Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Profiles in the Opposite of Leadership - LG Tim Murray

Lieutenant Governor Tim Murray emerged this morning from wherever he's been hiding for the past six weeks or so to address the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce at one of that group's periodic Government Affairs breakfasts.  The unstated theme of his speech: "The Opposite of Leadership."

The stated subject was "transportation infrastructure" - which is, by the way, "the enabling system of our economy."  I know this because the LG said so three times in the first thirty seconds.  He began with an exhortation to the audience to raise our hands if we "drove to work today."  Or "took the T."  Or the commuter rail.  Or a commuter ferry.  Having thereby established beyond all possible challenge that yes, most people in the room require transportation of one variety of another to move themselves across non-walkable distances, the Lieutenant Governor was off and running.

It is obligatory at these things for an office-holding keynote speaker to announce at least one major new spending initiative - kind of the government equivalent of those swag bags the celebrities all get at the Oscars.  So Murray "announced" $50M in "infrastructure investment" at Boston's Fan Pier.  (Deep in the bowels of City Hall, some Menino acolyte makes a slight downward adjustment to the declining balance sheet established on November 2, 2010).  Like all good government "investments" of the Patrick/Obama era, this one is fully expected to "pay for itself."  And who knows?  Maybe it will.  On thing is for sure: it will "create or maintain" some jobs.  "Create or maintain (sometimes preserve)" is the new "create or save," in case you didn't get the memo.

That task out of the way, the LG launched into a familiar litany of transportation-related woes.  Crumbling bridges.  An old and aging subway system.  So on.  Nobody ever asks why, if our existing and crucial infrastructure is in fact on the verge of collapse, the Administration is continually announcing tens of millions of dollars toward new infrastructure projects.  South Coast railT expansions.  $50M for Fan Pier.  Nobody asks because the answer is obvious: there's no political pop in routine maintenance.  There's barely any more in major refurbishing.  Pols routinely let "essential" spending drop down the priority list in favor of a new project (and a ribbon cutting).  "Our subway system is the oldest in the nation, desperately in need of routine maint- OOOOH!  SHINY!!"  Which isn't to say that any specific new infrastructure project isn't sometimes worthwhile in the abstract - it's just another example of how our elected officials talk about making tough choices but tend to make the easy ones.

As he wound down, the LG (who in fact was the G today, with Governor Patrick once again down in DC playing national Obama surrogate) slipped into Patrick-speak.  After lauding the Chamber for its leadership on un-specified but very important issues, Murray invited the group to participate in - and to take a stand on - "a serious conversation about how to create a sustainable transportation revenue stream."  Ah, the conversation.

The end.  Polite applause.  And then some questions.


The first, understandably, sought a degree of clarification on what the LG might mean by "sustainable transportation revenue stream."  Murray's response was remarkable.  I am paraphrasing here, but pretty closely:
'A couple of months ago I was coming out of the Governor's Council meeting and the Transportation Finance Commission had just met, so there was a reporter there to ask me about what I thought of the Transportation Finance Commission and what they are doing in terms of coming up with recommendations for new revenue.  And I said, "I think everything should be on the table."  And he asked if I meant a gas tax, and I said, "I think everything should be on the table."  And he asked again if I meant gas tax, and I said "I think everything should be on the table."  And then the next day every paper in the state had me supporting a gas tax! [Hearty laughter].  So if you're asking me if I am talking about a gas tax, I'll tell you [dramatic pause] I think everything should be on the table!' [Heartier laughter].
The guy next to me muttered "That's leadership."  My jaw was hanging.  Here's a man who in a year or so will start ramping up his own campaign for Governor.  And standing at a podium with total control of the program he chooses to tell a story  about this one time when he was asked a tough question and dodged it three times!  And then, he says for the laughs, I'm still gonna dodge it today!  How do you like that, folks?!  Ho-ho!

It got worse.  The next questioner went a little further, noting that a couple of years ago the Administration floated the possibility of an annual roadway user fee - the idea that at each annual auto inspection all of our odometers would be checked, and we'd pay a fee based on our annual mileage.  My droll table-mate and I recited quietly along with the LG's inevitable response: "I think everything should be on the table."  Then I puked a little in my mouth.

Asked a general question about the green energy sector, Murray acknowledged "lessons learned" from the Evergreen Solar debacle.  He did not describe what those "lessons" might be, nor what was "learned."  Based on his boss's statements on the topic,  however, it seems the only "lesson" Evergreen taught Patrick/Murray was that next time they need to dump even more public money ("investment") into the green energy maw.

Seeking to recover from that uncomfortable topic, Murray talked generally about the successes of the Patrick/Murray Administration. It is striking that nearly six full years in, when Murray casts a line into his brain for an example of an economic development success story what he comes up with is Bristol Myers Squibb at Devens - a deal that was conceived, negotiated and all but finalized by the Romney Administration.  Sure, Patrick and Murray had the good fortune to be there when the papers were signed, and like any politicians worth their salt they gladly carved a notch in their own "accomplishments" post.  But they deserve roughly as much legitimate credit for BMS/Devens as the lucky fan who catches the homer deserves for the runs scored. 

Rumor has it that high-profile Democrats from Treasurer Steve Grossman to Auditor Suzanne Bump to  even AG Martha Coakley are starting mull over their own possible runs for Governor in 2014.  No wonder.

1 comment:

  1. Dan,

    Please cut the LG a break. Everyone knows the deal with the gas tax question. It's a question he shouldn't answer. Why? It's not his call to make -- it's the Gov's call. And you know what, the God's honest truth is we should raise the gas tax. There I said it. Remember when gas was well over $4 bucks a gallon? Well, we paid it didn't we. Now that it's back down (and falling); now is the time to increase the gas tax. Believe me, I'd prefer not to -- but we have little choice.

    Also, I just want to mention that we're in the worst economic environment since the 30s (and please don't hang this on the Gov.) -- and Tim Murray is working his tail off trying to drum up business (and keep business here) for Massachusetts. His heart is in the right place. And Democrats, Republicans and unenrolled voters alike know this.

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No spamming, flaming, cursing, or other such nonsense tolerated. Thanks for engaging on those terms - Greg