State House Press Tells Us What's Important

The State House press corps have come up with their top ten news stories for last year.

According to the press that watch us daily, the most important story of the year was the resignation of Governor Weld, who hoped to become Ambassador to Mexico. Until he ran into Jessie Helms. And, the step up from Lieutenant Governor to Acting Governor by Paul Cellucci.

Then there was the death penalty. The press corps called it "drama." And it was, with one Representative, John Slattery, who could pass for a member of the Kennedy family thanks to his Peabody accent and startling good looks, changing his vote at the last minute. With an 80-80 tie in the House, the issue was dead for another session. No pun intended.

Congressman Joe Kennedy's withdrawal from the governor's race came in third. Press members, of course, voted before the death of brother Michael, who probably instigated the departure when his affair with the underage babysitter became public knowledge.

Coming in fourth--approval of the Boston convention center. Not big news in this part of the Commonwealth. But, the legislation included money for the Springfield Civic Center and the Basketball Hall of Fame as well. Price tag is about $900-million. But it's guesstimated that some 6,000 to 10,000 new jobs in construction, tourism, hotels, recreation, transportation, sales.

Senator Dianne Wilkerson's failure to pay her state income taxes for several years ranked five among the 15 or so reporters and editors who cast ballots. Wilkerson was stripped of her Insurance Committee chair, forced to pay the bucks plus interest, and has to stay in her house from dark to dawn. Most of us think she should resign.

Want your tax dollars to fund a football stadium for the Patriots? That issue was number six, followed by the Weld-Helms showdown at seven.

Energy deregulation, approved in the waning days of the legislature, was given number eight.

Speaker Tom Finneran's election to the top post came in ninth, followed by the court decision striking down term limits at number ten.

Other news stories getting votes included the Michael Kennedy baby sitter scandal, Cape Cod land bank bill, the fight over new area codes, the courthouse bond bill, and the tobacco wars.

What will make the headlines and grab press attention in the current session?

Tax cuts, for sure. Whether they pass, or not. Everybody's talking about them and something's sure to happen. But everyone's waiting to find out just how big the tax surplus will be for the fiscal year before they wade into the fray. Personal income tax cuts seem likely, since they increased to 5.95 percent on a temporary basis almost ten years ago. Consensus seems to be to drop them to five percent. But, over one? three? five years?

Speaker Finneran in his address opening the legislature this week warned about "irrational exuberance," saying we have to see what the bills are, for things like the Big Dig in Boston, before we start planning tax cuts. But, he promised "substantial" cuts based on "fiduciary responsibilities and sound tax policy", with a projected announcement date in April.

Also making money headlines in 1998, in addition to the budget, will be judicial salaries and the Courthouse Bond bill, and a Housing Modernization Bond for public units.

The Insurance and Health Care Committees worked hard last year to prepare a bill for our colleagues that will revamp the way HMOs do business in the Commonwealth.

Finneran also asked his colleagues to improve and reform special education, to pass a bill for rational economic reclamation of brownfield sites, to be sure that we're getting our money's worth through education reform, to provide job training, to we find adoptive homes for abused and neglected children, and to remain tough on crime through uniform sentencing for judges, restitution for victims. drug testing for people on probation, pairing of police and probation officers and community service for nonviolent criminals.

And, that's just a start. We'll address a lot of issues between now and summer. If you have concerns, comments or questions, be sure to call.

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