So what did you think of the surprise budget release last week? Was this a mistake or some sort of clever ploy?
–Bemused in Belmont
It was a major mistake and somebody’s head will roll. Somebody’s head always rolls.
A budget replete with misery and major changes – as this one is – needs a timed rollout. Time to make a case, time to prepare for the bad spots, time to accentuate the positive, eliminate the negative and latch on to the affirmative. Right.
There were parts of the government that didn’t know they were getting axed until they found out about it when the document was mistakenly posted online. These people were not happy. Of course, they’re like reporters and farmers – they’re never happy. But when the budget came out, they were very, very unhappy. They even called me to complain.
Preparing the public and lawmakers to accept what in effect is a shakedown document – vote for my tax plan or I’ll cut some more – takes finesse. There was no finesse here. That was surprising, given Brown’s ability to slip on his dancing shoes when he needs to.
That is what was lost by unveiling the budget without warning: There was no time to dance, no time to formulate the compelling argument that if this budget doesn’t get support, including new taxes approved in November, then we’ll be back to even deeper cuts.
More than public perception is important here: If you’re whacking away at pieces of government, those offices need to get a heads-up and give the administration some semblance of a united front. There was no heads-up, and no united front.
The best way to leak a budget is in the winter in the dead of night from behind the clouds and around the moon. In other words, at David’s Brass Rail. That’s how Jerry used to do it, and it worked fine. The governor got the story he wanted, the reporters got a good story that beat the Bee and the Times and everybody was happy.
But David’s is long gone, replaced by the Hyatt parking garage, and the governor no longer hops bars. Too bad, because a worthy successor to David’s is out there: The Pre-Flite Lounge on L Street is made to order to hand over important documents – dark, funky, intriguing décor. Underneath the steps that lead from L to the Plaza, where the old Morton’s used to be. Perfect for conspiracists. It’s good even without the budget.
Budgets are best leaked in a bar, by the way, because stories are best shaped and defined after a couple of drinks. Try this yourself and you’ll see that I am right. Better story, better budget.
When I say that heads will roll, I don’t mean right way. But by mid-year, after the final May revise numbers are in and the spending plan emerges from the Legislature, somebody, somewhere, somehow will pay for last week’s gaffe.
Somebody high up. You just wait.