Reporter's Notebook: Senate weighing budget with library amendments

State senators this week are debating their proposal for a $27.8 billion state budget, which cuts the spending bill by $750 million from last year and will likely lead to further reduced services and more layoffs.

“Our budget is not going to be good news,” said state Sen. Jack Hart (D-South Boston). “We’re worse off than we were last year.”

Hart and state Sen. Sonia Chang-Diaz (D-Jamaica Plain) are pushing budget amendments – similar to the ones attached to the House version of the budget – forcing city officials to keep open four libraries slated for closure, as well as amendments that attempt to restore funding to local groups and organizations such as the Dorchester Youth Collaborative, Codman Square Health Center, and St. Peter’s Teen Center.

The library amendments, the details of which senators were still hashing out as the Reporter went to press, have also received support from Sen. Steven Tolman (D-Brighton) and Sen. Anthony Petruccelli (D-East Boston). Another amendment would restore $4 million for youth jobs, bringing the figure back to $8 million.

“We’ll do what we can,” Hart said.

After the Senate passes the budget this week, a committee of House and Senate members will come up with a compromise version before sending it to Gov. Deval Patrick’s desk next month.

City Hall hearings set on public library budget, firefighters arbitration

City Council hearings will be held next week on two hot topics: library closures and the firefighter arbitration award.

For the controversial firefighter award, which the Menino administration says will end up costing the city $74 million, the council is holding a hearing at 3 p.m. at City Hall. Local 718, the firefighter union based in Dorchester, argues that the city can afford it and Menino is by law required to support the award. The union is threatening to sue the city if the council rejects the contract. The hearing will be preceded by a 1 p.m. hearing on reserve funds in the city’s cash accounts. City Councillor Chuck Turner called for the hearing.

Opponents of the proposed library closures, including Dorchester’s Lower Mills branch, are looking to pack the June 3 City Council hearing on the Boston Public Library’s fiscal 2011 budget. The meeting starts at 6:30 p.m.

City officials maintain that a $3.3 million deficit and a “vision” for reorganizing the library system are prompting the closures. Opponents are saying the move to close the libraries has happened too quickly and are calling for more time and figures proving the libraries must be closed.

SBLI bill clears House, and heads to Senate

The controversial proposal allowing Savings Bank Life Insurance Co. to charge different rates for men and women cleared the House last week by a vote of 109 to 46. The margin is veto-proof and larger than the 95 to 56 vote that occurred in 2008.

The bill, sponsored by state Rep. Linda Dorcena Forry, is now in the Senate, which sent the bill to the governor’s desk in 2008 on a voice vote. Patrick vetoed the bill then and said he still opposes it now. The state attorney general, Martha Coakley, is also opposed.

Opponents of the bill say all insurance companies should stick to gender neutral policies and passage represents a setback for gender equality. Car insurance and health insurance are offered at gender neutral rates, they added.

Bill proponents say gender neutrality puts SBLI, which is based in Woburn, at a disadvantage that no other insurance company in Massachusetts has. “In this climate, we cannot continue to put a Massachusetts company at a competitive disadvantage,” Forry said.

This could be your 2010 ballot

As incumbents both inside and outside of Massachusetts are nervously eyeing an angry electorate and facing potential challengers, most members of Dorchester’s State House delegation can breathe an easy sigh of relief.

State Sen. Hart (D-South Boston) and state Reps. Marty Walsh (D-Savin Hill), Linda Dorcena Forry (D-Lower Mills), Gloria Fox (D-Roxbury), and Elizabeth Malia (D-Jamaica Plain) are all expected to face no challenges in Sept. 14 primaries and the November general election.

Democrat Hassan Williams, who has in the past unsuccessfully run for City Council, is challenging freshman state Sen. Sonia Chang-Diaz (D-Jamaica Plain).

The Dorchester and Mattapan area will see campaigns waged for three open seats: Democrats Mark McGonagle, Michael McGee, Nick Collins, and Jacob Bombard are running to replace state Rep. Brian Wallace (D-South Boston), as is Republican Patrick Brennan.

In the Sixth Suffolk, where state Rep. Willie Mae Allen is retiring, the candidates are all Democrats: Darrin Howell, an aide to City Councillor Chuck Turner; past candidate Kathy Gabriel; Karen Payne, head of the local NAACP chapter; and community activist Russell Holmes. The Fifth Suffolk state representative race will feature a four-way Democratic primary. For more, see today’s Page One story.
Candidates could still get knocked off the ballot if the nomination signatures they gathered are successfully challenged.

Quote of Note: Treasurer Timothy Cahill

“Does that not happen in government all the time? I mean, that happens in government all the time.”

That was the treasurer, the Independent gubernatorial candidate, talking to the State House News Service after getting asked about a damning Boston Globe report on the patronage-riddled state’s Probation Department. Cahill added that the department should be put back under the control of the judiciary. The quote was later picked up by the Republican Governors Association and blasted out to reporters. The group has been spending upwards of six figures in ads slamming the treasurer, as Republicans continue to express concerns that he would siphon votes from their candidate, Charlie Baker, as he and Cahill face incumbent Gov. Deval Patrick. Latest polls show Cahill stuck at 14 percent of the vote.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Material from State House News Service was used in this report. Check out updates to Boston’s political scene at The Lit Drop, located at dotnews.com/litdrop.