By DAVID S. BERNSTEIN  |  July 11, 2007

But you don’t touch tourism earmarks when Terry Murray, who hails from the Cape, is in charge — even if she is under investigation for previous pork-barrel spending. Thanks to Murray, line 7007-0900 in the final budget allocates a hefty $28.2 million — $14.3 million of it through 144 specific earmarks, in a list that takes up seven pages in the printed budget and contains such “tourism” projects as Alzheimer’s services, school-safety initiatives, and a $25,000 study of the history of glassblowing in Massachusetts.

That’s hardly the lot of it; if Patrick wants to show that he’s serious about reform, he can easily find $20 million or more in earmarks alone to veto.

It would be a lonely stand. Earmarks, however unpopular in theory, are beloved in their particulars. Legislators spent the Fourth of July bragging to their local press about the funding they snagged for local projects. To save their own small victories, lawmakers are more than willing to vote for them all.

In fact, the legislature’s attitude about Patrick and the budget has grown more than a little patronizing: they don’t believe the governor would be dumb enough to make them override his vetoes. “It really would set the wrong tone for him here on Beacon Hill,” tut-tuts one representative’s budget director.

Mind you, a need to remind those snooty solons that he’s still in the fight could prompt Patrick to unleash the veto pen with even greater zeal. But he may have to thread the needle more delicately.

“The veto and override process can be healthy,” says Noah Berger, executive director of the Massachusetts Budget and Policy Center.” Going through the process strengthens the system of accountability and transparency. It doesn’t have to be hostile.”

Understandably, Patrick doesn’t want to simply roll over on this budget, after all his lofty talk of fighting for his priorities. But he doesn’t want to make unnecessary enemies, either, with big battles on the horizon. If he can make his point through targeted line-item vetoes, without starting a shouting match, perhaps the cozy fling can last a little longer.

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David S. Bernstein's Talking Politics: http://www.thephoenix.com/talkingpolitics

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