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State House Roundup: 24 Hours A Day, 7 Days A Week

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Lawrence Mayor and state Rep. William "Willy" Lantigua, left, with Mass. Gov. Deval Patrick during his inauguration ceremony Jan. 4, 2010. (Charles Krupa/AP)
Lawrence Mayor and state Rep. William "Willy" Lantigua, left, with Mass. Gov. Deval Patrick during his inauguration ceremony Jan. 4, 2010. (Charles Krupa/AP)

The paralyzing winter monsoon expected to cast the commonwealth into rimy midweek despair never quite materialized, and veteran political analysts couldn’t help but wonder if perhaps the new junior senator had just worked the first of what they only assumed would be several miracles, turning the snow into wind, sparing the battered road-clearing budget and endowing his new constituents with his now nationally sought blessing.

U.S. Sen. Scott Brown, writer of books, driver of truck, worthy adversary of Mother Nature.

Back in the minors, Brown’s former colleagues fashioned Thursday’s Senate session into a sort of odd debate on the chamber’s recent economic development legacy, such as it is. Discussing a bill upon which there was unanimous agreement, a softening of this year’s increase in the amount businesses pay to the state’s unemployment insurance fund, Republicans trotted out their complaints about the combined reporting and sales tax hikes and targeted tax credits, and Democrats hustled to their own defense, pointing to an overall reduction in the corporate tax rate and recent growth in the education and health services sectors.

There was near-universal agreement that jobs are good, and should be created or saved.

Sen. Stephen Brewer, second man in on Senate Ways and Means, boasted that the chamber would, or should, do whatever it took to forge employment opportunities. “If we have to work 24 hours a day, seven days a week … we ought to be doing it.” A peculiar assertion in a workplace that had essentially emptied out at noon the day before in anticipation of a blizzard that never occurred.

The one-man job-creation juggernaut that is state Rep./Mayor William Lantigua — “Willy,” around the capitol — was taking it from all directions this week, discussing threats to his genetic line continuation efforts in the Globe, refusing to show up for a legislative hearing about the finances of the city he — twice! — represents, and generally sticking to his story. The issue — shot through with the usual racial overtones because he is the state’s first elected Latino mayor — is whether Lantigua should hang onto both the House gig, where he’s in his fourth term, in addition to the mayoralty, to which he was duly elected last fall. Colleagues are gunning for him, including an unusually acid Senate budget chief Steven Panagiotakos.

They, the people, elected me, they want me, they need me, doing both jobs full-time, says Sweet William, Flower of the Merrimack.

Standing by his colleague, Speaker Robert DeLeo lay the decision at the feet of the Law-town electorate, next scheduled to partake in a municipal election in 2013. Lantigua’s House seat is on this November’s ballot.

"I don't think that we have the ability, either, to force him to resign one seat or the other, so I think that's up to the voters of Lawrence. I think they made their decision," DeLeo said.

Thus, voters who cannot be trusted to choose on gay marriage, Clean Elections, or the state income tax rate can, when it comes to Willy, be counted on to make the correct call.

Lawmakers waited to act on a Lawrence fiscal relief package proposed by Gov. Deval Patrick, who was somewhere in between Panagiotakos and DeLeo on L’Affaire Lantigua, that would permit the city to borrow an additional $35 million to fill a $24.5 million budget gap over the next two years, with the threat of a Springfield-style state control board if things don’t shape up quickly. The measure could have come to a vote Wednesday, but the modest dusting interfered, meaning that a vote probably won’t happen for at least two weeks (next week is school vacation).

There didn’t appear to be much of an obstacle to scheduling a formal vote for Thursday, but DeLeo is concerned about his flock, firm that they spend more time in their district among their constituents where elections happen and be vigilant as Democrats embark on a statewide effort of population control against a proliferation of the theoretical species known as the Next Scott Brown. The speaker is scheduling just one formal session a week and encouraging those reps who don’t have to be here, not to be. Go out among the folks, circulate, act normal. Don’t bring up Sal or taxes.

Patrick seemed to stick the landing on his big policy pronouncement, winning generous headlines for Wednesday’s “soft cap” on gaudy health insurance premium hikes on employers of 50 or fewer people. Insurers didn’t think this was a very good idea, noting that when they charge roughly triple what Patrick deems “reasonable,” they are doing so after being charged that selfsame rate by the care providers. Patrick said he will try to balance the equation with legislation instituting a similar cap on providers, while the state awaits a more lasting reform in the shape of a complete rejiggering of the health care financing structure. That’s an elusive one, the new white whale for state policymakers.

As all significant Beacon Hill matters this year, imposing caps on health insurance careened onto the gubernatorial campaign trail. Republican Charles Baker’s campaign quickly laughed off Patrick’s move as “another election smokescreen.” Unenrolled Treasurer Timothy Cahill had already come out panning the 2006 health coverage expansion as unaffordable for both the government and consumers, a charge the law’s regulators disputed, while discussing an expected 7 percent increase in the subsidized care program next fiscal year.

Health care costs, economic development, the governor’s cuts to mental health programs that Senate President Therese Murray vowed Tuesday to stop — they’ll all figure into the gambling debate that is starting to shake itself out of its DiMasi-imposed nap. The pros and cons were aired Tuesday, and will continue tumbling across the agenda from here clear to late spring and probably well beyond that. In order to sanction the plan that DeLeo wants — slots and casinos — the House will have to undergo a tectonic shift, closing a chasm of some 60 votes it opened in 2008 in sending Patrick away from the tables, chipless and uncomped.

The turnaround in earnest this week, when DeLeo’s handpicked monetary maharajah, Charles Murphy, Democrat of Burlington, reliable vote against gambling bills in 2003, 2006 and 2008, began spinning the battleship wheel in aggressively evasive fashion.

“Destination gaming could prove yet another premium attraction to those already drawn to Massachusetts' unique history, and its many cultural and entertainment offerings,” wrote Murphy in the Burlington Union. “In addition to providing much needed revenue for the state, destination gaming proponents tout the potential for thousands of good-paying, permanent jobs in construction, lodging, transportation, and food service, among other industries.”

A different world indeed.

STORY OF THE WEEK: Underperforming weather expectations.

SMILE OF THE WEEK: Friday was truck day. Not just for Scott Brown, but for Sox fans everywhere, who watched the equipment truck leave Fenway and head on down to the Sunshine State for spring training. Nick of time, too. Unpredictable weather here.

Weekly news roundups from State House News Service are published with permission on wbur.org as part of a partnership with the agency.

This program aired on February 12, 2010. The audio for this program is not available.

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