Weekly Roundup — Impolitic politics (and budgets)

STATE HOUSE, BOSTON, APRIL 17, 2015…..A framed copy of Irish poet William Butler Yeats’ “The Fisherman” sits on the mantle in the governor’s office, a gag gift from Senate President Stanley Rosenberg to Gov. Charlie Baker, displayed prominently in the now ceremonial digs.

The souvenir from the St. Patrick’s Day breakfast in Southie playfully mocks Baker’s tear-inducing, unsubstantiated campaign tale of a New Bedford fisherman’s struggle to give his sons a better life.

That the governor chose to display the poem where visitors can read about Yeat’s “man that doesn’t exist” tells you just about all you need to know about Baker’s first 100 days in office: Even the partisan punches are sliding off his chin.

“I like the back and forth. I like the sort of banter of the business, whatever the terminology is,” Baker remarked during an interview.

During a week when former Gov. Deval Patrick found a new job doing “social impact investing” at Mitt Romney’s old firm Bain Capital, inducing apoplexy among the liberal set, and House leaders released their $38 billion budget plan, Baker – when he wasn’t demanding the resignations of MBTA board members – did the rounds reflecting on the snowy start to his governorship.

In bitter relief to Baker’s relatively smooth start and productive and amiable relationship with House and Senate Democratic leaders is the festering, internecine dispute between Rosenberg and House Speaker Robert DeLeo over something as esoteric as parliamentary rules.

After a couple of weeks of his lieutenants griping about how Rosenberg had offended their gentlemanly rules of engagement by taking public the fight over the control of the flow of legislation, DeLeo figured he might as well start playing the same game.

DeLeo, in an op/ed published on Tuesday in the Boston Globe, took the Senate’s rules proposal to task, calling it, among other adjectives, an “impolitic and manufactured reaction to a non-existent problem.”

In a form of one-upsmanship, Rosenberg responded to the DeLeo-written assault by pushing through a formal order to develop a plan to implement separate Senate committees to manage legislation filed by his flock, a step toward the “nuclear option” that may or may not be a bluff.

“Now that it has gotten to this level, it’s like all-out war. It’s most unfortunate,” said Rep. Ellen Story, a member of DeLeo’s leadership team.

While insiders wait to see how the rules fight will play out, thousands of state employees were watching the Senate this week to find out if and when they’ll get to punch out for the last time and retire early.

The Senate passed a version of Gov. Baker’s early retirement incentive program that would cap the number of employees allowed to take advantage of the pension perk at 4,500, determined by seniority, in order to partially ensure that services at some agencies don’t get irreparably harmed.

The bill, even with the new safeguards against mass exodus, was not without its critics, among them Sens. William Brownsberger and Kenneth Donnelly. Brownsberger fretted about the added long-term pension costs, accusing backers of “kicking the can down the road.”

In Rosenberg’s often touted more transparent Senate, the early retirement bill passed by acclamation, with no recorded vote sought, even though there was opposition to it.

Anyone who loves combing through roll call votes will have plenty in a little over a week when the House begins debate on a fiscal 2016 budget. Ways and Means Chair Rep. Brian Dempsey, the gravelly-voiced maestro of state budgeting, detailed House leadership’s plan to spend $38 billion next fiscal year, a hair under (about $100 million) what the Republican governor proposed spending in his first budget document.

The House budget proposal, despite the state’s growing economy and 4.8 percent expected revenue growth, takes a “cautious” approach toward next year with just about $1 billion in new spending, up 2.8 percent from the current year. This year’s state budget was off by a lot on the expense side, and a conservative approach to spending next year might prevent that from reoccurring or at least make supplemental spending affordable.

Hewing closely to Baker’s blueprint, Dempsey and his committee proposed modest increases from the governor’s budget to local aid accounts and programs to expand early education, mental health services, and opioid abuse prevention. But like Baker, and for the first time in eight years, the budget proposal recommends leaving the “rainy day” fund untouched.

Although not ideal, according to Dempsey, House leaders have also embraced Baker’s request to defer hundreds of millions of dollars in MassHealth expenses – $457 million in the House budget to be exact – until fiscal 2017 to dull the impact of spending pressures from Medicaid while the new administration explores a long-term solution to controlling health care costs.

“This budget makes some targeted investments, but we still stay within our means,” DeLeo said.

As Baker prepares to file legislation “probably … maybe” next week to overhaul the management of the MBTA, Dempsey’s budget takes some small steps toward reforming the T, including a five-year suspension of the “Pacheco Law” to make privatizing services and operations easier. That’s looking like another point of contention between the House and Senate – the law is named for Senate President Pro Tempore Marc Pacheco.

Baker will undoubtedly go further after he requested the resignations this week of the six Patrick-appointed members of the MBTA board in what is expected to be a prelude to his request for a fiscal and management control board to take over management of the transit agency.

STORY OF THE WEEK: Baker’s 100-day anniversary celebrated as “all-out war” breaks out between Democrats.

Copyright 2015 State House News Service

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