^ Speaker DeLeo has neatly deflected Senate President Rosenberg’s power play — for now — by advancing the Governor’s T reforms
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With the announcement today by House Speaker Robert DeLeo that he supports Governor Baker’s call for creation of a Financial Control Board to operate the MBTA, full reform of the “T” looks as if it’s going to happen. Actually.
i attribute the Speaker’s decision at least in part — maybe important part — to the ongoing turf war between the House and State Senate. Senate President Rosenberg has made it quite clear from the beginning of this session that he had an agenda of his own, and he has pursued that agenda relentlessly. One part of that agenda is to free the Senate from dominance by the House. Speaker deLeo has fought back. The dispute remains undecided.
Rosenberg’s power play has led to huge changes on Beacon Hill. For the past two decades plus, Beacon Hill has been run by the Governor and the key legislative leader worling in parthership. While Bill Bulger was Senate president, he was the partner. But ever since then, the House Speaker has been the dominant. Governors who failed to accept a subordinate role found very quickly that they had no role in legislation. Governor Baker early on realized that partnership with DeLeo was the only way for him to have any effect at all.
That was how it looked when, on January 8th of this year, Baker was sworn in. But almost the next day, Senate President Rosenberg announced that he was no longer satisfied with being a minority player in joint legislative committees; that the Senate wanted equal representation or it would set up its own committees.
The dispute at first seemed procedural only — a musical chairs thing but not a policy fight. Fairly soon that impression was shown the door. By March at the latest it became evident that Rosenberg — supported by several very vocal Senate members, Jamie Eldridge above all — intended to pursue the so-called “progressive” agenda. It was, and is, an agenda that DeLeo does not support.
Progressives made it quite clear during last year’s Governor campaign, in which they advanced a candidate of their own, Don Berwick, that they viewed DeLeo as an obstacle. His priorities align closely with those of the business community — and with the Governor’s. The progressives have other connections.
It seemed, as Rosenberg took the Senate into progressive policy space, that his move would make it difficult for Baker and DeLeo by themselves to settle the state’s business. The opposite has happened. As DeLeo has fought back, he has actually strengthened his partnership with the Governor on many key issues, because he now needs the Governor as much as the Governor needs him.
DeLeo has fought this new battle impressively. The house unanimously enacted Baker’s no new tax, fiscal year 2016 budget, with its deep cuts to many programs — cuts necessitated by a $ 1.8 billion deficit. That unanimous vote included all the House’s progressives, even the most progressive. Unanimously they voted for a budget matching Governor Baker’s.
The Fight for MBTA reform seemed, until today, to be a different matter. The legislature speedily gave the Governor complete control of the Department of Transportation’s oversight board — but not, yet, the Fiscal Control baord that he wanted in order to gain day to day, operational control of the T itself. Senator Rosenberg, too, was quick to give Baker that; and why not ? Giving Baker — the expert manager — full control of a board that appeared to have control of the T but actually does not have it, was giving him a booby trapped gift : with only oversight under his control, Baker would not be able to reform the T (its unions especially) and, in 2018, with an unreformed T obvious to all, Rosenberg and his likely 2018 Governor candidate could campaign against the managerial failure of “expert manager'” Baker.
The Governor does not seem to have realized that a trap was being set. To the Transportation Board — all of it now his to appoint — he appointed only one person likely to be in the Senate camp : Local 26 President Brian Lang; whereas he ought to have appointed only Senate candidates, people who, he could say in 2018, had hindered his expertise in supporting the T status quo.
He did not do that, and until today, the risk was real.
Speaker DeLeo’s support for the Fiscal Control Board wanted by the Governor may not do the trick; but I think it will — a few Senators already support it, dividing that now isolated body. More importantly, the Speaker’s move heads off the entire Rosenberg 2018 argument.
Rosenberg would be wise now to concede. He has made his point. He has proved to the progressives that the Senate is theirs, a launching pad for a 2018 Governor candidacy. Here, Rosenberg cannot lose. If his progressive Governor candidate wins, he has bested the Speaker. If that candidate loses, Rosenberg still controls the path to the Democratic nomination, giving his fellow progressives the dominant position in future Democratic nominations. And who knows ? After 2018 he may even confront a different Speaker who hasn’t the enormous power now wielded by DeLeo.
That, in my view, is Rosenberg’s long game. The Speaker has smartly deflected the gambit, or now — and full T reform will surely follow. But there are other fights ahead, on issues in which the public is not as universally on the side of both Governor and Speaker as it is with regard to the T. I think of early education funding, or alternative energy priorities (incliuding funding for the Department of Environmental affairs), and the DCF caseload crisis. All these will reuire new revenues and thus, possibly, new taxes. The fiscal year 2017 budget will be the arena in which Rosenberg will make his nexxt, much stronger move in what is — so far — a brilliantly planned long game.
—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere