State House Roundup: His Ambitious Side
BOSTON — The ambitions of a first-term governor thwarted by economic machinations beyond his control came to bear this week in the form a budget proposal – the seventh of its kind from Gov. Deval Patrick – soggy from the weight of new tax revenues the Democrat plans to invest heavily in potential legacy-setting priorities.
Early education, expanded MBTA hours and service territory, commuter trains to the South Coast, Cape Cod and Springfield. “People love the priorities the governor has outlined,” Rep. Brian Dempsey said.
And therein lies the problem, at least for spending hawks.
Patrick has presented lawmakers with a conundrum: Either support massive new revenues, or say no to program expansions that sound great on paper, if only the state could afford them. Perhaps that explains why House Speaker Robert DeLeo urged his caucus to “keep your powder dry,” lest someone pop off against a tax increase they will be asked to support a short few months from now by legislative leaders.
And for the most part, Democrats followed the speaker’s lead.
“To be perfectly blunt, I’m not going to ask for new revenue without proposing a plan to use it,” Patrick said, after essentially challenging lawmakers to slash popular projects from his proposed budget if they say no the revenues.
Heading into Wednesday, it seemed Patrick had already detailed everything one needed to know about his tax package. Hike the income tax, reduce the sales, double the personal exemption to protect the lower-income earners, and eliminate some corporate and personal tax deductions.
The result, Patrick said, will be a simpler, fairer tax code that generates $1.9 billion in additional revenue.
What Patrick left out of that equation, and kept under wraps until Wednesday, however, was that there was more. Quite a bit more to add up to $1.9 billion. There is also a $1 hike in the cigarette excise tax, an expansion of the bottle bill to include water and sports drinks, and a repeal of the sales tax exemption on candy and soda. Is that it?
Describing the governor’s tax plan turned into more than a mouthful, so perhaps it shouldn’t come as a surprise that the most often heard reaction from lawmakers was that they were going to need some time to “digest” it all. House members will have until April for their metabolisms to kick in.
While Patrick tried to focus on driving his “growth” strategy, Lt. Gov. Timothy Murray’s decision not to run for governor in 2014 for family reasons came to be viewed through a new lens.
U.S. Attorney Carmen Ortiz brought charges this week against Michael McLaughlin, the former Chelsea Housing Authority director with political, and maybe fundraising, ties to Murray. McLaughlin allegedly falsified his salary to state and federal officials.
Then came word that state regulator Michael Sullivan, in a letter to Attorney General Martha Coakley, determined back in September that his office had found evidence that not just McLaughlin, but Murray and Murray’s political committee did not comply with laws prohibiting political fundraising by public employees and banning political fundraising in public buildings. The matter was referred for further handling by Coakley’s office.
A lot of Democrats on Beacon Hill want to believe Tim Murray. They like him. And they want to believe that McLaughlin did whatever he did behind Murray’s back.
Gov. Patrick is one of those Democrats. Old news, he said. Except it wasn’t to most people. “I trust the lieutenant governor and his account of what happened, and didn’t happen, and I’m going to let the jobs of the attorney general and other investigators get done and not pursue or succumb to insinuation,” he told reporters.
Still, the timing – all within a week – of Murray’s decision to pull out of the 2014 gubernatorial race, the charges brought against McLaughlin and the surfacing of the OCPF letter seemed a little too coincidental.
If Murray is innocent, or guilty of naivete or worse, it’s possible he had an inkling of what was coming and determined the baggage was just too heavy to carry.
“The Murray Committee never authorized Michael McLaughlin to do any fundraising on its behalf. Neither the media nor any regulatory agency has ever identified any fact indicating that the Murray Committee authorized McLaughlin to engage in this activity,” said a Murray spokesman. And the wheels on the bus go ‘round and ‘round.
On a slow week, Rep. Eugene O’Flaherty’s decision to remain on as chair of the Judiciary Committee at the speaker’s request might have gotten more attention. After his very public declaration last year that he would give up the post out of frustration with the “assault” on his character that comes with the job, O’Flaherty retreated, insisting instead he would just “fight back more” this session.
But a mere committee assignment could not compete with the trifecta of taxes, scandal and political intrigue that concluded Friday with Rep. Stephen Lynch’s tortured will-he-or-won’t-he flirtation with a U.S. Senate campaign.
As expected, Sen. John Kerry yachted through his confirmation hearing for secretary of state, and his colleagues on the Foreign Relations Committee and in the full Senate could confirm him as soon as Tuesday. So it seemed a natural development when on Friday multiple news organizations began reporting that Lynch, a South Boston Democrat, would challenge Rep. Ed Markey for the nomination. His announcement, based on anonymous sources close to Lynch, would come days after Kerry gets confirmed.
But then something strange happened. Lynch started calling those media outlets directly. “False,” he said. No decision had been made. Albeit with a heavy touch of media attention that may lead to chatter that will factor into Lynch’s ultimate decision, the status of the race returned to where it started Friday morning, with Lynch seriously considering a run, and a decision to come after Kerry’s confirmation.
STORY OF THE WEEK: Patrick’s menu of tax options becomes just a menu of tax increases, while Lynch dances around a Senate run and Tim Murray feels the heat warming the winter chill.