On Beacon Hill: Signed, sealed and delivered

Recap and analysis of the week in local, state and federal government
from State House News Service and Sun research.

BOSTON — A budget, a pot bill and a shuffle of House leadership. Teary goodbyes, promotions and demotions. Take a deep breath, it’s finally the weekend.

House Speaker Robert DeLeo opened the floodgates early last week when he announced he had chosen a successor to Brian Dempsey as Ways and Means chairman, though not necessarily a successor to DeLeo’s long-held speakership.

The call to the bullpen went to state Rep. Jeffrey Sánchez, a Jamaica Plain Democrat and the first Latino to hold the powerful position in the House. In time, and if history serves, Sánchez 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, 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  — 1.4 percent — legislators had agreed would be sufficient in light of sluggish growth over the past year.

Antonio Caban / State House News Service

Gov. Charlie Baker

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 he wanted the assessment, which many prefer to call a tax, 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, D-Northampton, and they’ve scheduled hearings on the issues this week.

House members arrived at the State House Monday prepared to ratify Sánchez’s appointment to lead the budget-writing committee, and most seemed supportive of the selection. But Sánchez’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 Western Mass., took over the Health Care Financing Committee from Sánchez 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 chairpersons and newly minted vice-chairpersons, Rep. Russell Holmes, D-Mattapan, the immediate past chairman of the Black and Latino Caucus and vice-chairperson of the Housing Committee, found himself without his post in leadership.

Holmes 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 legislator 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 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.

— Matt Murphy

ALSO ON THE AGENDA

  • Legal marijuana law awaits Baker signature
  • Chang-Diaz and Forry on pot, McGovern on #NoKidHungry, Healey on DACA
  • New Ways and Means chairperson pledges ‘thoughtful’ approach to MassHealth
  • Watch: DeLeo and Sánchez on historic chairmanship
  • Final tally: Tax revenues leave $431 million hole in fiscal 2017

On Beacon Hill: State House leadership thrust into game of thrones

BOSTON — While he never spoke about it — or spoke much at all unless it was to explain a bill to his colleagues in caucus — state Rep. Brian Dempsey’s mere presence in the second-floor offices of the House Ways and Means Committee kept the wolves at bay.

As long as he held the chairmanship of that powerful committee, House Speaker Robert DeLeo did not have to worry about the kind of behind-the-scenes maneuvering that has periodically frustrated and undermined speakers in the past.

But everyone knows what they say about the best-laid plans of mice and men.

Dempsey, the Haverhill Democrat who announced last week that he accepted a job offer from lobbying firm ML Strategies [see story below], could have been speaker by now had DeLeo not preempted his term-limited exit from the Legislature by wiping the very eight-year limit he put into the rules in 2009 off the books in 2014.

Now the speaker says he’s running for re-election in 2018 and doesn’t have “any view in my mirror” in terms of an exit strategy. Dempsey said DeLeo’s prolonged stay had nothing to do with his decision to take off his lapel pin, loyal until the end.

But it’s hard not to wonder what if.

Sam Doran / State House News Service

House Speaker Robert DeLeo

DeLeo now has to choose a new Ways and Means chairman, or chairwoman, knowing that whoever he elevates will instantly be viewed as a contender to become the next speaker.

It also appears certain that DeLeo will face pressure from groups like the Black and Latino Caucus, the Women’s Caucus and the Progressive Caucus to pick a minority or a woman or someone more ideologically left of center.

Some of the names wafting through the halls as possible Dempsey successors include Economic Development Committee Chairman Rep. Joseph Wagner, Education Committee Chairwoman Alice Peisch, Telecommunications Committee Chairman Thomas Golden, State Administration Committee Chairman Peter Kocot and Transportation Committee Chairman William Straus.

Gov. Charlie Baker learned of Dempsey’s plan to leave the Legislature when Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito called him on his cellphone in Providence, where the governor was taking part in the National Governors Association Summer Meeting.

The governor spent most of the day Thursday huddled behind closed doors with his fellow governors, who had one eye on their conference agendas and another on their smartphones as details of the U.S. Senate’s Obamacare repeal rewrite filtered out.

Vice President Mike Pence and Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price were both expected in Rhode Island over the weekend to sell the governors on a plan that already appears in jeopardy.

Baker remained back in Massachusetts Friday to continue reviewing the $40.2 billion budget he must act on by Monday, but issued a statement saying that after review he believes the revised Senate bill would “put a harmful strain on the state’s ability to continue providing healthcare coverage for the people of Massachusetts.”

Administration officials said the governor was also still working through the options for how to handle MassHealth in the near-term before any possible federal changes come over the transom. Baker said last Monday he was unsure whether he’d sign off on $200 million in new assessments on employers, agreed to by the Legislature, without the MassHealth eligibility reforms he sought as part of a compromise with the business community.

While Baker is expected to sign the budget, at least in part, on Monday, earlier this week he signed a hastily-approved $26 million spending bill to make sure that attorneys who handled cases for indigent clients last fiscal year could get paid.

The state’s penchant for underfunding the Committee for Public Counsel Services account caught up to it this month when CPCS ran out of money to pay the lawyers for their work.

— Matt Murphy

ALSO ON THE AGENDA

  • Dempsey departure sends shockwaves through State House
  • McGovern rips Ryan on Afghanistan, Warren slays GOP healthcare bill
  • Marijuana progress, but still no deal
  • Millionaires tax among potential funding options in free-tuition bill

On Beacon Hill: The $40 billion buzzkill

Recap and analysis of the week in local, state and federal government
from State House News Service

BOSTON — Consider Beacon Hill’s mellow harshed.

To the extent that the Fourth of July break was supposed to be a timeout for House and Senate lawmakers deadlocked over an annual state budget bill and legislation regulating legal marijuana, it didn’t quite work out that way.

The smoke had no sooner cleared from the fireworks over the Charles River than lawmakers returned to work midweek to find that tensions simmering behind the two major issues before the Legislature were ready to bubble over.

Deadlines had already been blown. Speculation about sticking points was swirling. And lawmakers were being asked to defend why Massachusetts, a state prideful of bipartisanship, was one of just a handful nationwide without a fiscal 2018 budget in place.

A $40.2 billion budget deal to fund the government for the next eleven-plus months would eventually emerge from the fracas and be sent to Gov. Charlie Baker for his review, but not before a few punches were thrown.

The post-Fourth of July pyrotechnics got started early Wednesday evening when, after the branches broke for the day without agreement on marijuana or a budget, sources close to the negotiations told State House News Service that talks over both issues had become intertwined.

The mere suggestion that House and Senate leaders might be using items in one bill as leverage for a deal on the other drew swift and forceful denials from both House Speaker Robert DeLeo and Senate President Stanley Rosenberg.

But at times it became unclear whether the top Democrats were denying that attempts at cross-topic horse-trading had taken place, or simply their own involvement.

Sam Doran (SHNS / file photo)

Senate President Stanley C. Rosenberg and House Speaker Robert A. DeLeo

Rosenberg chalked up the talk of linkage between the two conference committee negotiations to “mischief makers” looking to spoil the stew, but DeLeo took it one step further. Despite his disavowal that the House would ever stoop to such politics, he suspended the House’s participation in talks over marijuana regulation to remove “distractions” and focus on getting an already-late budget to Gov. Baker’s desk.

That move sparked an array of increasingly agitated responses from his Senate counterpart. Rosenberg early Thursday, with a smile on his face, proclaimed himself “puzzled” by the maneuvering before suggesting the Senate can “walk and chew gum at the same time” and inviting the House to do the same.

But when it became clear that a budget deal was imminent and that, just maybe, DeLeo’s posturing achieved its intended result, the leader from Amherst, this time a bit more wide-eyed, declared it “absurd” that the pot-talk suspension had anything to do with the budget compromise or that negotiations might have been linked prior.

“Whoever made up those rumors and spread them had an intention, a nefarious intention. There were never any discussions linking the two. It was b.s.,” he told reporters. It was a rather unusual outburst for the typically good-natured leader whose hallmark has been decorum.

The talk of linkage between pot and the budget clearly struck a nerve throughout the building.

But in some ways legislative leaders played a role in inviting those types of leaks and speculation about motives and gamesmanship as they insist on a level of secrecy that leaves even the governor guessing about what goes on behind closed doors, where the important decisions about the major bills are made.

Seven hours and 56 minutes after House and Senate leaders filed their compromise budget bill with the House clerk, the voting was done and the fiscal 2018 budget — a slimmed-down version of what lawmakers passed this spring — was on its way to Baker.

House Ways and Means Chairman Brian Dempsey tried to put a shine on the budget, which lowered tax projections for next year by $733 million and forced cutbacks throughout. He told House members before they voted that most programs and agencies would still see an increase, albeit one smaller than once envisioned.

Meanwhile, down in the Senate’s temporary meeting quarters Senate Ways and Means Chairwoman Karen Spilka spoke about “pain,” and Rosenberg would call it the “harshest state budget since the last recession.”

— Matt Murphy

ALSO ON THE AGENDA

  • Sales tax holiday, marijuana regulations back on front burner
  • McGovern on Green Street, Markey on North Korea, Healey on DeVos
  • Administration says healthcare reforms will continue to be top priority
  • Video: Budget ‘not without pain,’ Spilka says
  • Governor eyes trust funds to fill fiscal 2017 revenue gap

On Beacon Hill: A watched pot never boils

Recap and analysis of the week in local, state and federal government
from State House News Service

BOSTON — The Fourth of July holiday, with any luck, may be just the dash of salt legislative negotiators need to bring to a simmer deals over a new annual budget and marijuana legalization legislation that proved elusive as the hours peeled away on fiscal 2017.

Shuffling off into the weekend, tails tucked between their legs, important decisions hanging over their heads, not even the enticement of fireworks, parades and an unencumbered four-day break could pull a compromise out of the back rooms of the State House, where frustration between the branches was mounting.

Two issues were in play this week, both with looming — if inconsequential — deadlines. Anticipation, unrequited, was high.

The new fiscal year began Saturday, but with an interim budget in place to pay $5.5 billion worth of bills in July, state lawmakers had the luxury of not trying to rush a deal if there was no deal to be made. Not only are lawmakers trying to decide what to do with Gov. Charlie Baker’s comprehensive Medicaid reform plan dropped on the conference committee last week, but unreliable tax projections have complicated the math.

As for the overhaul of the voter-approved marijuana legalization law, the House and Senate have been at odds over taxes, local control of the siting of retail shops, and the makeup of a regulatory panel known as the Cannabis Control Commission.

Leadership of the House and Senate set an artificial deadline of June 30 to complete their work, but nothing happens if talks spill over into next week, or the week after that.

The tax rate, according to some close to the negotiations, remained at least one of the sticking points, with the House entering talks at 28 percent and the Senate asking for an unchanged 12 percent tax rate, as prescribed in the ballot law.

Asked if a deal over marijuana was imminent late Friday afternoon, Sen. Patricia Jehlen, D-Somerville, shrugged. “How should I know?” said one of the few people actually in a position to be able to answer that question with any authority.

As Beacon Hill waited, last week provided enough actual news to fill what Gov. Baker described in an interview with State House News Service as the “black hole” that is the conference process.

President Donald Trump left mouths, including Baker’s, slack-jawed by the cruelty of his Twitter fusillade against MSNBC host Mika Brzezinski last week; Eversource and National Grid shelved plans to bring a $3.2 billion natural gas pipeline into New England; state Revenue Commissioner Michael Heffernan revoked a directive that would have required many online retailers to begin collecting sales taxes on July 1; and long-serving Education Commissioner Mitchell Chester passed away after a battle with cancer.

— Matt Murphy

ALSO ON THE AGENDA

  • Senate again passes bill to ban device use while driving
  • Warren tweaks CEOs on health care, Polito lauds Worcester investment
  • Eldridge teams up with Republican to close healthcare loophole
  • State rebuffs White House election panel’s request for voter information

On Beacon Hill: ‘Ambassadors of cannabis’ unite — kind of

Recap and analysis of the week in local, state and federal government
from State House News Service

BOSTON — ZAP! BUZZZZZZZZ! That was the sound of the Massachusetts House and Senate touching what for years has been considered a politically hazardous “third rail” subject: marijuana.

The Legislature did what it has refused to do for years last week — talk in public about the leafy green intoxicant — but only because voters forced Beacon Hill’s hand and did the hard part of legalizing cannabis on their own. For lawmakers who thought activists were just blowing smoke all these years, the events of recent days were a reminder that ultimately, the voters call the shots.

About a year before voters legalized marijuana themselves, Senate President Stanley Rosenberg, D-Amherst, explained why, to that point, only one senator had agreed to serve on a special committee to study marijuana and why Beacon Hill avoided the sticky-icky ganja.

“Drugs are a third-rail issue in politics, and you don’t want to associate with it publicly because just studying it is enough for people to say, ‘Oh, he must be in favor of it because he is studying it,’ and people just avoid drug-related stuff,” he said.

The sudden zeal to alter the law drew the ire of activists, and like birds of a feather, various pro-marijuana factions flocked outside the State House to rail against legislative tweaking last week. Hoping to up the public pressure on lawmakers, a ballot campaign official even deputized those in the hazy crowd as “ambassadors of cannabis” who swore an oath to lobby their elected officials.

Inside the State House, it was mostly silent on Wednesday morning, as both branches did the bulk of their work in the afternoon and evening hours.

By the time the House got to work, on the longest day of the year, reps did what everyone’s mother would have yelled at them for: They sat around inside all day. The House gaveled in Wednesday at 11:45 a.m., but the first of the 118 amendments filed to the pot bill wasn’t taken up until 5 p.m.

Away from the House chamber, leadership sorted through the amendments and often determined their fate — puff, puff, pass — as the reps who filed them were bouncing around the room and satisfying their munchies with Swedish Fish and Twizzlers.

Sam Doran / State House News Service

The Marijuana Policy Committee was co-chaired by Rep. Mark Cusack and Sen. Patricia Jehlen.

In the absence of real debate, some reps became restless.

Rep. Kate Campanale, a Republican from Leicester, tweeted Wednesday afternoon, “So we just sat around for about 30 minutes doing nothing, and then we were called to recess. So glad that this process is efficient …” She later deleted the tweet.

Eventually, at about 9:40 p.m., the House did vote — by a margin of 126-28 — to pass its marijuana law rewrite and hand it off for the Senate to take a hit.

When the Senate gaveled in shortly after 11 a.m. Thursday, the House was still bogarting the bill, giving it one final review.

“I know that we eagerly await the arrival of legislation relative to the control of the adult recreational use of marijuana in our chamber as it is being finally processed in the chamber down the hall,” Senate Minority Leader Bruce Tarr, R-Gloucester, said, interrupted by Rosenberg banging his gavel.

Rosenberg asked, “Did he say awaiting papers from the House so that the Senate chamber, we may consume marijuana in the Senate chamber?”

“Mr. President, I know that may have been wishful thinking on your part,” Tarr responded. “But that was not what I said.”

By noon, the Senate had begun working through the 111 amendments proposed and wrapped up its work Thursday night at about 9:15 p.m.with a 30-5 roll-call vote.

The reconstruction of a law passed by nearly 1.8 million Massachusetts voters will be finalized by just six lawmakers [see below] who are tasked with hashing out a pot law that’s built to last.

After delaying parts of the voter law for six months, legislative leaders tied themselves to a self-imposed June 30 deadline to get a marijuana bill to the governor’s desk. That committee will work under the pressure of that deadline, a watchful and vocal public, and Rosenberg’s promise that Gov. Charlie Baker is “gonna love the final product.”

The first question the conference will have to answer is whether they are going to keep the ballot law — Chapter 334 of the Acts of 2016 — as a skeleton and “amend and improve” it (as the Senate says its bill does), or are they going to repeal and replace the voter-backed law, which the House bill does.

The House’s 28 percent and the Senate’s 12 percent tax rates will likely be reconciled with the Goldilocks method — one’s too high, the other too low, so settle on something in that “just right” middle ground.

Working through the issue of local control may be a bit stickier for the committee. The Senate maintained the ballot law’s requirement that a city or town can only ban marijuana facilities by a town-wide referendum, but the House gave that power instead to local elected and appointed officials.

Their compromise bill will have to clear both branches one last time before going to Gov. Baker for his signature, or amendment.

— Colin A. Young

ALSO ON THE AGENDA

  • Shrewsbury’s Kane on pivotal pot panel
  • Watch: Jehlen talks about Senate, House additions to marijuana bill
  • Gov. candidate says Dems ‘need new generation of leaders’
  • McGovern on White House press briefing ban; Markey on anatomy of Trumpcare
  • Senate poised to ban handheld cellphone use while driving

On Beacon Hill: Where there’s smoke, there’s fire

Recap and analysis of the week in local, state and federal government
from State House News Service

BOSTON — Give lawmakers a week to get something done and they’ll probably take eight days. At least.

So it should come as no great surprise that they are once again bumping up against a deadline, albeit one that is self-imposed.

Despite the fact lawmakers have been plotting revisions of the November ballot law legalizing marijuana since delaying its implementation last December, the odds of having it rolled and twisted and on the governor’s desk by June 30 seem long.

Some of that has to do with the fact the House and Senate are far apart on major issues, including taxation and local control over retail dispensaries.

The House didn’t help the cause last week with a bungled rollout of a comprehensive marijuana bill that House Speaker Robert DeLeo pulled back from a scheduled vote because of drafting issues and shaky support. Chief among the problems was a taxation miscue that would have applied the proposed 28 percent, all-in tax on marijuana sales to be compounded as the product moved through the supply chain from grower to consumer.

House leaders, including the co-chair of the Marijuana Policy Committee, Rep. Mark Cusack, will try again tomorrow [Monday, June 19] when they release a redrafted bill in hopes of getting that to the floor for a vote on Wednesday.

Cusack says the bill will look very similar to the one released last week, which would create an expanded Cannabis Control Commission and no longer require a town- or city-wide vote to ban the sale of recreational marijuana within a community’s borders, but instead allow the municipal governing body to do it instead.

Yes on 4, the group behind the successful marijuana ballot campaign, believes the higher tax rate will encourage the black market and slammed the House bill as a stripping of rights from voters. The group is considerably more aligned with the Senate.

The reason for the soft deadline this month is that lawmakers feel, after speaking with officials in other states with legal pot, that it will take a year for the new Cannabis Control Commission to become operational and start licensing dispensaries for retail sales.

Sam Doran / State House News Service

The Marijuana Policy Committee co-chaired by Rep. Mark Cusack and Sen. Patricia Jehlen was under fire last week following a heavily panned rollout of new regulations.

No one seems to have much of an appetite to further delay licensing beyond July 2018, and yet getting a bill done by the end of the month would require the House and Senate to both give up considerable ground if they are to meet in the middle for a compromise.

Sen. Patricia Jehlen, the co-chair of the Marijuana Policy Committee whose relationship with Cusack seems anything but groovy, didn’t even wait to see the redrafted House bill before outlining a competing Senate proposal that would leave the ballot law’s tax structure untouched, with a maximum rate of 12 percent.

Jehlen also proposed to make no changes to the local opt-out process and to seal criminal records with past pot convictions that are no longer illegal. She broadly agrees, however, with the House-proposed construction of the Triple C. The proposed structure of the Cannabis Control Commission from both Cusack and Jehlen is similar to the Massachusetts Gaming Commission, and one that Treasurer Deborah Goldberg — the principal pot overseer under the ballot law — opposes as an undercutting of her authority.

— Matt Murphy

ALSO ON THE AGENDA

  • Sales tax holiday could be revived
  • McGovern on Trump’s Cuba stance, Chandler on education, Healey on DeVos
  • Baker in D.C. for opioid panel, lobbying on health care
  • Video: Polito on ‘fair share’ amendment, local spending
  • Surtax on millionaires advances in face of legal questions

On Beacon Hill: With potential $1B storm on radar, foggy fiscal forecast looms

Recap and analysis of the week in local, state and federal government
from State House News Service

BOSTON — Storm clouds have been gathering for months over state finances, but as the end of the fiscal year fast approaches it’s the dense fog that has rolled into Beacon Hill casting the darkest shadow.

May tax collections reported last week by the Department of Revenue solidified the status quo. The state is on track to finish the year in three weeks close to half a billion dollars short of revenue targets.

For the glass-half-full set, the fiscal drought did not get worse after last month. Taxes paid in May exceeded expectations by $30 million, ending a four-month slide and leaving a $439 million revenue hole to fill and one month of receipts left to tally.

But that may have been cold comfort for the penny pinchers in Secretary Kristen Lepore’s office who, according to Gov. Charlie Baker, have their scalpels out “nipping and tucking” to trim any fat from the budget bones, and probably a little bit of meat as well.

Antonio Caban / State House News Service

Gov. Charlie Baker

“Every year things happen, and because things happen there are many line items in the budget that don’t end up actually spending their full appropriation. We just started paying a lot more attention to that earlier than we normally would,” Baker said early in the week about how his administration is approaching this year’s budget-balancing Rubik’s Cube.

So what kinds of things have been happening? That’s anybody’s guess.

The governor’s budget shop — and the governor himself — has been tight-lipped about how it’s managing the state’s spending in the face of the revenue drizzle. And legislative leaders, after working themselves into a tizzy in December about the governor’s choices to cut $98 million, seem content to let him nip-tuck as much and as often as he sees fit.

House Speaker Robert DeLeo said last week he doesn’t know how the governor has been controlling spending, but hasn’t heard any complaints from advocates either. And Senate President Stanley Rosenberg said he’s confident the governor will share his strategy when he’s ready.

“So that’s his job, and we’ll work with him, but I’m hoping and looking forward to getting some more information soon,” he said in a radio interview.

So until Baker decides to let a little sunshine into his process, budget watchers will have to hold their breath and wait for the storm to pass.

The length of the storm is undetermined but it was punctuated Friday by news that Standard & Poor’s has lowered the state’s bond rating.

The Boston Globe also reported last week that days after House and Senate budget negotiators met for the first time Monday to begin the push-and-pull over the fiscal 2018 budget, top legislative and administration officials huddled with economic advisors to get a read on what to expect in fiscal 2018.

The report said some economists believe as much as a $1 billion will need to be taken out of the budgets passed by both the House and Senate — not surprising given tax collection trends — but DeLeo said the same day that no final decision had been made.

— Matt Murphy

ALSO ON THE AGENDA

  • Immigration bill prompts fiery debate, gubernatorial rebuke
  • Warren on financial predators; Markey on Trumpcare
  • Moore’s committee advances bill to curb campus sex assault
  • McGovern rails against proposed food benefit reduction
  • House pushes handheld cellphone ban for drivers

On Beacon Hill: What does it all mean?

Recap and analysis of the week in local, state and federal government
from State House News Service

BOSTON — Words can inspire, they can sting and they can leave one scratching their head.

The words spoken last week — and still to be uttered — from Boston to Washington, D.C., did that and more as gubernatorial candidates geared up for a weekend of Baker-Trump bashing, the president excoriated an historic international climate pact, the feds busted a major fentanyl trafficking ring in Lawrence and Democrats sniped each other over ideological purity.

But as Trump might say (or Tweet): “Covfefe.”

More than 5,000 Democrats descended on downtown Worcester starting Friday night for the party’s off-year platform convention, where the three declared candidates for governor had their chance to address the party faithful.

Former state budget chief Jay Gonzalez, Newton Mayor Setti Warren and environmentalist Bob Massie were all looking to send activists home feeling energized about their campaign and chances to topple Gov. Charlie Baker in 2018.

Gonzalez got a jump on the convention by releasing a criminal-justice platform that calls for eliminating all non-murder-related mandatory minimum sentences, while Warren stood up for a party platform that pushes Democrats far to the left of what the actual power brokers at the State House appear willing to accept at the moment.

A fourth man — former state Sen. Dan Wolf — has not made up his mind on 2018 yet, but at a Somerville Democratic City Committee meeting last week, he called out House Speaker Robert DeLeo, D-Winthrop, as one of the party leaders “tone deaf” to a grassroots agenda that includes single-payer healthcare.

“If they seem tone deaf to the platform then people should run against them,” Wolf said.

DeLeo, whose views on tax increases are always evolving but is on the more conservative end of the Democratic spectrum, has not made life easier for himself with the progressive set with his refusal to commit at this point to the future Democratic nominee for governor.

Sam Doran (SHNS / file photo)

Senate President Stanley C. Rosenberg and House Speaker Robert A. DeLeo

Unlike Senate President Stanley Rosenberg, D-Amherst, who is all aboard the beat-Baker train in 2018 and was set to speak at the convention, DeLeo skipped the Worcester festivities, and it may be for the best, at least for him. The reason for his absence went unexplained Friday by staff after the party told State House News Service earlier in the week that he would be among the party elders at the convention.

The same night Wolf challenged DeLeo’s big “D” bonafides, U.S. Rep. Richard Neal, the dean of the Bay State delegation, was in Boston giving a public interview to Josh Miller of the Boston Globe in which he lamented the “pure party” approach to candidate recruitment.

Massie, who has made a career out of environmental activism, also got a ready-made applause line last week when President Trump announced that he would pull the United States out of the Paris Climate Agreement, warning that the deal, unbalanced in his estimation, would disproportionately hurt American jobs.

— Matt Murphy

ALSO ON THE AGENDA

  • Baker enters Mass. into governors’ climate alliance [+video]
  • McGovern on Trump’s Paris call, Chandler on ‘Casey at the Bat’
  • Hernandez ruling prompts move to uphold convictions
  • Baker measure would elevate tech, security chief to cabinet position
  • State labor secretary resigns

THE BIG DEAL

In wake of Trump Paris accord reversal, Baker adds Mass. to governors’ climate alliance

On Beacon Hill: Senate drops $40.4B spending plan, with a bang

Recap and analysis of the week in local, state and federal government
from State House News Service

BOSTON — The walls crumbling literally and figuratively around them, senators did their best to pretend everything was purple ties and punch last week as they sped through their annual budget debate and marched off into Memorial Day weekend.

The exercise dominated activity on Beacon Hill, while off campus Joe Biden was bopping about town, Hillary Clinton and Mark Zuckerberg were advising the newest college graduates, and the world was coming to grips with the latest terror attack in England.

The final vote on the $40.4 billion budget bill may have come just in the nick of time, following a loud bang and falling debris from the ceiling — like a bad omen for things to come.

“It sounds like we need to get out of here,” Senate President Stanley Rosenberg said, perhaps half joking, before calling for the vote. The Senate chamber will soon, supposedly, undergo structural renovations.

The finalizing of the Senate budget, however, sets the stage for a month, and maybe more, of negotiations with the House over not just spending, but projections for economic and revenue growth in the coming year that have been called into questions by months of troubling signs.

Gov. Charlie Baker on Monday pointed to this week’s release of May revenue collections as a clarifying moment when leaders will have a better idea of how fiscal 2017 will end up, and what it could foretell for fiscal 2018.

State House News Service file

Senate President Stan Rosenberg

“It’s going to be a rough budget conference,” Rosenberg said following passage of the Senate budget, which only added to the choices that will have to be made as the body loaded the bill with policy proposals, tax adjustments and spending that don’t jibe with the House’s version.

The lack of disposable state income may have made some choices easier this year, but senators found enough money for earmarks — $30 million in fact — to ensure that things like the new Dr. Seuss museum in Springfield and a steampunk festival in Waltham got a piece of the pie.

Those are also likely to be among the first items on the chopping block, if not in conference then by Gov. Baker’s veto pen. The Senate also voted to eliminate parole fees, increase taxes on flavored cigars, and scale back the film tax credit, which House defender and Majority Leader Ron Mariano called an “attack” on job creation policy.

The Senate even found time for a public reading of “Casey at the Bat.”

Over the course of the three days (one longer than it took the House) and consideration of 1,031 amendments, the Senate took just 35 roll call votes, all but one of which was unanimous.

“First time in a long time, when the majority party and the minority party are hard to distinguish,” lamented Massachusetts Fiscal Alliance Executive Director Paul Craney.

— Matt Murphy

ALSO ON THE AGENDA

State House News Service / file

Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito

  • Legislature has some work to do
  • Moore on body cams, Polito on Memorial Day, Markey on vets
  • Senate pivots to policy in face of spending restraints
  • Video: Health advocates praise Baker for Trumpcare stance
  • Warren releases report on importance of NIH funding in Mass.
  • Key departure prompts MBTA management overhaul

On Beacon Hill: Burning down the house

Recap and analysis of the week in state, and federal, government
from State House News Service

BOSTON — Whether it was being blurted out loud or held on the tip of the tongue, the “i” word floated through Beacon Hill this week like a poorly kept secret.

No, not impeachment or investigation, although those words got a fair share of airing last week, as well. But more topical here at home, the operative word was “imbalanced.” As in, how is the state going to pay for the spending that the Senate will debate this week?

As the unemployment rate ticked up again to 3.9 percent and with state revenues being watched more closely than the State House’s resident red-tailed hawk eyes the rabbits that hop blithely across the capitol grounds, Senate leadership released its budget plan for fiscal 2018.

The roughly $40.3 billion budget bill is widely understood to be a document written in erasable ink. Barring a dramatic turnaround in May and June, budget writers are preparing for the likelihood that revenues will have to be adjusted during negotiations between the branches, which will in turn require spending to be lowered to fit the new frame.

“We recognize that we may need to adjust,” Senate Ways and Means Chair Karen Spilka, D-Ashland, said early last week, as she detailed the ways in which she and her committee had invested in local aid, housing, education and economic development.

As put by another senior Senate official: “This budget has a lot of vision, and maybe a few sugarplum fairies.”

But even if the numbers won’t exactly add up by the end of this week, there’s plenty of meaningful pieces in the budget that will shape the debate moving forward.

For instance, the Senate chose to include a hotel room tax on short-term rentals, such as those offered through sites like Airbnb, that would generate an estimated $18 million next year.

The Joint Committee on Financial Services is already planning a three-stop tour around the state to get input on the idea of short-term rental taxes and regulations, and the House is waiting for that process to play out. But Spilka’s budget put a marker down on the Senate side that’s vastly different from what Gov. Charlie Baker included in his own budget.

The Ways and Means budget proposes taxing short-term rentals on day one, while Baker sought to target those unit owners renting their homes like a business for more than 150 days a year.

Antonio Caban / State House News Service

Gov. Charlie Baker

The Senate budget would give Baker the go-ahead to pursue an employer assessment to cover MassHealth, or Medicaid expenses, though senators would apply the assessment on certain companies with 25 or more employees, instead of 10 or more, as Baker recommended. Unlike the House, the Senate also gave Baker the choice of a second option — to raise the existing Employer Medical Assistance Contribution employer fee — which is favored by some small-business groups.

Even though the Democrat-controlled House and Senate are both now on record essentially putting their full faith and trust in the Republican governor to resolve the controversial issue of how much to tax businesses to pay for MassHealth, Democrat Jay Gonzalez credited the Legislature with “reining in” Baker by recommending adjustments to the governor’s employer assessment proposal and lowering the revenue target by about half.

That was not all Gonzalez — a former secretary of Administration and Finances for the state who has announced a run for governor — had to say this week, either. As the temperatures heated up, so did the gubernatorial race. [More on that below.]

— Matt Murphy

ALSO ON THE AGENDA

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  • Gonzalez ratchets up governor bid
  • McGovern on Rosenstein, Warren on Wall Street, Polito at WPI
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  • Video: Spilka, Senate leaders talk fiscal 2018 spending plan
  • Sudders sees pot industry as work in progress