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Massachusetts Liberal

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

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

What's going on here?

First pensioners, now police officers? Maybe Deval Patrick really does have his eyes on Washington.

Patrick's plan to put a dent into the archaic and costly system of using only police officers to direct traffic at construction sites is a shot across the bow of one of the most protected and feared special interests on Beacon Hill.

And it will come today, just days after Patrick slapped around another sacred political cow -- public retirees -- by vetoing a cost-of-living increase he felt the state could not afford.

Conventional wisdom would say Patrick has committed two acts of political suicide. After all, the police unions are about to make his life miserable. The state retirees will undoubtedly snap out of their "we rolled the dice and lost" mood and also seek to exact political revenue.

But Patrick has shown some real leadership here -- forget the pooh-poohing of Pioneer Institute head Jim Stergios. It's a foot in a door and it's been put back there after a false start earlier this year. Patrick has House Speaker Sal DiMasi and Senate President Terry Murray with him (last we looked at any rate).

Heck, he's even got the gang over at Blue Mass Group keeping score and checking things off their lists (don't hold your breath on the graduated income tax happening guys. It's been demagogued by the best of 'em too many times).

Anyone who has been stuck in traffic at a construction site and spotted the cop in the yellow vest and Dunkin' Donuts coffee knows what a boondoggle the current system is. Yes, some construction sites -- on high speed roads -- MIGHT require trained police officers to direct traffic.

But every other American state appears to have figured out that many jobs are just right for civilians carrying flags rather than professional law enforcement officers wearing guns and earning overtime to sit in their car, read and drink coffee.

We're certainly not done here. When Bill Weld tried this, the Statehouse was encircled in a sea of blue and Big Red ran up the white flag. We've already had one false start by our governor and legislative leaders.

Make no mistake, Patrick has an election in mind all right. It's the November referendum on Question 1, the income tax repeal. Polls suggest voters are unhappy enough that they could vote their wallet and not their best interests. Sacred cows need to fall.

If that means dealing with upset pensioners and police officers angry because they've been asked to do some dieting along with the rest of the state budget (and there will be a lot of that in the months ahead, particularly if the federal Medicaid waiver is slashed) that drama may only help convince fence sitters that Question 1 is a recipe for disaster.

Stay tuned. This is going to get interesting.

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Anonymous Joel Patterson said...

from the Globe today: The cost of paying police for monitoring constructions sites and traffic on Massachusetts Highway Department projects increased from $15.5 million in 2003 to $22.6 million in 2006, a 48 percent increase over the three years, according to a report last year by the Transportation Finance Commission. Nearly 5 percent of the total cost of MassHighway's construction projects pays for police details.

So if 5% of the total cost is details, that means that of the $7 million more spent over 2003 to 2006, $350,000 of that went to police details.

And these regs only apply to state, not local, roads.


August 13, 2008 9:04 AM  
Blogger Christopher Davis said...

Joel: I think the quoted $22.6 million is the cost of details (5% of the total cost). $400+ million certainly sounds more likely to me as a yearly MassHighway construction budget than $22.6 million does.

August 13, 2008 10:54 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


I think your math is a bit off. In 2006, 5% of the total cost for JUST POLICE DETAILS was $22.6 million. That means the total cost of the MassHighway construction budget is $22.6MM/.05 = $452MM

That's $22.6MM spent on just details just for the state roads. As you correctly mention, local ones aren't included in that figure.

August 13, 2008 10:55 AM  
Blogger davidguarino said...

The Speaker hasn't seen the actual regs yet but we were briefed yesterday and, from what we've heard, this is entirely in keeping with our intentions when we announced the plan with the Governor and Senate President and a bold step forward. So to answer your question, yes, the Speaker is still "with him" Mr. Outraged.

August 13, 2008 11:44 AM  
Anonymous Joel Patterson said...

my bad
I should wake up before commenting

August 13, 2008 1:24 PM  
Blogger Outraged Liberal said...

Joel, you've earned brownie points for catching my mistakes. :=)

Dave,thanks for the confirmation that the Speaker is still on board.

August 13, 2008 8:30 PM  
Anonymous Stav said...

Hey unfair...those cops aren't reading. Now they are chatting with buddies on the cell phone. Will one of the world's great scams finally come to an end?

August 13, 2008 9:53 PM  

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