Assessing the damage done to former Speaker Salvatore DiMasi and his co-defendants by admittedly guilty conspirator Joseph Lally could take time. But after three days on the stand, the prosecution’s star witness in the speaker’s corruption trial felt he had done his part.
“Game. Set. Match,” Lally muttered to a reporter in the halls of the courthouse during a break in his testimony at the corruption trial of DiMasi, which lasted the better part of three days.
The prosecution sure hopes so.
Lally, a former sales rep for Burlington-based software firm Cognos, pled guilty in February to conspiring with DiMasi and two others to secure $17.5 million in taxpayer-funded contracts. Lally stood to make millions off the commission, while DiMasi and co-defendants Richard McDonough and Richard Vitale are accused of pocketing hundreds of thousands of dollars in kickbacks.
Using words like “scheme” and “scam” to define the plot by which he said he helped funnel $65,000 to DiMasi through his former law associate Steven Topazio, Lally appeared to do his best to earn the plea deal he agreed to with federal prosecutors for reduced jail time and fines.
Some of the potentially damning evidence came in the colorful details offered up almost eagerly by Lally, a feisty if not flippant witness, who described how he and McDonough would frisk each other for wires before meetings. According to Lally, when Vitale considered returning his $500,000 take, DiMasi, he said, told them, "If one of us breaks, we all fall."
While the defense attempted to paint Lally as a degenerate gambler and liar not to be trusted, the former sales executive at the software company Cognos offered jurors the only defense he could muster. “I have not lied since I stepped into this courtroom," he said.
The defense has yet to made its case, leaving open the possibility that perceptions could shift wildly before the trial reaches its conclusion.
Back on Beacon Hill, lawmakers did their best to focus on business as usual with the Senate taking center stage with the release of its fiscal 2012 budget proposal, a bill they said was replete with spending cuts despite a bottom-line that would set a new Bay State spending record.
In the lead up to the budget’s release, Senate President Therese Murray kept her cards close to the vest, displaying a stone-cold poker face while labor leaders watched and wondered whether she was holding a wild card up her sleeve.
A clichéd metaphor, perhaps, better suited to that other sticky policy conundrum hanging over the inhabitants of the golden dome, but thus far municipal health insurance has supplanted gambling early in the session as the one issue that could give Democrats migraines in the coming weeks and threaten to drag out the budget process past the July 1 deadline.
After watching the chest-thumping, sky-is-falling theatrics put on by union bosses in response to the House plan to strip workers of some collective bargaining rights over health insurance benefits, Murray and her Senate colleagues were loath to reveal whether their fiscal 2012 budget proposal would even attempt to tackle this issue, let alone detail the plan they were cooking up behind closed doors.
Then Wednesday rolled around, and with it the Senate leadership’s chance to take a third crack in as many years at appeasing municipalities’ desire to save on health care costs while preserving a “meaningful voice” for labor - that delightfully, nebulous platitude expressed by Gov. Deval Patrick and other labor-friendly Democrats.
Surprisingly, the Senate plan included in the budget proposal looked an awful lot like the House’s “assault on collective bargaining,” in the words of the AFL-CIO President Robert Haynes. Sure, the negotiating process was different, and the Senate put final decisions in the hands a three-member review panel with a union representative at the table.
But without giving the unions any ability to block insurance plan design changes, so long as they conform to the baseline benchmarks offered state employees through the Group Insurance Commission, even casual observers had to wonder what good a “meaningful voice” is when no one is required to obey it.
"This plan, and hear me clearly, provides municipal employees with a voice, but not a veto," Senate budget chief Stephen Brewer explained.
The one major difference between the two plans, the second of which will need to clear the Senate next week when the budget is debated, is the amount of savings employees are entitled to share to offset the cost of higher co-payments and deductibles.
While Speaker Robert DeLeo put forward a plan that offered up 10 percent, and a max of 20 percent to unions, the Senate has put as much as 33 percent on the table subject to negotiation.
That one change seemed to be enough to mollify the unions – at least for now. It took mere minutes after the release of the House proposal for the likes of Haynes and Professional Firefighters Association head Ed Kelly to denounce House members as anti-labor Wisconsinites, but hours passed before unions leaders responded to the Senate in one collective voice calling it a “thoughtful approach” they would take under advisement.
Once described as “intractable” on the issue by opponents, bringing DeLeo along to some middle ground will be the next big test.
As the Senate prepares to debate its version of the budget next week – a $30.54 billion spending blueprint expected to be ushered through on a schedule unfolding over three days heading into the Memorial Day weekend - members filed 599 amendments by the Friday deadline.
Continuing with the young session’s unity theme – think unanimous votes in both branches rather than conflict-filled debates, policy differences and tight roll call votes - even Sen. Michael Knapik, the ranking Republican on Senate Ways and Means, acknowledged, "It's been awhile since we supported the budget out of the gate."
But endorse it he did, along with his GOP colleague Sen. Richard Ross, representing 50 percent of the emaciated Republican caucus.
Gov. Patrick also got a six-hour taste of what it will be like trying to wrangle the varied constituencies with a stake in his proposal to reform the state’s health care payment system, not the least of which could be President Barack Obama, who came to town for a fundraiser and will be leaning on Patrick as a surrogate in the 2012 election.
Patrick’s bill to replace fee-for-service with a global payment system and so-called accountable care organizations drew broad support – in theory – at a legislative hearing, but seemingly every group that testified had some concern.
STORY OF THE WEEK: Rapture watch. Everyone, if not tomorrow then soon, will be judged.
OLD WOUNDS REOPENED: Testimony from a little-known political ally to Sal DiMasi threatened to reopen still healing wounds among still sitting members of the House who remember all to clearly the cantankerous times leading up to DiMasi’s departure when House Speaker Robert DeLeo and then-Majority Leader John Rogers were jockeying for succession. Detailing a meeting that occurred between DiMasi, DeLeo and himself in DiMasi’s accountant’s office in December 2007, Dino Difronzo revealed that machinations were in play long before most Massachusetts residents might have realized to hand over the reins to DeLeo.
This program aired on May 20, 2011. The audio for this program is not available.