Cops, Cuts, And Campaigns

As the '09 city election year dawns, we are already seeing the effect on city governance -- for good or ill -- of the likely mayoral challenge. How does Menino deal with the looming budget crisis, when every choice has political consequences?

It's no secret that Boston, like every other Massachusetts municipality, is on notice that it may be receiving far less state funding this year than its budgeting accounts for. That's got city officials scrambling to construct contingency plans, with different options based on how deep the slashing ultimately goes.

Those contingency plans demand very tough choices. Tough choices become much tougher during an election year.

As noted in this week's Phoenix editorial, just about the only thing our last two successful gubernatorial candidates had in common was the promise to bridge a looming budget gap without cutting services. "Both swore that they could perform this trick purely through efficiencies, consolidations, and other acts of prestidigitation," we write.

Deval Patrick, to his credit, seems to be facing the current fiscal reality without such fatuousness. But, he's not up for re-election yet, is he?

So, Patrick's conceded that his 1000-cops pledge ain't happening. But Menino isn't ready to concede that he may need to lay off 200 members of the BPD force.

A Globe report that such layoffs might be under consideration has quickly become a thing. A pretty big thing. So now the Herald sez Menino's "riled," and has his people insisting that it won't happen. That now puts Menino in a box: by reacting this way, he has validated the notion that it would be terrible to make those cuts. So now it will be even more difficult to do it if they're needed. Which in turn could put pressure on making cuts elsewhere instead, which would anger another constituency.

Meanwhile, it looks like Michael Flaherty has learned the lessons of Romney and Patrick, judging by the statement his office released condemning the idea of laying off cops: "Before we compromise the safety of Boston residents, this Administration needs to take legitimate steps to identify and eliminate wasteful government spending." Sounds a lot like "efficiencies, consolidations, and other acts of prestidigitation" to these cynical ears.

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