State House News Service

State House Roundup: X’s And O’s

BOSTON — Helpless pols hemmed and hawed over congressional gridlock this week, unable to stop the countdown clock to potentially job-killing federal spending cuts and a sequestration fate that would not deter Gov. Deval Patrick from his more parochial tax fight with lawmakers.

Reason number 834 to compare Patrick to President Obama: both have been working on their “outside game” to debatable success. While Lt. Gov. Timothy Murphy is fond of describing his role in Patrick’s administration in sports terms, responsible for the “blocking and tackling” of government, Patrick – and Obama – lately prefer the perimeter jump shot.

While Obama has toured the country attempting to build public political pressure for his plan to avoid sequestration cuts with a mix of targeted new revenue and spending reductions, Patrick has been playing the same game in Massachusetts to sell lawmakers on his $1.9 billion tax reform proposal.

Polling has suggested more Americans will blame congressional Republicans for the failure to strike a debt reduction deal, but the president’s strategy did little to facilitate an actual compromise by Friday’s deadline. The result could be telling for Patrick who this week stepped up his own pressure campaign on House and Senate members.

The governor called a press conference to roll out a new Web feature that allows the public to view maps of all 200 House and Senate districts and pinpoint the types of investments in public schools, roads and bridges that lawmakers will be saying no to if they reject the governor’s $1.9 billion tax increase.

Could the administration have produced town-by-town maps if they were interested in informing the public? Sure. But why do that when you can try to shame skeptical legislators into voting yes?

Over his six-plus years as governor, Patrick has largely been able to get what he wants by working with the Legislature through his frequent private meetings with its leaders. He’s resorted to the bully pulpit less than his Republican predecessors, opting only on occasion to working over the Legislature through public channels.

Despite growing signs that he’s losing his fight on taxes and investments, Patrick is keeping up the battle. “They work for the public just like I do,” Patrick said when asked about the risk of spotting legislators.

House Speaker Robert DeLeo, at the very least, is dubious of getting an income tax hike through the House. In a taped interview that won’t be seen in its entirety until Sunday, DeLeo reportedly told WCVB-TV’s Janet Wu that the governor’s request to jump to a 6.25 percent income tax is unlikely to be the path pursued by his branch.

Newsworthy, to be sure, but comments that will not surprise many on Beacon Hill where Democrats and Republicans in the House say they’re unconvinced that the benefits outweigh the costs of the governor’s tax plan. One senator supportive of Patrick’s budget said he now predicts a smaller tax package worth under $1 billion and focused on transportation as a likely outcome, but he’s only guessing.

Still, T officials would likely take it, detailing this week that they have a plan to shrink the transit agency’s budget gap to roughly $116 million without a second annual round of fare increases or services cuts, but still have a ways to go before presenting a balanced budget next week.

Government officials are equally unclear about what federal spending cuts will mean for Massachusetts. Secretary of Administration and Finance Glen Shor said whatever happens, it likely won’t be immediate and state agencies will have time to adjust, but by most accounts federal education, defense and research dollars are all at risk.

If talk of taxes and sequestration all seemed too much of downer this week, freshman Rep. Josh Cutler was there to inject a little lighthearted rivalry into the legislative process, precipitating a debate on the merits of Modern Lover’s “Roadrunner” versus Aerosmith’s “Dream On” for the official Massachusetts rock song.

Everyone seemed to pick a side, even Boston Mayor Thomas Menino who is apparently no fan of the Modern Lover’s. Roadrunner, he said, “doesn’t represent Massachusetts.”

“Dream On” or “Roadrunner” was one of the few questions Gabriel Gomez did not get asked on Thursday when he emerged from his media blackout to launch his Republican campaign for Senate, though it’s probably only a matter of time.

For all the breathless speculation of whether it would be possible for GOP candidates to gather the necessary signatures to run in the special Senate election, all three seekers easily cleared the hurdle.

In the Republican corner, former U.S. Attorney Michael Sullivan largely represents the old guard of the Mass GOP against state Rep. Daniel Winslow (a brand unto himself) and newcomer Gomez. Despite a nerve-ridden, public debut, Gomez emerged as an untested but intriguing option for some Republican voters who said they were drawn, in fact, to his lack of polish.

Former Lt. Gov. Kerry Healey called Gomez the future of the Republican Party in Massachusetts, a younger, Spanish-speaking, pro-gay marriage and immigration reform future.

And speaking of futures, former Treasurer Timothy Cahill’s will not include time behind bars as long as he can come up with $25,000 a year for the next four years to pay the fines he agreed to in order to settle his conspiracy case without going back to trial.

Due back in court on Friday, Attorney General Martha Coakley and Cahill reached a deal that allows Cahill to put the criminal case behind him for $100,000, admitting to a civil violation of state ethics laws and giving Coakley the chance to claim a modicum of success after last year’s humbling mistrial.

STORY OF THE WEEK: Asking the public to fight your political battles can score points, but doesn’t always lead to victory.

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