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Massachusetts Liberal

Observations on politics, the media and life in Massachusetts and beyond from the left side of the road.

Saturday, January 27, 2007

You get what you pay for

Former Gov. Mitt Romney and his sidekick, Lt. Gov. Kerry Healey, liked to note that they worked for free. I suppose that should have made it a little easier when Romney walked away early, but instead it proved yet again that you get what you pay for.

The Globe leads today with a story about the salaries of top officials at the Commonwealth Health Insurance Connector, the quasi-independent state agency charged with implementing the state's universal health care law.

I'm inclined to agree with Health Care for All director John McDonough:
"Compared to what people make in state government, these salaries are high, but not compared to what comparable people make in a commercial insurance world," he said. "If they didn't pay these salaries, I don't believe they would be getting the quality people they need to do this highly complex operation."
My beef is more with the hypocrisy (surprise) of the Romney administration, which was waging a holy war against the Massachusetts Turnpike Authority and the Massachusetts Port Authority at the same time he signed off on creating yet another quasi-independent.

I'm not buying (another surprise) the words of Romney mouthpiece Eric Fehrnstrom, who said Romney pushed for the structure because it was the most efficient way for uninsured employees to buy health insurance on a pretax basis.

"The quasi-governmental entity structure was selected due to the singular mission of the Connector, which is to maximize the number of people with insurance," Fehrnstrom said. "No other state agency is tasked with this assignment."

And exactly how does that differ from the mission of operating roads and bridges and airports and harbors? There are other state agencies involved with those tasks (and, to be fair, Romney tried but failed to consolidate the Turnpike Authority with Highways) just as other state agencies deal with insurance and health care.

But wait, there's more to report on the Romney stewardship.

The state Ethics Commission has charged Michael J. O'Toole , a former high-ranking state official, with violating the conflict-of-interest law in a case notable for the large sums of money involved. During a five-day period in March 2003, the commission alleged, O'Toole authorized the payment of $1,118,750 in discretionary grants to five police departments, even though financial reports submitted by those departments had not been reviewed as required. Three weeks later, O'Toole joined Crest Associates, a consulting firm that had reaped large fees for assisting those police departments in obtaining the grants.

If only O'Toole had not taken a state salary.

Then there's the matter of neglect.

No matter how dire the state's fiscal situation (and it's yet to reveal itself in full detail) there is no excuse for neglecting an historic landmark. There was considerable outcry over turning a former air shaft into the marble-floored Great Hall during a previous fiscal crisis. It was resolved by bonding the cost and enhancing an already great building.

Romney displayed his contempt for the building by keeping it in lockdown well after the threat of 9-11 passed. Deval Patrick took the symbolic act of re-opening the building by holding his inauguration on the steps, under the open gate.

Fixing it up will send a strong message about the state's heritage.



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