Tuesday, December 29, 2009

House Republicans Highlight Missed Opportunities

As 2009 comes to a close, House Republicans wanted to take this opportunitiy to highlight Republican efforts rejected in this year by House Democrats on Beacon Hill. Below is a summary of the missed opportunities.

Statewide Hiring Freeze: Despite dwindling state revenues, data posted on the Governor's budget website shows that nearly 2,000 state employees have been hired since January 2009. This amendment proposes to implement a statewide hiring freeze for all sectors of state government for FY10. Additionally, this amendment places the responsibility of providing waivers to the freeze with each departmental manager (Speaker and Senate President for the Legislature), but limits waivers to instances where the public's health and safety are at risk. Any waivers granted by a departmental manager must be kept on record. This reform measure, which was estimated to save millions in FY10 alone, was further amended by the Democratic Leadership to create a commission to study the proposal. Unfortunately, the change nullified the intent of the original amendment. [Amendment #320, adopted in Roll Call #133 (139Y-16N), later held in conference by the Conference Committee]

Prescription Drug Waste: This amendment allows residents and consultant pharmacists in health care facilities to return unused prescription medication to the pharmacies from which they were purchased. The medication must be unopened, unexpired and in individual packages which the pharmacy may then restock and redistribute. The pharmacy must compensate the purchaser for the returned medication. This amendment will lead to cost-savings, as every year millions of dollars in prescription medications are thrown out unopened and unexpired, especially in nursing homes. In 2008, a study found that Massachusetts nursing homes waste $17.5M every year. [Amendment #325, adopted in Roll Call #123 (158Y-0N), later held in conference by the Conference Committee]

Managed Care Plans for MassHealth: This Republican-offered FY10 budget amendment would transfer all Medicaid members from MassHealth fee-for-service programs and primary care clinician plans to a Medicaid managed care organization. Medicaid managed care plans pay for all services needed by the member and have an incentive to manage illness before it becomes more acute and expensive to treat. According to a number of studies of the cost-savings that would result from this change, savings are estimated at between $690M and $1.05B in the period 2009-2013. It is estimated that this will be a savings of $170M in FY10 alone, savings which could be used to return the nursing home assessment to $145M or be allocated to the myriad of other needs existing in the Commonwealth. Democrats, however, did not agree with this logical idea, and voted to defeat the amendment. [Amendment #322, was changed and then rejected by Roll Call #100 (30Y-127N)]

Pacheco Law Threshold: Under the state's current anti-privatization statute, known as the Pacheco Law, private business wishing to bid on state service contracts worth more than $200K must be subjected to a burdensome state review that favors the delivery of services by state employees. For example, an agency must weigh the cost of using a private sector vendor not with actual state costs but with the cost of existing state employees if they were working in a hypothetical "most cost-efficient manner". In fact, the Pioneer Institute estimates that state services cost between 10% and 40% more than if private vendors provided the same service; however, only a handful of private companies have been able to navigate the law's unique review process. This amendment would simply increase the threshold for contracts requiring this type of review from $200K to $5M, saving the state an estimated $20M in FY10. [Amendment #326, rejected in Roll Call #120 (17Y-141N)]

Expedited Sale of Surplus State Land: This amendment establishes a process for selling surplus state property, which allows the Commissioner of the Department of Capital Asset Management to assess the land and property under the control of various departments throughout state government and to sell or lease such property. This process, which has been used in the past, is estimated to generate roughly $10M in FY10. Despite the need to maximize revenue and the current rising budgetary constraints, the Democratic Majority soundly defeated this proposal.
[Amendment #333,rejected in Roll Call #132 (17Y-139N)]

Suffolk County Holidays: This amendment, while filed as an amendment to the budget, was actually voted upon during debate on a FY09 Supplemental Budget in June (H. 4125). Seeking to eliminate the state's two Suffolk County-only holidays, Bunker Hill Day and Evacuation Day, this amendment was projected to save $10M annually in overtime and paid vacation days. While it seems strange that two state holidays would exist only to the benefit of state employees working in Suffolk County, it was discovered that those state employees physically located outside of Suffolk County were receiving floating holidays that could be used throughout the year. Ultimately, the amendment was defeated on a rare tie vote. [Roll Call #145 (78Y-78N)]

Surplus Turnpike Assets: Many legislators and interested parties have debated the value of the Turnpike's land and building assets and whether the Pike should sell these assets in order to avoid potential toll hikes. Unfortunately, these proposals had been rejected on a number of grounds, including the Democrat-controlled Legislature's hesitance to relinquish control of the assets and allow a private company to profit from their value. During the Transportation Reform debate, however, the Republican Leadership filed an amendment that proposed a fair compromise. This amendment directed the Undersecretary of Highways, the Treasurer, and the executive director of the PRIM board to study which Turnpike assets are surplus to the operation of the roadway and have the potential to meet the pension fund's assumed rate of return. If any assets meet such criteria, the state pension fund may then purchase those parcels at fair market value, pending the approval of the Undersecretary. This would allow the state's pension fund to "buy low" on potentially valuable assets and would infuse much needed revenue into the Turnpike's coffers. Ultimately, while this proposal was adopted on a voice vote in the House, it was not included in the final legislation.

Public-Private Partnerships: This proposal, offered by Republican legislators in both the House and Senate, codifies language that would permit the state to consider public-private partnerships when implementing new expansion projects. This language would permit private companies to design, build, finance, operate, and maintain new infrastructure. This process would be subject to the oversight of a commission comprised of experts in the field of transportation, construction, infrastructure, and engineering and the state auditor.