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Agencies affirm Mass. bond rating, citing management

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Agencies affirm Mass. bond rating, citing management

Three major financial agencies have affirmed the Massachusetts bond rating, citing the Patrick administration’s “effective management during economic downturns.”

Moody’s, Fitch, and Standard and Poors all maintained their respective ratings as the state prepared for a bond swap. The administration announced the findings on Friday.

Despite the upbeat assessment, Moody’s sounded a sour note.

The agency says its rating “reflects the commonwealth’s demonstrated willingness to cut spending and raise revenues to close budget gaps.”

However, it also warns that Massachusetts has debt levels “that are among the highest in the nation.”

Nonetheless, it declares that “the outlook is stable.”

Cahill taps McCain team for gubernatorial race

State Treasurer Timothy Cahill fancies himself a political maverick, and now he’s got John McCain’s team to help him make the case in the Massachusetts gubernatorial race.

Cahill announced Friday he had hired John Weaver, Mark Salter, Michael Dennehy and John Yob to help with his independent candidacy this fall.

Weaver and Salter were McCain’s national strategists in the self-styled maverick’s 2000 presidential race, and Dennehy helped him stage his rout in that year’s New Hampshire primary.

Yob was political director for McCain’s second presidential campaign in 2008.

Gov. Deval Patrick and community activist Grace Ross are competing for the Democratic nomination. Charles Baker and Christy Mihos are running for the GOP nomination. Jill Stein is planning to run under the Green-Rainbow Party banner.

Mass. high school dropout rate below 3 percent

The high school dropout rate in Massachusetts has dropped below 3 percent for the first time in a decade.

The state Department of Education said last week that approximately 8,500 students in grades 9-12 statewide dropped out during the 2008-09 school year. That’s about 2.9 percent of all public high school students.

The rate is half a percentage point lower than the previous year’s.

The state report said the dropout rate among Latino students showed the biggest improvement among the five largest ethnic and racial groups since last year, falling to 7.5 percent compared to 8.3 percent the year before.

The state calculates the annual dropout rate by dividing the number of students who drop out over a one-year period by the Oct. 1 enrollment, multiplied by 100.

Mass. health insurers want significant rate hikes

Massachusetts health insurance companies have asked the state to approve significant rate hikes, weeks after Gov. Deval Patrick warned his administration might turn down increases it deemed excessive.

The insurers have asked for increases of 8 to 32 percent, starting April 1.

Last month, Patrick said the state Division of Insurance would review rate increases higher than 4.8 percent as part of a broader effort to control health care expenses.

The Boston Globe reports that if the state rejects the increases, it would be the first time Massachusetts has capped health insurance rates.

Insurers say the increases are mostly the result of a rise in medical spending. They say if the state caps the rates, it would cause confusion because contracts have already been negotiated under the higher rates.

Worcester settles police brutality lawsuit

Worcester has agreed to pay $47,500 to settle a federal civil rights lawsuit brought by a man who alleged a city police officer beat him with a baton while he was defenseless on the ground.

The suit, brought in U.S. District Court by Trung Huynh, sought unspecified damages for illegal arrest and excessive force stemming from an incident outside a city club in 2006.

Huynh alleged that after one of his friends mouthed off to detail officers outside the club, one of the officers struck him repeatedly with a baton, breaking his wrist and causing multiple bruises.

Huynh’s lawyer told The Telegram and Gazette it was “an egregious case.”

City officials did not return calls for comment from the paper, but in court documents denied the victim was unjustly beaten.

Mass. Wampanoag tribe supports Cape wind farm

A Wampanoag (WAHM’-pah-nog) Indian tribe from Massachusetts is supporting a Nantucket Sound wind farm opposed by two larger tribes closer to the project.

The Pocasset Wampanoag chairman said Cape Wind would produce energy “in harmony with nature” in a letter last week to the Interior Secretary. The 200-member Pocasset tribe, from the Fall River area, isn’t federally recognized.

The Mashpee and Gay Head Wampanoag say Cape Wind would be built on long-submerged burial grounds and interfere with sacred rituals.

Chairman George Spring Buffalo said Pocasset tribal elders had never heard about those rituals.

Bettina Washington of the Gay Head Wampanoag said the rituals occur, whether the Pocasset tribe knows of them. She questioned why Buffalo came forward late in the review.

A Cape Wind spokesman said it’s never paid or promised to pay the Pocassets.

Latino livery taxis battle cabbies in central Mass

A turf war between licensed taxis and livery drivers has taken on ethnic overtones in central Massachusetts.

Two Latino-owned companies popular in immigrant neighborhoods in Worcester face the threat of shutdown if they don’t pay thousands in fines.

The owners of Ecua Limo and New Worcester Limo say the penalties are being levied for breaking city rules they call unfair. Those rules include having customers book 12 hours in advance or keeping them from picking up passengers on the street or at the grocery store.

But the cab companies say the restrictions ensure the livery drivers don’t operate as illegal cabs, avoiding higher insurance costs and other fees.

City Councilor Joseph Petty said the city has been wrestling with the issue for years, and hopes for a resolution soon.