Deval Patrick: Basking in the afterglow of election victory is sweet but short

Nearly a year ago, I used the word “circling the drain” in writing about Deval Patrick’s inauspicious prospects for reelection. I’m not the only one whose premature assessments proved wrong. Patrick turned around his campaign. And, in the end, the voters of Massachusetts definitely preferred his message of optimism and his ability to build on Administration accomplishments to Charlie Baker’s unrelenting attacks on the Commonwealth and his more dour demeanor. But the celebratory afterglow for the Governor is already dimming, and the act of day-to-day governing is back upon him.

Perhaps reflecting that hard reality, the Governor has scaled back plans for his inaugural celebration, as the Herald’s Joe Battenfeld reports today. This is clearly a lesson well learned from the flack he ran into when one of his first acts four years ago was to redecorate the Corner Office, costly more for the political fallout than the actual drapes. Scaling back today reflects 2010 economic constraints and his increased public relations maturity.

Patrick is expected to face a significant fiscal 2012 budget deficit, and that will mean pain all around. To help cities and towns face their own budget gaps, many will be asking the Governor to take a stronger position on municipal worker health care plans. Boston Mayor Tom Menino is filing a home rule petition allowing Boston to move its employee coverage to the state’s Group Insurance Commission. Let’s hope the Governor steps up to the plate on this issue, which, as documented by The Boston Foundation, would mean significant savings for local communities.

The Governor also will need to deal with General Electric’s attempt to extort $25 million in tax credits for not laying off people. As the Globe’s Joan Vennochi noted yesterday, Massachusetts’ history includes clearcut examples of companies that get tax breaks to protect jobs and then can the workers anyway. (Think Fidelity and Raytheon.) The Governor said he’d think about G.E.’s request, but here’s hoping he was just being polite.

Governor Patrick was more vocal when asked about a (legal but supremely unacceptable) scheme by Middlesex County Sheriff James DiPaola to collect both his sheriff’s salary of $123,000 and a $98,500 pension from earlier years in public service as a police officer and state rep. Asked about DiPaola’s plan, the Governor called it “outrageous.” Questioned on the scheme by Globe reporter Sean Murphy, DiPaola slept on it and announced the next day he’d resign his position as sheriff. But now it’s up to Governor Patrick, who during his first term signed some pension reform into law, to commit to closing that and other loopholes in public pension law that so separate public employees from the rest of us.

Patrick said that he would not be averse to using some of Charlie Baker’s ideas for reform where they made sense. Further ideas on employee pensions and state construction contracts are among those that are ripe for the taking.Other items in the Baker’s Dozen are worth pursuing. Let’s hope that, buoyed by his win and validated in his accomplishments to date, the Governor hits the ground running in his second term and throws himself headlong into solving the seemingly unsolvable problems the Commonwealth and we face.

Please let me know your thoughts in the comments section below.

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