Stonehill Professor Peter Ubertaccio has a new post decrying the tactics of Setti Warren’s campaign, trying to strip the bark off of Charlie Baker’s popularity. Setti Warren’s campaign is alleging that the governor is dallying on Puerto Rico; Ubertaccio contends Warren’s campaign is flailing, considering the protocols in place to handle such assistance.
I’m not in a place to judge the merits of the Puerto Rico assistance issue, though it sure sounds like six people is pretty skimpy. Ubertaccio goes on to celebrate Baker’s now self-fulfilling popularity:
What voters typically want in the Governor’s office is a manager. The largely suburban professionals who support the managerial class value rationality and efficiency. Edgar Litt wrote about this subculture of Massachusetts back in 1965. They are socially tolerant and supportive of measures to reduce inequality but carefully watch how their tax dollars are used. Given the many managerial challenges left by the last administration on Beacon Hill and the ongoing crises of governance in DC, a staid manager in the Corner Office seems to fit the moment.
Honestly, I’m happy to grant that in some ways, the current governor is a bureaucratic upgrade on the previous administration. He is indeed taking on difficult managerial problems at the MBTA — not in a way I’d choose, to say the least, being so invested in the purported magic of privatization, anti-labor, and big business pieties. But I can accept that it’s hard work, and a good faith effort, if often heedless. I hear from people with little interest in his political fortunes that certain aspects of state government work better than before.
So if you view the Governor as a bureaucratic manager of a pre-determined political consensus, then he’s fine. If you’re satisfied with things as they are, he’s fine. He won’t shake things up too much. The ways in which he’s too conservative for the Massachusetts consensus, he’ll get overridden by the legislature.
Sadly, our political consensus is predicated on ignoring large, long-term structural problems. We are in a quicksand. The decay of the MBTA, which demanded Baker’s intervention in 2015 and continues to plague commuters today, is one example.
And it will not be fixed by inside-the-box tinkering, or the promised efficiencies of privatization. The over-time, over-budget Green Line extension, for example, is being built by private contractors; the commuter rail has long been run by private contractors. The 128 ring is populated by wildly-profitable, dubiously-efficient private contractors. Color me extremely skeptical that a patently-unqualified new T chief will effectively ride herd on a new group of private contractors.
We now have a new spate of reports pondering the long-term necessities of transportation, following up on the state’s 10-year-old report calling for major public transit investment. Whether on the revenue or spending side, we are now living and enduring the failure of our State House — so exquisitely adept at passing the buck — to act in our interests. They dawdled and deferred; now you can’t get to work on time.
It will get worse, with climate change as a major disruptor. From the Mass. Taxpayers report (my emphasis):
Climate change has emerged as one of the most pressing problems as both a long-term trend and a short-term shock. The state must contend with the impact of more frequent and more severe heat waves, storm surges, floods, heavy rainfall events, sea rises, and their impact on roads, rails, power, signals, tunnels, culverts and more.3 Current capital plans are not developed and reviewed within this context, and projected expenditures do not reflect the priorities or costs associated with necessary climate change adaptations.
Going forward, project selection and capital planning must incorporate the implications and costs of maintaining transportation services in an era of rapidly changing climate conditions, or risk exposing our transportation systems to potentially catastrophic damage or investing in obsolete assets.
This is not an issue that can be ignored or postponed. Climate change impacts are already manifesting and corresponding costs are rising as several components of the state’s transportation system regularly confront excessive flooding and inadequate storm water management. And the problems will worsen at a rate faster than state and municipal governments can prepare or keep pace.
We’ve been saying all of this for the last 13 years: Govern for the long-term, with regard to the cost of housing; the necessary conversion to renewable energy; gaping income inequality; health care costs. They are very hard issues, fraught with political risk, and everyone with an ox to be gored. But we all literally pay the price for inaction.
In other words, Governor Baker’s popularity is dependent upon his risk-averseness — the same tendency that leaves us with a crumbling MBTA today. Long-term planning requires short-term sacrifice; anyone saving money for retirement, a car, education, or home improvement knows that. It takes a degree of political courage to actually plan and invest in the future.
Governors will generally leave office before many of the consequences of the things done, or left undone, are felt. In the short term there may be no consequence for Governor Baker’s timidity. But it’s 13 months before the next election; Baker should take care that he is not laying up his political capital where moth and rust doth corrupt.