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Massachusetts Liberal

Observations on politics, the media and life in Massachusetts and beyond from the left side of the road.

Sunday, September 02, 2007

Show me the money

The Globe's news judgment seems to be suffering from the same end-of-summer malaise that afflicts us all. Otherwise, how to explain the fact that the lead story on Page One and the one buried at the bottom of the Metro front really belong side-by-side.

The Globe's snazzy interactive map shows what has happened to property taxes in cities and towns across the state -- and it's not pretty. The stagnation of the housing market hasn't had a comparable impact on local assessments and the bills keep climbing.

And, as the story notes, all this is taking place while cities and towns are being forced to cut services. Not frills, but police, fire and teachers.

Meanwhile, the political pundits are out in force, speculating over what Deval Patrick will decide about casino gambling and what the impact will be on his political future. The story is framed purely around the future of Patrick, not the Commonwealth.
"He has put himself into a box because he has promised a lot to his core constituency and his revenue plan has failed," said Jeffrey Berry, a professor of political science at Tufts University. "In terms of growing the pie, this is a much more politically acceptable manner than raising taxes."
The rising property tax burden and the escalating demands for basic statewide services and infrastructure are at a crucial crossroads. Push has come to shove, and its time for the other key players at the table to show their cards.

Patrick's "revenue plan" has "failed" because so far House Speaker Sal DiMasi has stood firm against corporate tax loophole closing. While the Legislature has enacted some pieces of the Patrick plan to aid cities and towns -- allowing them to opt into the state health care and pensions plans -- it is not enough.

But DiMasi has yet to offer up an alternative -- and he and his key lieutenants are skeptical about gambling.

"We have a state that has a very diverse economy, one of the top five tourism destinations, and that has more cultural amenities than any other state in the United States, and that would all suffer," said Representative Daniel E. Bosley, a North Adams Democrat who is regarded as the House's leading authority on gambling and a vote against it. "I wouldn't want that to be my legacy," he said.

I find it hard to believe that the addition of gambling would hamper the state's economic diversity or would somehow diminish its historical and cultural allure. But it could add some cash to the coffers that are used to support those amenities.

And while it may be true, as Bosley suggests, that resolving the debate could take the rest of Patrick's term, it is imperative that this debate start -- now.

This summer's Middleboro fiasco -- where it is now abundantly clear the quick timetable was a cover a bad, bad deal -- makes it an absolute requirement that the governor and the legislature weigh in with a well though out, well-crafted plan.

And while Globe letter writers correctly point out casinos prey on the Springfields and Pittsfields and not the Newtons and Duxburys -- saying so doesn't change the fact that the issue won't go away. There are other Glenn Marshalls ready to snow other hard-against-it boards of selectmen and city councils.

There's an old saw that says "the executive proposes, the legislative disposes." Perhaps it's time to ask not where our governor stands on paying for his promises but where the Legislature stands on paying for our current bills.

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