The all-but-confirmed next Secretary of State and current US Senator from Massachusetts John Kerry once had a brief part on Cheers. Kerry was mistaken as a newscaster from the fictional "Channel 8" on the episode "Bar Wars VI: This Time It's for Real" that first aired in 1992.
All of Kerry's mostly newsish TV appearances can be found here.
Part of Governor Patrick's budget proposal reportedly includes expanding the reach of the sales tax to non-traditional tobacco products like smokeless tobacco or, as it is more commonly known, chew. The combined tax revenue from cigars and smokeless tobacco was $23.8 million in FY 2012 according to Department of Revenue projections. Here's a handy chart detailing the growth of tax revenue from cigars and chew:
- Taxes on cigars and chew were last raised in 2002.
- The tax is levied on the wholesale price that retailers pay to distributors.
- Massachusetts law considers cigarillos, or little cigars, to be cigarettes and taxes them as such.
In 2009 Patrick presided over one of the more challenging reorganizations of state government in recent memory when he merged all of the state’s transportation entities into one body now known as MassDOT. Reorganizing government agencies is easy to sell as it sounds like you’re streamlining departments and making them operate in a more efficient manner. Who can argue against reorganizing government to eliminate waste and abuse, right?
Now Patrick has a much tougher sell on his hands with his latest transportation proposal calling for “routine, regular increases in fees, fares, and tolls” and an increase in the state income tax. In addition to these increases Patrick’s plan includes a decrease in the sales tax from 6.25 percent to 4.5 percent and a dedication of all its revenue to infrastructure projects. In short: this new plan will take more from your paycheck, hit you with all kinds of new user fees but it will take less from your wallet at checkout.
If Patrick is going to get this package through the legislature and please a public that is still weathering the Great Recession he’s going to need to explain in a visually appealing way what it is the public will get in return for paying more. MassDOT is familiar with transparently explaining what they are doing and why but the information available on their website is not in the greatest format or frequent enough for the uninitiated. The data released by the MBTA is more frequent and thorough plus its monthly scorecard is a model that MassDOT should consider replicating for other areas of transportation. Steve Poftak proposed a uniform report card for the entire department in 2011 when there were rumblings of a gas tax increase.
Another place MassDOT could look for inspiration is the state of Washington. Their Department of Transportation releases information in an easily accessible and user friendly format called the Gray Notebook. It’s a downloadable quarterly PDF chock full of data that does not require a degree in urban transportation studies to understand.
In the run-up to putting this extensive proposal together MassDOT held a series of public forums on transportation around the Commonwealth. These forums were a key factor in the crafting of the proposal and getting a better idea of the transportation needs in the different regions of the Commonwealth. Patrick should consider something similar where he tours the state and uses his political organization to make the case for these proposed reforms directly to the public. Patrick should not limit events to a series of town halls though. He should bring people to bridges that are in need of repair and ride the buses of the regional transit authorities. If the public sees what he says needs to be done their completely understandable resistance to higher taxes and fees may change.
Since Patrick is not running for reelection the risk he faces by putting on this kind of a full court press for a major proposal is minimal. The Patrick administration has made significant strides in transparency when it comes to transportation policy but if they are to successfully implement their new plan it is likely they will need to do more to convince the public to pay more.
State Senator Ben Downing, a young rising star in the Massachusetts Democratic Party, is not running in the special election for US Senate.
Downing, a Democrat, said Friday that he spoke with friends, families and colleagues about a possible run and the response was “overwhelmingly positive.” “I will be forever grateful for their words of encouragement, advice, and endorsement,” Downing said in a statement.
However, Downing continued, “I wish their faith in me was enough to sustain a campaign, but I know that every consideration – especially financial – must be made before a race of this type is undertaken. After considering every aspect of a possible campaign, I have determined that I will not be a candidate for the U.S. Senate in the upcoming special election.”
A run in the special election would have been very difficult for Downing because he has no federal campaign funds to speak of and his base of support is in a rural part of the state. All of his potential competitors for the seat, particularly Congressman Ed Markey, have intimidating federal war chests and bases of support in dense areas that give them a huge advantage in such a short a race.
As of now only Markey is the only declared candidate making him the front-runner.
Hoo-ray! The lockout is over but that doesn't mean the NHL has solved its many institutional problems that have plagued it throughout the Gary Bettman era. Over-expansion into non-hockey markets and a tendency to screw up a good thing are just a few of the problems that NHL still faces. Here are five ways to improve the NHL right now:
1. Move struggling clubs in non-traditional hockey markets to American and Canadian cities that actually support hockey. Teams like the Phoenix Coyotes and Florida Panthers should relocate to Quebec City and Hamilton. (Plus, as Boston fans wouldn't it be nice to take road trips to Europe-on-the-cheap for Bruins-Nordiques games again?) The NHL’s insistence on backing struggling clubs in horrible American hockey markets is baffling. Additional teams in smaller Canadian cities would only pad their incredibly lucrative TV deal in the Great White North.
2. Keep the current All-Star Game format. The All-Star Game is one of the few things the NHL gets right that helps differentiate it from other sports. The pond hockey style selection of teams is entertaining and exactly what a glorified exhibition game should be all about. Hockey officials haven’t been afraid to tinker with the All-Star game for but it appears they have finally found a format that’s fun and exciting.
3. Make sending NHL players to the Olympics permanent. We’ll probably never see a return of the legendary Summit Series so it’s for the best that the NHL continue the practice of allowing players to participate in the Winter Olympics. It’s hockey played at the highest level that tugs on patriotic heartstrings and it is the best marketing tool that the NHL doesn’t have to pay for. More Americans watched the Canada vs USA gold medal game than several Stanley Cup finals combined. The NHL would be out of their minds to end this practice.
4. Reform the “instigator rule”. The instigator rule has led to a diminishing role for so called enforcers in hockey while making it easier for cheap shot artists like Matt Cooke to get away with what they do best. Want to cut down on cheap shot artists and illegal hits? Make players more accountable by making them face team enforcers.
5. End shootouts. The shootout is a cheap gimmick for casual hockey fans that messes with the record book. Not only do shootouts unfairly reward teams but they add little to regular season games. A move to playoff style sudden death overtime periods of 20 minutes would be a vast improvement over the current sideshow. Sometimes nobody deserves to win.
If Scott Brown passes on the 2013 special election for a gubernatorial run as some have speculated he will what does that mean will happen in 2014?
It would result in a potential primary showdown for a statewide office the likes of which the Republican Party hasn’t seen in decades, possibly replicating the tumultuous battle between Joe Malone and Paul Cellucci. Who in the GOP could really cause problems for Brown in a statewide primary? Charlie Baker, the party’s 2010 nominee for governor. Since losing to Patrick in 2010 Baker has remained an active presence in state Republican politics going to fundraisers all the while maintaining a public profile on radio and television. A nasty statewide primary between two moderate Massachusetts Republicans in 2014 could be disastrous for a party that is desperately trying to distance itself from a more conservative national party that has a toxic brand locally.
A brutal slugfest in 2014 coupled with the fact Brown maintains impressive statewide name recognition and popularity even after getting his clock cleaned by Elizabeth Warren makes me doubt he will stay out of the 2013 special election. For Brown to win in 2013, though, is another matter entirely.
Brown probably couldn’t have done anything differently to change the outcome of his failed reelection bid because of the huge institutional advantages that a presidential election affords Massachusetts Democrats. All the weird sideshow negativity from his campaign about Warren’s self-proclaimed American Indian heritage didn’t help or hurt him that much in the end as he was dragged down by the hardcore national social conservatives in his party that couldn’t stop saying dumb things about rape. This election was largely Warren’s to lose as soon as Obama announced he was formally won his party’s nomination in Charlotte and Todd Akin started saying crazy things on camera.
The special election before us throws many of the advantages the Democrats have out the window even though they’ve hired Doug Rubin and Kyle Sullivan, two of the smartest people in Massachusetts politics. The Democrats will not have all of the typical local get out the vote operations they normally do plus they won’t be able to rely on a popular president or governor driving Democratic turnout statewide. Democrats will still have a huge registration advantage over Republicans but they will still need to identify those voters and make sure they vote. Turnout will rest solely on the ability of the two parties to drag their identified voters to the polls and the likability of the two candidates. Brown certainly has the second part of the equation locked up.
Brown has earned a reputation as one of the best campaigners in the entire state is because he has been through the special election grind twice and came out a winner each time. The guy knows how to work specials like nobody in this state does. It doesn’t hurt that he’s a natural when it comes to working a room and crowd. He’s arguably the second best retail politician in the state after Governor Deval Patrick.
As the country becomes increasingly unhappy with what they see as a “broken” hyperpartisan political system Brown’s self-proclaimed and demonstrable independence is something that could help in a special election. Plus, it will be impossible for Democrats to nationalize the election by playing up the fear that Brown would caucus with Akin and other extreme social conservatives as he would only up the number of Republicans in the Senate to 46.
Whether Massachusetts Republicans like it or not they only have two known statewide entities that are battle-tested for the two highest profile statewide offices: Baker and Brown. Unless a Republican with deep pockets enters the race a Brown run for Senate in 2013 would only feature token opposition in a contested primary from the party’s hard right (think a Mike Franco or Jeff Beatty type) and benefit the party in the short term. A 2014 run for governor against Baker could result in a lingering bitterness that only prolongs the time Massachusetts Republicans have spent in the political wilderness.