We’ve taken a liking to Deval Patrick’s turn of phrase on taxes: tell me first what you want government to do and how to pay for it, and then we’ll talk about tax cuts. And we’ve challenged His Excellency the Governor on this: don’t just yap about tax cuts without telling us first what you want and expect government to do. And the Gov has come through on step one – he’s told us something that he wants government to do.
He wants it to kill people.
OK, fair enough. Here’s Romney’s bill to reinstate capital punishment. Now let’s talk about how to pay for it. Reasonable minds can, in my view, disagree about whether the death penalty is a good idea in the abstract, but one thing is certain about Romney’s "gold standard" death penalty plan: it will cost a fortune. It seems appropriate to reiterate the comments from Romney’s own death penalty commission, upon whose report Romney’s bill is based (we discussed this issue a few months back, but now is the time to re-up it):
[E]ach capital trial will be expensive. Moreover, additional costs inevitably will be incurred due to the proposed creation of new governmental institutions to review scientific evidence and post-trial claims of innocence. The Council strongly believes that, if the death penalty is to be reinstated in Massachusetts, such increased costs simply must be borne. It is not possible to have a death penalty system that is both inexpensive, and at the same time capable of being relied upon to produce accurate and fair results.
After we’ve studied the bill in detail, we’ll have more to say about it. But for now, this is the big question: is Romney absolutely committed to the vast sums it will cost to provide highly qualified counsel, scientific testing, and all the rest of the bells and whistles this bill promises? And how, exactly, does he plan to do that while cutting taxes?
To get just an initial sense of the magnitude of the costs here, listen to these comments buried at the very end of today’s Globe article:
But state Representative David Linsky, a Democrat from Natick, said the problem with Romney’s bill is not its reliance on the beleaguered [State Police crime] lab, but the immense strain it would put on district attorneys’ offices, many of which have annual budgets that are only a fraction of what a single, typical capital case costs.
”You would need an expert on DNA, an expert on tools, and expert on any piece of corroborating evidence," Linsky said. ”It’s the DA’s office that pays the fees for the expert witnesses."
It is certainly possible that Romney isn’t serious about this bill – it may just be another in his ongoing series of stunts to shore up his conservative Republican credentials in preparation for a presidential run. He knows that the bill’s chances of passage are remote, so the money issue may be entirely academic – he can say he’s pro-death penalty and pro-tax cut, without ever having to actually make it work. Dems shouldn’t let him get away with that. This is a good opportunity to shift the debate on taxes. Let’s make Romney talk about how much this would cost, and where that money would come from, before we let him talk about a tax cut.