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Massachusetts Liberal

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

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Deval to Sal: Put up or shut up

Budget documents are as much political statements as they are financial ones. Deval Patrick's fiscal 2009 budget offers a loud statement to House leaders who have pooh-poohed his proposals to finance campaign promises on such wasteful things are education, health care and property tax relief.

There were few surprises in Patrick's $28.2 billion spending plan revealed yesterday. In time-honored tradition the highlights dribbled out in staged press events. Suggested use of as yet (and probably never) realized casino revenues forms the centerpiece of the upcoming legislative debate.

There's also likely to be very little new in tonight's State of the State address -- except the opportunity to directly reach whoever tunes in to hear Patrick's vision of how to meet his commitment to voters.

But the underlying message in both the budget and the speech is simple. House leaders have been scornful of Patrick's proposals, including corporate tax reform, to pay for public safety, health, education and environmental proposals. It's time for them to put their money where their mouths are.

To date, however, they have offered nothing of substance. Here's a joint statement from House Speaker Sal DiMasi and Ways and Means chief Robert DeLeo:
"Recent news from Wall Street and fears of a serious, national recession tell us we must tighten our belts, restrain spending and, very likely, make painful cuts," the statement said. "We must be concerned about placing additional new burdens on our taxpayers and businesses amid this economic uncertainty."
No kidding. And the next few months will be spent in their efforts to put some meat on that bare-boned statement, including where to make "painful cuts."

Only a fool would support major tax increases in a recession
-- and Deval Patrick is not a fool. But the only guaranteed things in life and death and taxes and rising costs. And you need to skip down to the end of the story about rising costs for providing health coverage to find an interesting fact:
Separately, the state is counting on $5 million in revenue from businesses that don't provide insurance for their employees, down from the $24 million included in this year's budget that has not materialized.
Shared sacrifice doesn't seem to be at work here when the $295 per person business assessment is not bringing in the expected cash -- but remaining stable -- while the penalty on individuals is rising from $219 to as much as $912 per year

Patrick's speech tonight is an opportunity to get a clean shot at the public. Since many folks think his talents now begin and end with soaring rhetoric, expect it to be a doozy -- including its call for legislators to lay out their own vision of what is important, how it can be paid for or what must be jettisoned in hard economic times.
"There's a political negotiation going on here," said Stephen P. Crosby, dean of McCormack Graduate School at the University of Massachusetts at Boston. "The administration is learning how to use the budget as a negotiating tool and saying to everyone else, 'It's put up or shut up time.' "
DiMasi lamented the other day that the nation doesn't have the time for a new president to learn the ropes -- and took a broad swipe at Patrick's failure to learn the ways of Beacon Hill.

Memo to Mr. Speaker: He's learned.

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