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Will Brownsberger
State Senator
2d Suffolk and Middlesex District

Transparency and the Brown Victory (20 Responses)

This from a lifelong Democrat and continuing true believer in government spending: The heart of our problem is a sense of entitlement to spend the taxpayers’ money.

I recently endorsed a letter by several of my House colleagues that called for greater transparency in the House, including, most critically from my perspective, transparency in financial operations.

According to records that I obtained from the state controller in November, over the past five years, the House spent five million per year on non-personnel items — phones, computers, etc. (This includes spending through an account jointly managed with the Senate, but excludes spending managed exclusively by the Senate.)

Here is the problem, half of that $25 million went to five corporate entities and three of those five were, according to corporate records, run by the same individual. And, according to campaign finance records, that individual is a major donor to legislative leaders.

I have urged since early December that the speaker voluntarily and systematically disclose the records of how this vendor (and other house vendors) were selected and what the taxpayers got for their money. However, the legislature has exempted itself from the public records law and from the laws that govern purchasing of goods and services by state government, and the speaker has so far refused to make voluntary disclosures.

The December flap about the House legal bills is a related example. Even though the United States Attorney has said he has no objection to disclosure of the bills, the speaker continues to refuse to disclose them.

Similarly, house leadership has refused to allow a disclosure of staffing patterns. The majority of reps have a single hard-working aide. But there are many obvious pockets of overstaffing in the House and the speaker’s staff duplicates the expertise of committee staff.

Although a staff roster with assignments is unavailable even to the House membership, the total level of staffing is available from the controller’s office. Strikingly, although there have been some well publicized layoffs, the total head count in the House as of Saturday, January 16, 2010 was 665, only 4 below the level in mid-2008 before the recession began in earnest.

In the larger picture, these are small money items. Why make an issue out of them? To be fair, it is much harder to do the right thing on intimate management issues like this than to do the right thing on larger issues that have more remote consequences. Perhaps, the problem is near-sighted affection more than arrogant entitlement.

Either way, people on the street have — based on story after unpleasant newspaper story — a sense that the Massachusetts Democratic establishment is unable or unwilling to discipline itself. These smaller problems obscure real recent accomplishments like pension reform, ethics reform, transportation reform, and education reform, not to mention producing a timely budget in a deep recession.

That’s part of why Scott Brown, someone who holds many views that are not popular in Massachusetts, was able to take advantage of Martha Coakley’s anemic campaign and become our United States Senator. His victory here was not a reversal of Barack Obama’s election, but in many respects a repeat. Obama also ran as the people’s candidate (against an arrogant national Republican leadership).

I am privileged to represent a “safe” Democratic district, leadership has been good to me in my three years in the House and I plan seek reelection to the House next year. I don’t have a survival need or a vengeful or ambitious motive to speak up on these issues.

But I do believe that if we can’t do some public soul searching and admit some error, we Democrats are in for more blood-letting. I recently resigned from my House committee vice-chairmanship so that I could speak freely about these issues as a rank and file member.

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  1. [...] Brownsberger’s original piece was published on his website. Click here for access Post Published: 24 January 2010 Author: Aquila Found in section: Local politics, [...]

  2. Paul Looney says:

    The reform progress has been slow but at least you are making an effort. Taking a stand against questionable practices by leadership is risky but appreciated. I’d like to see a stronger push toward reducing all these unfunded mandates polluting our State.

    As for the “Shot heard round the world Part 2″ I can say I have never been prouder than the million plus Massachusetts voters who rejected Obama’s progressive agenda. Brown ran as the 41st vote.. plain and simple. He didn’t attack Martha and he barely mentioned her name. The D should be for Democrat but it sure seems like it stands for Denial after reading this thread. NJ/VA and now MA. The People want jobs… not a massive overhaul of health care and an enormous energy tax. Simple case of Overreaching that occurs with single party control. Does he follow Clinton’s mea culpa after 94 and give the people what they want or ram through his agenda. I suspect his ego is too big to admit failure and we will all suffer as a result. Hoping I am wrong. I guess we will all find out what the real message of Brown’s Victory was this Fall.

  3. Spencer Robinson says:

    Who are the other 7 reps who endorsed greater transparency? I think we all must reach out and support these individuals. Likewise, it is imperative we hold the rest of the body accountable. Why didn’t they sign on? What are they prepared to do to ensure a bill is passed guaranteeing this necessary standard.

    • Thanks, Spencer. The Globe article includes the list.

      I think that a lot of additional members agree, but just aren’t quite ready to stick their neck out. There are also many who aren’t quite aware of the problems yet — it isn’t necessarily easy to sort through some of these issues. I think that we need to continue to work on making the proposals more specific and building a broader consensus with members — that’s the plan.

  4. PattyNolan says:

    Will: Thanks for your leadership. I hope others join you. It is easy to say “I support transparency and openness and accountability.” Yet the letter asking for simply that from a body you all control has only 8 signatures. ! How?

    Public trust has been eroding for so long that it will take time to rebuild. I applaud your insistence on walking the talk. WE as elected officials simply must be willing to be honest and truly open.

    As someone who has to abide by the Open Meeting Law in my role as local School Committee member, I would hope that your colleagues would see that they should hold themselves to the same standard they hold us.

    Patty Nolan
    Cambridge

    • JimMunsey says:

      My post to this web site three weeks ago echoes a lot of the same sentiment rippling through these responses: the Mass. legislative leadership is only looking out for their own best interests and not what matters most to their constituents. Scott Brown, in part, was elected as a protest that people are fed up with inaction and an attitude of “we know better than you” coming from our elected representatives.

      Let’s all push towards having the true definition of representative government become reality in the minds of our elected officials. Scott was a first step, and the Mass. state house leadership should be next in line to feel the discontent from the voters.

      Will – leadership comes from not only speaking out, but taking action to make your point. Stepping down from your leadership post and speaking out takes guts, and I applaud you for it. As others have mentioned, it is one way to assure your re-election. Count me in that camp and bring on the challenges to change how things are done on Beacon Hill. The arrogance up there has got to be ended.

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