Michael Widmer: President of Massachusetts Taxpayers Association

| Boston Magazine |

Case Study: The Watchdog Power

THE BUDGET CRUNCH on Beacon Hill has meant boom times for Michael Widmer, the go-to for expert commentary on the state’s bottom line. Every day, it seems, the 15-year head of the business-backed Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation (MTF) is in the papers, weighing in on everything from Turnpike reform to universal healthcare to Patrick’s casino push (which his group’s research helped torpedo). "The governor’s people get all fired up when Widmer gets quoted," says one State House observer. Though they may not like it, he’s just filling a vacuum unique to blue Massachusetts, where, with no credible opposition party in place, the vital task of kiboshing half-baked initiatives often falls to analysts like him.

Widmer started his career working for United Press International and then the Sargent and Dukakis administrations. He uses his press and policy savvy to win attention for the MTF’s excruciatingly rigorous research. Its casino report, for example, "went through at least 40 edits," says Andy Bagley, a senior policy analyst at the foundation. Steve Silveira, a government relations consultant at ML Strategies, worked with Widmer on the blue-ribbon Transportation Finance Commission responsible for last year’s damning report on the state’s $20 billion infrastructure shortfall. That one went through 17 drafts. "We probably would have done it in 12 but for Mike," Silveira says. Even Citizens for Limited Taxation’s Barbara Anderson, who considers MTF "our number one enemy in the antitax movement" due to its opposition to tax cuts, admits that she uses Widmer’s research "all the time."

"I do relish the role," Widmer says, "but what I’ve tried to do here has been focused on trying to solve public policy problems." As to whether the class of fauna roving Beacon Hill is actually capable of taking steps to reverse the deepening economic funk, he says, "I think the capacity is there. And the crisis may be there soon enough to force that kind of action." In the meantime, count on Widmer to continue popping those balloons. —Joe Keohane


EX POST BAILEY

The city has been hemorrhaging A-list journalistic talent, but the cookie jar isn’t completely unguarded.

"Casey Ross is the number one up-and-comer," a source says of the scoop-prone Herald reporter. "And Jim O’Sullivan at State House News Service is your ultimate insider’s insider. He knows everything about everyone, which is a little scary." Also earning notice: the Phoenix‘s David Bernstein, noted for his scathing exposés on the BPD. Finally, there’s the stalwart and unfailingly smart-ass WBZ analyst (and sometime Boston contributor) Jon Keller, who in March broke the story of Deval Patrick’s ill-timed book proposal–peddling jaunt, to gales of bitter laughter.