The Hill and the Hall Week in Review

1202827150Each Friday, Paul McMorrow will take you inside the smoke-filled rooms and darkly-lit corridors of government to bring you the hottest and juiciest political tidbits. This week: The Gov and the Speaker get along? Those State Senate openings; and what’s up with Deval’s new look?

Governor Deval Patrick found out what it feels like to be governor last week, as Sal DiMasi’s House finally – finally – got to work advancing the governor’s agenda. It’s only been, what, thirteen months since the inauguration? Patrick saw his beloved $1 billion biotech bill emerge from committee, and here’s hoping the cost of inaction isn’t more than a billion large.

More importantly, at least politically, this week saw the speaker reverse course and fall in line with the governor’s long-stalled plan to change the state’s corporate tax code. For the past year, Patrick’s tax plan has been panned as a burden on business and a recipe for economic disaster. Now, suddenly, the speaker is not only acceding to the governor’s plan, but using the word “reform” to refer to the new taxes.

What gives?

First, the state’s business community seems to have bought into DiMasi’s newfound logic. Taxing big out-of-state businesses isn’t such a bad idea, if it can be leveraged to slash corporate tax rates and freeze unemployment payments. DiMasi’s budget outline would lower taxes from 9.5 percent to 7, while Patrick’s would only see them fall to 8.3 percent. That reduction, combined with the unemployment freeze, DiMasi argued Tuesday, would mean that the “actual contribution” from all the state’s businesses would be “only $54 million” more in the short term, and revenue neutral after three years.

That’s all well and good, but when asked why, if neutrality was the guiding principle that finally swung him on board, the plan couldn’t be revenue neutral right away, DiMasi sounded a lot like his counterpart in the Corner Office. The state, he said, needed the money.

Two weeks ago, State House News reported, “Aides to the governor say he’s positioned strategically, and are confident they’ve got House Speaker Salvatore DiMasi boxed into a set of unappetizing policy alternatives: come up with his own revenue ideas, relent to deep cuts in popular programs, draw heavily from the stabilization account, or hop aboard Patrick’s own plans to raise money.” Cigarette tax aside, we learned Tuesday that there are no new revenue ideas, and with a massive budget deficit, something had to give. So something did.

DiMasi notably brushed aside a question about why he’d changed his mind on the issue. “I wouldn’t say I’ve changed my position,” he said. Had he not been against closing the loopholes? Is that just us misremembering? Pressed on the matter, DiMasi told a reporter, “You must’ve been reading too much of your own news reports!”

Massive bleeding continues to afflict the state senate. In the past week, “Boston Ed” Augustus announced that he won’t be seeking reelection, and the fevered rumors surrounding Marian Walsh’s imminent judgeship reached an even greater sense of inevitability.

Last week, senators Pam Resor and Robert Antonioni announced their retirement, and saw the departures of Jarrett Barrios, Robert Havern, and President Robert Travaglini. That’s a ton of turnover for a 40-person body.

Speculation about Augustus’s seat has thus far focused on Karyn Polito and John Fresolo, though it’s the fight for Walsh’s not-open-just-yet seat that will be the real fun. There are few inside the State House who believe Majority Leader John Rogers will wind up taking a run, leaving Mike Rush the presumptive frontrunner.

City Councilors John Tobin and Rob Consalvo are said to be intrigued, but highly noncommittal. And with good reason. There’s probably only room for one city councilor in the race, especially with close friendships involved. And the senate seat would come at a hefty price: It would cost the upwardly-mobile pol $20,000 in pay and a shot at the mayor’s race.

The single biggest topic of conversation at the State House this week wasn’t taxes, biotech, or reps lusting after seats in the upper chamber, though. It was the governor’s “aerodynamic” new haircut. It’s cropped more closely to his head, and this fact has inspired a remarkable stream of chatter. Some of it has been positive, some not, but we’ve heard that so many people remarked upon Patrick’s cut that he took to assuming every compliment was a veiled jab.

Word of this sensitivity led sympathizers to offer yet more compliments, which couldn’t have been helpful, either. The last thing he probably wanted to hear when wrapping up a press availability was a reporter eagerly yelping, “I think it’s a good haircut! Really!”

But that is, of course, exactly what he heard.