BOSTON — Departing Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney has been taking hits the past few weeks for changing his positions on various hot-button issues. But the Bay State is about to witness an even greater turnabout in January, when Democrat Deval Patrick assumes the governorship and celebrates the return of one-party rule in the commonwealth by reversing high-profile Romney policies one by one.
For Patrick, one of the first orders of business will be abandoning Romney’s accord with the federal government allowing selected police officers to detain illegal immigrants. Under the terms of the agreement, 30 state troopers would receive five weeks of special training, paid for by Washington, to help them identify and question illegal aliens. For state law enforcement, it’s an extra weapon against MS-13 gang members in Boston and Springfield. To Romney’s successor, it’s a “bad idea.”
“You know I think it’s a bad idea for state troopers to be involved in immigration enforcement,” Patrick told the Boston Herald earlier this month. He argued police already have “enough to do” and informed the Boston Globe, “If I have that power, I’m going to rescind the agreement.” Patrick even claimed that federal immigration authorities don’t want the help — an assertion that U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement denied, forcing a spokeswoman to concede “the governor-elect misspoke.”
Law enforcement isn’t the only are where Massachusetts residents can expect changes. Patrick also plans to repudiate the Romney administration’s policies concerning marriage. Same-sex marriage opponents will not only lose an ally in the governor’s office; they will gain a new chief executive who wants to move beyond the post-Goodridge status quo.
Patrick favors repealing the 1913 law that Romney used to prevent Massachusetts from becoming the Las Vegas of gay marriage. Under the terms of the embattled statute, out-of-state couples cannot marry in the Bay State unless they can legally marry in their home state. The governor-elect maintained throughout the fall campaign that the law was based on past opposition to interracial marriage.
“I think something that has origins that are as questionable and discriminatory as they seem to be in this case ought to come off our books,” Patrick contended in one televised debate. Whatever the law’s intended purpose in 1913, however, it is clear that repeal today would bring to an end the fragile federalist compromise on gay marriage that has existed since Goodridge came down. Couples from Maine to Mississippi may wed in Massachusetts and mount a constitutional challenge to the federal Defense of Marriage Act, signed into law by Bill Clinton — Patrick’s old boss — a decade ago.
Massachusetts taxpayers can also forget the income-tax rollback they have been promised since the state budget crisis over 16 years ago. Then the legislature “temporarily” raised the state income-tax rate from 5 percent to 5.95 percent. Yet when the deficits were replaced by surpluses, the Beacon Hill Democrats predictably refused to pare the rate back down.
Romney and the last three Republican governors have favored returning the state income-tax rate to 5 percent. They succeeded in trimming it to 5.75 percent, but the Massachusetts electorate voted 2-to-1 for a ballot initiative demanding that it be rolled back all the way. Today the rate stands at 5.3 percent but the legislature is still balking at the full voter-approved tax cut.
And Patrick sides with it, saying, “I think it’s a mistake to roll the income tax back to 5 percent right now.” Allowing the people to keep their money and have their say according to a lawfully enacted statewide ballot initiative “would be fiscally irresponsible.” Welcome back to Taxachusetts.
TAXES AREN’T THE ONLY AREA where the Massachusetts business climate will take a hit, however. Remember the Romney health care plan? It has been defended by some conservatives, panned by others. Patrick’s plans will make it unpalatable to most people in both camps.
Romney vetoed the section of the bill passed by the legislature that would have imposed an employer mandate, raising costs for Bay State businesses while preserving the link between one’s job and health insurance. Patrick rebuked his predecessor for this move, describing the onerous mandate as a “modest employer assessment” and saying Romney’s veto “marred the significance” of health care reform in Massachusetts.
This last move will probably be the costliest to Romney as well. While Patrick’s rejection of Romney policies on law enforcement, marriage, and taxes will only emphasize the benefits of conservative governance, the Democrat’s tinkering with RomneyCare will take a program signed into law by the GOP governor and make it worse. The other candidates for the 2008 Republican presidential nomination will be sure to point out Romney’s role in implementing a big-government health plan.
Yet whatever flaws and flip-flops Romney’s opponents are able to find will pale in comparison to Deval Patrick’s efforts to rescind 16 years of Republican administrations and restore the policies of Michael Dukakis.
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