There is the bold, articulate, and inspiring political newcomer willing to try to reorder political priorities and realities at the State House by giving Massachusetts a sensible and sustainable budget with which to face the future.
And there is the veteran of corporate America who is willing to insensitively and inappropriately lobby Citigroup (the world’s largest financial conglomerate, which already does substantial business with the commonwealth and has declared its desire to do more) on behalf of Ameriquest, a company on whose parent board Patrick sat until recently, earning $360,000 a year while doing so.
To make matters worse, Ameriquest has a history of smarmy mortgage practices and proved to be a thorny issue in Patrick’s side during his campaign for governor.
Before it is too late, Patrick must decide who he is. He needs to learn — and to learn quickly — that despite the often-stated likening of the position of governor to that of CEO, there are many more dimensions to his new job. There are vast differences between tolerable, not to mention legal, behavior between a public-sector and private-sector CEO. If he doesn’t make this leap it will prove perilous.
Patrick’s first pass at proposing a state budget is not perfect, and he wisely admits as much. But it is a good start, a reasonable and realistic attempt to put Massachusetts on a better path than the short-sighted and short-term road on which it now travels. Patrick’s budget, in its essence, lays the foundation for much-needed reform of state government.
There are countless ways in which state government should be reformed that the legislature has never allowed: reorganization of agencies, elimination of earmarks, and greater flexibility for agency heads, to name just three. Reforms such as these would take power away from the legislature. For instance, the way the courts are currently funded, the legislature controls precious patronage clerk jobs — which is why it would not allow former governor Mitt Romney to reform the court-funding structure.
Beacon Hill knows that resistance to reform is all about power. But the legislature has been able to spin things differently because Republicans held the governorship. Such spinning is going to be harder to pull off with a Democrat in office. And, quite naturally, Patrick is trying to take advantage of this situation with dispatch by asking for changes.
These include, for example, the municipalities act, which would give cities and towns the ability to raise their own taxes, making them less dependent on property taxes and the legislature for all of their revenue. The legislature is against it.
Patrick’s budget calls for “consolidation” throughout state government, rolling three or four line items into one, thus giving himself and his department heads more flexibility and control in how to spend, instead of spending as the legislature dictates. The legislature is against it.
Patrick’s budget calls for eliminating millions of dollars worth of direct earmarks, which is how the legislature buys off support in the districts. The legislature is against it.
These approaches threaten a better — or at least a more sensible — government. That’s a threat to the legislature. The big question is how the legislative leadership is going to structure its own budget proposal in response.