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Massachusetts Liberal

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

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Let the games begin!

I expected more out of you Charlie, I really did.

A man with that much experience in the bowels of state government should be able to come up with something than “I would start with a head count" as the first thing out of his mouth when asked how he would close a gaping multi-billion dollar budget gap.

Charlie Baker formally entered the 2010 gubernatorial race with the words and platform of Bill Weld, another tall Republican who was advised by Rob Gray. That's probably why he also took the really foolhardy step of uttering the words of the "good" Bush: "read my lips, no new taxes."

Baker is obviously trying to make a complex issue fit into a slogan or sound bite. It's much easier to make grandiose promises than to level with people about the tough realities ahead.

So here's a couple of simple questions in return to your sound bites:
  • Assuming there is still a vast stash of "walruses" (hey it's Weld time!) on the payrolls of cities and towns and the commonwealth, how much will you save by eliminating them?
Assuming the best case scenario for Baker, that number will begin with an "m", as in millions. The budget gap created by the unprecedented free fall in revenue caused by the (Republican-manufactured) recession begins with a "b" as in billions. As Jed Bartlet liked to ask "what's next?"
  • "Everything should on the table" including health care.
What about the zoos? Or the gazebo in the town square in a small western Massachusetts town?

The declaration, when you get past its overwhelming vagueness, shows a total disregard for the dynamic on Beacon Hill over the last quarter-century or so -- which includes the Weld years. The governor is but one player, one vote if you will, in the fiscal situation. There are 200 votes in the House and Senate that frequently override the wishes of the governor.

Baker is offering standard issue Republican pablum -- cut waste, fraud and abuse, keep taxes level or cut them -- and provide all the education, public safety and social services voters have come to expect. Not pay for, mind you, just expect.

It's been the GOP mantra since the birth of Reaganomics that you can get everything you want without having to pay for it. The elimination of straw dogs and red herrings is all that's required.

That's combined with getting government out of the boardroom (not the bedroom though) because business is better able to manage without nasty government regulators on their backs. Except that's the recipe for getting us into a mess shared by 49 other states.

All in all, a very disappointing opening salvo from Baker, who I had come to believe was the ultimate pragmatist.

Rhetoric can and does win elections. But it can hamstring you when you actually try to govern (remember Deval Patrick's promise to cut property taxes?)

Baker is a blank slate with lovely rhetoric to most voters, which is why he leads Patrick in early Globe polling. He is encumbered by having to deal with the reality brought on by a national recession as bad as any since the 1930s. He has not had to deal with a Legislature that has a mind (and the votes) to do what it wants.

Just remember Charlie that you will be bound by that rhetoric if you succeed. And I strongly suspect if you fire each and every employee in every city, town and the commonwealth you will still not be able to close a budget canyon that opened up.

And that's not because Patrick "let the budget get away from him," but because the effect of nearly 30 years of GOP-onomics caught up with our economy.

So let the games begin. And we should be reading lips for promises that sound like malarkey.

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