The Hill and the Hall Week in Review
Each 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: We’re all casinos all the time.
Hey, guess what everybody? Gov. Deval Patrick wants to build three casinos in Massachusetts. He’s been saying that they’ll bring 30,000 jobs in tow. Turns out, they won’t. Shocking, we know. But this stunning revelation gripped Beacon Hill, and all other concerns were crowded out.
Most close observers (depending on whom you read) have known for several months now that the governor’s casino research is compromised and his economic assumptions are shaky. And now that the town’s paper of record has spoken on the subject, the fan is really covered in it.
The administration has even stopped citing its 30,000 jobs figure, and taken to speaking of “tens of thousands” of jobs instead. That’s a significant fact, because it marks the first time in this whole gambling debate that reporting has been able to knock the administration off its talking points.
A similarly damning Mass Taxpayers Foundation report was reportedly met with anger, profanity, and the like behind closed doors. But the pessimistic data laid out therein hasn’t stopped the administration from using gambling revenues as a panacea for everything from property taxes to transportation funding to addiction treatment to Tim Cahill’s sick man.
But now, with a high stakes legislative hearing on the horizon, Patrick has been shoved off his mark. The Globe having done its damage, Dan Bosley’s recent statement to us that, “The governor’s going to come down and say, ‘We’re going to have 30,000 jobs,’ and I’ll say, ‘No, you’re not,'” suddenly takes on a whole new layer of meaning.
The governor initially responded to the Globe report by trying to argue, “There are going to be all kinds of claims about whether it’s 30,000 construction jobs or 20,000 construction jobs or 5,000 construction jobs. I can tell you that whatever that number is, it beats the opposition, which is at zero.”
Yes. Exactly. And given the choice between being punched or kicked in the face, being punched beats the opposition. Fantastic.
As if all this weren’t enough, Patrick insisted on pressing his case, rather than laying low for a while, by sending a sharply worded pro-gambling letter to each of the state’s legislators. Getting mad and hitting “reply to all” — that’s the way to stay out of the papers, and to keep your critics off your back. Sure it is.
The letter was followed up with what initially appeared to be a third grader’s book report, but was later revealed to be a brochure from the governor and his economic development secretary, Dan O’Connell.
Loaded with incongruous clip art, impressive leaps of logic, half-truths and downright sloppy research, the brochure is one of the most dubious—not to mention unintentionally hilarious—public documents to see the light of day in quite some time. Print this thing out, take it on your lunch break, and try to read it without having milk squirt out your nose. We dare you.
And forget about all this transparent desperation opening up the governor to attacks from the speaker. When you allow the state GOP—the political equivalent of the ’62 Mets—to land potshots about slick, “phony economics,” things are not going well.
The administration’s argument that the legislature must act now (punctuated by a comically large clock, natch) because of the inevitability of a Mashpee Wampanoag casino in Middleborough is especially, uh, interesting. In the days before the pamphlet’s distribution, O’Connell had a rather eventful meeting with the Mashpee. They told him that they would not be abandoning federal channels to a casino for the state’s proposed casino licensing auction. Tribe spokesman Scott Ferson has previously said the tribe will not bid on one of Patrick’s casino licenses.
What does this mean? Rather than hamstringing the Mashpee, rapid legislative approval of Patrick’s casino bill would actually ease the tribe’s path to a federal, tax-free casino, because the legalization of Class III gambling would give the tribe the sovereign right to run all sorts of Vegas-style games.
As things stand now, the Mashpee are in the position of threatening to round up $1 billion in financing for a bingo slots complex with a highly uncertain future: It might very well revert to a normal bingo hall if the feds follow through on recent threats to make bingo slots illegal. Nothing like negotiating from a position of strength.
As if all that’s not enough, on Thursday, the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce unveiled a casino report that, by and large, confirmed the governor’s arguments on the revenue side, but that categorically declined to quantify any negative economic impacts from expanded gambling. What we’re left with is a cost-benefit analysis with no costs. Which is totally useful.
It’s also notable that the report’s authors rely on research from less-than-uninterested sources, including Harrah’s and Clyde Barrow, but if those sources are good enough for the governor, they’re certainly good enough for the Chamber. Expect both sides to hug the report and claim victory.
Ugh. That’s enough for now.
Other stuff happened this week on the Hill, too – Senate President Therese Murray unveiled a sweeping health care reform-reform proposal, the T put its budget on its credit card, and the highway department ran over a scrum of weeping veterans. None of those things have anything to do with craps, so this week, they don’t matter much. Maybe next week. Maybe.
Wire services contributed to this report.