State House Roundup: Beacon Hill Barbecue
It sure felt like summer on Beacon Hill this week — stifling heat and humidity, the seersucker back in style and enough pork for a proper capitol barbecue.
Gov. Deval Patrick played host to the world at the BIO International conference in Southie, Scott Brown quarreled with Democrats over his secret royalty rendezvous, and Transportation Secretary Richard Davey, whether he meant to or not, nicely encapsulated the mood at the State House.
Oh, and Rep. Charley Murphy, an early seersucker adopter and once a leading contender to win the speaker’s chair before finding himself on Speaker Robert DeLeo’s bad side after being too open about his succession desires, announced his plan to resign in July. The news broke on Friday afternoon. He was unavailable for comment.
But back to Davey: "I don't think we need yet another board to tell us what I think is pretty obvious, which is our entire transit network is broken from a financial standpoint. In fact, our entire transportation network is broken.”
While Davey was talking about the call from some senators to condition its $51 million bailout of the MBTA on the installment of a control board, he could just have easily been referencing the ease with which House members went about earmarking tens of millions of dollars for infrastructure.
There was a certain workmanlike quality to the way the House conducted its business during its lone formal session of the week. They took a $1.6 billion transportation bond bill and carved into bit-sized morsels, not once pausing to talk about their endless earmarking efforts.
Democrat, Republican, backbencher or leadership, it didn’t seem to matter. Need a road paved, a sidewalk built, a traffic light installed or a bike path constructed? You got it. One-hundred sixty amendments approved, no debate necessary. You could almost hear the press releases rolling off the printers.
“We got the signal that this was something we could take back to our districts,” said one House Republican.
Speaker Robert DeLeo said he hoped that the House returning its attention to the borrowing bill – which is ultimately subject to the Patrick administration spending the money approved by the Legislature – would help break the deadlock with the Senate over the release of $200 million in agreed upon local road and bridge repair funds.
That outcome, however, is not so clear. Perhaps the Senate, which refrained from the earmarking embarked upon by the House in its own bond bill, will take the cue as a thumbs-up to green light pet projects at home. Or maybe another bill is headed to conference, leaving the $200 million in Chapter 90 funding, which local officials have pleaded for, bottled up in not one, but two conferences.
With a soft July 1 deadline for the start of the fiscal year a little more than a week away, budget conferees may be under the most pressure to compromise, but time is still short on the formal session calendar and the number of bills in conference is growing, not shrinking.
Crime and sentencing conferees said they’re closer – an interesting way to describe a deal in the works now for seven months - but foreclosure prevention legislation was added to the negotiating pile.
"I am very concerned about the timeline and I've urged my conferees to maybe add some days to the conferences or time to the conferences and try to come to resolution," Senate President Therese Murray said. "The budget one is, you know, is always tough because it's $32 billion. But the others really should be moving along a lot quicker."
Murray even candidly admitted that Ways and Means has yet to look at the speaker’s “jobs bill,” consumed with budget negotiations, though she appeared to begrudgingly commit to taking up the economic development package at some point.
Could she be holding on the speaker’s bill to horse trade for something else? “There are no horses in this building,” Senate Ways and Means Chair Stephen Brewer quipped, though not everyone is likely to be convinced.
As House Democrats and Republicans appeared entangled in a little election-year backscratching, the Senate found itself embroiled in a full-blown group therapy session.
Largely unquestioned by lawmakers has been the Legislature’s need to bail out the T this year, and in doing so the commuters of a debt-laden transit system. But lest any voter think they were happy about it, three Senate Republicans and Sens. Jamie Welch and Gale Candaras let their frustrations be known.
"Our message is: no more money unless something changes," Senate Minority Leader Bruce Tarr said.
The amendment proposed loaning the MBTA the money, rather than outrighting it to the agency, and putting the five-member board, which had criticized the legislature for not just forking over the money sooner, under the thumb of a new control board. It failed, but not before many senators made it clear they’re not happy with the T.
The Senate also gave quick approval to a bill put forth by Stand for Children and the Massachusetts Teachers Association that would avoid a ballot campaign and prioritize teacher evaluations over seniority in hiring decisions. This was not a bill that legislative leaders had on their agenda when they launched the session in January 2011.
Sen. Patricia Jehlen likened the vote to a hostage situation, but after the AFL-CIO and American Federation of Teachers dropped their opposition to the deal with little by way of explanation, the path had essentially been cleared for the deal. The same fate appears less likely, though still possible, for “right to repair” legislation after manufacturers scoffed at the proponents crowing about winning over car dealers.
At BIO, Massachusetts officials took the week to cheerlead for the state. Everyone from Patrick to Lt. Gov. Tim Murray to Senate President Therese Murray and DeLeo spent time at the BCEC pavilion talking up the industry.
Though there were no announcements on par with Patrick’s 10-year, $1 billion life science initiative rolled out the last time the convention was in town at 2007, Patrick called Massachusetts the "undisputed global destination for biotech.”
Not a little bravado from the same governor, who when asked if the life science bill was the cause of the sector’s growth, said, “That’s a terrible question to ask me because what you’re supposed to do in jobs like this is brag. I’m very, very proud of the life sciences initiative. But I take my cues of its success from members of the industry and the patients as well and uniformly they are grateful for what we are doing.”
Patrick once declared the life sciences initiative would add 250,000 jobs. Administration officials said more than 8,700 had been produced by $302 million in direct investments to date, and unspecified “thousands” more because the life sciences cluster in Massachusetts that officials essentially say grows itself the bigger it gets.
The convention was not without its light moments, as politicians found themselves a little out of their comfort zones.
“A chronic inflammation-dependent immunosuppression prognostic kit. I can’t believe I said that. How about that?” Patrick said.
STORY OF THE WEEK: It’s an election year. Results matter.
This program aired on June 22, 2012. The audio for this program is not available.