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


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.

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

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

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