Friday, July 31, 2009

One BILLION dollars!



There's a slight resemblance, don't you think?

One BILLION dollars. On the eve of the Commonwealth's 25 percent sales tax hike, set to go into effect tomorrow, it is useful perhaps to stop and reflect on exactly what our government is about to do to us.

"One billion dollars." Those three words are more useful as an illustrative device ('a LOT of dough!') than a comprehensible quantification of money. Most of us can hardly conceptualize a million dollars, much less a billion.

Still, if our Legislature's estimates can be trusted, in this case "one billion dollars" represents a very real, very large sum of money - money that is about to be sucked from the marketplace and blown into the state's coffers. A billion greenbacks that next year, and for the years to come, will be diverted from whatever purpose we might have had for them and entrusted to the care of the people who dug for us the huge fiscal hole that we as a state sit in right now. This is not an insignificant event.

Howie Carr nails this issue today. Nestled between sarcastic broadsides at Governor Patrick, Howie's column holds just the hint of a silver lining to this weekend's billion dollar stick-up (and all the other money grabs we've seen from Beacon Hill this year):

Thank you too, Governor, for that property tax relief that you promised all of us during the 2006 campaign.

That’s working out so well that last weekend in Abington, the voters nixed a Prop 2 override by a 4-1 margin, in a turnout rivaling last year’s presidential election, with 500 people taking absentee ballots.

Thank you, Governor, for getting the people of Massachusetts interested in the political process again.

If the rumbling voter discontent reflected both in Abington last week and in recent polls holds for the next 15 months, perhaps we'll see a new Governor willing to turn things around before it is too late.

For now, ponder those billion dollars - and the certain knowledge that even as they are sucked out of your wallet and into the State House, your elected officials will continue to cry out for more.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

The arrival of Silly Season - 15 months out

Even as the beginning of summer seems to retreat a little bit each year, the political "Silly Season" begins a bit earlier each election cycle. This year, fully 15 months out from the next election, it appears to have arrived in full force. To celebrate, a few miscellaneous observations:

C'Mon Terry! You can do it!: Beacon Hill is buzzing after Senate President Terese Murray pointedly passed up an early opportunity to voice support for Governor Patrick in next year's election. From the Globe:

Senate President Therese Murray, asked whether [Charlie] Baker or Patrick would better manage the economy, said, “I have no idea,’’ the State House News Service reported.

But will she support Patrick next year?

“I’m a Democrat,’’ she said, repeating those words when pressed. “I’m a Democrat.’’

President Murray inadvertently points up one of the deep-seated problems with politics here in the Bay State, and nationally. Her acrimonious history with Governor Patrick is well known at this point. She worked with Baker during the Weld and Cellucci Administrations, and apparently thinks highly of him. But because she's "a Democrat," her loaded non-endorsement of the Governor is as far as she feels she can go. Though her preference is emblazoned on her sleeve, partisan loyalty prevents her from giving it voice.

Isn't it a little early for temper tantrums? Lt. Governor Tim Murray (D-Who? No relation to the Senate President) was tapped to offer the Patrick Administration's intemperate response to Charlie Baker's official entrance to the race yesterday. The classy (and traditional) thing for the incumbent to do at this stage, this far out, is to welcome all comers, 'look forward to a spirited campaign,' offer blanket admiration for anyone willing to 'enter the arena,' and so forth. Murray went the other way, offering up a snit more appropriate in tone to the closing days of a particularly nasty campaign. Again from the Globe:

Even before the press conference, Democrats pounced on Baker’s candidacy. Lieutenant Governor Timothy P. Murray released a statement saying that the Republican is “nothing more than an overcompensated insurance executive who placed profits over patients at the expense of hard-working families and employers in Massachusetts.’’

Murray also criticized Baker’s involvement in the financing of the $15 billion Big Dig, saying, “if you look up crisis in the dictionary, you’ll find a picture of Baker and a narrative on the Big Dig financing scheme.’’

Ah, the old "if you look up _______ in the dictionary, you'll find a picture of ______" routine. How original. Aside from losing very voter associated with the insurance industry, Murray ought to be assigned cliche demerits.

In any event, on the first day of his candidacy Baker responded to Murray's petulance with the appropriate mix of substance, dismissive irritation and fact correction. "That's pretty tough for the number-one health plan in the United States, customer satisfaction and clinical effectiveness for five years in a row," and, “I do think it’s kind of ironic that I’m being criticized for my small role in the Big Dig, when one of its chief architects and enablers is the transportation czar for the current administration."

Just words? Just words? Speaking of political ironies, Governor Patrick has of late been dismissing a lot of criticism as "rhetoric." He did it early this month in response to criticism by then-Democrat, now-Independent Treasurer Tim Cahill. He did it again yesterday, in response to Charlie Baker's no-new-taxes pledge. From the Globe: "'That’s a message that is stuck in the past, that is stuck in rhetoric,’ Patrick told reporters yesterday afternoon."

Pretty rich, coming from a guy who swept to election in 2006 on a wave of inspirational/aspirational slogans and well-delivered but famously substance-free speechifying. At the time, Patrick would brook no criticism of his reliance on rhetoric. His counter-punch (just words??) was so effective that it was later 'borrowed' by another famous messiah of hope and change.

Of course, there is an important distinction to be drawn between empty rhetoric (hope, change, 'appeal to our better selves,' etc.) and rhetoric that constitutes a pledge of specific action. Asked about taxes, Baker responded without hesitation: He won't raise them. He'll fight to reduce them. Pressed, he uttered those six infamous words, "Read my lips: no new taxes." Preident George Bush the elder learned all too well that this "rhetoric" packs a punch. When he went back on his word, he was appropriately punished by the voters. Reminded of Bush, Baker responded that his mentor, Governor Bill Weld, also pledged not to raise taxes - "and he meant it." One senses that Baker does too.

Someone forgot to tell the Legislature that Silly Season has arrived early this year. One of the few laudatory effects of this quadrennial change in the political weather is the tendency of our elected officials to temporarily clean up their acts - to put themselves on best behavior in anticipation of the coming election. Had they known people might already be paying attention, they likely would not have voted yesterday to pad their discretionary accounts with $1.6 million in what is likely to be deficit spending. According to the Herald:
Legislative officials said the funds are necessary to maintain the building and run an enterprise with more than 700 employees. They also said the restored money will go toward updating the old telephone system and microphones in the House chamber.
All well and good, except for the inconvenient fact that the state is in a deep fiscal hole, cities and towns are getting walloped by local aid reductions, taxpayers will this weekend feel the first bite of a 25% hike in the state sales tax... One might note that John Adams and company did just fine running our government without an updated telephone system. Or that 'microphones in the House chamber' seem a little redundant for a Legislature that rarely allows debate to take place there. Perhaps on the rare occasion when they utilize the room, they could just raise their voices - at least until the economy improves?

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Two sides of the same legislative coin

The Massachusetts House and Senate chambers are in the same building, separated by just a quick walk down a marble hallway. Two blurbs appearing today in the State House News, though, suggest that they do not even inhabit the same reality.

First up, the House:
HOUSE PLANS TO PUT $80 MILLION BACK INTO BUDGET: In addition to $40 million for immigrant health care funding, the House on Wednesday afternoon will consider a supplemental budget that restores $40 million in funds for programs vetoed by Gov. Deval Patrick in the fiscal 2010 budget. The restorations include about $1.5 million for the Legislature itself.
Meanwhile, down the hall (and through the worm hole?) in the Senate:
S.P. MURRAY SAYS JULY REVENUES MISS MARKS BY AS MUCH AS S35M: State tax collections are slumping $18 million to $35 million below expectations that had already been knocked down three times, Senate President Therese Murray said Wednesday afternoon. “If this continues, we will be forced to make even more drastic cuts,” Murray told a group of business leaders at the Seaport Hotel on the South Boston Waterfront. Murray said the state’s draw-down of its so-called rainy day fund had left it in “a very vulnerable position,” and predicted that fiscal 2011 would be more “challenging” than the one that began at the beginning of this month.
So... let's get this straight. Revenues continue to come in tens of millions below benchmark (meaning below the amounts the state budgeted to receive). We're already in deficit, with the 'rainy day' fund all but dried up. And the House is adding back $80 million in spending - including $1.5 million "for the Legislature itself."

Remember this - particularly that last bit - the next time you hear a member of the Democratic leadership talk about touch choices, deep cuts, and so-forth. Better: remember it a year from November.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Politics aside, is this how we want our government to run?

An interesting thing happened in the Massachusetts House of Representatives today. And then, a short time later, it un-happened.

The Legislature has reached the final stage of the annual budget process: veto overrides. In the ordinary course, the Legislature passes its budget, the Governor issues vetoes a number of provisions, and the Legislature summarily overrides those vetoes. To the surprise of many observers who thought one-party control might lead to greater deference to the Governor's wishes, Governor Patrick's vetoes have been treated no differently than Governor Romney's.

Today, though, there was a little hiccup. In the midst of a series of the usual, perfunctory override votes, a veto was sustained. That is a big deal, folks. Two-thirds of the members must vote to override a veto; ordinarily no problem in a chamber where leadership literally dictates the votes of far more than two thirds of the membership on virtually every matter that comes to the floor. Even where leadership's preference is not explicitly stated, legislative Democrats rarely cast a vote before the light board on the wall shows them which way leadership wants to go on the issue. If you don't believe me, by the way, take an afternoon and go watch some votes - they are open to the public and there is a gallery with seating that is quite nearly comfortable. If you are lucky enough to catch them on a day when the full body is casting actual votes, the experience will open your eyes... and shatter your understanding of how the world's oldest functioning democracy actually works.

Anyhow, today Governor Patrick's veto of an obscure budgetary tweak concerning state pharmacy payments to the sheriffs came up for a vote - and was sustained. The State House News explains the vote:
A House leadership effort to turn back Gov. Deval Patrick’s veto of budget language – changing the way the state makes pharmacy services payments to sheriffs’ departments and blocking sheriffs from contracting with alternate services – came up well short Tuesday afternoon, a rare override session win for the governor. The 90-64 vote in favor of overriding the veto left Speaker Robert DeLeo more than a dozen votes short of the two-thirds majority he needs.
And then the aftermath:
The vote came at around 3:30 p.m., and after the tally members of DeLeo’s leadership team gathered on the rostrum before heading into the speaker’s office. Shortly before 4 p.m., members of DeLeo's leadership team came back out to the chamber and spoke with members who had voted against the override: 3rd division chair Kathi-Anne Reinstein with Reps. Sarah Peake and Timothy Madden, Majority Leader James Vallee with Rep. Alice Peisch, Rep. Charles Murphy with Rep. Stat Smith, and Assistant Majority Whip Patricia Haddad with Reps. Mark Falzone, Matthew Patrick, and Lori Ehrlich.
Those conversations must have been... convincing. Because shortly thereafter - surprise! - the House first voted to "reconsider" the matter, and then reversed itself, overriding the Governor's veto. Again, from the State House News:
Gov. Patrick's veto victory in the House was short-lived Tuesday afternoon. House Speaker Robert DeLeo picked up 37 votes on the second time through with a veto override of Patrick’s attempt to change language affecting the county sheriff’s department. The leadership had 90 votes the first time through, but after an intensive, hour-long lobbying effort and House budget chief Charles Murphy’s floor speech focused on savings, the override found itself with 127. After pressure from House leaders, the House late Tuesday voted 134-21 to reconsider its initial vote and moved directly to its second vote on the veto override.
I freely admit that I do not know enough about the issue in question - pharmacy payments to the sheriffs' departments - to know whether the Governor or Speaker DeLeo and his leadership team are right on the merits.

Here is what I do know: a group of legislators decided to buck leadership, and cast their votes accordingly, for whatever reason. You can be sure those votes were taken purposefully, with full understanding of the potential implications. An embarrassed Speaker DeLeo huddled in private with his lieutenants, who fanned out for private conversations - and then the vote was reversed, with a comfortable margin to boot. There is no way to know what was said in those private conversations. The public will never get an explanation of the rationale for today's events, much less an account of what words were passed in DeLeo's office or between his enforcers and their targets. It is a good bet, though, that the tone of those exchanges was closer to this (caution - language) than to this (caution - Muppets).

Let's consider this state of affairs in a political vacuum. Remove party designations from the people involved. Set aside any ingrained inclination to oppose this particular Governor, or this particular legislative leadership team. Ignore any preconceptions about how our state's sheriffs manage their budgets.

Now ask yourself: is this how you want your 'representative government' to function?

Charlie Baker for Governor - new video statement


Sign up to pitch in at his website.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Governor Patrick's approval rating continues to tank

Doling out pots of federal money just doesn't give the same kick that it used to, at least according to the most recent poll showing Governor Patrick on a continued downward trajectory.

Patrick blames 'cuts and reforms' for his fifty-two percent disapproval rating, according to the Globe.

The poll numbers, Patrick said, reflected tough budget-cutting decisions and the fallout from overhauling various aspects of state government.

“Every cut and every reform affects somebody,’’ Patrick wrote. “Our economy is in crisis, people in Massachusetts and across the country are hurting, and they expect and deserve help from their government. I don’t need a poll to understand people are not satisfied with where we stand. Neither am I.’’

Can you think of any major budget-related moves he has made, other than 'cuts and reforms,' that might have the voters a little bit put off? Ah, yes - the tax hiking thing. I have no way of knowing for sure, but I would bet big money that many more respondents in that fifty-two percent would cite the bone-headed move of raising taxes during a recession than would point to Patrick's 'cuts' or his 'reforms' to explain their displeasure. The Globe's own analysis seems to agree:
New increases in the sales and other taxes, which the Legislature initiated but Patrick signed, are deeply unpopular, despite being passed to prevent deeper cuts to state and local services. Sixty-one percent of respondents said they object to the increases - and Patrick appears to be getting most of the blame.
In a way this is not Deval Patrick's fault. The old warning about heights and falls comes to mind. Patrick was lifted to such heights of unrealistic expectation when he was elected, a precipitous fall to earth was all but guaranteed. Once the economy soured and his tax-and-spend instincts really kicked in, the many thousands of Massachusetts voters in the unenrolled, fiscally conservative/socially moderate middle had undeniable proof that they were duped by Patrick's 'hope and change' shtick. Those folks are angry.

There's a lesson in here, and perhaps a bit of foreshadowing, for another 'hope and change' candidate whose supporters all but deified him at the beginning of his term...

Closer to home, in related news, Charlie Baker will file papers this week, officially entering next year's race. Dare to 'hope' for some more sensible 'change'?

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Kicking the can down the road... and over the cliff

There is some serious revisionist history going on here in Massachusetts with respect to the so-called economic stimulus package slammed through Congress early this year.

Back in early March, Governor Patrick correctly cautioned against using the one-time federal windfall to plug gaps in the state's operating budget, recognizing the very real, very dangerous situation such delicate plugs create for future years. By the end of the month, though, legislative Democrats were already scrambling to reallocate targeted federal funds to cover up holes in the operating budget.

By May, Patrick had thrown in the towel and was himself proposing use of stimulus Spackle to cover holes in the operating budget.

Now, though, he has gone a step further and is claiming that short-term budget plugging was what the stimulus plan was intended to do all along. Participating in an online 'chat' this afternoon, Patrick
acknowledged concern with the use of the aid as a way to plug annual operating budgets, but said the purpose of the economic recovery act was to allow local governments to sustain services during revenue downturns."...I think that the intent of some of the funds for cities and towns (especially for education) is to help bridge municipal services until the economy revives and revenues return." Patrick wrote.
[text from State House News, reporting on a Boston.com online chat]

Baloney. The stimulus bill was supposed to spur economic activity by funding 'shovel-ready projects.' It was supposed to kick-start long delayed infrastructure upgrades. It was supposed to 'save or create' millions of jobs. I cannot find one contemporaneous argument in favor of the bill that claimed it would 'allow local governments to sustain services,' or 'help bridge municipal services until the economy revives.' Not one stimulus enthusiast suggested the federal funding should properly be used to plug gaps in state operating budgets - to kick the can down the road a year.

And for very, very good reason. Also from the State House News:
Policy wonks on Beacon Hill have taken to describing the period when stimulus funds are no longer available to fill budget gaps as the cliff, because the sudden disappearance of federal funds is expected to leave the state with huge budget problems just as its stabilization funds are disappearing as well.
Patrick had it right back in early March when he said in prepared testimony: "one-time federal relief is not a solution to inherited structural budget deficits. These are part of the reason we face enormous gaps today, and will be the reason we face gaps even when the economy improves – unless we seize the moment to reshape government..."

Unfortunately, instead of reshaping government, Patrick decided to kick the can down the road and over the cliff, bequeathing to all of us even greater fiscal problems in the years to come. As is so often the case with politicians, he can do that - secure in the private knowledge that he will not be around to suffer the consequences.

Economic stimulus - Massachusetts style

There is an increasingly prevalent theme to the radio ads that I hear during my commute this week.

I ought to buy a new Toyota before August 1, when the Massachusetts sales tax is 'set to increase by twenty-five percent!' Ernie Boch tells me, in his Ernie Boch way.

Now is a great time to get myself a Seeley Posturepedic, but I'd better hurry to 'beat the Massachusetts sales tax hike!'

Bernie and Phyl remind me that they always have low, low prices - but their prices won't be quite so low after August 1, when the 25 percent sales tax increase goes into effect. So I'd better get myself in to pick up a comfy recliner with built-in cup holders now, before the price goes up.

One after another, retailers admonish me to do the smart thing and make my purchases this week, before they are forced to raise prices. It is the perfect kind of 'sale' for the seller: they do not have to actually reduce prices, just make us understand that the price this week is considerably lower than it will be next week.

Call it economic stimulus - Massachusetts style. Spur spending not by injecting capital into the marketplace, but by threat of a certain increase in cost in the near future.

Here's a prediction. Look for consumer activity - and therefore tax revenue - in the state to spike in July. When those numbers come out there will be much back-slapping and self-congratulation on Beacon Hill. All will ignore the inconvenient fact that the revenue improvement will register before the effective date of the tax increase. Then look for consumer activity and tax revenues to tank again in August. When they do, you will not hear a single Democrat in the State House discussing the real, obvious reason: the disincentive to spending created by the tax increase, coupled with front-loading of consumer activity in July to 'beat the Massachusetts sales tax hike.'

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Feel that? Another little bite out of your hide.

Exercising new taxing authority granted to cities and towns by our esteemed Legislature last month, the City of Boston is about to increase its local meal and hotel taxes. Mayah-fa-life Tom Menino's proposal, according to the Globe,
would raise the hotel tax another 2 percentage points, to a total of 14.45 percent in state and city taxes, and the meal tax another .75 percentage point, to 7 percent. The new taxes, which would go into effect Oct. 1 if passed, are in addition to existing levies that are scheduled to increase next month as part of the state budget.
Change that "would" to "will" - this is a done deal in Boston and soon will be a done deal in cities and towns across the Commonwealth.

But hey, what's another 2 percent? What's another 0.75 percent? Here they are again, the proverbial pennies on the dollar. Surely those lucky folks who can still afford to dine out in the big city or to stay the night in one of the Hub's schmancy hotels will not begrudge the mumbling Emperor a few more ducats for the common good?

The problem is, when you start adding together the pennies taken by the state, these new pennies pulled by cities and towns, and the pennies tacked to the cost of consumer goods and services (to make up for the pennies taken by the state out of business revenues), pretty soon you're talking real money. Dollars on the dollar, one might say.

I try to steer clear of national politics in this forum, but it bears mentioning in this context that the federal government too is coming for a larger and larger share of the pennies that make up our dollars. Should President Obama and his Congressional allies succeed in pushing through their health care package, for (horrifying) example, some residents and small businesses in New York City could see combined tax rates approaching sixty percent. Sixty pennies on the dollar.

Let's see now. The City of Boston, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, and the federal government. Do these three units of government, all enthusiastically raising tax after tax, have anything in common? Might the fact that all three are wholly controlled by Democrats have anything to do with their shared predilection for "revenue measures" that pull pennies - and nickels, and dimes - from our dollars?

Meanwhile, Governor Patrick brushes off criticism of the modern Democratic party as one governed by a tax-and-spend philosophy, calling it "old" and "tired." A "canard," says he.

Groucho Marx once asked, "Who you gonna believe, me or your lying eyes?"

Who you gonna believe? The Democrats or your lying wallet?

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

You cannot legislate common sense

During my relatively brief time working in state government I was plagued by innumerable pet peeves. A big one is brought to mind by this article in today's Globe, on the growing cost projections for a long-promised expansion of the MBTA's green line.

20 year plans. Someone ought to try and quantify the dollars and the hours spent over the past, I don't know, twenty years just on the creation of 20 year plans. The subject matter does not matter so much - budget plans, transportation plans, school building plans - whatever. 20 year plans in the context of state government are more often than not ludicrous wastes of time and money.

Here's why, in a (Globe-provided) nutshell:

A new document completed late last week lays out Boston-area expansion plans for the next 20 years. The tentative document, called the “regional transportation plan’’ is updated every few years, but projects are not eligible for essential federal matching dollars unless they make the list. Before the next update in two years, many will get put on hold, if not eliminated altogether. The plan, put together by a regional committee led by the state, will be available for public review and revision beginning Aug. 20.

Federal officials have warned the state to limit the projects on its list to those that have an identifiable source of funding, a change from the past when many plans were included to appease political groups, even though they had scant chance of getting built. This time, the panel in charge of the list is expected to add “illustrative projects’’ that have no means of funding, but may come back to life when the economy improves.

Obviously I added the italics. A few things to note here: This is a '20-year plan' that assumes significant revision every couple of years. A federal directive to "limit the projects on [the] list to those" that have a funding source is a change from past practice - usually projects are piled onto the list based on little more than power politics and horse-trading.

For once, mine is not so much a criticism of state government in particular as of a nonsensical way of doing things in government, writ large, that would never be employed in what those of us outside of government might call 'real life.' The state needs to maintain a 20 year transportation spending plan in order to qualify for federal matching funds. So we do it - and we revise it wholesale every couple of years. This would be no big deal if the only consequence were the wearing down of some erasers, but the real consequences are much broader.

First, buckets of money are spent on the formulation of these plans. Commissions are appointed and funded, they commission and pay for studies, they hold seminars, they retain expert consultants - all in service to a 20 year fiction. Outside of state government, localities and private entities retain and pay for their own consultants, attorneys, lobbyists, surveyors, etc. etc. etc. to get their desired projects added - however temporarily - to the list.

Second, once a project is added to the list, many additional buckets of money are spent in preparation for - and even actual work on - the projects in question. Communities take the state at its word and conduct their own planning on the assumption that a listed project (in the case of today's article, the long-promised, long-stalled Green Line expansion) will eventually come to fruition. As the article makes painfully clear, however, ultimate completion is in virtually no case assured. And even as to the projects that do hang onto their places on the list, the costs have a stubborn tendency to escalate - even explode - over time. From the Globe:
“The completion date obviously still stands like a moving target,’’ said Ken Krause, a Medford representative on the Green Line project advisory group. “Nothing gets less expensive to build.’’
Uncertain completion /uncertain price. This is the foundation upon which our communities are to build their own capital plans?

All of this is not to say that an entity so large as the Massachusetts State government ought not to engage in long-term planning. "'We need to get more - for lack of a better word - real,' said David Mohler, the deputy transportation secretary who oversees planning." Just so.

This ought to mean two things: (1) The federal directive to only list projects with an identified source of funding should be added to permanent law. This is just common sense. And, (2) state and local spending on listed projects should be strictly limited unless and until the 'identified' source of funding is actually allocated and available. Again, common sense.

Unfortunately, if there is one truism of government is might be this: you cannot legislate common sense.

UPDATE 7/23: Here is a perfect example.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Knuckleheaded thinking on renewable energy

A headline this morning reads "Governor touts solar power as fossil-fuel power plant advances in Brockton."

That such an apparent contradiction is deemed newsworthy - headline-worthy, even - reveals much about the level of ignorance out there regarding renewable energy and our immediate future.

President Obama grandly proclaims his intention to double the nation's use of renewable energy in the next ten years. Sounds pretty good, right? Except...

Currently less than one percent of our domestic energy comes from renewable sources. The president proposes to double that - to a whopping two percent. Ninety-eight percent will still have to come from, you guessed it, fossil fuels.

And that one percent is comprised of a whole range of renewable sources - hydro, biofuels, wind, etc. Solar makes up a tiny fraction of that one percent.

So the fallacy lurking in that supposedly contradictory headline above is obvious. There is no contradiction between pushing solar, which over the next decade will possibly make up a larger percentage of that tiny two percent, and much-needed new (and cleaner) fossil fuel based production.

Instead of clearly explaining these facts, though, the Governor maintains the myth:
Gov. Deval Patrick would prefer that new fossil-fuel power plants, such as the
one proposed for Brockton, were not needed if renewable energy expands in the
Bay State, a spokesman said.

Even more disingenuous is the comment from Patrick's enegy spokesman: "When asked if it’s possible the Brockton plant might be the last such facility to be built, Keough acknowledged that “that could certainly be the case.”

It had better not be, or we are all in big trouble. Maintaining and even encouraging public ignorance about renewable energy and fossil fuels is not leadership - it is irresponsible.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Governor Patrick wants more charter schools

So declares a front page, above-the-fold headline in this morning's Boston Globe - treatment that seems just a wee bit dramatic for a routine policy proposal.

Let me get this out of the way: Good! I have never been much for the notion that any change in policy position by a politician ought to be derided as a 'flip-flop.' Politicians, like anyone else, are entitled to learn new things and to let those new things influence past positions - even strongly held ones. I am in favor of expansion of charter schools, which (a) work; (b) provide opportunity for kids who otherwise have none; and (c) drive the teachers' unions nutty-bonkers-wackyboo. Now, for whatever reason, Governor Patrick - once opposed - is also now in favor of expanding charter schools. Fantastic.

For me, the question of Patrick's motive for this switch is of less than secondary importance. The Globe points out that "[t]he governor’s push comes as President Obama is threatening to withhold millions in federal stimulus dollars from states that hinder charter school growth." Patrick adamantly denies that this has anything to do with it. Of course he does - nobody likes to look like he's being strong-armed, even by a pal. But that could well be part of it.

So what does this mean for my pet theory, that Governor Patrick is not going to run for a second term? Could go either way.

On one hand, one could argue that Patrick and his pollsters have perceived strong support for charter schools and frustration with failing school districts, and/or a need for Patrick to be seen taking on Democratic sacred cows and bucking the union-dominated 'culture' of Beacon Hill.

On the other hand, one could look at this move and note that the teachers' unions were among Patrick's biggest supporters the last time around (remember those ads featuring scared school kids looking nervously up at the flickering classroom lights as someone - presumably Kerry Healey - seemingly hammered away at the very foundations of their school?). They are going to hate this move. Patrick must have been personally supportive of charters all along, one could assume, and now that he has decided not to run for reelection he is unfettered from the unions and free to do as he pleases policy-wise. This is not the first time Patrick has put a thumb in the MTA's eye recently, by the way. They do not like it. Would he really be doing this entering into an election year, with another Democrat (turned Independent) likely to challenge him?

I am sticking with my theory... with the admission that it is showing some cracks lately.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

How would you like to be this guy?

This unlucky Judiciary Committee staffer (photo by State House News) had the squirmingly uncomfortable task of waving a little paper sign in the face of Kim Odom, a mother testifying about the shooting death of her son in 2007 at a hearing on multiple bills before the committee.

Why could the committee not, out of respect for a grieving mother and the importance of the issue, afford Mrs. Odom the time necessary to complete her testimony?

Because when I say "multiple bills" were before the committee, what I mean is: two hundred and twenty-seven bills.

That's right. At yesterday's hearing, the Joint Committee on the Judiciary of the Massachusetts Legislature purported to take testimony on 227 separate pieces of public safety legislation. Unsurprisingly, this led to a confusing and frustrating day for mere citizens who took the time to go to the State House, intending to testify on one of those 227 bills. Again from the State House News:
Frustration was visible throughout usually spacious Gardner Auditorium, which was packed to capacity, with an overflow crowd into the hallway. A state trooper and two park rangers stood watch at the door. Advocates for various bills privately questioned why the committee would schedule so many contentious bills for one hearing, and some said they would have to leave without testifying because of the long waits.
Said the director of the Home for Little Wanderers, "It's crazy and they do this every year ... It really has no place in a modern legislature in an age of transparency."

Just so. But then of course in Massachusetts we have neither a modern legislature nor any real transparency.

Never fear, though. You can be sure that each and every member of the Committee will review each bill, read all of the written testimony submitted, and cast an informed vote that will be fully explained to his or her constituents.

Ha! Just kidding. What will really happen is this: most of the bills 'heard' yesterday will never emerge from committee. They won't get votes. They won't be so much as mentioned again this legislative session. Those that do emerge will do so because the committee chairs, in consultation with the Speaker and the Senate President, decide they should get a vote. The other members of the committee may or may not get a heads up. Their votes will not be solicited so much as demanded. Then what will happen is
TIME!

Unintentionally hilarious headline

From today's Patriot Ledger: "Patrick hoping to bring encouraging talk to Pembroke".

Does that not just sum up the man's three plus years of governance, right there? He's hoping to bring encouraging talk. That's a lot of aspirational ephemera in one short clause.

Of course that's what Patrick has always been about, since the campaign that swept him into office on a wave of 'hope' and 'encouraging talk' that was utterly devoid of substance and soon proved insufficient to deal with the economic reality of his first term.

To be fair to the Governor, a lot of people in Massachusetts could use some 'encouraging talk' right now; some of them probably live and work in Pembroke. And it is part of the job of a political leader to encourage us, to stir us to action, to inspire, to lead. He is good at that. It is his natural gift.

But when 'encouraging talk' has no action following it up - or, worse, when it is followed by discouraging action - it gets old real fast. 'Hope' and 'change' sounded great in the abstract, until we found out that 'change' means higher taxes, fewer jobs, more employers leaving the state.

Can Governor Patrick bring 'encouraging talk' to Pembroke? Yes - He - CAN!

Can Governor Patrick tax and spend his way out of our recession? No. He can't.

Monday, July 13, 2009

What's good for the goose...

...apparently is not good for the French Poitou donkey.

Governor Patrick is irked with the folks who run Zoo New England (operators of both the Stone and the Franklin Park Zoos) for stating publicly over the weekend that state budget cuts might force the closure of the zoos, which are approximately 60 percent state-funded, and even euthanization of some animals. "They also canceled a public event to welcome two French Poitou donkeys to the Franklin Park facility in honor of Bastille Day tomorrow." Mon Dieu!

According to the Globe, "Governor Deval Patrick yesterday accused Zoo New England officials of creating a false and inflammatory scare with their warning that state budget cuts may force them to close two Greater Boston zoos and euthanize some animals."

"In the midst of an economic crisis like this one, when families and businesses alike are making sacrifices, we would all do well to remain level-headed and focus on solutions," said Patrick's spokesman.

If Zoo New England officials are indeed using "scare tactics" to draw public attention to a perceived need for greater funding, they could perhaps be excused for assuming Governor Patrick, a virtuoso scare-monger in his own right, would approve of their methods.

Consider: 'If you do not restore state funding, we will be forced to euthanize our animals.'

Substitute "raise the gas tax" for "restore state funding." Then substitute "double tolls on the Pike" for "euthanize our animals;" and there you have the central argument of Governor Patrick's public (and ultimately failed) campaign for a massive gas tax increase earlier this year.

Knowing how the technique works, Patrick is confident that no animals will in fact be euthanized; just as tolls have not been doubled despite the public's refusal to accept his gas tax hike.

Still, it would be nice if on the topic of fiscal scare-mongering, the Governor would lead by example.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

An idea for a family outing

I took advantage of the beautiful weather today to take a long bike ride. Pedaling down Route 1A in Walpole, I passed a sign of the sort that might have designated a nice country store, or a cozy little B&B : "MassCor Showroom: Open to the Public!" Curious, I hit the brakes to read the fine print.

MassCor is short for Massachusetts Correctional. In this case, the correctional institution in question is MCI Cedar Junction, a maximum security prison that houses some of the state's most dangerous criminals. The "Showroom" that is open to the public sells items - stationery products, clothes, furniture - manufactured by the inmates.

When I worked for the state, my business cards were manufactured by MassCor. This saves the state money. Presumably (though I do not know for sure) sales of the other products made by inmates bring some small amount of revenue into the correctional system. All to the good.

But "open to the public"?

I wonder, how many members of the public this weekend thought to take a family trip to the gift shop at the local maximum security prison? I wonder how many have done so in the entire history of the MassCor Showroom? More to the point in these tough budgetary times, I wonder how the MassCor Showroom - and whatever tax dollars are spent on its staff and overhead - survived the Governor's tough choices and deep cuts?

Friday, July 10, 2009

Depends on how you define "populist"

Reacting yesterday to news of Charlie Baker's entrance to the gubernatorial race, gadfly Christy Mihos (R [sometimes], I [other times], quirky [all the time] - Brockton) commented, "I am not an institutional or an insider Republican... I’m an outsider, a populist Republican."

That got me pondering, is there a baseline of support required to self-designate as "populist"? Does 'populist' not imply 'popular'? Christy ran last time, and garnered somewhere between 6 and 7 percent of the vote. Is that enough to claim the 'populist' mantle?

On the other hand, we have this from today's Globe: "Charles D. Baker Jr. uttered two words in a generic conference room this week - 'I’m in' - that immediately jolted to life a state Republican Party that has struggled in recent years for its very existence."

Seems Charlie is already pretty popular.

Then I did some checking on the term 'populism' and my confusion was resolved.
Populism: the political philosophy of the People's Party.
History has many iterations of 'the People's party,' across the Globe. The most recent 'People's Party' here in the U.S. had its salad days in the early 1970s, formed as a coalition of anti-war groups that ran Dr. Benjamin Spock for president in 1971 on a platform of withdrawal from Vietnam, legalization of pot, and establishment of both minimum and maximum wages.

Dr. Spock garnered a tiny percentage of the vote, and then returned in 1975 to try again (this time as the party's vice presidential candidate) before presumably rejoining his crew members on the Enterprise and heading back out into space.

So now Christy's adoption of the term makes perfect sense.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Charlie Baker for Governor

In case anyone was wondering.

Why? Well, here are just a few initial thoughts:

Enormously impressive experience in both the public and the private sectors.

Public sector experience specifically focused on the state's finances - he was Secretary of Administration and Finance (top fiscal adviser) under both Governors Weld and Cellucci.

Private sector experience in the health care industry, an area of crucial concern to both the public and private sectors, turning Harvard Pilgrim into the most acclaimed health plan in the nation.

He even has municipal experience, as a selectman in his home town of Swampscott. Look for his opposition to downplay and even mock that - a dem pundit on Dan Rea's radio show last night was already trying this line: "the only elective office he's ever held..." Particularly in these trying times, though, a little bit of substantive experience dealing with municipal finances and the day-to-day problems facing our cities and towns would be truly invaluable for the next governor.

He is a Weld Republican - fiscally conservative and socially moderate - running in a state that elected the original Weld Republican to a second term by an unprecedented (and never since duplicated) landslide.

Finally - the ultimate litmus test for me - he is a great guy. More, he projects that trait effortlessly, engaging friend and new acquaintance alike with the same warmth, enthusiasm and genuine interest.

There are plenty more reasons for Massachusetts - Republicans, Independents and Democrats alike - to get behind Charlie Baker. I'll type about many of them in the months to come. For the time being, if you do not know much about him take advantage of the initial flurry of news coverage to become acquainted with Baker's experience, his persona and his positions. If you take the time to read my musings, I'm quite confident you will like what you see.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

I believe the children are our future... and we're doomed!

At least in Massachusetts.

Consider: This morning the Public Policy Institute, a lefty organization whose tag line is "strengthening the next generation of activists for social change," hosted a panel discussion for Massachusetts legislative aides. Beyond the sponsorship, two factoids tell all you need to know about what these legislative 'children' are being taught: (1) the event took place at the Boston HQ of SEIU 615; and (2) the discussion was moderated by one Maryann Calia, former chief of staff to indicted former Speaker Sal DiMasi.

No word on whether 'Who Do I Call When My Subpoena Arrives' or 'Your New Best Friend is Named Miranda' were items on the agenda. But the State House News did report this related golden nugget of advice, impressed upon the young minds by former state consumer affairs director and current lobbyist Ann Walsh: "What you hear in this office stays in this office... You need someone who has an appreciation for that."

"The panelists, each of who began as staffers, said the best qualities in a chief of staff include devout loyalty and a premium on secrecy," according to the State House News. Ah yes - legislative Omerta. In the wake of Speaker Sal, that's what the next generation of Hill staffers need to hear.

Here are a few other choice bits of mentoring, all courtesy of the SHNS:
Former Senate President (and current lobbyist) Bob Travaglini: "Don’t ever be afraid to do a favor for somebody who’s your friend... If it’s the right thing to do, do it. Do it."

Congressman Michael Capuano: "Somehow you’re supposed to appoint people you don’t know based on some resume ... What kind of person would run for an office and then have an ability to hire five or 500 or 5,000 people and not turn to the people who held the sign for them in the rain? If you don’t do that, you’re in trouble on reelection." [For the record, I love Rep. Capuano, for exactly this reason. He just... says stuff.]

Travaglini again, discussing the ideal chief of staff: "He or she must have the power to deliver... If the body doesn’t believe that that person can pick up he phone and make things move, that person’s not effective. Maryann [Calia] knows this, she was a tremendous chief of staff. She and I talked more than I talked to Sal, half the time." [Lucky for him!]

And finally, Capuano once more, still... saying stuff: "If I cannot speak freely in front of you, you won’t be here for very long...I probably have too many gruff words to say on occasion... If you can’t take it, don’t work here, because I’m not going to apologize ... I have to be able to blow off steam like everybody else. I’ve been married for 35 years, I’ve been mad at my wife occasionally. It doesn’t mean I don’t love her."
Ladies and gentlemen, I give you the crash course in Massachusetts Legislating - 101, brought to you by the public employees' union, Speaker Sal's left-hand gal, and the friendly folks who built you the government you enjoy today: Patronage, secrecy and blowing off steam - get those three things down pat and you too could enjoy a lifelong career in the Massachusetts State House.

Points for honesty (or hubris?) to the panel though. That's some pretty frank talk right there.

A rose by any other name...

... would smell as sweet. By this turn of phrase the Bard was saying that what we call a thing matters less than what the thing is. The same concept applies with equal force, if different olfactory characterization, to a turd.

The truth of the rose maxim is self-evident. Still, quite often it is useful to call a thing what it is - to describe it accurately. Politicians expend much time and effort trying to spin away negative, but accurate, labels.

So it is with Governor Patrick's reaction to yesterday's harsh criticism of his party by soon-to-be Independent Treasurer and future gubernatorial candidate, Tim Cahill (I-Wannabegovernor). According to the State House News this afternoon:
Patrick brushed off Cahill’s criticism of the party as one steered by a tax-and-spend philosophy as a “canard.” That criticism, Patrick said, “is old and it’s tired, and all the labels and all the shorthand of politics and political speech is not very useful at a time when we’re dealing with unprecedented challenges.”
Patrick wants to be called a 'reformer.' He wants to be called a 'change-agent.' He does not want to be called a 'tax-and-spender.' So "tax-and-spend" becomes "old, tired... shorthand;" a "canard" to be brushed off with rhetoric that itself became old and tired shortly after Patrick took office and the truth became all too evident.

Here is the truth: A tax-and-spender by any other name will tax-and-spend as much. Patrick cannot say Cahill's criticism is untrue; he and the Democratic Legislature have taxed, and they have spent. Then they taxed some more and then they spent some more.

"[A]ll the labels and all the shorthand of politics is not very useful at a time when we're dealing with unprecedented challenges," huffs the Governor. Ah, but how are they dealing with those challenges? By taxing-and-spending, that's how.

Someone predicted, repeatedly, in 2006 that this is how a Patrick governorship would pan out. Patrick responded then in much the same way as he's responding now, insisting it was somehow wrong - tired, old politics, cynical, etc. - to label him for what he so clearly was.

The voters bought it - accepting the turd he offered, inhaling deeply and thanking him for a rose. If Patrick does in fact run for reelection (have I mentioned that I do not think he will?), he may find that the voters have taken another sniff and recognized the true nature of what he handed them in November 2006.

Monday, July 6, 2009

This is how people spend money they did not earn themselves

This from the State House News Service this evening:
A spending bill Gov. Deval Patrick filed last Thursday for the fiscal year that ended last Wednesday contains $3.04 million to ramp up the transportation bureaucracy overhaul, funding administration officials said might be required in future years. The mini-budget, totaling $64 million, demarcates the money for “the implementation of transportation reform,” referring to the sweeping restructuring law that Patrick signed last month.

Administration officials said the revenue would pay for necessary start-up costs, as the state moves to abolish the Mass. Turnpike Authority, compressing disparate transportation agencies under the new Mass. Department of Transportation. The law establishes an Office of Transition Management under Patrick’s budget office.

“As you can imagine, the transportation reform law requires a massive undertaking to radically transform our state's transportation agencies and we are committed to doing this right,” said Colin Durant, a spokesman for Transportation Secretary James Aloisi, in an email Monday...

Durant said the funding will not pay for any “specific items.”

Legislative officials said they were uncertain what the money funded.
If you didn't laugh, you'd have to cry. Three million, forty thousand dollars is what the Administration has earmarked for, essentially, start-up costs for the state's new transportation uber-bureaucracy. This is what it will take to 'do this right.' Not three million, fifty thousand. Not three million, thirty-nine thousand and fifty-two cents. Three million, forty thousand dollars... which will not pay for any "specific items." That's a lot of non-specific items, no?

Reading the article, I had an epiphany. This, right here, is what is wrong with government (any government, over time - not just ours). This is how people spend money when they have not earned it themselves.

Someone decided that in order to properly consolidate the state's sprawling transportation bureaucracies - to 'do it right' - they'd need some walking around money. How much? A few million and change ought to do it. That person fed the idea to someone high enough up in the Patrick Administration to have input into the Governor's 'mini-budget,' who fed it to the number crunchers. And voila - $3.04 million more of your dollars are shifted from the general fund to some bureaucrat's discretionary spending account, with nary a second thought until the State House News came a-callin' some time today.

At that point, Administration officials pulled out the line-item spreadsheet (and, by the way, there is one - you don't get to $3.04 million without some "specific items") and decided it would not make for good press, and so poor Colin Durant was sent out to tell reporters that over $3 million is being spent to no specific purpose. Who knows what that spreadsheet - which in all likelihood really does not exist anymore - contained. Probably embarrassing spend-thriftery along the lines of "$1.25 M - stationery and business cards" or "$732,014.95 - upgrades to consolidated restroom facilities."

The point is that the decision was made in the first instance to spend this money to bankroll a consolidation that is supposed to save taxpayer dollars. The point is that, called out, the people who made that call decided it is less embarrassing to claim no specific purpose attached to the spending than to fess up to their true intentions.

The point is that the people spending your money have no respect for your money.

Monday Morning Miscellany

Howie Carr's column today is particularly good, concerning one of my favorite current topics: the increasing resemblance of Massachusetts public employees' unions to classic movie mobsters. It used to be that the employees of an enterprise - public or private - instinctively understood the concept of the rising tide; the success and continued viability of the enterprise inured to the benefit of its employees. No more. Now, as Howie notes by way of effective analogy to a mob 'bust out,' unions exist primarily to wring every possible concession from an enterprise, regardless of the effects on its long-term prospects. Those inevitable effects can be seen from Detroit's auto-makers and most of our domestic airlines to our public schools and metropolitan fire departments. This is not a knock, by the way, on unionized workers, many or most of whom are just as honest, hard-working and productive as anyone else (and many of whom have literally no choice but to join a union in order to get and keep their jobs).

This is a bad sign for transportation reform. Based on the Globe's inability to get a copy of the budget the Turnpike Authority's board just passed for the upcoming year, it seems the Governor's board appointees are using the excuse of pending consolidation to duck even rudimentary disclosure. Regardless of whether the entity is called the Turnpike Authority or the Transportation Department, those are your tax and toll dollars - $430 million of them - being spent, apparently in ways that the powers that be would prefer not appear in the newspaper.

This is just disturbing. The US House of Representatives has 435 members. Per the Constitution, the allocation of seats to the various states is determined by population. Here in the Commonwealth, our population is relatively stagnant, if not shrinking. Other states are growing at a much faster clip. This sums it up:

The state [of Massachusetts] has grown 2.3 percent in the eight years since, based on the bureau's 2008 population estimates. The average growth per state for that time in the United States is 8 percent, according to the Web site. Virginia, which has 11 members of Congress, grew 9.7 percent in that time, and Arizona, which has eight U.S. representatives, grew at a 26.7 percent rate since 2000.

Arizona is going to pick up seats. They have to come from somewhere. That "somewhere" is likely to be here. It's no coincidence that "city clerks have already met to talk Census strategy with Congresswoman Niki Tsongas, D-Lowell..." As the junior member of the Massachusetts delegation, she has reason to be particularly concerned. At base, though, our population is what it is. Secretary of State Galvin should take care this cycle to ensure that political zeal does not lead to mathematical shenanigans. As proud citizen of Massachusetts, I am concerned about the likely prospect of our state losing representation in Washington. As a taxpayer, though, I'm not sure Congress won't be just a little better off with one fewer Massachusetts Democrat.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

What a state we live in

Our legislature just passed - and our Governor signed - a budget that increases taxes by over a billion dollars in the midst of a deep recession.

Today the Globe runs an extended article lauding the Legislature for... passing our budget on time (for the first time in four years).

Massachusetts!

Friday, July 3, 2009

Yes, I am still convinced Patrick is not going to run for a second term

Yesterday came news that Doug Rubin, Governor Patrick's Chief of Staff for lo these past two years, since he was brought in to right the ship in the turbulent wake of the Caddy/curtains scandal, is stepping down. Initial headlines had him leaving the State House to join Patrick's reelection campaign.

I immediately received several emails from people who are aware of my favorite pet theory: that Patrick does not in fact plan to run for election to a second term next year.

"Looks like you were wrong," was the general theme of those emails.

I am sticking to my theory. Seems the initial news coverage missed an important wrinkle, caught this morning by the the AP: "Doug Rubin told The Associated Press on Thursday he will be resigning in the next several weeks to return to the political consulting practice he left behind when he joined Patrick's staff in the spring of 2007."

This could be a distinction without a difference - a way for Rubin to make a larger check from his own "political consulting practice" while working, in effect, for only one client. I suspect, however, that in truth Rubin is in fact returning to his consulting practice - with just enough lead time before next year's election cycle ramps up to gather some clients in addition to the supposed Patrick re-elect effort. To wait any longer would mean to sacrifice the cycle.

I would not be at all surprised to find the Tim Murray Committee on that list of clients. Or the Tim Cahill Committee, for that matter (Rubin worked for Treasurer Tim back in the day, before hooking up with Patrick).

Yes, I realize that I may be guilty here of seeing just the facts that I want to see - or just seeing the facts as I want to see them. The recent show Patrick has been making of ramping up his campaign may mean simply that he is ramping up his campaign. But I do not think so.

It will be important for Patrick, as a legacy matter, to avoid being succeeded by a Republican. All of the effort he is putting in now will easily be repurposed to his Lieutenant Governor's campaign to succeed him. That includes the assistance of David Plouffe, President Obama's former campaign manager who recently came to Massachusetts, purportedly to steer the Patrick reelect effort.

Why would President Obama's guru spend a cycle with Tim Murray, erstwhile King of Worcester?

Not to put to fine a point on it, but there is a certain someone in a big White House in DC with a vested interest in avoiding voter repudiation of the politics of 'Yes We Can.'

Anyhow, that's my theory - and I'm stickin' to it.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Now that's a loaded headline

State House News Service last evening:
PATRICK 'DONE WITH TAXES FOR NOW,' BUT SIGNALS INTEREST IN PROGRESSIVE TAXES

How's that for a loaded headline?

How far our Governor has come in just over three short years, from "no plans to raise taxes" to "done with taxes for now" following a 2 year, $2 billion tax-hiking spree. No longer are political observers forced to wonder what he meant by "Yes We Can!" He meant 'yes we can raise your taxes. Again, and again, and again.'

The interview beneath that headline is equally ominous. Here are a few excerpts:
"What we have in Massachusetts is a number of wealthy people who would be willing to contribute more - not all of them, but certainly have the capacity to contribute more - to relieve some of the pressure on the working poor," Patrick said...
Patrick said, "We don't have many really progressive mechanisms in Massachusetts, and we're going to have to sort that out in the fullness of time, put it that way."...
Human services, education advocates and others argue that adequate state programs require increased revenue, and say the beneficiaries of those services should pay their share. Patrick told "Greater Boston" host Emily Rooney on WGBH Wednesday that he had detected an "appetite" among the public for a graduated income tax, but said such changes required a careful approach...
Patrick said that during his summer town hall tour attendees have urged him to stay his course. "I get a lot of 'hang in there, you know, we love what you're doing, don't let the bastards get you down,' that sort of thing, and they could be talking about any number of bastards, by the way," Patrick said during a News Service interview.
Between the "appetite" he detects for yet more tax increases and his claim that people have been telling him "we love what you're doing," one guesses that Patrick has been hanging around with a very discrete, insular group lately - a group drawn from a pool no larger than 17% of the voting public, based on the most recent polling.

In any event, as I read Governor Patrick's casual reference to "a number of wealthy people who would be willing to contribute more... have the capacity to contribute more" I am reminded for the second time in as many weeks of the maxim: 'Capital is mobile. So are capitalists.'

If Governor Patrick wants to go down the road to "progressive" taxation, we'll find out just how many people "would be willing to contribute more," and how many would be willing to take their families, their businesses and their capital to a state with less "appetite" for spending.