Sun Spots with Hitch [Vol. 205]: Last stop, Union Station

Whether it’s failed nightclubs or high-speed trains, improved commuter rail service to Boston or deficit spending, Union Station has a way of staying in the news — and in the hearts of so many residents and decision makers in our city.

It’s a monument not only to history but to the possibilities of tomorrow. But much like the covert entrance to its parking garage, there is another side rarely seen.

For far too many of our friends, coworkers, uncles and sisters it’s become the final destination of a life overtaken by opioid addiction. Hitch has thoughts.

Editorial: Cost of tough-on-crime policies do not add up

Budgets, we’re told by politicians and policy-makers, reflect the priorities and values of the community.

Want children educated? Fund education. Safe streets? Fund public safety. And so on.

But lost in the discussion over our priorities and values is a question central to the efficacy of our government: Is money being spent in a way that achieves the desired results?

It is in this light that we take note of a new study, “The Geography of Incarceration in a Gateway City,” prepared by MassINC and the Massachusetts Criminal Justice Reform Coalition.

Using data provided by the Worcester County Sheriff’s Department on all of the individuals admitted between 2009 and 2013, the report provides a detailed view of the explicit and implicit costs of the tough-on-crime policies of the 1980s.

Inbox [Oct. 11]: News and notes from Assumption, A Livable Worcester, REC, WPL Foundation, QCC, UniBank and Ninety Nine

Have news you or your group would like to share? Let us know by emailing it to info@worcester.ma. Be sure to include a link to the full release on your site or Facebook page so we can include it and send Sun members your way.

Assumption’s annual business ethics lecture to address Worcester’s opiate crisis

Assumption College’s annual Business Ethics Lecture will feature Joseph Sawicki, lead clinical pharmacy coordinator at Saint Vincent Hospital, who will discuss Worcester’s opiate crisis and the ethical difficulties faced by caregivers, managers and providers in a healthcare setting.

The lecture, “Making Sense of Complex Patient Care Issues,” will take place at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 18, in La Maison Auditorium at Assumption.

Editorial: Silence is deadly to needed gun reforms

When he opted out of a moment of silence last week in the House chamber, U.S. Rep. Jim Himes was not disrespecting the victims of the mass murder in Las Vegas.

He was respecting his job.

“Anywhere else — in a Rotary Club, at a baseball game — do a moment of silence,” the Connecticut Democrat told “The Daily Show” host Trevor Noah Tuesday.

“If you’re in the one room where you could start fixing this problem … that’s negligence. That’s not honoring anybody. Honoring the victims would mean we’re going to fix this,” Himes said.

It’s sad how much sense this makes.

On Beacon Hill: All eyes on Washington

Recap and analysis of the week in local, state and federal government from State House News Service and Sun research.

BOSTON — Bump stocks, Bump’s rising stock and the gamble of a little-known state representative from Lawrence looking to bump up the political ladder.

When everything else seems to be in limbo, sometimes there’s no easier reprieve for lawmakers from the malaise on Beacon Hill than to open up the newspaper and find something worth a reaction.

The slow burn of criminal justice and healthcare reform bills may have something to do with the decision state Rep. Juana Matias, a first-term legislator from Lawrence, made this week to set her sights on something bigger – Congress.

Go where the action is.

Matias has barely had time to settle into the rhythms of the Legislature, but even in her short political career she has been an embodiment of the newish political culture in Massachusetts that spits on the wait-your-turn philosophy of previous generations.

Like U.S. Rep. Seth Moulton, who knocked off an incumbent in his own party on his way to being a talked-about 2020 White House contender, Matias took on and beat Democrat Marcos Devers in 2016 and now plans to run for U.S. Rep. Niki Tsongas’s seat next year. Tsongas, of course, plans to retire, so there’s no one there to dethrone. Just a wide-open field with no clear heir to the seat.

Matias came to the United States with her family from the Dominican Republic when she was five, and now sells herself as “Donald Trump’s worst nightmare.” But she has competition for that title.

Sam Doran / State House News Service

Rep. Juana Matias of Lawrence, left. and Sen. Jamie Eldridge of Acton, testify at the start of the June 9 Public Safety Committee hearing.

Andover’s Dan Koh, one of at least six Democrats now running in the Third District, turned heads last week when he announced a staggering $805,000 fundraising haul in the month since since he announced his campaign. But if the desired effect was to scare off further challengers, it didn’t work.

Sen. Barbara L’Italien is another legislator looking to punch her ticket out of Boston to Washington, D.C., showing how even the prospects of entering the minority in Congress can have a brighter shine than being in the supermajority at the state level.

The goal is the same, but the dynamic different for state Rep. Geoff Diehl, who is trying to escape the Republican minority in the Massachusetts House to join the GOP majority in the U.S. Senate.

With just one month left until the Legislature recesses for the year, the Democrats’ agenda has been slow to take form, and business groups moved to undercut one leg of their stool by filing a lawsuit challenging the attorney general’s certification of a ballot question to impose a surtax on millionaires.

The Raise Up Coalition believes its constitutional amendment remains on solid footing, but the business group’s case is probably more than just a wish and prayer. If successful, it would seriously dampen the excitement of lawmakers looking ahead to 2019 and all the money they think they’ll have to spend.

The one thing the branches have been able agree on is that the budget they produced in July was fine as it was, before Gov. Charlie Baker got his hands on it.

House leaders flexed their muscles in a way not seen for at least several years, completing their work to reverse all $320 million worth of spending vetoes made by Baker in July as the Republican governor warned about the risk of a third straight cycle of mid-year budget cuts.

House Democrats, however, didn’t want to be told about the need to exercise caution, and their confidence in their own budgeting ability, whether it will prove to be misguided or right on the money this year, got a shot in the arm by a September state revenue report showing that, for the time being, Massachusetts has a $124 million cushion.

The Senate has been taking up budget overrides at a slower pace – just $40 million so far – but there’s little indication to suggest its members will be more conservative about spending than their counterparts in the House.

— Matt Murphy

ALSO ON THE AGENDA

  • DeLeo, state leaders expect to ‘move quickly’ on bump-stock ban
  • Markey on birth control, Baker on PR, Warren on Equifax
  • Pot power drain on minds of Bay State utility officials
  • Watch: Healey on Las Vegas shooting
  • State bestows highest honor on fallen Officer Tarentino

In light of Vegas massacre, DeLeo sets meeting on Mass. gun law

Massachusetts may already have some of the toughest gun laws in the country, but in the wake of the concert massacre in Las Vegas Sunday night House Speaker Robert DeLeo says he’s not done trying to improve.

DeLeo told reporters he plans to meet with Northeastern University criminologist Jack McDevitt Thursday to review the impact of a 2014 gun law that included suicide prevention initiatives, firearm tracing and new background check requirements.

Editorial: American Roulette

The first shots rang out on the Las Vegas Strip at 10:08 p.m. PDT.

Less than 9 hours later, with victims still succumbing to their wounds and the country just starting to wrestle with the enormity of Sunday night’s attack, stocks of U.S. gunmakers were already rising.

This is the new normal.

With the provocative headline “Gun stocks are getting their usual post-bloodshed pop,” an article in Vice News explained the phenomenon.

“Stocks in gun companies have been known to rise in the aftermath of American mass killings, as the killings can lead to an increase in chatter surrounding the imposition of new laws restricting gun sales,” the article reads.

“And while Congress hasn’t passed any new tough new gun laws since 1994’s assault weapons ban (since allowed to expire), the mere mention of new restrictions has been enough to spur a short-term rise in gun sales, and therefore profits for gun makers.”

Sun Spots with Hitch [Vol. 203]: Warren and Markey, first responders

There are about 3.4 million people — Americans — living in Puerto Rico.

Nearly two weeks ago Hurricane Maria devastated the island. Yesterday, half of those Americans were still without drinking water and some two-thirds remained without electricity, including a few hospitals.

President Trump, as has become American custom, has been widely criticized for his callous, less-than-urgent response.

Never fear, though, Hitch says, because Senators Elizabeth Warren and Ed Markey are on the case.

Editorial: In Worcester, help instead of handcuffs for drug buyers

It’s a thought a lot of us have had about the heartache of opioid abuse: People caught buying narcotics on the street need to be rescued, not arrested.

Many of those wrestling with addiction realize it, too, somewhere under the monster of their problem. And increasingly across the country, officials are thinking the same thing, that opioid addicts need help.

Massachusetts has chosen Worcester to lead the way in putting this powerful thought into practice.

Launched Thursday at Worcester Police headquarters, a pilot program funded with a $99,000 state grant is designed to steer opioid users into treatment instead of court dates, fines, possible jail and the continued grip of addiction. The Buyer Diversion Treatment Program will give some people caught buying illegal drugs the option of entering into arrest or detox.

On Beacon Hill: Bowling for dollars

Recap and analysis of the week in local, state and federal government from State House News Service and Sun research.

BOSTON — Line ’em up and knock ’em down. That’s been the House’s approach to Gov. Charlie Baker’s budget vetoes since returning from summer recess.

But if Speaker Robert DeLeo was hoping to see the Senate quickly pick up the spare, he found that it might take them a few extra frames.

For the second straight week, House leaders put dozens of votes on the floor to override $9 million more in spending vetoes, bringing the amount of money Democrats are looking to pour back into the $39.4 billion state budget to $284 million.

Then it was the Senate’s turn.

But in their first session since late July, senators acted on only $25 million worth of overrides focused on statewide services and programs that help children [see story below]. It was less than half of what Sen. Karen Spilka said the Senate was prepared to consider restoring to the budget, and the voting came over the objection of Senate Republicans who urged just a little patience.

The release of September tax collection totals this week will color in a full quadrant of the fiscal year picture and give legislators a better idea of how their financial forecast is holding up — well, at least the revenue side of the equation.

“The current fiscal environment, specifically soft revenue collection reports to date, indicates there is no basis to support the legislature’s decision to increase spending by $284 million,” Baker scolded Thursday evening, powerless to stop the type of decisions that have exacerbated midyear budget cuts in each of the last two years.

Baker watched the override votes from Boston after continuing to wear out the shuttle flight path between Logan and Reagan National. The governor headed back to Washington – this time the White House – for a meeting of President Trump’s Commission on Combating Drug Addiction and the Opioid Crisis, led by New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie.

His path nearly crossed with U.S. Rep. Richard Neal, who was at the White House a day earlier as the ranking Democrat on the House Ways and Means Committee. Congressional leaders were there to discuss tax reform, but the bipartisan nature of the photo-op did not exactly buy the president or GOP leadership any rope with Democrats.

Flickr / Ben Wikler

U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren

Neal, along with U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren and others from their party, blasted the GOP tax reform framework as a trickle-down economic plan geared toward helping the wealthy, despite the White House casting it as middle-class tax relief.

In Massachusetts, leaders – Baker included – seized on the proposed elimination of state and local tax payment deductions as a particularly egregious simplification of the tax code.

That change would particularly hurt Bay State residents, they said, because they earn more than workers in many places around the country and pay higher income and property taxes that can be used to lower their federal tax burden.

Trump’s tax plan also proposed to eliminate the federal estate tax, a levy that got some attention at the state level as well last week. Rep. Shawn Dooley has proposed to raise the $1 million threshold for the Massachusetts estate tax at one of several hearings last week that put the State House in a morbid mood.

Despite the rejection by voters in 2012 of the concept of helping the terminally ill end their own lives, legislative proposals to revive the debate live on, even if their chances of resurrection seem remote.

Matters of life of death were also never far from mind for those with family in Puerto Rico, where water, food and medicine shortages continue to cause grave concern in a state with one of the top five populations of people from the Caribbean island in the country.

The devastation in Puerto Rico from the one-two punch of hurricanes Irma and Maria continued to influence both policy and politics, as Baker took steps to assure the community and his critics that Massachusetts stood ready to assist in any way possible [see video below].

— Matt Murphy

ALSO ON THE AGENDA

  • With another break looming, lawmakers about to buckle down?
  • McGovern on SNAP, Baker on WPD
  • Worcester awarded state recycling grant
  • Watch: Baker, Sanchez on Puerto Rico aid
  • Senate restores $25 million in Baker budget vetoes