I don’t own a tux or a suit. So you’re not likely to find me at those spiffy social occasions they hold around here. And I only get paid fifteen dollars a column, so I can’t afford to attend those fancy fundraisers.
So it was kind of amazing that me and Governor Deval Patrick had a chance to chat. My friend Claudia told me that when the booklovers found out he was coming to campaign at the Riverbend Café – a great place for coffee and breakfast burritos, by the way – they decided to rally and say hi. I thought it would be nice to demonstrate about something other than war and death.
Actually it wasn’t really a chat. Even though he’s decided to cut funding for libraries by 29% and eliminate the Western Massachusetts Regional Library System, he waded into the large book-loving crowd to assure us that, he, too, loves books and loves libraries.
WMRLS Is one of those dreaded government programs that actually works, providing services for 316 different public, college, and school libraries throughout Western Massachusetts. I overheard Bill Shein from Alford telling the Governor just how much libraries mean to us in small town Massachusetts. He talked about reading and democracy and access to the Internet.
The Governor nodded and agreed with everything Bill had to say.
Then he reminded everyone that he hears from folks everywhere about the state programs they love.
Programs he loves, too. But the problem is that we have a budget crisis. And while he’d love to keep and fund all the good stuff, he has to cut something.
Then he turned the table on the booklovers. What do you want to cut? Now that’s both a reasonable question and a trick question. None of us were elected to run Massachusetts. And how many of us have had a chance to study the budget. Naturally, there was silence.
But I had a suggestion for the Governor. I guess the truth is I just about always have a suggestion or two. “I know what I’d like to cut, Governor. I’d like to cut state subsidies for corporate wind-power. Right now we are about to lose large amounts of open space in the Berkshires for only marginal wind-power. I’d much rather have books than big wind.”
Now this is where everything got weird. A shocked look spread across the Governor’s face. “State subsidies for wind power?” he asked, as if this was the first time anybody had mentioned this to him. I quickly assured him that yes, our state was not only subsidizing wind projects but also providing funding to environmental organizations advocating for corporate wind projects. At which point the Governor decided it was time to say goodbye to the booklovers and head inside to meet some real life campaign contributors.
I thought I had fallen down into Alice’s rabbit hole. Why didn’t the Governor just tell me he whole-heartedly support wind projects? Or that as much as he loved libraries, he also loved wind turbines. Why fudge this?
Had I made up this idea of state subsidies for large-scale, corporate wind power?
So, of course, I consulted my friend Google. Lo and behold, just two days earlier – two measly days before he came to Great Barrington, Governor Devil Patrick handed out a three million dollar package of state grants and loans to FloDesign Wind Turbine Corp. to relocate its headquarters to Waltham and hire more than 100 people. Not surprisingly, FloDesign has already received $8.3 million dollars of our federal tax dollars.
Jobs are good; but corporate wind-power not so good. There are so many more appropriate places for massive wind towers than the Berkshires, and they would never fly economically without all the federal, state, and ratepayer handouts. Give me a week with Google and I’m sure I can find many more millions of state subsidies going to big wind. And a gaggle of other state subsidy hustles like grants for creating jobs that never seem to be created at all.
Unfortunately, after my “me-and-the-Governor moment,” I have the sneaking suspicion the Governor is counting on the fact that Western Massachusett’s booklovers will vote for him even if he destroys our regional library system. After all, he’ll be running against a Republican health insurance executive. And Governor Patrick’s advisors are probably reminding him that while we have our love of books, the corporate wind-power folks have the money.
But I say we fight him on this. It’s our ten million bucks. I say let’s put it to books, not big wind.
Mickey Friedman learned how to do research in all the lovely libraries he’s gone to in his many past lives.
The Berkshire Record, Thursday April 22, 2010. © Mickey Friedman. All rights reserved.