January 22, 2017

On Beacon Hill: As pendulum swings, priorities — like legislator pay raises — crystallize

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Antonio Caban / State House News Service

Sen. Karen Spilka, left, and Rep. Brian Dempsey lead a joint Ways and Means hearing into potential raises for lawmakers in January -- that measure went off without a hitch, but the fiscal 2018 state budget? That, you'll have to wait for.

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

Transitions of power in American politics are meant to be peaceful, unifying moments when the partisanship of campaigns are left behind, however briefly, for the greater cause.

Exercising power, whether on Capitol Hill or Beacon Hill, is an altogether messier affair.

The first took place last Friday — albeit with some violent protests — as Donald J. Trump took the oath of office and officially became the 45th president of the United States, with his bitter foe Hillary Clinton and her husband, the 42nd president, looking on.

Most of the state’s all-Democratic congressional delegation were there to witness the moment, even if they weren’t exactly celebrating. And his criticisms of Trump didn’t stop Gov. Charlie Baker from dancing the night away at the Massachusetts Inaugural Welcome Reception and the Indiana Inaugural Ball, where he was a guest of Vice President Mike Pence.

Flickr / Gage Skidmore

Donald Trump

While U.S. Reps. Katherine Clark and Michael Capuano both opted to skip the festivities in protest, those Democrats who did attend, including Rep. Seth Moulton, were unimpressed by Trump’s “America first” mantra.

“What I heard was a divisive message that reaffirms my fears that the next four years are going to be difficult for many, many Americans,” said Moulton, who had planned to join many other elected officials from Massachusetts in women’s marches in Boston and Washington this weekend.

Some Republicans, however, are excited by the promise of a Trump presidency, and Gov. Baker has taken the tact of withholding judgment until the president puts some meat on the bones of the policy ideas that drove his campaign.

Moody’s chief economist Mark Zandi at a conference in Boston suggested Trump’s pro-business and fiscal stimulus ideas (a net positive for the economy) could wind up being at loggerheads with his other ideas toward immigration and globalization.

Democrats on Beacon Hill are in a similar position vis-a-vis the governor. Baker will deliver his annual address to the Legislature Tuesday, Jan. 24, followed a day later by the release of his fiscal 2018 budget proposal.

— Matt Murphy

OFF THE TOP

RENEWED BEER DISTRIBUTION BATTLE COULD COME TO A HEAD

In what has become a frequent battle on Beacon Hill, the Beer Distributors of Massachusetts last Friday filed a bill they say will give breweries more choice and flexibility in their partnerships with distributors. The bill (HD. 3525), filed by Worcester Rep. John Mahoney, would allow privately owned and operated breweries that brew less than about 413,000 cases of beer annually to “refuse to sell beer to any of their distributors at any time, for no reason at all,” according to the Beer Distributors Inc.

  • “This proposal is an equitable solution for emerging breweries,” William Kelley, president of the organization, said in a statement. “It provides unprecedented opportunity for smaller breweries to develop and grow their businesses, while protecting the independent local distributors and the jobs they create from the economic leverage of larger multinational corporations.”
  • To end its sales to a distributor a brewery would have to “reimburse the distributor for the distributor’s inventory, and the fair market value of the business being taken from the distributor,” the distributors said.
  • Under current law, which has been in effect since 1971, once a beer supplier has worked with a particular distributor for six months, that distributor has indefinite distribution rights to the products it has already distributed.
  • A beer supplier can only terminate its contract with a distributor if the Alcoholic Beverages Control Commission determines that the distributor has violated one of five statutorily-defined conditions.

— Colin A. Young

ALSO ON THE AGENDA

  • Potentially controversial pay raises top of mind for legislative leaders
  • … but rules of order and committee assignments, not so much
  • Poll: 1 in 3 Mass. voters see no Obamacare replacement post-repeal
  • State LGBT officials sign letter urging Trump to support gay rights
  • Treasurer sets alcohol regulation review panel

THE BIG DEAL

Ways and Means hearing puts legislative pay raises in sudden spotlight

By Matt Murphy and Colin A. Young

BOSTON — Beacon Hill lawmakers waded into potentially treacherous political waters last Thursday as they started the ball rolling on what could become significant pay raises for legislative leaders and statewide officeholders.

Two years after a special, nonpartisan commission recommended raising the salaries of the state’s most powerful public officials, leadership in the House and Senate convened a hearing on short notice to discuss the panel’s work. More than two dozen members of the House and Senate Ways and Means committees — chaired by Haverhill Rep. Brian Dempsey and Ashland Sen. Karen Spilka — showed up to listen, but testimony from outsiders was scant.

Antonio Caban / State House News Service

UMass Boston Vice Provost Ira Jackson, chair of a two-year old commission which recommended raising the salaries of state public officials, testifies before House and Senate members of the Ways and Means committees.

Top lawmakers offered no hints as to whether they planned for forge ahead, but it’s possible that leadership may want to take on the issue early in the two-year session and as far removed from re-election campaigns as possible. Some lawmakers were unapologetic in their support for raising pay for public officials, while one House Democrat said some of his colleagues skipped the meeting due to the sensitivity of the topic.

“There was a hearing on Ways and Means today,” Rep. Paul Donato said after the roughly one-hour meeting. “Now the question is, what’s Ways and Means going to do with the report? Are they going to send it out as a bill, or are they just going to digest it as a report and be done with it, and then we’ll go to the next step.”

Though the committee did not discuss how it may proceed — whether it will accept the commission’s report in full, draft its own bill to raise pay, or advance the matter along another avenue — the dean of the House, Rep. Angelo Scaccia, suggested that upcoming votes on rules could be used to increase stipends for members of leadership and committee chairs without having to convince Gov. Charlie Baker to sign a bill.

The 2014 commission, chaired by UMass Boston Vice Provost Ira Jackson, recommended significant increases in salary for the governor, speaker, Senate president and the five other constitutional officers: lieutenant governor, auditor, treasurer, secretary of state and attorney general.

Benchmarking their current wages against other public officials and comparable positions in the private sector, Jackson told lawmakers that higher pay, though “inherently controversial,” was essential to maintaining talent and integrity in government.

“Compensation of public officials should be adequate enough to attract and retain qualified individuals to a public career and ensure that there’s not a temptation to betray the public trust. We also believe strongly that personal wealth should not be a prerequisite or qualification of service,” said Jackson, who served as revenue commissioner under former Gov. Michael Dukakis.

No one other than members of the two-year-old commission testified in favor of pay increases.

Chip Faulkner, who represents Citizens for Limited Taxation, was the only voice raised in opposition. He argued that the Legislature should not boost its own pay during a time of economic uncertainty for the state and while some state-funded programs are coping with level or reduced funding.

“We’re running a budget deficit and according to some reports the budget deficit coming this July could be as much as $500-600 million in the state budget. Giving these raises or publicizing these increases in pay in the face of a budget deficit is just not kosher,” Faulkner said. “Why would you do that? If people are suffering under budget cuts that the governor has had to make, then why are other people getting raises from $102,000 to $170,000?”

Sam Doran / State House News Service

“Did you hear about the pay raises?!”

NOTED

No rules, no assignments — not yet

The big-picture stuff is not on the minds of many lawmakers, who are waiting on rules reform proposals, filing bills and rounding up cosponsors, and wondering about more basic things like committee leadership and office assignments.

More than 3,700 bills were filed with the House clerk by Friday’s deadline for consideration in the next two years. A number from the Senate was not immediately available. Nearly three weeks into the session, House Speaker Robert DeLeo and Senate President Stan Rosenberg have yet to unveil rules to guide branch deliberations or named their colleagues to committees.

The House plans a formal session Wednesday, although the agenda for it was not clear last Friday.

— Matt Murphy

LOOKING AHEAD

Poll shows Mass. voters skeptical of future without Obamacare

President Trump planned to take the weekend off after being inaugurated, and decisions pertaining to the fate of the Affordable Care Act await him in the Oval Office when he gets in tomorrow morning.

About half of Massachusetts voters think Congress will repeal the ACA under Trump and an overwhelming majority want the Massachusetts delegation to work across the aisle to come up with a new federal healthcare law.

Led by Republican majorities in both branches, Congress has set the parliamentary wheels in motion to repeal Obamacare, and Trump ran on a clear promise to repeal the law.

More than 500 Massachusetts voters gave their opinions on ACA repeal matters in a poll conducted last week for WBUR by the MassINC Polling Group.

The ACA and Massachusetts are connected for a number of important reasons — the federal government subsidizes state healthcare programs to the tune of billions of dollars a year, health care is an ever-important economic driver for the state, and the ACA was modeled on the plan put in place here in 2006 to expand access to coverage.

When asked if they think Congress will pass a replacement of the ACA, about half the voters polled said yes — and were split about 2 to 1 in believing that the replacement will be better than the ACA — while a third of voters believe there will be no replacement. Another 20 percent said they did not know.

And taking the assumption that the ACA will be repealed, 79 percent of voters said the all-Democrat Massachusetts Congressional delegation should work with Republicans in Congress to develop a replacement.

Of the 508 registered voters polled, 34 percent are registered as Democrats, 11 percent are registered as Republicans and 55 percent are either unenrolled in a political party or were registered to an independent party.

— Colin A. Young

IN THE NEWS

State elected officials join national letter urging Trump to ‘support equality’

Seven Massachusetts elected officials are among the 164 gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender politicians nationwide who have signed an open letter to Donald Trump asking him to “declare full support for LGBT equality.”

“As representatives of the LGBT community, we will hold your administration accountable for actions that infringe upon our rights and opportunities, and will oppose presidential appointees who denigrate or harm our community,” the Jan. 13 letter said. “But we much prefer to work with you to continue the incredible progress toward LGBT quality – to have you stand with us on the right side of history.”

Two freshmen state lawmakers — Sen. Julian Cyr of Truro and Rep. Jack Patrick Lewis of Framingham — are among the Bay State signatories, along with Governor’s Councilor Eileen Duff; mayors Kevin Dumas of Attleboro, Alex Morse of Holyoke and Denise Simmons of Cambridge; and Jeremy Micah Denlea of the Attleboro Municipal Council.

“President-elect Trump has appointed a host of individuals who hold anti-LGBT views to his cabinet. I signed this letter to urge Trump to advance equality under his administration, and to protect the LGBT community’s hard-won gains over the past eight years,” Cyr said in a statement.

— Katie Lannan

As pot debate simmers, treasurer trained on alcohol regulation reform

Charged under a new ballot law with assembling a marijuana regulatory body, the state’s treasurer has also turned her attention to a more established intoxicant, forming a task force to review the state’s liquor rules.

Treasurer Deb Goldberg on her own volition established a seven-member advisory task force to look into the wide range of post-prohibition regulations and laws governing the alcohol industry in Massachusetts.

A spokeswoman for the treasurer confirmed the treasurer has appointed Kate Cook, who was chief legal counsel to former Gov. Deval Patrick; Rachel Rollins, the former chief legal counsel to the Massachusetts Port Authority; and Lisa Wong, the former mayor of Fitchburg.

House Speaker Robert DeLeo selected John Fernandes, the former Milford state rep who was co-chairman of the Judiciary Committee, for appointment to the task force, and Senate President Stan Rosenberg selected his press secretary Pete Wilson. Attorney E. Macey Russell will serve as chairman of the advisory group, and Gov. Charlie Baker appointed Robert Cerasoli, a former Democrat state rep who was inspector general of Massachusetts from 1991 to 2001 and the first inspector general of New Orleans, Louisiana, from 2007 to 2009.

Russell is partner at the law firm Choate Hall & Stewart and was chair of the Judicial Nominating Commission under Patrick.

The Boston Globe, which published a story about the task force Jan. 18, reported that “the issues that officials and industry executives suggested could be reviewed: extending the hours for package stores, lifting caps on liquor licenses in each municipality, allowing beer-makers to switch distributors more easily, loosening restrictions on consumers bringing alcohol to restaurants or reusing growlers, boosting funding to the chronically understaffed Alcoholic Beverages Control Commission, or clarifying rules about so-called pay-to-play incentives.”

— Andy Metzger

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