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Conversation: Senate Pres. Murray

It's been little more than a week since Therese Murray became the first woman elected President of the Massachusetts Senate. The Plymouth Democrat has been on Beacon Hill for 14 years, the 16th female senator in state history.

She rose through the ranks, ultimately chairing the powerful Ways and Means Committee in the Senate. When she assumed the President's office last week, Murray promised to pursue a similar agenda to that of her predecessor Robert Travaglini. Murray sat down with WBUR's Bob Oakes yesterday to talk about her priorities.

TEXT OF INTERVIEW:

BOB OAKES: Senator Murray is straight talking especially when it comes to state spending and a budget plan floated by other politicians. She says no, at least not immediately to Governor Patrick's proposal to close corporate tax loop holes, but the Governor's suggestion for local option hotel taxes is on the table. On issues, she hopes the proposed constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage is defeated by lawmakers, but will allow a vote on it. And she might surprise some with her position on casino gambling. Senate President for just a week now, Murray is already hustling from meeting to meeting and seemed a bit surprised herself by my first question: Does she consider herself a Senate President who happens to be a woman or the first woman Senate President?

THERESE MURRAY: I don't know how I consider myself. I consider myself... it's kind of still surreal that I am the Senate President. It doesn't really hit me until I meet other women, particularly young women in the elevator or on the street or at the Fireman's Association meeting the other night who said can I take my picture or congratulations or we're so proud of you that obviously it is a big deal... it is something that I should have in the forefront of my mind, but I don't.

OAKES: You've described yourself as a bologna and cheese Democrat. Tell us what you mean by that.

MURRAY: Well they always say peanut butter and jelly or whatever or a lunch bucket liberal, I'm none of that. I'm kinda in the middle. I like bologna and cheese on white bread with mayonnaise. I wouldn't mind having that for lunch every day.

OAKES: How does that translate into your political approach to the job?

MURRAY: It means that there's not going to be any big frills. There's no big ego, there's no power trip. I'm steady, in the middle.

OAKES: Give us a thumbnail sketch of your legislative priorities.

MURRAY: Well they're the same as they were when I was Chair of Ways and Means and the same that the Senate has been pushing for as long as I've been here and that's education from Pre-K through higher ed, particularly our healthcare bills, we want to make sure that healthcare moves ahead the way we envision it to be so that everyone has access to affordable healthcare and housing. If we don't do something about affordable housing, we are not going to grow our economy. You see that every single day as more and more companies are making decisions to do some other part of their business elsewhere because people they want to attract and retain can't afford to buy homes here.

OAKES: Let me ask you some budget specific questions. Governor Patrick's budget proposal includes a plan to close corporate tax loop holes as he calls them. That would raise a little less than 300 million dollars in the next year, 500 million in the following year. House Speaker, Sal DiMasi, has said his budget will not include those tax provisions. Will yours?

MURRAY: Well, they won't be included in our budget, because there's not time. There has not been a hearing on the bill as yet so we don't know whether all of the bill would pass or parts of the bill would pass so I can't use money that I don't have. However, we are going to have a fair hearing. We're going to set up an ad hoc committee with the House- the Governor's people and the business community to look at the entire corporate tax code along with all the loops holes.

OAKES: Can you sketch out for us how you feel about the idea of closing corporate tax loop holes even though it might not fly right now?

MURRAY: If they are not paying their fair share, they should be.

OAKES: Governor Patrick's outlined a number of new programs and initiatives such as local options taxes for cities and towns to impose their own hotels and meals taxes and maybe shifting under-performing local pensions into the sate system. What's your view on that?

MURRAY: We hear the House is going to take up some of the pieces of that next week on the floor so obviously if they pass them, they will come to us. There is a lot of interest with some of our members in the more urban areas to do the hotel/motel tax and the poll tax. There is the push back from the unions on the pensions and GIC, but I think that they've all had their hearings now so that they can go forward.

OAKES: Do you have a personal view point on those things?

MURRAY: Well, local option - if we pass them it's up to our local town meetings and boards of selectmen. In my community, if we put a hotel tax on, it's not going to hurt the members of my community. The restaurant tax might be a little bit harder to do. We are hearing from the restaurateurs that they're barely making it. In a declining tourism market, I don't know if that is something that we should be doing right now.

OAKES: Governor Patrick is exploring the possibility of casino gambling in Massachusetts as a source of revenue. Would you support legislation that would allow slot machines at race tracks?

MURRAY: What about casinos?

OAKES: How about casinos?

MURRAY: How about casinos? The Wampanoags have just been recognized. If they give them their full federal recognition, and they come to an agreement with New Bedford, that would be, I think, a positive thing that would also give us revenue and...

OAKES: So the state should authorize casino gambling?

MURRAY: I'm looking forward to the Governor's commission coming out with their report and seeing what they have to say, but I think we have to look at all sources of revenue when you see the kind of money...they tell me that at Mohegan Sun last weekend that you couldn't get in after 12 o'clock in the afternoon. You couldn't get into the parking lot and you couldn't get into the place and no valet because it was so overcrowded and those are Massachusetts cars so if we put something on our border on New Bedford and we get agreement with the Native Americans up front to take a significant portion of that income, I think that's a positive. But I don't know what the report is going to say, but I'm hoping they'll look at it.

OAKES: Gay marriage, you are a supporter of gay marriage, you've already said you're going to hold a vote on the proposed constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage this season. What do you think the prospects are for defeating the measure and how much political capital are you willing to spend to defeat it?

MURRAY: We have a few, and I don't know of the top of my head how many Senators are opposed right now, one obviously has left, Senator Travaglini, who supported civil unions so that is one less person that they have to count. So, I don't know where the number is, I haven't sat with the advocates, we are going to do that next week. We are going to sit down and try to figure that where they are and what their thoughts are on it.

OAKES: Because you want to see it go down basically?

MURRAY: I don't want to see it go on the ballot. I think that things are just fine the way they are and I don't think that having gay marriage here in Massachusetts has harmed anyone.

OAKES: Another subject, there's growing opposition in some quarters to the requirement under the state's new healthcare expansion law that individuals have health insurance by the July 1st deadline. There's a big push to push back the deadline, because some people are concerned... the state's not ready for it. The individuals who would be covered under it are not ready for it either. What's your feeling about pushing back the deadline?

MURRAY: I think the Connectors should be allowed to go forward with the work they are doing. If they decide that the deadline is too ambitious, then obviously, we'll agree with them. But it has to be some kind of push and maybe it's that we don't have the right education campaign out there to let people know that there are products available now between the one hundred percent and three hundred percent of the poverty level.

OAKES: There's still concern out there that the plans are not necessarily affordable for everyone that might have to buy one and that the partially subsidized plans for people who don't have health insurance are also not affordable. What's your stand on the affordability of the plans as they currently exist?

MURRAY: I think you're going to have to wait just like they came out before and said it was going to be $380 a month for an individual and they came down. I think that you are going to see that the longer go, that they will get some cost savings there also, but yeah, that's a big concern to me.

OAKES: So, it should continue to go into effect the way it is unless the state Connector Board implementing it says there need to be changes as we being the process.

MURRAY: And we always knew that we have to make some changes, that the way we wrote it wasn't going to be perfect and we would have to revisit some of these pieces.

OAKES: After your first year in office as Senate President, what do you want people to have said about the first year of Therese Murray as the President of the Massachusetts Senate?

MURRAY: That there was an open process, there was fairness, that the chairs were empowered, the members were empowered and everyone participated in the process.

This program aired on March 29, 2007. The audio for this program is not available.

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