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Lowell Walks evening tours next week

Lowell Walks will do two separate evening tours next week:

Juvenile Court at Appleton and Gorham Streets

Wednesday, June 1, 2016 at 5:30 p.m. at Lowell Community Health Center, 161 Jackson Street as part of the JAMBRAREE celebration. This tour will be of the Jackson, Middlesex and Appleton Street district. The tour will be co-led by me and Tom Durkin of Durkin Carpets. The tour is free, will last about an hour, and will cover the history of the neighborhood. For more information, check out Lowell National Historical Park’s “Bringing the Park to the People” JAMBRAREE page.


Thursday, June 2, 2016 at 6:00 p.m. at Lowell National Park Visitor Center, 246 Market Street as part of Downtown Lowell First Thursdays. This tour will combine art (both private and public) and history (which belongs to everyone). The tour is free and will last about an hour. For more information, check out the Downtown Lowell First Thursdays page.


Understanding Local Politics in Lowell

Following Lowell politics is a chore; understanding Lowell politics is even tougher. In last Sunday’s Week in Review post, I touched upon some of the political forces in the city and how they manifested themselves in the City Council’s debate on the State Senate’s Transgender Anti-Discrimination Bill. It’s a topic I took up a few years ago in the “Counter Revolution in Lowell” section of my Lowell Political Year in Review: 2013 blog post.

Here’s what I think is going on in Lowell: Politicians shape their policy decisions to satisfy those who vote in elections. That is true in national and state politics, but it is especially true at the local level. And while politicians will sometimes take bold stands in the face of activism that erupts over a particular issue (for instance, how the council in the face of a large and vocal crowd not only defeated a motion to oppose the state senate’s transgender anti-discrimination bill, but substituted in its place a motion supporting the same bill), longer term policy decisions are made to satisfy not those who show up for an occasional issue dear to them, but those most likely to vote in the next city election.

We all know that in local elections, that means the residents of Belvidere. The precincts in that neighborhood have the highest percentage of residents registered to vote and the highest percentage of registered voters who participate in local elections (which is one reason why so many city elected officials reside in that neighborhood).

My premise is that Belvidere residents tend to be much more conservative in their politics than are voters in the rest of the city. As evidence of that conservatism, compare the precinct vote totals in several recent statewide elections for the two biggest Belvidere precincts (Ward One, Precincts Two and Three) with two precincts in the Highlands (Ward Four, Precinct One and Ward Eight, Precinct Two) and with the city as a whole.

2012 US Senate election with incumbent Republican Scott Brown being challenged by Democrat Elizabeth Warren.

Citywide – Warren got 19678 (59%) to Brown’s 13905 (41%)

Ward 1, Precinct 2 – Brown got 1130 votes (58%) to Warren’s 827 (42%)

Ward 1, Precinct 3 – Brown got 930 votes (53%) to Warren’s 826 (47%)

Ward 4, Precinct 1 – Warren got 657 (63%) to Brown’s 377 (36%)

Ward 8, Precinct 2 – Warren got 609 (58%) to Brown’s 445 (42%)

2013 Special US Senate election to fill seat vacated when John Kerry became Secretary of State. The candidates were Democrat Ed Markey and Republican Gabriel Gomez.

Citywide – Markey got 5656 (57%) to Gomez’s 4150 (42%)

Ward 1, Precinct 2 – Gomez got 435 (55%) to Markey’s 349 (45%)

Ward 1, Precinct 3 – Gomez and Markey both got 354 votes (49%)

Ward 4, Precinct 1 – Markey got 168 (60%) to Gomez’s 110 (39%)

Ward 8, Precinct 2 – Markey got 167 (55%) to Gomez’s 135 (45%)

2014 gubernatorial race between Republican Charlie Baker and Democrat Martha Coakley:

Citywide – Coakley got 10364 (51%) to Baker’s 8915 (44%)

Ward 1, Precinct 2 – Baker got 862 votes (57%) to Coakley’s 601 (40%)

Ward 1, Precinct 3 – Baker got 720 votes (53%) to Coakley’s 601 (44%)

Ward 4, Precinct 1 – Coakely got 361 votes (56%) to Baker’s 237 (37%)

Ward 8, Precinct 2 – Coakley got 352 votes (50%) to Baker’s 327 (46%)

2010 Special US Senate election to fill seat vacated when Ted Kennedy died. The candidates were Republican Scott Brown and Democrat Martha Coakley.

Citywide – Brown got 10559 (52%) to Coakley’s 9571 (47%)

Ward 1, Precinct 2 – Brown got 943 votes (61%) to Coakley’s 600 (39%)

Ward 1, Precinct 3 – Brown got 740 votes (56%) to Coakley’s 565 (43%)

Ward 4, Precinct 1 – Brown got 312 votes (52%) to Coakley’s 284 (47%)

Ward 8, Precinct 2 – Brown got 349 votes (55%) to Coakley’s 278 (44%)

I’m still working on the 2006 and 2010 gubernatorial elections but I’d say the above results help make my point: the voters in Belvidere are more conservative in their politics than are voters in the rest of the city. Because those same voters go to the polls in overwhelming numbers in city elections while voters in other neighborhoods stay home, those seeking and holding elective office at the local level tend to shape (or at least shade) their positions to match the political philosophy of those most likely to vote.

Looking at how that dynamic translates into specific policies and votes will have to wait for another day.

Lowell City Council Meeting: May 24, 2016

Rourke Bridge: Councilor Belanger reports that the Northern Middlesex Council of Governments and the member communities of NMCOG are all lobbying the state to raise the priority of a Rourke Bridge replacement. He also warns that the initial feasibility study is several years old and that if the follow-on environmental study is not done in the next year or two that the feasibility study will be obsolete and will have to be redone.

Payments in Lieu of Taxes – Aside from a few churches that voluntarily pay a few hundred dollars per year, only the Lowell Housing Authority and two co-generation companies (which are compelled by law to contribute), no non-profits in Lowell make any payments in lieu of taxes so Lowell is 23rd in the Commonwealth in terms of the amount of money so collected. City Manager Murphy plans to reach out to the communities higher on the list and learn about their strategies with an eye towards adopting them for Lowell.

Master Development Agreement with WinnDevelopment Co LTD – pulled at request of City Manager.

Resolution in support of State Senate transgender anti-discrimination bill (which was debated last week). Passes 8 to 1 (Elliott opposed).

Councilor Milinazzo asks to suspend the rules to refer several matters requested by the Pawtucketville Citizens group to the Zoning Subcommittee.


By Councilor Elliott, request City Manager work with Superintendent of Lowell Public Schools to determine cost of out of district students. Councilor Elliott says the school committee has discussed this but never with a cost associated with it. Given the school department request for additional funds, the city council should know how much of the school department budget is being spent on students living outside of the city but who attend Lowell public schools. Councilor Leahy says this is more of a school committee matter. Councilor Mercier responds that it is her duty to do what’s best for Lowell residents, not for people from outside of the city (i.e., children of teachers in Lowell schools who don’t live in Lowell). Councilor Elliott says “it’s a Lowell issue” and “any Lowell issue belongs here.”

By Councilor Samaras, request City Manager establish a commission in order to best plan the future use of the Auditorium to ensure that it becomes a successful venture. He explains that the Auditorium’s finances and performance in the past few years have been shaky. He’d like some strategic planning to be done to help the Auditorium pay for itself. This would not take away from the Auditorium’s trustees but would be a way bring forward new ideas. Councilor Belanger appreciates the motion but says the city is suffering the consequences of a management contract that is not beneficial to the city. He says this is “another Tsongas Arena” since it loses money every year.

By Councilor Samaras, request City Manager work with Lowell Police Superintendent to establish a dialogue with the supervisors of the Nesmith Street group home regarding security and supervision of youth under their trust. There have been an increased number of break-ins of cars in the neighborhood and Belvidere residents are concerned about the type of supervision being given.

By Councilor Leary, request City Manager provide a report to the City Council outlining the financial and infrastructure impact that the Ameresco has had for the city. The report should include savings or increased costs achieved to date by project, savings or additional costs expected in the future and any recommendations for the future as it relates to this program;

By Councilors Belanger, Leary, and Samaras, request City Manager reopen dialogue between the city and local business Unwrapped regarding the potential purchase or lease of city building at 268 Mt. Vernon Street. Councilor Belanger says this is a very impressive company and would like the city to do everything it can to keep the company here in Lowell since the company hopes to expand. Owner of company is present, says they have outgrown their present space and are turning away work. Would like to stay (they have 200 jobs).

By Councilor Rourke, request city manager explore establishing a 5 year property study and to create a formal living document of abandoned properties and their five year progress into healthy homes. The study would chart the progress from troubled to good properties.

Meeting adjourns at 8:05pm

“Voodoo Two” by John Edward

This is the second of a series of columns by John Edward, who teaches economics at Bentley and UMass Lowell, on economic issues related to the upcoming presidential election. The first column, “The 100 Percent,” appeared on May 16, 2016.

Here is the simple formula for “making America great again.” Drastically reduce personal income taxes. Cut the corporate income tax rate by more than half. Eliminate the estate tax. Best of all, be assured that this tax reform “Doesn’t add to our debt and deficit, which are already too large” (according to the Trump for President web site).

A little historical perspective would be instructive — first regarding our debt and deficit.

According to, Star Wars: The Force Awakens is the biggest domestic box office movie of all time. However, adjusted for inflation, Gone with the Wind is still way ahead.

Our national debt, at nineteen and a quarter trillion dollars is larger than ever. A few years ago federal budget deficits exceeded a trillion dollars – the largest by far. They are large by any measure, but the best way to measure is relative to the size of the economy.

Our national debt is now a little over 100 percent of Gross Domestic Product (GDP). That is high, too high. However, it has been much higher.

National debt was over 120 percent of GDP during World War II. That was way too high, but we had a reason, and we recovered very nicely.

In fact we recovered so well that by the time Ronald Reagan took office as President, national debt was only 32 percent of GDP. The federal budget deficit in 1980 was $74 billion, about 2.5 percent of GDP.

Now some more historical perspective — this time focusing on “Voodoo Economics.”

Ronald Reagan’s formula for a new “Morning in America” was simple. He ran for president promising to cut taxes, cut spending, and eliminate the budget deficit.

He only delivered on one out of three – cutting taxes. Budget deficits as a percentage of GDP doubled during the Reagan administration. By the time Reagan and his successor, George H.W. Bush (the originator of the Voodoo Economics phrase), were done, the national debt as a percentage of GDP had doubled. See Reaganomics for more.

Now on to Voodoo Two, or Donald Trump’s claims that his tax plan would be revenue neutral and that “we will be balancing budgets.” According to the Tax Foundation (usually referred to as pro-business) his plan would reduce revenue by $10 trillion over ten years. That is after assuming the tax cuts will increase economic activity, a premise that is uncertain.

A separate analysis by the Tax Policy Center estimated a $9.5 million reduction in revenue. They also pointed out that the increased government borrowing would drive up interest rates and therefore suppress private investment (commonly referred to as the “crowding out” effect).

Citizens for Tax Justice (CTJ) estimate a $12 trillion reduction in revenue, again over a decade. Candidate Trump has been vague on spending cuts. CTJ points out that discretionary federal spending, which includes national defense, would have to be cut by 94 percent to match the revenue reductions.

As summarized by “We take no position on the merits of Trump’s tax plan. But Trump has failed to provide evidence that he can keep his promise to cut taxes at the level he has proposed and raise enough new revenue elsewhere to make his plan revenue neutral.”

Even before tax cuts the national debt is already projected to increase by $10 trillion over the next ten years. Therefore, Trump’s tax plan could double the national debt in ten years. It is déjà vu (or Voodoo) all over again.

The counter-argument from the Trump camp is that these analyses underestimate the economic impact of lower taxes. According to the Trump for President web site: “These lower rates will provide a tremendous stimulus for the economy – significant GDP growth.” At best Trump’s claims are wildly exaggerated. Sorcery comes to mind.

As observed in the Tax Policy Center analysis: “Examination of particular historical examples of tax reform… suggest little impact of taxes on growth.” For example, the Congressional Budget Office analyzed the tax cuts of 2001 and 2003 and found they had only “modest” economic effects.

A few years ago the Tax Foundation published a review of research on the link between taxes and growth. They tried to make the claim that a majority of the studies would argue that lower taxes would promote economic growth (again, they are pro-business). In response the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP) pointed out that the Tax Foundation had mischaracterized results, ignored more recent studies, in one case ignoring a study that refuted the author’s own earlier analysis.

CBPPs conclusion appeals to common economic sense: “the proper answer to a question as broad as whether tax increases are ‘positive’ or ‘negative’ for growth is:  ‘It depends.’” As an example they cite: “Some tax increases to finance investments such as deficit reduction and education are associated with increased economic growth.”

On the other side we have Hillary Clinton. Her husband balanced the federal budget as President. She is making investments in education a centerpiece of her campaign.

An informed voter is our best citizen.

Next up: how much will that wall along the Mexico border cost us?

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