Robert A. DeLeo, minutes after he was re-elected speaker of the House today, vowed to slash local health care costs, end patronage, oppose tax increases, and revive casino gambling legislation.
DeLeo said he wants to force municipal workers to join the state's health plan, even if their unions oppose the move. State lawmakers and Governor Deval Patrick have long resisted that change, saying unions must have a voice in determining their health plans. DeLeo himself has been publicly cool to such a significant change.
But DeLeo said moving the employees into the state plan could save $100 million for cities and towns that are expected to take a cut in aid from the state, which is facing a $1.5 billion budget gap for the next fiscal year.
DeLeo, who has been fending off questions about a patronage scandal at the state Probation Department, also said he wanted to end patronage throughout state government. Public employees must "serve but one master -- the taxpaying public," he said.
DeLeo also vowed to "work closely" with the governor and with Senate President Therese Murray to revive casino gambling legislation that died at the end of the last session in a hail of finger-pointing and acrimony. DeLeo was noticeably more conciliatory than he has been in the past, and he did not mention the one issue -- slots at the racetracks --- that put a wedge between the House and the Senate and the governor.
Still, Patrick, who supports legalizing casinos but not slots at racetracks, has soured on the issue and said he is not eager to see it resurrected.
"Itís not at the top of my list and, frankly, unless we can figure out some way to come to terms on some of the big differences before itís filed," Patrick told reporters after DeLeoís speech. "It just sucks all the oxygen out of the place and we've got a lot of other work to do."
Murray, however, said she was open to reviving casino gambling, saying it could help create badly needed jobs and money for the state.
DeLeo's speech came on a day of backslapping, wisecracking, and festive pomp, as the 200 members of the Legislature took the oath of office for a new two-year term. But even on a day when he and other lawmakers vowed to reform state government, there were awkward reminders of Beacon Hillís darker moments.
Warmly welcomed to the House chamber were three former speakers Ė Salvatore F. DiMasi, who has been indicted on corruption charges; Thomas M. Finneran, who was convicted of obstruction of justice and disbarred; and Charles F. Flaherty, who was convicted of tax evasion.
Most, but not all, of the state representatives in the packed House chamber gave the former speakers a standing ovation. DeLeo, too, honored them and stood with them for a formal portrait. Angelo M. Scaccia, a Hyde Park Democrat and the Houseís longest-serving member, praised DiMasi, Finneran, Flaherty, and another former speaker, David Bartley.
"We all thank you for coming back to pay homage to this institution that you love," Scaccia said in a speech from the House rostrum. DiMasi and Finneran, he added, "were two of the brightest speakers we've ever had."
In the Senate, Murray was unanimously re-elected as president. Tomorrow, she will be the first woman in history to swear in a Massachusetts governor.
On the beat
Columnist Shirley Leung says Boston mayor-elect Martin J. Walsh should focus on middle-class housing. Read more