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Dukakis in the Doldrums

WHILE President Bush was being feted as the leader of the free world in East Europe and waving to crowds at the French Bicentennial in Paris, Michael Dukakis was looking like a lost puppy on the front page of the Boston Globe. His ``miracle'' economy had not kept pace with budgetary forecasts, the state was fighting to balance a $500 million deficit for 1990, the Massachusetts House (of which Dukakis has always been the fair-haired favorite) overrode his spending proposals for the first time ever 150-0, the state's bond rating sunk, and last year's Democratic presidential candidate's job rating went from 70 percent favorable to 70 percent unfavorable.

These are not good times for the ``Duke.''

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Deficits and high-tech decline along Boston's Route 128 are not easy to take in a state that's lived high on the hog for five years. The political acrimony aimed at Dukakis has been vicious. He decided last December, with a $600 million deficit on the horizon, not to seek reelection in order to pass a tax package. But the move merely turned him into a lame duck, if not the fall guy. If a run at the presidency in '92 was remote before; now it seems comical.

Is it all Dukakis's fault? Not hardly. True, he is to blame for papering over the deficit in his state during the '88 campaign while running on ``competence'' and miracles. But the state legislature, which had grown fond of cutting taxes and increasing spending, let him do it. They are equally at fault.

Dukakis is the victim of his rhetoric. Governors are rarely responsible for the economic fortunes of their states. But if they take credit for the ups, they must also accept blame for the downs.

Other states (Connecticut, New York, California) also have deficits. They quickly made cuts. That's harder in a one-party state. A battle is now forming over taxes. Dukakis says his state has the third-highest income in the country, but is 32nd in revenue. That masks the astronomical cost of living in the Bay State - one reason manufacturing has declined.

As he tries to do the necessary job of weeding out the bureaucratic thatch that has grown up in his state, things aren't going to get any easier for the Duke.

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