Saturday, November 18, 2006

Springfield...After November 7th...

The dust is finally settling after last Tuesday’s election. Over the past eleven days, I have been focusing primarily on the deliriously wonderful news of a Democratic taking Congress. I do not share the same pessimistic view of many commentators calling this a Republican loss, yet conservative triumph. I’m sorry, but helping the middle class has been a conservative concern, unless you include forcing religion down your throat.

My tirade against the outgoing Congress and its supporters aside, my primary concern is trying to determine what impact that this election will have upon Springfield. Of course the most important race, relative to the city, would the Corner Office on Beacon Hill. What will and what can Governor-elect Deval Patrick due to help this ailing city on the Connecticut?

Idealism aside, Deval Patrick has settled into the harsh contact sport realities of Massachusetts politics. This is a good thing, but I know that his most fervent supporters will actually be disappointed by this. The way Patrick will most directly influence the city is through the control board, set to exist at least through June. Patrick will have his own Secretary of Finance and Administration who will appoint the three non-local members. The other two will remain the Mayor, Charles Ryan, and the City Council President, likely to be Kateri Walsh come Patrick’s swearing in. The fate of Phillip Puccia, the FCB’s executive director, is unknown.

With the city’s municipal employee contracts largely resolved and a non-issue for on the average 5-7 years from now and major positions filled a la Police Commissioner, ideologically speaking, Patrick would change little. That being said, unless he wants to raise the ire of fiscal conservatives in the statehouse and lose creditability for obtaining funds for the city, he will likely not call for a massive change in the city’s budget either. Therefore, Patrick’s most direct means of intervention is largely moot unless he decides to micromanage Fiscal Year 2008’s budget.

Instead, Patrick needs to go the legislature. Odds are slim that he will expend his political capital, at least right away on Springfield. The honeymoon will be short and by the time he gets to Springfield, save for a potential extension of the FCB’s tenure, he’ll be just as loved/hated as our last Democratic governor, Dukakis. Nonetheless, he will need to push greater local aid, whenever possible, and economic development. Hopefully, by that time he will have abandoned his dangerous notion of giving additional taxing powers to communities.

Economic development will be essential, however. State aid is great and can be used by the city to improve infrastructure or issue its own economic grants. However, the state has far greater resources at its command and if employed to actually build the employment base in the city, home ownership rates, and market-rate rentals, the tax base will go up—significantly…hopefully.

Springfield will benefit from improvements in transportation funding, especially improvements to the ill-built I-91. Also changes in the state’s approach to manufacturing will help the city. Manufacturing is waning in the city regardless, but the state does not make it any easier. Many regulations and procedures either outdated or ill-suited to a changing economy remain in place and untouched after the state government essentially gave up on manufacturing. Such action might slow, maybe in a distant galaxy far, far away even reverse the industrial slide in Springfield. With his bully pulpit, Patrick could almost certainly advocate and through the executive apparatus even impose some of these essential changes. As time rolls on WMassP&I will press specific plans and ideas for our new governor to support and implement.

Less directly, but no less significantly, Richard Neal, our Representative in Congress will be in the best position of his career, even before the Republican ’94 takeover, to help his, rather our city. Preaching fiscal discipline, the Democrats will not permit cash to simply be handed over to distressed cities, and likely with half the city’s departments and former officials under investigation by the FBI, such a scenario is even less likely for Springfield. Rather, with so many Democratic Congressmen representing urban districts now in the majority, they may be able to press legislation that will help all cities including Springfield through block grants, crime legislation, and other topics.

November 7th was a good day for America. I only hope that the fruits of that election will be shared, experienced, and to the benefit of Springfield and its citizens.

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