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Finneranís puppet

House Ways and Means chairman John Rogers must go

STATE REPRESENTATIVE JOHN Rogers offers a good example of how bad the Massachusetts House has become under Speaker Tom Finneran. In the past month, Rogers, the Democratic representative from Norwood first elected in 1993, has taken aim at one important liberal cause after another, exemplifying the insensitive, mean-spirited attitude at work in Finneranís House.

For the second legislative session in a row, Rogers has filed the backward-looking ďProtection of MarriageĒ bill, which would prohibit the state from offering the legal benefits of marriage to gay and lesbian couples. He also sponsored an idiotic measure that would define prison cells ó prison cells ó as units of affordable housing, which would have qualified Walpole, a portion of which is in his district, for state housing aid. And, as chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, Rogers stripped $20†million from the Affordable Housing Trust Fund (AHTF), effectively gutting the innovative program. Itís tempting to ask what heíll do next. But the question we should be asking is how Rogers, with his weak ideas, won his plum post on the powerful committee in the first place.

As the Boston Globeís Scot Lehigh has pointed out, the House has seen key talent rush for the doors while Finneran amasses more and more power. Paul Haley, the former chairman of the Ways and Means Committee, left the House for the Lehman Brothers investment firm when he learned that Finneran would not reappoint him. And House majority leader William Nagle of Florence, who led the fight to defeat reinstating the death penalty in Massachusetts, has been confirmed by the Governorís Council as the next clerk magistrate of Ware District Court and is expected to resign by August.

In this atmosphere, a relatively undistinguished legislator like Rogers can rise to the post of Ways and Means chairman, the most powerful position in the House after the Speakerís. But over the past two months, as the House finalized its budget, Rogersís performance was nothing short of embarrassing. Just look at his approach to trimming the budget. Two proposals were on the table. One would have kept the legislature from allocating $20†million to the AHTF, which finances new units of affordable housing around the state and repairs existing units of public housing. The other would have capped the out-of-control Quinn Bill, which provides police officers who earn associateís, bachelorís, and graduate degrees with raises as high as 25 percent of their base pay. This year, the program will cost the state $50†million. (The program will also cost cities and towns an additional $50†million.) Caving to police-union pressure, Rogers chose the first option.

The legislature initiated the AHTF last year with $15†million and a promise to allocate $20†million a year to the fund over the next five years. Rogers ignored the pleas of affordable-housing advocates when he abandoned the program by refusing to fund it. His rationale? Since voters passed an income-tax cut last year, and since the AHTF depends on income-tax revenues, the state can no longer afford the program. Interestingly, the Quinn Bill, a pet cause of police unions, survived intact ó even though it, like most other programs in the budget, is paid for with revenue from the state income tax.

In Rogersís world, itís apparently okay to keep struggling families waiting even longer for affordable housing if it means the state can save $20†million. But if a powerful lobbying group like the police union demands the continuation of a poorly monitored program subject to well-documented abuse, continue it he will ó even if it costs the state $50†million.

This isnít leadership. This is politics at its most craven.

Of course, it would be wrong to create the impression that Rogers comes up with these fiscally irresponsible choices on his own. Rogers is nothing more than a lap dog of Finneran. When Rogers acts, you can be sure he has Finneranís full approval. After all, Finneran has yet to do or say anything to dispel the notion, reported by both local dailies, that he endorsed the move to gut the AHTF.

Then thereís Rogersís nasty anti-gay-marriage proposal. Contrary to its boostersí claims, the billís purpose isnít to ďprotectĒ the institution of marriage. Rather, its sole objective is to bar gay male and lesbian couples forever from the benefits afforded by marriage. Otherwise, why specify that a marriage can take place only between ďone man and one womanĒ? Finneran supports the Protection of Marriage Bill. In fact, he allowed a hearing on it to go forward two weeks ago, even as domestic-partnership legislation that would merely permit cities and towns to offer health benefits to the partners of their gay and lesbian municipal employees ó legislation passed twice by the Senate during the last session ó languishes in the House.

However, while supporting such foolish legislation and even more foolish fiscal choices, neither Finneran nor Rogers has banked on voter dissent. The grassroots Norwood-Walpole Citizens for All Families, angry with Rogers for having filed the anti-gay-marriage bill, demanded a meeting with the legislator three weeks ago. Rogers sat down with the group last Sunday, May 20. There were about 15 voters in the room (impressive for a Sunday night in a sleepy bedroom community like Norwood, not exactly known as a bastion of gay activism), many of whom have known Rogers for years. The meeting was cordial and polite on both sides, but the message sent to Rogers was unmistakable: cut it out. As it turns out, plenty of residents in Mr. Rogersís neighborhood arenít happy with some of the decisions made in their names. If Rogers doesnít withdraw his support from the odious anti-gay bill, the next place these people express their dissatisfaction will be the voting booth. Itís the only way to send a lasting message to Finneran, Rogers, and company.

Call Rogers at (617) 722-2396 or email to let him know you donít support his proposals. Finneran can be reached at (617) 727-3600 for the same purpose.

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Issue Date: May 31- June 7, 2001

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