He has not met with the House speaker and Senate president in three weeks. Nor has he made a major push to sway rank-and-file lawmakers.
As Governor Deval Patrick faces the impending defeat of his latest tax hike to fund transportation programs, he finds himself largely isolated on Beacon Hill, with few options left to muscle through what was supposed to be a legacy-defining agenda of ambitious rail, road, and bridge projects.
House Speaker Robert A. DeLeo and Senate President Therese Murray, fellow Democrats, have vowed to shoot down Patrick’s plan for a higher gas tax next week, saying their own proposal for a smaller tax increase is enough. They made a show this week of holding their regular Monday leadership meeting without him. (Patrick was at his vacation home in the Berkshires.)
“Is there high-speed Internet out there yet? I don’t know,” Murray said, chuckling as she and DeLeo spoke to reporters in a State House hallway.
The crack reflected how the two legislative leaders now hold most of the power in an icy showdown with Patrick.
DeLeo and Murray say they have veto-proof majorities to ram through their transportation plan that centers on a three-cent-a-gallon increase in the gas tax and a $1-a-pack hike in the cigarette tax. They argue their proposal raises enough money to stabilize the state’s ailing transportation system and have scheduled sessions next week to reject Patrick’s amendment that would further raise the gas tax by at least another three cents.
The legislative leaders say the governor, who originally wanted a $1.9 billion tax increase to fund transportation and education programs, should be content with the $500 million tax increase lawmakers are willing to accept. They say that is enough to put the MBTA and other transit programs on solid footing.
“We think that’s more than enough to fix the problem, that he should declare victory and go home,” said House majority leader Ronald Mariano, a Quincy Democrat.
Patrick says that his additional tax increase is needed to remedy the legacy of neglected roads and bridges still lingering in the aftermath of the Big Dig. But he said it is difficult to persuade House and Senate members to consider his proposal when their top two leaders are determined to thwart it. In an unusually pointed snub of the governor, DeLeo and Murray released a joint statement last week saying they would reject Patrick’s gas-tax amendment while he was still holding a press conference to unveil it.
“We’re talking to lots of people who are willing to talk. But folks have to talk back,” Patrick said Wednesday. “You know, I’m under no illusion. Like I said, they can do whatever they want, and have. And they can do it with or without hearings, with or without data, with or without facts.”
It seems unlikely that relations between Patrick and the Legislature will thaw anytime soon. While the governor has called several committee chairs, he has not negotiated directly with DeLeo and Murray since June 17. And several liberal legislators whom Patrick has lobbied on transportation issues in the past say they have not heard from the governor, either. Some are disappointed in the breakdown in communication.
“I’m finding some level of frustration that there’s not more dialogue,” said Representative Tricia Farley-Bouvier, a first-term Pittsfield Democrat who supports higher taxes to pay for transportation.
“I would like to see the leadership and the governor have more direct talks, and I’ve said that to both the speaker and the governor,” she said. “There’s not a direct answer.”
Representative Jay Kaufman, a Lexington Democrat, contrasted Patrick’s distance from the Beacon Hill debate with the blitz he made in 2007, urging lawmakers to reject a proposed ban on gay marriage.
“What comes to mind is the effort he made on behalf of the marriage issue, and I have not heard of anything comparable now,” Kaufman said.
That was an instance when Patrick and legislative leaders worked together on an issue they all felt passionate about. In 2010, however, Patrick strenuously lobbied rank-and-file legislators in a fight with DeLeo over how to expand gambling in Massachusetts. This dispute appears to be nearing, if not matching, that feud.
Mariano blamed the governor for setting off the dispute.
“I think the governor picked the fight, whatever the reason,” he said.
The tax battle has caused friction between Patrick and elected officials beyond Beacon Hill as well.
Mayor Joseph C. Sullivan of Braintree, president of the Massachusetts Mayors’ Association, said he had an “animated” discussion with Patrick’s chief of staff, Brendan Ryan, two weeks ago over Patrick’s intention to withhold some state funding for local road maintenance.
The administration argues that, without a large tax increase, the state cannot afford to fully fund the maintenance program.
Sullivan said that threat has stirred “angst” among local officials. “Our view is that this . . . is economic activity in every community in the Commonwealth,” Sullivan said.
Ryan described the conversation as less contentious, saying, “I think we both hung up feeling like it was a good, positive conversation.”
Ryan held up the roadwork program as one that Patrick would like to see grow and said Patrick has not lost hope that his tax plan will prevail.
“Governor Patrick is open to any compromise that gets us there and he’s been clear with everyone about that,” Ryan said. “He is going to keep working for a good solution. But he’s not going to say we have a long-term solution when we don’t.”