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Massachusetts Liberal

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

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Upping the ante

Deval Patrick may have finally gotten the attention of House leaders.

By including projected revenues from casino gambling in his fiscal 2009 budget, Patrick has clearly forced the hand of House leaders who have seemed indifferent if not outright hostile to his proposals to raise new revenues for a cash-staved state.

Take, for example, the fuming reaction of House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Robert DeLeo:
Forget the cart, this is putting the entire wagon train before the horse. Moreover, even if this money did become available this year - which is a big if - it may not be there the next year.”
To strain the analogy, it's taking a 2-by-4 to the horse's backside to get its attention.

A few caveats. Administration & Finance Secretary Leslie Kirwan says the budget doesn't depend on the projected $300 million for balance (although she does say lottery funds will fall short of projections and this cash could make up the difference).

It's also important to note that I have become less and less convinced that casino gambling is the salvation for all the state's budget ills.

But gubernatorial budgets are as much political documents as they are fiscal documents. And with his second spending plan, Patrick is upping the heat on legislators who say we can spend our rainy day fund and put off the tough decisions until the roof leaks.

The current budget relies on that fund to bridge shortfalls -- after legislators rejected Patrick's call for corporate tax relief and have dealt in piecemeal fashion with his municipal partnership proposal.

And Speaker Sal DiMasi was famously quoted as saying the House may not be able to get to casinos until 2009.

With this proposal, Patrick has laid out a way to pay for some of the expensive vision he has painted for the Commonwealth. And he has also laid out a sharp challenge to DiMasi (after all, spending measure must originate in the House).

Fish or cut bait.

The House and Senate will send Patrick a budget sharply different than the document he has prepared for them. That's the nature of the game. But by spelling out yet another plan to pay for his vision, it's time for legislative leaders to come up with another answer besides "tomorrow."

This could be fun to watch.

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