Weekly Roundup — Not Everyone’s Laughing

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STATE HOUSE, BOSTON, MARCH 13, 2015…Humor, not all of it intentional, or even funny for that matter, this week served as a prelude to Sunday’s Southie roast, the headlines providing ample fodder for pols still struggling to find a laugh line.

As public events for Gov. Charlie Baker and Mayor Marty Walsh, fast becoming best buds, became workshops for the St. Patrick’s Day breakfast, more serious questions about Boston 2024’s payroll, the 2016 presidential contest and Baker’s role in rescuing the T balanced the lighter fare.

House and Senate budget leaders kicked off their review of Baker’s $38.1 billion fiscal 2016 budget proposal this week. And while Democratic lawmakers let the new Republican administration, and Administration and Finance Secretary Kristen Lepore, escape largely unscathed, it was Secretary of State William Galvin who came loaded for elephant.

Galvin, perhaps unsurprisingly, suggested Baker was “apparently” not interested in letting all Massachusetts voters join their counterparts in 49 other states next March in helping to choose the next president. It’s not the first time he’s threatened to shut down an election.

The Brighton Democrat testified that if funded at the $5.7 million level recommended by Baker, and not the $8.1 million he seeks, the state would not be able to run a presidential primary. The assertion was disputed by Baker aides, though not the governor himself, who said the recommendation is consistent with the budget for elections in 2012.

Coming from someone who’s been around as long as Galvin has, one might think he’d be able to interpret the “babble-speak,” as he called it, of government bureaucrats, but he was less than amused by the explanation from Baker’s budget office on his allocation for elections. Fancy math, apparently, doesn’t impress the secretary.

“They told us they reached the election decisions by using algorithms. Well, I’ve never run an election based on algorithms and I don’t think they could either,” Galvin told lawmakers.

For his part, Baker said he’d wait to see what happens as the budget moves through the House and Senate, deferring questions about maybe making Massachusetts a caucus state to the heads of the parties who aren’t looking for a change.

While this is Baker’s first budget cycle, it’s also a first for Stanley Rosenberg as Senate president and for Karen Spilka as Senate Ways and Means chair. The Senate’s budget proposal may be two months and few steps away from taking shape, but Rosenberg said one thing he knows is that Baker’s budget does not “invest in the future.”

Spilka, in a sit-down with reporters, followed up her boss’s assessment by saying the Senate’s budget would be “compassionate.” What exactly that means remains to be seen.

House Speaker Robert DeLeo will get the first crack at rewriting the governor’s spending plan, and, after initially raising concerns, seemed to be coming around this week to Baker’s proposal to trim 4,500 employees from the state payroll with an early retirement package.

Ways and Means Chairman Brian Dempsey said after the budget hearing he believes the proposal is “structured correctly,” meaning the House may becoming more convinced that the savings could be real with the necessary roadblocks to prevent too many vacated positions from being filled with new employees.

Using some of his public appearances this week to test out jokes about snow, space savers and the improbability of a Republican winning in Massachusetts (Hell didn’t freeze over, Massachusetts did), all eyes will be on Baker Sunday at the Southie breakfast, but it might be his predecessor Deval Patrick who becomes the butt of more jokes.

Patrick got served up as a potential punchline this week when Boston 2024 disclosed that it had hired the former governor as a “global ambassador” with a contract that would pay him $7,500 a day when he travels to promote the Boston Olympic bid.

The disclosure came after Walsh helped put public pressure on Olympic bid organizers to release the details of their employee and consultant contracts, which up until now had been held secret. The list revealed hundreds of thousands of dollars in private funds being shelled out to a cabal of former Patrick aides and advisors, including $300,000 to Boston 2024 CEO Rich Davey, the former transportation secretary, and $15,000 a month to top Patrick advisor Doug Rubin’s public relations firm.

Rosenberg, and for that matter Baker, said they could care less what Boston 2024 pays its people, including Patrick, just as long as they don’t come knocking at doors on Beacon Hill looking for a public handout.

“If they start putting forward a full-court press to start talking about money out of the state budget they’re going to have a very serious problem,” Rosenberg said.

And speaking of serious problems, the Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation put out a report this week based on the assumption that everyone is now in agreement after this winter that the T is “at the end of its line.”

The report, in a series of recommendations, suggested that Baker be given “short-term” control over the MBTA board and the authority to choose the T’s next general manager, calling the current leadership on the board too often “resistant to external examination and proposals for the change.”

Baker, apparently hesitant to embrace the idea of a power grab, did call the report “compelling.” He said he would wait until his own task force reports back later this month before deciding on a course of action.

STORY OF THE WEEK: For some inexplicable reason, Deval Patrick continues to make national lists of 2016 White House maybes. The question now is whether Charlie Baker will let anyone in Massachusetts vote for him.

Copyright 2015 State House News Service

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