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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 28, 2009

Losing a battle to win the war

House Speaker Robert DeLeo may be feeling pretty good this morning -- cobbling together a veto-proof majority for his proposal to raise the sales tax to 6.25 percent in the face of Gov. Deval Patrick's letter to lawmakers promising to reject the hike if it isn't preceded by reform.

Patrick is probably also feeling pretty chipper this morning too. Why? House Dean David Flynn was spot on when he told the Globe "I think this is him kicking off his campaign."

And it's not a bad start when a major revenue piece, strongly opposed by business (not to mention the inevitable public unhappiness) is accompanied by headlines that declare "House plan won't solve long-term transit-fund crisis."

Patrick is now officially on the record taking on the Legislature over taxes. His even less popular gas tax hike is off the table and he has positioned himself as the champion of the taxpayer by declaring:
"I don't believe that we can go to the public and ask for any broad-based tax increase unless we get meaningful outcomes on the reform measures that are pending."
But note the operative or weasel word, if you will -- pending.

By the time this budget wends its way through the Senate -- where President Therese Murray has been notably silent on taxes -- into conference committee and back to Patrick for signature, it will likely be mid-to-late June, at the earliest.

It's possible that by then lawmakers will have formalized versions of ethics and pension reform. Maybe even transportation restructuring. That would clear the way for Patrick to sign a sales tax increase (assuming it passes muster in the Senate), claiming that he forced lawmakers to push ahead on the reforms he sought.

Or, which seems just as likely -- the transportation "solution" still lacks depth because the sales tax hike doesn't cover long-term problems -- he vetoes the tax hike, is overridden and has ready-made commercials for his 2010 campaign against sales tax foe Christy Mihos.

This quote might make a strong campaign talking point too:
"If the public thinks that, 'Oh, this sales tax is going to solve all the problems,' it won't," said Eric Bourassa, a public transit advocate for the Massachusetts Public Interest Research Group. "It might improve the short-term problems, but it might just push them off into the future."
Higher turnpike polls become lawmakers' problems and they will have hell to pay for the next round of MBTA service cuts and fare hikes. Not to mention they will own the crumbling roads and bridges.

Patrick's popularity numbers may be in the tank, but no politician has ever gone wrong running against the legislature or Congress. The beleaguered Patrick has put an important downpayment on his campaign by taking a stand here.

He's in a much better place to win the war by losing this battle.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

The Governor might have won both the battle and the war if he had done a better job over the last several months focusing on the real issues and building a constituency for his ideas, instead of undermining his own credibility by being ham-handed with patronage appointments and the like. You give him too much credit and display wishful thinking.

April 28, 2009 7:43 AM  
Blogger Outraged Liberal said...

No question that he's played his cards very poorly up until now. And this sound political move may be ephemeral.

But I certainly don't find myself engaging in wishful thinking. Deval Patrick is the best of a bad lot of characters likely to go in 2010. Not a ringing endorsement.

But the time are tough and no one ever made a fatal political mistake running an election against a legislature. Especially one that appears to be as tone deaf as he is.

Voting on fiscal policy based on the safest vote for members is a sure-fire losing proposition. Of course that would require the Massachusetts Republican Party to actually field some legislative candidates...

April 28, 2009 7:37 PM  

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