Tidbits from The Week That Was on Beacon Hill

By 
Jim O'Sullivan, State House News Service
Aug. 28, 2009

Transportation Secretary James Aloisi, who opened a board meeting quoting Thomas Jefferson a few weeks ago, went overseas and into a little more-recent history in his feud with then-MBTA General Manager Daniel Grabauskas, telling aides last month in e-mails the Globe obtained through the wondrous public records law and published on August 18, “If this is our 1939, I sure as heck am not going to allow myself to be Poland.” That’s when deputy secretary Brian Murphy wrote back, “I would say you want to be more Churchill than Chamberlain.”

Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many reporters to so few.

A nuts and bolts issue

Far from the drama of the transportation bureaucracy dysfunction is one of those elemental government issues that can flare up when the flock is not tended. Pool closings in mid-August, in keeping with the calendar of the last few years, happened to hit during a heat wave. The Department of Conservation and Recreation, losing lifeguards to end-of-summer business, had not appropriated funds to reopen 21 state pools and doesn’t look like it will. It is against better judgment to look ahead, but it would seem that next year the pools will shutter significantly closer to Election Day.

No sale – yet on plazas

Turns out the private sector does not recognize the beauty and lucre emanating from the service plazas along the Massachusetts Turnpike. In another Friday-afternoon news dump, the Patrick administration announced on August 21 that it had rejected bids to sell the plazas, one of the first proposals put forth when Aloisi took over as transportation secretary. In an e-mail, Aloisi spokesman Colin Durrant said, “[N]one of the bids recognize the full value of the Service Areas over time. The decision was made that it would not be a good long term deal for taxpayers and tollpayers.” Details of the proposals were not disclosed, except that one “long-term” lease proposal dangled $160 million before the debt-riddled Pike. Current leases bring in roughly $17 million per year, Durrant said.

A bump in tax revenue

After nearly a year of chasing into the busy street the bouncing ball of underperforming revenues, the state made its number for the first two weeks of August, data out Wed., Aug. 19, showed. The 25-percent sales tax boost appears to have achieved its desired result, as receipts from auto sales soared 28 percent from a year ago, augmented by the federal “cash for clunkers” program. Withholding, too, was up, lifting the state $44 million above the same period last year. Revenue department officials cautioned that there could be a retreat later this month or in September. But with a long parade of below-benchmark figures for tax collections, any jolt to the state’s revenue stream is greeted warmly on the Hill. Even if it takes an ugly tax hike to get there.

The other succession law

As much as Reps. Peter Koutoujian, Barry Finegold, Charles Murphy, and Katherine Clark care about the intricacies of the succession to the U.S. Senate in the wake of Sen. Kennedy’s death, more interesting to them and a few others is who would replace Martha Coakley if the A.G. went to the U.S. Senate. There is a good deal of buzz around this and a good deal of misinformation, so herewith the facts, as relayed to the News Service by someone equipped with them. In the case of a vacancy in a constitutional office other than governor or lieutenant governor (i.e., A.G., secretary of state, treasurer, or auditor), the appointment juice is bottled in the Legislature, unless the Legislature has prorogued, which it never does anymore, in which case the governor would make the pick. The Senate and House would meet in a joint session and vote. The House has the numbers, and members expect one of their own would get the look.

There would be pressure to select a woman, although the House roster is thin on female former prosecutors. Precedent exists in the 1969 departure of Eliot Richardson for the Nixon administration, when then-Speaker of the House Robert Quinn arranged for his own coronation as top cop, not a bad exit strategy given the way things have gone with the last few speakers. In 1981, the auditor was a fellow named Thaddeus Buczko, and when he got a judgeship, House Ways and Means chair John Finnegan was graced with the position. A few months back, Koutoujian lost out on the Ways and Means Committee posting, so there are theories afoot that Speaker Robert DeLeo, who as a practical matter is the decider, owes him one. Bear in mind, this is all contingent on about two-dozen things happening, but reckless speculation is allowed in this heat. “This is the type of stuff Augusts are made of,” noted one House aide.