Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Romney States State of the State

During Governor Romney's State of the Commonwealth speech tonight, he threw in some nuggets for conservative observers: a thinly veiled attack on marriage equality, support for abstinence education in public schools, and lower taxes. There were a few things, however, that I can't imagine hardcore conservatives would be particularly happy about. Much of the speech focused on the new amounts of money that Romney was going to spend on various initiatives. At least on two counts, school funding and local aid, Romney claimed he wanted to spend more than ever before in the state's history. That sort of talk is likely to give Norquist and his disciples the vapors. Not only that, but Romney was talking about mandatory classes for parents with children in failing schools, presumably to teach them how to raise smarter kids. Never mind that we're unlikely hear about that program ever again, but Romney can no longer claim to believe in limited government if he thinks it's OK for the authorities to send people to re-education camps for whatever reason. The very idea is terrifying, and ripe for abuse.

Romney also spent a lot of time trumpeting good news about the state's economy. At the same time, he talked about the complaints employers had about the state's business environment. We've all heard these before: payroll taxes are high, permitting is a nightmare, there are few business incentive programs. The number one disadvantage that businesses complained about, though, was the high cost of housing in the Bay State. Mitt's solution is a simple one: build more houses. It sounds easy enough, but according to a talk I heard by Marc Draisen of the Metropolitan Area Planning Council, this is a cyclical, recurring problem. There seems to always be a disequilibrium in the Massachusetts housing market, though every decade or so, there's a spike in housing production that's still not quite enough to meet demand. So my question is, what caused housing to be such a drag on the economy this time around? Is it the extent of the housing crisis or is it because it's never been easier for businesses to move to cut costs? Business flights are cheaper, and the Internet has made communication so easy that it doesn't matter if your home office is in Boston or Des Moines.

One other thing: as they just mentioned on Fox 25, normally a Governor travels around the state after one of these speeches to drum up support for his newly announced initiatives. Mitt, on the other hand, is headed to Nebraska and Iowa.