BOSTON (State House News Service) – Welcome back, Gov. Charlie Baker.
After a week spent in Colorado, the governor returned to find the political establishment in full conflagration over the Olympics, with impatience building for the governor’s verdict on Boston’s bid for the games.
Charges of “hyperbole” from one side and “drunken optimism” from the other colored the breathless public discourse that included a first televised debate featuring Boston 2024 and the United States Olympic Committee versus No Boston Olympics and a subpoena threat from Boston City Councilor Tito Jackson that forced Mayor Marty Walsh to weigh in from Rome where he was visiting the Pope.
The Legislature was also plotting a strategy to pad its stats before the August recess, the casino gambling landscape shifted underfoot, and the coalition that brought Massachusetts earned sick time now wants a 9 percent income tax on millionaires.
If getting peppered with questions about national political aspirations wasn’t enough to spoil Baker’s Rocky Mountain high, a reported ultimatum – refuted by the governor’s people – from the United States Olympic Committee for Baker to signal support or opposition to the bid by week’s end landed with a thud at Baker’s doorstep: Sorry, everyone. You’ll have to wait until the Brattle Group issues its report next month.
Baker took the week to get away for a mile-high retreat to Colorado where he spent a couple days rubbing elbows with his fellow GOP governors in Aspen and taking a little R-and-R time with First Lady Lauren Baker.
At the Republican Governors Association getaway, Baker attended seminars with political analyst Charlie Cook and former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani. He listened to a panel discussion about federal transportation issues, job growth and the political landscape for governors in 2016. And he left as one of the newest members of the RGA’s Executive Committee.
Yet upon his return to Massachusetts, he wanted to be crystal clear: “I have not nor will I ever be … a candidate for national office.”
While he was away, his first judicial nominee – Justice Scott Kafker, was easily confirmed by the Governor’s Council and sworn in by Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito, in her acting governor capacity, to become the new chief justice of the Appeals Court.
Heading into the final week before an August summer recess, House leaders were quietly making plans for a late push to put something in the box score aside from the state budget. A vote is expected on legislation to make the weekend of Aug. 15-16 a sales tax holiday, but the prospects for a public records law reform or overriding some of Gov. Charlie Baker’s $162 million in budget vetoes are less clear.
The time between the budget signing and the recess has given advocacy groups and lawmakers time to stew over spending cut by the Republican governor, taking aim at whatever their line-item of choice might be. Popular targets included Baker’s veto of $5 million for the University of Massachusetts and cuts to pre-kindergarten grants.
Rep. Peter Kocot, the author of a public records access bill, also tried to put out some fires with cities and towns, meeting with the Massachusetts Municipal Association to try to address their concerns and clear the runway for his bill to progress to a vote next week.
The Senate also spiced up a climate change preparedness bill, which just might come to be known as the Pacheco Law 2.0, with a surprise initiative to lift the cap on solar net metering to help the state meet its goal of developing 1,600 megawatts of solar power by 2020.
The cat is already out of the bag, so to speak, on the sales tax holiday, so when the Revenue Committee, its chairmen notoriously hostile to the idea, held its hearing on bills related to the weekend tax breaks it served as a cathartic opportunity for opponents to sound off.
“It will be this year as it has in the past a victory of politics over policy,” Kaufman said. “The idea of sticking it to the man holds a certain amount of appeal and I guess I don’t share that appeal, and as the man it’s my job to keep our focus on what the cost is of that, and that $25 million is that much less in public services,” Rep. Jay Kaufman of Lexington said.
Sadly for Kaufman, the co-chair of the Revenue Committee, and his Senate counterpart Sen. Michael Rodrigues, another committee has already teed up the sales tax holiday bill for the House to consider, and even they concede it’s almost certain to pass.
Much of the action this week did occur in committee hearing rooms, and Attorney General Maura Healey availed herself frequently of the opportunity to be heard, making the committee rounds at the State House where she testified in favor of gender pay-equity legislation, improved workplace accommodations for pregnant women and a bill to stop the automatic suspension of driver’s licenses for convicted drug offenders.
Healey, with backup from Middlesex County Sheriff Peter Koutoujian, called the license suspension law a barrier for low-income individuals to restart their lives after convictions for crimes that had nothing to do with operating a motor vehicle.
Meanwhile in New Bedford, city officials were reeling from a decision by KG Urban to drop its proposal to build a casino on the city’s waterfront, citing an inability to assemble legitimate financing for the project. New Bedford residents had overwhelmingly backed the idea of playing host to a southeastern Massachusetts casino, but another bid in Brockton now stands as the lone competitor for the state’s third and final license.
Healey suggested the lack of financing for the New Bedford project should serve as notice that the market may becoming oversaturated with gambling opportunities, but for now the Gaming Commission is moving forward with the process, albeit with no guarantee that Brockton developers will prevail.
Republican Rep. Geoff Diehl made it official, announcing that he would kick off his campaign for state Senate next week in Brockton, emerging as the strongest challenger yet to Rep. Mike Brady, the Democrat looking to succeed his mentor, the late Sen. Thomas Kennedy, in the upper chamber.
Brady, however, got himself in a bit of hot water when he appeared to suggest during a live radio interview that voters looking for information on his campaign should call his State House office, a pretty clear no-no in the campaign finance rule book.
While probably only a minor ding in the scheme of things, any more missteps could entice Brockton City Councilor Robert Sullivan to jump in. Sullivan, who lost to Brady by just 14 votes in the 2008 primary, said he’s giving the race serious consideration.
STORY OF THE WEEK: Pick your poison: Environmental advocates thrilled with Senate’s solar cap lift, MMA not thrilled with public records reform, Olympics debate as messy as ever.