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Massachusetts Liberal

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

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Declaration of war?

With Deval Patrick sinking in public popularity after some tone-deaf political moves -- and hard choices coming on where and how deep to cut services -- it seems the governor has found a perfect target at which to focus his comeback. The Legislature.

Patrick emerged from a meeting with House Speaker Robert DeLeo and Senate President Therese Murray and immediately told the assembled reporters that he didn't think much of House and Senate plans to overhaul the state transportation bureaucracy. Or their budget-balancing efforts to date.
"The bills just don't go far enough ... The savings that we have planned for, and organized around, and looked forward to, and anticipated are just not in either the House or the Senate bill."
Patrick also took a swipe at lawmakers for failing to act expeditiously on a second round of tax proposals he offered in January, around the same time the House was consumed by the Sal DiMasi soap opera and the DeLeo-John Rogers power struggle.
"We would not, frankly, be in the situation we're in today, at least in part, if the Legislature had acted on some of the solves that we proposed," he said.
Sounds as if he may be as welcome as a skunk at a Garden party the next time they meet.

It's important to note the salvo comes within hours of the House unveiling its fiscal 2010 budget, when lawmakers will finally have to put forward their own bleak vision for Massachusetts in the coming year.

And it also comes after the MBTA's kamikaze proposal to strip night and weekend commuter rail service, close Green Line stops and generally make life impossible for travelers.

While the timing could have been better -- in tandem with a Globe story detailed yet more pension abuses at the T -- the plan itself is much more political savvy than a mere threat, as Robert David Sullivan notes.

It takes aim at suburban commuters from farflung places like Lowell, Methuen and Fitchburg, who like to think they have no stake in the Boston subway system.

Let's do a quick geography lesson here. Senate Ways and Means Chairman Steven Panagiotakos hails from Lowell and his transportation committee counterpart Steven Baddour hails from Methuen.

If commuter rail shuts down after 7 p.m., more cars jam up on Route 3 North and South (maybe even in the Plymouth home of Murray). Northern commuters will jam up at the airport tunnels in DeLeo's district.

And by shutting down the Green Line's Huntington Avenue trains nights and weekends, Sullivan notes, the plan does serious damage to possible attendance at Symphony Hall and the Museum of Fine Arts. That is bound to give what is left of the city's philanthropic community agita.

Patrick's 19-cent a gallon tax hike would solve a lot of the problems -- including cash for road construction and repairs in western Massachusetts, where resident might be thinking secession is s good thing.

The Patrick game plan also relies on a basic principle of politics: people like their legislator but hate the Legislature. The ethics problems in the Senate involving James Marzilli and Dianne Wilkerson leave that chamber imperiled, while the last shoe has probably not dropped in the DiMasi mess.

Patrick is standing behind a plan no politician can relish -- raise taxes to avoid even more painful cuts than what are already underway. But the Legislature has given him cards to play with in their response to the ethics, pension and transportation reform plans.

A politician with a tough reelection scenario is better off than one without any plan at all. Patrick showed some interest in gambling with his casinos proposal and he's rolling the dice here.

Don't bet against him, not just yet.

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