“Mass Fiscal Alliance” Mailer: It’s a Von Trapp!

Oh crap, we have to do politics again, don’t we? You should know this blog was started back in the day to make fun crap parking in Gloucester and Star Wars jokes, right? But you people wanted local politics. You craved it. You sent us tips. You stopped us on the street and demanded we talk about stuff and forwarded our pieces around.

Blame yourselves.

So, we’ve been thinking about how we’re going to gear back up into the local election season, maybe drop a piece on the increasing housing crisis driving creative people out of town or something. Then, in the mail, a hit piece on local legislative rep Ann-Margaret Ferrante shows up:

What manner of weaselturd is this? Oh no. Oh no oh no oh no.

You know those stories set in the pre-WW II era when some generally isolated folks find themselves unwillingly thrust into the conflict engulfing the rest of the world? Like in the Sound of Music when at first Liesel is happily capering about with a hapless seventeen-year-old bike messenger, then suddenly he’s a raging full-on fascist?

That’s what the whole world feels like now. Even the mail has gone alt-right, because shady propagandists can hide who they are and lie without consequences. I thought we were sort of above this kind crap here in Massachusetts, a state generally full of smart people, but apparently these buttstoats think this sort of thing will stand.

[Aside: For some reason the people doing this stuff always wind up being from that area north of Haverhill, the pseudo-New Hampshire zone full of big, new houses, massive SUVs and the muffled screams of complex human identity being smothered under a pile of Vineyard Vines catalogs.]

So, first out, let’s just dispel the general premise. Article CXVIII of the Massachusetts Constitution states [ht Meridith Fine]:

Article CXVIII.

The base compensation as of January first, nineteen hundred and ninety-six, of members of the general court shall not be changed except as provided in this article. As of the first Wednesday in January of the year two thousand and one and every second year thereafter, such base compensation shall be increased or decreased at the same rate as increases or decreases in the median household income for the commonwealth for the preceding two year period, as ascertained by the governor.

Read: Their pay is tied to performance. If the median household income of the state goes up, their base pay goes up. If it goes down, it goes down. Basically, you should pray your legislator makes ONE MILLION DOLLARS, because if so that means the MA economy has figured out how to turn discarded Fireball nips and Dunkin cups into platinum-iridium alloy.

Image result for gold trash

The rest of their pay is bonuses for things like leadership, which is what I’ve heard some private-enterprise companies do via having roles they call “management” who get paid more. People with more seniority and responsibility get more money. The legislature restructured how this is distributed for the first time in a generation recently, but no extra money was spent.

Yet somehow this is a 40% pay increase? Which not everyone got, because it was a restructuring of incentives. Oh, and the “expense account” which is for travel and running an office, which is part of the job. And, of course, not everyone got that either.

Seems like there is a lot of missing information here and this is just some kind of misinformational scare tactic from someone who thinks light type on a black background is a good design choice. And also the abbreviation for Massachusetts they use is “Mass” not “MA” which I believe was changed during the prelude to the King Phillip’s War. 

So there is really no story here, the whole premise is based on well-understood dynamics, even though a bunch of people are trying to shoehorn it into one. Now I see on the interwebs it’s a “55% pay increase and they raised taxes 40% to do it and to give 200 million dollars for the medical care of illegal immigrants!1!!1!!!!” I’m sure by tomorrow it will be a 90% increase in pay and gays will force marry all heterosexuals and induct them to the trans army.

So who’s responsible for this piece?

Enter the “Mass Fiscal Alliance” apparently socialists who oppose things like merit-based pay. They bill themselves as a “Nonprofit Educational Group” but their funders are secret. It turns out they give more money to legislative campaigns in MA than unions, who do disclose who they are.

Let’s get a look at these Bolsheviks:

Image result for ferengi

 

No. Wait, that’s the Ferengi from Star Trek: the Next Generation. My bad. Sorry, it’s this gang.

2017_Board_Photo.jpg

Your standard group of mostly white “fiscally responsible” people sitting  under a chandelier that probably cost more than your car. And you know what- that’s fine. Yes, you heard me,  it’s totally fine. People have a right to their views, and to express them, publicly. Rich people, poor people, middle people, everybody. They even have a right to that wallpaper choice. 

That’s what the whole country is about.

However, you may have noticed our democracy is being actively hacked right now. The extremely wealthy, not  “the rich” by conventional standards, but by the upper, upper tier of oligarchs like Putin, oil barrons, hedge fund profiteers and a few select others are trying to circumvent our “by the people” government in favor of either angering or scaring the crap out of citizens, and then having those citizens vote to lower the taxes of the super-rich so they can make money off our system without paying back in. Don’t believe me? Here, read this, it’s just one of dozens upon dozens of examples of the private-jet-and megayacht-class realizing they can get what they want by interfering directly with local politics and not being straight about it.

And that’s exactly what’s going on with this mailer because the Mass Fiscal Alliance, although they claim to be an “non-profit educational institution” refuse to reveal their funding sources. What the what? They’re a non-profit, yet they give money to candidates and they don’t reveal who’s giving them money? It seems frickery is afoot. 

What’s particularly galling to me is whomever’s funding it, if they are even from here, made money in MA because we have great education, good infrastructure and public transportation (needing an overhaul, of course) and investment in our key industries. Mitt Romney knew this, he almost single-handedly created the medical device and biotech industry here, making it bigger than California’s. And he knew decent health care is a requirement for a modern, knowledge-based economy. Mitt was no tax-and-spend liberal, but he understood investment. And the unbridled power of “management-style” haircut.

But these people want the goodies MA has to offer without having to pay for them, like the rest of us have to. Or even telling us who’s paying to try and change our minds. This is pretty much the biggest problem in our country right now, from Putin funding Trump, the Chinese buying Scaramucci’s company for way too much money in order to trade access  to Trump and everyone else trading to everyone else INCLUDING DEMOCRATS which is why they lost. No one trusts anybody, it’s chaos, and in chaos people try to grab things. Which is this mailer. Which is why I’m banging my head on the desk here.

Related image

This a big problem we have to solve, folks. Not as big as a problem like Maria obviously, but you know. Still big.

 

SEASIDE TOWN BAFFLED BY GARBAGE DUNES OVERTAKING BARREL FREE BEACHES

A follow up to this 2014 story, because Jesus H. Christ why are we will talking about this. 

On Friday morning, residents of Gloucester Massachusetts were stunned to discover large swathes of Good Harbor Beach covered in unfathomable amounts garbage left behind from the previous days visitors, despite the beach having small hand painted rocks bearing missives asking people to ‘Carry In ~ Carry out’ in place of trash barrels.

Shockingly, this has not been effective.  (Photo GMG)

The piles of refuse, including empty bottles of terrible beer, empty chip bags, cast off footwear, cardboard boxes, partially consumed human remains, and more horrors, caught the attention of local Mary T.

“I just don’t understand! It says right there on that faded painted fish on the bridge to TAKE YOUR TRASH WITH YOU. Ohhh misery. Ohhh life! Why are humans such wretched creatures?! Why is our nature so foul that we must profane such natural beauty?! OH BUT FOR A SOLUTION TO THIS BLIGHT” she proclaimed, weaving dramatically between a pile of Twisted Tea bottles and discarded beach chairs.

When asked about the possibility of putting in place some sort of receptacle for trash, Mary replied “Are you kidding? And who’s going to pay for that, huh?” and stormed off, wading through the refuse.

At least we’re not paying an extra few bucks on our taxes.

One local resident, who would only give her name as Marjory, didn’t see any cause for concern. “It doesn’t bother me. What’s all the fuss about? Home is where the trash is, after all.”

Marjory

 

Science has, in fact, created a solution to such a problem, though city residents are hesitant to embrace this new technology. Citing concerns about cost and wary about the DPW’s ability to empty them despite the existence of a fleet of trucks designed specifically to do just that, Jimmy B had this to say: “Nah, what’s the point. People are just going to throw trash in any of these ‘receptacles’ (using air quotes) and then they’ll get full. And then what, huh??”

THEN THIS HAPPENS JIMMY, YOU FUCKING IDIOT.

 

 

 

Manchester-by-the-Free

In honor of the current hit film in the “Boston Working Class Ennui” genre going to its streaming service, Amazon just announced they are giving everyone in the eponymous town free Amazon Prime. That’s swell of them, eh?

Whatever. Also: fuck you Amazon.

You see, if you don’t know, the film is not about Manchester-by-the-Sea. MBTS or just “Manchester” as we used to call it before they changed their name as not to be confused with the working-class New Hampshire city of the same name. The film is about Gloucester. My town. It was shot in Gloucester, the vibe is Gloucester and all the issues depicted are straight-up Gloucester.

“I’m sorry sir but town ordinances plainly state lobster traps are only to be used as decorative coffee table bases and must be made of wood.”

in Manchester, our neighbor, you’re going to find less of the “picking fights with cops” sort of thing there and more of the, “people suing each other because someone’s gardener cut the branch of an historic apple tree that was leaning over into their yard”- type conflicts. It’s a wealthy town. Wealthy-as-balls, actually, 8th highest income in one of the richest states in the country.

But, you know, they get free Amazon Prime because of the name. Amazon- who are automating warehouses and killing local retail, is giving free shit to rich people who didn’t even ask for it.

That’s your late-stage capitalism, right there.

I’m not sure why this bothers me so much, but it fucking does. Here in Gloucester this week an abandoned fish pier collapsed into the harbor, which tells you everything you need to know about our core industry in the post-cod era. We’re burying a beloved veteran/cop who left behind four kids. We’re struggling to keep fire stations open, fund schools, care for the elderly and manage our opiate addiction problem. We do this with a lot of heart, tears, fighting, too much pride and never enough money.

But we do it. We do it all. We make it work.

We do it to make sure fewer people end up like the characters depicted in fucking Manchester-by-the-Sea, yet another film made so some studio can make yet another buck on the whole “Bawston” thing, with our constrained social hierarchy and our comical accents. What do you suppose, there are another 30 films in the can depicting a young, troubled, too-smart-for-his-own-good Bay State resident for whom the grip of his past is choking off his ability to live and love in the present? Maybe 40?

Why is it liberals are losing the working class again? I forget.

You know what, never mind. You can keep Prime, Amazon. And Casey Affleck’s SNL “vanilla nut tap” jokes and all that “Uncle Sullying” we locals do. Go give hot stone massages in the bistros to Man-BTSers or whatever the fuck you want to do. I’m glad for the jobs the film industry here provides, I’m thankful that unlike a lot of towns hit hard by the realities of the 21st century, we’ve got economic opportunities due to our proximity to Boston/Cambridge others don’t. I’m even glad for the town of Manchester-by-the-Sea which contains many fine people and provides tons of work for Gloucester contractors adding yoga rooms and wine cellars to houses built by puritans in the 17th century.

But once, for the love of “Gawd”, can you fuckers just go make a movie about Connecticut?

On Housing – thoughts from the Clam’s token politician on the eve of the Fuller vote

Affordable housing.

 

Those two words seem to scare, anger, and confuse most people. Dunno why, though. It’s something every community needs, and precious few have enough of it. Affordable housing also isn’t really so much a specific government program (because lord knows we’re living in an era where, ever since one of our Grand Old political parties picked up a prion disease and started to see their brain dissolve into pudding, convincing themselves that Governmenting Is Bad) as it is a development goal to make sure that communities can have people of all sorts living there. The people who eat in restaurants AND the people who work there. The supermarket shoppers AND the supermarket workers. The Gym members and the gym workers.

 

Everyone needs to live reasonably close to their jobs. The people who sell you your coffee, deliver your newspaper, mow your yard, and help you live your upper middle class lifestyle don’t come from another dimension through a wormhole each day, returning to their tenement universe at night. Nope. They live in your town. If they get priced out of living there they’ll leave. And then the businesses you depend on won’t have employees. There’s more people who need affordable housing, too. People juggling school and work. Single parents. People in entry-level jobs.

She doesn’t live in a pod. She lives in an apartment. And you tip her badly, you cheap bastard.

People in government, too. I don’t know about Gloucester, but do you have any idea what a veteran parking enforcement agent (meter maid) makes? In Salem, after nearly 20 years, ours make about $44k. That’s also what an entry-level firefighter makes here. Make it to Lieutenant? We pay you $67k.

 

A new police patrolman isn’t paid as badly – they make about $54k. But that still doesn’t go too far in a world where rents for a 3-bedroom apartment go for between $1500 (one single listing on Realtor.com when I searched Gloucester today) and $2500 per month.

 

Your friendly local GOP will tell you that affordable apartments are all set aside for “illegals” or “them”, or “welfare queens”.

Saint Ronald The Spender, after fighting the Welfare War

Affordable housing is for you. And a community that lacks it starts to die, from the inside out.

 

There’s a fiction out there that 30% of your gross income should be the guideline for what you pay in housing costs. So let’s look at that number, shall we?

 

Assume, for a moment, that you’re a firefighter that’s moved up a couple of grades. And you make $60k per year. Pretty good coin, right? So that means you should be able to afford $20k per year in rent or in mortgage+property taxes. That equals about $1660 per month in housing expenses.

You know, these guys? All the feels.

First of all, looking at that Gloucester market (and I don’t know what you pay your firefighters, but it’s not going to be a lot more than Salem – if at all), when I ran the listing tonight there was ONE apartment rental of 3 or more bedrooms at that price. One. Now I’m sure there’s apartments that are on the market by word of mouth, or on Craigslist, or other channels. I’m not pretending that a single web search untapped an entire real estate market for me.

 

But that’s pretty slim pickings, however you look at it. Now assume the taxes paid on that salary (around $15k or so), and you’re looking at, after everything, perhaps $25k per year for that firefighter. Out of that he’s going to have to pay for a car, food, gas, clothing, and a whole life. If he’s married and has a child, that’s going to help pay for childraising as well. Sure, his wife probably works too – and out of those combined salaries you now have (probably) 2 cars, childcare, and a zillion other increased costs.

 

And there are people out there looking at this financial statement and saying “I WISH I HAD IT THIS GOOD!!!”

 

Think about that.

 

Buying a house? That’s even tougher. For a personal example, my wife and I earned, between us, about $100k back in 1993. We bought a single-family house in Salem that spring for $185k.

 

One Hundred Eighty-Five. Thousand. Dollars.

And it looked like this. Really.

Today, it’s worth almost $600k on the open market. That’s a rough tripling in value. Did our salaries triple? Nope. Simply put, if we were in the market for a home today, we couldn’t easily buy our own home that we already have. Real estate prices have not followed the same inflationary curve that most consumer goods follow. If they did, our home would have a value around maybe $300k. High, but within reach. Instead, the $300k home needs a lot of work, may lack things like off-street parking, and is probably in a worse neighborhood. As crazy as rental prices are, home ownership is even tougher. Mortgages are relatively cheap nowadays, but a $320k mortgage will cost you (before taxes and, if you need it, PMI) about $1700 per month if you have amazing credit. Add your property taxes (mine are about $7200 per year – another $600 per month – so a home assessed for less might be half that, or $300 per month) and there’s $2000 per month or $24k per year to stay on the housing treadmill. Not including all the things you have to pay for when you’re a homeowner (repairs and the like).

 

It’s like a Red Queen scenario. You have to run faster and faster just to stay in the same place.

 

So part of the dilemma for Gloucester, Salem, and all sorts of other communities is how to serve these people. We need housing for our workforces. Only in a supply-side fever dream do we actually want a world where there’s a whole subservient underclass who can be shipped in and out of town daily.

Affordable housing, amirite?

Years ago, Massachusetts realized this. And they created the “40(b)” zoning law. To over-simplify horribly, it says this: communities should have at least 10% of their housing stock in the “affordable” category (and I won’t get into the exact way it’s measured – you can look it up). At last measurement, Salem was at about 14%, and Gloucester below 10%. What 40b does is give cities an incentive to place and approve projects with an affordable component – if that number is below 10%, a developer can buy a property, designate a certain portion of the project to be “affordable” by deed, and then bypass all sorts of local approvals and zoning restrictions that would otherwise apply.

 

In Salem, we’re above 10%. Our redevelopment is mostly concentrated around our old brownfields at this point, because we’ve filled just about all the rest of this city. And our boards have full powers over most of it.

 

You guys aren’t. The Fuller School is out there. So are a whole bunch of other open spaces in town. Just saying. Building market-rate housing will help affordability some, by increasing supply. But to really make a difference, you need to build the real deal. As a community, you can get serious about solving this yourselves, or you can try to raise up the bridges. But only one of Gloucester’s bridges is a drawbridge. The other one is fixed-span – and even though it’s under construction all the time, you can’t close it. So other people are likely to solve it for you. There’s money to be made in housing, after all.