By Gintautas Dumcius and Colleen Quinn
STATE HOUSE NEWS SERVICE
STATE HOUSE — House Speaker Robert DeLeo on Wednesday expressed optimism about working with incoming Gov. Charlie Baker as the House minority leader challenged DeLeo to shun tax increases.
Rep. Brad Jones (R-North Reading), after his 35-member caucus reelected him as minority leader, said that while the economy is stronger, “none of us can or should be satisfied.”
DeLeo has gone back and forth on taxes during his tenure, at times taking hardline stances against raising taxes, while supporting increases during other points in his six years as speaker. On the campaign trail, Baker said he would oppose tax and fee increases.
“Mr. Speaker, I can think of no better or clearer message that we can send regarding the economy and to the taxpayers than renewing, in bipartisan fashion, your pledge to refrain from any statewide tax increase,” Jones said, addressing DeLeo and his colleagues. “The way to raise the revenues we need and the revenues we want is by broadening the base, not raising the rate. I am confident that by doing so, Mr. Speaker, you will have many allies in this chamber, as well as in the Corner Office.”
Jones said it is time to prioritize the state’s recovery after the end of the recession, and cautioned lawmakers not to ask taxpayers to pay for more programs and services. “Our desire to do more must always be tempered by the ability of the taxpayers to afford those wishes,” he said.
In his remarks, Jones underscored the new power and policy dynamic on Beacon Hill, with a Republican arriving in the Corner Office and immediately facing an out-of-balance budget and Democratic supermajorities in the House and Senate.
Among the power trio that includes Baker and new Senate President Stanley Rosenberg, DeLeo will have the most experience, and the Winthrop Democrat has not shot down speculation that he may extend his leadership role beyond the eight-year term limit.
A number of House Democrats interviewed on Wednesday were uniform in saying there had been little discussion about extending his tenure past the eight-year term limit. DeLeo said he hadn’t given the idea “heck of a lot of” thought.
“I expect if there is some interest, it will be discussed very soon,” said Rep. Benjamin Swan (D-Springfield).
>>> For video of DeLeo’s speech to the Democratic caucus, go to: http://statehousenews.com/content/video/15-01-07deleo <<<
Responding to Jones’s call for no new taxes, Swan said lawmakers have to look at “creative” ways to raise revenue and pointed to voters’ repeal of the Legislature’s move to index gas tax increases to inflation. “We’ve got to deal with maintaining our highways and bridges,” he said.
Rep. Stephen Kulik, a Worthington Democrat and the vice chair of the House Ways and Means Committee last session, said a statewide tax increase isn’t on “anybody’s agenda.”
When asked about Jones’s speech, a DeLeo spokesman referred the News Service to the Winthrop Democrat’s own remarks after he was reelected to a fourth two-year term as speaker. On Wednesday, DeLeo said he would outline his priorities for the 2015-2016 legislative session in a separate speech scheduled for later in January.
DeLeo (D-Winthrop) also pointed to his relationship with Jones, the House minority leader when he said he was interested in working collaboratively with Baker.
“Where other legislatures, including Congress, have become bogged down by partisan bickering, we have achieved much and have positioned the great state of Massachusetts for a promising future,” DeLeo said, pointing to legislation seeking to strengthen gun control laws and up the minimum wage, as well as bills on domestic violence and substance abuse addiction.
Down the hall, Stanley Rosenberg (D-Amherst) made a similar pledge to work with Baker after his election as Senate president. Baker, a Swampscott Republican, will be sworn in as the governor on Thursday, assuming the office from Deval Patrick, a Milton Democrat. Baker made the round in the capitol Wednesday, stopping and chatting with people.
In the House chamber, DeLeo welcomed new and returning lawmakers after they were sworn in by Patrick and Democrats, one by one, rose to register their vote for him for speaker. House Republicans voted for Jones (R-North Reading), leading to a party-line tally of 125-35 for DeLeo.
The Republican caucus is the largest in 20 years, according to Jones, who added that he could “personally attest to its feisty spirit.” During last legislative session, a small group of conservative Republicans questioned Jones’ leadership style, and contemplated a leadership fight.
DeLeo estimated that half of the House members have been in the building for five years or less.
“When you took the oath a few moments ago, you became one link in a chain that goes back to our founding,” DeLeo said. “Your name will stand next to those of other former representatives, people like Joe Moakley, Michael Dukakis, Mel King, and former Speaker Tip O’Neill; Henry Cabot Lodge and Samuel Adams; Susan Fitzgerald and ‘Speaker-of-the-Day’ Sylvia Donaldson, both of whom were elected the first year that women were eligible.”
Rep. Angelo Scaccia, a Readville Democrat and the House dean, presided over the caucus and most of the opening ceremonies of the new two-year legislative session.
The swearing-in ceremony in the House drew current, former and incoming officials from multiple branches of government, including Ralph Gants, chief justice of the Supreme Judicial Court.
To the left of the House rostrum, Attorney General-elect Maura Healey sat between former House speakers Thomas Finneran and Charles Flaherty. The two former speakers were separately convicted of felonies after leaving the State House.
During the start of the ceremony, Scaccia gave a humor-tinged shout-out to Finneran, calling him the “taxpayers’ favorite speaker” and crediting the former Mattapan lawmaker with creating a state rainy day fund that lawmakers have been “stealing” from the last 10 years and a constitutional amendment on legislative pay.
Scaccia offered a sarcastic thanks to Finneran, pegging a stagnant $60,000 legislative base salary on Finneran’s amendment.
Later, DeLeo momentarily forgot to introduce Jones as the minority leader. Senators then entered the chamber to announce their colleagues had been sworn in, delaying the start of Jones’ speech.
The slip prompted Jones to joke, “As you said, off to a perfect start, forgotten by the speaker and interrupted by the Senate.”
Michael Norton contributed reporting.