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Massachusetts Liberal

Observations on politics, the media and life in Massachusetts and beyond from the left side of the road.

Saturday, September 29, 2007

Bay State Hold 'Em

House Speaker Sal DiMasi says he gagging over the attention being paid to casino gambling. Yet he is playing a cagey game of poker with Deval Patrick -- and it's not quite clear who is holding the winning cards.

DiMasi probably made for a few additional upset stomachs at Associated Industries of Massachusetts breakfast forum when he pronounced the casino frenzy "nauseating." While DiMasi continues to say non-committal things about Deval Patrick's vision for casino gambling, it remains pretty clear he is a definite "no" vote when Patrick actually presents legislation.

But as the Herald and the Statehouse News Service (subscription required) report, DiMasi's membership is not quite the sure bet he would hope them to be in lining up behind him.

As I've noted before, I'm waiting to be convinced one way or another. The Weekly Dig's report that Patrick's proposal closely resembles that of casino booster and UMass-Dartmouth professor Clyde Barrow is not reassuring. Nor are the faint protestations of Patrick's aides that the much-awaited report that led to his proposal was never intended to be exhaustive.

But the bottom line to me is, well, the bottom line. This state has a money crunch, now and into the future. Nickel and diming (no matter how justified) isn't going to get it done. Nor is what, based on early reviews, is a successful effort to lure Hollywood to Boston.

Yet the Hollywood tax break appears to be the centerpiece of an as yet undefined DiMasi vision. Yes, he is all for boosting the life sciences as a sound way to invest in Massachusetts' future(as is Patrick). But after that it gets very vague.

To date, DiMasi and the House have rejected Patrick's call for corporate tax reform (while approving piece meal proposals from the municipal partnership proposal). Like Patrick, lawmakers seem squeamish about gasoline tax hikes (even as the Turnpike Authority plans to stick it, once again, to a small subgroup of commuters).

At the same time, the Legislature quietly restored $37 million of the $41 million in budget items vetoed by Patrick.

It's easy to imagine Patrick and DiMasi circling each other like wary animals sizing up their prey and deciding what to do. And to date, DiMasi has held the upper hand as the governor and his staff continue to slowly work their way into the jobs.

But at some point DiMasi is going to have to show his cards. Being against taxes and other forms of revenue to meet needs from transportation infrastructure repair to property tax relief while continuing to spend as he sees fit is a losing hand for Massachusetts.

It's time for me to repeat my favorite question -- what are you going to cut or how are you going to pay for it?

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