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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, March 20, 2009

Backup at the toll plaza

Hey, move along, nothing to look at here. It's just the Patrick administration in a one-car pileup. The cause of the crash? He blinked at the wrong time.

A bad month for Deval Patrick just got worse with the decision to join with legislative leaders to agree to a delay in a hike in Mass. Pike tolls. While a sound move because it allows for time to craft a good compromise to fix all of the state's transportation woes, the way this came about does bad things for his already shaky standing among voters.

Simply put, he played chicken, trying to force the Legislature to act by creating a crisis. And he lost:
After more than a year of deliberations, the Patrick administration supported a major toll hike last fall, only to later propose a 19-cent gas tax increase designed to avert that toll increase. But until yesterday, administration officials were adamant that some action had to be taken by March 29 to avoid the risk of financial ruin at the Turnpike Authority.
And the decision announced yesterday to use turnpike authority reserves to delay the toll hike and start the clock again was a tactical disaster. Just listen:
As recently as Monday, Patrick's appointed turnpike director, Alan LeBovidge, cautioned lawmakers that delaying a toll increase by dipping into reserves or trying other short-term fixes would be irresponsible. He added that he did not want "to recommend deferring the problem to another day, to another executive director, to another generation."

In an earlier interview with the Globe, he was even blunter: "Some people think we should use our reserves. But if we use our reserves, the credit agencies will downgrade us."
Not only did he blink by contradicting LeBovidge, he's in this pickle because his supposedly politically savvy transportation secretary, Jim Aloisi, dissed Senate President Therese Murray's reasonable call for reform before revenue, by allowing a situation where his sister found herself in the middle of a debacle about a no-work job.

And the fate of the turnpike authority bonds is now in that of rating agencies -- make that Wall Street. A bad, bad place to be.

Patrick came to this job from the world of business, where executives got what they wanted by the sheer force of their will and personality. Some learn that politics is not the same environment and that accommodation is required.

Bill Weld learned that art (OK, some would say it's in his genes) cozying up with Billy Bulger; Mitt Romney did not. Deval Patrick seems to be leaving class early. Bernard Cohen, Aloisi's predecessor, seemed to have no political skills whatsoever. Aloisi lacks diplomatic skills as well as a political tin ear.

In the end, a delay will probably lead to a somewhat palatable compromise that will find a gas tax hike of under a dime, toll hikes and MBTA fare increases as well as fundamental reforms in the way the agencies do business. In effect, everyone will lose.

But the biggest loser will be Patrick, who tried to strong arm the process and failed. In spectacular fashion.

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