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Prison mitigation smells of Beacon Hill insiders

January 4, 2012

This post has been edited since being originally published.

For the first twenty minutes or so of last night’s Walpole Selectmen’s meeting, there was an unmistakable stench.

Upon further inspection, 180 discovered that it was the rancid smell of Beacon Hill insiders using their “behind-closed-doors” State House skills to take taxpayer dollars and hand it out as a gift to their constituents in the hopes of many happy future re-elections.

All four members of the Walpole House delegation attended the first 20 minutes of last night’s meeting proudly boasting about their successful work bringing a large pork barrel earmark to Walpole, which no other town in the state received.

The earmark is disguised under the highly misleading term “Prison Mitigation Money.” The money, of course, is actually being used for nothing even remotely pertaining to mitigating the effects of MCI-Cedar Junction in Walpole. Instead it is being used to supplement existing town revenue and is being divided off to various town departments as part of the usual budget process. That’s not prison mitigation money – that’s an earmark plain and simple.

State Representative John Rogers, a Norwood Democrat who is facing an uphill re-election climb in 2012 against Walpole Republican Jim Stanton, gave a rambling speech to Selectmen praising the efforts of the legislative delegation in bringing this juicy pork to Walpole. He boasted about the fact that Walpole was the only prison host community in the state to receive a special handout in the state budget (an obvious sign that this was definitely an earmark, as only one particular municipality got it despite the fact that many communities deserved it) and then all legislators stood together with Selectmen and school officials with a large ceremonial check to take a picture.

Rogers and State Representative Lou Kafka, Democrat from Sharon, are very close to House leadership, having been in office for almost two decades. Because of that, they are probably the two most important reasons this money came to Walpole and nowhere else.

It should have made every one of Kafka’s constituents skin crawl to hear Rogers boast publicly last night about how Kafka’s close friendship with House Speaker Robert DeLeo was a key factor in bringing the pork to Walpole.

There is no doubt that the prison mitigation money came about because of behind-closed-doors insider deals, in which DeLeo probably gave Kafka (and Rogers) the mitigation money and both will return the favor down the road by voting in favor of one of DeLeo’s more controversial bills and continuing to work up the leadership ladder. Or perhaps both were willing to do favors for other legislators to get the votes in favor of what is clearly an earmark intended for one particular prison host community, and not one of the other prison host communities in the entire state.

Anybody who thinks the prison mitigation money did not come about because of Beacon Hill insider deals is being naive.

Kafka has voted with House leadership nearly 100% of the time during his years in office, and has been rewarded for this with bigger and better leadership roles and, in this case, money to take home to his constituents.

It is unfortunate that Walpole’s sole Republican legislator, Dan Winslow, was also at the meeting and chose to celebrate this earmark as well. It is disappointing that someone who came into office in 2011 with such a bold message for Beacon Hill reform, and who himself would probably never have been able to obtain this money on his own simply because of his party affiliation, would then choose to support what is clearly an earmark obtained through what appears to be insider deals.

180 used to be a rabid defender of the prison mitigation money. But in 2011, it became clear that this money was nothing more than an earmark being used to buy the votes of Walpole residents. See remarks about it last summer.

Here’s a message to Walpole officials: Perhaps if you cut unneccessary spending and did a serious review of town spending, the town would not need this earmark.

With all four of Walpole’s state representatives in the Selectmen’s meeting room all at once, it also would have been nice if Selectmen and school officials had used the opportunity to demand those representatives push for significant statewide collective bargaining reform, and a reduction of underfunded state education mandates that are severely draining municipal resources. It’s rare that all four Walpole legislators are in the same room with town officials at once. What a wasted opportunity.

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. January 5, 2012 11:05 AM

    Sam. We disagree on this issue. The state uses town services, like police, fire and ambulance, without paying for the costs of such services by property tax. If they paid tax, I would agree that additional appropriation would have the smell of pork. But in the absence of prison mitigation funds, the local taxpayers would be left to pay the bill for a land use that benefits the entire state. So I was pleased to stand in support of this funding for Walpole (and Norfolk, which also received prison mitigation funding despite my status as a member of the minority party) to support town services and offset the impact on local budgets caused by supporting the prisons.

    Best,

    Dan

  2. Sam Obar permalink
    January 5, 2012 12:34 PM

    Why is part of the “prison mitigation” money going to the schools if the prison has no impact on the schools? Is $750,000 really the amount of money that the prison costs Walpole each year? Where is the cost breakdown of this?

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