Deval Patrick Spices Up The Convention With Veto

It's hard to say whether the political gain is worth all the pain, though.

Deval Patrick announced this afternoon that he is using his line-item veto to slash more than $400 million in spending from the budget sent to him by the state legislature.

That’s the budget for the fiscal year that began 11 days ago, and, yes, Beacon Hill is still wrangling over it this late because I guess they felt that they were not quite unpopular enough heading into the 2014 election cycle.

Patrick has been fighting all year for significant revenue increases to pay for serious investments in transportation (and education). The progressives backed him, but the legislature didn’t have the votes, so the scope of the plan got dramatically slashed. The legislature also included some future toll revenue that the governor calls bogus because the tolls are supposed to be gone by then. So he has sent over an amendment to raise the gas tax down the line to make up for it; the legislative leadership has made pretty clear that plan will be rejected next week.

So now Patrick says the big hole in the transportation funding creates a huge imbalance in the FY’14 budget, so he has to whack a whole bunch of money, from transportation and local aid funding, unless the legislature accepts his gas-tax fix to the transpo bill. Following so far?

The timing is very, very interesting: tomorrow is the Massachusetts Democratic Party’s annual convention, being held in Lowell this year. It is, to a large degree, a gathering of the lefty true-believer activists who do the work to get Democrats elected.

A very large percentage of them are on Deval’s side on this one. They are likely now to put a lot of pressure on those running or planning to run for higher office—who will all be there shmoozing those delegates—to back the governor. That includes quite a few state legislators who will be voting on this next week: state senators Will Brownsberger, Katherine Clark, Karen Spilka, and Dan Wolf for starters (and, oh yeah, all the state reps hoping to run for their seats).

“The governor is looking to use every opportunity to have a real conversation with legislators, in leadership and the rank-and-file, about the importance of this vote,” a knowledgeable administration insider tells me. That seems to mean, more or less: promise to support us against the override, or we’re going to tell all the delegates in your district—who you have to sit with all day—that you suck.

By the way, that includes almost the entire Boston delegation, who have bailed on Patrick on this issue.

Of course, it’s kind of an odd battle for the governor to wage: even if he wins this, he isn’t getting the additional funds he wanted for real transportation investment. And now he’s pretty much ensured a miserable relationship with Speaker Robert DeLeo and Senate President Therese Murray for the rest of his term. (This could also make things a little uncomfortable in the ongoing machinations for succeeding Murray as president.)

Hard to say whether the potential gain is worth all the pain for Governor Patrick. But at least he’s made things a lot more interesting for the convention.