State House News Service

State House Roundup: Polls, Tolls And 2014

BOSTON — It’s late June and it’s time to make a deal. The only things thicker than the humidity hanging over Beacon Hill were anticipation and raw political ambition, neither in short supply.

If you were a newsmaker this week, you better have brought your “A” game, because otherwise it was probably lost in the flood. Remember back to Monday when the Bruins lost the Stanley Cup in heartbreaking fashion? If you don’t, it’s probably better that way.

Since then Congressman Ed Markey was elected to the U.S. Senate, former Patriots tight end Aaron Hernandez was arrested for murder and cut from the team, Whitey’s trial waded deeper into the underworld, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev was indicted on 30 counts for the Boston marathon bombing, and the Supreme Court struck down the Defense of Marriage Act, but agreed to hear a challenge of the state’s abortion clinic buffer zone law.

That’s all in addition to what was happening right here under the Golden Dome, where lawmakers voted to raise gas, cigarette and business taxes by $500 million, but it still wasn’t enough to satisfy Gov. Deval Patrick, whose beef with the bill now centers around the future of tolls on the Massachusetts Turnpike.

Lawmakers headed into the weekend without a budget in place, ensuring that the new fiscal year will start Monday without a full-year spending plan in place — a concern of optics more than real life consequence given that an interim spending bill is already in place to keep government running.

“This week’s stories (Hernandez, #DOMA, #Celtics, Markey) only solidifies our belief in #Boston that the world really does revolve around us,” state Rep. Aaron Michlewitz wrote in Tweet. This week it was true.

Gov. Patrick spent the week in California visiting his new grandson, but still managed a transcontinental derailing of the deal struck by the House and Senate to carve out $805 million in new resources for transportation. Patrick has given up on trying to boost that number above $1 billion, but now says the Legislature didn’t account for the fact that turnpike tolls from Newton to the New York border are due to come down in 2017.

According to Patrick, that makes the $805 million proposal more like a $670 million proposal. And that’s not good enough.

Senate President Therese Murray and House Speaker Robert DeLeo could barely decide who to be more frustrated with — Patrick or Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation President Michael Widmer?

Patrick has never been wild about the Legislature’s effort to find new revenue for transportation, but agreed to compromise as long as they hit the $800 million threshold by 2018. Murray and DeLeo, however, said Patrick raised the toll issue when it was too late to fix, didn’t even include it in his own budget plan, and is now holding a gun to their head over a problem that won’t exist until four years from now.

Needless to say, the Legislature is not the governor’s biggest fan at the moment. But Widmer hasn’t made any friends either.

“State leaders could hardly have chosen a more perfect tax to undercut the future of the Massachusetts economy. This is the most sweeping computer and software services tax in the nation. It strikes at the heart of the state’s innovation economy and will stifle job creation for years to come,” Widmer told the News Service, mere minutes after the tax bill deal was announced.

Posted on its website right underneath the Taxpayers Foundation’s scathing assessment of proposed sales tax on software design services is a link to the foundation’s statement in April endorsing the original House and Senate financing plans. At the time, Widmer called the software tax “troubling,” but how he got from there to driving a stake through the heart of the economy has left lawmakers bewildered.

The debate over taxes and spending — and the immediate start of yet another special election — left Democrats with little time to bask in the afterglow of Markey’s 10-point win over Republican Gabriel Gomez in the U.S. Senate special election. Interim Sen. Mo Cowan can now pack up his bowties and come home after an election that might be remembered most for candidates who stuck to talking points and voters who showed no interest in the battle.

Turnout defied even Secretary of State William Galvin’s worst predictions with just 1.16 million ballots cast, or roughly 27 percent of registered voters. The poor turnout wound up hurting Gomez who could not rack up the independent votes in territories where Scott Brown performed well in 2010 after his campaign caught fire.

“It’s a numbers game in Massachusetts. When you have 11 percent Republican enrollment, it’s very difficult,” offered Brown for his paying gig with Fox News.

Now that Markey is headed to the Senate, candidates are free to openly campaign for his Congressional seat without any caveats. They wasted little time. Rep. Carl Sciortino formally announced on the steps of the State House Wednesdayafternoon, and Sen. Karen Spilka planned her announcement for Monday in Framingham. Sens. Katherine Clark, William Brownsberger and Sheriff Peter Koutoujian are also in.

Another senator – Sen. Daniel Wolf – has made the decision to run for governor in 2014, according to sources. He will likely make his announcement within the next two weeks, while others like Treasurer Steven Grossman, U.S. Rep. Michael Capuano and now Attorney General Martha Coakley, according to the Globe, bide their time and weigh the options. Coakley has previously said she plans to run for attorney general again.

In one race overshadowed by the Markey-Gomez tilt, Democrat Jay Livingstone, who was unopposed Tuesday, rode Markey’s coattails to swamp his write-in opponents. An attorney, Livingstone pulled in 93.42 percent of the vote with write-in candidates netting 6.58 percent.

He’ll take the seat former Rep. Martha Walz gave up to join Planned Parenthood. For the record, Markey bested Gomez by a 76-23 margin in Boston and Livingstone was unopposed this week, after defeating Joshua Dawson in the primary. The district covers Back Bay, Beacon Hill and Cambridgeport neighborhoods.

Once he gets sworn in, DeLeo will be just three representatives short of a full House.

STORY OF THE WEEK: Pick ‘em

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