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The real Romney
The ‘reform governor’ vetoes back pay for low-income workers at UMass, even as he grabs millions to fuel his political ambitions

SINCE TAKING OFFICE, Governor Mitt Romney’s only real priority has been boosting his political résumé. But his cynicism and hypocrisy have reached new depths this election season. The self-styled "reform governor" has chosen to punish some of the University of Massachusetts’s lowest-paid workers in the name of tax-cutting, while taking advantage of a loophole in campaign-finance laws so that his rich supporters can curry favor with him in this fall’s legislative races.

Last week Romney vetoed $32 million in retroactive salary increases for 13,000 higher-education employees — including some 2000 or so UMass employees who mostly perform low-paid, underappreciated work such as maintenance, groundskeeping, and clerical support. On the Boston campus, where incomes are the lowest, these blue- and pink-collar workers earn, on average, between $31,000 and $32,000 a year. Some make as little as $24,000. The back pay — to which they are entitled by contract, but which Romney refuses to pay — would mean an average of $1600 apiece for these workers.

With the state currently running a surplus of some $700 million, Romney would rather score cheap political points by cutting the state income tax from 5.3 percent to five percent than fulfill his obligations to those employees. Never mind that cutting the income tax would blow a hole in the state budget, which is just beginning to recover from a fiscal crisis of several years’ standing.

The symbolism is as bad as the substance. UMass is an institution that educates the children of the poor — working and otherwise — as well the lower rungs of the middle class, who are either hard-pressed or unable to afford the much-higher tuitions at private schools. Romney is sticking it to the workers who make it possible for UMass to function in a very concrete and even physical way, thereby showing his indifference not just to the workers themselves, but his lack of sympathy — even outright hostility — to the broader public UMass is designed to serve.

"It shows yet another attempt by the governor to undermine public higher education in the Commonwealth," says Susana Segat, president of Local 888 of the Service Employees International Union, which represents the 2000 UMass workers. "And now he’s attacking the low-wage workers who haven’t had a raise for three or four years. For what? It doesn’t make any sense at all." Segat hopes the legislature will override Romney’s veto, but even if that happens, it’s not likely to be until January.

As if Romney’s treatment of UMass’s clerical and maintenance workers weren’t sufficient proof that his stance as a reformer is a fraud, consider the corporate contributions he has been soliciting as part of his effort to elect more Republicans to the legislature. Recently, the Phoenix’s David S. Bernstein reported that the Massachusetts Republican State Congressional Committee had raised nearly $2.7 million for the current election cycle, at least $720,000 of which came from contributors who work for venture-capital and other investment firms (see "Campaign Contributions," This Just In, July 9). At least 39 employees of Fidelity Investments gave a reported $81,000. Employees of Romney’s former venture-capital outfit, Bain, contributed heavily as well. Though the money is supposed to be used for federal campaigns, it will likely be spent on support services for legislative races — allowing contributors to escape the much-stricter contribution limits set by state law.

More than two months later, the mainstream media are finally beginning to catch up. This past Sunday, the Boston Globe published a front-page story that included much of the same information as the earlier Phoenix piece. Headlined ROMNEY USES BUSINESS LINKS TO SWELL GOP COFFERS, the article reported that Romney and his operatives were using two political committees to rake in contributions — allowing wealthy people to give as much as $15,000 apiece, rather than the state cap of $500 that applies to contributions to individual candidates. It’s about time that the Globe took notice of how Romney is taking advantage of his ties to rich business people like himself. The simple truth is that many of the state’s corporate interests are subsidizing the Romney party, which — to a far greater extent than would have been imaginable with the three moderate Republican governors who preceded him — is a working arm of George W. Bush’s administration.

Now, it’s true, as Republicans have pointed out, that neither major party has clean hands when it comes to special-interest money. What was the Democratic National Convention if not an opportunity for corporations to shower their love on the local political establishment? But Romney’s attempt to circumvent campaign-finance laws in order to bankroll Republican legislative candidates represents an unprecedented intrusion of special-interest money into local political races that are normally decided on local issues.

Contempt for working people, contempt for campaign-finance laws, contempt for the political process itself — these are the hallmarks of a governor who tried to sell himself as someone who would straighten out Beacon Hill, and who instead sold the electorate a bill of goods. Now Romney is gearing up for what appears to be an inevitable campaign for president in 2008, regardless of whether he runs for re-election in 2006. It’s time for voters to understand who this man is — and what he’s all about — before he emerges as a serious White House contender.

What do you think? Send an e-mail to letters@phx.com

Issue Date: September 24 - 30, 2004
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