The clumsy way state government has approached this crisis speaks to a broken culture on Beacon Hill. Lawmakers avoid “tough” votes as if they were not elected to make decisions. Many spend entire careers in the Legislature without making more than a handful of difficult decisions. But this is a time when avoiding decisions is impossible.
Patrick has taken a pounding lately. But he deserves some credit for at least being willing to utter the dirty word, “taxes.” The man has not exactly been bold – a candy tax? – but he has broached the subject. Lawmakers continue to run away at the mere mention of taxes.
There are no easy choices in a recession. But what's worrisome is that no one is making any choices. Cutting local aid to pieces isn't a fiscal strategy, and neither is resurrecting casinos. These are desperation tactics that put off decision-making for another day.
Actually, I disagree a bit — I think Patrick has consistently been courageous about raising new revenues: local options, telephone poles, etc. (I like the candy tax idea: Is candy food or “food”?)
But it's not like there's even a legitimate difference of opinion on how to close the budget gap while maintaining services. Somehow, in today's environment, it's easy for state reps to stand up there and look tough with long faces while they dole out the “reality” to localities and poor and vulnerable people. Life is relatively sweet up there in the lege's Cone of Silence.
And meanwhile, there's been no courage on the spending side: The Senate chickened out on the Carmen's health plan. On pensions, the House chickened out. On taxes, everyone's a damn coward. Hey, if everyone's a coward, no one's a coward.
But even cowardice won't make anyone happy. And that's why we are where we are.
Update: Powerful statements from mayors Lisa Wong of Fitchburg (Hello Fitchburg!); Kim Driscoll of Salem; and Mike Sullivan of Holyoke. Sullivan also refers to cultural change — wouldn't it be cool if this became the next catchphrase/meme? How about a legislative “culture of responsibility”?