Healey’s pork problem

With his budget vetoes, Romney may have handed his potential heir an army of small-town enemies
By DAVID S. BERNSTEIN  |  July 19, 2006

SMALL-TOWN WOES In 2002: the Romney-Healey ticket lost in the state’s 10 largest cities but won the rest of the state by nearly 200,000 votes. Healey would be wise not to piss off the small towns.
In the last few weeks, Mitt Romney has used his line-item veto to strike down more than $750 million in state spending, smiting “pork” in three major spending bills: a supplemental state budget, an economic stimulus package, and the fiscal year (FY) 2007 state budget. Along with cuts to big, statewide programs, the governor pulled funding for smaller, local projects earmarked for towns from Cape Cod to the Berkshires: bicycle trails, theater renovations, health-care facilities, senior centers, festivals, and more.

The governor’s rapid-fire rejections have sparked little controversy in Boston political circles, where it’s shrugged off as just Mitt being Mitt — more interested in convincing Republican presidential-primary voters of his fiscally conservative ways than in what happens to Bay State residents after his term here mercifully expires. Besides, the legislature is expected to override most of his cuts, and has already begun doing so.

But beyond the Hub, Romney’s cuts are bleeding all over the news pages. ROMNEY LEAVES COMMUNITY TRACK IN THE DUST, cried a headline in the Lynn Daily Item. A headline in the Worcester Telegram warned: TAX-CREDIT VETO THREATENS REHAB OF OLD THEATER. A blunter one in the Berkshire Eagle called Romney CLUELESS TO THE END.

“I think [the veto] is a major political issue,” says Robert DeLeo (D-Winthrop), chair of the House Ways and Means Committee. “On many of these items, I have heard from the local mayor, selectmen, and assemblymen, as well as townspeople.”

Not that our governor-in-absentia cares. But his heir apparent might.

Most of the vetoes hit hardest in the small cities and midsize towns that Lieutenant Governor Kerry Healey must carry in order to win this November’s election for governor. In 2002, the Romney-Healey ticket lost in the state’s 10 largest cities but won the rest of the state by nearly 200,000 votes.

So far, Healey has kept silent about Romney’s line-item vetoes, even as local anger has sent lawmakers of both parties scrambling to undo them. She prefers to address the cuts only in the aggregate, characterizing them as a check on overspending Democrats who would raid the state’s rainy-day fund. “The first priority of the lieutenant governor is fiscal discipline,” says Nate Little, Healey-campaign spokesperson. “Not squandering the rainy-day surplus when it’s not raining.”

Healey has only once publicly commented on any of these vetoes, and that was to say she would not have vetoed $11 million of job-training funds from the economic-stimulus bill, as her boss did. Little could not cite another cut that Healey opposes — but would not say that she necessarily agrees with each one, either.

That ambiguity is golden for Healey. If she says she agrees with a locally unpopular veto, she alienates potential voters. But if she says she disagrees, it suggests that she’s not really as active a partner in the administration as she claims — after all, she is the governor’s official liaison to the municipalities. “You can’t say you’re a partner and then not be accountable,” says Tim Murray, Democratic candidate for lieutenant governor.

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Few of the state’s 351 municipalities were spared the ax in the governor’s recent line-item spending vetoes. Here is a partial list of funding approved by the legislature but nixed by Mitt Romney. Many of these will be put back through veto overrides.

Amesbury $20,000 for cultural center
Billerica $100,000 for Vietnam Veterans Park improvements
Bourne $37,500 for traffic patrols
Braintree $100,000 to build gazebo/bandstand
Framingham $75,000 for Danforth Building repairs
Gardner $175,000 to renovate the Greenwood Memorial Bath House
Granby $100,000 for Town Hall improvements
Haverhill $2.6 million to help pay off Hale Hospital debt
Holliston $800,000 Sherborn Rail Trail improvements
Holyoke $50,000 for Heritage State Park merry-go-round
Hopedale $250,000 for pond improvements
Hopkinton $250,000 for Athletic Association
Hyannis $75,000 for Athletic Association
Lawrence $43,700 for election-monitoring computers
Longmeadow $100,000 for community festival
Lowell $200,000 for Cawley Stadium improvements
Lynn $5 million for Manning Field
Melrose $200,000 for street lights
Methuen $50,000 to repair senior-center roof
Milton $1 million to revitalize Central Avenue
New Bedford $100,000 for Zeiterion Theatre; $50,000 for art museum
Newburyport $40,000 for Economic Development Department’s Jump Start Program
North Adams $50,000 for Mohawk Theater improvements
Northampton $100,000 for the Lilly Library
Pittsfield $1 million for cinema rehabilitation
Quincy $300,000 for Manet Community Health Center
Saugus $250,000 to build community running track
South Hadley $50,000 for Old Firehouse Museum
Springfield $250,000 to upgrade the Bing Theater and CityStage
Stoughton $1 million to revitalize business district
Tewksbury $400,000 to expand senior center
Wakefield $50,000 for parking-alleviation study
Waltham $150,000 for parking-garage-improvement study
West Springfield $10,000 for police detail at parade
Woods Hole $50,000 for film festival
Worcester $2 million to replace fire station

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