State House News Service

State House Roundup: As Good As It Gets

BOSTON — Times are changing when Boston Mayor Thomas Menino can casually spend election-day gnawing on a sausage at Santarpio’s with Therese Murray, and Gov. Deval Patrick, notwithstanding his occasional feuds with the Legislature, is openly called names on the floor of the House by members of his own party.

But that’s the new reality.

The next mayor of Boston will be named either Walsh or Connolly, tech companies can forget about trying to collect an extra 6.25 percent sales tax from their clients, and Fightin’ Mike Capuano doesn’t much feel like going another 15 rounds with Attorney General Martha Coakley.

Dorchester’s Rep. Marty Walsh topped the preliminary election ballot on Tuesday in Boston’s mayoral race, followed closely by City Councilor John Connolly, of West Roxbury. Though many predictions had the two pols reversed in the standings heading into Tuesday’s vote, the end result mirrored most polling with former Rep. Charlotte Golar Richie landing in third place, but still out of the running.

Marked by a low 31 percent voter turnout in the first open contest for mayor in a generation, Walsh and Connolly quickly sets their sights on November and what it will take to win over the voting blocs loyal to the other 10 candidates eliminated from the race.

While the candidates threw some elbows out of the gate over taking a “People’s Pledge” to limit outside spending (Walsh refused), much of post-mortem analysis focused on what it means for the city that a candidate of color could not break through to the final.

Walsh received a hero’s welcome on his triumphant return to the State House Wednesday as focus shifted quickly to the repealing of a wildly unpopular software services sales tax.

It was a good week to be a Republican in Massachusetts, or at least as good as it gets for the men and women in red. As Democrats did backflips to justify the repeal of a tax they defended just weeks before, GOP lawmakers sat back and enjoyed the show, celebrating a rare win and occasionally giving in to the irresistible urge to rub it in.

“This place is a circus with acrobats and people are switching their votes,” Rep. Ryan Fattman said.

Senate Ways and Means Chairman Stephen Brewer was among those trying, against all odds, to assure his fellow Democrats that flip-flopping on the software services tax won’t come back to bite them.

“We listened, we learned and we acted. That’s something we should all be very proud of,” he said.

Despite half-hearted efforts of Sen. Cynthia Creem to raise the gas tax another five cents to replace the lost tech tax revenue, leadership showed it’s no longer in the mood to entertain tax hikes, adopting an oft-forwarded Republican supposition that annual revenue growth is or should be more than sufficient to meet the state’s spending needs.

The window for tax increases, opened this year by House Speaker Robert DeLeo for the first time in a while, appears now to be officially closed.

Instead of quietly licking their wounds, Democrats seemed determined to have the last word. Fingers were pointed at the business community for misleading policymakers and at Gov. Patrick, who was called a “hypocrite” by Malden Rep. Chris Fallon for trying to wash his somewhat dirty hands clean of the tech tax.

But it was the Republicans who were truly proud. “We told you so,” Rep. George Peterson reminded.

Republicans were also reminded that they’ll have to milk the tech tax debacle for as much as it’s worth in the coming months, because at the end of the day they’re still climbing a steep hill.

With rumblings that Sen. Robert Hedlund – one of three Republicans left in the Senate – might be looking beyond Beacon Hill, three new Democrats took their oaths to join the House this week after sweeping a round of special elections. Former U.S. Senate hopeful Gabriel Gomez chose the pages of the Boston Globe to publicly reverse his position to support a ban on assault weapons, and polling data showed Charlie Baker trailing Attorney General Martha Coakley badly at the start of the 2014 governor’s race, and neck-in-neck with Treasurer Steven Grossman.

Baker also lost a hypothetical Corner Office matchup against Congressman Michael Capuano, but he won’t have to worry about that scenario after Capuano finally put a stake in his gubernatorial ambitions and announced he would run for re-election to the U.S. House instead.

Gomez’s mea culpa in the Boston Globe, which was circulated by a former Senate campaign aide, came without hints about what race the Cohasset Navy SEAL might have his eye on, but it read like appeal to centrist independents in Massachusetts.

Rep. Angelo Scaccia, a Readville Democrat and dean of the House, claimed the distinction of being the only legislator in either the House or the Senate to vote against repeal. Warning that DeLeo would “rue the day” when he coughed up political capital by undoing a tax he had asked his members to support, Scaccia took the rare, unpopular position these days that the tech industry can afford to pay more, while smokers and drivers cannot.

Good thing Patrick said this week that he does not anticipate asking for another tax increase next year when he files his eighth and final budget as chief executive of the Commonwealth, withholding a live piece of ammunition the GOP would relish while fighting in the midst of an election cycle.

By the time Friday rolled around, Patrick had lost his appetite for fighting the Legislature on options to replace the tech tax revenues, quietly signing the repeal bill alone in his office and Tweeting a photo as proof to go along with a one sentence press release to mark the occasion.

His administration was more interested this week in trumpeting the forthcoming arrival of Obamacare, synched with President Obama’s public relations push to spread the good word about the health care law whose future funding became the trip wire in Congress this week for a possible government shutdown.

Patrick also celebrated an environmental permitting milestone for the South Coast rail project, before hitting the New Jersey campaign trail to stump for U.S. Senate candidate and Newark Mayor Cory Booker, pre Twitter stripper scandal.

STORY OF THE WEEK: “New Boston” looks a lot like Olde Boston as Walsh and Connolly advance, and Beacon Hill says goodbye to a short-lived tech tax.

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