and the
Citizens Economic Research Foundation

Barbara's Column
January #2

Time to see how Democrats perform on Beacon Hill
by Barbara Anderson

The Salem News
Thursday, January 4, 2007

While watching the Deval Patrick inaugural events on television, I heard a woman who was there say that when he was sworn in as governor, the clouds parted and the sun shone through. Another person was quoted in a newspaper as having looked up and seen a rainbow.

I can buy the sun, but not the rainbow, since weather conditions weren't right for that kind of atmospheric phenomenon. I would also note that, despite the hopeful celebration, another dolphin beached itself and died on Cape Cod during this same time span.

Nevertheless, I can understand why some black people, who can remember serious, government-supported racial prejudice, are happy to see a society so changed that a black man can be elected governor. I like that, too.

But don't expect me to celebrate Nancy Pelosi as the first woman speaker of the House in Washington, D.C., or support Hillary Clinton as the first women president. Symbolism is nice, but I want to be governed by people whose political philosophy is like mine.

Last week, as some were looking for signs and portents, I was busy counting the number of lawyers in the Legislature who voted not to discharge the health-care petition from a committee, where it was being "studied," for a required vote in the Constitutional Convention (ConCon).

The previous weekend, I sent a letter to the 42 lawyer-legislators who had voted last summer to recess the ConCon without taking up the health-care and marriage petitions. I reminded them of their oath to uphold the Constitution, which the Supreme Judicial Court had just ruled requires a roll call on voter petitions.

There was a vote on the marriage amendment earlier this month, but the health-care amendment remained in committee and never received its required up-or-down vote. So, as a citizen who wants to preserve the initiative amendment process for everyone, I'm proceeding with a complaint to the Board of Bar Overseers about the 34 lawyer-legislators who voted not to bring this petition to the floor. I'm planning to include Gov. Patrick in the complaint, since he publicly exhorted the Legislature to ignore the SJC decision and the Constitution. That's 35 lawyers who should be publicly reprimanded, at least.

It was interesting that Senate President Robert Travaglini, who is not a lawyer by the way, stopped the argument about the marriage amendment by bringing it to the floor for a quick vote. Unfortunately, he didn't follow through for the health-care amendment, but his choice may relate to another interesting thing he did last week: He publicly stated that "tax hikes are still off the table."

Here is my theory about that. The Massachusetts Legislature has become accustomed to Republican governors and their "no new taxes" pledge. For 16 years the pledge helped the Democrats keep themselves in line, giving them an excuse to say no to the traditional Democratic special interests that always want unlimited spending and more taxes. The pledge meant that any tax hike would require a two-thirds, roll-call vote to override the governor's veto.

But Gov. Patrick did not take the pledge. So the legislative Democrats are left alone to deal with the public employee unions and human service providers, with no one to play the role of responsible grown-up and prevent the overspending that will cause a state fiscal crisis.

When Mike Dukakis was governor, the Democratic House Ways & Means chairman, Richard Voke of Chelsea, stepped into the void. He declared in 1989 that there would be no new taxes in the House budget, and he held to this as long as possible before being overrun by executive branch mismanagement.

I think Travaglini is doing the same thing, moving as a perhaps-responsible Democrat into the new void, at least until he finds out what Patrick is about.

We are suddenly hearing from the new governor about a projected billion-dollar deficit in fiscal year 2008, which begins in July. Yet somehow he thinks there is enough "extra" money in fiscal year 2007 to allow him to override Gov. Romney's recent spending vetoes.

This makes no sense at all. If we're flush in '07, we'll have a surplus to help balance the budget in '08. If we overspend in '07, we'll create a problem in '08.

The early Patrick-Travaglini relationship reminds me of the story of the farmer and his bride riding home from the wedding on a mule-drawn wagon. The mule balks and the farmer says, "One."

A little farther on, the mule balks again; and the farmer says, "Two."

The next time the mule balks, the farmer shoots it in the head. The horrified wife cries, "What did you do that for?" and the farmer says, "One."

I think Travaglini, with his quick vote on the marriage amendment and his statement about taxes, is giving the new governor fair warning before the Legislature exerts its own ascendancy on Beacon Hill.

No one expects House Speaker Sal DiMasi to play the grown-up. Travaglini, who some thought was leaving soon, seems to be settling in for a while. Maybe, like many of us, he suspects this is going to be an interesting year.

Barbara Anderson is executive director of Citizens for Limited Taxation. Her column appears weekly in the Salem News and Eagle Tribune, and often in the Newburyport Times, Gloucester Times, and Lowell Sun; bi-weekly in the Tinytown Gazette; and occasionally in the Providence (RI) Journal and other newspapers.