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Lots of buzz under the Golden Dome

It was General George Washington as he bade a tear-choked farewell to his commanders; Evita emoting a final address to the good people of Argentina; Jimmy Valvano offering life advice at the ESPYs; Tiger on the phone with his PR agency about a charmed life slipping away.
Well, it may have fallen short of those goodbyes, but Joe Landolfi’s exit speech last week to his troops at the weekly confab of Patrick administration communications directors did prompt a little emotion at times, said those who attended. Lando, senior communications aide for nearly three years, is going over to the new Mass. Department of Transportation, where he will “initially focus on streamlining and consolidating the agency’s communications and media operations,” according to an underling.

Lots of changes on the Hill. Landolfi is just one of several aides to Gov. Deval Patrick newly on the move. In the House last Friday, 28 positions vanished as part of the state government contraction. And the impending shakeout from this week’s Senate election has the electeds craning their necks up and down the line to see who could move up. Unless “Air Steve” Pagliuca, whom you may have seen on TV or heard on the radio or been robo-called by, wins. Then, it’ll just be a contest to see who gets his courtside seat when he’s in the Beltway.

To do so, Air Steve will have to overtake Attorney General Martha Coakley, still riding as the frontrunner and going largely untouched in the final debate by her as-yet-unmaterialized tormentors. Insiders chattered incessantly last week about U.S. Rep. Michael Capuano closing the gap, boasting a superior ground game, and knowing how to close. Alan Khazei, who founded CityYear, has already laid claim to the title of “candidate who smote the most media, leaving them Seduced By The Candidate.”

At the capitol, Speaker Robert DeLeo and Senate President Therese Murray held the line against Patrick’s drive for an education law, criminal justice law, and new budget powers before the calendar turns. The public manifestation of this was Patrick and Murray standing outside DeLeo’s office after their afternoon meeting, and Patrick announcing that the speaker had agreed to work on the bills over the holidays.

Which the speaker had already said would happen. Some House members were proud of their guy for bulwarking the House position. Not so pleased were the staffers who will spend their holidays looking for new employment. Nor were some reps who are in an openly sour mood against the leadership.

“This is a human institution with a human face, and you’re talking about human beings getting laid off three weeks before Christmas, with no notice,” Rep. Lida Harkins, who was knocked out of leadership when DeLeo took over against the team she’d backed, said Friday after two of her three aides were clipped. “While I do recognize the need for layoffs, because layoffs are every place, the process is horrendous.”
Harkins added, “I just think the process is like every other process they have in here; it leaves a lot to be desired.” She criticized DeLeo for what she said was “a helter skelter” management of the House schedule, and ripped last month’s House vote to supply funding to the state’s trial courts. “We just voted to pad the court system with court officers, and at the same time we’re laying off people who service constituents every day.”

Most lawmakers don’t seem to be paying attention to them, but there are distant forces largely beyond their control that have major implications for the next year or so. One is the prospect of a second federal stimulus act, which conservatives deride as a second federal waste act and supporters believe is needed to drag unemployment rates safely below double digits. It’s a D.C. thing, and could happen in January.

At home, at least three major ballot questions with meta-consequences stayed steadily aimed this week at the November ballot, clearing a signature threshold, which would mean they’d be issues in the gubernatorial and legislative campaigns. One would go further in expanding charter schools than the proposals wending their way through the Legislature and governor’s office. Two others would cut the sales tax by more than half and abolish the new tax on alcohol, respectively.

Less of a big deal, but notable: a repeal of Chapter 40B, the comprehensive housing permit law.

The governor dished out a rare batch of Friday-afternoon good news, delivering word of $82 million in unexpected revenues through a onetime tax settlement, which came on top of $37 million of “surplus” receipts. That’s a tourniquet for the additional cuts Patrick said would be needed after October’s $600 million revenue writedown, but the governor still wants the expanded budget-trimming powers he’d requested, just in case things go south again.

Of course, there was a dose of unflattering revelation baked in, as the administration retreated from plans to use $9 million in federal aid for a footbridge near Gillette Stadium, a plan that had been vigorously defended along public safety, economic development, and good-government lines. Instead, they’ll look for other money.
Both of the proposed ballot tax measures would relieve the individual’s wallet while sending a typhoon of subtraction through state coffers, and you can bet on the usual labor-industrial complex mobilizing to spend big against these citizen-dictated tax cuts. Governing by populist fiat is not the Commonwealth’s style.