Patrick draws line in the sand on local aid funds

Gov. Deval Patrick may be a lame duck, but he has plenty of political fight left in him this budget season. The annual spectacle of dysfunction over local aid funding is even more complicated this year: The governor has decided to strong arm Beacon Hill lawmakers over a long-term transportation revenue package by forcing municipal leaders to beg and plead for their local aid funds.

At the end of May, Patrick made good on his threat to hold back on some of the so-called Chapter 90 funding. He signed a “terms bill” Tuesday that should allow state officials to move to bond out the $300 million program. However, only $150 million of the $300 million allocated to cities and towns is going out to finance their fiscal 2014 road repairs.

Patrick continues to sit on the other half. The administration’s calculation appears to be that pressure from municipal officials, desperate to deal with road repairs before drivers start howling and snow starts flying, could force the Legislature’s joint conference committee to come up with more transportation revenue rather than less as they try to reconcile the $500 million House and $800 million Senate transportation finance plans.

No one likes to negotiate in the court of public opinion, least of all House Speaker Robert DeLeo, Senate President Therese Murray, or their lieutenants on the conference committee. Tim Murray, once the governor’s well-liked emissary to cities and towns, has retreated to the safer confines of Worcester. So that leaves the fight to proxies: mayors and city and town managers and Secretary of Administration and Finance Glen Shor.

Municipal leaders have no choice but to rise to the bait, complaining that the Patrick administration’s move is a cutback from fiscal 2013 levels rather than the generous hike they thought was on the table.

“I have to register with you a real sense of disappointment, confusion, bewilderment, a level of upsetness in terms of where we are today versus where we thought we were a few weeks ago,” Braintree Mayor Joseph Sullivan told Shor in a meeting yesterday, according to a State House News Service report. “Instead of a 50 percent increase, we get a 25 percent U-turn and it’s frustrating. It’s very frustrating.”

Shor said that “depending” on the final plan that the conference committee comes up with, cities and towns could see the rest of the funding before the fall. Or next spring. He added that municipal leaders should have heeded Tim Murray’s warning earlier this spring that funding might be reduced “on a prorated, tentative basis” depending on the final transportation finance package that legislative leaders agree on.  Murray thought that figure could be as little as $240 million. Instead, the cities and towns will see far less.

However the final transportation revenue numbers play out, Patrick’s gambit is a shrewd way to stay relevant while keeping the debate for more transportation funding alive. Whether a lame duck governor can beat the House Speaker and the Senate President at their own game is a dicier proposition.

                                                                                                                                                                        —GABRIELLE GURLEY

BEACON HILL

The push for a steep hike in the state’s minimum wage begins at a packed hearing, CommonWealth reports. WBUR offers the economic pros and cons of raising the minimum wage.

MUNICIPAL MATTERS

Lawrence City Councilor Daniel Rivera, who is also running for mayor against incumbent William Lantigua, argues that the city’s budget should rehire police officers instead of laborers in the Department of Public Works, the Eagle-Tribune reports.

With Quincy’s economic fortunes on the upswing, the city’s new budget will allow schools to add new teachers and restore programs and the police department to hire more officers.

Gloucester police shut down two arcades, apparently for illegal gambling, the Gloucester Times reports.

Raynham becomes the first town to strike a deal with a would-be slots parlor; the town agreed to a $1 million per-year deal with the owners of the town’s former greyhound track.

NATIONAL POLITICS/WASHINGTON

An immigration reform bill passes its first test in the Senate, USA Today reports.

A poll by the Washington Free Beacon finds that former senator Scott Brown is within four points of US Sen. Jeanne Shaheen in a mythical match-up for the New Hampshire seat.

The Texas legislature again fails to pass a statewide ban on smoking in public workplaces, the Texas Tribune reports.

FEMA rejected an appeal by Plymouth County communities for federal assistance for snow removal because the February blizzard that shut down the region was a half-inch shy of the threshold to trigger reimbursement.

New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg wants Democratic fundraisers to stop sending money to congressmen who won’t toe the line on gun control.

ELECTIONS

US Senate candidates Gabriel Gomez and Ed Markey spar in their second debate, the Associated Press reports (via Lowell Sun). NECN has video footage. Scot Lehigh says Gomez turned in an improved performance from the first debate. The Herald endorses Gomez. President Obama will be in Boston today to headline a rally for Markey — but a presidential campaign appearance right now may not be the unalloyed shot in the arm it once was.

Suffolk University’s John Nucci, writing for the Herald, has a hard time finding fault with Boston Mayor Tom Menino, or the redevelopment agency Menino runs. It is, however, Nucci’s job to get development projects approved by this agency.

The Globe reviews the tax returns of mayoral candidates, with Bill Walczak leading the pack when it comes to recent income.

BUSINESS/ECONOMY

Fall River Mayor Will Flanagan and US Rep. Joseph Kennedy are making a strong pitch to Amazon to site a proposed million-square-foot distribution center that would employ 1,000 people in the city’s biopark.

Mark Zuckerberg’s shareholders are not happy.

HEALTH CARE

Norfolk and Middlesex counties rank fourth and sixth, respectively, in U.S. News & World Report’s list of the healthiest counties for kids in the country, with Hampden County the only other Bay State county to crack the top 50.

TRANSPORTATION

A federal judge rules Lawrence cannot prevent out-of-town cab drivers from picking up or dropping off fares in the city, the Eagle-Tribune reports.

ENERGY/ENVIRONMENT

Environmental leaders in the South Coast region say the agreement by AVX Corporation to pay $366 million for the cleanup of New Bedford Harbor is insufficient to do the job.

New York unveils a $20 billion plan to protect the city from rising sea levels.

CRIMINAL JUSTICE/COURTS

With a jury of eight men and four women seated, opening arguments begin today in the Whitey Bulger trial. The New York Times argues that the Boston FBI is about to get every bit the grilling that Bulger will.

Richard DesLauriers, the chief of the FBI’s Boston office, is stepping down, the Associated Press reports (via WBUR).

A New Hampshire mother of two is accused of running a brothel in Lawrence and using videotapes of her prostitutes as leverage to keep them in line, the Eagle-Tribune reports.

The Supreme Judicial Court set aside part of a landmark judgment against a tobacco company from a lawsuit brought by the family of a Roxbury woman who died of lung cancer.

A fire that destroyed a Seventh Day Adventist church in Lynn last month is ruled an arson, the Item reports.

The US attorney’s office asks a judge to send former Chelsea Housing Authority chief Michael McLaughlin to prison for at least one year.

MEDIA

With a decline in corporate sponsorship, PBS’s News Hour is laying off staff for the first time in two decades, the New York Times reports.