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Massachusetts Liberal

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

Thursday, July 08, 2010

High stakes game

You think it's been hot outside? Just imagine what it was like in the Statehouse yesterday.

As House and Senate negotiators began the process of reconciling two different versions of gambling legislation, Gov. Deval Patrick fired a warning shot across the bow of House Speaker Robert DeLeo, suggesting that any plan that puts slot machines at race tracks is a "no-bid contract" for private developers.

And just to push up the thermostat a bit more, Senate President Therese Murray -- who often has a hard time hiding her disdain for Patrick -- immediately climbed on board:
“I think a no-bid, noncompetitive contract isn’t where the Senate wants to go.’’
Glad they don't hold conference committee negotiations in public!

But the double-teamed DeLeo still may have an ace of his sleeve, two questions placed on the November ballot, rolling back the sales tax from 6.25 percent to 3 percent and eliminating its extension to alcohol.

If approved, those measures could trim more than $2 billion from already shrunken state coffers -- and by extension, city and town budgets too.
“How can we forgo $100 million in local aid for the next fiscal year?’’ DeLeo told reporters. “If someone can come up with a better plan that’s going to bring $100 million to local aid next year, then so be it, I’m willing to discuss it.’
Touche. Mr. Rock meet Ms. Hard Place.

Elected officials and hopefuls (that means you Charlie Baker) face a plate of unappetizing choices going forward. There's deep public unhappiness over higher taxes on the right and a strong undercurrent against casinos and diminishing human services on the left.

Supporting tax cuts is a no-brainer for most non-incumbents, who can only hope the problems won't happen when or if they take office. For someone like Baker who touts his budgetary prowess, the stretch is bigger still.

Patrick is walking an even tighter rope, because his base probably hates casinos more than Baker's base hates taxes. And since Patrick needs every one of his loyalists, opposing free-standing slots at race tracks -- using loaded words aimed at the bad behavior of some legislators -- is indeed a rough balancing act.

So stay tuned. While forecasters promise some relief by the weekend for those of us sweating in our sleep, the perspiration is just starting to flow on Beacon Hill as the Legislature careens to its July 31 expiration date.

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