Hack hire hurts tax plea

In his first campaign in 2006, and throughout his tenure in office, Gov. Deval Patrick has eloquently articulated a broad, liberal vision of the role of government: to help those who need an extra hand and to provide for the collective services and spending that all of us rely on to maintain the quality of life and economic vitality that Massachusetts is known for. When making the case for spending on infrastructure, Patrick has often emphasized this shared duty by proclaiming that they are “our” broken schools and “our” neglected roads and bridges.  

So it was only a matter of when and how, not whether, Patrick would make a new run at boosting revenue for road and transit spending. Nearly six years ago, a bipartisan commission estimated that the state faced a 20-year transportation funding gap of $15 billion to $19 billion. Saturday’s Globe reported that the Patrick administration is preparing to propose early next year new taxes to help cover a transportation funding shortfall of nearly $1 billion. The Globe story highlighted a challenge facing the administration and the Legislature as they consider any transportation tax proposals: A new MassINC Polling Group survey found that 71 percent of state residents think transportation revenue shortfalls are a result of  “waste and mismanagement,” not inadequate funding.

As if on cue, Sunday’s Globe landed on porches with a loud I’ll-show-you-waste-and-mismanagement thud. Reporter Sean Murphy reported that Sheila Burgess was named director of the Massachusetts Highway Safety Division in 2007 despite having no “background in public safety, transportation, or government administration.” What she does have is a laundry list of driving violations, including seven accidents, four speeding citations, two citations for failure to stop for a police officer, and one citation each for driving without carrying a registration of license, failing to stay in her lane, and driving without wearing a seat belt.  In that way, Burgess certainly does have a lot of experience with highway safety issues.

In this morning’s Globe, Murphy reports that state officials plan to remove Burgess, currently on medical leave from an August one-car accident, from her position. In a comical hire-a-hack whodunit, nobody is owning up to making the decision to put a serial traffic-law offender in the $87,000-a-year position overseeing a staff of six and a budget of $2 million that funds public awareness programs on safe driving.  Burgess, who has worked as a fundraiser for a number of Democratic politicians, was recommended for a job in state government by US Rep. Jim McGovern — but McGovern’s office says he didn’t suggest the traffic safety role. Meanwhile, when asked yesterday how Burgess landed in the highway safety post, Patrick expressed anger and vowed to “get to the bottom it.”

This, Patrick and his team should know, is exactly the sort of thing that breeds public distrust of government and a lack of confidence that transportation tax dollars are being used wisely. They may be everyone’s broken roads and bridges, but the Burgess boondoggle belongs to the Patrick administration alone. Coming the day after news that the administration will make a case for new taxes for transportation needs, the timing couldn’t have been worse.

                                                                                    –MICHAEL JONAS

BEACON HILL

Bypassing the Legislature, which has tripped up such efforts for nearly a decade, Gov. Deval Patrick will direct state colleges and universities to allow illegal immigrants residing in Massachusetts to pay lower in-state tuition rates once they obtain work permits through a new federal program.

It’s back to the drawing board for the Patrick administration and the Mashpee Wampanoag tribe, which are trying to craft a casino compact that will pass muster with the state Legislature (which is interested in maximizing the state’s take in any casino deal) and the US Department of the Interior, which is charged with protecting the interests of tribes. Interior rejected a previous deal, which would have directed 21.5 percent of gambling revenue to the state. Meanwhile, casino developers vying for a possible Springfield site turn the knives on each other.

MUNICIPAL MATTERS

A report by an outside investigator determined the former Hanson police chief, who abruptly resigned in October, inflated crime and arrest statistics by as much as 60 percent over the last eight years of his 10-year tenure.

A review by the Enterprise finds that seven Brockton-area towns hand out more warnings than citations at traffic stops.

Salem Mayor Kim Driscoll gains concessions on sick leave in a new contract with firefighters, the Salem News reports.

Lawrence Mayor William Lantigua calls an emergency session of the City Council in another attempt to fill vacancies on the Licensing Board, the Eagle-Tribune reports.

Cambridge is no better at finding a city manager than it is at naming a ceremonial mayor.

NATIONAL POLITICS/WASHINGTON

Vice President Joe Biden tells New Jersey’s Sandy victims that they’ve got a “homeboy” in the White House.

Republicans’ favored means of bringing the federal budget into balance — limiting tax deductions, rather than raising rates — would disproportionately impact wealthy, liberal coastal states. A New York Times op-ed column suggests a different path: taxing wealth. Paul Krugman yearns for a return to the 1950s, when unions were strong and upper income tax rates topped out at 91 percent.

Rep. Paul Ryan prepares for his second act.

ELECTION 2012

Mitt Romney can’t get lost fast enough for most Republicans and has pretty much become a pariah in his own party.

BUSINESS/ECONOMY

The price of turkey has risen 47 percent over the last six years compared to 13 percent for all food at home, and the cost of the holiday meal is expected to be even higher this year because of the summer drought.

Metro West retailers debate turning Black Friday into what amounts to Black Thanksgiving Thursday.

The gun industry has thrived since President Obama was elected with some manufacturers unable to keep production up to equal demand, according to analysis by the Associated Press (via New Bedford Standard-Times.)

EDUCATION

Fall River school officials are selling off old athletic uniforms at B.M.C. Durfee High School that date back a couple decades to try to raise funds for the school’s sports programs.

Two Massachusetts community colleges will offer hybrid classes that combine classroom-based instruction with online courses through edX, the new online education venture formed by Harvard and MIT.

HEALTH CARE

Researchers say it’s better to walk while you work, NPR reports (via WBUR).

TRANSPORTATION

The Daily Beast ranks the 25 worst airports for holiday travel, and Boston’s Logan International Airport comes in 13th.

ENERGY/ENVIRONMENT

The state mulls what to do about ash trees now that the presence of emerald ash borers has been documented in Berkshire County.

CRIMINAL JUSTICE

Nearly 2,000 Florida government workers receive layoff notices as the state hires private companies to provide health care services at the state’s prisons, the Miami Herald reports.

MEDIA

The Beat the Press panel kicks around the impending departure of Globe editor Marty Baron and muses over possible replacements. New York Times media critic David Carr argues that the publisher who hired Baron has thrown the Post into turmoil.

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie makes an appearance on SNL’s Weekend Update.

Dan Kennedy reports on the Boston Business Journal’s acquisition of the website BostInno.