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Why Tim Cahill wouldn’t get my vote

August 10, 2010

Programming Note: Walpole Selectman Cliff Snuffer will make his second appearance in a year on the Sam Obar Show on WDIS Radio on September 18, at 4:00 PM.

This post has been edited since being originally published.

Tim Cahill’s surprisingly-energetic campaign for governor seems promising at first glance. Using words like “middle class”, “fighting for you”, and “I’m from Quincy,” Treasurer Cahill presents himself as a regular working-class guy who is seeking to turn Beacon Hill around and make it work for citizens again. It is infinitely clear how badly change in leadership is needed at the State House. But while his campaign speeches may make regular voters think he really is fighting for all of us, it is not clear based on his record that he really is fighting for us.

Mr. Cahill has been State Treasurer for a total of eight years, after a number of years as Norfolk County Treasurer and Quincy City Councilor. Before holding elected office, Cahill ran his own small business, a café in Quincy. He has labeled himself in this race as a fiscal conservative – a title that is becoming increasingly more trendy for politicians to have as the economy sinks and the national debt soars.

Yet as a Quincy City Councilor, he supported property tax increases, some intended partially to pay for contractually-mandated pay raises for police, firefighters, teachers and other city employees. “You hate to vote for a tax increase. But if we want the projects and ball fields, this is as fair as we can be,” then-Councilor-at-large Cahill said at the time. Mr. Cahill’s proclamation that a tax increase is “as fair as we can be,” is not fiscally conservative. Between 1997 and 1998, while Cahill was supporting property tax increases, the Quincy city budget went from just $143 million in 1997 to $150 million in 1998, an increase of $7 million. As much as Treasurer Cahill would like to try to claim that his years on the Quincy City Council set his fiscal conservatism in stone, the facts clearly indicate otherwise. The fact that contracts required higher salaries is not an excuse, because those same contracts were negotiated by the city and Treasurer Cahill did not hold the line.

Mr. Cahill’s position on higher taxes continued to be troubling even long after he became State Treasurer. In 2006, he endorsed Deval Patrick in his bid for governor because he thought Patrick’s stand on not cutting the state income tax to 5% “took courage.” The voters in 2000 had approved a decrease in their income taxes to 5%, but the legislature stepped in a few years later and froze it at 5.3% to cope with a state budget that wasn’t keeping pace with revenues. Supporting a 5.3% income tax when the voters clearly stated they wanted it at 5% means Treasurer Cahill is not only in favor of high taxes, but also is willing to ignore the will of the voters. The Treasurer stated on The Sam Obar Show recently that he supported the governor’s position because he thought that Patrick would stand firm on his pledge to cut property taxes. But, once again, he conveniently ignores the fact that the voters had clearly said they wanted a cut in their income tax – and they never got it. So Treasurer Cahill isn’t willing to support a tax cut even when the citizens vote for it, and he’s not willing to tell state government to tighten their belt even when the voters clearly want government to do so.

The Treasurer’s attitude towards the state budget during this campaign is also concerning. While making speeches and issuing press releases blasting the state’s current governor for what he refers to as “reckless spending,” and “the Administration’s inability to live within its means,” he presents no real solutions for spending cuts he himself would make if elected governor. His attacks on Governor Patrick’s budget are vague and offer no solutions.

The Treasurer has claimed that he can’t propose any budget cuts he would make until he is in the governor’s office, but he has spent the last eight years as State Treasurer overseeing exactly where our budget goes – how much comes in and how much goes out and to where. His opponent, Charlie Baker, hasn’t even been in state government since the 1990s, yet he has been able to come up with a set of about $1 billion worth of cuts he would make immediately if elected governor. The Treasurer, even though he calls himself a “fiscal conservative,” and has been running the State Treasury for the past eight years, remains unable or unwilling to offer any of his own cuts.

His position on local aid is equally concerning. Even while he can’t point to other spending cuts he would make, Treasurer Cahill has announced that he will not be afraid to cut local aid in order to balance the state budget. In other words, he will be cutting local aid, but then when people complain, he can say that he never broke any campaign promises. He can then avoid taking any blame for the fact that communities on their own will be forced to raise property taxes as a result of lower local aid numbers. Even a threat by Mr. Cahill to put cuts to local aid on the table will have a measurable impact on communities. Cops, teachers, and firefighters will lose their jobs as municipal officials try to plan their budgets around Mr. Cahill’s commitment to possible cuts to local aid.

Treasurer Cahill also brings with him a lot of allegations of unacceptable activity, most of which Mr. Cahill has either admitted to or danced around. One concerning issue is that the Treasurer has the lowest contributor disclosure rate for any statewide candidate. According to a Globe analysis, “occupation and employment information and perhaps the potential business interests of 36 percent of his major donors since 2002 have not been reported.” The Boston Herald and Boston Globe have each taken turns hitting the Treasurer for what they see as apparent “pay-to-play” schemes, in which Cahill’s campaign contributors are being given state contracts even as they donate thousands of dollars to Cahill’s war chest. He is currently embroiled in a lawsuit over alleged pay-to-play at the State Lottery. Cahill also shrugs off reports that one of his friends, Thomas J. Kelly, apparently told a company seeking a state contract to donate to the Cahill Committee in order to obtain the contract. Mr. Cahill doesn’t seem concerned that Kelly was also hired by this company to apparently take advantage of his relationship with Mr. Cahill and help them get a state contract. There are numerous reports of companies doing contracted work with the State Treasury’s various departments also contributing heavily to the State Treasurer, and Mr. Cahill seems unfazed about the obvious alarm bells these contributions should be setting off. In response to Boston Globe coverage of patronage at the Probation Department overseen by one of Cahill’s friends, John O’Brien, Mr. Cahill blamed the Legislature for allowing the Probation Department to have lax oversight, rather than calling for O’Brien’s resignation or for further investigation of the department.

When asked to respond to the fact that a company seeking a state contract once held a fundraiser for him netting $20,000, Mr. Cahill said that he feels that happens all the time on Beacon Hill and he doesn’t see it as a big deal. It was precisely this type of cozy relationship between a company seeking a state contract and a politician that got former House Speaker Sal DiMasi indicted – political corruption deserves no place on Beacon Hill and Treasurer Cahill’s no-big-deal attitude toward it is a problem. He can’t reform Beacon Hill if he doesn’t think there’s a problem in the first place.

Treasurer Cahill’s campaign for governor is definitely exciting – he is the first independent in a long time to have a strong chance of being elected governor. The race is only just now heating up, and he has millions of dollars still remaining in his campaign fund to launch an aggressive campaign come autumn. But voters shouldn’t be fooled by his every-man approach – a Cahill administration on Beacon Hill may mean we’ll have our first governor in awhile who doesn’t own a multi-million dollar home, but it certainly does not mean that we will have a governor who is actually going to keep taxes low and make government leaner.


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