Ah, it's been too long since I've stepped on my soapbox. So here goes:
On the ballot in Massachusetts this November is an initiative to reduce the state sales tax to 3%. For most of my life, sales tax has been at 5% (which was always a nice easy number to calculate in my head), and in 2009, it was raised by Gov. Patrick to 6.25%. This increase was decried by many residents of Massachusetts of many political stripes, but I'd like to speak up in defense of the sales tax.
There are not that many ways for government to raise capital aside from taxes. And the outlets for taxation are not as plentiful as you think. There's property taxes (which go to towns, and that's a whole forthcoming rant on the state of property taxes in Boston with its horde of non-property tax paying, land sucking non-profits: I'm looking at you Harvard-upon-Allston and Northeastern), and there's a few other small taxes, and income tax, and sales tax.
Please pause for a moment to think about the things that taxes pay for. Here are some of the things that I am very grateful for when I pay my taxes: the Police, the Fire Department, the MBTA, public schools, paved roads, clean water, UMASS, MassArt, online government forms and... well, I'll stop there. I'd particularly like to point out to you the public school system, from K-12 to higher education which runs on our taxes.
Have you noticed lately how many budget cuts have been made to our school systems? Have you bothered to talk to a state employee and ask how budget cuts have affected them? For example, Luisa Paiwonsky, our State Highway Commissioner, the woman who makes sure our roads get plowed in the winter and repaved in the summer, doesn't even get her own business cards. I should call and ask Gov. Patrick if he gets business cards.
Our state is not in great fiscal shape. And part of that, I'd like to blame on Mitt Romney, just generally, because he was a terrible governor. I mean, the man spent most of his term out of state telling other states how awful Massachusetts was, and trying to be President. He didn't want to pass the health care legislation--and then he told the country how awesome he was for passing it (because he got overridden). He was against gay marriage (and is a general narrow minded bigot). And he cut taxes, and "cut costs" by slashing services. Under Romney, 75% of state funding for rape crises centers was cut (the same week he gave a quarter of a million dollars to Brookline for upkeep of its public golf course).
So, of course, what we need now, in this time of increasing need for services, is more money for the state. More people are out of work and need unemployment benefits. People are forgoing buying cars, so they need more public transit. With unemployment comes more need for government provided health care. The list goes on and on. And if you think we are in a bad state with sales tax at 6.25%, imagine what happens when you chop that in half!
The argument in favor of 3% sales tax is this: it puts more money back into the pockets of the average person, and encourages more spending. Point A is true, but somewhat useless. Point B is unproven. Let me break this down for you. If I go to buy a $100 widget, and sales tax is 6.25%, I will pay $106.25 for the widget, and the state gets $6.25. If sales tax is 3%, I'll pay $103.00 dollars and the state gets $3.00. So, I have a potential savings of $3.25. Amazing. If I'm going to buy a $100 widget, $3 of tax one way or the other really isn't going to persuade me to buy or not buy the thing.
But this whole "more money in your pocket" point is ridiculous. Yes, I have an extra $3 in my pocket, but what does that really buy me? It's not enough to save, and it's not a major piece of purchasing power. I'd probably blow it on a latte. So, I got my $100 widget, and a latte. Well, that certainly shoved the economy around!
If we all gave that extra $3 to the state, the state can concentrate enough purchasing power to actually effect change, or at least properly fund the school system, or fix some of the scarily falling apart bridges in our state, or pay for health care assistance for the unemployed. Or fuel assistance for the needy, since winter is coming up.
So please, people of Massachusetts, don't be swayed by these stupid arguments about how much money you're going to save on sales tax, and instead think about how many teachers will have to be fired if you chop sales tax in half. Remember, we were all smart enough not to abolish the income tax, so let's all be smart enough to continue to fund our state so it can serve us.
Monday, September 13, 2010
Ah, it's been too long since I've stepped on my soapbox. So here goes:
Monday, February 08, 2010
Last month, I finally bit the bullet and did a major personal branding move. Since I'm known on the web as kehutchinson, I went and registered www.kehutchinson.com. That's where I'll be blogging. I'm bringing over most of the content from here, slowly, and I'm leaving this site up so you can still visit, but please visit me at my new home.
Tuesday, December 29, 2009
Tasty links and stories from around the web:
- Lip-Sticking: Macy's "Path to Peace" Project
- Jamie Bull: Are your Facebook fans tweeting you e-mail campaign?
- Peter Bregman: Two lists you should look at every morning
- CG Lynch: Improve your tweets
- Jonathan Rick: Show me the numbers
Monday, December 28, 2009
It's that time of year again, when we stop, look at ourselves, and say, "You know, this coming year I really ought to..." or "This year, I'm definitely going to..." We make lists of these things, and about a month later, they somehow migrate to the round file, and we go on as before.
There's a false sense of security in making resolutions, the idea that once we write it down, it will happen. Magically, that is, without us doing anything more than fixing the idea at a particular point in time.
So how does one make resolutions that stick?
Change Is Incremental
"A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step." Sound familiar? Sure, you've probably read it in some sentimental card at Papyrus or a chain e-mail. Despite the hackneyed phrasing, the idea is still fundamental: you can't go far if you won't take the first step. For New Year's Resolutions, you have to realize that big changes don't happen overnight, they take time and effort. Don't resolve to lose 100 lbs if you can't start with a single trip to the gym.
Start Small, Finish Big
We all know someone who's made a BHAG for a New Year's Resolution, along the lines of "I'm going to beat the company sales record this year!" At the end of the year, you look at the sales records and the would-be top salesperson is nowhere on the list. Why do people fail to achieve a these kinds of resolutions? Because they keep the goal ambiguous without creating an action plan for achievement.
If you want to add a BHAG to your resolutions, don't just shoot for the moon, build a rocket ship to take you there. If you want to break a sales goal, calculate how much you have to sell each month. Look hard at your clients and determine how much you can sell to existing customers and estimate how much will have to come from new sales. Spend time developing an implementation plan, and you can achieve a major goal each year.
My resolution last year (singular) was a simple one: never have more e-mails in my Inbox than I could view on a single screen. My life at the time was really crazy with a part-time job and full-time MBA program, but after skimming through the classic David Allen tome, Getting Things Done, I had decided to implement this one idea.
It meant taking fifteen minutes every single day to look at the e-mails piling up in my Inbox and find homes for them in categorized folders. I even took out scrap paper and sketched an index for sorting folders. For ongoing projects, I created a main folder called "Project Name" and then created sub folders by month, so I could track a project's progress.
My time was limited, and yet I did achieve my goal, to the point that it's a habit for me. But I was very realistic in setting my goal, knowing that I didn't have a lot of wiggle room to be ambitious.
Don't Give Up
For the past ten years or so, my list of "things to do someday" has included two things: learn to ski and learn to golf. Another person might have given up by now, but I still haven't. But I'm becoming a little more realistic about these items. They both require time and money. Over the summer, I bought a used set of golf clubs from craigslist, so this year, I'm one step closer to golfing. This coming summer, I'm going to block off some time to actually take the clubs to a driving range to try hitting a few balls. Sure it's taken me the better part of a decade, but I'm making progress. Certainly learning to golf hasn't been as much of a priority as my MBA training, or getting married, but I'm still keeping it in my mind. Lots of people have "someday" goals, the important thing is to take them out of the closet once in a while and try and take a few steps forward.
This year, I'm resolving to lose 30 lbs, and I began by joining a gym last week. So far I've been 4 times, which I like to think are the first 4 steps in the journey of many many more. What are you resolving this year?
Wednesday, November 25, 2009
"Hi, I'm Steve Pagliuca. I'm sorry for this recorded call..."
Such were the words that greeted me from my answering machine upon arrival home. In my mind, the next best possible words that could have followed would have been, "but you'll be hearing from me less frequently in the future." That wasn't what followed. What followed was a thanks for all of my support over the past months in Pagliuca's Senate campaign, and a general holiday greeting.
If I know nothing else about Pagliuca's campaign, it's that he has a lot of money to make robocalls (note the Wikipedia section header "Heavy use of robo-calls"). His campaign has called my home number just about every day for the past few weeks. Robocalling can be an effective tool--but only when used properly. This often means sparingly.
Recorded voice calls are often the most infuriating kind of call, short of the pushy telemarketing type. I very rarely listen to one all of the way through, unless it's a dentist's office reminding me of an upcoming appointment and I've forgotten the exact time of it. Using robocalls for appointment reminders is a great use of automated telephony. It's a quick piece of information, low cost, and useful to both the dentist's office and the patient. The dentist's office gets chance to confirm the appointment, and the patient gets a reminder for an appointment likely made six months ago.
Other good uses of robocalling are followup calls from services. For example, the last time I called Verizon about line trouble, I got a robocall from the company a few days later telling me that my service ticket had been addressed, the resolution, and the exact number to call in case the problem was not resolved. I didn't have to stay home to find out if the repair person had been by; I got a notice via the phone. Once again, a low cost, automated piece of technology that gives the customer piece of mind, and saves the company time.
Stephen Pagliuca, on the other hand, isn't reminding me to get my teeth cleaned, or letting me know that my phone line has been repaired. He's calling to ask for my vote, and this is something that isn't best accomplished via the robocall. People vote based on party affiliation, the candidate's position on issues important to the voter, past performance, and often charisma. Pagliuca needs to create a story about how he will act in office if elected Senator, and as a Bain alumnus and Romney protege´, he's running his campaign like a businessman, not necessarily a politician.
For a business-minded person, robocalls represent a way to blanket people with a message in a quick, efficient way. Props to Pagliuca for investing in good sound equipment; he has a much better sound quality to his messages than most robocalls. But even though people are hearing his name, they aren't hearing from Pagliuca himself. Robocalls are canned, impersonal, and don't put people in touch with the sender. People vote for people they feel a connection to, not someone who exists as a disembodied voice on the answering machine.
So, after yet another robocall tonight, I decided to call Pagliuca to ask to have my name taken off his calling list. (I'm pretty sure I'm on that list because I'm a registered Democrat and of the proper target demographic.) Here's where I found some worst practices in his contact system:
1) No number on the caller ID.
My caller ID lists the robocall has having come from "Out of Area" with no traceable number to call back to. This is a big no-no. What if I wanted to call and send him a donation?
2) No one answers the phone.
I looked up his campaign website and called the number on the "Contact Us" page. No one picked up, just an impersonal robo-voicemail system asking me to dial a given extension or 0 for the operator. Since there are no specific people listed as contact points for the campaign, or any extensions given on the web page, I dialed 0.
3) Unprogrammed voice mail.
After pushing 0, I heard a click, several rings and then the robo-voice, "Mailbox for Reception Area doesn't answer. Please leave a message after the tone." If you're not going to answer the phone, it's always important to program a message to answer. I would suggest something along the lines of "Thank you for calling the campaign headquarters of Stephen Pagliuca for Senate. We're out of the office for the holiday, but will return on.... If you need immediate assistance, please call our Public Relations officer at..." etc.
So I am left with the impression that Stephen Pagliuca can call me all he wants, but I can't call him. I heard on WBUR the other morning an interview with Pagliuca, and he was pushing a slogan of "Pags means jobs." I think it might be more appropriate to say, "Pags means robocalls." And if anyone does actually get through to Pagliuca, please send me his number. I have some advice for him.
Thursday, November 19, 2009
New York Magazine's blog, Daily Intel (one of my daily must-reads) called yesterday for stories about the kindness of strangers in New York City. This has inspired me to ask Bostonians for similar stories, because I will always believe in the innate goodness of most of humanity (Bernie Madoff excluded).
Practicing random acts of kindness, aside from being a favorite bumper sticker, is something I try to incorporate into my daily life. Few things actually mean more to me than making someone else happy through help. This can come in many forms--earlier this week, I stopped to ask a woman staring at a map if she needed directions and was able to point her to Canal street. On my honeymoon to Martha's Vineyard, I gave away the free ride from catching the brass ring on the Flying Horses carousel to a kid who was too short to reach the ring dispenser.
Here is a story about one of my favorite random acts of kindness that someone did for me:
A few years ago just before Thanksgiving, on street-sweeping day, I left my apartment only to see my husband's car still on the street -- as the street sweeper and the meter maid approached.
The street sweeper stopped, said he would wait for me to move the car. Only problem: I doesn't have a license and can't drive a stick shift.
'The street sweeper himself, seeing the BTD car with meter maid inside pulling on to our street, asked me for the keys, and he so smoothly drove the car to an empty parking spot right in front of our house. He said I didn't deserve a ticket and he was happy to do it. I couldn't believe it, but I was incredibly happy.
Tuesday, November 17, 2009
I switched my checking account to Citizens Bank from Bank of America almost 5 years ago, because I was sick of BofA's fees. I chose Citizens because there was a branch two blocks from my house, and I didn't think they were likely to be bought out. (This was after my BankBoston account became Fleet, which became Bank of America.) When I opened the checking account, I was offered a credit card with 0% interest for a year, and 12% after that. I was in the process of getting rid of my American Express Blue card (sky high interest rates after I was no longer a student), and went for it.
Over the five years I've been with them, I've never had a problem. I've done very well with them. When you ask to have your rate lowered, they always check to see if you qualify and never give you a hassle about doing it. When they recently upgraded their online banking system, they included this account in my visible accounts, so that I can simply transfer the funds from my checking to the credit card balance instead of having to mail a check or set up a check payment in the bill payment section of the site.
Earlier this year, I asked again for a rate lowering, which I qualified for, except that I was on a rewards point account, and there was a minimum rate for that kind of account. I spoke with a manager, used up the point balance and arranged to be taken out of the point system (which is never worth as much as you think) so I could have the lower rate. When I called back a few weeks later with my new card to activate it and confirm the rate increase, there was a slight obstacle in that they were no longer offering the 9% rate that I had been offered previously. A quick transfer to a manager, and explanation that the offer was made before they had changed their policy later, and I was given the lower rate.
Today, Citizens did something completely unexpected. They sent me a box of Godiva chocolates with a note:
To Our Valued Customer,
Please accent this tocken of our appreciation for your continued business. We know that you have many credit card options to choose from and we greatly appreciate that you have chosen ours.
As the New Year approaches, we look forward to serving all of your financial needs. Happy Holidays!
Credit Card Services
Yes, I like chocolate, and I am a big Godiva fan, but really, this was more meaningful than gourmet treats. After being treated like a deadbeat from Banana Republic (or more specifically GE Banking) recently, and reading all the news about people being harassed by their banks, it is truly gratifying to be recognized as a good customer.
This week in Strategy class, we talked about the WorldCom accounting fraud, and in dissecting the company's strategy, we quickly identified that the company had no interest in its actual customers, just its stock price. At Simmons, the curriculum is focused on Principled Leadership, and part of that is caring about customers. Making customers feel appreciated, and helping them leads to a positive impact outside the company. Certainly, I'm here writing to you all and telling you how much I like Citizens Bank as a credit card company. But more importantly, I know that this credit card is part of my safety net, and represents for me purchasing power. To think about this more philosophically, it empowers me to do good with this money, such as my annual donation to the Boston Ballet when I purchase my subscription. (Certainly I could also be doing less good things with the money, but that's not the point.)
If I have learned nothing else in business school, and through my own experience, it's that customer service matters. When I think of the values I hold personally, and apply them to business, respect and service are at the top of the list. At work, when I think of how my communications impact other people, I know that I can't produce something that doesn't serve the customer's best interests, or isn't respectful. And it is service, and the respect with which I have always been treated at Citizens Bank, that earns this company a customer service gold star.
I love the NY Times' column "Corner Office," and I particularly like the regularity with which they feature women executives. They cover a range of industries from military contracting (Linda Hudson) to academia (Drew Gilpin Faust) to e-commerce (Susan Lynne), and I always learn something new.
The most recent column features Mindy Grossman, CEO of Home Shopping Network or HSN. My favorite part of the interview was the leadoff:
Q. Tell me about your leadership style.
A. I believe in accessibility. I believe in honesty and a culture that supports that. And you can’t have that if you’re not open to receiving feedback. I find out as much from the guy in backstage TV as I do from my C.F.O. Anybody can e-mail me. I do town halls with employees at least once every eight weeks. I’m out there and it makes a huge difference.
Q. How do you make sure you’re getting honest feedback?
A. I think the way you start sets the tone for your leadership style. For example, my first day, I went through orientation just like everyone else, because I wanted to see what everybody else feels when they come into this company for the first time. There were 15 people — a guy who is in backstage TV, somebody in production, somebody in planning, and I just came in and sat down.Everybody had to go around the room and say what their job was, including me. There were a couple of abrupt reactions, with people saying, “Really?” But the impact that had, and how viral it was throughout the organization, made a huge difference, because it was a signal of a new management philosophy. When I came into the company, honestly, it was an unhealthy environment. I had worked in unhealthy environments, so I know what it feels like.
I admire Grossman for going through new employee orientation. This part of the job process is very important, it sets the cultural tone for the company. Not only is it important to make sure your company's culture is well presented in orientation, it is even more important to know that your company practices what it preaches. I can't think of many high level executives that do this, and this is something I am going to make sure that I do when I finally reach the C-level.
Tuesday, November 10, 2009
I have worked in the non-profit field for my entire career, most of in at colleges and universities. I currently work in a large non-profit that functions more like a corporate services firm in the student loan industry.
Because of the pending legislation surrounding student loans, my company has had to restructure itself. The FFELP program is being phased out, and as such, my company won't be in the origination business any more. Yesterday, over 100 people at this firm (17% of the workforce) were laid off.
Universities and colleges don't do layoffs in the same way that corporations do, and as such, this is my first time in a layoff environment. I wasn't here yesterday when the news broke, but I did get a text message from a former employee and friend who asked me if I was okay while I was in class. I thought she meant I'd been fired in my absence, and promptly panicked. It took a few emails and phone calls to find out that my job is safe.
Coming in to work today, the tension is palpable. The floor seems very quiet, and I'm acutely aware of several people who aren't here. I'm grateful that my job is relevant to the company's new organizational structure, but I feel terrible for those who lost their jobs.
Yesterday, in my IT Management class, Madge Meyer, EVP at State Street came in to speak, and she mentioned a project she launched that resulted in laying off a significant portion of the IT department. I asked her (not knowing that in a few hours I would be finding out that my company was laying off staff) how she handled the layoffs. Wasn't she worried about the tension it would create? How did she handle such an unpleasant decision?
Her answer was that it was important to move those who were "stuck in the mud" out of the company, and that most of those whose jobs were cut were given a very generous severance package. Most were actually bought out. She was very positive about what had happened. I know that here, its necessary to consolidate and streamline, and I understand the business case for this, but it's still unnerving.
I'd love to hear from others who have been through layoffs. How did you survive or not?
Thursday, November 05, 2009
I'm currently in the process of buying a house, and I happen to know I have great credit and a spotless credit record. (Quick hit: for a government guaranteed credit report, visit annualcreditreport.com. Don't be scammed by pirate-suited waiter schilling for freecreditreport.com.)
And yet, despite my ability to pay all my bills on time (even through most of 2008 when I didn't have a job and didn't collect unemployment), I am still very suspect to Wall Street. Why? Because the big banking firms made some stupid mistakes betting on the housing bubble and bad mortgages. All of this means that even if I pay a bill on time for more than the minimum, on the day that the bill is due, I get a call asking me to make a payment by phone on that bill.
The bank in question is GE Moneybank, the backer of my Banana Republic card. I carry a small balance on it, and don't use it that frequently, and I've never not paid the bill. My bill was due today for a minimum payment of $23, and I had already scheduled that bill to be paid, the second I got my statement, from my online banking account. I sent them $75, and I checked this morning, and the check cleared. So GE Moneybank got their money probably at 8:00 am this morning. And yet, when I got home, I got a call from them.
"We just want to know if you're having trouble making this payment, and we'd like you to pay this bill by debit card over the phone."
This payment isn't late. I have NEVER been late with a payment. And yet, the very day it's due, I get a call. And when I told the woman on the phone that the payment was made and it cleared, she still treated me like a deadbeat, saying that she'd have to make a notation on the account, that probably the system wouldn't register the electronic payment until tomorrow.
GE Moneybank is so hard up that they couldn't wait 24 hours for their system to catch up?
I have considered getting rid of this card before, because I don't shop at Banana Republic as much as I used to. And I don't really need another credit card. In fact, the thing that's really stopping me here is that if I close the account, it takes down my credit score for six months, and I don't want to jeopardize my mortgage application in any way.
Why is it, that someone who works hard and takes care of her bills like me gets a phone call like this? Because we live in a recession created by Wall Street. I am furious that the heads of Goldman Sachs are collecting bonuses still and I with my lower middle class lifestyle have to justify my bill payments over the phone to someone probably not paid enough by yet another big conglomerate.
Tuesday, November 03, 2009
During the 2nd Bush administration, the oil companies profited from government policies hand over fist. Bush, an oil man himself, made a mint on sky-high gas prices and by squashing legislation that would have reigned in oil companies. And no one on the right said anything against this.
But let Al Gore make a few bucks betting on green energy, and the right goes nuts with accusations about ill gotten gains.
Critics, mostly on the political right and among global warming skeptics, say Mr. Gore is poised to become the world’s first “carbon billionaire,” profiteering from government policies he supports that would direct billions of dollars to the business ventures he has invested in.Representative Marsha Blackburn, Republican of Tennessee, asserted at a hearing this year that Mr. Gore stood to benefit personally from the energy and climate policies he was urging Congress to adopt.
Is there really anything wrong with this? Americans follow the money. If we can start convincing the country that there's money to be made in green energy, maybe then we can finally get the oil money off our national back.
(C) 2007 - 2009 Kate Hutchinson. All rights reserved.
All opinions expressed are the sole responsibility of the author.
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