Diana DiZoglio’s Social Justice & Equity Audit Plan

 

Massachusetts currently ranks as the least transparent state government in the nation because access has been reserved for the politically powerful. As a Senator, I’ve stood up to Beacon Hill’s insiders to open state government to everyone, leading the charge on making committee votes public, reforming the public records law, ensuring adequate time to review legislation, and fighting to ban taxpayer-funded NDAs — which keep people quiet about abuses across our state government. I will continue this good work as your next State Auditor, beginning with an audit of the State Legislature, a safety audit of the MBTA, and my 17-point Social Justice and Equity Audit Plan.

 

Every wasted dollar is another child’s future opportunities at risk, a climate change initiative that is passed over, or a person who goes without housing, education or affordable healthcare.

As State Auditor, my staff and I will:
1) Analyze and report on state spending with minority-owned businesses and highlight areas that require improvement

GBH News Center has done exceptional reporting highlighting inequities in what contractors receive state tax dollars, with a focus on how “minority-owned, and particularly black-owned businesses – receive a shockingly small portion of contract opportunities” from state agencies. Of the 13,000 construction contracts studied by GBH, only 250 were awarded to minority-owned businesses.[1]

 

Government shouldn’t have to wait for reporters to uncover structural inequality. Regular audits will expose when state agencies fail to meet equity goals and hold them accountable for actually achieving inclusion standards.

 

[1]https://www.wgbh.org/news/local-news/2020/01/13/the-color-of-public-money-black-businesses-share-of-public-contracts-has-declined-over-20-years

2) Examine state government contracts to ensure that diversity commitments are being met

I will use the Auditor’s office to examine our state contracts and procurement processes to ensure engagement and fair treatment for women-, veteran-, LGBTQ-, and minority-owned businesses. As your next Auditor, I will tell you if your taxpayer money is spent equitably and hold the state government accountable to modernize its operations in the interest of justice and fairness.

 

Massachusetts has consistently failed to meet diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) goals in state contracting. In 2020, the state spent $4.8 billion on contracting but only $23 million went to Black or Hispanic owned businesses — only 0.005% of total spending. The share of state contracts going to minority-owned businesses declined by 24% from 1998 to 2018.[1]

 

Inability to access state contracts is one of many challenges faced by minority entrepreneurs and our government needs to actually enforce diversity goals it adopts. When this does not occur, we will publicize data to ensure all residents of the Commonwealth know how and where we are failing to meet our DEI goals. Additionally, it is essential to hold contractors accountable for meeting DEI goals in their subcontracting. Too often, big contractors make promises about diversity in their bids but do not follow through. That can be exposed and remedied through effective auditing and reporting.

 

[1]https://www.wgbh.org/news/local-news/2021/09/16/out-of-a-4-8-billion-budget-mass-spent-less-than-25-million-with-black-and-hispanic-firms-last-year

3) Review all agency contracting, starting with the Auditor’s office, relative to the 25-point inclusion standard adopted by Massport

Massport includes a 25-point DEI criteria in all requests for proposals (RFPs,) which applies to a wide range of activities including equity participation, workplace and supplier diversity, and wrap-around services to enhance diversity efforts. These contracts also hold recipients accountable for actually meeting DEI goals. It was used effectively during the recent construction of the Omni Seaport Hotel, which had far more diverse contractors than the typical Boston construction project.[1]

 

I will report where state agencies stand in comparison with this model to determine the “equity gap” between what we know is achievable and what our agencies are achieving. While the Auditor cannot force state agencies to adopt the 25-point DEI criteria, the office can show policymakers exactly how far short agencies are falling from this achievable goal.

 

[1]https://www.bostonglobe.com/2021/11/11/opinion/new-development-can-build-bostons-massport-model-expand-diversity-equity-inclusion/

4) Audit state programs designed to assist minority businesses

Massachusetts has many programs to assist minority entrepreneurs, which typically require the certification of a businesses as minority-owned. We need to determine how quickly, effectively, and equitably the state certifies these businesses, assists them, and helps them grow and succeed. Small businesses face so many problems, the last thing they need is long waiting periods for certification or access to opportunities like the Workforce Training Fund Program or Massachusetts Vacant Storefront Program for example.

 

In the State Senate, as Chairwoman of the Committee on Community Development and Small Business, I would often hear from minority small business owners who felt disenfranchised when it came to accessing opportunities through state agencies. I would hear that direct support was needed and that technical challenges prevented them from successfully submitting applications. Those challenges need to be identified and fixed.

5)  Report on pay equity to help voters hold government accountable

As Auditor,  I will also report on gender and racial pay disparities within our state government. It is well established that women and people of color earn less money than other employees with the same job and experience. We need systemic change to combat pay inequality. The easiest place to start is making sure the government itself is not part of the problem. Lawmakers, administrators, and voters should be aware of what state agencies and quasi-public agencies are failing to treat women and minority workers fairly.

6) Report on the equitable implementation of legalized cannabis

Massachusetts voters approved a ballot initiative to legalize cannabis believing – based on the actual text of the ballot question – that equity would be at the forefront.  Legalization was supposed to ensure that people who were unfairly impacted by cannabis laws would have an opportunity to succeed in this new industry. Implementation has not lived up to these promises. Only 8% of businesses are owned by social equity participants and the industry remains dominated by former medical marijuana companies, which were not subject to any equity goals.[1]

 

As Auditor, I will report on the actions of the Cannabis Control Commission and other state agencies to make sure they are doing everything possible to encourage diversity and equity in the industry. Additionally, I will monitor licenses to ensure that investors who partner with social equity applicants are actually living up to the equity components on their license application.

 

I will also report on the disparity between where cannabis revenue was intended to go and how it has actually been spent. State government gets 17% of revenue in taxes. Among other things, the money is intended to be spent on education, substance addiction prevention programs, and supporting social equity in cannabis. Currently, it is difficult to track how that revenue has actually been spent and voters deserve to know whether the legislature is keeping its promises about cannabis revenue.

 

[1]https://www.bostonglobe.com/2021/11/07/marijuana/five-years-later-legal-marijuana-remains-unfinished-business-massachusetts/?p1=Article_Inline_Text_Link

7) Report on the Massachusetts Police Training Commission’s (MPTC) implementation of implicit bias training.

The MPTC is responsible for the development, delivery, and enforcement of training standards of Massachusetts law enforcement personnel. This includes municipal, state, MBTA, environmental, UMass, campus police officers, and deputy sheriffs who perform police duties.[1]

 

As a legislator, I supported the criminal justice reform act of 2018 and police accountability bill of 2020. As Auditor, I will report on whether the measures we voted for in those bills are being implemented appropriately, starting with implicit bias training for all law enforcement trainees.  

 

[1] https://www.mass.gov/orgs/municipal-police-training-committee

8) Ensure the Mass Save program is reaching underserved communities and that the government is meeting our climate goals

The Mass Save program too often benefits wealthier communities while low-income neighborhoods are overlooked and ignored. There should be accountability in ensuring equitable access to the program for underserved communities. Mass Save’s stated goal is to help “residents and businesses across Massachusetts save money and energy, leading our state to a clean and energy efficient future.”[1] These are laudable goals, however, we must ensure environmental justice is not taking a backseat to the well-intentioned stated priorities of the program. The Mass Save program itself is funded through our utility payments, across the board, in Massachusetts. I will analyze and report on disparities between services provided to low-income residents and underserved communities and residents in more affluent communities.

 

It is also of the utmost importance that the administration be held accountable on meeting climate goals passed through “Act Creating a Next-Generation Roadmap for Massachusetts Climate Policy.” The legislation directed state agencies to set, “interim economy-wide greenhouse gas emissions limits, as well as sector-based emissions sublimits for certain sectors, every five years. It codifies the state’s long-term emissions limit of net-zero emissions by 2050 and directs the adoption of a 2030 emissions limit of “at least 50 percent below 1990 levels,” a 2040 emissions limit of, “at least 75 percent below 1990 levels.” I will audit relevant state agencies to shine a light on where we are, or are not, meeting our commitments.

 

[1]https://www.mjbradley.com/reports/summary-act-creating-next-generation-roadmap-massachusetts-climate-policy

9) Report on cultural adaptation and accessibility for state agencies’ websites to reach marginalized populations

While state agencies are increasing access to multilingual options, the government must creatively strive to go beyond mere translation services to culturally adapted websites and forms for a wide range of users where possible. Translation substitutes one word for another. Culturally adapted websites, however, offer different dialects and visuals that reflect cultural competence to help create more inclusivity for marginalized populations.

 

In the business world, culturally adapted websites are implemented to help attract new clients and increase diversity among clients. Eindhoven University of Technology published a study suggesting that cultural adaptation has a “clear and positive effect on the level of trust and the attitude of users.”[1] Government information, online and on forms, should be culturally adaptive wherever possible to increase ease of access and opportunity for every Massachusetts resident.

 

Furthermore, The Commonwealth’s websites must also be fully accessible to residents with different abilities, including via closed captioning of all online public meetings to: increase participation in government; improve confidence in its work; and improve trust in public services.

 

[1] https://pure.tue.nl/ws/files/3742245/710934801949280.pdf

10) Report on state agencies’ implementation of recommendations by independent commissions dedicated to equity and justice

Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and questioning (LGBTQ) students are more than four times as likely to attempt suicide compared to their straight and cisgender peers. Negative treatment by others, such as bullying, is a strong and consistent risk factor for youth suicide and LGBTQ youth experience bullying at far greater rates than their straight and cisgender peers. A recent study revealed that between 2011–2019, an average of 20% of U.S. high school students reported in-person bullying and 15% reported electronic bullying, with no significant changes in prevalence rates over time.[1] Massachusetts has had an independent commission focused on the needs of LGBTQ youth for decades, however the commission’s recommendations have been unevenly implemented.

 

As Auditor, my office will examine the recommendations of the Commonwealth’s independent commissions dedicated to equity and justice — including the Commission on LGBTQ Youth, LGBTQ Aging Commission, the Asian American Commission, and others — to ensure swift implementation by state agencies.

 

[1] https://www.thetrevorproject.org/research-briefs/bullying-and-suicide-risk-among-lgbtq-youth/

11) Advocate for rigorous oversight of corporate tax breaks

Our current State Auditor has consistently advocated for transparency and equity on corporate tax breaks. Right now, so-called economic development incentives are handed out with little oversight and even less transparency. I will work alongside colleagues in government to pass legislation empowering the Auditor’s office to monitor corporate tax breaks. Government needs to ensure all businesses have equal opportunity to access these incentives, which should be awarded based on need and merit — not political connections and access to power.

 

I will continue our current Auditor’s fight for increased accountability and expanded “clawback” provisions. The Auditor’s office should have the power to analyze the tax returns of corporations receiving these incentives, in order to determine whether this is the best use of taxpayer dollars. Every dollar given away as a tax break is a dollar that could have been invested in our schools, our public transit system, our roads, and many other worthy causes. Therefore, it is essential that there is accountability to ensure these taxpayer dollars are used fairly and wisely.

12)  Follow up on audits of the Department of Early Education and Care

The 2016-2018 audit of the Department of Early Education and Care (EEC) found several significant problems directly impacting children.  EEC failed to review or initiate investigations into reported child abuse and neglect.  It did not always conduct background checks for those involved in caring for children, and it did not complete licensing investigations into care programs, or even visit them in a timely manner. These problems disproportionately impact lower-income communities and communities of color because of the underinvestment in affordable childcare. These failures have serious impacts on our children and need to be addressed.

 

This is why I have committed, as your State Auditor, that we will follow up on important audits and studies that our office does. Reporting on a problem is only part of accountability. The most important part is following through and working to turn the office’s reports into systemic change. That work needs to be done and the outcomes need to be reported to the public, so they know what their public officials are doing and hold them accountable for actions or inaction.

13) Audit taxpayer-funded Non-Disclosure Agreements across state agencies

We know that at least 33 Non-Disclosure Agreements have been used in our House of Representatives. We’ve heard many more exist across our state agencies, however, even the state comptroller’s office has no record of how many state settlements have included taxpayer-funded NDAs as a condition of a settlement for employees who may have suffered harassment, discrimination or abuse.

 

When victims are forced into silence about abuse, our democracy suffers. This is an issue of racial justice, disability justice, gender justice, LGBTQ justice and beyond. People targeted for harassment, abuse, and violence are far more likely to come from disadvantaged communities because powerful people assume they are vulnerable.

 

I will audit the use of taxpayer-funded NDAs and hold our government accountable when they are used to silence victims of workplace harassment or other violence.

14) Conduct audits to increase affordable housing

Growing up housing insecure in Lawrence and Methuen taught me that housing is one of the most basic, fundamental needs that distinguishes between families that easily succeed and those that struggle. My mom and I were lucky to have loved ones who could take us in to provide some stability in difficult times. Growing up, I was able to stay with friends or family, “couch surfing,” or taking a spare room depending on availability in their homes.

 

My story is not that different from the stories of many other people here in Massachusetts who are currently struggling just to find a basic, affordable place to live. We are in a housing crisis and far too many families are facing these challenges. We need to do better by those who are working hard to make ends meet, yet still struggling. As your State Auditor, I will fight to increase housing opportunities that are affordable.

 

I’ll actively analyze, audit, and report on the expenditure of federal stimulus, ARPA and other COVID-related funding to ensure they are used effectively and efficiently. I will work to identify the most cost-effective approaches to produce affordable housing. That will include: converting existing housing stock to affordable; preserving existing housing that is already affordable to residents; and significantly expanding transit-oriented development.

 

We need to get more housing for our tax subsidies and to produce more housing that’s available for families in genuine need. I will analyze the cost effectiveness of building new affordable housing as compared to purchasing existing properties and converting them into affordable housing.

 

Communities that fail to comply with affordable housing laws such as 40B are not eligible for funding under the Housing Choice Initiative, Local Capital Projects Fund or MassWorks Infrastructure Fund. I will report on whether or not the Commonwealth is actually enforcing these requirements. I will also study and report on the opportunity to increase housing opportunities, affordable to working families, on State land and on land owned by other public authorities such as MassPort and regional transit agencies.

15) Analyze and report on regional equity regarding Payments in Lieu of Taxes (PILOT) for State-owned land and facilities.

The Office of the State Auditor studied this issue in 2020, 19 years after it was last reviewed. The Office found that the Commonwealth shortchanged its cities and towns by an estimated $15.7 million in 2020 alone. The report also showed the regional inequity of the current program. Between Fiscal Year 2019 and 2020, as an example, the State-owned land payment for the Town of Duxbury (Plymouth County) increased by 13.2% while it decreased by 3.2% for the Town of Sheffield (Berkshire County) and decreased by 11.5% for the Town of Warwick (Franklin County). This regional divide is so severe that hosting even more State-owned land might not result in additional PILOT payments. In Fiscal Year 20, 56 municipalities hosted more State-owned land, but 15 of these cities and towns saw lower PILOT payments. Twelve of these cities and towns were located in central and western Massachusetts.

 

It is critical that our cities and towns can trust our Commonwealth, regardless of where they are located on the map, to ensure regional fairness. The Commonwealth must provide needed financial support to our local governments. As Auditor, I will ensure this issue is fully studied more frequently so voters can make an informed decision in electing their Governor and other statewide leaders. Our staff will conduct spot-checks of PILOT payments to provide ongoing updates and information, and to ensure the legislature has the most up-to-date information to address this issue of regional equity.

16) Follow up on audits of the Disabled Persons Protection Commission

Last year, the Office of the State Auditor released an audit that showed the Disabled Persons Protection Commission (DPPC) had been consistently missing required state deadlines for abuse investigations. It also did not have a system for identifying persons with repeated allegations of reported abuse. These issues are unacceptable and must be rectified.

 

As State Auditor, I will ensure that my office follows up on this and other related audits to ensure that its recommendations are implemented effectively and our disabled community is protected. Alleged abusers must be identified and due diligence must be done to ensure a standard of health and safety for those with disabilities.


 

[1] https://www.mass.gov/audit/audit-of-the-disabled-persons-protection-commission-dppc

17) Ensure sufficient funding for the Department of Mental Health and Bureau of Substance Addiction Services 

As Auditor, Diana will seek to analyze and report on funding through the Department of Mental Health and Bureau of Substance Addiction Services to help ensure adequate resources for services regarding education, prevention, treatment, recovery and reducing the rates of recidivism for families struggling with the disease of addiction.

Conclusion…

The items above are not an exhaustive list. These are actions I will take in my earliest days in office and will continue throughout my time as Auditor. Everything I do will be strengthened by the engagement of the residents of the Commonwealth. I ask you now – as I will ask you again and again in the years to come – what ideas do you have that we should incorporate into our work? On its own, Beacon Hill will never solve the problems of our status quo. Only the people of Massachusetts can do that. Massachusetts needs leaders who listen to the people and take action on your ideas.

 

Yours in service,

 

Diana DiZoglio