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The Download: DeLeo's GIC ultimatum

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Two years ago, when House Speaker Robert DeLeo made his first address to the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce, he distanced himself from his embattled predecessor and burnished his reputation as a hard-working guy from Winthrop. Last year, it was all casinos, all the time.

It was a different DeLeo who addressed the Chamber this morning. He mentioned gambling in passing, but it wasn’t the focus of his speech. Instead, the speaker focused on patronage and health care reform. In the latter area, especially, he was more forceful than he’s ever been.

But that doesn’t necessarily mean his counterparts on Beacon Hill will be thrilled by what he had to say. Health care cost reform will likely dominate the legislative session at the State House. Gov. Deval Patrick used his Chamber speech last month to launch an effort overhauling health care payments. Boston Mayor Tom Menino has also been vocal in calling for municipal health care plan reforms.

DeLeo made it clear today that the kind of effort Menino has called for will be tackled before Patrick’s ambitious global payment initiative. The speaker acknowledged a recent union-led effort to restrain the growth of municipal health care costs, before forcefully saying that effort “did not go far enough.”

DeLeo’s approach to municipal health care will be simple and forceful: If cities and towns can meet or beat the types of savings the state achieves through the Group Insurance Commission, they will be allowed to control their own health plans, but if they can’t, they’ll be forced into the GIC.

“Cities and town will face brutal budgets in the coming months,” DeLeo said. Trying to balance strained budgets without taking on health care costs amounts to “tinkering at the margins” of municipalities’ budget woes, he argued, “and at the end of the day, this tinkering isn’t going to make much of a difference.”

The speaker said this GIC benchmarking mechanism will be tied to the state budget that the House is currently crafting.  He presented a less accelerated timeline for taking up Patrick’s health care payment bill. “In terms of getting it done this year, I’m not sure that’s feasible,” he said. He added that the legislation would be dealt with “as expeditiously as possible,” and pronounced himself “hopeful” that the legislature will tackle the bill “in this two-year cycle.”

Those comments seem to be somewhat at odds with DeLeo’s Majority Leader, Ron Mariano, who said at a recent MassINC roundtable that there was a 70 percent chance health care legislation could pass late this year or next spring. DeLeo attributed the more deliberate pace to “mak[ing] sure we get it right.”

                                                                                                                                                                        --PAUL MCMORROW

BEACON HILL

The Israeli portion of Gov. Deval Patrick’s 10-day trade mission is over, with no deals to announce.

A Worcester Telegram and Gazette editorial criticizes the creation of a Gateway Cities assistant secretary in the Patrick administration, and argues that the functions performed in this role should be handled by existing agencies and the private sector.

The state auditor’s office keeps up the pressure on so-called professional scratch ticket cashers.

Rep. Richard Bastien, the Gardner Republican, apologized to Lt. Gov. Tim Murray for GOP criticism of state spending which allowed a manufacturing company to expand, the Worcester Telegram and Gazette reports.

WASHINGTON

The Wall Street Journal examines Elizabeth Warren’s charm offensive. Meanwhile, another conservative rebellion shakes the ranks of the House GOP. This time, the target is a three-week spending bill that would avoid a federal government shutdown.

Senate Republicans will block the confirmation of the Obama administration’s pick to head the Department of Commerce—the agency that has recently served as a referee in the battles over New England fishing catch limits— until the president submits three trade treaties for ratification.

WBUR looks at the Obama administration’s commitment to transparency during Sunshine Week.

ELECTION 2012

Haley Barbour likes oil and coal, and makes headlines when he says Barack Obama should, too.

Ron Paul raised $1.1 million last month.

Joshua Green examines the Right’s preemptive war against Sarah Palin.

Rick Santorum, a former Pennsylvania senator who endorsed Mitt Romney in 2008, savages the former governor in a Newton appearance. The former lawmaker, who says he’s weighing a run for the Republican presidential nomination, also knocks JFK.

Scott Brown gets good marks for his tenure so far and leads in hypothetical match-ups, according to a Western New England College poll. Keller@Large takes a look at the poll numbers showing Brown still riding high, although Jon Keller’s assertion that Brown “is the state’s most popular politician” is a little hyperbolic.

Salem Mayor Kim Driscoll has a name recognition problem to overcome if she wants to become the next US Senator from Massachusetts, according to a new poll.

UMass Lowell Chancellor Marty Meehan won’t challenge Brown in 2012, while Elizabeth Warren “has signaled interest in considering a run” for Senate, the Globe reports.

MUNICIPAL MATTERS

In January, Haverhill became the first municipality in the state to take advantage of online “reverse auctions,” a process for purchasing supplies that fosters competition among vendors and ultimately produces lower prices.

Attleboro’s police chief was pushed off the force after he intervened in an investigation into his patrolman son, the Sun Chronicle reports.

The police chief in Rehoboth, already under scrutiny for being picked up in Providence last year, is now facing residency questions.

Plymouth County Commissioner Anthony O’Brien is on the verge of asking for a state investigation because County Treasurer Thomas O’Brien, who is no relation, is not providing information or updates to the board.

LABOR OVERSIGHT

More trouble for the Upper Crust pizza chain, as the Globe reports that the federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement office is looking into whether the pie purveyors exploited illegal immigrants. In December, the paper reported that the US Department of Labor was looking into wage practices at the company.

NUCLEAR ENERGY

Cape Cod Times columnist Sean Gonsalves talks to a Pilgrim nuclear plant official and is not reassured.

Japanese Consul General to New England Takeshi Hikihara tells “Greater Boston about the death and destruction in his country and the growing fear of an impending nuclear meltdown.

The Salem News reports a Peabody-based scientific instrument manufacturer is closely watching developments in Japan, where it has an office in Sendai, one of the hardest hit areas of the country.

Slate’s David Weigel says support for nuclear power remains unshaken in Washington – a stance that invites a solid cuffing from Boston developer John Rosenthal.

ENVIRONMENT

The Gloucester Times reports that plastic discs used to treat waste at a New Hampshire sewage treatment plant have washed up on Gloucester beaches, prompting closures and fears of E. coli contamination.

State, local, and federal officials are still investigating the cause of Sunday’s blast at a Middleton chemical plant, WBUR reports.

UNIONS

For the second time in less than a year, a federal mediator has been called in to referee the contract fight between Quincy Medical Center and its nurses, according to the Patriot Ledger.

The Atlantic spotlights six big losers in Wisconsin’s bruising public sector union battle.

CRIMINAL JUSTICE

“There’s nothing better than putting bad guys in jail,” new Northwestern District Attorney David Sullivan tells the Greenfield Recorder in an interview where he also promises more transparency for his office.

EDUCATION

The excellent MCAS scores of students at a Somerset elementary school may be too good to be true.

The Salem School Committee yesterday approved a budget that would eliminate eight teacher positions and take other cost-saving measures, the Salem News reports.

Students in Lawrence are in Saturday classes this spring to make up for time lost to a mold infestation at Guilmette School. School officials were pleased to see attendance levels remain about the same as during the week.

The mayor of Providence looks to close four schools and eliminate 40 to 70 positions in an effort to save the city money, NECN reports.

HEALTH CARE

WBUR reports on the Greater Boston Interfaith Organization’s efforts at creating a health care cost control campaign.

PUBLIC SAFETY OVERSIGHT

Two Department of Public Safety inspectors were suspended because of their failure to report problems with an escalator at the Auburn Mall where a 4-year-old boy fell to his death on Saturday.

PUBLIC RECORDS

Cape Cod Times editorial marking Sunshine Week, a national initiative to promote open government, criticizes town officials who are not as willing to provide government documents as they should be. Meanwhile, Sen. Jamie Eldridge, the Acton Democrat, and Rep. Antonio Cabral, the New Bedford Democrat, file bills to improve access to public records.

TECHNOLOGY

Federal officials give the go-ahead to the broadband initiative in western Massachusetts which will bring Internet service to new communities and improve existing connections. 

NEW HAMPSHIRE POLITICS

A 91-year-old Republican state representative resigns after saying that the mentally ill and others he deemed unworthy should die in Siberia.

"HELL HATH NO FURY" DEPARTMENT

The wife of a Wisconsin Republican state senator who is facing a recall petition effort reports that her husband does not live in his district, but lives with a mistress elsewhere. Needless to say, she signed the petition.

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