Article V of the Massachusetts Constitution requires that the branches of government “at all times” be accountable to the people.
But few state governments are less accountable to the people than Massachusetts. The latest evidence came when state senators rejected a proposed amendment to the Senate’s budget plan that would have required the state’s quasi-public agencies to post their payrolls on the state comptroller’s website.
From DCR summer lifeguards to corrections officers, salaries are available online. Why shouldn’t that be the case for employees of the Massachusetts Development Finance Agency? Perhaps the answer can be found in the words of Senate Minority Leader Bruce Tarr (R-Gloucester), who sponsored the amendment.
“The quasi-public entities have, in many cases, very highly compensated individuals and many of them … do not share that information with the comptroller’s office,” Tarr told the Boston Herald.
He might have been referring to the fact that quasi-public agencies are often havens for patronage, because they offer salaries much closer to those available in lucrative private-sector jobs. In addition to allowing elected officials to thank supporters with a high-paying job, the gift also usually comes with a substantial pension bump because state retirement benefits are based on employees’ three highest-earning years.
It’s a scenario that gives elected officials an incentive to keep quasi-public agency payrolls opaque, but doing so causes the public to become even more suspicious of government.
And it’s been going on for a long time. In 2013, Massachusetts was one of five states in which the legislature received an “F” for transparency from the Sunlight Foundation, a national, nonpartisan, nonprofit organization that advocates for open government.
If you think things have improved in the ensuing decade, think again. The state Legislature continues to exempt itself from the definition of “public body” for the Public Records and Open Meetings laws.
New State Auditor Diana DiZoglio is actually trying to audit the Legislature for the first time in anyone’s memory, but legislators are pushing back. DiZoglio recently claimed the Senate budget proposal essentially level-funding her office was retaliation for attempting to conduct the audit.
Massachusetts also ranks last when it comes to public access to policymakers’ Statements of Financial Interests (SFIs). Those seeking access to SFIs must either visit the State Ethics Commission in person with a photo ID or upload a picture of the ID online. Believe it or not, the Ethics Commission then reports the identity of those seeking the forms to the policymaker in question, which doesn’t exactly incentivize transparency.
Finally, the ranges on the forms policymakers fill out haven’t changed since 1978. So, for example, the top bracket for value of a home is “$100,000+”—not exactly valuable information in 2023.
By rejecting a proposal to make quasi-public payrolls public, state senators again violated the constitutional requirement that the branches of Massachusetts government “at all times” be accountable to the people. It’s a problem that will only get better when we demand it from our public officials.
Mary Z. Connaughton is Director of Government Transparency and Chief Operating Officer at Pioneer Institute in Boston.
Click this link for the original source of this article.
Author: Amnon Jakony | The Daily Reformer News
This content is courtesy of, and owned and copyrighted by, http://thedailyreformer.com and its author. This content is made available by use of the public RSS feed offered by the host site and is used for educational purposes only. If you are the author or represent the host site and would like this content removed now and in the future, please contact USSANews.com using the email address in the Contact page found in the website menu.