EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

December 29, 2013

Editorial: A look back at some of the big issues of 2013

The Eagle-Tribune

---- — The quality of our political leadership, taxes, spending and government secrecy were among the issues we examined in editorials over the past year. Readers can be sure these issues and others will provoke further commentary in the coming year.

In a democratic republic, how elected officials represent and relate to their constituents is of paramount importance. “Bread and butter” issues such as spending and taxes affect everyone.

Newspapers report the news without bias or favor. But on their opinion pages, newspapers for well over 100 years have invited debate on the issues of the day, expressing the views of their editorial leadership and welcoming those of readers through letters and columns.

Here are some of the issues that drew our attention in 2013:

Politics. The three Massachusetts cities we serve held mayoral elections in 2013 and there were tight races in Lawrence and Methuen. We commented on several occasions on the need for professional leadership in these communities.

In Lawrence, we argued that City Councilor Daniel Rivera was the better choice for mayor over incumbent William Lantigua. Rivera, we said, has the educational, work and political background needed to bring professional leadership to the city. Rivera told us Lawrence must combat its lawless image to entice new businesses to locate here and it must get its finances together to end its dependency on the state.

“This isn’t what some in Lawrence want to hear,” we wrote Nov. 1. “They’d rather listen to Lantigua’s easy promises and empty rhetoric. This is tough medicine that Rivera is offering. But Lawrence needs it.”

Rivera narrowly won the mayoral election on Nov. 5 and prevailed in a recount.

Taxes and spending. The two go hand-in-hand, for government has no money to spend that it does not take, via taxation, from its citizens.

In Massachusetts, after years of tight budgets, Gov. Deval Patrick wanted to take advantage of a slightly improving economy to go on a spending spree. At the beginning of last year, Patrick proposed a $1.9 billion tax increase to pay for his transportation and education initiatives. Patrick even pulled out one of the oldest tricks in the political playbook, surrounding himself with kids holding signs calling for “compassion” and “courage.”

“It’s a pity no one has the “courage” to tell these young people the truth: The politicians they so willingly serve are bankrupting their futures,” we wrote. “There is no free lunch. Someone, someday will have to pay for all the marvelous programs and initiatives purchased today with borrowed or squandered money. Guess who, kids!”

Fortunately, Patrick’s plan was too much even for the Democratic-controlled Legislature, which offered up a flawed $500 million tax hike of its own. One portion of the plan, an extension of the sales tax to computer software and services, was deemed so destructive to the economy that it was later repealed.

While this great tax debate was going on, state revenues were coming in well above expectations. The lesson: When picking the taxpayers’ pockets, too much is never enough for legislators.

Secrecy in government. We had a number of instances this year of government officials doing their level best to keep the public from knowing what they were up to.

In New Hampshire, officials remain tight-lipped about an on-going investigation into the Rockingham County Attorney’s office and County Attorney James Reams.

In November, Reams and two others in his office were placed on leave while state and federal authorities investigated “management and operational issues” in the office. Accusations arose that Reams mismanaged county funds and sexually harassed some of his female employees.

Reams has denied the charges and said in a court filing that he had been accused in the past but exonerated by the attorney general’s office.

A ruling on Ream’s request to be reinstated to his job is expected soon.

Information was not forthcoming from officials initially on Reams’ suspension. County residents were left with many questions regarding their chief prosecutor.

We wrote: “Reams’ duty is to prosecute fully those who violate the law. Now, he is being investigated for misdeeds of his own. It is important for the public to know and understand the nature of these allegations so they can judge for themselves whether the trust they have placed in Reams and his office is merited.”

Secrecy in government never serves the public interest. It reflects, in fact, a profound mistrust between those elected to public office and the people who elected them.