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Riding Ponsies and Swimming in Red Ink


Michael J. Ring

Acting Governor Paul Cellucci has been prancing around the Commonwealth of Massachusetts since the primary claiming that his opponent, Attorney General Scott Harshbarger, is fiscally irresponsible. His web of lies and falsehoods about the attorney general's record unfortunately has driven much of the media attention in this race. I am baffled by Cellucci's decision to stress fiscal issues in his campaign, since on this issue he lives in a glass house.

This past week, not stones but boulders were heaved, shattering the image of the acting governor and changing the tone of his campaign. The attorney general has decided to raise Cellucci's mind-boggling debt as an issue in this race. The acting governor has rung up nearly three-quarters of a million dollars in red ink. This self-proclaimed guardian of fiscal responsibility has left his personal finances in shambles.

The deficit alone is not reason to dismiss Cellucci's candidacy. But its staggering amount and Cellucci's unwillingness to answer simple questions about his shaky finances should destroy the trust of every voter worried about fiscal responsibility in government. As we shall soon see, Cellucci's borrowing mentality in his personal life has spilled over into his public handling of executive duties, socking the working people of Massachusetts with a backdoor tax increase.

Cellucci tries to spin his debt as that of a blue-collar guy trying to earn a slice of American life for his family. He points to home renovations and the college tuition bills of his daughters as the sources of his debt. He also claims he pays his bills on time. Beyond that there's not much more he'll ever tell us.

Not so fast, Paul - let's have the whole story. We, the electorate, should ask him the tough questions, though it looks like we have to rely on the media, and not the candidate, for the answers. Paul, you say your home renovations amounted to $130,000, but why did you only file permits for $21,000 worth of improvements, as reported in the Boston Phoenix, and why do you refuse to explain the gap?

You say the salary drop from being a lawyer in private practice to being lieutenant governor fueled your debts. But couldn't most wise, fiscally prudent Bay Staters live quite comfortably, thank you very much, on the high-five-figure salary of the state constitutional offices?

What about your little trips to the ponies? There's nothing wrong at all with a day at Suffolk Downs once in a while, but you've been plunking a lot down on the horses, according to some reports. And let's not forget those credit cards, Paul: The newspapers about town say you owe tens of thousands in high-interest, credit-card debt.

Is this your motto in leading the state: spend now, pay later? Of course, Paul, we could all live in the lap of luxury if we had the credit connection you did. The Boston Globe informed us this week that, starting in 1989, you have tapped the Community National Bank, your hometown bank, for unsecured loans now totaling above $100,000, but whose exact amount only you and God know.

I wish I could get 1,000 C-notes with no collateral, just a snap of the finger, like you. Oh, and who's that Argeo R. Cellucci on the board of directors of the Community National Bank? He's your father. But we're not out to be mean and nasty, Paul. We'll give you credit (and why not, it seems that several banks in your hometown have) for putting up collateral, in the form of stock in your family business, for obtaining another huge loan from a different bank, the Hudson Savings Bank.

All this red ink doesn't reflect well on Cellucci as a person, but it does not itself directly affect the acting governor's ability to lead the state. However, it is a symptom of a debt mentality in the mind of this politician. He wants to run the state the same way as he has run his personal finances: get a lot of money up front at the price of potential financial destruction.

This past summer, Cellucci vetoed millions of dollars in projects for schools, libraries, and other community needs across the state. Rather than come across as a shallow, slash-and-cut Republican, though, Cellucci said that instead of paying out of a record state surplus, Massachusetts should finance these projects through bonds. But as is usually the case with this slick dealer, the numbers don't add up. Massachusetts currently enjoys a billion-dollar-plus state surplus, the largest in state history. The questioned projects would only have cost a fraction of that surplus.

There was plenty of room still for Cellucci's precious election-year tax cut to dress up his record in public office. By demanding these projects be financed through bonds, however, the costs of these projects will be with the people of Massachusetts for years. Instead of paying up-front with money we already have, Cellucci wants to pay interest on these bonds for years. Taxpayers will be carrying the burden of these bonds for many years to come.

The state under Weld-Cellucci has been doing a lot of borrowing. The Republican tag-team has launched us to the third largest debt of any state in the nation. Faced with a shaky stock market, several major rounds of layoffs in the past month alone, and burgeoning bills for the Big Dig, the state suddenly does not look that fiscally sound after all. When a downturn hits, how are we going to all manage this debt? As long as Paul Cellucci is allowed to remain in office, the people of Massachusetts will be socked with a massive burden of debt. That's why I'm voting for the true fiscal conservative in this race: Attorney General Scott Harshbarger.