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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, April 09, 2013

Plan B

Legislative leaders have lost the battle. Do they still think they can win the war?

With unusual alacrity, House Speaker Robert DeLeo brought a $500 million tax package to fund transportation improvements to the floor yesterday. Unlike the House budget -- due out tomorrow and with time for members to digest it and offer amendments -- this plan was voted on just days after it appeared with no public discussion.

The need for speed was obvious: Gov. Deval Patrick appears to have picked off about two dozen Democrats from DeLeo's usually lockstep majority and the 97-55 margin means the plan to hike gasoline, cigarette and business taxes is short on a veto-proof majority.

While the bill appears likely to receive a Senate vote this week -- victory margin TBD -- the real question is what happens after the bill lands on Patrick's desk and is returned.

There should be no doubt Patrick will deliver his veto: remember the casino bill that died because he didn't go along with DeLeo's hard stance for more slots parlors. It's safe to assume DeLeo will start marching Democratic nay sayers into his office for some, er, persuasion.

The likelihood of turning Democrats would be a subject of great interest if the state had also legalized betting on games. I wouldn't want to take that action. Listen to the strongest argument apparently offered by House Transportation Committee Chairman William Straus:
“Is there a perfect bill? I have to ask that, because I hope it causes you to rethink your position.”
What became clearer in the light of day (or dead of night when the bill passed just before midnight) is the legislation doesn't contain enough cash to fund anything beyond current MBTA operations, unlike the Patrick plan that would fund expansion of South Station, a rail line to Fall River and New Bedford, and the Green Line extension pro­ject.

And repairs to or replacement of crumbling roads and bridges from Pittsfield to Provincetown and the hundreds of communities outside the MBTA district.

Straus acknowledged the long odds of a compromise:
"I myself don’t want to play some sort of roulette game or game of chance with the people we represent."
So it's on to a showdown in the Senate and then what will hopefully be some calm discussion among DeLeo, Patrick and Senate President Therese Murray.

But I wouldn't bet on that either.

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