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Gov. Deval Patrick, in his bid to win re-election, is touting what he calls one of the state's most productive legislative sessions in recent history.
The Democrat has pointed to a series of legislative victories, from a massive overhaul of the state's transportation system, including the elimination of the Massachusetts Turnpike Authority, to changes making it more difficult for employers to get access to potential employees' criminal records and new measures toughening state lobbying and pension laws.
But critics - including top campaign challengers Republican Charles Baker and independent state Treasurer Timothy Cahill - are trying to flip that legislative record back on Patrick.
Baker says Patrick and fellow Democratic leaders in the House and Senate went too far in raising the state's sales tax from 5 percent to 6.25 percent and haven't gone nearly far enough in finding areas to cut spending.
"There's been a lot of backslapping during the past week at bill-signing ceremonies, but none of it has done anything to address the budget problems or help people get back to work," Baker said as the Legislature wrapped up its formal session, which ended July 31.
Despite Patrick's efforts to turn the Legislature's just-completed 19-month formal session into a campaign plus, he's still struggling in recent polls, holding a narrow lead over Baker, with Cahill a more distant third.
Patrick, dogged by the lingering effect of the recession and an unemployment rate hovering around 9 percent, has been unable to turn those legislative victories into traction on the campaign trail.
Patrick's travails echo those of congressional Democrats, who also are finding it difficult to capitalize on big legislative victories such as President Barack Obama's national health care overhaul.
On the campaign trail, Patrick has tried to ramp up those bragging rights, pointing to a slew of accomplishments in the past two years.
Those include an overhaul of the state education system, new laws clamping down on bullying in school and texting while driving, the recent sales tax holiday weekend, an expansion of health benefits to cover autism treatments, healthier food choices in schools and a measure to help lower small business health costs.
"This legislative work will make a lasting difference in the lives of commonwealth residents," Patrick said after lawmakers wrapped up their session. "By any measure, this has been a productive session."
Patrick also pointed out that the past four budgets have been delivered on time, despite a dramatic fall in revenue.
But Baker, Cahill and other critics say Patrick and Democratic lawmakers missed an opportunity to push through even tougher reforms.
Baker has seized on that message, offering what he's called a "Baker's Dozen" of proposals he said could save taxpayers more than $1 billion. One business-backed statehouse watchdog group pegged the estimated savings at closer to $500 million.
Baker's proposals include eliminating the requirement that state contractors enter into labor agreements, allowing cities and towns to join the state's Group Insurance Commission without union approval and ending a law limiting the state's ability to privatize services.
The legislative session also had its failures, most notably the inability of lawmakers and Patrick to come to agree on a bill to bring casino gambling to the state. That deal fell apart over the issue of allowing slot machines at the state's four racetracks.
Despite the collapse of the casino bill, House Speaker Robert DeLeo and fellow Democrat Senate President Therese Murray declared the session - which began with the resignation of former House Speaker Salvatore DiMasi - a success.
DeLeo ticked off his own list of wins, including a bill designed to protect tenants in foreclosed buildings and an extension of simulcasting at the state's racetracks.
"It's been an honor to work on the wide range of bills we completed that will stimulate our economy and improve the lives of families across the Commonwealth," DeLeo said.
Patrick also signed new laws requiring Massachusetts' Electoral College votes go to the presidential candidate who wins the national popular vote and a measure doubling the number of charter schools in the state's lowest-performing school districts.
There were plenty of lower-profile measures among the 514 signed by Patrick between January 2009 and mid-August, including 27 liquor licenses, nine beer and wine licenses and a petition naming a traffic circle in Lowell after local junior welterweight professional boxer Micky Ward.
This program aired on August 19, 2010. The audio for this program is not available.
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