By Paul Tennant
---- — NORTH ANDOVER — The state Legislature, with Gov. Deval Patrick’s approval, recently raised taxes by $500 million.
Four Republican legislators who attended last night’s Merrimack Valley Tea Party meeting said the increase was unnecessary.
State Senate Minority Leader Bruce Tarr, R-Gloucester, whose district includes half of North Andover, said he is still angry about the increase.
State Rep. Shaunna O’Connell, R-Taunton, talked about the fight to reform EBT (electronic benefits transfers) procedures and the frustrations she and other legislators have faced trying to get information about this program. Her House colleagues, James Lyons, R-Andover, and Lenny Mirra, R-West Newbury, expressed similar views.
A third of the state’s EBT recipients have questionable eligibility, O’Connell said. One recipient had a balance of $12,000 on an EBT card, she said. She based her assertions on reports from the state auditor and inspector general.
The Department of Transitional Assistance, which manages EBT, often fails to verify Social Security numbers, she said. Citizenship is not verified either, she said.
“These programs are out of control,” said O’Connell. “People who truly need help are going without.”
O’Connell, Lyons, Mirra and Tarr all chastised Patrick and his administration for failing to rid the welfare system of fraud and abuse.
They did claim credit for one recent change: EBT recipients will now be required to provide photo IDs — but O’Connell warned bureaucrats will probably try to find ways to make exceptions for individuals.
Tarr noted he fought hard, but unsuccessfully, against a provision that links increases in the gasoline tax to inflation. Ted Trip, last night’s master of ceremonies, pointed out that when Tarr’s speech against this measure was cheered by spectators in the Senate gallery, Senate President Therese Murray ordered them removed.
The Patrick administration has called the abuse of EBT cards “tolerable leakage” which is no worse than in other states, Tarr said.
He said GOP legislators proposed reforms that would have saved the state $2 billion, more than enough to offset the tax hike that was enacted, but they were voted down.
Nevertheless, “We’re not going away,” Tarr said.
Lyons, first elected in 2010 and re-elected in 2012, said the solution to the state’s spending problems is basic.
“Elect more Republicans,” he said to cheers from the nearly 100 people who attended the gathering at Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 2104.
Kristi Devine of West Newbury asked the legislators what Massachusetts can do to rid itself of political corruption.
“We need to make sure we have the right candidate for attorney general,” Tarr said.
Former North Andover School Committee member Charles Ormsby asked how many people have been prosecuted for welfare fraud in Massachusetts. Tarr did not have an answer to that question, but said that the Bureau of Special Investigations, which is charged with going after welfare fraud, has not received the support it needs to fulfill that duty from the Patrick administration.