Shirley Leung

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

Governor Deval Patrick.
AP File
Governor Deval Patrick.

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 that it was so broadly written that it would have a devastating impact, not only on the tech industry, but any company that buys sophisticated software. And these days, that’s just about everyone.

But no, you kept the tax, too busy arguing with Therese Murray and 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.

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

By the first week of August, CEOs from the state’s biggest companies were stark raving mad and banded together to launch a ballot initiative to repeal the tax. Around the same time, Florida Governor Rick Scott, sensing the frustration more than 1,500 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 a desperate move as any.

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. This isn’t Europe.


As summer faded and the first chills of fall set in, techies organized a protest dubbed the Beacon Hill Blitz flooding legislators with calls and tweets #techtax. The movement gained its own Twitter account, @RepealTechTax. Republicans introduced legislation to repeal the tax. Patrick and legislative leaders finally took a meeting with technology executives last week.

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. And 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,” Patrick told reporters at the event.

But there was no mea culpa. Instead he tried to change history, implying that 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 the legislators unrelated to the tax.

So, maybe after all these years, it was 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?

There were moments that I thought Patrick had changed. Take last August, for example, When a state agency banned Uber, the online car service, from operating in Massachusetts, Patrick administration stepped in to overturn the decision, tweeting: “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 himself sent out a tweet: “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 at all. But this week Patrick can start getting his tech cred back.

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