Support the news

State House Roundup: Pour L'Amour Et L'EConomie

This article is more than 7 years old.

Underneath a tangled thicket of economic gobbledygook, punctuated by fancy turns of phrase like "inflation-adjusted baseline revenue growth" and "0 percent growth threshold test," an unsettling refrain broke out at the State House this week.

The fate of the Massachusetts economy, the chorus went, may hinge more on Angela Merkel, David Cameron, Nicolas Sarkozy and a teetering, debt-laden Eurozone than it does on the state policy-making prowess of Deval Patrick, Terry Murray and Bob DeLeo - the triumvirate of Massachusetts power no more than rubbernecking nonentities when it comes to global macroeconomic forces.

For four hours, a morose crew of fiscal analysts did their best to jazz up and put a Bay State twist on long-understood economic fears about the potential for a European economic crisis to spill across the Atlantic and plunge America - and potentially Massachusetts - into a new recession.

On cue, the romancer in chief whisked his First Lady to the Champs Elysees, a trip meant to celebrate a milestone birthday for Diane, but one the Patricks could just as easily justify as an attempt to bolster the French economy, and by extension the Commonwealth's.

The economic news was, at best, mixed this week, with the unemployment rate sinking to 7 percent and employers reporting 5,000 added jobs in November - a sweet-and-sour boast for a state whose unemployment rate peaked at 8.8 percent in 2009 and was 2.3 percent a decade ago. Although Massachusetts's easily bests the 8.6 percent national unemployment rate, the Patrick administration's own Department of Revenue cited forecasts this week showing that job creation looks likely to stagnate for much of the next year as a spastic national economic recovery flounders.

In addition, tax collections, which surged over the past year, are poised to slow at a time when spending on big safety net services like Medicaid and housing for the homeless are absorbing more of the state budget, the forecasters said. That surging revenue will trigger an automatic 0.05 percentage point income tax reduction, a cut so small it failed to bring much in the way of approval or disapproval on Beacon Hill.

But advocates for services that have been gored by budget cuts since the start economic collapse in 2008 and 2009 spoke up Thursday, wondering why, when elected officials are publicly warning about the prospect of budget cuts to programs that serve the neediest residents, should a tax cut estimated to cost $111 million to $117 million a year be allowed to take effect unchallenged.

"As revenue officials are cutting the state's tax rate and budget officials are pointing toward a difficult 2012, we are concerned that this move could end up hurting the one in ten individuals who receive vital human services from our state," said Providers' Council President Michael Weekes. "We understand state residents need tax relief - many of those who are struggling with low wages are direct care workers in the human services system," he added. "But we must ensure that cutting the state's tax rate does not hurt our most vulnerable who receive essential supports from this chronically underfunded sector."

Before Patrick traded his baseball cap for a beret, he announced Tuesday what could prove to be one of the most consequential appointments of his tenure, one that could last well beyond his stint as governor. Patrick named Steve Crosby, former budget chief to Republican Gov. Paul Cellucci, as the chairman of the Massachusetts Gaming Commission, the agency established in newly signed casino legislation to build and police the expanded gambling industry.

Crosby's selection - praised by Govs. Cellucci and Jane Swift, who kept him on as chief of staff - kept a lid on partisan bickering but opened the governor up to charges that he picked an insider to run an outfit with jurisdiction over a broad, multi-billion-dollar swath of the economy. Crosby is eligible to work as chairman for at least seven years, although he's only committed to two.Underneath a tangled thicket of economic gobbledygook, punctuated by fancy turns of phrase like "inflation-adjusted baseline revenue growth" and "0 percent growth threshold test," an unsettling refrain broke out at the State House this week.

The fate of the Massachusetts economy, the chorus went, may hinge more on Angela Merkel, David Cameron, Nicolas Sarkozy and a teetering, debt-laden Eurozone than it does on the state policy-making prowess of Deval Patrick, Terry Murray and Bob DeLeo - the triumvirate of Massachusetts power no more than rubbernecking nonentities when it comes to global macroeconomic forces.

For four hours, a morose crew of fiscal analysts did their best to jazz up and put a Bay State twist on long-understood economic fears about the potential for a European economic crisis to spill across the Atlantic and plunge America - and potentially Massachusetts - into a new recession.

On cue, the romancer in chief whisked his First Lady to the Champs Elysees, a trip meant to celebrate a milestone birthday for Diane, but one the Patricks could just as easily justify as an attempt to bolster the French economy, and by extension the Commonwealth's.

The economic news was, at best, mixed this week, with the unemployment rate sinking to 7 percent and employers reporting 5,000 added jobs in November - a sweet-and-sour boast for a state whose unemployment rate peaked at 8.8 percent in 2009 and was 2.3 percent a decade ago. Although Massachusetts's easily bests the 8.6 percent national unemployment rate, the Patrick administration's own Department of Revenue cited forecasts this week showing that job creation looks likely to stagnate for much of the next year as a spastic national economic recovery flounders.

In addition, tax collections, which surged over the past year, are poised to slow at a time when spending on big safety net services like Medicaid and housing for the homeless are absorbing more of the state budget, the forecasters said. That surging revenue will trigger an automatic 0.05 percentage point income tax reduction, a cut so small it failed to bring much in the way of approval or disapproval on Beacon Hill.

But advocates for services that have been gored by budget cuts since the start economic collapse in 2008 and 2009 spoke up Thursday, wondering why, when elected officials are publicly warning about the prospect of budget cuts to programs that serve the neediest residents, should a tax cut estimated to cost $111 million to $117 million a year be allowed to take effect unchallenged.

"As revenue officials are cutting the state's tax rate and budget officials are pointing toward a difficult 2012, we are concerned that this move could end up hurting the one in ten individuals who receive vital human services from our state," said Providers' Council President Michael Weekes. "We understand state residents need tax relief - many of those who are struggling with low wages are direct care workers in the human services system," he added. "But we must ensure that cutting the state's tax rate does not hurt our most vulnerable who receive essential supports from this chronically underfunded sector."

Before Patrick traded his baseball cap for a beret, he announced Tuesday what could prove to be one of the most consequential appointments of his tenure, one that could last well beyond his stint as governor. Patrick named Steve Crosby, former budget chief to Republican Gov. Paul Cellucci, as the chairman of the Massachusetts Gaming Commission, the agency established in newly signed casino legislation to build and police the expanded gambling industry.

Crosby's selection - praised by Govs. Cellucci and Jane Swift, who kept him on as chief of staff - kept a lid on partisan bickering but opened the governor up to charges that he picked an insider to run an outfit with jurisdiction over a broad, multi-billion-dollar swath of the economy. Crosby is eligible to work as chairman for at least seven years, although he's only committed to two.

With the capitol largely empty for a fourth straight week, the oft-overlooked Governor's Council grabbed a disproportionate share of attention. The eight-member elected body gets the final word on Patrick's judicial nominees and appointees to the Parole Board, and this week a series of squabbles among councilors converged and escalated into open warfare.

There was Councilor Thomas Merrigan and Councilor Marilyn Devaney renewing their long-running battle over who's ruder and who interrupts more often. There was Councilor Jennie Caissie committing some Republican-on-Republican crime, ripping fellow GOP Councilor Charles Cipollini for opposing her proposal to administer a truth-telling oath to judicial nominees and character witnesses.

"The opposition … disrespects all the people of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts and diminishes the integrity of this process," she charged.

But the bickering was overshadowed by what appeared to be a standard question for any judicial nominee, an inquiry posed by Councilor Mary-Ellen Manning to John Ferrara, Gov. Patrick's pick for a seat on the Superior Court.

Manning asked Ferrara - who was accompanied at the hearing by his wife, his two sons, his brother, colleagues and friends - whether the 59-year-old had ever had a criminal conviction. Ferrara instantly grew rattled and wondered whether Manning might want to narrow her question to a more recent timeframe or a certain type of offense.

"I have my family here. I have my children here. I have my friends here," he said.

When she balked at his request, Ferrara copped to an operating-under-the -influence conviction when he was 21 years old, a conviction he said he had never told his sons about. Manning, who announced plans to run for state Senate this week, apologized for the uncomfortable moment but reiterated her view that family members shouldn't attend judicial confirmation proceedings, where uncomfortable questions may arise.

"These are important positions. They're lifetime positions. This is a full-disclosure process … I have to do my job even when it hurts people's feelings," she said.

STORY OF THE WEEK: The Crosby show.

SCAPE-GOADING? Rep. Thomas Conroy decided to take himself out of the game in the first quarter this week, dropping out of the incredible shrinking Democratic primary field hoping to take on U.S. Sen. Scott Brown in 2012. And in his clamoring to get in the good graces of overwhelming frontrunner Elizabeth Warren, he immediately distanced himself from the one pointed critique he offered of Warren's candidacy. Conroy made headlines earlier this month when he accused Warren of lacking a plan to create jobs. "I've rolled out a plan. Where's hers?" he said at a Dec. 1 State House press conference at which he described a $500 billion plan he said would support 2.3 million new jobs. "What has she demonstrated in terms of policy initiatives? What's her understanding of the economy and the way it works? I've laid out a plan here that demonstrates all three of those things, and I'd ask her to respond." In a NECN interview on Monday, the third-term lawmaker from Wayland claimed he was "sort of goaded into that response" by reporters. The alleged goader was Chris Camire, a Lowell Sun reporter who allegedly baited Conroy with this question: "Is there anything in this plan, any specific policy that you're proposing, that distinguishes yourself from Elizabeth Warren?" Conroy's backtrack channeled Sarah Palin, who on a June swing through Boston offered a mangled description of Paul Revere's ride and then blamed it on a "gotcha" question. The question? "What have you seen so far today and what are you going to take away from your visit?"

This program aired on December 16, 2011. The audio for this program is not available.

+Join the discussion
TwitterfacebookEmail

Support the news