Beacon Hill goes at a snail’s pace

They may all be Dems, but they’re not the same type of Dems

We have a well-paid, full-time, Democrat-controlled Legislature in Massachusetts and yet we’re the only state in the nation without a budget in place. We’re also slow-dancing toward retail marijuana sales just a couple months short of two years after voters approved legalization.

The snail pace on Beacon Hill is a reflection of ideological differences. There may be only one political party in control of the Legislature, but that party is itself splintered into different factions. Depending on the issue, those factions battle for their point of view and those battles tend to take a long time to play out.

The long marijuana delay came about because most of the pols on Beacon Hill were opposed to legalization. When it came time to implement what voters approved with a ballot question, lawmakers felt no pressure to hurry as they spent months working out their differences on tax rates and local controls. Those local controls have now become the chief impediment to implementing legal recreational sales.

The current budget impasse is much harder to explain, largely because the deliberations are taking place in private. After Monday’s Big Three meeting, however, it became clear that the House and Senate negotiators who are trying to resolve differences between their spending plans are split over unspecified policy changes attached to those plans.

House Speaker Robert DeLeo suggested the negotiators deal with the budget and the policy matters separately. “One of the ideas which I had expressed today was the fact I’m looking possibly to dividing the budget, if you will, in terms of taking the so-called budget end of it, the policy end of it, dividing the two and trying to get the budget component of it done. I’m of the opinion that we owe it to our constituents. It’s getting later and later. It’s imperative that we do a budget and we do a budget immediately,” DeLeo told reporters.

Sounds reasonable, except that his approach is also a very effective way of deep-sixing a bunch of Senate proposals that the more conservative DeLeo would probably like to see disappear. What better way than to put deliberations on the proposals off until some day in the future, a day that may or may not ever arrive.

Meet the Author

Bruce Mohl

Editor, CommonWealth

About Bruce Mohl

Bruce Mohl is the editor of CommonWealth magazine. Bruce came to CommonWealth from the Boston Globe, where he spent nearly 30 years in a wide variety of positions covering business and politics. He covered the Massachusetts State House and served as the Globe’s State House bureau chief in the late 1980s. He also reported for the Globe’s Spotlight Team, winning a Loeb award in 1992 for coverage of conflicts of interest in the state’s pension system. He served as the Globe’s political editor in 1994 and went on to cover consumer issues for the newspaper. At CommonWealth, Bruce helped launch the magazine’s website and has written about a wide range of issues with a special focus on politics, tax policy, energy, and gambling. Bruce is a graduate of Ohio Wesleyan University and the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. He lives in Dorchester.

About Bruce Mohl

Bruce Mohl is the editor of CommonWealth magazine. Bruce came to CommonWealth from the Boston Globe, where he spent nearly 30 years in a wide variety of positions covering business and politics. He covered the Massachusetts State House and served as the Globe’s State House bureau chief in the late 1980s. He also reported for the Globe’s Spotlight Team, winning a Loeb award in 1992 for coverage of conflicts of interest in the state’s pension system. He served as the Globe’s political editor in 1994 and went on to cover consumer issues for the newspaper. At CommonWealth, Bruce helped launch the magazine’s website and has written about a wide range of issues with a special focus on politics, tax policy, energy, and gambling. Bruce is a graduate of Ohio Wesleyan University and the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. He lives in Dorchester.

Senate President Harriette Chandler sounded more optimistic that the negotiators could resolve their differences, or perhaps she was just saying the Senate wasn’t ready to cave yet. “I personally feel once we get started and get some movement I think we can probably get through more than just the revenue piece,” she said.

So there you have it. Washington may be paralyzed by the ideological divide between the Republican and Democratic parties, but Beacon Hill faces a similar divide, albeit one confined to a narrower political spectrum. The lawmakers may be mostly Democrats on Beacon Hill, but they’re not all the same type of Democrats.