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Massachusetts Liberal

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

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Beacon Hill hot seats

The three most visible figures on Beacon Hill apparently are all getting the same thing for Christmas -- hot seats.

The stakes are highest for House Speaker Sal DiMasi -- a federal grand jury investigation into the state's wheeling and dealing with Cognos ULC. That's the computer software company that received, then lost, a contract for "performance management" software thanks to the efforts of DiMasi friend and accountant Richard Vitale.

While no one is confirming or denying anything about the probe, including whether DiMasi has been asked to chat with grand jurors, the potential for major ugliness exists.

We do know that DiMasi has declined to turn over relevant documents sought by the state Ethics Commission. We also know the federal prosecutor, former Republican state representative Michael Sullivan has subpoena power and had shown a recent hankering to nail elected officials before he gets replaced by a Democrat to be named by Barack Obama.

I bet we know what DiMasi wants for the holidays -- a new prosecutor, pronto.

For Treasurer Tim Cahill, the hot seat is political, not legal. Treasurer Tim has been making a lot of noise about some of the decisions and actions of Gov. Deval Patrick. He has been somewhat reticent when reporters try to pin him down about his interest in running a primary challenge against Patrick in 2010.

So let's just say today's Globe report on his oversight of the state Lottery Commission is not, um, helpful.

Since Cahill took over five years ago, administrative spending has ballooned by nearly 50 percent, with higher costs for advertising, telephones, computers, and lottery ticket printing, including outside contracts signed with some of the treasurer's campaign contributors.

On Cahill's watch, the lottery increased its ranks of employees by nearly 10 percent. It bought 233 cellphones and BlackBerries for employees. It replaced most of its fleet of take-home vehicles for employees, spending $1.25 million to buy 73 new vans, crossover wagons, cars, and a Jeep in the last two years alone.

The lottery also agreed to a more costly lease to pay for $1.3 million in renovations at its Braintree headquarters, including a slick upgrade of the lobby. Visitors can now watch Keno and Mass Millions advertisements on two large flat-screen televisions as they lounge on lime-green art deco couches while a receptionist works under the glow of blue glass pendant lamps.

All the while lottery receipts, an important part of local aid, are down 4 percent while the Legislature is gearing up to slash local aid this year and next. Coming on the heels of reports that Cahill failed to follow through on a plan to a highly touted pension reform "working group," or that he had his own Cognos-like relationship this is definitely not likely to spread holiday cheer across the Commonwealth.

And as for lime-green art deco couches? Who hired that designer?

Finally we come to Patrick, who is being questioned about his commitment to reform after Transportation Secretary Bernard Cohen opted to spend more time with his family. The rumored replacement, James Aloisi, would come with the baggage of being a player in creating the fiscal mess at the Turnpike Authority.

Patrick needs to answer why the long-promised effort to produce an overhaul of the complicated and expensive transportation administration hasn't been produced despite two years of discussion.

His view, obviously, has Cohen responsible for failing to deliver. That would add him to a long list of people who have not come through in that arena.

As for the hack vs. reformer meme, well, it's simple. Reform credentials in this case were not enough to get the job done. If it takes a hack to shake things up because he knows how to do it, let's give it a try.

And Jon, you probably should hyperventilate a little less.

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