July 13, 2012
BOSTON — The week of July 8 started with a confident Gov. Deval Patrick signing a new Massachusetts state budget. But as the days went by, he was handed one defeat after another by a Legislature that said, "Wait a minute."
How events unfolded
First the House, and then on July 12 the Senate voted overwhelmingly to override the governor and keep Taunton State Hospital open with 45 beds for mental health patients.
The Senate also followed the House and rejected two amended bills the Governor had sent them. One put new restrictions on welfare recipients; the other would require proof of residency to register a vehicle.
When the House rebuked the governor on three major issues, lawmakers made it clear with comments and overwhelming vote that they didn’t agree with Patrick. One day later, the governor responded.
“I am concerned that some of the comments from some of the members in the course of the debate were very demeaning,” Patrick said. “It’s one thing to talk about how we assure that these programs are used to their intended purpose. But it’s not necessary for us I think to go the extra step to make it seem that there is fault to being poor.”
The debate over welfare
One of the great divides between Patrick and the legislature has to do with welfare. The legislature wants more restrictions than the governor does on what recipients can buy with their EBT cards. That set the stage for the fight between the governor and the legislature, led by House Speaker Robert DeLeo.
Patrick made it clear he didn't always appreciate it. “This speaker is — I hope knows how much I respect him and how much enjoy working with him. And I mean that both professionally and personally," Patrick said. "But there is no doubt in my mind that some of the comments by some of the members seemed to me, and to many, crossed a line. And that’s not necessary. We can fix programs that can be working better without trivializing the lives of the people who benefit from those programs."
The significance of the votes
Overwhelming rejections on three key issues—what does a rebuke on this scale mean for the governor? Maurice Cunningham, chairman of the political science departmentat UMass Boston, said that while it isn’t typical, it’s part of the process.
“This isn’t all that unusual. I can probably guarantee you that governors have been rebuked more than three times,” Cunningham said. “Sometimes as partisan measures, but even going back to Democratic governors before or going back to Dukakis. They faced their reversals at the hands of the Legislature.”
However, Cunningham was surprised by the heated rhetoric that accompanied the vetoes.
“Because in the end, the Legislature and the governor were pretty close on some things. The EBT cards, for example, was one of the areas where I think the governor agreed with a lot of what the legislature was going along with and vetoed some other aspects of it.” Cunningham said.
Cunningham also said that the governor and the Legislature are closer than the rhetoric suggests. But after all, conflict is what politics is all about.
The road ahead
What next? First, Taunton State Hospital will get $5 million to remain open. As for welfare and car registration, get ready for more battles. Lawmakers are expected to send their initial version of the bills back to Patrick. If he vetoes them, DeLeo believes the Legislature has the votes to override both, just as it overrode the Taunton State Hospital veto.