New MA Governor Proposes New – and Smaller – IT Bond Bill

Deval Patrick, the Commonwealth's new governor, yesterday introduced a $1.47 billion "emergency" bonding bill, intended to cover a broad range of local and statewide projects, including a measure of funding for the upgrading of the state's IT infrastructure.   Details regarding the IT funding portion of the bill appeared today in the on-line version of MHT, a New England print journal dedicated to regional high tech news, in a story written by MHT reporter Catherine Williams. Regular readers may recall that it was concern over this funding that led in part to the resignation of State CIO Peter Quinn in late December of 2005 – and to the subsequent resignation in protest of his successor, Louis Gutierrez in November of last year, when the state legislature adjourned without approving a prior IT funding bill.

Unfortunately for the Information Technology Division (ITD) in particular, and state government in general, the new bill would provide only a fraction of the funding that would have been provided under last year's legislation. As proposed by Patrick, the bond would offer only $95 million, rather than the $250 million originally proposed. According to MHT, $75 million would be dedicated to planning and procurement, a further $15 million would fund a statewide system to mange performance and measure efficiency of agency databases, and $4.9 million would be given to the state attorney general's offices for IT projects.

As a result, it the new bill will fall far short of accomplishing what had long been hoped by the ITD. This follows on the heels of damage already done, as stated by Gutierrez in his letter of resignation, which read in part as follows: 
IT innovation in Massachusetts state government ran out of steam in August, when the legislature closed its formal session without action on the IT and facilities bond.  I am presiding over the dismantling of an IT investment program – over a decade in the evolution – that the legislative leadership appears unwilling to salvage at this time.  I am therefore asking leave to relinquish my posts….  I have no remaining expectation of timely legislative action, and no continued appetite to watch the IT investment program lapse. 
Gutierrez struck a similar chord in a message he sent to his staff last November:
When I joined ITD this year, I anticipated many challenges. It was my intention to navigate them through the start of the next administration. One scenario I found it hard to imagine, though, was the lapse in the bond funding that sustains most state IT investment….

Because I have no remaining expectation of near-term action on the IT Bond, I have offered Secretary Trimarco my resignation, effective 30 days from now. It is my hope through this resignation to provide one additional window onto the situation, which I trust will someday be resolved, but which stands to set the state’s IT investment program back many steps the longer the lapse persists.

Later reports detailed layoffs of contractors and cancellation of projects, due to the failure of the bonding to be approved. Quinn’s own farewell to his staff cited concern for such an eventuality: 
Over the last several months, we have been through some very difficult and tumultuous times. Many of these events have been very disruptive and harmful to my personal well being, my family and many of my closest friends. This is a burden I will no longer carry….I have become a lightning rod with regard to any IT initiative. Even the smallest initiatives are being mitigated or stopped by some of the most unlikely and often uninformed parties. The last thing I can let happen is my presence be the major contributing factor in marginalizing the good work of ITD and the entire IT community.
What does this portend for ODF in Massachusetts, and what does it tell us about Deval Patrick’s plans for the future?
First, here’s what I don’t know: as you may recall, both Gutierrez and Microsoft lobbyist Brian Burke were appointed to a transition working group formed to advise governor-elect Patrick on IT matters. The work of that group was both confidential as well as advisory, and I do not know at this point whether those chartered with advising the governor recommended a larger funding amount, or made any recommendation at all on economic matters. I also don’t know whether Patrick intends to provide for further IT funding in a five-year capital plan that he plans to propose in the coming months, as reported by the Boston Globe yesterday.
On the plus side, everything that I’ve heard previously indicates that with or without this new funding, the roll out of ODF compliance should continue, since bond funding was not required for completion of the project.
And finally, will this new bill fare better than the last? Given that it would fund countless local projects in countless communities throughout the state, from road repairs to the upgrading of tennis courts, one would assume that the bill would pass. But then again, so did the bill that died last year.
And after all, this is Massachusetts.

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