Opportunity. That was the big theme from Governor Deval Patrick in his 2013 State of the State Address. And while he was prepared to acknowledge that the room would go silent when he raised the topic of taxes, his purpose was clear: tax increases are intended to raise up the poor into the middle class and bolster and secure the existing the middle class, and not to “redistribute” our hard earned money to malingerers like, say for instance, EBT card recipients.
Opportunity was woven throughout the speech, from the opportunity we can help provide to the students at Orchard Gardens School (a go-to image for the governor) to the opportunity a young Deval Patrick was presented to move from Chicago to Milton Academy and his acceptance at Harvard (which was cheered by his grandmother, who was nonetheless mystified by the location of the Ivy League school) to the portrait of Governor John Andrew that hangs over the fireplace in the Governor’s office. Governor Patrick reminds us that he chose the portrait of Governor Andrew in part because the Civil War governor had the courage to give “freed black men their first opportunity to serve their country as soldiers.” Even as he has acknowledged the extraordinary difficulty of discussing race in American politics, Governor Patrick has subtle ways of reminding us of the omnipresence of racial injustice in American life.
He also has a personal genius, something like that of FDR, to project to each living room in the commonwealth that he cares about us and our children. It’s a rare gift.
We’ve all known for some time that the governor would propose increased taxes and in the last week the administration has been preparing us to accept the notion that “reform before revenue” has been a major preoccupation of his administration. From revamping retiree state employee health care benefits to limiting double dipping in municipal health insurance to seeking to eliminate outdated regulations that hamper business, the administration has been busy showing the voters that it can carefully steward the tax money it already has before asking us for more. Oh yes, and he has proposed to eliminate our patchwork of local housing authorities and replace them with six regional housing administrations. No more Mike McLaughlins letting the toilets leak in the apartments of the poor while the money is diverted to keep Mike McLaughlin lathered in SPF 45 in sunny Florida.
We’ll all contribute to our common future through his tax proposals, which he argues will be restructured and made fairer for low-income individuals and families especially. The regressive sales tax will be cut and its proceeds dedicated to transportation, school building, and infrastructure only. While the income tax rate will increase, massaging exemptions and deductions and closing some loopholes will reduce regressiveness there.
So after the explicit theme of opportunity and the implicit message of race there is another implicit message: “Trust me.” And for the most part Massachusetts does trust Deval Patrick to care for our interests and concerns and to respond to the managerial challenges of running a complex state with a budget that runs well over $30 billion dollars.
But as the governor reminded us, “I am rounding the turn on the last two years I will sit in that office.” So when billions in new taxes are proposed, how far should our trust go? It isn’t a calming feeling looking to the right of the governor as he talks about housing authority reform and seeing Lt. Governor Tim Murray, a likely gubernatorial candidate, who was uncomfortably close to the marauding McLaughlin. Housing authority reform and all the other measures the administration has rolled out in the last week certainly have their attractions. But the housing authorities, Probation Department, Sheila Burgess, crime lab, and pharmacy compounding industry problems can make it seem that even a dedicated reformer in this state is merely responding to a giant ongoing game of Whack-a-Mole.
This governor not only has a reassuring demeanor, he survived a rocky first year on the job to gather a real command of the intricacies of executive leadership in Massachusetts. You can go back in memory and not find another governor in his or her final two years that still had the enthusiasm, policy energy and political good-feeling of Governor Patrick. He’ll need all that skill, vigor, and remarkable persona to meet his goals through the remainder of his term.