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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, June 19, 2009

No Christmas goodies in this budget

If you are looking for an Enchanted Village -- head to Jordan's Furniture. You won't find anything quaint and charming in the fiscal 2010 state budget -- unless you are looking for a retro period piece penned by Charles Dickens.

Higher taxes (the jump in the meals tax being the unpleasant surprise); a 15 percent cut in local aid; the elimination of 50 line items and 500 local projects. Hopefully lawmakers will have more detail than that when they vote on it later today.

Of the approximately $900 million in new revenues, about one-third will pay for transportation -- and expected increases in Mass. Pike tolls and MBTA fares.

Conventional wisdom suggests there is enough in the transportation package to meets Gov. Deval Patrick's reform demands:
“You have lots of language allowing you to do lots of great things,’’ said Stephen J. Silveira, a lobbyist who led an influential commission that released a major report on the state’s transportation crisis two years ago.
Patrick himself was keeping his powder dry:
When approached later by a reporter on a State House elevator, Patrick said with a laugh, “What part of no comment do you not understand?’’
The political chess pieces are moving with deliberative speed here. Patrick has now seen two of the three bills he demanded before he would consider the sales tax increase. Pension reform, at least the initial version, was a home run. He had lukewarm praise for the transportation items.
"The bill, on first review, contains a lot of the efficiencies and the changes that we were looking for."
The great unknown is the last leg of the reform stool -- ethics. And the clock will be running as soon as lawmakers approve the budget today (after no one gets a chance to read the details). Patrick will then have 10 days to sign the plan and veto sections he objects to (although you can rest assured the budget will pass by a veto-proof margin).

The Machiavellis among us might suggest that lawmakers will hold the ethics bill long enough that Patrick will have to commit on the sales tax before the full picture comes into play. Politics -- and the governor's moves to set a 2010 re-election campaign against the Legislature -- will no doubt be on the minds of a public officials. Or so the thinking will go.

I'm at least a bit skeptical about that. The Legislature is not under pressure just because Patrick is annoyed with them. The public is none too amused over a body that, until recently, produced more indictments and criminal charges than law. A watered down ethics bill will hurt them more than the governor.

And lawmakers have shown some true courage in the two most recent bills: the budget contains deep cuts for the Quinn bill, sure to infuriate police unions. And labor in general is fuming over the transportation bill they say would "eviscerate the rights of workers to collectively bargain."

The political calculus is tough. Republican strength in the Senate is that of a starting basketball team -- with no bench. The House GOP could not fill a baseball roster. There have been precious few signs that they are capable of fielding legislative candidates to make incumbents break a sweat.

But the depth of this twin crisis -- of cash and confidence -- offers them a unique opportunity. Patrick isn't thinking about an anti-Legislature campaign without sound reasons. If lawmakers play into that strategy by delaying an ethics bill in the hope of forcing Patrick into contradictory actions, they would just be adding another argument to his arsenal.

I'm guessing we will see a compromise that would justify cigars and flowers all around -- even if those gifts may not be legal under ethics laws.

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1 Comments:

Blogger Chris Rich said...

Ethics was never a strong suit among a culture of jealous chiselers and craven schemers so that one should be entertaining.

The thing most don't get about transportation is that it gains value as gas prices rise and they will when the economy improves and planetary oil use reverts to norm.

The union screech is ridiculous. They are gold medalists in the craven schemer olympics and how in hell did they ever get a pension in their 40's?

It must have been while I was away.

And the cops need to be weaned off of flagging. God I did that in Seattle for 10 bucks an hour, easy money, stand there with an orange vest and a stop/slow sign on a pole.

I never had an accident on a busy street even with strings of 12 dump trucks piling in like clockwork.

June 19, 2009 9:12 AM  

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