Contrary to what Bay State residents have been told, very little of the new governor’s time will be taken up deciding which rapists and murderers to parole. Other pressing matters await.
SWEET VICTORY: Deval Patrick greets supporters the night of November 7.
Deval Patrick has plenty to do in the first few months, what with choosing staff and building relationships. But even as that happens, there are issues that simply can’t wait for action.
Indeed, one of the biggest initial tasks will be to determine what not to tackle, say a variety of close Beacon Hill observers and insiders whom the Phoenix interviewed last week. Many in the state will be eager, after 16 years of Republican gubernatorial rule, to see abrupt changes in their particular areas of interest. But these observers warn against trying to tackle everything at once. Some agency heads can stay in place for a while; some campaign promises can be delayed until the next fiscal year; and some big issues can be sent for “further study” by a commission or task force.
The key is separating that which can be put off from that which can’t. With that in mind, here is a list of the ten most pressing issues facing the state’s new leader — the ones Patrick must deal with. Because, ready or not, here they come.
1) Fix the fiscal year (FY) ’07 shortfall. Mitt Romney has been cooking the books. Republicans in far-away states might be impressed by his claim that he is leaving the state with a $1 billion budget surplus, but Massachusetts taxpayers must face the reality that current fiscal-year revenues will fall short of expenditures by anywhere from $150 million to more than $300 million, according to current estimates. The new governor is walking in midway through the fiscal year, and must make up that difference somewhere.
Romney declined to provide even the most obvious and simple solution to this projected shortfall, when he vetoed a $450 million transfer from the rainy-day fund. That drops the problem in Patrick’s lap. Patrick could, of course, take that route — but doing so would likely preclude suggestions for dipping into that fund down the line, which he might need to do in order to fund his pet projects, like statewide full-day kindergarten.
The alternative, then, is to implement a creative cost-cutting measure right away, one that will save money in the final six months of the fiscal year. Those options must be discussed immediately after the election.
2) Parse the transportation issue. Roads and bridges are falling apart while the government dallies, and they aren’t getting any cheaper to repair. The issue, which has languished on the back burner, will be thrust front and center as soon as the Transportation Finance Commission releases its long-delayed report, which commission members say could be as early as next week. (Not that they’ve been holding it until after the election or anything.) Among the scary price tags: $250 million needed for repairs to Storrow Drive and the Longfellow Bridge, according to Michael Widmer, president of the Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation and member of the commission.