which raise less than $100,000 a year, saw a 12.2 percent drop last year.

San Francisco is trying to reduce income inequality by offering college savings accounts to children entering the city’s kindergarten classes, WBUR reports. The city will deposit $50 in each account and $100 for students who receive free and reduced price lunches.

The Daily Beast’s Leslie Bennetts says tales of a “mancession” are overstated; she says women are the ones in dire straits.

The Big Y supermarket chain is doing away with self-service checkout lanes, saying the lanes actually lengthened checkout times as customers grappled with bar codes, coupons, and payment methods, the Lowell Sun reports (via AP).
 
EDUCATION

Brown University President Ruth Simmons, the first black woman to lead an Ivy League university, will step down at the end of the current academic year.

HEALTH CARE

Steward, the state’s second largest hospital network, plans to offer health insurance through the Tufts Health Plan that will cost 20 to 30 percent less than other coverage offered by other health insurers, WBUR and the Globe report.

Radio Boston discusses a new study suggesting the Massachusetts health care reform law has harmed the state’s economy.

We have met the death panels, and they are us.

TRANSPORTATION

The US Senate reaches a compromise that avoids a second shutdown of the Federal Aviation
Administration.

A Somerville activist contrasts MassDOT’s Fast 14 bridge program with the perpetual delays on the Green Line extension.

ENERGY/ENVIRONMENT

The Lowell Sun reports on the dangers posed by ethanol trains that will start running along the Fitchburg-Ayer commuter rail line next year. CommonWealth first raised the issue last month.

CRIMINAL JUSTICE

Four girls at Plymouth North High School are likely facing charges after they admitted posting Columbine-like threats on Facebook.

A Level 3 sex offender in Lowell is charged with rape at a homeless shelter, the Lowell Sun reports.

Peter Gelzinis asks why the FBI is eager to pay a nameless Icelandic Whitey Bulger tipster, but refuses to pay the families of Bulger’s victims.

MEDIA

CBS Boston (Channel 4) has the results of the voting in the Most Valuable Blogger competition for 2011 and there are some disparities between the People’s Choice and Editors Choice in several of the categories. We’re not bitter we didn’t make any of the lists. Really, we’re not. (Charlatans.)

Globe editor Marty Baron on Greater Boston talks about his 10 years at the paper’s helm and the recent online changes. He also joins Jim Braude on NECN to talk about BostonGlobe.com, the newspaper website that costs $3.99 a week.

The Nieman Journalism Lab takes you inside the Boston Globe’s new innovation lab.

Pat Robertson, on the Christian Broadcast Network, stirs controversy by condoning divorce when a spouse has Alzheimer’s, reports the Los Angeles Times.

Time’s Sean Gregory asks: Is this the year the New England Patriots get fun?

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