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: It’s budget season (yay!), the governor and the speaker play nice (boo!), and lessons in trout stocking from John Tobin.
It’s budget season on Beacon Hill again. And it’s apt that it should coincide, roughly, with the run-up to area colleges’ final exams. After a semester of lying around and drinking, the legislature now has to pull a week of harried all-nighters before it can knock off work for the summer.
In broad strokes, this year’s House budget is big but not unduly wicked big, is unkind to out of state corporations, hates smokers, and offers, in Speaker Sal DiMasi’s own estimation, “nothing spectacular about any new initiative.” But you already knew that already.
So, in the interest of wrapping up the week with some semi-original reporting, here’s a few of the more interesting budget skirmishes to keep an eye on in the upcoming weeks.
First, does anybody remember how badly Gov. Deval Patrick caught hell last year for cutting Shannon grant money to pay for his 1,000 new cops campaign pledge? He couldn’t have done worse if he’d gunned down Chiara Levin himself. Luckily, the House rode to the rescue and restored the critical funds in its own budget.
So this year, Patrick, being a good governor and wanting to learn from his mistakes, not only ensured that the grants are in his budget, but he crows about “bringing funding for the program to its highest level ever.” And what does the House do? It tosses those increases in the garbage. Thanks for playing. Try again next year.
Open government advocates and reporters who like to see legislators’ fingerprints on budget amendments will have to wait ’til next year, too. The House has approved its normal measures for railroading the budget through to completion from behind closed doors. As usual, a motley coalition of Republicans and cranks tried to open budget debate procedures to sunshine, and, as usual, they were overwhelmingly defeated.
When Reps begin debating the budget next week, they won’t be doing it from the floor. Rather, when they cast votes, they’ll be voting on a raft of consolidated amendments that will be pre-screened and bundled by leadership, and that members will have had a half hour to review.
The closed-door process, Brian Wallace told us, “doesn’t shine with the lobbyists or the media,” but it keeps the bottom line from ballooning out of control.
Still, on Tuesday, Minority Leader Brad Jones warned that this year’s rules have been constructed “to take a little more power from members,” because, “You will have two days to get the budget and file amendments and Ways and Means will have nine days to figure out how to tell you ‘No.’” He also suggested that the tightly-controlled process was an effort, “to protect the members from themselves.”
The Republican leader’s criticism sparked one of the year’s most excellent floor exchanges. Angelo Scaccia, chair of the House rules committee, shot over Jones, “Mr. Speaker, that’s what the order did last year. But we have some of the most creative minds that this Commonwealth has ever seen in the Legislature.”
“So the gentleman is saying the mission of the order is to stifle creativity among the members?” Jones asked. “I’m shocked that the gentleman would want to stifle creativity.”
“Oh how he twists my words,” Scaccia replied. “Oh, what a twister. Never would I want to stifle creativity in this body. Mr. Speaker, does it say ‘stupid’ across my forehead? … Maybe subterfuge is a better word than creativity.”
Later in the debate, Paul Casey landed one of the nastier (not to mention unprovoked) shots at Mayor Menino we’ve seen in a while, when he seemed to suggest that Scaccia’s desire to limit debate stemmed from his habit of breakfasting with Hizzoner:
“The gentleman would like to leave the discretion up to the leadership. What about the membership? The power of the chair, the power of the speaker is in the collective body. I understand the good gentleman from Readville understands a certain power in Boston that is unilateral. [But] we are a collective body.”
The House also extinguished any lingering hopes that casino proponents had of sneaking expanded gambling through the back door when it barred all gaming-related amendments from the budget. So David Flynn will have to wait just a little while for that racino vote he’s been promised. It’ll be coming later. As will Christmas.
It’s been interesting to watch the official reaction from the governor’s office to the House’s proposals. Back in February, DiMasi took to Boston‘s pages and scolded Patrick for finding defeat in partial legislative victories. “He needs to understand that when he wants 200 police officers and he gets 100, that’s a success,” the speaker told me. “That’s not a failure. That’s government. It’s all compromise. I didn’t get everything I wanted in the energy bill, but we accomplished a great energy bill. I worked with him on that bill for 11 months to change the things that he wanted. I didn’t go around saying, ‘How come you didn’t agree with my energy bill six months ago?’ I claimed victory, didn’t I? That’s it. That’s a learning process.”
Fast-forward a few months. The governor’s signature public safety and education initiatives have been slashed, victims of competing ambitions and austerity. Yet Patrick’s chief budget writer, Leslie Kirwan, is telling the Globe that the administration sees “a lot to like in this budget” because “They’ve adopted many of the reforms that the governor initiated.” And then House leadership turns around and thanks Patrick for his magnanimity.
Clearly, this cannot stand. WE DEMAND THAT YOU BATTLE FOR OUR AMUSEMENT. Thank you.
Finally, the Hill and the Hall would like to congratulate our governor – a man who ran against government by photo-op and press release – on surviving the hairiest photo-op of his young administration.
Dressed in a green jacket, hat, jeans and waders, Patrick ventured into the waters of Jamaica Pond, a sizable fish (described by one onlooker as “a big [f’er]”) in his arms. “Say goodbye!” he chirped, and the fish did, struggling to leap out of the governor’s clutches and, in all likelihood, devour a nearby child. It was, thankfully, unsuccessful, as Patrick applied some sort of kung-fu death grip that subdued the creature. “That’s me hugging a fish,” Patrick joked, before setting the monster loose.
City Councilor John Tobin, who was on the scene but not outfitted in traditional park ranger’s wardrobe, had this advice for any other politicians looking to dump fish into the Commonwealth’s waterways this spring: “Be prepared,” the always-dapper politician suggested. “When touching nature and stocking a pond, always come in leather dress shoes, and a suit and tie.”
Wire services contributed to this report.