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.”
“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.