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Editorial: Democrats need concrete spending priorities

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Editorial: Democrats need concrete spending priorities

As they prepare to spend $1.2 trillion on a bipartisan infrastructure deal, along with a vastly larger sum on a party-line social-policy bill, Democrats might be expected to defend their ambitions on the merits. Instead, progressive leaders seem to be focused on fiscal gimmickry.

Their goal is to advance a $3.5 trillion initiative known as Build Back Better. With moderates balking at the bill’s scope and cost, efforts are underway to deliver a slimmer version that might command broader support.

Unfortunately, these seem to be concentrating not on setting priorities, getting value for money, and presenting intelligible choices to the country, but on creative accounting.

Some of the devices under discussion are familiar. One idea would be to set revenue gathered over the full 10-year budget-planning period against spending programs that stop partway through, even though they’re intended to be permanent. More fancifully, President Joe Biden has claimed that the $3.5 trillion plan is “paid for” and hence “costs zero dollars.” Even if it were true that higher taxes would entirely cover the outlays, the cost does not evaporate. (Does this really need to be said?)

As it happens, though, the plan’s tax increases don’t cover the proposed new spending. The true 10-year cost of the proposals would most likely be $5 trillion or more, and the tax increases under consideration would raise slightly over $2 trillion. In other words, apart from costing $5 trillion more than nothing, the plan as it stands would add substantially to public borrowing and future public debt.

Remember that these enormous new commitments were proposed on top of an unprecedented expansion of spending and borrowing due to the pandemic. Government outlays in 2020 were $6.6 trillion, of which just $3.4 trillion was covered by taxes. This year’s budget deficit is again projected to be roughly $3 trillion (13.4% of gross domestic product), pushing public debt to $23 trillion (103% of GDP). With inflation running at a multi-decade high by some measures, these gigantic numbers surely warrant more caution than Biden and progressive Democrats have allowed.

No doubt, elements of the Build Back Better proposal are worthwhile. The plan is nothing if not comprehensive, and some of its ideas, especially if narrowly tailored, deserve support, such as calls for additional funding for everything from affordable housing to R&D.

All of which would be good, if money were no object. In the real world, unfortunately, governments must make judgment calls and trade-offs based on value per dollar spent. That, in turn, requires the kind of attention to detail that has been mostly absent in this debate.

It all bears witness to a deeper problem. Progressive Democrats proudly see their spending ambitions as radical and transformative. But far-reaching plans to reduce poverty, strengthen the safety net, broaden economic opportunity, and expand public services require comparably far-reaching plans to tax and spend prudently — especially if the goal is to create permanent new benefits with recurring outlays. It’s wrong to seek credit for transforming the country if you’re unwilling to be honest about what that demands.

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Full Boston pension database: Your Tax Dollars at Work

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Full Boston pension database: Your Tax Dollars at Work

For the first time, here are the 12,700 City of Boston retirees listed by name, annual pension, date of retirement and last job.

To search on this database, click the magnifying glass icon (at right) and enter names and more. Use the scroll bar at bottom to move the data over to the right to sort by highest to lowest. Send any tips or questions to [email protected] See other payroll databases here. Follow the Watchdog newsletter for related coverage.

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Geoff Diehl demands Charlie Baker veto coronavirus spending bill over inadequate unemployment funding

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Geoff Diehl demands Charlie Baker veto coronavirus spending bill over inadequate unemployment funding

The sole major Republican candidate for governor in next year’s election is calling on Gov. Charlie Baker to veto a $4 billion coronavirus relief spending bill he says saddles billions of dollars of unemployment debt on the backs of businesses.

“There is a clear and present need to protect Massachusetts businesses — and through them, the workers they employ — from the imminent threat of higher taxes,” said Geoff Diehl, a former Whitman state representative. “For our state to allocate recently received federal funding without adequately protecting our state’s economy from potential disaster is irresponsible and must be corrected.”

Lawmakers agreed to funnel $500 million to help pay back what could amount to up to $7 billion in debt after the state’s unemployment insurance trust fund paid out a historic number of claims amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Business industry leaders have said a minimum contribution of $2 billion from the state is needed to relieve the burden on businesses that fund the UI account through a payroll tax.

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Shelley Joseph’s appeal goes before First Circuit Court of Appeals

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Shelley Joseph’s appeal goes before First Circuit Court of Appeals

Suspended Newton Judge Shelley Joseph’s case finally went before the First Circuit appeals panel with justices questioning why she let an illegal immigrant escape from ICE agents in her court.

The panel questioned the intent behind Joseph’s actions, according to the National Law Journal. “Judicial immunity” was front and center at the hearing Monday.

“The way you laid out the case, you would say that there was no possible argument for corruption. But suppose that that is a jury issue, and the government says, ‘Actually we can and we’ll make a case of corruption.’ And so there are issues of fact, and that makes this fall into the usual category that you can never dismiss an indictment if there are issues of fact,” said Judge Sandra Lynch, the Journal reported.

No decision was announced. Joseph is trying to overturn a lower court’s denial of her appeal to have all her charges dismissed.

Joseph, still receiving her $184,000-a-year paycheck while facing a federal obstruction of justice charge, is accused of aiding an illegal immigrant’s escape from an ICE agent in her Newton district courtroom in 2018.

Retired court officer Wesley MacGregor is also facing the charge for allegedly leading the illegal immigrant through the courtroom’s lockup and exit.

The Journal reported the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Massachusetts has argued that Joseph and MacGregor were corrupt because the purpose of their actions was to “frustrate the ICE agent.” The feds add judicial immunity typically extends only to civil cases, not criminal ones.

In a motion filed last year, Joseph criticized an alleged “extraordinary sweetheart deal” granting immunity to the illegal immigrant’s defense attorney, who Joseph pins as the “architect and ringleader” of the plan to allow his client’s escape through the courthouse lockup.

Joseph’s motion filing also alleged claims of bias by then-U.S. Attorney Andrew Lelling in a Herald op-ed and television interview as well as former President Donald Trump’s public criticism of judges.

Thomas Hoopes, Joseph’s attorney, also cited in the motion 16 interviews of Todd Lyons, ICE Boston acting field director, by Herald columnist Howie Carr dating back to September 2018.

Suffolk District Attorney Rachael Rollins has been nominated by President Biden to take over at the federal court in Boston now that Lelling is gone. A vote on her appointment is now heading to the full Senate. Rollins advanced through a preliminary vote in the U.S. Senate last week.

But Republicans, most centrally Arkansas U.S. Sen. Tom Cotton, are seeking to make an example out of the progressive Rollins, making her the avatar of what Cotton characterized as “pro-criminal Soros prosecutors” hell-bent on “destroying our legal system from the inside.”

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