|“Why do they continue to blame the recession on Gov. Patrick?”
Public officials have to endure incessant, often undeserved criticism. If the standard of assessment applied to politicians was used to evaluate professional athletes, Babe Ruth would be known as the strikeout king instead of the “Sultan of Swat.” In addition to being the major league home run king when he retired in 1935, Ruth was the all-time strikeout leader, with 1,330 whiffs.
When Deval Patrick ran for governor, the core of his campaign was to change the way the entrenched interests did business on Beacon Hill. For generations, voters have been complaining about sweetheart deals and downright corruption among public officials. Patrick promised to change that.
As suggested by the selection of “Together We Can” as his campaign slogan, Patrick understood that he could not succeed alone. He would need the support of many constituents, especially since he knew that his strategy would not endear him to powerful legislators.
Remarkably, Patrick has signed into law ethics reform with teeth, has overhauled the state’s public pension system, and restructured the transportation management system to cut waste by eliminating the Massachusetts Turnpike Authority and consolidating most other transportation functions under a new state Department of Transportation.
The new ethics law established the following changes. It:
• Reduces the number of legislative or executive contacts necessary to constitute lobbying;
• Increases the penalty for failing to register as a lobbyist;
• Prohibits the payment of fees based on the success of an executive or legislative decision;
• Prohibits the name of a candidate from appearing on a state ballot after steps had been taken to require the filing of reports;
• Restricts lobbying by former governmental employees; and
• Restricts receipt of gifts by governmental employees.
Pension reform included:
• Elimination of the “one day, one year” extension of eligibility, which enabled some employees to receive a full year of pension credit for working as little as one day;
• Elimination of housing, automobile, travel and certain other expenses from compensation for calculation of pension benefits;
• Removal of voluntary service from pension consideration; and
• Elimination of the ability of pensioners to return to work as consultants.
Runaway costs on the Big Dig clearly demonstrated that the state’s prior structure for managing public transportation was porous and inefficient. Restructuring is the governor’s first step in establishing effective managerial controls.
These achievements are clearly grand slam home runs. Each would be enough to qualify a governor’s term as outstanding. But then Patrick was barraged with bean balls. The recession hit, money dried up and Patrick has had to devise budgets with an eye on closing a fiscal gap that the Massachusetts Budget and Policy Center has pegged at approximately $5 billion. As a result, he has had to defer his other improvement plans for the state.
Citizens should understand that the recession created a no-win situation. Although the governor had nothing to do with the mistakes that caused the economy to collapse, he must now bear the burden of others’ failures. Patrick understands that he must nonetheless suffer criticism because his constituents are disappointed. It goes with the job.
However, voters must not lose sight of Patrick’s achievements. Nor should they be deceived by the attacks of angry or ambitious politicians who have not had to put themselves on the line and shoulder this oppressive fiscal responsibility.