Governor Patrick#039;s fuzzy budget math

by Beacon Staff • February 28, 2007

What happens when Deval Patrick's campaign promises meet reality?

Our view:

Closing the budget gap means tough choices and reevaluating promises.,Media was enjoying the story of Gov. Deval Patrick's personal spending spree, which included an expensive Cadillac and a pricey redecoration of his office.

Although some media outlets, particularly The Boston Herald, seemed to have a bit too much partisan fun at his expense, the story clearly showed how new Patrick is at this.

The message: if you preach thriftiness, you have to live it.

For his part, Patrick told reporters they should be focusing on the issues, particularly his upcoming budget proposal.

A look at the specifics of Patick's proposed budget shows a governor trying to remain faithful to his lofty campaign pledges while dealing realistically with the $1.3 billion budget gap.

It's a difficult balancing act, and Patrick's approach-to give voters their cake and cut the deficit, too-is unsustainable and unrealistic.

During the election, Patrick promised to relieve property taxes, improve education and increase the amount of police on the streets. His first budget shows he plans on keeping each of those pledges.

The plan includes an additional $200 million for public education, $13 million for new officers, and tax credits for families to offset property taxes, which The Associated Press estimates could cost $75 million in total.

There are other spending increases, too-on disease prevention and municipal aid.

There are also significant spending cuts in Patrick's budget, and the governor deserves some credit for, at least to an extent, doing what isn't always popular.

But it isn't enough. The spending proposal is still a 4 percent total increase over last year's.

Patrick's emphasis on closing corporate loopholes, while welcome as a concept, also seems to be too easy of a solution. The administration estimates that almost $300 million can be saved in eliminating such tax loopholes but has failed to specify what exactly they are and how easy it will be to close them. The approach is also na've: will it really be difficult for corporations to find and exploit other loopholes?

It is a given in politics that you can't please everyone all the time. Patrick is flirting with political risk by cutting some programs, but it's not nearly enough to deal with the very real financial issues Massachusetts is facing.

There is a lack of both risk and creativity in his administration's approach.

Some blame must be placed on the legislature. Patrick favors legalized gambling in the Bay State-a creative stance we praised in this space last week. However, it is very unlikely the legislature will allow gaming.

So if there are no other ideas, then it's time for tough decisions.

$1.3 billion is no small amount, and the citizens of Massachusetts should be skeptical that it can be covered without widespread tax increases and with new spending.

In a speech exactly one year ago, Deval Patrick told a crowd at the Cambridge Marriott Hotel it is crucial to be "clear eyed and candid about our challenges-and creative and collaborative in finding solutions."

If only he had promised that, it might have remained true.