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Massachusetts: the deadbeat government

Last modified: 11/10/2011 12:00:00 AM
Cellar holes of hand-laid stone, some with lilacs still growing in what was once the dooryard, dot large areas in Hopkinton, Weare, Dunbarton, and other communities where whole portions of town were abandoned to make way for the enormous 1950s flood control project. The project was a success in protecting communities - primarily in Massachusetts - from what was once regular and occasionally massive flooding. Massachusetts, at the time and in later negotiations, agreed to compensate the 14 New Hampshire communities that gave up land and lost tax revenue in an amount equal to the value of the lost revenue. That value can be disputed, but the Bay State's obligation to pay up cannot.

Massachusetts has made partial payments some years and no payment in others and now owes the New Hampshire communities more than $4 million. In 2006, then-Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney recognized his state's obligation and made a partial payment of $589,000 on a debt that was then $3.2 million. Disputes over the size of the debt are supposed to go to an arbitration panel of six members with three appointed by each state, but Massachusetts has tried to duck the debt by not appointing anyone to the commission.

Sylvia Larsen, state senator for Concord, Hopkinton and Pembroke, recently made a formal request for payment to Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick. We hope that he does right by his northern neighbors who, after all, have been kind enough not to open the flood gates when the check from Massachusetts fails to arrive. But if Massachusetts doesn't pay up in full this time around, Gov. John Lynch, who threatened to go to court over the matter in 2006, should do so. Enough is enough. The Bay State has been in arrears for years, in good times and bad. If it's allowed to ignore its responsibilities, the future of compacts to address problems on a regional basis will be imperiled.

Hopkinton residents are currently in an uproar over the decision by their selectmen to reduce the town's human services director to a half-time position. The cut, which will save an estimated $40,000, will come at the expense of the town's poor and elderly and could cost the community an experienced, caring professional. Meanwhile, Massachusetts owes Hopkinton a $144,000 annual flood control payment it isn't making. It's shorting Weare by $44,000, Dunbarton and Webster by $20,000 apiece, Henniker and Salisbury by $27,000 each and Franklin $26,000.

Lynch and Attorney General Michael Delaney should give Massachusetts three months to pay up, If it doesn't, they should take the deadbeat government to court.


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