Friday, February 26, 2010

Taking care of our buildings

On Thursday, February 25th, the Capital Improvement Planning Committee (CIPC) presented a comprehensive study to Sandwich’s Board of Selectmen (BOS) which details the condition of our town-owned buildings and the steps necessary to bring them up to snuff.

The study was managed by Rider Levett Bucknall, an international construction cost consulting firm. CIPC members and town staff made a huge effort gathering information for the study, concluding that more than $25 million would be required to correct all of the identified issues.

Then the CIPC prioritized the list, culling it down to between $5.5 and $6.2 million, depending on the steps taken on the town hall annex. Rankings were made based on the following criteria:

1) Is the building critical?
2) Degree of structural/functional integrity
3) Safety concerns

See the presentation by clicking here.

Now the BOS and ultimately the town’s voters, at both town meeting and the ballot box, need to determine if the town should borrow these millions of capital dollars by issuing a ten-year bond. The average house (about $380,000) would be taxed about $70/year, a little more in year one and a little less in year ten.

This override of Proposition 2½ is called a debt exclusion and differs from an operating override in that the additional taxation on real estate bills would be for ten years, then stop. An operating override, like a diamond, is forever.

Public input is critical and I encourage people to come to our meetings, mail, email, call us, and leave comments here on this blog.

Copyright 2010 Randy Hunt

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Senator Therese Murray and I agree on something?

Senate President Therese Murray released an opinion piece this week that people can read in newspapers across the commonwealth, including the Cape Cod Times (click here to read it). It deals with improving the business climate in Massachusetts, a necessary precursor to creating new jobs.

She shares an interesting statistic about the size (as measured by number of employees) of businesses in Massachusetts. On average, in 1990, companies employed 16.69 people. In 2007, businesses averaged almost exactly 10 people.

Murray also points out how the high cost of health insurance borne by our small businesses is problematic, saying “This issue tops most lists of greatest concerns for small businesses.”

Let me connect a couple of dots here.

April 12, 2006 was the day the Commonwealth Health Connector was signed into law. July 1, 2007 was the first day of the fiscal year in which the health insurance mandate on businesses was enforced. That mandate requires at least a 1/3 subsidy of employee health insurance coverage by employers.

Which businesses are not subjected to the mandate?

Businesses with a full-time-equivalent (FTE) employee counts of less than eleven.

Is it coincidence that our average business now employs fewer than eleven employees?

Probably as coincidental as Cape Cod sporting many 9,990 square-foot pharmacies. In case you don’t know, the Cape Cod Commission reviews projects involving buildings of 10,000 square feet or more.

By the way, I don’t disagree with having a (really) small business exemption from the mandate, but I did speculate at the time that companies employing a few more than eleven FTEs would shed a few people and companies who had ten employees would simply stop hiring.

There are probably other, more clever, ways that businesses are getting around the rules, such as by creating a separate corporation with a different owner for each store or restaurant opened.

The other huge factor in discouraging business development in Massachusetts is something Murray fails to address altogether. Uncertainty.

Businesses cannot make plans when there is a high level of uncertainty. Even if the business environment is less than optimum, state government can do us all a favor by leaving it alone.

Business people can adapt to and deal with the rules in place (as illustrated by the 10 FTE effect and the Cape’s 9,990 square-foot buildings), but they are reticent to make medium to long range commitments when the state is constantly changing the playing field.

I am completely in favor of improving the business climate in Massachusetts. So, in that sense, Senator Murray and I are on the same page. But where has she been for the past three years while the state has fed its insatiable appetite for more revenue and driven hundreds of businesses out of business or forced them to downsize?

Copyright 2010 Randy Hunt

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Beacon Hill is worse than broken

I hear candidates for state representative all saying the same thing: “Beacon Hill is broken.”

It’s pretty hard to argue with that, except in this sense. I think it’s worse than broken. I think the democratic process has been jettisoned for a dictatorial form of control.

No, Beacon Hill is not just broken. It has been hijacked by a string of power-hungry individuals who have been marched out of the Statehouse under indictment, or the threat of it. Flaherty, Finneran and DiMasi, the three most recent former speakers of the house, were all indicted on federal charges and two of them (so far) were convicted.

Here are a few observations from “insiders” who agree with the general assessment that the state’s House of Representatives is dysfunctional:

“A representative form of government is supposed to give us all a voice at the table so the interests of our constituents are adequately represented, but when all power is put in the hands of one person, it corrupts that process and opens the door to abuse.”

“A Speaker now determines everything in the Massachusetts House… When in his favor, he may give members good office space, additional staff or, more importantly, allow budget amendments to pass.”

“Bills no longer reach the floor for debate and a vote because the committee believes they have merit. Bills get debated because a Speaker wants them to reach the floor for any number of reasons.”

“It's almost unheard of for a Speaker to lose a vote on the floor of the House. Consequently, it gives lobbyists more power because they know that if they get the Speaker behind a bill, it will pass.”

“At times, members who disagree with a Speaker will cast their vote with him unless their district is directly affected by the legislation. Why risk losing favor with leadership? As a result, there is very little public deliberation of most legislation.”

“A Speaker also controls a $47 million House budget. Members never know how the money is being spent or where it is being spent.”

These quotes come from a letter written by twelve current Democrat state representatives. See the entire letter by clicking here. Their proposals to address the consolidation of power and history of corruption are:

1. Ensure that Home Rule Petitions can be discharged from the Rules Committee in a timely fashion;

2. Make the state budget process in the House more transparent, and make the House operating budget specifics accessible to all members;

3. Provide a leadership election and committee appointment process that distributes more power to the members and less power to the
Speaker;

4. Provide legislators with greater control of the operating budgets for their offices; and

5. Eliminate or narrow legislative exemptions to the open meeting law, public records law, and purchasing standards.
These all seem like good ideas, but they do not address the proverbial elephant in the room.

The real problem is that there is no balance in the legislature. The minority party has become a “super-minority” party, with just 16 of 160 representatives. Just as we’ve seen in Washington where one party rule (either Republican or Democrat) leads to abuse of power and runaway spending, the problem on Beacon Hill is the same, except on steroids.

The only way to restore responsible, transparent government that focuses on serving the people of Massachusetts is to achieve a reasonable balance between the majority and minority parties.

I’m not so Pollyannaish as to think that we’ll have an 80/80 balanced legislature come January, but let’s imagine how such a balance would affect the behavior of the speaker of the house.

Go ahead and imagine that for a minute. I’ll hold on…

Okay, after that mental exercise, I think most of us would agree that the speaker’s abuses of power would quickly cease out of fear of losing his position. Legislators would have to work for the people of Massachusetts rather than to advance their own personal agendas.

Oh, and by the way, those five suggestions from the mutinous dozen Democrat legislators would be easily implemented.

When you make your way to the polls on November 2nd, think about your role in providing a more level playing field on Beacon Hill and how important this shift would be for you and your district.

Copyright 2010 Randy Hunt

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Impressive figure

I heard a news story read by Kim Carrigan this morning about Boston’s effort to trim overtime. She said that Boston’s officials claim a reduction of 200% in overtime during 2009.

200%

That’s impressive.

I think the other news story about the U.S. falling behind in math and science must be true.

Copyright 2010 Randy Hunt

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Randy Hunt enters race for state representative

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

CONTACT: Randy Hunt (774-413-9274)
Frank Pannorfi, Campaign Manager (508-888-8517)

February 3, 2010

SANDWICH SELECTMAN RANDY HUNT ANNOUNCES CANDIDACY FOR THE 5TH BARNSTABLE DISTRICT STATE REPRESENTATIVE SEAT

Will continue commitment to transparency in government

(SANDWICH, MA) – Sandwich selectman, Randy Hunt, announced today that he will seek the 5th Barnstable District state representative seat. The district includes all of Sandwich and parts of Barnstable, Mashpee and Bourne.

Hunt will complete his second three-year term as selectman in May and will not seek re-election to that board. Hunt is a certified public accountant and owner of Randy Hunt CPA PC, an employer of four in Sandwich.

“I am running for the 5th Barnstable State Representative seat because I will bring a unique perspective to the job with my strong financial background and years of service as a selectman and finance committee member. Providing constituent services, a very important role of a state representative, requires listening, researching, problem solving, communicating and closure. This is what I do for a living as a CPA and it is also an important part of being an effective selectman.”

Simultaneous with his announcement today, Hunt is launching a new website, http://www.electrandyhunt.com/ with information about his candidacy and extensive community involvement.

Not new to the Internet, Hunt has penned a blog for a year and a half called Randy Hunt’s Politics & Humor Blog, which is accessible through his campaign website. He is known for his self-deprecating humor and no nonsense analysis of local and national politics. “I said to Mary, ‘If for some reason during this race for state rep I lose my sense of humor, gently (or not so gently) remind me until I get back to being my old self.’”

He and two friends waged a campaign last August to get the truth out about Congress’ attempt to nationalize health care, which garnered national attention. “Essentially, our effort was to write a giant open letter to Congress asking our representatives to start representing us, the people of the United States. On a state level, we enacted a health insurance mandate stripped of all of the reforms that were promised when the idea was spawned. What we’re left with is outrageously expensive government-standardized health insurance plans with few options for the average citizen to save on costs.”

If elected, Hunt pledges to work closely with legislators to bring the jettisoned health care reforms back to the table to relieve the upward spiral of premiums. “Tort reform and relaxing the minimum coverage standard (aka “creditable coverage”) would be two areas of focus to stop the severe escalation of health care costs.”

As a selectman, Hunt is also acutely aware of cuts in aid to towns and cities by the state government. Local aid is critical for maintaining public safety levels, education standards, and basic infrastructure. “Being on the receiving end of shrinking state aid gives me perspective on what the priorities should be on Beacon Hill. Broken commitments to fully fund the special education circuit breaker, for example, put our town’s school department $500,000 in the hole this year. Municipal government in Sandwich was shorted more than $700,000. All four towns in the 5th Barnstable District are seeing similar cuts in aid which is resulting in layoffs and reductions in service.”

Hunt will host his campaign kickoff event at Sandwich Hollows Golf Club at 5pm on Tuesday, March 9, 2010. Details are available on his campaign website.

Randy Hunt is happily married to his wife Mary and they have six grown children and five grandchildren. He is a part-time musician, videographer, cable access television host, and an active member of the Monument Beach Sportsman’s Club.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Joe, terrorists are not military combatants

Joe, get it right.

Twice on Fox 25 this morning, Joe Malone referred to the terrorist detainees—in a segment about Eric Holder’s trial of Khalid Shiekh Mohammed in federal civilian court—as military combatants.

“What we’ve done here is said we’re going to bend over backwards, spend $200 million a year so that we can create a forum for these people, who are military combatants. No, that shouldn’t be the way it should be. We should follow the rules, which we’ve done in every war, and we should treat them like military combatants…”

These people are illegal enemy combatants, a far cry from the military combatants who are the focus of the Geneva Convention. Although I agree with Joe that the trial of KSM in Manhattan is a horrendous idea, he should study up some on terminology, the Geneva Convention, and the 2001 presidential military order “Detention, Treatment, and Trial of Certain Non-Citizens in the War Against Terrorism.”

Copyright 2010 Randy Hunt