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State House Roundup: 'You Bring The Music, And I'll Bring The Cannons'

There is a button on the phone near the conference table in the governor's office, right next to the ones that allow him to summon the State Troopers stationed outside and right below the one for private messages and right above the one for the guy whose influence in the administration is in the most stark inversion to his skimpy public profile, marked "political line."

With but one major policy priority remaining, a criminal justice package that will likely pass in some diminished form, and his budget work behind him for the time being, it's an extension that one could expect the governor to spend a fair chunk of the next four months using, both literally and figuratively.

Gov. Deval Patrick signed the cuts-laden budget Wednesday, $27.6 billion in spending for the fiscal year that began Thursday. He tried an end-run around the Legislature's discarding of some carefully highlighted, spectrum-bracketing spending initiatives - public safety and health care for legal immigrants - and cashiered what advisers said was an ill-advised House and Senate agreement to raise hopes for the elusive $687 million in additional Federal Medical Assistance Percentages (FMAP, an acronym that has given rise to creative interpretations the farther away the money it represents appears to drift). Quietly, the governor also trashed the Legislature's quietly inserted permission for a life term for the state's embattled probation commissioner.

And, apart from his expected John Hancock on the dotted line of the state's longest stride into the expanded gambling world since before, well, John Hancock, that's pretty much it. Stash the legislative portfolio and the structural deficit and break out the door-knocking duds. From here until November 2, it's all about the campaign.

A dynamic in full evidence this week when the budget elicited prepackaged reactions from Patrick's two closest rivals, ground-gaining Republican Charles Baker and steadily drifting Independent Treasurer Timothy Cahill. Baker went so far as to hold a reaction press conference on the capitol steps, an hour before the governor was scheduled to sign the actual budget, a process that was largely free of leaks, given that there was very little good news in the debt-extending, precariously balanced document.

Baker, the former budget chief and self-described turnaround pro, went so far as to say he would send the document back to the Legislature and ask for a rewrite by Labor Day, the notion of which raised the specter of an August spent in special working sessions and, thus, ire.

"Pure politics. Everybody's a genius when they're running for higher office," Sen. Steven Tolman, who has never run for higher office, said of Baker's criticism. "Everybody can sit in their lounge chairs and criticize."

Tolman spoke in the aftermath of Wednesday's Senate session, which is where Senate President Therese Murray finally dashed the tablets against the earth and told her underlings there would be no more parliamentary delays of the casino bill, which by week's end had consumed eight days of sessions, a duration no one could recall for any other bill. To get there, Murray had had to show uncommon patience - no senators were publicly reprimanded or even teased, for instance, after a Saturday session failed to draw a quorum -in the service of proving to observers just how studiously and piously the Senate was treating this issue.

There were the request for amendments printed in the calendar, the three tablings, one day of debate-til-exhaustion, the doubted quorum, and Sen. Susan Fargo's memorable objection to the session calendar itself, something even Majority Leader Fred Berry, elected as part of a reform slate shortly after the original tablets were smashed, could not remember.

Usually it is the House that is fractious, mutinous and self-parodying in its fitful movements toward made policy. This week, the Senate wore that hat, a shift House Speaker Robert DeLeo pointed out colorfully Wednesday.

"It seems like it's almost like a hostage situation," DeLeo said, sounding not unlike one Deval Patrick circa spring 2008 (life sciences) or fall 2009 (education). "Every day I go into the State House expecting to hear and see exactly what may be going on and what progress has been made and, through various procedural maneuvers, the matter just never seems to be debated. So right now in the House we're just waiting anxiously to see what the final bill which will be come from the Senate and we can get to conference committee right away, because as you may or may not know we have only until July 31 to get something done so it's going to have to be an awfully quick, speedy conference committee if we expect to get this to the governor's desk before we break."

It was a somber week in the House, which helped bury one of its own, 49-year-old Rep. Robert Nyman of Hanover, whose daughter found him in his swimming pool last Friday, after what was ruled an accidental drowning. Nyman was a member of the Good Guy Caucus, and his passing prompted friends to recount the small kindnesses that guys like him prefer to keep quiet. His funeral Thursday was a solemn break from the flashy and heady battles underway on the Hill.

The Senate's product - smoking ban intact, sanctioning three casinos with special consideration granted to the horseracing industry, local sign-off by individual wards rather than entire electorates in large host cities, a gift to Fall River casino advocates, and Indian tribal prerogatives - came off the floor with no tremendous stunners, and now heads to the most ardently watched conference committee since the 2006 health care expansion affixed national attention on our humble Commonwealth.

Their long twilight struggle close to finished, their dilatory options just about exhausted, opponents of expanded gambling were bitter.

"Well, corks are popping all over Massachusetts in those lobbying offices tonight," said Sen. Susan Tucker, Democrat of Andover. "This is a roll call that's going to stay with the members for a long, long time."

The conference committee, though, will be with us for just a short time, because the election-year calendar dictates close-of-business at midnight July 31, though if los federales are kind enough to deliver that FMAP cash, state lawmakers would be quite happy to come back in special session and distribute it. Senate budget chief Steven Panagiotakos said the hope is to have an accord - resolving the number of casinos, whether to sanction racinos, how to deal with the tribes, and where to spend the profits - by July 9 or 10, breakneck for a bill this complex.

And, with that, Beacon Hill wheeled off into the holiday weekend, on a blend of politics and policy, the sort of euphonic swell that David Mugar was shooting for more than a quarter century ago when he offered Arthur Fiedler, in a bargain enshrined on a plaque outside the Hatch Shell, artillery in exchange for melody.

Happy getaway days, Thomas Jefferson and former state Rep. John Adams, likely gazing down with bewigged, patriotic pride and paternal rapture at what unfolded beneath them this week in the Upper Chamber of the Great and General Court, where every parliamentary quirk tucked into every colonial rulebook seemed to pop out in opposition to the seemingly inevitable establishment of a new industry here with roots tracing back to the Revolutionary days themselves.

STORY OF THE WEEK: Casino Agonistes.

VITAL HOLIDAY WEEKEND QUESTION: Is there an emergency preamble on that safe driving bill - i.e., when the guv signs the bill Friday, is it illegal to text while driving to the fireworks or is there the traditional 90-day lag before a new law takes effect? The answer is no, there is not an emergency preamble.

YOU'RE GONNA NEED A BIGGER PICK-UP: A tuna boat caught a great white out by Stellwagen Bank on Saturday, prompting pre-Independence Day reassurances from officials that it was OK to go to the beach, but concern in some corners that state waters were deadly. And what did U.S. Sen. Scott Brown do? Tossed on his gear Sunday - one leg at a time, presumably - and dove in, finishing third in his age group in the Cohasset Triathlon. Brown this week also muscled a $19 billion bank tax out of the financial regulatory reform bill in Congress, and proposed a compromise he said would grant states some federal aid from a "slush fund," a bid to ameliorate, in Massachusetts, the $687 million absence and pay for Medicaid gaps, summer jobs and unemployment insurance.

This program aired on July 2, 2010. The audio for this program is not available.

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