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Massachusetts Liberal

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

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Playing games over ethics reform

It's June 23rd -- do you know where your ethics reform law is?

I'm beginning to think I misunderestimated, to quote George W. Bush, the Massachusetts Legislature in its pettiness when I suggested I didn't think they were Machiavellian enough to hold up ethics reform long enough to force Gov. Deval Patrick's hand on the sales tax increase.

Patrick certainly made his feelings known over the weekend when he repeated his insistence that lawmakers present him pension, transportation and ethics reform before he signs off on a sales tax rather than his preferred solution, the gasoline tax.

Patrick received the budget calling for a 6.25 percent sales tax from lawmakers on Friday and has 10 days to act. That followed receipt of pension and transportation bills that are also under review and awaiting signature.

But where's the ethics bill? The Statehouse News Service reported that it could emerge on Wednesday -- at the earliest. That would put us halfway through the window for action, a not insurmountable barrier but something that could keep the lights in the Corner Office burning even later than they are now.

But more to the point: is this a legitimate effort to craft the best bill imaginable or is it a cheap political stunt? Given the Senate version of the measure -- which gutted the Ethics Commission and overloaded an already burdened agency -- pardon me for being suspicious.

Lawmakers are fuming that Patrick won't roll over and that he has targeted them as the opponent in the next gubernatorial election. The concept of co-equal branches seems alien to them after decades where the Legislature has run roughshod over uninterested governors.

But the nasty little secret is that lawmakers do not hold all the cards (no casino pun intended). They make a nice inviting target -- what with the DiMasi and Wilkerson indictments and the Marzilli embarrassment. Those allegations of illegal behavior put Caddygate to shame.

Legislative leaders would be making a huge mistake if they opted to play political hardball over ethics reform. Far too many voters already feel they can't reform something they don't have. Holding the budget hostage to settle a political score would only prove it.

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