State House Roundup: Snow And Icy

The overt potshot Speaker Robert DeLeo aimed at Gov. Deval Patrick this week, pouring vinegar into a wound ripped open by Evergreen Solar Inc., turned the camera's gaze, however briefly, toward a hidden dynamic on Beacon Hill.

DeLeo, of course, ripped the Patrick administration's head-over-heels courting of the once-promising solar company, which decided last month to move Massachusetts jobs across the Pacific just in time to celebrate the Chinese New Year — but not before accepting boatloads of taxpayer aid.

"You're not going to see many of the people with slots or gaming taking jobs to China," DeLeo said during a WBZ-TV interview, reminding viewers just how strongly he still desires to bring slot halls and casinos to the commonwealth after he and Patrick famously could not reach an accord last July.

The two haven't spoken about gambling since.

DeLeo keeps identifying gambling as a top priority and source of immediate support for cities and towns bracing for cuts in state aid, which makes his stalemate with Patrick all the more curious. Both say they want the thousands of jobs that expanded gambling would provide and both publicly say they have a strong working relationship. But as he exited the governor's office Monday to walk to his own office literally steps away, DeLeo acknowledged that he'd be "less than truthful" if he suggested he and Patrick have had a meaningful conversation on the subject since July.

The time for their talk, it seems, has not arrived.

Silence was in vogue this week in the capitol, which emptied out Tuesday and Wednesday during a pair of nasty snow-ice-sleet-rain storms that wiped out what little remained of the state's winter road-clearing budget. The account had $3 million going into the latest storm, which officials estimate cost $16 million to clean up — this winter has been an economic stimulus for plow operators, salt companies and, in the weeks ahead, roofing companies. The Legislature is sitting on a spending plan that would add $25 million for snow removal, but in the meantime, Patrick said rainy day funds could cover the excess cost.

As the snow fell and state workers were told to stay home Wednesday, Patrick convened a private meeting of his top health care and budget officials to lay the groundwork for tackling a wholesale overhaul of the way consumers, hospitals, insurers and government pays for health care. Officials provided few details about the meeting's purpose or outcome.

The Patrick administration also provided little substantiation, or defense, for plans to squeeze $1 billion in health care costs, as stakeholders took turns questioning and even assailing the suggestion. That the governor's budget is premised on flattening the trend of soaring health care costs — a decades-old problem that has flummoxed policymakers in Washington and all 50 states — drew snickering from some fiscal observers who, after composing themselves, suggested the governor would be lucky to generate half the savings he has proposed.

Meanwhile, lawmakers, dormant for five months during election season and consumed in January by insider politicking and ceremonial obligations, are creaking to life, frequenting the State House with regularity but still showing little in the way of a short-term policy agenda. They did find time to poke holes in the governor's, though.

DeLeo, in the Evergreen interview, panned the governor's proposal to add a redeemable 5-cent deposit on juice, sports drink, tea and water bottles, calling it "another form of taxation" and taking it off the table for the House budget. Similarly, another high-powered cadre of legislators ripped the governor for proposing a cut to services that support children with developmental delays and disabilities. Senate Majority Leader Frederick Berry called the cut "deeply disturbing."

"In all my years in politics I've never seen such a shortsighted decision," he said.

Patrick suggested in November that he would begin to forge bonds with rank-and-file lawmakers to help carry his agenda, but he spent more time this week strengthening ties with another pivotal group of elected officials: the Governor's Council. The council, which votes on Patrick's judicial nominees and Parole Board appointees, has clawed its way into the spotlight after a shakeup in the last election further polarized the often erratic and impolitic body.

Four of the eight councilors — the most reliable supporters of Patrick's nominees — helped themselves to sandwiches and cookies in Patrick's office Tuesday and, according to those who attended, limited their conversations with the governor to small talk. The other four — including two Democrats who often criticize Patrick's judicial picks and two newly elected Republicans — didn't show.

A day earlier, Patrick received word that another vacancy on the state's highest court will open in April, when Justice Judith Cowin retires. The council is also preparing to vet Patrick's pick to chair the Parole Board, Suffolk County prosecutor Joshua Wall. A hearing on Wall's nomination was canceled due to the snow. Patrick has another four Parole Board nominations to announce, and he's promised to make them quickly.

The midweek snowfall led to another quandary for Massachusetts residents: a spate of roof collapses across the state endangering schools, homes and businesses. On Friday, Patrick toured a roof collapse in Auburn. The governor has urged residents to be "extra vigilant" and to call 911 at any sign of structural instability.

STORY OF THE WEEK: Might be time for a Patrick-DeLeo Kelly's Roast Beef summit in Revere.

ALL KNOTTED UP: Geraldo Alicea, the Democrat occupying the Sixth Worcester House seat, learned this week that rather than losing last November's election by a single vote, he had actually pulled even with his Republican challenger Peter Durant. A Worcester Superior Court judge ruled Tuesday that a ballot in Alicea's favor had been improperly thrown out, knotting the race. Although the judge called for a new election, the decision falls to a three-member House panel that intends to consider the court ruling as evidence but not the end-all factor. The House has yet to move toward a special election, and the panel - Reps. Michael Moran (D-Brighton), Eugene O'Flaherty (D-Chelsea) and George Peterson (R-Grafton) - has indicated a ruling early next week is possible.

This program aired on February 4, 2011. The audio for this program is not available.


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