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Monday, September 12, 2005

The High Cost of 'Help'

We hang the petty thieves and appoint the great ones to public office.
Aesop (approx. 6th Century BC)

Dieu et Mon Droit (God and My RIGHT)

That was the motto of the British monarchy in the Tudor era when a misplaced word could cost a life. It resonates with those who served under the ‘guidance’ of that first-among-equals, Senate President William Bulger, who stalked the halls of the State House as its absolute monarch for 17 years.

Après moi, Le Deluge. (After me, the Flood)

That self-important slogan sums up the cavalier attitude of the President towards his erstwhile employer, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. Billy Bulger and his brother, James, have filed two court cases which could bankrupt the pension systems of cities and towns throughout the state if successful.

The $960,000 severance settlement paid to Pres. Bulger, along with other lovely parting gifts, was not enough to satisfy the voracious appetite of this Servant of the People. Mr. Bulger, who resigned under fire after seven and a half years on the job as President of the University of Massachusetts, had asked the state to include his annuity (why an annuity AND a pension?) and housing allowance (it is not known why a well-to-do homeowner like Pres. Bulger would need a housing allowance) as part of his income when calculating his pension. If those items were included, his pension would rise by about $32,000, to $230,000 annually. The pension would come on top of the $960,000 severance package for Pres. Bulger that the system's Board of Trustees approved in August of 2003. At the time, Mitt Romney called the severance package "excessive in light of the financial circumstances of the university and the state." Apparently, in Pres. Bulger’s eyes, it wasn’t nearly enough. Since the State Pension Board unanimously rejected the inclusion of those ‘perks’ as compensation in 2003, now Pres. Bulger is suing for the restoration of that denied benefit – and of course, payment of ‘back pay’. If successful, it could trigger retroactive pension hikes for every state, county and municipal official who ever received housing and clothing stipends. Remember how County Commissioner Roland DuPont objected to how Sheriff Cummings was handing out clothing allowances? Imagine his fury if the County system has to pay increased pensions to those of the Sheriff’s employees who received the stipend!

Meanwhile, James Bulger, a former juvenile court clerk magistrate (whose primary job qualification appears to have been genetic), is seeking to preserve his $45,000 pension after temporarily losing it for admitting he lied during a criminal probe of yet another brother, fugitive mobster James "Whitey'' Bulger (who also has his stipend from the Commonwealth in the form of a wining Lottery ticket). A win could have serious repercussions for any number of pension systems. Remember those police officers convicted of crimes stripped of their pensions, and so on? All of them could be reinstated by this legal precedent.

As the Brothers Bulger blithely kick over rocks to see what they can get to scuttle out, unconcerned with the finances of lesser beings like cities and towns, let us remember it is our tax dollars – at various levels – that is financing this petulant display of hurt feelings.

Consider this. The severance package alone for Pres. Bulger is more then the State Legislature chooses to send a unique and indispensable Cape Cod resource like Independence House – for ten years time. Keep that in mind the next time some milquetoast politician tells you how imperative it is to keep taxes in Boston high for social service purposes.

Give directly to social service agencies instead – and comply with the expressed will of the people and cut the 1989 temporary tax hike back to 5%.


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