January 25, 2007
by Shirley Kressel
[Note: One of the common tactical blunders made by public interest groups is to ease up on their organizing as soon as they hear a few kind words from those in power implying that their problem will be addressed. The result is often a well-timed gutting of the public interest – as we saw with the Clean Elections Law. This little essay from a Boston community activist who supported Deval Patrick during the gubernatorial race cites some signs that a diligent defense of our communities will still be needed under the new governor. – Editor]
As a devout Deval supporter who put all my hopes in his basket, I’m starting to run a scorecard. Within a week after his election, Deval told the Boston Globe that the biggest misconception about him was “the liberal thing.” (Before the election, he had said the biggest misconception about him was that his first name is Patrick.) So I think some tracking would be a good idea. Here are some items for the first couple of weeks of his term.
The good news:
Patrick signed the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative.
He wants to dismantle the rogue “quasi-public” Authorities and return their operations to fully public government entities. (I wish he'd also eliminate the urban renewal authorities, especially the Boston Redevelopment Authority, the greatest rogue of all.) That’s not a “power grab” – it’s putting responsibility back where there is accountability. The Authorities were always a shell game of money and accountability, and have revealed themselves as major threats to democratic government. Re: the Turnpike Authority, we should dismantle the whole bureaucracy and stop inefficient toll collecting, and impose a universal gas tax. It’s a more widely and fairly distributed payment for highway infrastructure, and, perhaps more important, spreads the disincentive for automobile use.
He is talking about major investments in public transportation.
There must be others, and I’m sure other observers will fill these in.
The bad news:
A corporately-sponsored inaugural festival was a bad start. We’ll probably never know what that investment yielded for those generous contributors.
Disturbing too was the prompt announcement by A&F; Sec. Leslie Kirwan, just after she was hired, that – oops, the $700,000,000 savings in waste, fraud and abuse promised for various service programs would not materialize. Patrick has ordered all the departments to look for budget savings, but as far as I know, there has been no review of the vast “business-incentive” give-away programs, in Executive offices, handing hundreds of millions of dollars a year in public land deals and tax breaks to developers and other corporations who are far from needy and who, as Deval acknowledged in a newspaper story, do not make their decisions to stay or go based on such public gifts. This money sink is the ideal place to get the resources we need for public services. It’s also good economics not to distort the private markets with public subsidies.
Patrick is proposing a tax on convicts, sort of a “user fee” for those who land in the so-called justice system. I’m shocked, actually. He knows that the poor and black/brown are disproportionately represented among the prison population, often caught in the so-called “war on drugs,” which was largely engineered to catch them. They can’t afford lawyers to exonerate them, even when they are wrongfully convicted. Many can’t even afford to phone their families. This is the last group of people I'd want to charge for the public service they're using. The “tough on crime” campaign contest is over. We won. Let's rather look for ways to reduce the number of convicts by rescuing their communities.<br />
Patrick is considering casino gambling as a revenue stream. This would be another tax on the poor; the kind of people who lose the rent money gambling are exactly the people we need money to help. Again, very disappointing. I was shaking my head at the recent Boston Globe story – our electeds are worried that lottery receipts are down. Not enough gambling losses by our debt-ridden, one-paycheck-from-destitution, economically insecure populace! Let's do state-run drugs and prostitution; I hear the demand for those is more reliable, and therefore better for our public schools to rely on for financial support….<br />
Patrick speaks of authorizing local-option taxes (meals, parking, etc.) to relieve the residential property tax squeeze. But for the many municipalities that max out on their allowed Prop 2 1/2 levy increases regardless of new revenues — Boston, for example — this won't help. Property taxes are set every year based on the increase Prop 2 1/2 allows, not on budget needs. Increased local aid, more gambling money, meals taxes — none of these would have any impact on property tax; they'd just bring in more money for budget uses.<br />
He appointed an ombudsman for speedy development permitting, which could be good if historic preservation and environmental protection are respected. But the permitting ombudsman, Greg Bialeckli, is a real-estate lawyer, which indicates a certain mind-set and creates a conflict of interest even if he drops his own practice during his state term; he'll be expediting the projects of his colleagues and past/future clients. The big developers already have their “ombudsmen” – lobbyists, clever lawyers, big campaign donors. Who will represent the communities, our historic legacy, and our rapidly deteriorating environment? A planning professional would have been a better choice. <br />
Patrick's over-all economic development adviser was going to be Dan Bosley, who supported the Chapter 40T bill (filed again this session) that would allow big developers to create their own privatized public municipalities, complete with eminent domain powers over other private owners. Our government has been giving away the store in the name of “economic development.”<br />
The economic development concept doesn't seem to have been revolutionized — yet. We need something different, and I hope Patrick will create it: an Economic Justice Commission, to provide a moral compass for economic development policy. The role of government is to level the playing field and help the disadvantaged, not to subsidize the rich and powerful and justify it with the “jobs, taxes” mantra. This administration could distinguish itself, and set a precedent, by establishing an EJ policy board, to be sure that public resources are helping to spread prosperity, not concentrate wealth. In the end, that's what will best support economic vitality and distribute it justly.<br />
<font size=”1″>[This article was first posted to the bluemassgroup blog. Reprinted with permission of author.]</font></p></td>
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