I WANT to wish good luck to the five members of Governor Weld's Cabinet who are, I assume, out of work as of today. My Thursday column has to be written by Wednesday morning, so I can't be 100 percent positive that they were dismissed yesterday. But I'm assuming Weld wasted no time activating his sweeping plan to downsize state government -- starting with the shrinking of the Cabinet from 11 to 6.
All week long, Weld was calling his bureaucracy-busting blueprint the "signature proposal of the Weld-Cellucci administration." He said it would mark the pinnacle of his work as governor. So I assume that by the time you read this column, he will have swiftly moved to begin putting the plan into effect.
To be sure, some parts of Weld's announced revolution will have to wait until legislation is passed, such as the fine idea of injecting more choice into public education by providing tuition vouchers for every student. But much of what Weld wants he can accomplish unilaterally.
Reducing the Cabinet, for instance. No need to wait on the Legislature to make that happen. Just ask the five superfluous Cabinet members -- Consumer Affairs Secretary Priscilla Douglas, Economic Affairs Secretary Gloria Larson, Labor Secretary Christine Morris, Communities and Development Secretary Mary Padula, and Education Secretary Mike Sentance -- to leave. I assume Weld did so yesterday. I assume they're clearing out their offices even as you read this.
I assume Dave Balfour, the genial commissioner of the Metropolitan District Commission, is cleaning out his office, too. The governor wants to get rid of the MDC's unneeded headquarters on Somerset Street and bunk the commission with the other environmental agencies. So the MDC's files, I assume, are being packed up at this hour and the moving vans have been reserved. And no doubt MDC vehicles are being repainted today with the logo of the state Highway Department, which is to take over the MDC's road and bridge operations. "Massachusetts," says Weld, "doesn't need two different agencies performing identical functions." If he's serious, there's no need to wait. Just do it.
Just tell anybody who shows up today at the Registry of Motor Vehicles wanting a driver's license renewed: Don't worry, your old one's OK. Just instruct Registry employees to stop sending out renewal notices, and to return any checks they receive with a note explaining that auto registrations in Massachusetts are now permanent. Weld need only give the order, and those parts of his plan can take effect immediately. I assume that's what he's going to do, if he hasn't done it already.
Sure, the Legislature will squawk and fuss, but so what? If Weld isn't merely talking the libertarian talk without really intending to walk the walk, he'll welcome a fight with Bill Bulger and Charlie Flaherty. They aren't the state's chief executive. They weren't reelected with a 71 percent statewide vote. Whose job is it to run the government? Theirs -- or his?
This hour can be Weld's finest -- or it can reveal him, once and for all, as a grandstanding poser. He doesn't need Bulger's and Flaherty's blessing to start chopping through the tangled underbrush of Beacon Hill. Let them expostulate. Let them run to court. Let them proclaim a "constitutional crisis." All Weld has to do is -- do it.
The governor's plan abolishes the Alcoholic Beverages Control Commission. So I assume Stuart Krusell, the ABCC commissioner, was given his walking papers yesterday.
The Weld plan does away with annual auto "safety" inspections. I assume the secretary of public safety has already ordered police departments to stop pulling over drivers with expired inspection stickers.
The Weld plan privatizes large swaths of the MBTA's business operations -- real-estate management, payroll, and others. I assume the invitations to private companies to bid on this work are ready to roll.
For five years Weld has talked and talked about downsizing state government. For most of those years state government has grown bigger, costlier, and more intrusive. With few exceptions, the Weld-Cellucci record to date is one of steady "upsizing." State spending has climbed from $13.4 billion in fiscal 1992 to $16.8 billion this year. Weld talked about cutting the income tax, but it never got cut. He talked about cutting the gas tax, but it never got cut. He talked about wholesale regulatory reform, but it never happened. He talked about "blowing up" the MDC, but it remains unblown. He talked about privatizing the Hynes Convention Center, but it remains as loss-makingly public as ever. All talk.
Naturally, skeptics thought it was just talk this time, too. Weld, they said, was simply looking to score political points -- he wanted to run up his popularity numbers before announcing a campaign against John Kerry. He wanted to ingratiate himself with conservative Silber Democrats. He wanted to reap the reward of attacking unpopular bureaucracies without having to actually live with the consequences.
Ah, but this time it was different. Weld surprised his critics. For once, he did more than talk: He acted.
Or so I assume.
(Jeff Jacoby is a columnist for The Boston Globe.)