In a few days the third year of the Patrick administration will begin. On January 4, 2007, brand-new Governor Patrick announced:
What has distinguished us at every signature moment of our history is a willingness to look a challenge right in the eye, the instinct to measure it against our ideals, and the sustained dedication to close the gap between the two. That is who we are.
Those ringing words are now ringing hollow. The Patrick administration’s response to an unprecedented economic crisis has been lukewarm at best. Like most other governors, the steps taken have been mainly to slash or freeze spending. As Paul Krugman points out this helps make everything worse. Here’s some strong moves that robust leadership can get done.
1. Raise the gasoline tax. It’s regressive, but the best of the bad options available, and the most do-able. Put in a provision that the tax is reduced if gas prices rise above $3/gallon again. Require revenue to be used for #2 and #3 below.
2. Don’t wait for the feds. Use the tax revenue and everything the state can borrow to start the most visible, “shovel ready” infrastructure projects. Let people see government putting people to work. Federal dollars, when they come, will only increase the positive effects.
3. Set a goal of maintaining local aid as a top priority. If cutting state spending makes things worse, forcing communities to make big cuts only makes the worse, worse.
4. The posture needed is not “quiet competence.” The huge state cuts and freezes already made have created a panic among state workers. Everyone is looking over their shoulder to see whose job is next on the chopping block. This is a time when symbols count, when choices that were unthinkable months ago have new possibilities. Let’s indeed “look this challenge right in the eye” and stop cringing.