State House Report: Signed. Sealed And Delivered
Jul 22, 2017 07:36AM ● Published by State House News
House Speaker Robert DeLeo opened the floodgates on Sunday evening when he announced that he had chosen a successor to Brian Dempsey as Ways and Means chairman, though not necessarily a successor.
The call to the bullpen went to Rep. Jeffrey Sanchez, a Jamaica Plain Democrat and the first Latino to hold the powerful position in the House. In time , and if history serves, Sanchez could one day become a contender for the throne, but for now he's meeting staff and worrying about how to handle Gov. Charlie Baker's budget vetoes - $320 million in vetoes to be exact.
Baker signed a $39.4 billion spending bill for fiscal 2018, striking $42 million in local earmarks and revising revenue projections downward by $749 million, below the mark legislators had agreed would be a sufficient in light of sluggish growth - 1.4 percent - over the past year.
Perhaps most significantly, Baker returned a $200 million assessment on employers - his idea in the first place - with a summer reading assignment for lawmakers. The governor said that he wanted the assessment packaged with reforms to MassHealth eligibility that were laid aside by legislative budget negotiators. And he wants it in the next 60 days.
How to proceed now will likely be decided by a triumvirate of DeLeo, Sanchez and Rep. Peter Kocot, and they've scheduled hearings on the issues next week.
House members arrived at the State House on Monday prepared to ratify Sanchez's appointment to lead the budget-writing committee, and most seemed supportive of the selection. But Sanchez's elevation meant a line of dominoes would fall behind him, and for at least one representative the news wasn't good.
Kocot, the gentle giant from Northampton, took over the Health Care Financing Committee from Sanchez and will work together with the new budget chief to respond to Baker's budget amendment on MassHealth.
Caught in the dust cloud of rotating chairmen and newly minted vice-chairmen, Rep. Russell Holmes, the immediate past chairman of the Black and Latino Caucus and vice-chair of the Housing Committee, found himself without his post in leadershipHolmes had the temerity to suggest that with Dempsey gone, more liberal factions of the House should have a conversation about who the heir-apparent to DeLeo should be, and even prepare for a speakership fight in 2019.
That apparently did not sit well in the speaker's office, and few were buying DeLeo's insistence that Holmes's demotion had nothing to do with his comments, but rather teamwork and chemistry.
Rather than quiet Holmes, the speaker's punitive action only seemed to embolden the Mattapan Democrat as the week wore on. "If they believe that, then call me because I have a bridge in Brooklyn that I want to sell them," Holmes said, incredulous about DeLeo's explanation.
While representatives contemplated their place in the new House depth chart, the six House and Senate negotiators working on a pot law compromise retreated to the private confines of the Members Lounge for the last time - also on Monday - to sign a deal that will raise the tax on retail marijuana to 20 percent and create a new structure for regulation and local control over pot stores.
Gov. Baker will be in Colorado next week for meetings with fellow Republican governors, may get one last chance to visit a legal-marijuana state before he decides whether to sign off on the revisions to the 2016 ballot law.
All signs point to the governor getting out his pen when he returns, but some lawmakers, including Senate Minority Leader Bruce Tarr, expressed reservations that the compromise over local control could wind up in the courts.
Lawmakers agreed to a scheme under which pot shops could only be banned in communities that supported legalization by vote of the full town, while cities or towns opposed to the ballot question could put restrictions on sales by a simple vote of the governing body.
The capitol building was just catching its collective breathe on Tuesday, when whispers began to spread that the House was not the only branch of government in store for a leadership shakeup.
With Lepore moving down the hall, Revenue Commissionrer Michael Heffernan, a former Citigroup executive and Republican candidate for treasurer, will take the reins of the state budget for the governor.
The shakeup, if we can call it that, marked the first major overhaul of senior staff since Baker took office in 2015. But this wasn't a Spicer-Scaramucci shakeup. Kadish said it was just time to put his feet up and have a "glass of wine or beer."
"I would call it a shuffle. Everyone is sort of cascading up," said one senior administration official.
The week would eventually mellow somewhat as the House and Senate took the necessary votes to get the marijuana bill to governor's desk and finally resolve their minor difference over a pregnant workers' rights bill that also landed before the governor for his review.
The final flash point, however, came Thursday as the Senate debated a sex education bill and Sen. Linda Dorcena Forry rose to speak to an amendment about teaching youth about healthy relationships.
In her recounting of a story about jelly bracelets and their alleged role in a more manipulative version of spin-the-bottle, Forry blurted out a slang abbreviation for a certain sexual activity.
Senate President Stanley Rosenberg either didn't hear Forry, or didn't think much of it. But 15 minutes after the offending abbreviation had been uttered (and unknown decorum police complained) Rosenberg reminded senators to be careful with their choice of words. It seemed even the adults weren't sure how to talk about sex.
"Sometimes we have to speak plain," said an unapologetic Forry.
Baker later that day would announce in a tearful sendoff that his chief of staff Steve Kadish, a Democrat plucked from Northeastern to run the executive branch, would be leaving after 2 1/2 years, and Administration and Finance Secretary Kristen Lepore would be taking over.