DeLeo laying groundwork for tax talk

Within the shavings on the floor of the closeout budget conference negotiations lies a lever that House Democrats could lean on to help their case for more transportation revenue, but it would be a tricky maneuver.

Even though the House and Senate had both earlier agreed on giving Gov. Charlie Baker the $50 million he sought for a “flex force” to make swifter repairs to the MBTA, the bill that emerged from the House-Senate conference committee was $18 million short of that.

The conference report overall favored the Senate on the biggest, most controversial policy rider – corporate tax relief – but the House had started out with a slimmer bottom line, and the spending in the final version was even less than that, about $541 million. Most of the money left over from fiscal 2019 will be sent to the state’s rainy day fund under the bill that was sent to the governor.

House Ways and Means chairman Aaron Michlewitz told the State House News Service that financial commitments made in this fall’s landmark school funding bill and trepidations about the health of the economy “weighed heavily” on House-Senate negotiators figuring out how to spend the $1 billion fiscal 2019 surplus.

But it wasn’t totally out of a spirit of frugality that lawmakers held back money for the MBTA. House Speaker Robert DeLeo described the $32 million for the T in the bill as almost a down payment, or rent-to-own arrangement, ahead of the debate slated for the bigger transportation revenue debate slated for January.

“With the House focused on an upcoming transportation revenue debate, we provided $32 million to the MBTA for an immediate infusion of funds. The appropriation will help the T address its interim needs while we await clearer and more consistent information on the Administration’s spending plans,” DeLeo said.

According to T spokesman Joe Pesaturo, the $32 million will cover between 110 and 125 jobs in fiscal 2020 and 2021, and the T has almost completed the process of hiring all those people to help speed repairs to the system. But that’s somewhat short of the 200 people the T hopes to hire.

Senate President Karen Spilka has said she wants more transportation revenue, but she hasn’t committed to taking up a transportation revenue bill if the House sends her something.

Because the conference committee held back $18 million that the T clearly wants, DeLeo can create some incentive for both the Senate and the governor – who proposed the cash-infusion in the first place – to play ball on the House tax package.

Of course, for the general public trying to follow along from home, it may seem counterintuitive to deny the MBTA money one month, and then pass a tax hike to provide the MBTA even more the next.

As the Boston Globe’s Matt Stout noted, some of those clamoring for more funding for the T – including C.A. Webb of the Kendall Square Association and Brian Kane of the MBTA Advisory Board – were nonplussed by the decision to pare down the $50 million, while others – including Jim Rooney of the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce and Chris Dempsey of Transportation for Massachusetts – took it more in stride.

“The focus on $32 million vs. $50 million is sort of losing the forest through the trees,” said Dempsey, who is holding out for larger action.  

It may be that DeLeo tries and succeeds to leverage the T’s enduring need for funding into a tax hike, but so far the public transit funding story this session has been more about postponing legislative action and now scaling down the stopgap money. 

ANDY METZGER


BEACON HILL

Marijuana vape sales can resume, the Cannabis Control Commission rules. (State House News)

MUNICIPAL MATTERS

Lawrence Mayor Dan Rivera has objected to the terms of a settlement in a class action lawsuit against Columbia Gas, complaining the compensation process is too complicated and the attorney fees are too high. (Eagle-Tribune)  

With nearly two-thirds of Brockton’s new housing units coming from single-family homes, city planner Rob May says it’s time to re-evaluate why apartments are so heavily restricted in the city. (The Enterprise) 

With a new proposal, there are about 500 units of housing in the pipeline for an old cinema site in Salem. (Salem News

After a number of abductions, the city of Boston releases a safety guide for nightclubs and bars. (MassLive)

The Quincy City Council will decide Monday whether to spend $32 million for the first phase of a building project which would create a new police station and parking garage right next to it. (Patriot Ledger)

A federal court judge is considering severing Mayor Jasiel Correia II’s fraud charges from his criminal corruption case, and a trial on the latter could move forward in spring 2020. (Herald News) 

Over howls of protest from some in the community, the Boston Planning and Development Agency lifted a deed restriction and approved the sale of the Harriett Tubman House from a non-profit to a condominium developer. (WGBH) 

A new Truro Department of Public Works facility could cost as much as $20.6 million, the Select Board was told this week. One member called it a “sticker shock.” (Cape Cod Times)

WASHINGTON/NATIONAL/INTERNATIONAL

The House Judiciary Committee will vote on articles of impeachment today after abruptly adjourning yesterday after meeting for 14 hours. (Washington Post

ELECTIONS

Politico reports that the do-gooder “impact investing” fund Deval Patrick has run at Bain Capital hasn’t always done good. 

BUSINESS/ECONOMY

A court ruling that requires a big boost in pay for au pairs is creating financial stress for well-to-do families that aren’t well to do enough to shoulder the higher child care costs. (Boston Globe

Colliers International has been tapped as the broker for the proposed state sale of the Hynes Convention Center, a task that will be trickier to pull off than it might seem. (Boston Globe)

A rural Massachusetts town was losing  its only bank branch, but another bank stepped in and bought it. (MassLive)

EDUCATION

UMass Amherst’s decision to move up to a higher football decision hasn’t worked out very well, with big losses on and off the field. (CommonWealth)

Five years after severing ties with Gordon College because of alleged LGBT discrimination, the Lynn School Committee is considering resuming ties. (Daily Item)

HEALTH/HEALTH CARE

Partners HealthCare says it will spend at least $100 million on a new digital health initiative. (Boston Globe

Former Boston Bruins goaltender Tim Thomas details the concussion-related brain damage that derailed his life. (Associated Press)

Harvard scientist George Church has created a firestorm of controversy with his start-up company that plans to add to dating websites the ability to screen out people who both carry recessive genes for certain diseases. Some say it amounts to “eugenics.” (Washington Post

TRANSPORTATION 

Boardings on the new Foxborough commuter rail pilot are running much lower than forecast. An average of 70 people a day are using the station outside Gillette Stadium, a third of what was forecast. (Sun Chronicle)

A new study says the “car economy” in Massachusetts costs $64 billion a year. (Boston Globe)

ENERGY/ENVIRONMENT

Attorney General Maura Healey, backed financially by the Barr Foundation, takes on the region’s power grid operator with a campaign for a level playing field for clean, renewable energy in the wholesale electricity market. (CommonWealth)

Somerville Mayor Joe Curtatone says natural gas is not a bridge fuel, claims cities and towns can save the planet and money by shifting to renewables. (CommonWealth)

CRIMINAL JUSTICE/COURTS

A federal Appeals Court panel heard arguments from the lawyer for Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev that the jury that convicted him was unfairly biased, raising the possibility that the court could order a new trail in case. (Boston Globe

MEDIA

Local TV stations in a number of markets are riding a political gravy train. (Poynter)