Six weeks until Governor-elect Charlie Baker takes office and, according to his campaign promises, we say “hello” to transparency and “goodbye” to the entrenched interests of one-party rule.
Which reminds me of a story, one that might tell us more about what our new Governor means by transparency. As it happens, he might be as familiar as anybody with stealthy legislative maneuvers that nobody would describe as transparent. He might also be in a position to know that stealthy legislative maneuvers can come about with two-party rule as with one. Almost exactly twenty years ago, during the waning days of the 1994 legislative session, Baker had just been promoted to his new position as Governor Weld’s Secretary for Administration and Finance, and so may have been a witness to lawmaking of a very clandestine sort.
As the 1994 legislative session was drawing to a close, Governor Weld badly wanted legislation reducing state capital gains taxes. House Speaker Charles Flaherty and Senate President William Bulger badly wanted legislation increasing the base salary for legislators (that salary had remained at $30,000 for more than a decade). Despite the Governor’s prior opposition to the pay increase and the Legislature’s prior opposition to the capital gains tax cut, a conciliation was reached in the last days of the session.
The precise details of how this mutual back-scratching came about are not entirely clear, but we do know this much. First, the Legislature sent the Governor the pay raise bill, which increased the base salary for Legislators to $46,000. The Governor did not sign the bill right away, but instead allowed it to sit on his desk for a time. During that time, the Speaker and Senate President managed to pass the Governor’s tax cut without their members’ knowledge.
Late on a Wednesday afternoon in December, a bill entitled “Tax Relief for Low Income Families,” was quietly amended in the House to include the Governor’s capital gains tax cut. The amendment was offered by Republican Representative Edward Teague (who would soon be elected as the House minority leader), and was quickly adopted on a voice vote. Then the bill (its title was not changed, although its substance surely had been), was just as quickly passed by the Senate and sent to the Governor, who wasted little time signing both the pay raise bill and the capital gains tax cut bill into law.
When the swap came to light, nearly everyone in the Legislature was outraged, particularly the 105 House members who had earlier cast roll call votes against the capital gains tax cut. The Globe editorial page fumed and denounced the perpetrators as an “arrogant troika.”
But Governor Weld rejected criticism that he had participated in any sort of hoodwinking and refused to comment on the circumstances surrounding the passage of the two bills. “You have to address that to the Legislature,” he said.
In six weeks or so, we may begin to learn how broadly Governor-elect Baker, whom Governor Weld describes as “the soul” of his administration, defines “transparency.”