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Massachusetts Liberal

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

Friday, January 16, 2009

Hard times

When the most important news out of the Statehouse on an early January night is not the annual State of the State address, you know it's shaping up to be an unusual year.

As promised, Gov. Deval Patrick attempted to play comforter-in-chief by alluding to the massive cuts ahead -- while setting an agenda aimed at long overdue reforms that won't cost money, but could actually save some in the long run.

As was widely noted, the speech from the rostrum of the House chamber was short on specifics -- perhaps mindful that the family viewing hour was not the place to delve into the gory details of how he plans to slash another $1 billion from the budget. Those ugly facts will come soon enough.

But with the unusual opportunity offered by a statewide audience, Patrick sought to return to his campaign roots and urge us to work together to get through the current hard time.
“I still believe that together we can,” he said, echoing his ’06 campaign mantra. “Hunkering down may be good advice in a hurricane, but it is not leadership. I choose a politics less about tactics and more about a vision for how to help ordinary people achieve their potential even when times are tough.”
Pieces of his agenda for 2009 should technically constitute long-hanging fruit -- ethics and pension reform. The public, fed up with what has been emanating from under the Golden Dome in recent years, should be receptive to the call -- even if lawmakers are not. And pension reform could even save money.

The other priorities are tougher: there is hardly an appetite for a needed overhaul of the criminal offender record information system. Boosting the ability of municipalities to fend for themselves is a thinly veiled call for local option taxes.

Tackling the transportation system would be easier if his administration finally offers a long delayed and much overdue blueprint.

More interesting than the lack of discussion of where the cuts will be aimed is the trial balloon floated in the Globe suggesting he will direct some expected federal assistance toward the private sector in the belief that move could jump start the economy.

In an environment where public safety, education and the vulnerable are being targeted for cutbacks, it is not a message which will be received with applause.

But troubled time call for different ways to tackle the problems. Maybe bringing the private sector to the table can bear fruit because, in Patrick's mind, "together we can."

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