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The Boston Globe

Opinion

JOAN VENNOCHI

A Killins-sized dent in Patrick’s tax plan

Governor Deval Patrick testitifed at a March state budget hearing with Secretary Administration and Finance Glen Shor (left) and Secretary of Education Matt Malone.

Josh Reynolds for The Boston Globe

Governor Deval Patrick testitifed at a March state budget hearing with Secretary Administration and Finance Glen Shor (left) and Secretary of Education Matt Malone.

One name illustrates why taxpayers might not trust a governor who insists he needs $2 billion in new revenue: Sherri Killins.

Killins stepped down as commissioner of early education and care after the Boston Herald reported that she was participating in a superintendent training internship with Ware schools at that same time she held a $200,000-a-year position in the Patrick administration.

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According to the Herald, Killins had put in about 30 hours toward a 300-hour internship in Ware. Neither Governor Deval Patrick, nor her direct boss, the state’s education secretary, knew anything about the internship.

Her curious employment arrangement, as well as her New Haven residence and her abrupt exit, remain official state mysteries. Patrick gave no reason for the resignation and insisted Killins had done a great job. She will continue working as a state consultant for up to two months.

Via e-mail to her staff, Killins said it was a “good time” to step aside for strategic reasons. She got that much right. It’s bad strategy to have a royally paid, partial-show commissioner while the governor is leading a revival-style rally for higher taxes.

“This man of courage,” as Patrick was described by state Senator Sonia Chang-Diaz, basked in the warmth of a standing ovation as he prepared to address advocates who packed the State House Gardner Auditorium for a Tuesday rally in support of his tax proposal.

Calling for higher taxes does take courage; but voting for them takes more, and that’s what lawmakers must do. Patrick makes it harder for them and undercuts his own credibility when he denies the truth about Killins.

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She represents an easy-to-understand symbol: a commissioner who was paid a higher salary than the governor and didn’t respect the taxpayers enough to work the job full-time. It also looks like the governor for whom she worked doesn’t respect the taxpayers enough to acknowledge the reality of the situation.

But that has become Patrick’s way. He is so good at working a room or delivering a speech that he has grown used to ducking accountability for more pedestrian concerns. They include hires gone bad, like Killins, or embarrassments like Sheila Burgess, the $87,000-a-year highway safety director whose driving record included seven accidents, four speeding violations, and two failures to stop.

Instead of owning up to bad judgment, Patrick oozes contempt for people who focus on what he considers the little picture. To Patrick, an unqualified patronage hire here or an overpaid no-show there is trivial up against the big picture that’s also known as his vision. He argues with passion and guts for the next generation of smart state investment. But he won’t man up to obvious mistakes.

It’s an exercise in bad politics from an otherwise gifted politician. In this case, Patrick’s now-familiar stubbornness comes at an interesting point in the administration’s quest for new taxes.

A poll recently released by the University of Massachusetts Lowell and the Boston Herald shows that about 48 percent of those surveyed support Patrick’s effort. Yet he faces resistance from Beacon Hill leaders, who are unhappy about having to face voters after pushing through a big tax increase.

Just when Patrick might be able to leverage favorable public opinion against reluctant lawmakers, scandal breaks out. Then Killins leaves, but she is not really gone, given the consulting contract. So, instead of closing the loop by acknowledging the abuse and moving on, Patrick stubbornly keeps the story alive.

Inquiring taxpayers want to know. How many more Sherri Killins are out there? Can other waste and abuse be squeezed out of the state system?

Those aren’t trivial questions, not when a governor seeks $2 billion in new revenue and has put together a massive grassroots campaign to back him up. As the State House rally demonstrated, Patrick has mobilized teachers, parents, small business owners, students, seniors, and union members to come out and support a broad-based tax increase to improve education, infrastructure, and economic development. Advocates are out there on his behalf, helping him make the case for a set of lofty goals.

He owes them the best case he can bring to the public. In the theater that is politics, that case is made weaker by one name.

Sherri Killins.

Joan Vennochi can be reached at vennochi@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @Joan_Vennochi.

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