In the hothouse of this past month’s same-sex-marriage battle, the State House’s top three leaders — Governor Deval Patrick, House Speaker Sal DiMasi, and Senate president Therese Murray — emerged as surprisingly cozy bedfellows, winning a hard-fought victory that seemed like a living example of Patrick’s “Together We Can” campaign theme.
But this stark reversal from their more rancorous early-term dealings cannot last. Not with contentious pressing issues on the horizon, including local-options taxes, corporate-tax loopholes, and casino gambling — issues on which, unlike gay marriage, they disagree sharply. How the Commonwealth pays its bills, grows its economy, and arranges its public agencies in the future will depend very much on what happens when Patrick, DiMasi, and Murray bust up their Three’s Company routine.
None of the three wants to be the first one to break the peace, but it could happen as soon as the end of this week, when Patrick must deliver his line-item vetoes to the state budget.
It may be a dim memory now, but just a couple of months ago, DiMasi was declaring Patrick’s ideas DOA; Murray was declaring budget earmarks necessary to keep untrustworthy governors from exercising their own (poor) judgment; and Patrick was holding rallies where he practically called for citizen rebellion against state lawmakers, including leaders Murray and DiMasi.
But since then, the three seemed to enjoy sharing credit for the defeat of the anti-gay-marriage amendment, and that collegial spirit has held. This past Monday, when the legislature released and passed its reconciled state budget, they did so without drawing attention to the many ways they were rejecting the governor’s proposal. They passed the budget quietly, unanimously, and without public debate at the start of a holiday week, then slipped out of town.
On Friday, Patrick will be faced with two choices: he can either quietly accept their budget and maintain the peace, or he can break the ceasefire with a spate of vetoes. It might not all be his doing, though: the legislature has painted him into a corner, almost daring him to throw the first punch.
Full of pork, not carrots
Legislative leaders claim they reached a healthy compromise with Patrick, prompting news stories about the governor’s budget “victories.” DiMasi and others spoke of “great cooperation” with Patrick, who also played nice; he, too, praised the “robust collaboration” that resulted in a budget that met “most of the central priorities” of his administration.
Unfortunately for Patrick, that’s mostly hogwash — the legislature rejected most of his first budget proposals. Yes, DiMasi and Murray gave him a few nuggets, such as grants for streamlined local permitting, and some (but far from all) of his funding requests for expanding all-day kindergarten, vaccinations, and smoking-cessation programs. But a glance back at Patrick’s February 27 budget address (and accompanying PR materials) shows how many of his “central priorities” have been unceremoniously dropped.