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State House Roundup: The Beaten Path

This article is more than 7 years old.

It is said that one governs in prose. But Gov. Deval Patrick’s 63-page blueprint for a modern transportation system titled the “The Way Forward” may come to be better remembered poetically as “The Road Not Taken.”

The painstaking march toward a resolution between Gov. Deval Patrick and the Legislature over transportation financing – currently a $500 million package of tax increases – took several steps forward this week, the script seemingly written in advance.

The stage is now set for an override vote next week to finalize the bill over the governor’s objections and in time for an August summer legislative break when shoppers can take advantage of another sales tax holiday, maybe?

House Speaker Robert DeLeo didn’t seem the least bit nervous when he summoned the members to Beacon Hill this week in the midst of the July heat, asking them to reject Patrick’s latest overture on transportation financing.

In fact, he seemed downright jovial, teasing the governor when Patrick got an ovation in the House chamber after his introduction to swear in new Rep. Jay Livingstone. DeLeo’s been on the losing end of these tilts before, but he’s feeling good this time.

“Don’t interpret this as the votes you’re going to get,” DeLeo said to Patrick, leaning in to whisper into the governor’s ear, his voice still picked up by the microphones. The two men shared a good laugh. And then the House did exactly what was expected, soundly rejecting the governor’s pleas to ensure that if turnpike tolls come down as scheduled, the gas tax will increase to cover the lost funding.

The current bill, with $500 million in new taxes and eventually $800 million in new resources for transportation, is as far as lawmakers are willing to go. The vote was 123-31, a more than comfortable margin for the speaker eyeing the two-thirds support he will need to override Patrick’s veto.

Patrick’s odds seem better, though still long, in the Senate where Therese Murray’s flock split 29-9, a less fluffy cushion between resolution on transportation funding and all-out August chaos.

Patrick on Friday didn’t wait long to think it over after the $500 million tax package arrived back on his desk, his “mixed emotions” notwithstanding:

“On the one hand, this bill, in its current form, enables us to reinvest in our transportation network, after decades of willful neglect. It provides some short-term resources to deal with our most pressing needs. It responds to a key priority of my Administration and will stimulate many jobs. I thank the Legislature for that. But this good bill is not good enough,” he said in a statement.

And so Patrick will continue to try to talk over the next few days with sympathetic lawmakers, knowing full well his options are running thin and time is running out. Last ditch meetings with small groups of members in both branches this week did little to change minds.

Patrick has always acknowledged the difficulty in getting members to vote against their leadership, even if they agree with him on policy, as he contends. But Murray rejected the idea that senators cast their votes based on anything but conviction.

“Why don’t you ask every single one of my members if somehow I strong-armed them into taking that vote today? I think we had a very productive caucus. We went over the governor’s concerns. Everyone understands it. But we all think we gave him a good bill, and we’re hoping that he’ll accept it,” she said Thursday.

The disagreement over what will happen to turnpike tolls in 2017 spoke this week to the broader, underlying reality that Patrick, well into his seventh year as governor, will not be around to make the call himself. Where he will be remains a favorite topic of speculation.

Democratic Party Chairman John Walsh, a close advisor and political associate of Patrick’s since his first campaign started eight years ago, fueled that speculation when he announced he would step down in September to run Patrick’s political action committee. Walsh also wants Patrick to run for president, according to Patrick.

Walsh’s move cleared the decks for a new party leader to come in before next year’s statewide election, but also puts a high-profile, experienced hand in charge of Patrick’s political legacy and future. Both Patrick and Walsh said the governor was not eyeing a White House bid in 2016, but how active Patrick remains in national Democratic politics through his PAC remains a question, the answer holding clues as to whether Patrick is done with public life, or just warming up. The last Massachusetts governor had a PAC too and traveled extensively.

Aside from what it means for the governor, Walsh’s exit will mark the end of an era for Bay State Democrats who, with Patrick and Walsh at the helm, had a run of success, twice winning the Corner Office and installing Democrats in all six statewide offices and 11 Congressional seats.

The one major blemish on Walsh's record since 2007 was Attorney General Martha Coakley's special election loss to former U.S. Sen. Scott Brown in January 2010 after the death of Edward Kennedy.

“It doesn't haunt me anymore. We've beaten that ghost a little," Walsh said. Sen. Elizabeth Warren can attest.

The minor blemish was the bleeding of state House seats that allowed Republicans to double their numbers there.

While Beacon Hill struggled with how best to repair broken roads, Norfolk District Attorney Michael Morrissey was having his own trouble just staying on the road. Morrissey, a former state senator turned district prosecutor, reportedly fainted while driving home after work and ordering a pizza using his hands-free cell phone.

Morrissey crossed the double yellow line causing a four-car crash that sent a few people, including himself, to the hospital. He now expects to be criminally charged for the crash. Something about the situation suggests his case might one to watch.

STORY OF THE WEEK: Gov. Patrick wants to go back to the “drawing board” on transportation financing. Most lawmakers don’t.

This program aired on July 19, 2013. The audio for this program is not available.

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