To: Governor Patrick
Re: Gubernatorial jump-start
Not to put too fine a point on this, governor, but your administration is starting to look a little like one of those luxury liners that breaks down in mid-cruise and wallows there in the swells with no engines or electricity or showers or working toilets, leaving the passengers disheveled and sunburned and grumpy and vowing never to venture out on the seas again even if they live to be 110 when CNN interviews them once they finally arrive back in port.
OK, maybe I’ve overstated that a bit. Still, there’s a growing sense that inertia has set in, that you’re bored with the job and just marking the days until your term is over.
You need to regroup, reenergize, refocus. Or, to continue with the seagoing simile, to jump-start your engines and chart a new course.
Start with a staff tuneup. One widespread complaint is that there aren’t enough enabled adults in the administration, staffers or officials with the authority and knowhow to get things done. Now, everyone knows that a team gets weaker as a term grows longer, but when that happens, the governor needs to become more, not less, involved.
Meanwhile, when it comes to your corner office staff, why not call in Doug Rubin and Arthur Bernard for a day-long training session? Rubin helped you get back on track during your storm-tossed early days. Bernard was a consummate pro at working with legislators to advance your priorities. They could teach some useful lessons.
Second, you yourself need to work harder on the personal relationships so crucial to your job. Word is you popped in unannounced to see the Speaker this week, which was a good start. On the other hand, word is it took you the better part of two weeks to call Stan Rosenberg after he wrapped up the votes to become the next Senate president. You shouldn’t be late to the dance on things like that. It’s also past time to reconnect with some of your longtime legislative allies. I’ve been surprised at how many feel like you and your administration ignore them until you need them.
Third, settle on an achievable agenda. As you learned when your overly ambitious transportation-and-education-spending-spike-financed-with-an-income-tax-hike-partially-offset-by-cutting-the-sales-tax scheme crashed back on the legislative launching pad, you are not going to achieve the moon in the last year and change of your second term. But there are still important things you can get done.
Start with the tech tax. Ever since the harm this tax could hold for the state’s economy came to light, Beacon Hill has been engaged in an extended game of avoid the blame. To date, the only remedial instinct has been to try to limit the law’s effect.
Bad idea. It’s time to change course. Someone has to lead — and with Senate President Therese Murray dug in and Speaker Robert DeLeo undecided, that someone needs to be you. Find a replacement revenue source or offsetting budget cuts. The $160 million hole you’d need to fill is just a rounding error in a budget of $35 billion.
While we’re on the business climate, how about leading a real, serious, concerted effort to bring our anomalously generous — and thus expensive — unemployment insurance program more in line with those of other states? That could actually help spur some job creation.
The Legislature is contemplating another round of education reform. Given that the 2010 law counts as one of your signal successes, why not get out front on that? Paul Reville, your highly regarded former secretary of education, has recommended another targeted charter-school cap lift, writing: “Where we have strong charter schools which have found a way to serve many of the children we have failed in our mainstream system, shame on us if we don’t embrace these proven providers and give them the chance to scale up their success.” He also wants more follow-up and focus on innovation schools. Meanwhile, why not push to extend the school-turnaround powers established in the 2010 law to more failing or mediocre schools?
In sum, there are opportunities aplenty, even as your time in office winds down.
But you need to seize them, governor, and soon.