Divided Blue: Governor Patrick and the Statehouse Budget Standoff

by Justin Kenney

mass-state-houseIn states where the governor and legislature sit on opposite sides of the political aisle, the threat of a gubernatorial veto is unremarkable, even assumed. But here at BU we don’t live in Wisconsin or New Jersey where high stakes political theater is part of the cost of doing business. No, we live in solidly blue Massachusetts – a state which hasn’t felt a Republican presence in its Statehouse since Mitt Romney left for bigger and better things. So, the fact that at this moment there is a serious budget showdown brewing between Governor Deval Patrick and his usually loyal legislative allies should give us pause.

Governor Patrick has put forward an ambitious budget calling for expansiveinvestments in a range of sectors and public goods. The cornerstone of his proposal rests on a renewed commitment to the Commonwealth’s transportation infrastructure, which, as anyone who’s taken a ride on the T lately knows, has seen better decades. But Patrick wants to go beyond repairing the aging system, calling for expanded service and hours (yes, including late night on weekends) and dedicated funding to set the MBTA and transit authorities around Massachusetts back on the track of fiscal sustainability.

You might be asking yourself, what about this proposal could be stirring dissent among the Democratic ranks? Like so many political fights across the country, it comes down to dollars, cents, and that most reviled of words, taxes. Trains and tracks don’t come cheap, and to pay for his budget the Governor has called for higher income taxes. Members of both his party and the small but vocal opposition have shunned his request and instead put forward a smaller plan funded by an increase in tobacco taxes. According to the Secretary of Transportation, their plan wouldn’t fix the structural deficiencies or budgetary woes of the MBTA, and would mean inevitable increases in fares and cuts in service.

If it seems like the Governor and Democratic legislators have different priorities, it’s because they do. The Governor is thinking about history. He’s looking ahead to a time after his governorship, possibly with eyes to the White House. Regardless of where he goes after the Statehouse, he wants to leave it better than he found it, and this budget is how he hopes to do so. The investments contained in this proposal, particularly those in transportation, would pay enormous dividends down the road and secure the legacy he longs for. However, his legislative counterparts don’t have the luxury of waiting for those returns. They’re not looking ten years down the road; they’re looking towards 2014 and the “moderate” challenger lurking in the shadows waiting to brand them as a tax-raiser for approving the Governor’s Budget.

deval-patrick--4_3_r536_c534Their fears are not unfounded. It was only three years ago that the Republican revolution of 2010 nearly cost the Democrats’ leader in the Senate, Senate President Therese Murray, her seat. Can voters really be that surprised, after proving so fickle and reactionary in the past, that our elected officials are now leery of voting for any budget which raises taxes, even if those revenues are going to worthy goals?  In 2010, we sent legislators a message. We can’t wait until 2014 to send them the next one. We have to let them know now that we’re not going to be short-sighted on this issue. We have to let them know that we understand how and why the Governor is investing in our transportation infrastructure, and that we have his back. Governor Patrick has given the Commonwealth of Massachusetts an opportunity to make a real investment in its future. It’s up to us to make sure we don’t miss it.

(Upper photo: foodtoursboston.com)
(Lower photo: AP/Michael Dwyer)

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