Wednesday, July 06, 2005

The Swift-Mihos Tax

Yesterday, the state settled a federal lawsuit former Massachusetts Turnpike Authority board member Christy Mihos brought against then acting governor Jane Swift in 2002. Mihos alleged that the governor violated his civil rights by firing him shortly after he voted to delay a toll increase -- which would have gone to fund the Big Dig -- by six months. The Boston Globe has the story.

"I think any elected official will think twice about an appointee's right to make a decision and vote, as opposed to waylaying someone's First Amendment rights," Mihos said after a settlement conference in US District Court in Boston.

Swift, who also attended the settlement conference, disputed Mihos's claims of victory, noting that she didn't admit to any liability. She stood by her decision to fire Mihos.

"I have always contended the actions I took were in the best financial interest of the state," she said.
Best financial interests? Apparently Swift is not counting the interests of taxpayers who she can now force to pick up the tab for her legal fees thanks to a law that Swift signed, practically in secret, towards the end of her term. That bill, which the Legislature's leadership snuck into an appropriations bill and passed with no debate, required the state to pay legal costs and damages up to $1 million for constitutional officers -- even if they've intentionally violated someone's civil rights. That means that Massachusetts taxpayers are not only going to have to pay the independently wealthy Mihos $197,500 as part of the settlement but, the state may end up having to foot the bill for Swift's own legal fees, a sum totalling $360,000. That adds up to over half a million dollars, or 8.6 cents for every man, woman and child in Massachusetts. Let's call it the Swift-Mihos Tax.

Mihos, by the way, told Boston Magazine in May that he wanted to run for John Kerry's Senate seat in 2008. By then, of course, the Big Dig will be long finished and forgotten. Right? Right?