AP finds devastating memo from Charlie Baker about the Big Dig

(All our enthusiasm are belong to us. - promoted by Bob Neer)

Talk about an October surprise.  This memo, dug up by Glen Johnson at AP, is absolutely devastating, and it couldn’t come at a worse time for Charlie Baker – the same day a Globe poll finds him still trailing Deval Patrick and losing the fav/unfav battle, and (maybe more importantly) the day before a crucial televised debate.

Let’s run down the highlights.  Throughout, emphasis is mine.

Republican gubernatorial candidate Charles Baker wrote a memo labeling Big Dig spending “simply amazing,” warning that it would force “draconian” cuts to other road and bridge projects – and recommending they be taken only after his boss was re-elected in 1998.

Whoa.  Profile in political courage.

The three-page memo appears to legitimize Democratic Gov. Deval Patrick’s complaints in the current campaign about how Baker handled transportation spending in his old job.

Ouch.  Remember, this is Glen Johnson talking, a reporter who plays it about as straight down the middle as anyone I’m aware of on the MA politics beat.

[Baker's proposals] include reducing the state’s non-Big Dig transportation construction program from $400 million to $200 million, as well as making a one-time, $300 million withdrawal from the state’s rainy-day fund.

Throughout the current campaign, Baker has blasted Patrick for tapping the same fund to balance the state budget before the national recession began, saying: “He started spending the rainy day fund before it started raining.”

Hypocrisy, anyone?

“The financing plan for transportation spending between FY 1999 and FY 2003 is starting to seem surreal,” Baker writes in the memo, obtained Sunday by The Associated Press.

The state’s then-administration and finance secretary warns there is at least a $100 million deficit in the road and bridge construction budget during the first year alone, yet it “is more like” $350 million annually.

Baker blames peak construction at the Big Dig, which buried an elevated highway in a series of tunnels beneath downtown Boston, writing, “Its rate of spending is simply amazing.”

He added that instead of preparing for federal highway spending cuts, the state deferred much of its spending on road and bridge projects outside the Big Dig to three years’ worth of future budgets, between 1999 and 2001.

Under a section labeled “Remedies,” Baker writes, “At some point, someone is going to have to take draconian measures to deal with the transportation spending plan.”

Funny, that’s a lot different from the picture Baker has been painting about the state of the Big Dig when he left state government, as well as his role in the project all along.  I refer you to my lengthy discussion of three major problems in Baker’s candidacy, specifically, the part called “The Dodger: Not coming to terms with the Big Dig.”  It’s worse than we thought.

Let’s just consider for a moment what this does to Charlie Baker’s campaign.  He’s down in every reliable poll – even the Globe, which had the race tied a month ago, now shows Patrick with a modest lead.  His message is not resonating, and he has voluntarily tied the anvil that is Jeff Perry around his own neck as he tries to swim toward election day.  But there was always tomorrow’s televised debate – his last, best chance to get Deval Patrick to lose his cool, or commit a gaffe, or do something that would shake up the race.

And now, this.  This memo is probably good for a question or two from the moderator, and it’s certainly good for several questions or comments from Deval Patrick and Tim Cahill, as well as serving as a very effective shield against any points Baker tries to make against Patrick’s fiscal policies.  It will inevitably be a major focus of tomorrow’s debate.  And it will without question force Baker to play defense – something that he is not particularly good at – when what he desperately wants to do is play offense.

It’s a disaster in a campaign that couldn’t afford another one.

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27 Comments . Leave a comment below.
  1. Will they take the Big Dig back?

    What do you want to do, fill it in?  

    • Congratulations!

      You are the winner of today's "most pointless comment" award.

      • Roads cost money

        Are you saying we should have waited 40 years, and put money into a savings account every year, til we had enough money to buy the Big Dig?  

        • Why yes!

          That's exactly what I'm saying!  Congratulations on cracking my incredibly clever code in which I say nothing whatsoever that is even close to your question, and you then figure out that actually, I was saying something totally different.  Brilliant!

    • Let's Think Jersey!

      Send the tunnel over to them.  Christie killed the funding for a rail tunnel under the Hudson river.  Maybe Charlie can send the Central Artery over there to help him get started.

    • In the world of fancy make believe

      I'd have traded the Big Dig in for a North South Rail Link and a four-track green line from Kenmore to Government Center (allowing for express trains, routing around disabled, and the increase in capacity necessary for the entire system to grow.

      But then, this ain't make believe land.  This is the land where we build for autos, don't charge them for it, wonder why it the road fills up again, but at the same time refuse to build enough for mass transit and somehow expect it to be self-financing.  Make believe indeed.

      • this ain't make believe land.

        I know, but I would still add in greatly enhanced public transportation in central Mass, Berkshire county and Franklin/Hampshire county.  

      • I agree...

        why did Tip O'Neil and the rest of the MA Congressional delegation (all Democrats) push so hard for this project when we needed so many other infrastructural projects?

        • Because the Central Artery was FALLING DOWN!

          The Big Dig replaced an elevated highway that was literally falling down and carrying twice the traffic it was designed to handle. Your comment conveniently ignores the reality that a GOP congress and administration came to the same conclusion as Tip O'Neil and the MA delegation.

          The alternative to the Big Dig was to spend MORE time and MORE money replacing the Central Artery — the entire center of the city would have been deadlocked for well over ten years, and the result would have been a shiny new elevated highway carrying twice its rated capacity.

          We still need to invest in public transportation; that investment is needed independently from the Big Dig.

          The problem with the Big Dig was its oversight (or lack thereof) and the intimate relationship between the Republican administrations responsible for that oversight (especially William Weld) and Bechtel, the lead contractor.

          • I enjoy the benefits of the outcome of the Big Dig...

            so I too am happy they did it. The straight shot from the Pike to the airport is tremendous. My problems are the typical complaints of any major "government" project... was that the best we could do and did we have to spend that much?

            The split on the central artery where commuters had to cross 3 lanes of traffic coming on from near the Garden to go over the Tobin bridge was a disasters for decades, stupid stupid planning. When they started construction, they cut off that exit and made ALL commuters go north on RT 93, then exit off to get onto the Tobin Bridge. They removed the bottleneck and could have stopped there and I would have been happy.

            I know so many construction workers who made gold working on the project for a decade, it was a gravy train for everyone. All sounds wonderful except we will all be paying for this project until well after we die through our children.

            We should be honest and say the blame for this project going from $2B to $16B (or whatever it was) was across the board.

            As for the fix it brought, I happen to be driving on RT 93 heading into Boston from the south yesterday and it was bumper to bumper for many miles (as it is every single morning and as it is coming from the Pike and coming from the north into Boston) so please think everything is wonderful there. Better yes, much better, hardly!

            • Yes on Big Dig

              Yes the Rs were as sunk into the culture of endless federal subsidy for construction companies as the Ds. But Ted Kennedy who made deals with every president is dead and we will have to learn to live with a new reality.  

            • What would the traffic be like

              if the Big Dig hadn't been built?  It's easy to say that "I'm stuck in Rt 93 traffic heading into Boston, and it's like this all the time", but that doesn't admit that it likely would have been much worse without the project.

              • None of us can say how it would be...

                but I would have to guess it is better now. Of course, is it $16 Billion dollars better now, or 5-15% better? That is the essence of many arguments between conservatives and liberals. We often argue about programs where we "all" agree that the program has merit, but we may disagree on the details. As an example... I would say very few Americans are in favor of illegal immigration, but we may differ widely on how best to solve the issue of so many immigrants breaking that law and entering our country illegally.

                I said above that while I can be very critical of the Big Dig, there are tangible benefits which I enjoy... just not worth it IMO.

                • You avoided the question

                  The only meaningful way to answer the question of whether or not the Big Dig is "worth" its $16B price tag is to ask how else the money could have been spent.

                  You claim:

                  We should be honest and say the blame for this project going from $2B to $16B (or whatever it was) was across the board.

                  I'm sorry, but I think you're just plain wrong.

                  Oversight of the Big Dig was the responsibility of the Governor. During the period you cite, the governor was Republican. That's just the truth, John. Oversight of the Big Dig was in Republican hands, and those Republican governors utterly failed to manage the costs.

                  You have offered no alternative that would have been more affordable than the project that was built. Your guys were in charge while those funding decisions were being made. Your guys chose Bechtel as the lead contractor, your guys hid the true costs from the voters for as long as possible, your guys chose not to have any independent review of design decisions, your guys were the ones caught with their pants down when the frigging ceiling caved in because the contractors your guys chose failed to provide even a pretense of adequate structural engineering.

                  The GOP failed to provide any alternatives while the Big Dig was being planned. The GOP failed to adequately manage the project in spite of holding the Governor's office during the entire lifetime of the project.

                  I'm sorry, John, but if there was a failure, it was a GOP failure.

                  My own feeling is that this was a massive public infrastructure project that was, even at $16B, far better than all the alternatives.

                  In my view, the biggest challenge we now face has been squarely in front of us all along:

                  Boston needs a new public transit infrastructure. We desperately need a rail link between North and South stations. We desperately need to provide a viable alternative for getting in and out of the city for those who live within route 128 (some would say route 485). Most importantly, we desperately need to cut the number of car trips into and out of the city by about half.

                  That investment is going to be well in excess of $10B, it's going to have to happen in the next decade, and we're not going to do that without significant new government revenue.

                  That's the simple reality.

                  • So it all rests on the GOP, of course...

                    How about Wall St and all the CEO's who take advantage of every loopholes and tax law to their advantage... do you blame them or the COngress who wrte the tax code and the laws? You are quick to blame these people rather than the overseers which would be Congress, and not just the GOP lead Congress which you and others blame for everything wrong with our country. The current Tea Party movement at least has the honestly to blame all our political leaders for their failure, without regard to any partisanship. We had tens of thousands of MA workers who screwed us daily for over a decade with cost overruns. Some may want to get into semantics as to whether these were "overruns", infamous "change orders charges" or outright fraud, but the bottom line was the price grew from $2b to over $16B.

                    I agree with you Tom in wanting some large scale transportation projects for MA, but I am extremely dubious about our ability to do these in any efficient manner. A link between North and South Station is decades overdue but how many more union workers would get rich on that project? How long would that take? It's hard to imagine a project like that when it takes our workers 5 years to build a 100 foot bridge over RT 128.

                    I have posted on here a long time ago about creating a real commuter system for Pike drivers but nothing happens. Build a parking lot at every exit to allow car pooling. Build the commuter line stations "right off" the highways and the Pike so riders don't have to drive 25 minutes off the exit to get to a station, park their cars and ride the T.

                    Divisiveness about these issues will get us nowhere and the sad reality is hat we agree on the needs but can't seem to come together on the solution so nothing gets done!

  2. WCVB has the memo ..

    link

    • favorite excerpts

      At some point, someone is going to have to take draconian measures to deal with the transportation spending plan.

      Ya think?  Someone?  Just not you.

      Then his proposals after November 5th, since you know can't do this during an election, what are people going to think?

      A one time, 300 million appropriation from the Stabilization Fund to finance federal shortfalls associated with the Central Artery Project.

      So in other words after the election take 300 million from the rainy day fund.

      Nice plan Charlie, now how does that jibe with your attacks on Patrick on using the rainy day fund again?

      • Draconian measures?

        Read into that phrase. "Draconian" is never associated with "revenue increase", it is always associated with "budget cut".

        It astounds me that people can be so ideologically pure that they would take half the solutions off the table before even trying to solve a problem.

        The big dig was a necessary project. There were cost overruns. We should have dealt with them when they came up, and one of the options should have been to look at increasing revenues to make up the shortfalls. The state economy was booming in the late 90's, that would have been a much time to raise tolls or taxes -- temporarily -- to retire the Big Dig debt. Instead, Baker just kicked the can down the road because Republicans swear blood oaths never to raise taxes in any way, shape, or form.

        And to make matters worse, the Weld administration removed the tolls (but not the toll collectors or booths) on the Pike from Ludlow to Stockbridge. Believe me, it wasn't killing anyone to pay 45 cents to drive from Ludlow to Westfield.

        • There were no cost overruns

          I HATE that term. It was largely a cost increase due to scope creep ("can you add a new tunnel? do all this added work on utilities?"), poor management by the state (contractor says, "this is the best way to plan this" and state says "I don't care do it the way it'll look better NOW so I can run on being awesome in my next election"), and also, a time factor (over the course of a decade from planning to implementation, while the price of steel shoots up, you will have materials inflation).

          Sorry, that phrase really pisses me off.

  3. Sorry to rain on your parade.......

      Weld and Cellucci knew the true cost of the project in 1995 to be over $14 Billion.  They never told Charlie the true cost.  They needed the jobs and the money.  Look at it this way---Paul Cellucci raised and spent $7.4 million in the gubernatorial campaign in 1998.  Charlie did all he could to keep the project going and to finish it.  He refused to pay bills with no documentation, was in the face of everyone who was a facilitator of this fiasco.  So Charlie had to go too. you might want to know what Aloissi did with the memo as he was outside counsel to the MTA in those days---then moved on to Secretary of Transportation under you know who.  Charlie Baker was kept in the dark.  Ask the Inspector General Bob Cerassoli in those days.  he'll tell you the same.

    • Charlie Baker was kept in the dark??!!?? LOL!!!

      Either Baker was part of the financing mess, or he wasn't doing his job - either way, he loses on the Big Dig financing plan.

    • Agreed

      The Republican oversight of the Big Dig was a disaster, from start to finish. William Weld, in particular, had his eye on national politics and the public record already shows his extensive and unsavory connections with Bechtel.

      Deval Patrick's decision to hire Jim Aloisi was one of his more egregious mistakes.

      The entire GOP crowd involved with the Big Dig — specifically including Charlie Baker — demonstrated their incompetence at governance through their disgustingly corrupt "management" of the Big Dig.

    • All due respect, Christy,

      I find that hard to believe.  You're saying that both Bill Weld and Paul Cellucci knew the true cost, but they hid it from their top financial officer?  For one thing, why would they do that?  It makes no sense.  For another, it beggars belief that Baker could do a half-way competent job at A&F while not having a clue about the true cost of the project, so if what you're saying is true, basically his whole time at A&F was a big joke.  For yet another, neither Weld nor Cellucci had the financial know-how that Baker did, so it's difficult to conceive of either of them muddling through without Baker's assistance, and under those circumstances, it's just really hard to imagine Baker not knowing pretty much everything they knew.

      You may recall that we at BMG were not big fans of the Aloisi appointment.  But that doesn't affect what Baker knew and when he knew it.  Today's memo shows that his story so far in the campaign has been, at best, a whitewash.

      • THANK you

        "For another, it beggars belief that Baker could do a half-way competent job at A&F while not having a clue about the true cost of the project"

        Exactly! I mean, he never thought to ask??? It had to be documented somewhere - I mean, it was part of the budget, checks were written, etc.

        Of course, no one in the executive branch wanted to face reality because it was politically explosive, which is, as you state, a real "profile in courage" there.

        Nevermind the fact that there were reasons why the costs went up, and a lot of them were actually excusable. Then there was the Republican management which tried to get their buddies hired as subs...

        It was a mess, but NOT for the reasons the Globe wants to claim. They just love a scandalous story. They never dug deep enough.

      • Moreover...

        ... producing the cost estimates was part of the oversight contractor's scope.  I sincerely doubt the scope was to deliver such estimates straight to and only to the Governor's office and bypass other financial agencies.  

    • Cerasoli tried to warn them about the Big Dig

      He issued report after report about the cost overruns, substandard practices, etc.  No one listened  

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Mon 24 Nov 4:09 PM