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Menino Will Not Run

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Mass. Defense Industry Awaits Cuts

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Budget Compromise, Trafficking Bill On The Docket

By Sarah Birnbaum   |   Tuesday, May 31, 2011
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May 31, 2011

BOSTON — This week on Beacon Hill, the budget proposals for the upcoming fiscal year head to conference committee, lawmakers take up a human-trafficking bill, and University of Massachusetts trustees discuss potential fee hikes. 

A six-member conference committee will iron out a compromise between the spending plans passed by the House and the SenateBoth versions would make deep cuts to Medicaid. They would slash state aid to cities and towns by $65 million. Both bills would also weaken municipal employees' ability to bargain over health care benefits.

On Wednesday, the UMass Board of Trustees meets to consider fee hikes. Student fees could go up by as much as 8 percent —  or almost $900 hundred next year. The meeting comes as renewal of a contract for UMass Amherst Chancellor Holub's tenure has been called into question.

Also this week, the House debates Attorney General Martha Coakley's bill to help combat human trafficking in the state. The proposal would make human trafficking a felony, and it would give prosecutors more tools to go after pimps and people who solicit prostitutes. Massachusetts is only one of five state without a human trafficking law on the books.

And this weekend, state Democrats gather in Lowell for their annual convention. They'll hear short speeches from the candidates who intend to challenge U.S. Senator Scott Brown. Political observers say that Democratic officials aren't satisfied yet with the field of candidates, and they're still looking for a big name contender to take on the G.O.P.

Brown, Kerry Say 'No' To Ryan Budget

By Adam Reilly   |   Monday, May 23, 2011
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May 23, 2011

Massachusetts Sens. John Kerry and Scott Brown talk at the induction ceremony of U.S. District Judge Denise Jefferson Casper at Faneuil Hall in Boston, Friday afternoin February.


BOSTON — Both of Massachusetts' senators are voicing opposition to a proposal in Congress that would turn Medicare into a privatized, voucher-based system.

On Monday, Democratic Senator John Kerry visited Kit Clark Senior Services in Dorchester and panned the voucher plan, which is a key part of the so-called “Ryan Budget,” named for Republican Congressman Paul Ryan of Wisconsin. 
 
“I was against the Ryan budget the moment I saw it, folks,” Kerry said to loud applause. “Because I saw that it was a budget that would destroy this country. The Ryan budget is not a budget that is a pathway to prosperity. It’s a roadmap to poverty. It would destroy many of the things that make a difference in our country.”

In an op-ed published by Politico on Monday
, Republican Sen. Scott Brown wrote he won’t support Ryan’s budget plan either. Brown said he’s grateful to Ryan for jump-starting a serious conversation about the nation’s debt — but also warned that Ryan’s Medicare plan could lead to increased deductibles and co-pays for seniors.

Earlier this month, Brown seemed to indicate support for the Ryan budget in a speech to the Greater Newburyport Chamber of Commerce and Industry. But after the Massachusetts Democratic Party seized on Brown’s remarks, a Brown aide said the senator’s comments had been misconstrued and that he was still weighing his vote. 

Senate May Slash Budget; DiMasi Trial Continues

By Sarah Birnbaum   |   Monday, May 23, 2011
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May 23, 2011



BOSTON — This week on Beacon Hill, lawmakers will take up the Senate Ways and Means Committee’s budget plan for the fiscal year that begins in July. Meanwhile, the corruption trial of former House Speaker Sal DiMasi enters its third week of testimony.

The chairman of the Senate Ways and Means Committee says the state is facing one of its worst fiscal challenges ever. The budget that comes before the full Senate on Wednesday would slash millions of dollars from direct aid to cities and towns. It would reduce support for needy families and make deep cuts to the arts. Thousands of poor children would see their annual clothing allowance drop from $150 per year to $40 per year. There would also be fewer subsidized summer jobs for low-income teenagers.  And community orchestras and dance troupes would lose funding.

The budget also includes the Senate’s take on a controversial plan to let cities and towns reduce their employee’s health insurance benefits. When the House passed a similar plan last month, public employee unions across the state were furious. Unions seem to like the Senate version better, but observers still expect some heated debate towards the end of the week.
 
Also this week, Governor Deval Patrick could be called to the stand in the trial of former house speaker Sal DiMasi. The ex-speaker is accused of taking kickbacks in exchange for steering two lucrative state contracts to the software firm Cognos. If called, Patrick is expected to testify that DiMasi directly lobbied him on behalf of the firm. Prosecutors say they could wrap up their case by Friday.

Unions Mobilize As House Considers Collective Bargaining Rights

By Sarah Birnbaum   |   Tuesday, April 26, 2011
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Apr. 26, 2011

BOSTON — The Massachusetts House is one day into its deliberations on a controversial budget would give cities and towns the ability to change employee health plans without union approval.

On Tuesday, union officials milled about the State House hallways, wearing buttons that said "collective bargaining = affordable health care." They passed out leaflets to House members as they entered a closed-door caucus to talk about the budget.

AFL-CIO president Bob Haynes says unions are working to avoid the kind of measure that stripped their counterparts in Wisconsin of their bargaining rights.
 
“All these public sector unions want to do is be able to negotiate their health care plans. We don’t want to be like Wisconsin. We want to make sure we have the right to be at the bargaining table," Haynes said. 

House Speaker Robert Deleo's plan would limit public workers' collective bargaining rights on health care plans. Deleo’s proposal would allow cities and towns to raise health insurance co-payments and deductibles for firefighters, teachers and other local government employees without prior union approval.

Union leaders are gathering support for an amendment that would require some negotiation with unions before health plan changes could be made. About 50 Democrats have signed on so far, including some members of Deleo’s leadership team.
 
Deleo’s backers argue that municipal workers have some of the most generous health insurance plans in the state, and the costs are unsustainable.  They say that  employee health care costs are draining local budgets and crowding out funds that could be spent, for education and other municipal services.  Debate on the amendment is expected over the next few days.
 

About the Authors
Sarah Birnbaum
Sarah Birnbaum is WGBH News' State House reporter. Send her a news tip.
Adam Reilly Adam Reilly
Adam Reilly is a political reporter and associate producer for WGBH's Greater Boston.

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