Monday, July 07, 2008

Ask Ryan Anything: The Historical Revisionism Edition

I think Ask Ryan Anything, the popular series where people get to ask me whatever they want in the comment section, will be a standard Monday afternoon event. So look forward to continuing posts every Monday, as long as I keep getting lots of questions, as I did last week. Post questions on anything you want in the comments and I'll answer them. Warning: snarky questions merit snarky responses.

Today's mini comment to potentially kick off any discussion: I just got back from visiting the House of Seven Gables, a tour I hadn't done since elementary school. Particularly interesting is the hidden staircase and the story behind it. When I was a kid and went on a field trip to the home, we were told the secret stairs were a part of the underground railroad. Exciting, right? Well, not so much. Turns out the stair case was really added around 1910. No wonder the new curator discontinued any underground railroad talk. The home of former 17th Century wealthy shipping merchants and the setting of Nathaniel Hawthorne's famous book, where he visited as a child - who wouldn't want to spice that up?

Seriously, though, do we know anything about our past? Imagine - some tour guide 50 years ago probably told bored school kids about the underground railroad story, so they'd pay attention for 10 minutes, and now generations of people no doubt believe there were runaway slaves hiding in busy downtown Salem's most famous house. No one should be shocked: we also think Paul Revere warned us the British were coming and Americans were tiny, short shrimps back in the 1700 and 1800s because the ceilings were short. Conventional wisdom!


David P. Whelan, Jr. said...

I'd like to ask you about the GIC issue. As you know I am the Chair of the Swampscott School Committee. The GIC alternative is a fair alternative that municipal unions have failed to embrace in spite of the potential to save union jobs and most employees would actually save money under the GIC. Should the legislature mandate the GIC?
David Whelan, Jr.
Chair-Swampscott School Committee

Ryan Adams said...

Not at this point. I'm not quite ready to give up on collective bargaining, legislatively bypassing comprises made with unions, especially when mandating GIC would be a bandaid, at best, anyway.

I'd much rather continue to support the merits of unions, while pushing for solutions that would truly alter the system for the better: creating more revenue for schools.

Alternately, I've been fully supportive of single payer insurance or something closer to the German health care system (which allows people to opt out for private insurance, though few choose that option). That would improve the health care system for the American people, save money and make sure everyone has coverage. Plus, it would mean we'd never have to worry about paying employee insurance again - a national competitive disadvantage compared to the entire world (example: if you buy a Chevy, $1,500 of your costs is going to employee health care... something Toyota, Honda and Volkswagon don't have to worry about).

joe said...

As you know, I am a covert to pro-gay marriageism. I am curious to ask if there is anything which you agree with the Republicans on that a mainstream progressive would disagree with?

Dave Whelan said...

As a follow up you should know that health ins, pensions, and SPED costs are bankrupting small towns like Swampscott. The result of failing to deal with these "budget busters" will certainly include attempts at 2 1/2overrides. That option leaves me very pesimistic about our future ability to manage our schools and the community in general. Your solution is extremely risky.

Ryan Adams said...

Joe: I've butted heads with Gary a few times recently, because he was shocked I had such little sympathy for those who don't go into retirement with large nest eggs, when I suggested public employees should be able to get social security too, if they would otherwise qualify for it (many public employees have worked in the private sector for the prerequisite years as well). Ultimately, there's a personal responsibility people must exhibit when preparing for retirement. Social Security is a fantastic safety net (senior citizens have the lowest level of poverty per capita in this country, because of SS) - but it's just a net, so people need to do something, anything, to make sure that's not the only thing they'll have in retirement.

I've also butt heads with unions and some liberals over the casino issue and have found myself having occasional email conversations with Evelyn Reilly, of all people. It's not often when Evelyn Reilly and I will find ourselves on the same side of an issue, that's for sure.

Ryan Adams said...


It's not perfect. I agree we need to tackle health care costs - that's why I think the best way to do that is single payer. However, I'm not so naive as to think we're going to get it in the next 5 years, so obviously we're going to have to look elsewhere for needed reforms.

Here's a few ideas:

*Raise state income taxes .5%, with the money specifically earmarked for increased aid to our local cities and towns. It would be a good time to reform Chapter 70, as well.

*Lori Ehrlich's been pushing for a proposal to make health care companies pay for certain autism treatments that schools currently provide in Massachusetts, though many to most other states choose not to give HMOs that free giveaway. This has even put strains on families with autistic children, who have to fight with school systems to get proper treatment for their children - including my neighbor and her children.

Making sure health insurance companies are covering these health-care related treatments would surely save this state and its local school systems tens of millions, if not more, given the numbers of autistic children we have today.

*Create more incentives for all public employees to join the GIC. Obviously, given the fact that only 3 towns agreed to join the GIC, there's something that's bothering the local unions. Let's try to resolve those problems at the state level, then make sure we give cities and towns enough time to negotiate with their employees, armed with a better deal and more time to get the job done.

Dave Whelan said...

As you know I have no faith in the state to solve any of these issues. I am a fiscal conservative that would agree to a tax increase IF I knew I could trust Sal, Bob, et al to keep their word and earmark those funds to local schools. I also worry that the suburbs will get screwed again. Come by my office some day and I will show you the fy 2010-fy 2013 projections. It is not pretty and we can not wait for Sal and the gang to get off their collective butts to make these much needed changes. It is time for the adults to make some very adult decisions.
Dave Whelan

Peter Porcupine said...

Ryan - as you know, I am from Cape Cod. We have a 14 town (no Harwich) health insurance purchasing collaborative which has rates CHEAPER than the GIC! This is because we have only ONE hospital - in a urban area like Boston with a half-dozen hospitals, companies set rates based on the most expensive price for any given procedure at the participating hospitals - cardiac at Beth Isreal, neurology at Masss General, and so on. With one hospital, you have a fixed price.

So - if our collaborative is CHEAPER for the towns AND the employees - why should WE be forced into GIC because Swampscott can't manage its contract negotiations?

Dave Whelan said...

If your "collaborative" is working for your communities I would certainly hope that some exception be built in the GIC legislation that allows you to keep what you have. We have managed our contract simply by bringing into the dialog the GIC itself. Our health ins costs this year were less than expected because the vendor that we use did not want to lose the business and reduced the anticipated increase to something more managable. That surely is a one time savings. Thanks for the idea and insight.
Dave Whelan

David P Whelan Jr said...

As a follow up to my GIC question I was wondering when you would remove the GIC issue from the collective bargaining realm and mandate the program? In other words, how many teachers, firefighters, police, etc. should we allow to get laid off before someone steps forward and makes what may be a tough and unpopular decision? If we are still having this dialog in 2011 and another elementary school has closed due to the fiscal status quo have we made a mistake in not mandating an insurance program that I would guess is the same insurance program that Governor Patrick and legislators have as their health ins option? If class size is 30 plus in grades 1 and 2 across the district have we waited too long?
Dave Whelan
PS Sorry for the hard questions.

Ryan Adams said...

Peter - it shouldn't. You express just one really easy, basic reason why teachers from at least your area don't want to be in the GIC, and why it isn't a good idea to betray the principals of collective bargaining, which shouldn't always be viewed as two sides warring to win the day... but public employees and municipalities coming together trying to come up with solutions that make as much sense for everyone involved as possible. Clearly, in the Cape, it doesn't make sense to join the GIC, if what you say is true.

Peter Porcupine said...

Mr. Whelan - I have a thought for you. Self Insurance.

I designed these plans for a living. Long story short, an employer buys only surplus coverage - usually less than $50 per person. Then, the employer has a $10,000 deductible, and determines what the employee pays for deductible and co-pays, so their out of pocket remains constant, or changes as the employer wishes. All bills go to a claims procesing center, which pays the doctors and pharmacies, up to that $10,000 limit. After that, the surplus kicks in as a sort of reinsurance, but only for those who HAVE more than $10,000 in claims.

I've designed policies in which every man, woman, child and dog covered on the policy would have to MAX OUT that deductible - and the overall cost to the employer is STILL less than is being shelled out in premium!

Bottom line - a dollar paid in premium is a dollar lost forever.

Think about it.

Ryan Adams said...


Given all the other increasing costs and our abilities to deal with them (minimal), I'm not sure mandating GIC would save Hadley School from the axe by 2011 either, for example. Hence why I think we need to raise income taxes to their pre-Celluci levels, which is still an average tax rate in this country.

Also, if the GIC is so darn good, why would more town unions not join the GIC? Obviously, there's some kinks in the system, because people usually take the rational choices in life, especially groups of people.

I think moving to a GIC program is a good thing for this state, but it may mean that we have to increase the perks in it on the state side to entice town unions to join in - so they aren't losing out.

Does that mean more plans offered? Does it mean better plans? I don't know. What I do know is there isn't a choice between mandating that everyone join the GIC or having a situation where no one joins. By making the GIC better, more towns will join. Why? People make rational decisions. Until the coverage for the GIC is a clearly better deal for town unions, they're not going to join.

David Whelan said...

The GIC issue alone does not save does not save us from closing another school. Thanks.
Dave Whelan

Ryan Adams said...

I'm not trying to say we shouldn't reform the GIC, Dave. I'm saying we should, by being intelligent about it. If, right now, there isn't incentive to get them to join, then we ought to reform the GIC to make it better so they will join. It may not even be a matter of costs - maybe it's choices? Maybe it's something that can be cost neutral? I really don't know, I'm not an expert, but I'm sure there are ways we can get unions to join without forsaking collective bargaining, while still saving on overall costs through bulk purchasing power.

david whelan said...

I have two kids. One is going to be a junior and the other a freshman. My point in all of this is we DO NOT have two years to fix all that is wrong with the GIC, etc. My two kids education is being compromised because the Governor and the Legislature do not have the stones to make some tough decisions. The chapter 70 saga in Swampscott is the biggest screw job that I have ever seen and we are asked to be patient while the 5 year phase in makes us all equal. Tonight I am going to Salem to hear the Governor talk about his vision for public education out over the next 10 years. He has no right discussing the state of education in 10 years when he has NO answers for the next two. The process is so very messed up and all I hear is excuses. As I said it is time for some grown ups to make adult decisions. Instead the Governor is trying to craft his legacy. I certainly hope he runs for reelection. I have every intention of knocking on every door for whoever chooses to run against the fraud.
Dave W

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