‘HAPPY’ PATRIOTS DAY, WHEN TAXPAYERS THROW A PARTY FOR PUBLIC WORKERS … plus … TENS OF MILLIONS $$ RIDING ON TUESDAY’S SCHOOL BUS VOTE REDUX
By DAN VALENTI
PLANET VALENTI News and Commentary
(FORTRESS OF SOLITUDE, MONDAY, APRIL 21, 2018) — Hey, it’s Patriot’s Day, that lame excuse the Commonwealth uses to give public employees a paid day off courtesy of taxpayers.
Let’s see. Working up a rough heading on that, we take the state’s $37 billion budget. THE PLANET conservatively assumes about 70% of it is for salaries. We then multiply for result of $37B x .7 and divide by 250 for the number of work days in a year. Again as you can see, THE PLANET is being conservative in this estimate The result is $106 million dollars.
That’s what taxpayers are donating to the state work force today: $106 million. In return, they receive zero productivity. This is government’s idea of a fair shake.
How much are Mary Jane and Joe Kapanski supporting the free ride of Pittsfield city workers today? Take a municipal budget of $134 million. Again figuring low, multiply that by .7 for money spent on salaries (the school department is 85%). Then take the result and divide by 250. The answer is $367,814.14. That’s how much Pittsfield citizens are paying for this one day.
Enjoy it. Don’t spend it all in one place.
Unions, Suits, and GOB Have Taxpayers on the Rack
This is only one example of how the large public employee unions, especially teachers, have stretched cities and towns beyond their capacity to keep up. That’s why Pittsfield, for example, has hundreds and hundreds of millions of dollars in post-employment benefits that do not include obligations for healthcare.
Keep this in mind during budget season when the Pittsfield School Department resorts to its usual lies and blackmail, when the mayor fails to cut a dime, and when our Right Honorable Friends on the City Council go along with it — all except Nick Caccamo, of course, who — without express written permission by the State Ethics Commission to do so — would be breaking the law should he cast any vote that involves the school department.
The State Ethics Commission is the only legal entity with standing in the question of Caccamo’s fitness to vote. City solicitor Kathy Degnan can give all of the advice she wishes, but, according to the SEC, she has no legal standing in the matter. If Caccamo were to act solely on Degnan’s advice, he, she, and the city would be in violation of the law.
Speaking of which, you’ve probably noticed by now that Mayor Dan Bianchi found time between the heavy lifting of ribbon cuttings, certificate awards, and D.A.R.E. graduations to resubmit his request to the council forcing a vote on school buses. Gee, could it be the mayor has advanced knowledge of something that has been kept from the public?
You’ll recall that the council, in the most recent meeting, turned down this needless expenditure on a 7-3-1 vote. The vote required a supermajority of eight votes, and it fell short because of the integrity of Tony Simonelli, Lisa Tully, and Kevin Morandi … oh yeah, and the inability of Caccamo to vote, Bog bless him.
The fact that the mayor would bring it back for a vote one meeting later has the wires burning with speculation. Politically, would he risk the embarrassment of another rejection? The “usual suspects” say no. This would mean, once again during Bianchi’s reign of error, that “The Fix Is In.” It would also indicate then that Bianchi has preordained knowledge that the vote will be successful, apparently in violation of state law. Is he that crass to risk an armada of legal damage to the city simply to foist upon the public an unnecessary, inadvisable purchase that clearly the vast majority of citizens do not want.
It’s Either (a) or (b)
The second vote on the buses can only be successful in two ways: (a) If at least one among Simonelli, Tully, and Morandi switch their votes in a flip-flop or (b) if somehow Caccamo votes. Let’s deal with these two possibilities in reverse order. Speculation has put forth the possibility that city solicitor Kathy Degnan will “rule” or proffer an opinion that Caccamo can vote on the bus issue and not be in conflict with state ethics law.
As we have stated, and let everyone be forewarned: THAT IS INCORRECT.
Degnan has no legal standing here. She “cain’t rool on squat,” as our old buddy Jed The K would say. The State Ethics Commission is the only entity that can legally rule on Caccamo’s fitness to vote. The SEC has already done that, which is why Caccamo did not vote on the buses the first time around.
THE PLANET sent Caccamo the following e-mail, copying in the city solicitor:
PLANET: Question regarding Tuesday’s meeting, wherein the mayor has brought back the school bus vote. Will you be recusing yourself again, as state law requires?
If not, why not, and by what legal right? The State Ethics Commission, as you probably know, is the only entity that can legally rule on your eligibility when it comes to school department votes. The city solicitor has not power to do so. That comes not from me but from the state.
Appreciate a response.
He answered this way, late Sunday night:
CACCAMO: I can neither confirm nor deny that I will voting on Tuesday at this time. I am still pulling together all available information and working through the proper channels to get a clearer picture before Tuesday night.
Since tomorrow is Patriot’s Day and the SEC will be closed, Caccamo will have to wait until Tuesday should he wish to talk to them. That’s cutting it a bit close.
If Caccamo can’t vote, which the SEC has previously ruled and it likely to uphold on Tuesday, then the other possibility is that one among the three “no” votes has flipped. Which one, if any? To whom did Bianchi “get?” It’s like an Agatha Christie mystery, or one of Mongram’s el cheapo Charlie Chan movies.
So who cracks?
Who Cracks? THE PLANET, Ever The Optimist, says ‘No One.”
Simonelli? We can’t see it. Tony has the most experience here, and he know why every other school district in Berkshire County except Pittsfield privatizes buses, because it saves taxpayers’ money, the business is better run, buses are better maintained, and workers do a better job. Morandi? Nope. You’ve probably read Kevin’s well-thought-out explanation for his vote, in his statement sent to THE PLANET. We contacted him subsequent to that, and he responded this way: “Like I said, I feel very confident with the way I voted on April 8 about the bus issue and have stated my reasons.” He added that he hadn’t received “any new information” that would change his mind.
That leaves Tully. When THE PLANET asked her if she would you pledge to citizens not to change her vote, she ominously responded: “No. I cannot pledge that I will not change my vote. I am not infallible. If I make a wrong decision I will rectify it. The school department did not address my concerns to my satisfaction at the Council meeting.”
Certainly a lot of eyes will be on Tully Tuesday night.
THE PLANET has asked her if she plans to stick by her original vote or not and why? We shall share her response if and when we receive it.
Call us optimistic or naive, perhaps having inhaled too much of the pure oxygen of victory when the council handed The Little Guy a rare, if symbolic, victory on April 8 over the Suits and Special Interests.
We say no one will crack. Perhaps we are letting our emotions clouding our vision, in violation of one of our cardinal rules, but we say that following Tuesday night’s vote, taxpayers (and the city itself) shall be the winners.
Bianchi, PSD: Lies, Lies, and More Lies
One of the lies the school department and the mayor have used in so relentlessly pursuing the bus business involves cost. Bianchi points to it costing “only” $2,766,075. But is that so? Let’s take a closer look at how much this $2,766,075 purchase will actually cost.
To that base amount, all of which will be borrowed, you have to add interest. Then you must add an additional $1.2 million that the city still owes on the current fleet. That loan is also being serviced. To that, add the cost for bus drivers ($743,262), supervisor ($41,208), mechanics ($120,634), maintenance ($249,600), handicapped transportation ($88,322), gas ($287,248), health insurance ($720,000 estimated), vehicle insurance ($250,000 estimated), other post-employment benefits ($500,000 estimated), and garaging and parking of buses ($200,000 estimated). That totals $7,166,349 for buses.
Now, in fairness, we must add $1.5 million. Why? That is the amount of the negotiated pay raises taxpayers owe PSD staffers in the FY15 budget. It’s not a bus cost, granted, but it nonetheless is an obligation upon taxpayers before they pay their first penny for new buses. This brings us to a figure of about $8.67 million.
Oh yeah, we forgot debt service on $4.66 million. At, what, 8%, that’s about $341,000 a year. Rounding off, that’s $9 million.
We’re not done yet.
Kristen Behnke, the out-of-tune bag lady for the PSD, says the department will take five years to pay off the buses. That requires us to subtract the one-time purchase ($2,766,075 and the current debt for the old fleet), and multiply that figure by five (five years of recurring costs for drivers, maintenance, insurance, etc.). That gives us approximately $15 million.
$8.67 million + $15 million — That’s what Bianchi’s “$2,766.075” amounts to: a grand total of $23,670,000.
Every councilor should keep this in mind when the vote comes before them again. Based on a more thorough look at the numbers (we could say a more “honest” look over the numbers the school department gave), THE PLANET is hoping citizens pick up at least one or two votes from those councilors who previously voted yes on the buses. Awaiting them will be instant hero status, a statue in Park Square, a guarantee of re-election, and a free meal with THE PLANET at the world-famous Red Lion Inn — not that politics (or bribery) would ever cross our sainted lips.
After all, Ward 4 councilor Chris Connell said that he had not seen honest numbers from the department first time around (of course, that begs the question: Well, why did you feel you had enough infomation to vote?). Now that he and others presumably have a better grasp of the real deal, and throwing in the fact that virtually all neutral observers say the current fleet of buses can last from a minimum of two to five years or better, we hope the “no” side picks up steam and this measure is resigned to the porcelain commode, where it belongs.
“So your lead to the local color, serving coffee with a cruller. Dunking doesn’t take a lot of skill. They’ve got a lot of coffee in Brazil.” — “Coffee Song,” Frank Sinatra and many artists, written by Bob Hilliard and Dick Mills, (1946).
“OPEN THE WINDOW, AUNT MILLIE.”
LOVE TO ALL.
As such, THE PLANET’s protest