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Shirley Leung

What took Deval Patrick so long to fight the tech tax?

I have only one question for Deval Patrick: What took you so long?

You knew, back in June, about growing opposition to the software tax tucked into your transportation finance bill. Tech and business leaders warned the levy was so broadly written it would have a devastating impact, not only on the tech industry, but on any company that buys sophisticated software. These days, that’s just about everyone.

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But no, you kept the tax. Maybe because you were too busy arguing with Senate President Therese Murray and House Speaker Robert DeLeo over something else in the bill nobody can remember now.

The techies rebooted and proposed a reasonable amendment that would cap the tax at $161 million, instead of the $500 million they estimated it would cost companies.

Nothing. What was there to think about? Was our lame duck governor too busy wondering who’s playing at Tanglewood?

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By the first week of August, CEOs from the state’s biggest companies went ballistic and banded together to launch a ballot initiative to repeal the tax.

Around the same time, Florida Governor Rick Scott, sensing the frustration boiling more than 1,000 miles away, sent letters to 100 business leaders in Massachusetts, urging them to book “one-way” tickets to a state where software services grow tax free. Meanwhile, some local companies pondered relocating to New Hampshire. That’s as desperate a move as any.

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At this point, the universe couldn’t have handed Patrick a better opportunity to save face and make nice to an industry that has been a pillar of the Massachusetts economy.

Again nothing. I guess it’s because it was August? Patrick didn’t schedule a single public event that month. But this isn’t Europe. Not everybody goes on holiday. (His administration insists that Patrick was talking to tech titans, DeLeo, and Murray.)

As summer faded, techies organized a protest, dubbed the Beacon Hill Blitz, flooding legislators with calls and tweets. The movement gained its own Twitter account, @RepealTechTax. Republicans introduced legislation to repeal the tax. Last week, Patrick and legislative leaders took a meeting with technology executives.

When prodded at an event Tuesday in Worcester, Patrick finally said something: “I think it’s a serious blot on our reputation as an innovation center,” he told reporters at the event. And then the governor tried to soothe the wounds he created: “We’ve worked really, really hard, together with many of the people who were in that room to raise our profile and to earn our reputation as an innovation hub and we should be concerned about anything that blemishes that.”

But there was no mea culpa. Instead he tried to change history, implying he didn’t support the 6.25 percent sales tax on a variety of computer software-related services. He reminded everyone he vetoed the first bill.

What he forgot to add was that his administration proposed the tax, and he vetoed the bill over a disagreement with legislators unrelated to the tax. It is now up to Patrick and legislative leaders to come up with an alternate source of revenue.

So, maybe after all these years, it is true. The tech industry has been that unloved stepchild under Patrick, who in his first term showered the biotech industry with a much ballyhooed $1 billion initiative. The message: You save lives, you get tax breaks and grants. If you just make lives better with technology, who cares.

It wasn’t always like this. Or so I thought.

Four years ago, the governor created what has become the Massachusetts Technology Collaborative in an effort to recapture our high-tech glory days, when Wang Laboratories and Digital Equipment Corp. made us the computing epicenter of the world. His administration also created tech internships to grow and retain talent, launched a big data initiative, and set up a $50 million research and development fund for new technologies such as robotics.

Just last August, the Patrick administration stepped in to reverse a state ban on Uber, a cutting-edge online car service, even giving us a heads up via tweet: “With all @massgovernor has done for the innovation economy, we’re not shutting down @uber_bos. Working on a swift resolution.’’

When the ban was lifted, Patrick tweeted: “Problem solved. @Uber_BOS is all set. Thx for your patience.’’

How cool is our governor?

Fast forward a year later, and I don’t think that anymore. But hopefully this is the week that Patrick begins to get his tech cred back.

Shirley Leung can be reached at sleung@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @leung.
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