If you were at, say, Speaker Pro Tempore Tom Petrolati's campaign fundraiser Thursday night at the Ludlow Country Club, a probationary soiree that put the spotlight on the quiet adviser to now three House speakers running, a more likely topic of your conversation than the stuffed mushrooms or how swell those new jobs numbers were was how spicy this whole gambling situation has become again.
Because not only did the Mashpee Wampanoags and the Malaysian investment firm Arkana Ltd. throw down, big-time, in Fall River Monday with a plan to nudge out a bioprocessing plant in favor of a casino — throwing the Patrick administration into a minor tantrum because they had not been amply consulted — but House Speaker Robert DeLeo politely informed a business group in the same city Thursday that those health care cost control ideas the governor and Senate president have been so fired up about might, perhaps, not quite make it this year to the House floor, which DeLeo controls through a battalion of pit bosses.
Legislative arithmetic wrested into policy reality: The speaker's perch atop the most populous branch establishes him as the pivotal figure in the closing weeks because he can, often with clear justification, throw up his hands and declare any single piece of legislation too contentious and unwieldy to pass. This dynamic intensifies as the calendar slims.
"I'm not so certain that we're going to be able to tackle this before the end of this legislative session," DeLeo said in Fall River, rolling a long distance hand grenade into the Senate Chamber. "But I think it's good because of the fact that I think we're preparing ourselves for the next legislative session (when) we are going to tackle it."
Loose translation: Gimme my racetrack slot machines or your names will be nowhere near anything resembling the words "premium relief." At least this election year.
Of course, there's a chance the House legitimately lacks the capacity to finish work on Senate President Therese Murray's two-tiered approach, which involves taking $100 million from hospitals to ease premium rates 10 to 15 percent for small employers and then a longer-term approach to muscle fundamental change into the structure through which providers charge insurers for care. The Senate passed the first phase Tuesday, and Murray said she wanted the House to follow suit quickly.
"I've cast several votes here that I'd like to take back," DeLeo's Health Care Financing chair, Harriett Stanley, said Monday, two days before the Senate voted on the 49-page bill, which went to the floor without a direct public hearing.
It's better for DeLeo if there's a little uncertainty around this. The speaker has proved he can win big votes in his own chamber, though he's also lost some, but the gambling bill is, at his choosing, his biggest battlefield. He's dealing with Patrick and Murray, and they'll be watching to see if he blinks.
The Senate doubled-down on Murray's economic development consolidation, marbling it into the $27.88 draft appropriations bill, which probably doesn't matter all that much because it was probably headed for The Great Policy Swap Meet of 2010 anyway. The Senate budget committee's version outspends the House-passed installment by $53 million and calls for $330 million less than Patrick's because it does not include new taxes or draw on the state's main reserve account. The budget raises overall spending by more than 3 percent, largely devoted to MassHealth and largely paid for with gobs of one-time federal revenue. Senate Ways and Means chair Steven Panagiotakos once again, as is his wont, delved into the figurative when discussing the condition of the state's finances.
"Crisis is the father of change," quoth Panagiotakos, who had to sit through an excruciating round of verbal genuflection from his Ways and Means inferiors, at least three of whom have been making coquettish advances at the post he will relinquish at the end of the year.
Pange will probably find a job somewhere. That'd put him right alongside 19,100 Bay State residents who last month secured employment, net-net. It's the largest monthly gain in 17 years, and the third straight month of jobs growth in the state. According to the Economic Policy Institute, Massachusetts is one of 42 states to see gains the last three months and just about middle-of-the-pack in terms of percentage job losses since the Dec. 2007 recession starting line.
The most fun part of the job growth — other than people actually going back to work — was watching the gubernatorial campaigns hop on the spin train. For the Patrick people, who have for years now pointed to the state's employment data as the direct results of global economic forces way beyond the reach of any governor, the new numbers were proof that the governor's economic development strategies were bulls-eyes. For the campaigns of Independent Treasurer Timothy Cahill and Republican Charles Baker, who for months have placed blame for the state's economic woes squarely on Patrick's shoulders, the gains were in ho-hum keeping with national turnaround trends, and not so much signs of sound management but indicative of Patrick's shortcomings.
And then there was Grace. Patrick's sole Democratic rival, Grace Ross, hung 'em up on Wednesday, sort of, acknowledging she would not reach the 10,000-signature threshold and, in a sad drizzle outside the State House, proceeding to describe a sort of Marxist-hell vision about how neighbors would be fighting with each other for the bare necessities unless the other campaigns started paying attention to the proletariat. Pronouncing herself as "beloved of the people," Ross said she would continue her campaign.
Comical economic spin enterprises aside, the jobs numbers solidified this as the second straight strong week for the governor, after a confusing start in which he denounced negative ads then appeared to have difficulty defining negativity. Baker rolled around the state on the "Had Enough?" bus, concluding at the end of the week that voters have. Cahill, still reeling from the national GOP's cremation of his reputation, said he would hang back and let the voters decide whether to believe or resent the attacks.
It was cement week, as the narratives of the remainders of both the legislative cycle and the campaign appeared to settle, at least temporarily, and bind to each other. Both are for the time being three-player games, the rest of the Legislature and the voters hanging in the balance if not on every word.
STORY OF THE WEEK: DeLeo giveth and/or DeLeo taketh away.
SOMEWHERE, LOU DIAMOND PHILLIPS WEEPS: Former state Treasurer Joseph Malone won an upgrade from the National Republican Congressional Committee to "on the radar" status Tuesday, a nod to Malone's fundraising as he seeks the GOP nomination for the 10th Congressional District. There may have been a miscommunication or an oversight or whatever, though, as Malone was tabbed for the NRCC's "Young Guns" program. Malone was born in 1954. The NRCC says the candidate's age doesn't have anything to do with the age of the candidate. Busy week for the 10th. While Democratic candidate William Keating's ginormous pension received the glut of the campaign's early negative coverage, this week there was much attention on whether Rep. Jeff Perry during his career as a police officer stood by while his partner allegedly sexually assaulted a girl and on state Sen. Robert O'Leary's brother resigning from the Caritas Carney Hospital presidency for hitting up Carney-affiliated doctors for campaign fundraisers.
This program aired on May 21, 2010. The audio for this program is not available.