Confront taxes

To win, Deval Patrick needs to pull the rug out from under Kerry Healey
By EDITORIAL  |  September 22, 2006

HEAD-ON: Principles and charisma will not be enough, Deval

Dear Deval: you’re almost there. You beat the naysayers who 18 months ago said you didn’t have a chance. You dominated the caucuses. Won the convention. And now you’ve trumped your opponents and won a powerful victory in the Democratic primary for governor with 50 percent of the vote. But to win the Corner Office, to avoid becoming a curious footnote to Massachusetts’s political legend, you have to do more.

As soon as you were declared the winner and even before you delivered your acceptance speech, your Republican opponent, Lieutenant Governor Kerry Healey, began painting you as a tax-and-spend liberal, a fiscal delinquent who will cost the state jobs and scare away business by raising taxes.

Deval, you need to stop her in her tracks. You need to promise voters that you will not raise taxes. Period.

You’ve been courageous and truthful on the campaign trail. You’ve thoughtfully explained that after 16 years of Republicans holding the governor’s office, Massachusetts is in a sorry state.

But you need to do that all over again. You need to explain why we can’t lower taxes. Healey will shuck and jive. She’ll tell voters what they want to hear. And as the Republicans have shown time and time again on the national stage, they won’t hesitate to mislead the public. Deval, you must tell people what they need to know. You need to forcefully explain that:

• Cities and towns are in bad shape and property taxes have been raised because state aid is running lower than it was four years ago. When you factor in what inflation and rising health-care costs have done to local budgets, you have a sobering picture.

• The cost of the new state health-care plan is unknown.

• More than one-third of all public schools in the state — including charters — have failed to meet federal standards over the past two years.

• State spending for higher education is shamefully inadequate, the second lowest in the nation.

• Criminal-justice initiatives are seriously compromised by slashes to substance-abuse and treatment programs.

• Dams, bridges, roads, water, school construction, and other infrastructure needs can’t wait any longer, and let’s not forget the continuing mess of the Big Dig.

But using the bully pulpit of your candidacy to educate the public won’t be enough to silence the distortions and disinformation Healey will propagate. You need to make it clear that you won’t raise taxes. You need to take the pledge.

Deval, we suspect that this sort of advice goes against your nature. It even sounds un-Democratic. You’ve run a splendidly principled campaign so far. Your idealism, your sense of uplift, your determination to reintroduce meaning into public debate has inspired many. And your victory is in very large part due to the example of leadership you set.

We don’t have to tell you that taxes are an emotional issue. The public’s desire to cut the state income tax to five percent is about more than saving money — the average household would gain only $2.75 a week. It’s about issuing a vote of no confidence in the way public officials are managing taxpayers’ money. Rolling back the state income tax was Tom Reilly’s only distinguishing message, and its failure to resonate among Tuesday’s primary voters suggests the public is prepared to face reality — in spite of how they voted in the 2000 tax-rollback referendum.

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