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Legislating through the budget

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The Legislature likes working like a harried college freshman, with the bulk of its work coming in late-night bursts just before a looming deadline. The body is famous for the frenzied pace that precedes the end of its two-year legislative session, when reams of bills that have been bottled up in committee are rushed to the floor in a race against midnight. Now the cram-session mentality seems to have trickled into the state budget deliberations - normally one of the few pieces of business lawmakers pride themselves on passing punctually.

The state’s fiscal year begins on Friday. Yesterday, lawmakers rushed through a $1.25 billion interim budget that would keep the state government open for the first 10 days in July - a sign that the budget is seriously behind schedule. The Legislature normally tries to give itself a 10-day window between the passage of the budget and the new fiscal year; that lets the governor review the budget, make vetoes, and have those vetoes overridden before hitting the new fiscal year, and breaking for the long July 4 holiday.

Budget deliberations began in January, when Gov. Deval Patrick submitted his budget recommendations to the Legislature. House and Senate leadership has been hammering away at a compromise budget since early June.

Senate President Therese Murray told the State House News Service yesterday that “everyone knew that this was going to be a very difficult year for the budget.” Phoenix columnist (and House abolition advocate) David Bernstein has called the Legislature’s inability to pass a timely budget “a symbol of dysfunction” on Beacon Hill. But the delay is also a product of the Legislature engaging in a practice it tried to rein in for years - writing legislative changes into the annual spending document.

At the direction of the recently-convicted Sal DiMasi, the House had tended to avoid so-called outside sections to the budget - substantive policy changes baked into the budget. This year’s budget features several. Lawmakers are wrangling over changes to municipal health insurance benefits, payment for indigent defense counsel services, a possible repeal of the state’s ban on gifts to doctors from pharmaceutical companies, and a Senate-backed immigration crackdown. Each proposal is weighty and potentially divisive. Taken together, they’re clearly more than a six-member conference committee can handle over the course of four weeks. 

                                                                                                                                            --PAUL MCMORROW


BEACON HILL

Inspector General Greg Sullivan wants the state to have access to payment contracts between hospitals and health insurers.

Attorney General Martha Coakley moves to suspend the pension of former House speaker and newly-minted federal felon Sal DiMasi.

The embattled former head of the Merrimack Education Center - already under fire for allegedly arranging a no-show job for convicted DiMasi co-defendant Richard McDonough - inflated his own senior staff’s salaries at the expense of classroom funding.

WHITEY BULGER

Prosecutors say Whitey Bulger, following his arrest last week, bragged to officials about a life on the run that included travel to many places, including several return trips to Boston “armed to the teeth” in order to deal with “some unfinished business.” Former State Police investigators believe those claims may just be braggaddocio. WBUR  reports that Bulger returned to Boston to take care of “unfinished business,” but focuses more on his indigency. Jim Braude talks to US Rep. Michael Capuano about Whitey and Rep. Anthony Weiner.

Finding a lawyer willing to take on the task of defending Bulger may be no easy task, reports the Globe.

The Patriot Ledger reports on Bulger’s tipping habits.

MUNICIPAL MATTERS

Salem Mayor Kim Driscoll seeks approval for bigger raises for seven employees who she says are underpaid compared to what their counterparts in other municipalities are making, the Salem News reports.

The Cape Cod Times calls on Barnstable residents to support their town manager who had the terms of his long term contract changed by a town council divided by “personal politics and personal vendettas.”

Many nonunion staff working for the city of Fall River will return to five day workweeks for the first time in two and a half years, the Herald News reports. The cutback to four day workweeks was a cost saving measure enacted in 2009 by Mayor Robert Correia.

The New Bedford Standard Times reports on a $60,000 payout to the city’s departing police chief, made up mostly of unused vacation and sick time.

NATIONAL POLITICS/WASHINGTON

The Obama Justice Department threatens to jail New York Times reporter James Risen if Risen doesn’t reveal the source for a 2006 story that angered Dick Cheney.

The Tea Party tries to reinvent itself as it gears up for 2012, Time reports.

A left-wing tea party?  Van Jones is ready to lead, reports The Nation.

Nina Totenberg, on WBUR, reports on the Supreme Court’s decision striking down California’s ban on the sale of violent video games to children. The high court also struck down Arizona’s clean elections law, leaving similar public finance systems across the country in legal jeopardy. The New York Times calls the court’s clean elections ruling an upside-down interpretation of the First Amendment.

Rod Blagojevich joins the Sal DiMasi club.

ELECTION 2012

Minnesota Republican Michele Bachmann formally launches her campaign for president, NECN reports. She’s picking up former Sarah Palin supporters in New Hampshire, and her Iowa poll numbers look good, too.

Keller@Large questions whether it was fair for Chris Wallace to ask Michele Bachmann if she is “a flake.” Keller: Maybe, if she gets her facts wrong.

Rick Perry’s political strategist outlines the Texas governor’s campaign strategy - should Perry deign to actually enter the White House race, rather than just talk about it.

BUSINESS/ECONOMY

Tom Ashbrook interviews Deborah Valenze, author of Milk: A Local and Global History.

CBS News reports a local entrepreneur is claiming he’s entitled to half of the Winklevoss twins’ $65 million Facebook settlement. Via Universal Hub.

Boston native Frank McCourt takes the LA Dodgers into bankruptcy in a last-ditch bid to keep the team.

EDUCATION

Washington, DC’s teacher evaluation system is picking up users across the country.

HEALTH CARE

State lawmakers say they are serious about moving ahead with legislation aimed at aggressively tackling spiraling health care costs.

Paul Levy doesn’t think much of the Obama administration’s plan to use “mystery shoppers” to try to book appointments with primary care doctors in an effort to measure the shortage of primary care.

TRANSPORTATION

Shhh! Quiet cars are coming for all commuter trains, whispers the T.

House Transportation Committee chair John Mica hates money-losing railroads, except when they run through his own district.

ENERGY/ENVIRONMENT

Dark clouds on the horizon for big solar projects, Time reports.

Lynn’s new trash ordinance, which cuts in half the numbers of barrels that can be put out at the curb, is coming under fire, the Item reports.

The Hampshire Council of Governments applies to be the default power supplier to 22 communities in the region.

The EPA awards funds to clean up Springfield’s Union Station, while the Pioneer Valley Planning Commission gets dollars for a revolving loan fund.

An AP investigation found that radioactive material has leaked from three quarters of US   nuclear power plants. Via the Patriot Ledger.

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