and the
Citizens Economic Research Foundation

Barbara's Column

Get ready for the revolution
by Barbara Anderson

The Salem News
Friday, April 3, 2009

My newest bumper sticker, a gift from the Foxborough Republican Town Committee, reads "1.06.11."

This is the date that Gov. Deval Patrick leaves office if he is not re-elected. The Republicans are understandably focused on him. But I am more interested in the day before, 1.05.11, when we could see some challengers taking the place of incumbents in the legislative branches.

All across the Massachusetts political and media spectrum, people are trying to figure out Deval Patrick. I find myself relating to his inability to deal with the Legislature. I've been there, Governor!

Of course, I was trying to talk them out of, not into, raising taxes.

Though it once sounded like a good idea when private-sector types wanted to "run the state like a business," I now hear that expression and laugh. No one can run the state like a business, because it isn't a business, it's a government, with different assumptions, priorities and motivations.

Actually, as the government has become more involved in the private sector, we see Big Business becoming more like the government, with its focus on short-sighted self-interest, with the primary goal of its leaders being the fat pension or "bonuses."

Yet I see Deval Patrick more as the traditional "private-sector guy in government," i.e., way over his head. I think his campaign goal "to change the way Beacon Hill operates" was both genuine and naive.

He hadn't even been involved with Beacon Hill as an activist, so he had no idea how set it is in its self-serving ways. Nor was he acquainted with us, the people, who have tried everything already to change the way it operates tax revolts, initiative petitions for term limits and rules reform, and, occasionally, defeating enough incumbents to scare the rest.

Though, like us, Patrick knew there was waste in that thar budget, and he intended to find it and use some of it for "property tax relief."

He quickly made his first mistake by restoring former Gov. Mitt Romney's cuts and planning to select his own methods of saving money later.

He chose a fine Secretary of Administration & Finance, Leslie Kirwan; though she stays in the background, I suspect that the good Patrick initiatives that relate to local government come from her long-standing experience at the Department of Revenue's Division of Local Services and the time she spent as an assistant to Republican Charlie Baker when he was A&F chief.

Patrick seems to have a private-sector attitude toward unions, rather than a typical Democratic politician's fear of them. But he also, unfortunately for him, had a private-sector attitude about executive privilege, like the company car and office decorations, and generous pay for other executives with whom he has connections, like Sen. Marian Walsh.

As a businessman/politician, he naturally doesn't "get" that what he calls our "cynicism" comes from multiple counts of outrageous "trivia" that make up our ongoing experience with Beacon Hill.

But when I recently heard someone equating him with our last Democratic governor, I thought to myself: "Not on Deval's worst day." As a taxpayer activist, I knew Mike Dukakis, and Gov. Patrick, thankfully, is no Mike Dukakis.

But like that governor, he is determined to raise taxes, and I've been relieved to hear the Senate president and House speaker say "reform before revenues" every time the governor floats a new plan. From experience, I expect that in the end there will be little reform and many new revenues a bit of unpleasant predictability in the midst of this era of "what unimaginably insane thing will Washington, D.C., do next"?

I have a "new perspective": In comparison to what the federal government is doing to us, Massachusetts' political shenanigans are comfortably familiar. Billions of dollars' worth of budget deficits and the highest debt load of any state in the nation pale in comparison to trillions' worth of national deficits and debt.

At the state level, nothing good ever happens until there is a crisis. Then officials sometimes stumble into solutions which hold them over until they can fall back into the familiar pattern by taking the easiest route to their campaign contributions or peace with the unions, which usually threaten more disruption than other constituencies. Taxpayers put up with outrageous pension scams; the haphazardly stitched-together patchwork of taxes, fees and tolls; the patronage; mismanagement; bad priorities; and scandals, as long as they can afford the money to support them.

This year, many communities sense that they won't get overrides from overburdened citizens. Meanwhile, legislators aren't sure they can get away with hiking taxes "temporarily," because a tax hike is a pay cut that taxpayers can't afford, and no one will ever believe that "temporary" ploy again.

So while we will not be seeing Gov. Patrick's promised "property tax relief," we also shouldn't see the property tax increases desired by some now-exposed public employee unions. The proposed transportation reforms don't go as far as they should, but the Legislature is working on some of the governor's proposals for changing the most egregious pension scams.

We can also hope that Gov. Patrick is willing to go some serious rounds with the unions, and that the Legislature hears angry taxpayers' "01.05.11" slogan loud and clear.

The comments made and opinions expressed in her columns are those of Barbara Anderson
and do not necessarily reflect those of Citizens for Limited Taxation.

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