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Money for Nothing in Massachusetts?

by John Stephenson / /

The Commonwealth of Massachusetts must love Dire Straits. How else can one explain this story in today's Boston Herald? The article describes how employees laid off from a quasi-state agency received generous severance packages. In one extreme case, an employee at MassDevelopment, an economic development corporation, received $12,000 even though the employee held the job for only eight months. Like Mark Knopfler said, "That's the way you do it. Get your money for nothing and your checks for free."

In total, MassDevelopment, which has a budget of $12 million, paid out $350,000 in severance in recent years without any apparent scrutiny from its board of directors. The agency also paid out three months of health care and dental insurance. Typically, according to the Herald, state employees only get compensated for their vacation time earned when they depart government service. MassDevelopment ignored nine years of repeated calls for audits from the Commonwealth. What's more, it does not appear the MassDevelopment board was even told of the severance packages.

This is a clear example of the risks associated with a lack of transparency and oversight in government. Without scrutiny, government tends to waste and abuse tax dollars. Agencies like MassDevelopment should be subject to rigorous scrutiny by elected officials and the public. Budget documents must be made available to the public regularly in easy to read and accessible formats. There are proposals, including one waiting approval from Governor Deval Patrick, that would consolidate several quasi-state agencies, including MassDevelopment. Consolidation is a positive development that will save money in the long run and should continue. But just because government is becoming smaller does not mean it shouldn't be subject to any more rigorous scrutiny from the state and the public. There's no such thing as money for nothing, despite what Dire Straits tells us. When it comes to government, it's all taxpayer money and taxpayers are entitled to know what happens to their money.