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Patrick decries logjam of bills

Gambling plan may die in session; Legislature has only weeks to act

‘There isn’t going to be a compromise until folks start trying to engage with each other and dial down some of the rhetoric,’ Governor Deval Patrick said. ‘There isn’t going to be a compromise until folks start trying to engage with each other and dial down some of the rhetoric,’ Governor Deval Patrick said.
By Michael Levenson
Globe Staff / July 14, 2010

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Governor Deval Patrick prodded state lawmakers yesterday to hurry up, saying that bickering on Beacon Hill is stalling a major gambling bill and other priorities he wants enacted before this year’s legislative session ends in 2 1/2 weeks.

Patrick said increasingly heated rhetoric over whether to license slot machines at the state’s racetracks is dragging down negotiations over the broader gambling bill, threatening to kill it and his other election-year priorities, including gun control legislation and an overhaul of criminal records laws.

“We’re not going to get a bill without a compromise between the House and Senate, and there isn’t going to be a compromise until folks start trying to engage with each other and dial down some of the rhetoric,’’ Patrick told reporters. “To the extent that this stuff is stuck on the gaming bill, it’s really important we take a deep breath and start talking to each other, instead of about each other, and try to find the compromises that get this stuff done.’’

Patrick did not cite examples, but it is clear that slots at the tracks continue to divide the state’s major power brokers. House Speaker Robert A. DeLeo wants to license casinos, as well as slot machines, at the state’s four racetracks, while Patrick and the state Senate want only casinos.

The governor himself has stoked the debate. Even yesterday, as he called for cooler heads, he repeated his contention that slots at the tracks are a “no-bid contract’’ for those venues, a term that has incensed DeLeo, a track worker’s son whose district includes two struggling racetracks.

DeLeo released a statement yesterday reiterating his argument that slots are the only way to provide an immediate $100 million boost for cities and towns and to preserve track workers’ jobs.

“I am focused on easing the burden on property taxpayers in every community across Massachusetts,’’ DeLeo said. Patrick campaigned in 2006 on a pledge to lower property taxes.

Senate President Therese Murray, speaking through an aide, declined to comment.

DeLeo has suggested that if slots are not part of the final gambling bill he may hold up the other legislative priorities of Patrick and Murray.

“It’s inevitable that a lot of the legislation becomes intertwined, especially as you’re getting down to the final days of the session,’’ DeLeo told State House News Service Thursday.

DeLeo has not said publicly which bills he might stall. But there is plenty left to be done.

Yesterday, Patrick cited a criminal records overhaul, which supporters say would make it easier for former offenders to find work, as being among the priorities he wants to sign before the session ends July 31. Legislative negotiators are trying to reconcile the differences between versions passed by the House and Senate. Patrick’s bill to limit some gun purchases has yet to pass.

The House and Senate have also passed different versions of economic development legislation, which need to be reconciled. Bills to give cities and towns more tools to manage their budgets, to streamline the permitting of wind power projects, and to ease health care costs are hanging in the balance, as well.

“Honestly, I am concerned that so much important work has been left to the end of the session,’’ Patrick said. “We’ve got a lot of stuff backed up.’’

On gambling, lawmakers are trying to reach a compromise between a House-passed bill that would authorize two casinos, and up to 750 slots at each of the tracks, and a Senate-passed bill that would license three casinos and no slots at the tracks.

Patrick said he is open to a gambling compromise that helps track workers, although he still opposes slots at the tracks. For example, he said, track workers might be given a priority for hiring at the casinos, an idea included in the Senate bill.

“I think there’s a compromise in here that I could support that offers some kind of support for traditional racing,’’ Patrick said. “I don’t exactly know what that is, but my position on slots at the tracks isn’t changing.’’

The governor said he is frustrated with talks over the bill.

“There are a lot of messages being sent through what someone described as carrier pigeons,’’ he said. “There has to be some conversation directly with the principals.’’

Murray, DeLeo, and Patrick did meet for dinner on Thursday at Avila, a Mediterranean restaurant not far from the State House, according to Seth Gitell, a DeLeo spokesman. DeLeo and Murray met again Monday, but without Patrick. And the governor and DeLeo spoke by phone yesterday, he said.

“It’s my impression the parties have been dealing with each other effectively,’’ said Charles A. Murphy, a Burlington Democrat and the House Ways and Means Committee chairman. “They have been meeting regularly, and we’re all optimistic a compromise will be reached.’’

But a compromise appears far from certain. Patrick even raised the possibility yesterday that the gambling bill could die this session, despite advancing further than it has before. That would be a major disappointment for Patrick, legislative leaders, and the trade unions that have been pushing for it.

“I’m not sure there’s going to be a bill,’’ the governor said.

Noah Bierman of the Globe staff contributed to this report. Michael Levenson can be reached at mlevenson@globe.com.

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