Tuesday, September 30, 2008

To tax or not to tax, that is the Question 1

Are the voters of Massachusetts going to pull a “David Copperfield” on Tuesday, November 4th by making the state income tax go poof? The last attempt at this in 2002 nearly passed with 45.3% of voters saying “abracadabra.”

My purpose with this blog entry is to inform rather than take a side on this controversial question. (Of course, I’ll never be able to accomplish that. You are hereby forewarned.) First, let’s take a look at the Question as it will appear on the ballot:

QUESTION 1: Law Proposed by Initiative Petition

State Personal Income Tax

Do you approve of a law summarized below, on which no vote was taken by the Senate or the House of Representatives before May 6, 2008?

This proposed law would reduce the state personal income tax rate to 2.65% for all categories of taxable income for the tax year beginning on or after January 1, 2009, and would eliminate the tax for all tax years beginning on or after January 1, 2010.

The personal income tax applies to income received or gain realized by individuals and married couples, by estates of deceased persons, by certain trustees and other fiduciaries, by persons who are partners in and receive income from partnerships, by corporate trusts, and by persons who receive income as shareholders of “S corporations” as defined under federal tax law. The proposed law would not affect the tax due on income or gain realized in a tax year beginning before January 1, 2009.

The proposed law states that if any of its parts were declared invalid, the other parts would stay in effect.


IN FAVOR: “41% waste in Massachusetts state government,” reveals survey. Eliminating government waste is one reason to vote “Yes.”

Your “Yes” vote cuts your state income taxes 50% starting this January 1st – and eliminates the last 50% next January 1st. For you and for 3,400,000 Massachusetts workers and taxpayers.

Your “Yes” vote gives back $3,700 each to 3,400,000 Massachusetts workers and taxpayers – including you – on average when we end the state income tax. $3,700. Each worker. Every year.


Your “Yes” vote will create hundreds of thousands of new Massachusetts jobs.

Your “Yes” vote will NOT raise your property taxes NOR any other taxes.

Your “Yes” vote will NOT cut, NOR require cuts, of any essential government services.

Your “Yes” vote rolls back state government spending 27% - $47.3 billion to $34.7 billion – more than state government spending in 1999.

3,400,000 Massachusetts workers, taxpayers and their families need your help. Please vote “Yes.”

Authored by: Carla Howell, Chair

The Committee For Small Government
P.O. Box 5268
Wayland, MA 01778
(508) 630-9520
http://www.smallgovernmentact.org/


AGAINST: This legally binding initiative would slash state revenues by more than $12 billion a year – nearly 40 percent of the state budget.

• It would force dramatic cuts in state aid to cities and towns, driving up property taxes and reducing funding for vital local services.

• It would mean a drastic reduction in state funding for local public schools – leading to teacher layoffs, school closings and other cutbacks that would harm our children’s education.

• It would threaten public safety by cutting funds for police, fire protection and emergency medical services.

• It would prevent us from making badly needed repairs to the state’s aging roads and bridges, or making other investments needed to attract businesses and create jobs.

• And it could force the state to raise other taxes and fees that would hit moderate-income families hardest.

Times are tough enough. Let’s not make them worse. Vote NO.

Authored by: Peter Meade, Chair

Coalition for Our Communities
150 Mt. Vernon St., Suite 200
Dorchester, MA 02125
(617) 284-1208

* * * * *

Let’s take a look at some of the arguments for and against Question 1:

FOR: 41% of revenue coming into the state’s coffers is wasted.
This is clearly an opinion which evolved from a survey. One man’s garbage is another man’s treasure, they say.

FOR: Save $3,700 a year.
Sounds good, but does anyone believe that the state legislature will simply cut huge swaths out of the budget and skip merrily along to the next challenge? No, the efforts would focus on replacing the lost income with other tax and fee increases. Perhaps even by adopting a new version of the income tax with a different name. “Meet the new boss. Same as the old boss.”

FOR: Hundreds of thousands of new jobs just waiting to be filled.
That’s good because quite a few of the 68,000 state workers and 95,000 county, city and town workers will be looking for new gigs.

FOR: Voting “Yes” won’t cut any essential government services.
I suppose that depends on your definition of essential. To be fair, Question 1 slashes the income tax in half for one year and then eliminates it completely starting in 2010. So we’ll theoretically have a year to prepare for the next wave of cost cutting. I say “theoretically” because we all know the real effort will be on generating new fees and taxes.

AGAINST: Passing Question 1 will slash 40% of the state’s revenues.
I’m not sure why this is an argument against Question 1. Sounds like Carla Howell could have used this on her side of the ledger. I find it interesting that the proponents say they’re reducing revenues by 27% (from $47.3 billion), whereas the opponents say it’s 40% (from $27.9 billion). Can’t we even agree on what the state budget is?

AGAINST: It would force dramatic cuts in local aid.
No doubt this is true. For a second, let’s imagine that the state actually found a way to get along on the Howell Diet, but in order to do so, all local aid was eliminated. (This, by the way, can’t happen, especially in relation to education funding, but work with me here.) Taking the Town of Sandwich as an example, about $10 million of its revenues come from the state’s local aid package. To replace that lost income with property tax revenue, the average home, which is assessed at $427,000, would have to be taxed an additional $840. Considering that the median income earner in Sandwich, at $66,000, would save about $3,300 in income taxes, I’d say that’s a pretty good swap. Even if you earn half that, you’re still ahead of the game.

AGAINST: It would force drastic cuts to education and public safety funding.
See prior paragraph.

AGAINST: It could force the state to raise other taxes and fees.
That’s an honest observation. Based on the state’s inability to just say “no,” the word “could” in this bullet point should be changed to “would.” We all know that.

But is it a foregone conclusion that there is only one way to manage this behemoth? It would seem so by the way the status quo lovers (Squols) are reacting. Let’s look at a state that manages a budget that’s about 50% bigger for a population almost four times larger.

Texas convenes its legislature on the second Tuesday of January in odd-numbered years. That’s right. Every other year. And for a constitutionally mandated maximum of 140 days. The governor holds the unique power to call a special session, which is limited to 30 days. Think about it. Only 140 days every other year to pass a biennial budget and to do all those other things legislators do. How badly can they screw things up in 140 days? Don’t answer that.

For the 23.5 million Texas residents, there are 150 representatives and 31 senators in the state house. In Massachusetts, we have 160 reps and 40 senators for 6.4 million residents. Yes, I know that we already cut back from 240 representatives in 1978. A step in the right direction, for sure.

Here’s another step in the right direction. Texas state legislators earn a cool $7,200 per year. I know what you’re thinking. They’re getting paid in even-numbered years? What a hack-o-rama they’re running down there. Keep in mind that state reps and senators spend that in-between time delivering constituent services (and dreaming up new laws they think they can fast track in 140 days).

Income tax? Along with Alaska, Florida, Nevada, South Dakota, Washington and Wyoming, Texas has no income tax. (New Hampshire and Tennessee, by the way, tax only interest and dividends.) Predictably, the Squols immediately point to high sales and property taxes in states with no income tax.

And yes, sales taxes in Texas are higher. Most cities tack on 1.5% to the state’s 6.25% and counties up that by an additional 0.5%, totaling 8.25%. One argument often made for a national sales tax, the Fair Plan for example, is that you have some control over when and how much you pay in taxes. Nonetheless, you must account for an extra 3.25% in higher sales tax. If you’re at the median income I mentioned earlier and you spend $25,000 a year on taxable stuff, that’s an extra $800 or so.

Next, the Squols point to higher property taxes. That intrigued me, so I looked up the house in Texas I grew up in and found that its current assessment is $102,000 and is subject to a whopping tax rate of $2.52 per thousand. Extrapolating that to the median house in Sandwich, assessed at $427,000, you’d pay $1,076 a year.

Before you buy me a ticket to Amarillo, let me state that all things are not equal. Average salaries, home prices and cost of living in general are markedly less down south. And the state is part owner of scads of oil and gas wells, the royalties and working interests from which fund the state’s university system. So I will allow that this is somewhat of an apples and oranges comparison.

My point, however, is that we don’t have to be lashed to the main sail of this fixed rudder schooner if we don’t want to be. It might be unsettling to ponder how we would manage if we turned state government on its head, but we would manage. And, from an historical viewpoint, what better place to do it than Massachusetts?

Copyright 2008 Randy Hunt

Thursday, September 25, 2008

A (text) message to my kids

When our two girls were visiting this summer, I noticed something I hadn’t noticed before. Both of them had developed the ability to carry on a conversation, totally unrelated to the one I was privy to, under the table. We could be having breakfast, playing cards, or doing anything else that people do when gathered around the dining room table, and it turned out that there was much more actually going on than I appreciated. It’s called texting.

There I was participating in the overt discussion about insert-topic-here and little did I know my two daughters were moderating independent forums involving several of their friends and siblings across the country. This is multi-tasking on steroids.

I’m the first one to tell you that I’ve misjudged how good an idea or invention was and whether it would take off. Back in 1987, I met a guy in Dallas who quit his job as vice president of an electrical products distributor to buy several territory licenses from a newly franchised company.

“So what’s the business?” I inquired.

“Post offices,” he replied.

“Privately owned post offices?”

“Exactly.”

In my head, I commented: “That’s the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard of.” Out loud I asked: “What’s it called?”

“Mail Boxes, Etc.”

Continuing in my head, I observed: “This guy is an idiot.”

When it comes to telephones, I’ve been on the cutting edge of technology since I was the first one on the block to be talking on the phone in the front yard (without a trailing 50-foot cable). Yes, it did have a six-foot telescoping antenna and the batteries lasted for about ten minutes, but it was the wave of the future.

In my box o’ retired electronics, I’ve got one-line, two-line and four-line wireless telephone/message machines with progressively shorter antennas and higher megahertz ratings, whatever that means. Dig a little deeper and you’ll find my first cell phone, a two-piece contraption that weighs about twenty pounds and, via a series of adapters and alligator clips, plugged into my car’s cigarette lighter.

Of course, I also had the butt-of-many-gags, brick-sized Motorola cell phone I carried around using a belt clip that complemented my pager and pocket protector. Sifting through the box, you’ll find at least ten other cell phones that were, at one time or another, the hippest gadget around. I don’t remember when I bought my first cell phone that could send text messages, but I do remember reading about this feature in the manual and thinking: “That’s the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard of.”

Why in the world would people send text messages to each other when they’re holding a device that allows them to talk? Especially when you have to type these messages using teeny little keys numbered from two to nine. Isn’t that a giant step backwards on the timeline of technological progress?

Apparently not. Texting has swept through the under-35 crowd like nothing I’ve ever experienced. My daughters can send text messages without even looking at their cell phones. Believe me, that’s not an easy task. I’ve tried it with my eyes open. It takes me five minutes to compose a one sentence message complete with perfect punctuation and grammar. And that’s where the problem lies.

Text messagers (I use that term to show my hipness) don’t follow the rules. Capital letters are as rare as hens’ teeth. If you can abbreviate it (iycai), then do it (tdi). Four score and seven years ago (fsasya), our fathers brought forth on this continent (ofbfotc) a new nation, conceived in Liberty (anncil), and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal (adttptamace).

You can see how this could get quickly out of control. Enter several official text messaging dictionaries that track the commonly used abbreviations. The one I used for the following message to my kids is http://www.techdictionary.com/.

Dear Kids:

ianal btw but issygti that tobal against im during dinner

tyvm

ttfn cyal8r

xoxoxo

Dad :)



Glossary:

ianal – I’m not a lawyer
btw – by the way
issygti – I’m so sure you get the idea
tobal – there oughta be a law
im – instant messaging
tyvm – thank you very much
ttfn – ta ta for now
cyal8r – see you all later
xoxoxo – hugs and kisses (hey, that’s one we all know)

Copyright 2008 Randy Hunt

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Gender: The new era sex

Is it Chairman? Chairwoman? Chairperson? Or just Chair?

What about Selectman? Selectwoman? Selectperson? Or just Select?

A whole industry has been born, staffed by formerly out-of-work English teachers and linguists, inventing several new and unnecessary words to promote gender sensitivity and political correctness.

Take the word “chairman.” The word is already gender-neutral. (We used to call this sex-neutral.) It no more denotes gender than the word “mankind.” Do we now need to change “mankind” to “womankind,” depending on the gender of the group we are addressing? What if the group is made up of one million women and one man? Got to go with “personkind” or “humankind,” I suppose. That lends credibility to the word “selecthuman.” Hmmm…

There is precedence in the romantic languages, where gender identification is very important. Not only are men and women distinguished by the use of gender-specific articles, but common objects assume gender characteristics, such as in the Spanish phrases la pluma (the pen—female) and el escritorio (the desk—male). So we know that Spanish speakers are very attuned to gender issues, at least grammarwise. Continuing in Spanish, a group of men are referred to as ellos. A group of women: ellas. And here’s my point: A mixed gender group is referred to as ellos. This is analogous to “selectmen” referring to a group comprised of both men and women. ¡Muchas gracias, amigos!

Not convinced yet? What about the confusion that’s created when a committee or board has co-chairmen? If they are both women, are they co-chairwomen or co-chairpersons or co-chairs? Can’t be co-chairwomen if one is a man. I kind of like “co-chairhumans-who-are-sensitive-caring-and-politically-correct.”

Here’s an authoritative source for you. The National Association of Parliamentarians, Inc. does not approve the use of “Chairperson.” In the handy reference book by Doris P. Zimmerman called Robert’s Rules In Plain English, Ms. Zimmerman states “Chairman denotes the position as head of a board or a committee. It is a parliamentary term that has nothing to do with gender. Gender is designated by addressing the individual as either ‘Madam Chairman’ or ‘Mister Chairman’.”

At this point, the astute reader would probably ask: “What am I doing reading this silly column?” Whereas, the brilliant reader would question how many of our tax dollars are being spent to change perfectly good legal documents, such as state laws and constitutions, that contain the newly-forbidden and ghastly words “he” and “his.” In fact, this happened in New York a few years ago when voters agreed on the pressing need to rewrite their state constitution. There, they changed “he” to “he/she” and “his” to “his/her.” Oh, by the way, they also changed “mankind” to “humankind.” So much for my ability to come up with an original thought.

Back to the point. Based on my extensive research into the cost of making millions of wording changes to the thousands of laws, constitutions and driving manuals, I’d say it’s going to cost a lot. That I am sure of.

Where do you come down on this pressingly hot issue? In Sandwich, the Board of Selects just elected a new Chair, who happens to be a woman. We tend to call her “Madam Chairman” in meetings. We mostly called the previous chairhuman “Tom” and the chairhomosapien before that, “Randy.”

Copyright 2008 Randy Hunt

Who wants brisket?

In case the steer horns mounted on the front of my Toyota Prius weren’t clue enough, I’ll just admit right now that I’m a washashore. From Texas, no less. But I’ve mastered the wrestling moves required to successfully consume a lobster and no longer consider whale watching in the same class as swordfishing. (Or is it called swordfish fishing? Seems a bit redundant…)

Anyway, Mary and I were planning a neighborhood get-together for about fifteen neighbors and we had to make the tough decision about what to serve: Texas chili or barbequed brisket. Mary jumped on the Internet to order a case of Claude’s Brisket Sauce; never seen it in any stores in these parts.

The day before the party, we went to the supermarket to buy twelve pounds of brisket. You’d think that we’d asked for twelve pounds of Himalayan yak livers, except that the butcher had probably extracted yak livers before. The word “brisket” meant no more to this guy than “zigglecoot.”

“It’s a cut of meat. You know, for a barbeque. Like, you know, barbequed brisket?”

“No, it’s not really a roast. It’s more like corned beef without the corn and not so salty.”

“Yes, I’m pretty sure it comes from a cow. At least I think so. Wait. You’re confusing me. Yes, definitely from a cow.”

Just then another butcher jumped into the conversation who had not only heard of the word “brisket,” but actually ate some one time when he was in the service at Ft. Hood, Texas.

“Perfect. We need twelve pounds of it.”

“What do you mean you don’t have any? What do you do with the part of the cow that makes brisket?”

“No kidding. Beef jerky? Huh.”

It turns out that corned beef starts out its life as a brisket, too. So New Englanders, especially those from South Boston, do know what it is. The trick is turning this tough piece of meat into tender, flakes-off-with-the-touch-of-a-fork Texas barbeque and not beef jerky or stringy corned beef. The way you do this is to cook it for at least ten hours while keeping it moist with the big slab of fat that comes with it. If you ask them to trim the fat, you might as well plan on eating Slim Jims.

Speaking of beef jerky, the most frequently asked question on the Texas Beef Council website (http://www.txbeef.org/) is: How can I make beef jerky at home? I’ve often considered making my own beef jerky in order to save that daily trip to Tedeschi’s.

So here’s the recipe for homemade beef jerky: Take five pounds of USDA Grade D or better beef, slice it, spice it, and put it in the oven at 140 degrees for approximately one week; two if you’re planning to be away on vacation. Not only is it a delicious treat, but it stays fresh for years. It can also double as a sole replacement for your old wingtips.

Oh, I almost forgot. We did locate two 6-pound briskets at another store and our neighbors still rave about how wonderful Mary’s brisket was to this day.

Copyright 2008 Randy Hunt

East Sandwich: Second class citizens?

Our town manager, Bud Dunham, made a very important point about public safety services in East Sandwich: These residents are receiving a lesser class of service, in terms of emergency response times, compared to most of the rest of the Town of Sandwich. If you live on Main Street, you’re within a 5-minute time window for emergency response. Live on Sandy Neck Road? Hold your breath. You’re more than 10 minutes away.

This isn’t new news, of course. The East Sandwich fire station (commonly called Station 2) has never been a 24/7 station. But over the past three decades, the population of East Sandwich has risen steadily. In fact, the entire town has grown from about 10,000 people in 1980 to around 23,000 today. People who grew up in Sandwich remember a town of fewer than 5,000 and an all volunteer fire department. It wasn’t until 1973 that we had our first around-the-clock staffing at Station 1 (next to the police station).

Does anyone believe we’re better off without a crew at Station 2? Clearly not. The objections are all based on the cost of providing the additional services. Have we been remiss in leaving Station 2 unmanned for so long? No, I don’t believe we have been remiss. When the Town’s population center shifted to south of Route 6, we reacted in 1996 by establishing 24-hour service at Station 3 (Forestdale) and again reinforced our staffing with an override to pay for nine more firefighters and a deputy fire chief a few years later. Because of budget constraints, we didn’t hire the deputy chief until last year.

Discussions centering around Station 2 have popped up every year since I was first appointed to the Finance Committee in 2001 and certainly many times before that. This year, the Board of Selectmen (BOS) asked the question: What would it take to open Station 2 with 24/7 coverage? Chief Russell, Deputy Chief Corriveau and others, no doubt, spent a great deal of time gathering information in order to answer this question. They made several presentations and answered many questions about their staffing plans. They even offered two versions of the plan; an eight-person plan and a twelve-person plan.

Last week, Dana Barrette hit the nail on the head when he observed that the BOS asked the wrong question. In a town that has never had a long range plan for public safety, we were asking a very focused question about what may or may not be correct next step to deal with our underserved residents. What we really need is a multiyear plan for moving the town from the status quo to a smart, efficient and balanced approach to providing public safety. All facets of public safety. That means police, fire protection, emergency medical services, and the coordination of these services with other town departments. After all, even the stoutest ambulance can’t drive down an unplowed street after a three-foot snow.

The motion I made at our September 18th meeting was to place an article on the October special town meeting warrant to appropriate funds, in an amount to be determined by the town manager, for generating a long range plan for public safety services with the view to put articles on the May 2009 annual town meeting that will begin the implementation of a comprehensive and mapped out solution. This is a fast-track approach to putting us in a position to make intelligent decisions regarding the future of our public safety services.

Seems reasonable. We’ve debated this issue for years. To take a few more months to pull a solid plan together is responsible, in my opinion. Should we have already completed this task several years ago? Probably so. But because we didn’t, does that mean that we should skip our due diligence and take this next step right or wrong? Of course not.

But wait. Now comes the motion to do exactly that. Bypass the planning, the analysis, the road map for the next ten to twenty years. Like the Nike ad, the motion was to “Just do it.” Can you imagine going to the voters with an override proposal without a strategic plan? Besides, we’re reading this week that the state’s revenue in September has already fallen $200 million short of projections and that the governor and senate president are working to determine a course of action which may well include the return of those “9C” cuts like we experienced several years ago. And two weeks ago could you have imagined the fallout we’re experiencing relative to the investment bank and insurance company failures?

Now is not the time to go to the taxpayer till. Let’s all settle down and do the right thing here. We can pay for a thorough study of our public safety service options using a small portion of the funds that were generated by our tax title property auction last fall. In a few short months we’ll have that strategic plan for mapping out the steps we need to take and the timeline over which the town can responsibly absorb the financial costs.

Then we’ll breathe a sigh of relief knowing that no one in the Town of Sandwich is a second class citizen.

Copyright 2008 Randy Hunt

Monday, September 22, 2008

Comparison of FY2008 tax rates (Cape Cod, South Coast, South Shore)

FY2008 TAX RATES
Massachusetts - Cape Cod, South Coast, South Shore

Town / Residential / Commercial / Personal
Sandwich 9.61 / 9.61 / 9.61

Abutters to Sandwich
Falmouth 5.65 / 5.65 / 5.65
Bourne 6.54 / 6.54 / 6.54
Barnstable 6.58 / 5.80 / 5.80
Mashpee 6.58 / 6.58 / 6.58

Abutter Avg 6.34 / 6.14 / 6.14

Proximate Towns

Wareham 6.96 / 6.96 / 6.96
Plymouth 10.33 / 10.33 / 10.33
Proximate Avg 8.65 / 8.65 / 8.65

Rest of Cape Cod
Chatham 3.67 / 3.67 / 3.67
Dennis 4.35 / 4.35 / 4.35
Truro 4.49 / 4.49 / 4.49
Orleans 4.52 / 4.52 / 4.52
Wellfleet 4.72 / 4.72 / 4.72
Eastham 5.08 / 5.08 / 5.08
Provincetown 5.12 / 5.12 / 5.12
Brewster 5.55 / 5.55 / 5.55
Harwich 6.05 / 6.05 / 6.05
Yarmouth 6.23 / 6.23 / 6.23
Rest of CC Avg 4.98 / 4.98 / 4.98

South Coast Towns
Dartmouth 6.43 / 9.78 / 9.71
Marion 7.56 / 7.56 / 7.56
Fall River 7.67 / 16.31 / 16.31
Fairhaven 7.86 / 15.67 / 15.67
Taunton 8.22 / 17.59 / 17.59
Lakeville 8.70 / 8.70 / 8.70
Freetown 8.93 / 14.08 / 14.08
Rochester 9.03 / 9.03 / 9.03
Acushnet 9.25 / 11.24 / 11.24
Mattapoisett 9.80 / 9.80 / 9.80
Raynham 10.28 / 14.12 / 14.12
New Bedford 10.55 / 21.51 / 21.51
Carver 11.33 / 17.49 / 17.49
Marlborough 12.72 / 24.58 / 24.58
South Coast Avg 9.17 / 14.10 / 14.10

South Shore Towns
Marshfield 8.72 / 8.72 / 8.72
Hingham 9.20 / 9.20 / 9.20
Duxbury 10.61 / 10.61 / 10.61
Hanover 10.61 / 11.00 / 11.00
Pembroke 10.93 / 10.93 / 10.93
Kingston 11.88 / 11.88 / 11.88
South Shore Avg 10.33 / 10.39 / 10.39


The value of one's word

When I was 19 and attending New Mexico State University as a music major, I earned part of my tuition money by playing electric bass and trombone in a six-piece party band. I was the businessman in the band, which meant that I was responsible for booking our gigs, sending out contracts, collecting the money, and paying the other musicians.

One day I received a call asking for the band to play a Saturday wedding several weeks out for $600. I agreed to play the gig and promised to get a contract in the mail. Two days later, before I sent the contract, I received another call for the same Saturday night for $1,000. I was in a quandary (or so I thought).

That afternoon, I went to see Sam Trimble, one of my college professors to get some advice. I explained the situation and he simply replied, "What's the question?" On my second round of explaining, I emphasized the fact that I had yet to send the contract out on the first booking. His response was, "There's no issue here. Did you commit to the $600 gig?" I replied, "Yes." He added, "Then you play the $600 gig. Simple as that."

That formed the basis of my personal ethics regarding the value of my word. It's different from the things my parents taught me: Right from wrong; never tell a lie, etc. You can convince yourself that it's full of nuance or that it's complicated. But it's not. No, it's really very simple.

That's what I learned from Professor Trimble.

Copyright 2008 Randy Hunt

About morals, ethics and straight talk

"Everything I learned in my eight years as president and in the work I have done since, in America and across the globe, has convinced me that Barack Obama is the man for this job." - Bill Clinton, August 27, 2008 at the Democratic National Convention.

I became increasingly more uneasy as President Clinton delivered his 25-minute speech at the Democratic National Convention, not because of his message and the manner in which he conveyed it--after all, there's not much disagreement among people of any party that John Kennedy, Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton were the best presidential orators in the past 50 years--but because of the over-the-top adoration of the convention center crowd towards Clinton.

People can accuse the Republican party, Kenneth Starr, Henry Hyde, or anyone else, for that matter, of playing politics with the entire impeachment proceedings, but this we do know for a fact: President Clinton did have sexual relations with that woman, Monica Lewinsky, and he lied to us on live television and later, under oath, to prosecutors about it. I never thought that Clinton's escapades with an intern or the other women in his life should be exploited as it was during the impeachment proceedings. It was a huge distraction and left me feeling that our country's moral barometer had suddenly dropped.

Now, I grew up learning to "forgive and forget" and all that stuff, but I can't remember anyone who seriously crossed me who later became my idol. For me, forgiving someone means to expunge the transgression and to go on living without harboring ill feelings. It's kind of like allowing a bump on your forehead to subside over time and not thinking about it anymore.

But for these people at the convention--and believe me, I understand that they are the hardest of the hardcore Democrats--to behave as if they were worshipping this guy gives me pause. Here's someone who abused his position as president, lied about it to us, his wife and prosecutors, and we're now holding him up as the greatest living president and hanging on every word as if we're listening to the gospel? Seems a little too forgiving, don't you think?

Speaking of hanging on every word, President Clinton is the king of parsing sentences and redefining words as simple as "is." So what did he mean when he endorsed Barack Obama by saying, "Everything I learned in my eight years as president and in the work I have done since, in America and across the globe, has convinced me that Barack Obama is the man for this job?" For one thing, it is clear that "Barack Obama is the man for this job" isn't the same as "Barack Obama is the person for this job." This was not unintentional. Bill and Hillary both harbor deep resentment over the outcome of the primaries. They're not quite to the point of "forgive and forget."

And what about the definition of the phrase "this job?" Bill Clinton heavily emphasized "this" in that sentence. Did he mean the presidency? Or the job of running for president? Or perhaps, did he mean the job that he (Bill) was doing at the moment he said these words. Bill might have meant that Obama should have been in Bill's shoes endorsing Senator Clinton for the presidency. Certainly these possibilities are more believable than Clinton's definitions of "is."

All of this compartmentalizing, politicking, not saying what you really mean, and behaving in a passive/aggressive way drives me just a little crazy. Everyone seems to be doing it and I wish it would stop. No matter how this presidential race ends up, I for one would like to see our next president take the lead in popularizing the return of morals, ethics and straight talk to our society by being the example we can all emulate.

Copyright 2008 Randy Hunt

Economic development hurdles for Sandwich, MA

Let's suppose that I'm the CEO of a corporation looking to expand into a new location to house the company's marine products engineering staff. What questions am I going to want answered in order to make a diligent decision?

1) What are the quality of life attributes of the town and nearby towns? (Cost of housing, quality of schools and recreational facilities, etc.)

2) Is the location good for commuting to our other facilities?

3) Is the communications infrastructure adequate? (That is, availability of T1 or other broadband connections.)

4) What is the price of available space and how much will construction/buildout cost?

5) How quickly can I get everything permitted and underway?

6) Is there a tax incentive available to defray property taxes for a period of time?

7) What is the tax rate for real and personal property?

How does Sandwich stack up?

1) Great town. Small, historic, beautiful. Beaches not so good. Water temperature better suited for seals than people. Schools rank well statistically, but superintendent indicates that the situation is dire. Some recreational facilities (Oak Crest Cove is great) but the town lacks in fields and courts. Average cost of a house is over $400,000. Ouch!!

2) Perfect access to Route 6. Much better than a Down Cape town, but still over the bridge.

3) T1s are available. We should be okay on this one.

4) Not much space available. Almost all of it in private hands. Cost of construction is comparable to other towns in southeast Massachusetts.

5) Town says its permitting process is getting better. That's good, but the Cape Cod Commission scares the b'Jesus out of me. If we can find land in the growth incentive zone (GIZ), we'll save on CCC time and expense, but the incentive zone is still a couple or three years away.

6) There is a tax increment financing policy. That's good. But the other towns also have the same policy.

7) Look at these tax rates! Sandwich's commercial rate is 50% higher than the abutting towns and nearly double the average of the other Cape Cod towns. (See "FY2008 TAX RATES Massachusetts - Cape Cod, South Coast, South Shore.")

CEO's Conclusion?

Sandwich loses out because:

a) Taxes on our $10 million investment will be $26,500 more per year (based on fiscal year 2008 rates) than they will be in Wareham and, from what I've been reading, it's pretty sure that they'll be proposing an override, which will kick up the tax rate even more.

b) The Cape Cod Commission will cost us at least a year of time and a hundred thousand dollars or more of attorney's fees and mitigation expenses.

My conclusion:

Much has been accomplished in Sandwich with respect to planning for a GIZ and the town can look forward to zoning changes to assist in its establishment.

The Economic Development Committee has been working with our permitting departments to facilitate the quicker flow of paperwork and approvals through the system using work flow optimization in conjunction with a new software system.

Our town administrator and his staff are great resources for companies looking to establish their business in Sandwich.

But...

We suffer from four major obstacles that conspire to suppress our success in economic development:

I) The Cape Cod Commission is easily dismissed by a prospective business simply by locating across the canal. So why locate in Sandwich when a nearby town, like Wareham, is free of the chains of the CCC?

Solution? We need to press forward to create our growth incentive zone(s) in order to "pre-pack" the CCC permitting process, making it less of an obstacle for new businesses.

II) Our tax rate is totally out of line compared with our neighbors. This puts us at a huge disadvantage and it's one of the first things on a relocation due diligence list.

Solution? We must find creative ways to finance our town government and schools without going to the override trough. If we can hold the line for a few more years, we'll likely be more competitive with our neighbors.

III) All of our neighboring towns have economic development incentive corporations (EDIC). We turned ours down at last January's town meeting. That speaks volumes as to where our priorities are and puts us at a multiple of disadvantages in attracting potential businesses and negotiating deals with them. People may argue about the language in the enacting legislation that uses the word "blight" or that the EDIC (actually called the Sandwich Economic Incentive Corporation, or SEIC) would exercise eminent domain over private properties (which it cannot), but not creating the SEIC will set us back in any attempt to generate new commercial tax dollars.

Solution? Get it back on a town meeting warrant and educate the voters about its merits.

IV) There's not much land left to develop commercially. That is true and there's not much that can change that reality.

Solution? An important discussion regarding this and the future of the town's commercial tax base is underway, thanks to a $150,000 grant made possible by Chris Bailey with the support of our state senator, state representative, and the task force that proposed the SEIC. This townwide plan will facilitate the development and redevelopment of the limited commercially zoned land that we do have.

I'm not surprised that companies steer clear of Sandwich, given the current state of affairs we find ourselves in, but I'm confident that we can meet the challenges I've listed above in numbers I, III and IV. I'm not so confident that we will make the right decisions regarding number II, and that will prove to be a deal breaker.

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FY2008 TAX RATES Massachusetts - Cape Cod, South Coast, South Shore

Town / Residential / Commercial / Personal

Sandwich 9.61 / 9.61 / 9.61

Abutters to Sandwich
Falmouth 5.65 / 5.65 / 5.65
Bourne 6.54 / 6.54 / 6.54
Barnstable 6.58 / 5.80 / 5.80
Mashpee 6.58 / 6.58 / 6.58
Abutter Avg 6.34 / 6.14 / 6.14

Proximate Towns
Wareham 6.96 / 6.96 / 6.96
Plymouth 10.33 / 10.33 / 10.33
Proximate Avg 8.65 / 8.65 / 8.65

Rest of Cape Cod
Chatham 3.67 / 3.67 / 3.67
Dennis 4.35 / 4.35 / 4.35
Truro 4.49 / 4.49 / 4.49
Orleans 4.52 / 4.52 / 4.52
Wellfleet 4.72 / 4.72 / 4.72
Eastham 5.08 / 5.08 / 5.08
Provincetown 5.12 / 5.12 / 5.12
Brewster 5.55 / 5.55 / 5.55
Harwich 6.05 / 6.05 / 6.05
Yarmouth 6.23 / 6.23 / 6.23
Rest of CC Avg 4.98 / 4.98 / 4.98

South Coast Towns
Dartmouth 6.43 / 9.78 / 9.71
Marion 7.56 / 7.56 / 7.56
Fall River 7.67 / 16.31 / 16.31
Fairhaven 7.86 / 15.67 / 15.67
Taunton 8.22 / 17.59 / 17.59
Lakeville 8.70 / 8.70 / 8.70
Freetown 8.93 / 14.08 / 14.08
Rochester 9.03 / 9.03 / 9.03
Acushnet 9.25 / 11.24 / 11.24
Mattapoisett 9.80 / 9.80 / 9.80
Raynham 10.28 / 14.12 / 14.12
New Bedford 10.55 / 21.51 / 21.51
Carver 11.33 / 17.49 / 17.49
Marlborough 12.72 / 24.58 / 24.58
South Coast Avg 9.17 / 14.10 / 14.10

South Shore Towns
Marshfield 8.72 / 8.72 / 8.72
Hingham 9.20 / 9.20 / 9.20
Duxbury 10.61 / 10.61 / 10.61
Hanover 10.61 / 11.00 / 11.00
Pembroke 10.93 / 10.93 / 10.93
Kingston 11.88 / 11.88 / 11.88
South Shore Avg 10.33 / 10.39 / 10.39

Copyright 2008 Randy Hunt

Conservatism gone too far

This is interesting. A conservative thinking group has these principles/goals/actions posted on its website:

- Put American troops on our border to STOP the flood of illegal aliens

- Abolish all anti-gun laws and encourage every adult to own a weapon

- Outlaw the purchase of American property and industry by foreign corporations and investors

- Drug testing for welfare recipients

- Balance the budget

- Rehabilitate our public school system

- A flat income tax should be introduced to allow for the funding of community, state and federal projects

- Abortion should be outlawed except to save the mother's life or in case of rape or incest

- We support the death penalty for those convicted of molestation and rape

- Everyone who can work should work

- We support a return to parental authority without government interference in the raising of our children

- We respect the right of homeowners and that no one should ever be forced from their home for the non payment of taxes

- We advocate a strong defense department to safeguard American citizens

- We support all U.S. veterans

Okay, certainly these platform statements are conservative and perhaps pushing pretty far right. But, for the most part, typical conservatives would agree with most of these ideas.

I pulled these comments, verbatim, from the website of the KKK. These people are working hard to shed their cultist reputation and become main stream. I find this to be pretty scary.

Copyright 2008 Randy Hunt

Merry Christmas from the Bunyan household

We bought a gorgeous tree last Saturday that stands 8 feet high. We put it in the living room right next to the wall that separates the front door entry from the living room. I bought a new one-piece, high tech, molded plastic tree stand and water container, a rather substantial piece of gear rated to hold trees up to 8 feet tall.

On Sunday, we spent several wonderful, joyous hours trimming this majestic fir. You know, it takes about 6,000 light bulbs to decorate a tree this big. I'm sure it's pulling close to 50 amps. We also hung lots of garland, ribbons and various ornaments we've collected over the years. At the very top, I gently placed our beautiful, singing angel who is dressed in white and holds a candle and her caroling book. By nightfall, it was a masterpiece.

Mary faithfully watered das tannenbaum twice a day and was doing the same on Wednesday. After pouring the first pitcher of water into the single-piece high-tech molded tree stand rated to hold trees up to 8 feet tall (did I mention that this tree is 8 feet tall?), she turned to go refill the pitcher and saw something coming at her in her peripheral vision. Apparently, Mr. Fir had the idea that he would go with Mary to get the second pitcher of water. She turned just in time to deflect the redwood towards the solarium and onto my trombone, which was minding its own business, as always, just sitting nicely on its trombone stand enjoying the sunshine.

The situation appeared to be recoverable. Other than a million needles strewn about the house, Mary concluded that most everything we had put on the tree was still on the tree. She decided to get under the future firewood and upright it. Her only error was not calling 9-1-1 before attempting this Herculean task. With all her might she raised the tree back to a nearly upright position only to notice that Mr. Fir and Mr. Trombone had quickly grown intimate and now Mr. Trombone had joined the rest of the ornaments and was pointing out of the top of the tree towards the sky. Fearing that Mr. Trombone might take a death defying fall from 8 feet if she lowered the tree, Mary struggled mightily to control the sequoia with one arm while trying to rescue the helpless brass instrument with the other. After what she describes as a brief time in hell, she was successful at performing the first known trombone-ectomy in the history of arbortorial medicine.

With the lovers duly separated, Mary leaned the tree back in the corner at a rather steep angle, lest it fancied taking any more trips to the kitchen. When I arrived, I marveled at how the strands of electrical wire connecting the 6,000 light bulbs had switched places with the strands of garland. As a safety measure, and before we spent several more wonderful, joyous hours retrimming our wonderful, joyous tree, I tied my boat’s anchor rope to the top of the tree and ran it up into the loft above, pulling it so tight that the single-piece high-tech molded tree stand rated to hold trees up to 8 feet tall is now 6 inches off the ground.

The last fix was to reconstruct a mount for the angel, who I suspect had something to do with this sinister plot from the beginning. That branch that sticks out of the top of every Christmas tree to hold the angel or star or what-have-you had broken off during the fall. So with my 8-foot ladder, I duct taped a paint stirrer to the top of the trunk, giving me a good 8-inch stick on which to permanently mount the angel. She can't sing anymore because the stick is pressing on her tonsils.

Merry Christmas.



Copyright 2008 Randy Hunt

Petra, world's first feminist

The Pharaoh of Egypt had five sons and a very beautiful daughter, Petra. As she was growing up, Petra was able to do “men’s work” equally well and sometimes better than any of her five brothers. She spoke often of how the women in Egypt were treated like slaves and that they should become equals to men.

The Pharaoh scorned this behavior and warned Petra many times not to continue to be outspoken. Petra ignored her father’s warnings and began a women’s liberation movement, and soon she had a following of over 100,000 women. The Pharaoh could not tolerate Petra’s actions any longer and sentenced her to death, whereupon the Pharaoh’s guards took her to a cell to await her execution.

With some inside help, Petra was able to escape and steal the Pharaoh’s camel. After hearing of Petra’s plight, her followers were quite surprised to see her ride out into the streets high atop the royal camel. She was the most beautiful woman in all of Egypt, clad in a gold skirt and sequin studded top that revealed much of her perfectly tanned skin. A huge crowd gathered quickly to hear what Petra would say.

Petra called for her followers to shed the old ways and join her in starting a new life. As she said this, she released her sequin studded top and held it high over her head, symbolizing the freeing of all women from their restraints. Then she let it fall and it tumbled over the back of the camel and came to rest on the Egyptian soil. Petra rode towards the Nile as thousands of women followed her, many of them stepping on the sequin studded top to show their anger for the past.

The next day the Pharaoh and his five-year-old son walked the street where Petra had challenged her father’s ways. His son looked down and saw Petra’s top stomped into the ground. He asked his father what it was. “That, my son,” said the Pharaoh, “is the bra that stroked the camel’s back.”

Copyright 2008 Randy Hunt

Top ten suggestions for litterers

10) No matter how old you are, think about what your mother would say if she saw you littering.

9) Whether or not you remember the TV ad released in March 1971 on the second observance of Earth Day, watch The Crying Indian Commercial.



8) If you catch your kids littering, make them pick it up.

7) If your kids catch you littering, make them pick it up. They’ll quickly learn how the rest of us feel about other people littering.

6) Instead of throwing that losing scratch ticket out the window, save your two bucks and use it to buy gas to drive to the library and check out a book on environmentalism.

5) Take your habit home with you. Rather than ruin the town for the rest of us, throw your litter onto your living room rug.

4) Save your empty Dunkin Donuts and Mary Lou’s cups. They make great gifts for the personnel at the transfer station. Trust me. They love ‘em.

3) If you find yourself throwing beer cans, liquor flasks, and nip bottles out your car window, seek counseling. You’ve got worse problems than being a litterbug.

2) Rather than throw your empty cigarette pack out the window, eat it. It can’t be any worse for you than smoking the 20 cigarettes.

And the number one suggestion for people who feel compelled to litter is:

If your name is Ron and you feel compelled to litter out your car window, consider purchasing this hip hop vanity plate: M O dot R O N.

Copyright 2008 Randy Hunt