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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, January 04, 2009

No so Great Places

On a historic level, there are very few places that can match the Massachusetts Statehouse as a "Great Place" in the commonwealth.

The Golden Dome that tops the Bulfinch building is an icon that readily identifies Boston. The history in the marble halls is palpable. It remains the greatest "office" I ever reported to work in.

But in a commonwealth facing a $1 billion budget gap in the current fiscal year, not to mention a crumbling transportation infrastructure and equally steep shortfalls in fiscal 2010, there are hundreds more important decisions for legislators than where and how to designate "Great Places" throughout the state.

In fairness, legislative rules dictate this descent into esoterica. Lawmakers, heeding the public distaste at year-long sessions culminating in lame duck feeding frenzies, shut down early in election years. The schedule now ends "formal" sessions when the clock strikes Aug. 1.

Nevertheless -- whether to meet constitutional obligations or collect per diems -- lawmakers meet "informally" unto the end of the session on the first Tuesday after the first Monday of January. In those sessions, bills continue to make it through the great maw -- unless one member objects.

A case in point -- Gov. Deval Patrick signed into law Chapter 231 of the Acts of 2008 on July 31. Chapter 450 (An Act relative to vacancies on the Beacon Hill Architectural Commission) became law -- without his signature -- on Jan. 2. Though math isn't my strong suit, that's almost as many signed in the first seven months.

The Great Places legislation being pushed by soon-to-be former Rep. Eric Turkington is probably worthwhile --generating some civic pride and maybe even a tourist destination or two (which of course would be funded by a budget earmark).

But playing out the string while the commonwealth teeters on fiscal chaos certainly won't earn the Great and General Court a designation as a "great place."



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