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Keller @ Large: Looking Back At Gov. Mitt Romney's First 100 Days

BOSTON (CBS) - "What's past  is prologue," Shakespeare wrote.  So now that Mitt Romney is the presumptive GOP presidential nominee, instead of relying on partisan spin, let's go to the record to see what sort of president we might reasonably expect Romney to be.

Our source is the daily digest in the archives of the State House News Service ( (subscription required), the highly respected wire service of Massachusetts state government. (All quotes are from News Service summaries or gubernatorial press releases linked to by the News Service. Additional comments from me are in parentheses.)

We'll confine this exploration to significant actions taken by Romney during his first 100 days in office, an arbitrary number, but one sure to be used for evaluations of his presidency, should it come to pass.  And the comparison has at least some obvious merit – a President Romney will find Washington's  fiscal disarray familiar after taking over as governor amid a slumping economy and budgetary meltdown.

January 2, 2003: (Romney delivers his inaugural address in the House chamber. It includes this telling summary of his governing philosophy):

"Traditionally, many members of my party saw the corporation as the source of our economic strength. They, therefore, believed that strengthening corporations would strengthen America. Traditionally, many Democrats saw government as the source of our strength. For them, strengthening government strengthened America. I believe that neither had it completely right. I believe that the source of our greatness is our people. Their education, skills, inventiveness, determination and faith make us a very distinct people on the face of this planet. In this new century, perhaps as much as any other time in our history, the qualities of our free people emerge as our greatest strength. And because I believe this is so, I believe that we best strengthen our state and our nation by investing in our people, and in protecting their freedoms. We invest in people by providing an excellent education. Our education system must both propel our highest achievers and equip those who would otherwise be tempted to fall behind. All must be included. We invest in people when we build an economy that provides ample opportunities for good jobs, when we make it easier for entrepreneurs of all races and both genders to start and grow businesses. We invest in people when we make it easier for them to afford housing and healthcare. We invest in people and their freedoms when we defend civil rights, regardless of gender, sexual orientation, or race and when we protect their rights to make their own choices. We disinvest in people when we tax away their ability to invest in themselves and to make their own life choices."

(Prophetically, House Speaker Tom Finneran remarks after the speech that "it's very, very different than running a corporation, where the CEO can just make a decision, and the entire corporation does a pivot-point and moves in another direction.")

January 3: (Fulfilling a campaign promise, Romney bars family members of his cabinet and senior staff from lobbying state government. ) "Lobbyists are paid to influence government decision making," he said. "It would be inappropriate for the family of my most senior advisors to be lobbying the administration."

January 14: (Romney unveils a push to repair or rebuild hundreds of "structurally deficient" state bridges, with a twist): "There will no longer be the names of public officials, including the governor, posted on highway signs along the state's borders, Romney said.  Thousands of dollars are spent whenever there is an administration change, and Romney believes the money could be better used in other areas."

January 17: "Gov. Mitt Romney is set to slash local aid and higher education without lawmakers' approval,  after the Legislature granted him the unprecedented authority Friday…. The bill, the first new law of the legislative session, marks a near complete victory for the Republican governor and a defeat for cities and towns, whose leaders had fought to stop the bill. Romney yesterday said he expects to make up to $200 million in local aid reductions within the next several weeks.  With a projected $600 million deficit developing, he has made no indication of what else he intends to cut.  Mayors say the local aid reductions could cost police and firefighters' jobs and force schools to close early."

January 22: (Romney announces a plan to change the way the state's Renewable Energy Trust Fund – a four-year-old kitty funded by a monthly surcharge on electric utility bill – is used, "to support economic development as well as the creation of alternative sources of energy that will have a positive environmental benefit." Also unveiled) – "a new $15 million Green Energy Fund to provide equity capital, loans and management assistance to Massachusetts-based renewable energy businesses….  The Governor also touted $9 million in new financings to companies in the forefront of renewable energy development. The package includes a $1.5 million loan for a pilot production line at Konarka, a Lowell company that… has been developing cutting-edge solar technology developed at the University of Massachusetts;  Nuvera, a Cambridge fuel cell company, which received a $1.5 million grant and loan; Ameresco, the operator of a landfill gas facility in Chicopee, which signed a $2 million clean energy agreement;  and Acumentrics, a Westwood fuel cell company, which received a $1.5 million loan. 'Clean energy is a technology driven industry well suited to the state's strengths,' said Doug Foy, Romney's Chief of Commonwealth Development. 'We have all the ingredients to be a leader in the sector - world-class universities, high-tech companies and a highly educated workforce.'"

January 27: (Another new initiative from Romney de-centralizes authority over the design of local bridge and road projects.  Says Romney in a press release): "My Administration is committed to providing local communities with the tools they need to manage their own budgets by removing bureaucratic red tape and costly state mandates whenever possible. Local residents are most familiar with the unique qualities that make their communities special. We will make every effort to empower them in the decisions that directly impact their everyday lives."

January 28: (Romney – if you'll pardon the expression – shakes the Etch-A-Sketch of  the executive branch communication bureaucracy, firing 21 press secretaries and giving greater control of the rest to communications director Eric Fehrnstrom . The old system, says Romney,  is "extremely wasteful"  and "makes no sense.")

January 30: "The Romney administration today filed a municipal relief package that takes aim at burdensome state regulations and mandates that make it difficult for mayors and selectmen to manage their local budgets. The package, dubbed H.E.L.P. (Help Ease Local Pressure)… will save cities and towns an estimated $50-$75 million annually…. Many cities and towns were facing severe financial challenges even before the current fiscal crisis, citing increasing health care insurance costs for employees and retirees, lack of flexibility to move funds within their own accounts and restrictive public construction requirements. Among the proposed reforms: eliminate Civil Service for municipalities, excluding police officers and firefighters…reduce municipalities maximum health care coverage contribution to 75 percent, in line with the Governor's proposal to require state employees to pay 25 percent of their health coverage premium…exempt construction projects costing less than $100,000 and communities of less than 5,000 people from the prevailing wage law."

February 4: "The public will no longer be able to pick up printed copies of the governor's budget plan, Gov. Mitt Romney announced Tuesday. To save $50,000 in printing costs, the budget this year will only be posted on the Internet. 'This is the the new face of government,' Romney said  in a prepared statement. "We believe the Internet holds tremendous opportunity for making government smarter and more efficient."  Critics say the governor is limiting access to the most important proposal debated by the Legislature each year. Rep. Elizabeth Malia (D-Boston) said the move follows a pattern of tighter control over public communications adopted by the Romney administration, and could make it more difficult for residents without computers to review the budget. 'It's censorship, I think,' she said. 'A lot of us still use paper.'"

February 5: "Governor Mitt Romney today previewed his Fiscal Year 2004 budget by describing his plan to concentrate the lawyers in state government into a single law office, a sweeping reform that would change the way legal work is conducted in the Executive Branch. Currently, there are 800 lawyers in the Executive Branch of government, excluding the attorney general, district attorneys and other branches not under the Governor's control. 'Eight hundred lawyers are far too many to be operating in one branch of state government,' said Romney."

February 5: "Gov. Mitt Romney on Wednesday sent lawmakers a bill to hike a variety of fees charged by the state's registries of deeds and to add a $5 surcharge for every transaction at those offices.  The surcharge will supply funds to upgrade information and other technology needed to modernize the county offices that keep track of property and mortgages."

February 10:  "Hoping to remove the taint of political favoritism from the selection of judges, Gov. Mitt Romney plans to sign an executive order Tuesday imposing tough new standards on the state's judicial nominees. The governor's policy takes aim at the political connections, campaign donations and backdoor lobbying that critics say have long fueled the nomination of judges. "

February 11: (Mushrooming costs at the multi-billion dollar Big Dig highway project in downtown Boston and the state's failure to contain them or obtain appropriate reimbursements have been a big issue for years before Romney's arrival.) "Gov. Mitt Romney on Tuesday said the administration is hiring a professional engineering firm to review all Big Dig billings to determine whether costs can be recovered from private project managers and contractors…. The governor said he considers it 'extraordinary' that more aggressive cost recovery efforts were not implemented.  The governor does not have the power to control decision-making at the independent authority, but made it clear he will push for it this spring.  Romney said he will file legislation to merge the authority with the Massachusetts Highway Department, bringing it under the state government umbrella."

February 13: "Setting his sights on economic revival, Governor Mitt Romney today announced an innovative plan to spur job growth in every region of the Commonwealth by tapping the expertise of area business, community and education leaders through Regional Competitiveness Councils. 'In the past, state government has had a poorly coordinated approach to identifying our strengths and weaknesses, and as a result, our public policy has been clumsy in terms of maximizing our overall growth potential,' said Romney. 'These Regional Competitiveness Councils will provide us with the information we need to boost regional growth and bring more jobs to the state." Romney, in naming the members of the regional councils, charged them with conducting an in-depth analysis of their region's economic climate; assessing local abilities to attract new companies; identifying which companies and jobs are currently at risk; and devising a strategy to turn a region's resources - human capital, infrastructure and financial investments - into the greatest economic opportunity. Romney noted that he would use the blueprints the councils develop to market the unique regions of Massachusetts, growing economic development. "

February 14: "Gov. Mitt Romney on Friday stood by his proposal to close what he calls tax loopholes but what banking industry officials say feel like tax hikes. Romney has proposed, and the Legislature has agreed to, legal changes intended to prevent banks continuing to shelter real estate investment trust dividends from taxes.  Banking industry officials are particularly upset about the proposal's retroactivity – it would and tax all such dividends recorded since 1999.   Lawmakers intend to put the resulting tax revenues, estimated at as much at $150 million, into the state's rainy day or stabilization fund.  Asked Friday what he thought of lawsuits the banking industry is threatening to bring over the retroactive tax claims, Romney said: 'I believe we do have loopholes that have been exploited inappropriately, and we have every right to close those loopholes.'"

February 20: "While court officials for years have argued the system is underfunded, Gov. Mitt Romney on Thursday said waste in the courts is 'eye-popping' and 'practically leaps off the page.'  Romney said court costs since 1996 have grown by an average of 7 percent a year despite a decrease in case volume of 1 percent.… To save $12 million while curbing patronage, Romney is targeting courts where there are more assistant clerks and registers than there are judges.  To help court administrators, Romney wants to give them more flexibility in managing their budgets."

February 24: "Governor Mitt Romney today unveiled a long overdue restructuring of the Commonwealth's 16 Health and Human Services (HHS) agencies, replacing the current confusing maze of bureaucracy with a user-friendly system that is more responsive to the people it serves.

In the plan, Romney calls for the outright elimination of two agencies: the Division of Health Care Finance and Policy and the Division of Medical Assistance, whose functions will be transferred to other departments. He also proposes closing 30 local offices across the state in the next six months and possibly even more in the future, depending on need. Currently, there are over 150 regional and area offices. At the Department of Transitional Assistance alone, there are 800 vacant workspaces in their local offices. Back-office functions like human resources, accounting, legal and technical support - now spread across the entire bureaucracy - will be consolidated to function for the entire secretariat as opposed to individual agencies. This move will rid the agencies of duplicative overhead. The reorganization plan will save nearly $60 million.

Savings will increase each year as more efficiencies are realized. Reducing through sale the large inventory of HHS-owned facilities and land will achieve at least another $30 million in one-time revenue for Fiscal Year 2004. 'Throughout this process, we have been guided by a desire to simplify our health and human services agencies to better serve recipients. Rather than requiring families to navigate the current red tape jungle, we are consolidating functions to better help those who cannot help themselves,' Romney said. Families requiring HHS services now face a confusing alphabet soup of state agencies to access the help they need. Under Romney's proposal, individuals will enter the HHS system through one portal - the local office of the primary agency providing services to them. From there, a lead caseworker will determine if the family has needs for services provided by other agencies and will help the family navigate those services.

For example, if a mother visits the Department of Transitional Assistance to apply for food stamps, her lead caseworker may determine that she also needs childcare and services provided by the Department of Mental Health. From that moment on, the DTA caseworker will coordinate the delivery of all the family's services, serving as the single point of contact. The mother will not need to travel to multiple offices and deal with layers upon layers of bureaucracy to get the help she needs. The saved time will allow families to focus on their lives and caseworkers to better help their clients. "

February 26: "Gov. Mitt Romney proposed a state budget Wednesday that boosts spending on health care by nearly 9 percent, insulates education from major cuts and makes large cuts in most other areas of state government to compensate for the expectation of flat revenues in the fiscal year that begins July 1."

February 28: "Gov. Mitt Romney's first budget proposal contains overdue and comprehensive reforms of the way state government operates but is undercut by overstated claims regarding its short-term fiscal benefits, according to the business-backed Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation. 'While the budget has been billed as eliminating $2 billion in 'waste, inefficiency and mismanagement,' more than $1 billion of that total reflects new taxes, fees and other revenue, and another $400 million derives from one-time fiscal gimmicks.'"

March 10: "As he slashes services and asks other agencies to cut back in the midst of a fiscal crisis, Gov. Mitt Romney is pushing to increase the budgets for his own office and his finance wing. In a move that has peeved lawmakers, Romney's fiscal 2004 budget plan boosts his own office's budget by 3 percent and the budget for his Executive Office for Administrative and Finance, a secretariat that is an extension of the governor's office, by 22 percent, or $718,000."

March 20: "With the state still losing jobs at a rapid clip during this ongoing recession, Gov. Mitt Romney on Thursday welcomed a business that is moving its headquarters to Boston.  Canada-based Manulife Financial is consolidating its two Boston offices and 700 employees into a single new US headquarters facility at 601 Congress Street, in the city's emerging Seaport District.  At a press conference, Romney pledged to attract more economic development by continuing to 'hold the line on taxes and spending.'"

March 25: "The House is holding up nearly a half a billion dollars in Medicaid-related savings proposals offered by Gov. Mitt Romney and a top administration official says the plans need to be approved immediately to realize the savings beginning in July."

March 31: "The Romney administration on Monday… threw its support behind a new proposal to build three slot machine parlors in Massachusetts. Romney aides said auctioning off five-year licenses for three slot machine houses could bring the short-term benefit of $300 million a year to help protect education and health programs from budget cuts, while not committing Massachusetts to the long-term problems associated with casino gambling, such as crime, corruption and gambling addiction."

April 1: "Taxpayers anticipating a refund check from the state this April should remember that the $1 billion tax hike approved by the Legislature last summer will reduce the size of their check and in many cases will wipe out the refund altogether, Governor Mitt Romney said today. 'As citizens around the state get hit with the reality of last year's tax increase, it is imperative in this year's budget debate that we hold the line on raising taxes again,' said Romney. 'Taxes hurt working people, kill jobs and will make it harder to attract businesses to our state." …Romney noted the long-term ramifications of raising taxes to deal with a fiscal crisis. After the 1990s, the 10 states with the highest per capita taxes in the country experienced economic growth at half the rate of the 10 states with the lowest per capita taxes, according to the Cato Institute. 'Unfortunately, Massachusetts was among those states with the highest taxes,'  said Romney. 'We should not make that mistake again.' In the Governor's Fiscal Year 2004 budget, Romney closes a nearly $3 billion budget gap without raising taxes. He has proposed a massive restructuring of state government along with eliminating inefficiency and waste, closing tax loopholes and raising fees. 'Our state is at a crossroads,' Romney said. 'We should use this opportunity to fundamentally restructure the way state government does business. Otherwise, the people of Massachusetts will have to accept yearly tax increases to pay for the inefficient, wasteful structure now in place.'"

April 2: "Governor Mitt Romney today announced that Massachusetts will post photos and information of high-level sex offenders on the Internet beginning on May 15, 2003. 'The public has a right to know where dangerous sex offenders live and work so they can protect their children and themselves,' Romney said. 'During last year's campaign, one of the key planks in our criminal justice platform was more widely publicizing the whereabouts of convicted sex offenders. This action fulfills that promise.'"

April 8: "Gov. Mitt Romney on Tuesday proposed taking control of the agency that oversees the Big Dig, combining it with another transportation agency, removing much of its independence, and expanding its board to include four gubernatorial appointees. Romney said the agency, the Massachusetts Turnpike Authority, was inefficient, unaccountable, and performing the same duties as the Massachusetts Highway Department. Merging the two together could save $30 million in wasteful spending, and save $190 million in one-time money by rolling its debt over to the state. Lawmakers greeted the plan with skepticism." (Although they eventually adopted the idea years later – when it was proposed by a Democratic governor, Deval Patrick.)

April 8: "Hundreds of doctors, joined by hundreds of patients and other caregivers, overflowed State House corridors Tuesday lobbying for reform in the medical malpractice system they say is forcing physicians in high risk specialties to abandon their practices.  Gov. Mitt Romney vowed to stand with the doctors and fight for change."

April 10: "While businesses and insurers may soon face new health care-related charges emanating from Beacon Hill, the Romney administration has withdrawn its controversial proposal to hit health insurers with a new $90 million fee to help pay for the state's $5.5 billion Medicaid program.  'We've taken it off the table,' state Health and Human Services Secretary Ronald Preston told the News Service Thursday afternoon.  'It was not a good idea.  It was a mistake.'  The administration plans to use surplus fiscal 2003 revenues, federal Medicaid funds and transfers, and reserve monies to make up for the money."

April 11: "Gov. Mitt Romney filed legislation Friday that will require businesses to contribute $200 million more to the state's jobless benefits fund, increase the wage base used to assess unemployment insurance funds, and limit the duration of benefits."

And that was a wrap on the first 100 days.  Just after that artificial milestone, Romney won House approval of his budget, including the repeal of a longstanding continuing-education perk treasured by police unions (and abused by some).  And before April was out, according to the State House News Service, he also launched a campaign to roll back a range of union rules, including removal of state government managerial personnel from unions, elimination of seniority rights, and the repeal of a decade-old law that squashed efforts to privatize some public services.

"Union leaders," reported  the News Service, "called the proposals a 'power grab.'" And they fought fire with fire. In the 2004 elections, Romney aggressively recruited and funded Republican candidates to bolster the puny GOP minorities in the House and Senate. With Sen. John Kerry topping the Democratic ticket that year and labor putting on an all-out grassroots push, the effort flopped.  After that, Romney's diminished clout was further diluted by his own focus on national politics, and toward the end his governorship became something of a ghost mall.

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