Stewardship

Has Massachusetts generally been a good steward of public dollars? Why or why not?

Democrat

Massachusetts can and should be a better steward of public dollars. As a cabinet secretary, state representative, and small business owner, I have seen the inefficiencies in state government up close and worked to correct them.

One area where we have been especially lacking is in evaluating the costs and benefits of economic development tax incentives.

Having been the labor secretary during much of the current recession, I know all too well the seriousness of our employment situation. We do need more jobs, and sooner rather than later - but the state cannot just give away money to businesses and hope that good, permanent jobs will be created.

Business subsidies need, deserve, and demand proper oversight if they are to be anything but handouts, and state agencies must be rigorous in their oversight of these programs which are meant to stimulate job growth.

I will provide aggressive oversight of all our business and development tax breaks and incentives to ensure businesses live up to their job creation promises.

I will do a thorough review of every business tax and development incentive program and require state agencies to demonstrate how well they administer and monitor business subsidy programs.

All such programs need on-going reporting requirements, objective criteria for evaluating success, and sunset provisions that force the Legislature to review results and vote on whether these programs should continue.

Massachusetts should enforce the "clawback" provisions that were added to these subsidies, mandating that companies pay back any state assistance they receive if they fail to meet their targets for job creation.

These incentives use our tax dollars, and we must be sure we are getting the benefits we deserve from both our government and the businesses that utilize them.

Green-Rainbow

Definitely not! Our government is a sucker for any scam that promises to create private jobs with public money.

$1 million/year spent by the Department of Revenue to rent empty office space.

$2 million to Nortel Networks for the promise of 800 jobs. Instead, it cut 2,000 jobs, but it still got the money.

$22.5 million for Liberty Mutual to build a new building so it could lease the old one.

In all, the governor's Economic Development Incentive Panel has approved all but one of nearly 1,400 applications - even for projects already built. All this as state aid for elementary and secondary ed has been cut 40% in the past 10 years, 30% in the past 4 years, and local aid continues to fade.

As the chair of my school committee, forced to ask my town to dig still deeper into their pockets every year, I wonder what our state government's priorities really are.

Our Legislature favors gifts that keep on giving:

$25 million/year to increase the profits of prescription drug makers.

$150 million/year in tax breaks to moviemakers, who then sell the tax credits to insurance companies and banks.

$300 million/year for 15 years running in "single-sales-factor" tax breaks to mutual fund investment banks (like Fidelity) and a special class of manufacturers (like Raytheon) with no requirement that a single job be kept, let alone created.

When Beacon Hill says there's no money, what they really mean is there's no money for you!

Good stewardship means using public funds for public purposes, for investments that benefit us all, like safe streets, good schools, and healthy communities. Rehiring teachers, firefighters, and health workers. Hire the unemployed for energy retrofits of public buildings.

Instead, our state squanders over $1.5 billion/year in insider deals with little accountability. Most of these programs are exempt from so-called "clawback" provisions, and no one has been counting how many jobs are really added or lost. I will.

Republican

The government needs a longer-term vision for its use of public money.

State debts continue to mount. The state is facing about a $22 billion unfunded pension liability and about a $15 billion unfunded liability for other retirement benefits, primarily health care, for state workers.

Such enormous budgetary constraints are unsustainable. One-time fixes like the use of rainy day funds to stabilize the operating budget do not provide long-term financial health.

That is one of the reasons the state auditor has the second most important role in state government.

The auditor is the person responsible for making sure the public's hard-earned dollars are spent appropriately by rendering objective opinions on the cost of policy decisions, and rooting out waste, fraud and corruption in state spending.

The auditor must also determine if the state's assets are adequately safeguarded and must determine if controls are in place to protect from unauthorized spending.

To ensure that tax dollars are not being wasted, the auditor's office can conduct audits of all departments of state government, and even of the contractors and vendors that do business with the state.

The notable exception is the state Legislature, but I have vowed to promote legislation to eliminate that exemption.

In this way, the auditor's role is to ensure that elected officials and those they appoint are being good stewards of the public money. The auditor is the people's eyes and should report back to the public frequently using all forms of media. The auditor is the top public advocate.

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DeNucci

Assess the job Joe DeNucci did as auditor.

Democrat

Joe DeNucci has served as our auditor for 24 years because of his unquestioned dedication to being the "watchdog for the underdog," the professionalism of his staff, and the integrity of his audits.

I intend to continue those high standards, but I also plan to retool the auditor's office for the 21st century, reviewing management structure, staffing and compensation levels, the use of technology, public communication, and the audit priorities of the office.

I will do this with the goal of adding accountability and transparency to state government. Auditor DeNucci has a solid legacy to build on. The MassHealth audit of 2006 and the School Building Assistance Program
audit of 2004 laid bare inadequate oversight mechanisms in both programs, which invited wasteful spending and abuse, and led to structural changes in governmental operations.

The MassHealth audit found $12 million in overpayments and potential annual savings and, more importantly, deficiencies in program management, including an alarming lack of resources dedicated to fiscal oversight. Those findings led to the creation of the Medicaid Audit Unit (MAU), a specialized unit in the auditor's office dedicated to finding waste, fraud, and abuse in MassHealth spending.

I intend to establish a Health Care Audit Unit, modeled on the MAU, to comprehensively review health care spending. Its mission: find ways to simplify the way we run the various health care programs, consolidate administration where appropriate and streamline the system to make it easier for consumers to obtain services.

The unit will evaluate and, where appropriate, expand upon recommendations from others, such as those in a recent report of the Massachusetts Inspector General. That report recommends that the state explore using the combined bargaining power of all state programs in the health care field.

Green-Rainbow

The allegation by the State Ethics Commission that DeNucci violated conflict-of-interest law by hiring an unqualified cousin as a fraud examiner, if proven, is very disconcerting.

The recent 5% pay raise is also hard to understand. Inflation eats away at all of our wages, and an average pay increase of 1% a year is not extravagant, but a wage freeze for two years, a 4% cut the next, and a 5% hike the following year is no way to run a railroad. Unpredictable salaries make it harder to retain your most valued staff, and makes it seem as if salaries are being determined by politics rather than reason.

Behind the scenes, the research staff working under the direction of the state auditor produce consistently professional and authoritative audits of many aspects of state government, uncover unfunded mandates, and make recommendations for change. The state auditor deserves credit for that.

But as our Commonwealth's official watchdog, the state auditor has an obligation to ensure that the public hears loud and clear how well - or poorly - the governor's office, state agencies, publicly funded contractors, and the Legislature are spending public money. And here, the auditor has fallen short.

If my experience on the campaign trail is any indication, most people have never even heard of the position of state auditor, let alone the office's findings and recommendations.

The auditor's job is to expose, and with the public's help, eliminate waste, fraud, and abuse. An informed public is key to bringing that about. The current approach of press releases and audit summaries isn't getting the job done. The public needs access to the complete audits, full online transparency for state expenses, and clear information on what to ask for to bring about change.

Our Commonwealth is running billion-dollar deficits. Our fiscal house is burning down. We need a watchdog who'll bark loudly enough to wake our neighbors and who'll visit every city and town to sound the alarm.

Republican

Joe DeNucci is a public servant and did reasonably well in office. The public placed a great deal of faith in Auditor DeNucci, and he is extremely well-liked.

But with my credentials as an experienced auditor and CPA, I can bring a new level of effectiveness to what is the second most important job in state government.

The times have changed dramatically since Auditor DeNucci took office. The state's financial health has been dependent on one-time fixes that don't plan for the future. People cannot afford increased state spending, given their own financial situations.

I have traveled the many corners of this state during my campaign and know what is on people's minds. They are concerned not only with the state's fiscal stability, but with job security, college tuitions, and their ability to someday retire. They are tightening their household budgets and expect state government to do the same.

There was an enormous public outcry at the recent 5% across-the-board pay hike that the auditor recently authorized for his staff. I would require all personnel in the office to reapply for their jobs and retain only those qualified to serve. I would also assess pay rates, with all compensation levels, even base wages before the recent pay hike, on the table.

I was pleased to see, though, that Auditor DeNucci is still vigilant in his responsibilities during his last months in office. Earlier this month, he produced a report stating that millions of dollars were being spent unnecessarily on MRI imaging and other medical scannings for Medicaid patients. This is an example of the powerful impact the auditor can have to protect the public and provide comfort that the people's money is being spent wisely.

It's heartening to see that Joe is going out swinging. But there is a new kind of professional ready to enter the ring.

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Responses gathered through e.thePeople