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Poll: More favor gas tax than higher tolls

Associated Press | 12/22/2008, 3:41 p.m.
      Poll: More favor gas tax than higher tolls

      Massachusetts residents appear more willing to pay higher gas taxes than higher tolls.

      According to a poll by The Boston Globe, higher tolls proposed by the Massachusetts Turnpike Authority with Gov. Deval Patrick’s support were the least popular of a series of suggestions to fix the state’s transportation troubles.

      When asked to choose between tolls or a gas tax, the tax won, 48 percent to 42 percent. The poll also found that, by a more than 2-to-1 ratio, those polled said the Big Dig wasn’t worth the time and money.

      The poll held good news for Patrick, whose favorability rating grew from 57 percent last September to 64 percent.

      The poll of 501 Massachusetts residents has a margin of error of plus or minus 4 percentage points.

      Number of uninsured continues to drop in Massachusetts

      The number of uninsured residents in Massachusetts has dipped to less than 3 percent — proof, officials say, of the success of the state’s landmark health care law.

      A new study conducted between June and August found only 167,000 people in Massachusetts with no coverage.

      It’s an improvement over 2007, when about 5 percent of residents were uninsured. At the time, Massachusetts had the lowest rate of uninsured residents of any state, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

      The new study, conducted by the Urban Institute, found Massachusetts residents at all income levels had low rates of “uninsurance.”

      Uninsurance is highest among Hispanic residents at 13 percent.

      The 2006 law requires health coverage for all state residents.

      Patrick delays raises for some state workers

      Facing a deepening budget hole, Gov. Deval Patrick is delaying salary increases for 30,000 human services workers.

      The Patrick administration is refusing to release $23 million in this year’s budget for 3 percent raises for direct care workers employed by private, nonprofit human service agencies.

      The raises, retroactive to July 1, would be mainly for people who make about $25,000 annually.

      Donald Fletcher, executive director of the Association for Community Living in Springfield, told The Republican newspaper of Springfield that 450 employees of the agency were due to receive the raise.

      He said people are still hoping it comes through.

      Patrick’s decision comes amid dropping tax revenues. State officials say tax collections for the first two weeks of the month were $130 million below a comparable period last year.

      Professors: UMass should reinstate accused student

      AMHERST — Some University of Massachusetts professors are calling for the reinstatement of a student who says he was the victim of a racial attack earlier this year.

      Jason Vassell, who is black, has pleaded not guilty to charges that he stabbed two white men at his dorm in February. Vassell says the men broke his room window and taunted him with racial insults. One of the men is facing charges.

      The Republican newspaper of Springfield reports that professors representing more than 100 UMass faculty and staff said Monday they plan to give Chancellor Robert Holub a petition. It asks that Vassell be reinstated until his case is resolved.

      Vassell left school after he was charged. He says he doesn’t feel safe at UMass and doesn’t want to return even though he’s grateful for the support he’s received.

      A pre-trial conference scheduled to take place last Thursday was postponed. No new date has been announced.

      Trial is expected early next year.
      Harvard endowment managers earn $26.9M

      CAMBRIDGE — The Harvard University endowment has had a rare tough year, falling by $8.1 billion since the summer. But its managers are doing OK.

      The five highest paid executives at Harvard earned between $3.9 million and $6.4 million each for the fiscal year that ended June 30 — before the economy and the endowment tumbled in the second half of the year.

      The endowment earned 8.6 percent in the last fiscal year. But Harvard president Drew Faust said the endowment fell 22 percent to about $29 billion between June 30 and October’s end.

      The pay of top executives at Harvard Management has raised eyebrows over the years. In 2003, two money managers earned more than $34 million each.

      But compensation has fallen because outside firms are managing more of Harvard’s money. Naval Academy asks Congress to help with diversity push

      ANNAPOLIS, Md. — The Board of Visitors for the U.S. Naval Academy is hoping to enlist members of Congress in an effort to help attract more minority students to the academy.

      The Board of Visitors, which acts similarly to a board of trustees at civilian colleges, includes members of Congress and is in the process of drafting a letter to lawmakers to point out the importance of recruiting top notch minority candidates through the congressional nomination process.

      The academy already has approached 23 members of the Congressional Black Caucus and the
      Congressional Hispanic Caucus to discuss the academy’s goal of attracting more minorities.

      Joe Rubino, the director of the academy’s diversity office, told the Board of Visitors at its quarterly meeting last Monday that the academy has seen a 65 percent increase in applications from the districts those lawmakers represent.

      Vice Adm. Jeffrey Fowler, the academy’s superintendent, has made diversity a top priority of his tenure in an effort to make the school’s student body representative of the Navy.

      Minorities make up about 28 percent of the Class of 2012, the highest percentage of minorities at the service academy yet, school officials say. But Fowler notes the Navy’s enlisted force is comprised of about 47 percent minorities.

      Rubino said academy officials are pointing out that attending the academy is a four-year scholarship opportunity for a “world-class education,” with a guaranteed job in the military after graduation.

      “I think everyone sees that it’s an opportunity for the kids in their district,” Rubino said.

      Craig Duchossois, chairman of the academy’s board of visitors, commended the effort. He said members of Congress need to know more about the opportunities the service academy can provide because “there’s an embarrassingly large number of congressmen, and to a lesser amount senators, that have zero or one nominee.”

      Students who want to attend the nation’s military academies must have a recommendation from a member of Congress, but Duchossois said too many members of Congress don’t take the trouble to make many nominations to the school, which has about 4,400 students.

      “It’s beyond my imagination how someone that has the ability to nominate doesn’t do it,” Duchossois said.
      France’s Sarkozy acts for ethnic diversity

      PALAISEAU, France — President Nicolas Sarkozy, impatient with what he said was the slow pace of promoting diversity in France, announced measures last Wednesday to put more ethnic minorities on TV screens, in political parties and in elite schools.

      A government action plan to be presented by March will spell out the measures in detail. The project is to be overseen by a newly appointed commissioner for diversity and equality, Yazid Sabeg, a son of Algerian immigrants who is known for his efforts to bring equality to the workplace.

      “It’s not moving fast enough,” Sarkozy said in a speech at the elite École Polytechnique, south of Paris, a symbol of the very system that has locked minorities out of the mainstream. France must change so that “no French person feels like a stranger in his own country.”

      Turning to his audience, Sarkozy said prestigious schools must make room for all.

      “We are going to throw open the doors of places where tomorrow’s elite are formed,” he said.

      He wants top schools to reserve 25 percent of their places for students receiving state aid by September — and 30 percent by September 2010. Many students who receive government education funds are ethnic minorities from underprivileged backgrounds.

      Increasing diversity was a campaign promise of Sarkozy, elected in May 2007. Long ignored, diversity topped the political agenda after fall 2005 riots in poor French neighborhoods exposed deep anger among people of immigrant origin and revealed the extent of discrimination in France.

      The election of Barack Obama as U.S. president sparked renewed soul searching about why so few ethnic minorities rise to the top in France.

      Sarkozy squarely rejected affirmative action for France. But in a significant departure from French practice, he raised the possibility that scientists might begin gathering statistics on ethnicity — long taboo in a country that is, at least officially, colorblind.

      Researchers are handicapped by the inability to make head counts based on religious or ethnic factors and have pressed for permission to do so. Sarkozy said scientists must be able “to clearly identify lagging and measure progress.”

      While offering no firm promises or dates, Sarkozy said a dialogue would be opened with scientists on how to advance ethnic diversity in France.

      He encouraged companies to accept anonymous resumes from job seekers to avoid discrimination due to name or address as is often the case today.

      The government will propose that 100 large companies experiment with using such resumes in 2009, Sarkozy said, adding that he wants to extend the reach of the High Authority Against Discrimination so that it has the right to make surprise checks of work places.

      Among other measures, political parties will be asked to sign a “diversity charter” that could become a criterion for receiving public funds, Sarkozy said.

      Sarkozy also said TV stations will be required to spell out diversity goals to the CSA, France’s audiovisual watchdog.

      (Associated Press)