The Download: Southern comfort
Wednesday, May 11, 2011
The most popular governor in the North is from the South.
There was lots of carping in 2009
when Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor
only got a measly $112 million in high-speed rail funds. But Florida Gov. Rick Scott
’s decision to send back more than $2 billion originally destined for an Orlando-Tampa link was a game-changer. He opened the way for the Obama administration to kiss and make up with Northeast intercity rail supporters.
Amtrak’s Boston to Washington route, far and away the busiest passenger rail line in the country (its trains carried 10.3 million people last year), was the major beneficiary of the giveback, getting nearly $800 million. The reallocation will allow Amtrak to make upgrades to increase speeds between New Jersey and Pennsylvania and reduce congestion around New York’s Penn station.
Even US Rep. John Mica, the Florida Republican who chairs the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, acknowledges that the Northeast Corridor is the logical place to spend money on high-speed rail (though he’d prefer to see private money used to get Amtrak operating at anything remotely near international standards).
Scott may have scored points with the Tea Party, but it didn’t help him much with anyone else. His approval ratings are the worst for any Florida governor in the past decade. Everyone from former governor Jeb Bush to Mica and the two state reps suing him over the lost money, is still baffled by the move.
Meanwhile, the New Haven to Springfield rail project continues to make out like a bandit, with Connecticut getting $30 million in federal money for infrastructure improvements. The Boston-Portland (and soon Brunswick) Downeaster line reeled in nearly $21 million.
What do the two entities that received federal funds, the Northern New England Passenger Rail Authority, the Maine agency that manages the Downeaster, and the Connecticut Department of Transportation, have in common? Neither is the beleaguered MBTA, which hasn’t gotten much love from the feds in its relentless quest for federal rail money. Massachusetts missed out on getting funds to rebuild the Merrimack River Bridge in Haverhill, which ironically is used by both the MBTA and Amtrak.
A key prosecution witness, Steven Topazio, took the stand in the Sal DiMasi corruption trial, telling the court that for several years he received $5,000 a month in payments from software company Cognos -- though he never did any work for the firm -- and forwarded $4,000 from each check to the former Massachusetts speaker. Hear David Boeri’s report on WBUR. The Herald’s Peter Gelzinis says the former speaker has fallen a long way since he told Topazio it was best to avoid exploiting political muscle, an approach that might leave them poor, but happy and with a clear conscience.
Richard McDonough, one of DiMasi’s co-defendants, gets out of court in time to appear at a State House hearing on beer distribution.
The Lowell Sun, in an editorial, comes to the defense of the Governor’s Council. The paper says many lawmakers calling for scrapping the council want to bring the judicial vetting process in-house, where lawmaker-lawyers can help their friends land judgeships.
What started as an educational project has turned into a serious attempt to change the law as a group of Plymouth North High School sophomores urged the Legislature to approve a bill lowering the age for a learner’s permit to 15-1/2.
More than half of Massachusetts voters are unenrolled while the map is shifting when it comes to areas that constitute loyal Democratic or Republican bases, according to a study of voter registration information by GateHouse News.
Peter Lucas, writing in the Sentinel & Enterprise, accuses state Auditor Suzanne Bump of sucker-punching her predecessor, Joe DeNucci. The editorial boards of the Boston Globe and the Worcester Telegram & Gazette have been less kind to the former middleweight.
With $4 million in state funds and $2 million in federal funds, Gov. Deval Patrick launched a summer jobs program. The Eagle-Tribune reports the funds will create 120 jobs in Lawrence, Haverhill, and Methuen.
Another awkward moment for Lawrence Mayor William Lantigua. The Eagle-Tribune reports that he and his girlfriend, Lorenza Ortega, who also works at City Hall, receive federal fuel aid for the apartment they share.
The Haverhill City Council voted 8-1 to remove the fire chief’s job from Civil Service. The measure now goes to the Legislature, the Eagle-Tribune reports.
Gloucester Mayor Carolyn Kirk proposed a budget that relies on 76 full and part-time job cuts, the Times reports.
Voters in Newbury and Rowley rejected property tax overrides.
Prison in West Virginia has not quieted former Boston city councilor Chuck Turner, who seems to think his successor should be taking marching orders from him.
Mitt Romney will deliver a major speech on health care tomorrow at the University of Michigan, which -- if the teetotalling former governor will forgive the analogy -- seems roughly like the idea of shaking off a hangover by having a drink the next morning. The commentariat believe that this is a good move.
Barack Obama and John Boehner remain at loggerheads on spending. The Atlantic says the speaker is beating the president in spinning the debt ceiling debate. Meanwhile, Obama and Senate Democrats mobilize against a hard federal spending cap.
Newton Mayor Setti Warren is wasting no time in hitting the campaign trail for his bid against Sen. Scott Brown, making a visit to the New Bedford waterfront. Warren also sat down with Emily Rooney and acknowledged many in Newton are angry at his decision to run after serving a little more than a year of his first term. Keller@Large talks to Newton folks on the street and then takes Warren to task for an incomplete commitment. Warren still insists that a campaign for the Senate won’t distract him from his other job. The Newton Tab provides a transcript and video of his announcement.
The Gloucester Times, in an editorial, rushes to the defense of US Sen. Scott Brown, condemning the “vicious attack ads” sponsored by the League of Women Voters that highlight his votes against carbon dioxide regulation by the Environmental Protection Agency. The League hasn’t done itself any favors, according to The MetroWest Daily News.
Now that the state has committed to full broadband connections in western Massachusetts, officials are looking at building a hub in Greenfield for Internet service providers and a data center, which could, in turn, lure telecommunications and high tech companies to the city.
Josh Barros at the National Review says technology advances are wonderful tools for business but they haven’t really translated into increased productivity because workers spend their days on Facebook and surfing the web rather than on the tasks at hand.
Radio Boston interviews Harvard President Drew Gilpin Faust and Adam Bryant, the author of a book on what it takes to become a good CEO.
Wall Street wants troubled homeowners to sign away their rights in exchange for mortgage modifications.
Globe columnist Brian McGrory tells the story of Tiffany Smalley, who will become the first Wampanoag graduate of Harvard in 346 years when she receives her diploma this month.
Five new cases of measles are reported in Massachusetts, bringing the total to 10, NECN reports.
A sizable majority of Massachusetts voters -- 69 percent -- would support a tax on soda and candy if the revenue were dedicated to schools or programs to combat childhood obesity, according to a new MassINC Polling Group survey conducted for The Boston Foundation.
The Berkshire Eagle weighs in on controlling health care costs.
A rail line linking Pittsfield to New York’s Grand Central Station, to be funded primarily with private money, looks promising for the Berkshires. A Williams College feasibility study on the link is due out at the end of May.
ISO-New England, the regional power grid operator, says Salem Harbor Station can’t close down until 2015, the Salem News reports.
State Police and Hampden County officials are investigating whether prison employees made threatening calls to an escaped prisoner who is hospitalized in Springfield as part of a scheme to generate more overtime opportunities.
The Berkshire Eagle makes the case that if Gov. Deval Patrick’s anti-violence proposals get the green light from the Legislature and lead to progress against gun violence, they should be expanded to western Massachusetts communities.