, Newburyport, MA

April 15, 2014

Our view: Lawmakers wrong to gag debate

Newburyport Daily News

---- — The Massachusetts House of Representatives needs a new name after last week.

We propose “The Speakership of the People.”

Because, really, there is absolutely no need for anyone but Mr. Speaker to represent us on Beacon Hill.

It’s long been evident that what Mr. Speaker wants, Mr. Speaker gets. When it comes time to vote on any issue, House members’ only question is how Mr. Speaker wants them to vote. After last week, it’s also obvious that what Mr. Speaker doesn’t want doesn’t happen.

The principle of one-man rule is now so established that it ought to be engraved upon the Golden Dome: “In the Speaker We Trust.”

It is now settled law, literally.

The House voted 117-29 last Tuesday to enact a set of “special instructions” from House leadership (i.e., Speaker Robert DeLeo) that forbid debate on the issues of welfare reform and local aid when the House version of the $30 billion-plus state budget comes up for review at the end of the month.

By a not-so-amazing coincidence, every Democrat present voted yes. All 29 no votes were cast by Republicans.

Welfare reform, including the problem of EBT fraud, is an issue that needs action, preceded by vigorous debate. So is local aid. How, after all, are cities and towns supposed to govern efficiently when the state jerks them around every year over how much of the money it drains from local taxpayers will be sent back to them?

But Mr. Speaker will have none of that.

We’re not surprised that his Boston area Democratic followers went over the cliff for him. But we are disappointed that so many of our local legislators turned into lemmings. Our local schools — Amesbury in particular — have been crying out for a debate over the amount of money the state gives out for local aid. Amesbury’s argument for more money has been banned from discussion on the floor of the House.

The argument for the ban on debate over contentious issues like EBT reform was that it will make things run more smoothly. Sure — and Mussolini made the trains run on time.

The real reason for the ban, of course, is to spare legislators from a difficult vote that might have consequences for their chances of re-election.

The essential duty of elected legislators is to cast an independent vote that represents the interests of their constituents, or one that they believe best serves those interests.

Now they refuse to accept that responsibility.

Last year, the care and feeding of Bay State legislators cost taxpayers almost $60 million.

Since the state is always crying for new sources of money, we propose eliminating the jobs of all but Mr. Speaker to free up those millions for other purposes.

Because, clearly, our paid elected officials have become “non-essential workers.”