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An effort to raise the Massachusetts minimum wage by $3 per hour has run into static on Beacon Hill, where business groups have protested the size of the wage hike, and demanded that any minimum wage increase come paired with cost savings in unemployment insurance. The fight has taken shape along predictable lines, with a coalition labor unions, religious groups, and liberal activists and politicians on one side, and business groups and fiscally conservative lawmakers on the other.

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Few state audits in recent memory have triggered the kind of attention now being paid to state Auditor Suzanne Bump’s report on the welfare system’s apparent issuing of payments to dead people. Bump’s office says nearly 1,200 dead people got $2.4 million in benefits for four to 27 months after they died. In addition, the audit reports finding another $15.6 million in “questionable or suspicious” activity on electronic benefits cards.

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The US Attorney’s long-running investigation of probation is apparently catching a second wind, with the Globe reporting that a Worcester grand jury is focusing on Democratic legislators, particularly House Speaker Robert DeLeo and his rumored use of probation jobs to gain an edge in the 2009 speaker’s fight.

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Beacon Hill has been wrestling with the MBTA’s chronic budget shortfalls for a year now, and with two months left to shore up the T’s budget, legislative leaders remain at loggerheads. It’s not for lack of ideas or money: In a Globe op-ed today, former state transportation secretary Fred Salvucci solves the T’s broken budget in 750 words.

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For years, those trying to control health care costs have placed private and public attempts on par with the little Dutch boy who put his finger in the dike to plug a hole. We never have enough fingers to stem the flood. But maybe we’ve been looking at it wrong.

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When in doubt, study is the default strategy of Massachusetts lawmakers when it comes to dealing with prickly issues like transportation finance.

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“Too complicated, too big.”

Those were the words the Tax Expenditure Commission used to describe the tangle of tax breaks that amount to over $26 billion, or more in foregone tax revenue than the state takes in each year, according to the State House News Service. The commission was convened to study the financial impact of the credits and exemptions, and is expected to release a final report next month.

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Higher gas taxes. New tolls. Charging drivers by the mile. Everyone has an idea of how to fix what ails the MBTA. The latest trial balloon would reallocate $20 million in unspent Massachusetts Department of Transportation snow removal funds  to the MBTA. Unfortunately, that remedy depends on the vagaries of Mother Nature. A late February, March, or April blizzard (they do happen) could plow right through what’s left in the snow removal kitty and then some.

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Stuck inside this weekend? Here’s some reading to get you through the hurricane and up to speed on Massachusetts policy and politics.

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Harvard Business School professor Rosabeth Moss Kanter says flourishing cities have sex appeal. I hadn’t thought about cities that way, but she’s got a point. The good ones have a certain magnetism about them, attracting people, resources, opportunities, and ideas. “Cities are one big dating game,” she says. Continue Reading
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Microsoft founder Bill Gates is deep into state finances these days, worried that government officials are using so many accounting tricks to balance their budgets that precious public education dollars will be squandered.

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It couldn’t be termed a constitutional crisis but the decision by the new Republican-controlled House to read the Constitution into the Congressional Record was as much hysterical as historical. Continue Reading
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By Gabrielle Gurley

Not exactly. Anti-tax activists won’t get any ammunition from the US Census Bureau for their tax rollback efforts.  The bureau’s annual study of State and Local Government Finances for fiscal year 2008 found that the amount of state and local taxes turned over to Massachusetts as a share of total personal income was 10.3 percent in FY 2008.  Thirty other states had more to complain about: crunching those numbers, the Massachusetts Budget and Policy Center concluded that the Bay State ranks 31st in country in taxes.  Looking at those figures another way, the state placed in the bottom 40 percent of all 50 states for taxes as a share of state personal income two years ago. Continue Reading
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By Michael Norton
STATE HOUSE NEWS SERVICE

The Chicago-based hedge fund hiring Michael Travaglini away from the state pension management team survived the pension fund’s downsizing of its hedge fund portfolio last fall and landed a major asset management contract under his watch, the News Service has learned.

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By Alison Lobron

The bright lights of casinos have entranced Beacon Hill for years, but a new report from the American Gaming Association offers a stark reminder that glittering slot machines do not cure all budget deficits. Continue Reading
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By Bruce Mohl

The Massachusetts House voted Wednesday night to create a budget website where taxpayers could track the flow of funds in and out of state government – even money doled out in the form of tax credits. Continue Reading
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By Bruce Mohl

The House budget plan is not expected to include Gov. Deval Patrick’s proposal to move the state’s probation service out of the judiciary and into the executive branch, according to a source briefed on the situation.

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By Gabrielle Gurley

With all eyes on the big dogs in the governor’s race, the underdog can afford to go out on a limb.

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By Robert David Sullivan

Today's Boston Herald has a follow-up to yesterday's story by Jay Fitzgerald that implied that the lion's share of federal stimulus funds were hijacked by the Patrick administration to pay for "hack" government jobs. Yesterday's front-page story, headlined "GOV'S STIM FLAM" on the front and "Stimulus saves hacks" on the inside, made it seem like the Patrick administration had chosen to steer stimulus funds toward public-sector jobs.

Today's story, buried deep in the paper and the website (and without any link to the previous story), gives more than a passing notice to the fact that much of the stimulus funding in question was specifically earmarked by the feds for hiring or retaining public-sector employees. (It's not quite a correction, more of a grudging acknowledgment that maybe Patrick isn't lying on this score.)

Putting aside the specifics of this particular story, my question for the Herald is, when did they start using "hack" to describe every single person in the public sector, no matter what their qualifications, salaries, duties, and competence in performing their jobs?

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By Bruce Mohl

The Wall Street Journal reports that a number of Massachusetts officials, including state Treasurer Timothy Cahill, received campaign contributions from out-of-state law firms in connection with their push for pension fund litigation.

The front-page report says Cahill received $10,000 in $500 donations in 2005 from people associated with Labaton Sucharow LLP, a New York plaintiffs’ law firm. At the time, the firm was vying to become one of several securities litigator for the $40 billion state pension fund, which Cahill chairs. Continue Reading
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