GOVERNMENT
11:06 am
Mon January 14, 2013

Reform Review: Gov. Patrick's Week of Proposals

WGBH's Bob Seay talks to Professor Maurice Cunningham of the University of Massachusetts Boston about Patrick's week of reforms.
Governor Deval Patrick signing a casino compact with the Mashpee Wampanoags in July 2012.
Credit Eric Haynes / Governor's Office

Gov. Deval Patrick was busy last week — he announced several plans to reform government regulations and cut down on corruption during what he called “Reform Week.”

But now that Reform Week has passed, what will become of Patrick's proposals? WGBH News asked Maurice Cunningham, a political science professor at University of Massachusetts Boston, about which of Patrick’s proposals could get bipartisan support, which would be difficult to pass, and what he thinks of the special election for John Kerry’s seat in the senate.

WGBH: What do you make of Deval Patrick’s busy week last week? It seemed like he was rolling out one government reform after another.

Maurice Cunningham: I think that many of these are long sought for reforms, but I also recognize that it’s in preparation for what will come this week — and that will be talk of revenues. I think that in Massachusetts now we have to talk about reform before revenues, and the governor did that last week.

WGBH: Gov. Patrick kicked off what he called “Reform Week” with his plans to eliminate 300 business and environmental regulations. What do you make of that dramatic move?

Cunningham: It does sound dramatic. Keep in mind, though, that with these regulations — as [Patrick] goes through the number that he wants to go through — each of these regulations has some sort of supporter in the community and some sort of supporter in the legislature that doesn’t want to see that regulation go away, because it’s to their benefit. Most of us aren’t paying very much attention to that. So it can be very difficult to get rid of regulations.

WGBH: Up next was a reform to unemployment insurance. The governor proposed freezing the rates that businesses pay to uninsured workers. This doesn’t seem like a controversial measure, since it has the support of both House Speaker Robert DeLeo and Senate President Therese Murray — what’s your reaction?

Cunningham: Oh it’s not controversial. I think, again, it shows us something that we often forget about the governor, and that’s that he comes out of a business background as well as an activist background. So he’s sensitive to these issues.

WGBH: Gov. Patrick also had a bill to stop municipal employees from “double dipping” into the unemployment benefit funds of cities and towns. There have been notable scandalous stories about employees retiring and then going back to work — do you think this will be a significant move to stop that?

Cunningham: Well, I think it is. Again, I think it’s something that the legislature will be willing to go along with. Those stories showed abuses in the system and didn’t reflect very well on anybody. I think people would like to see that behind us.

WGBH: The governor reserved his most controversial proposal, a plan to reform the state’s public housing system, for the last day of the week. The governor said that the housing industry had a “need for more transparency and accountability” — perhaps prompted by former Chelsea housing manager Michael McLaughlin, who allotted himself a $360,000 salary and underreported it. Do you think this incident was enough to prompt statewide reform?

Cunningham: There have been other incidences as well, and I think one of the really shocking aspects of the McLaughlin case and some of the others is that the money has been diverted to these folks is money intended to fix the apartments and sustain the living arrangements of some of our most vulnerable citizens. So I think it’s a tough course to go politically, but I think it’s a necessary course.

WGBH: Later today, we expect the governor will discuss funding plan for Massachusetts’ multi-billion dollar transportation debt. Last Monday, this plan was supposed to have been released by the DOT. The governor said he sent it back to committee for additional revisions, specifically a connection between support for the transportation system and economic development. He knows he has a tough sell ahead — what do you think is going to happen?

Cunningham: I think he got some support for that yesterday. The Globe had a report on something done by the Boston Foundation and business leaders, not saying what kind of revenue was needed, but saying revenue is definitely needed — up to $26 billion over the next ten years, and that there is business support for this sort of thing. There’s a roll out going on here, and we’ll see later today what the governor says about the revenue of aspect of this.

WGBH: Do you have any hint to what it might be? We’ve heard a possibility of an income tax increase. There’s also tremendous opposition by residents of other areas of the state to having to pay for the Big Dig debt, isn’t there?

Cunnningham: I think there are regional issues here, they often crop up in issues of transportation. And look — people in the western part of the state have every right to say, “What about our economy? What about the infrastructure here?” So I think there’s going to have to be some balance here. Legislators from the Boston area are going to be watching this very carefully.

WGBH: Of course, the other thing that the governor seems to have to deal with every day is whom he’s going to name to fill John Kerry’s senate seat in the interim before the special election. So many names have been bounced around, and the governor seems to say, “This isn’t the main event, what’s all the interest in this?” Why do you think there is so much interest in this?

Cunningham: I think there’s been a concerted effort on behalf of progressive groups in the state — and nationally, even  — to secure that position for Barney Frank, who apparently is eager to have it. I don’t know what the governor will do with it, but he seems to enjoy this thing somewhat, and enjoy batting down the rumors.

WGBH: What do you think of the way the field is shaping up for the special election?

Cunningham: Ben Downing, a state senator from western Mass., announced the other day that he wouldn’t [run] because of money. I think, again, progressive groups and national groups are pushing for Ed Markey and pushing to keep a small field. I think it’s problematic that groups exert such influence here, but it’s money that’s running it. It’s a short campaign, and money is very necessary for that. So I would hope we would see other people in the primary, but right now it’s just Ed Markey.