, 26 tweets, 5 min read
I was in my first months as an aide when this vote went down. The pressure from the Speaker, a Democrat, to NOT support more significant investment in transportation was intense. It was a glaring example of lack of courage and lack of vision from the leadership team. #mapoli
This #mapoli history is worth unpacking a bit. It was the most important political debate of it's mini era and helped define the political consciousness of a set of staff and legislators. Here's a thread:
Typically the kind pressure Kaufman describes is implicit. More "we'll exclude you socially" than clear quid pro quos. It's only explicit for the Speaker's top priorities. So in this case, a smaller tax package and smaller transportation investments were a top priority.
The context here is that in the waning two years of his administration, then Gov Deval Patrick had dropped a very ambitious $2B/yr tax bill to fund transportation and education investments. The basic structure of the bill was: close loopholes, expand EITC, raise the income tax.
The political failure of this announcement wasn't a lack of support from progressives (groups and individuals lined up to support the idea) but rather a lack of planning. The administration had not laid political groundwork for the proposal and had not told the Speaker.
So all of a sudden a DeLeo team that was more conservative than the Governor (and less talented when it comes to public-facing politics) had it's priorities cast aside in favor of a massive debate over taxes and investments in transportation and education.
This likely personally bothered DeLeo, who already had a poor relationship with Patrick over at least Patrick's limited legislative outreach and the casino fight from years earlier and surely did not appreciate being blindsided by a months-long political fight.
As the days after Patrick's announcement played out, it became clear that the legislature would be taking up just the transportation side of things. Education would be left to the future (the recent unfunded #StudentOpportunityAct is a step in addressing education).
When the Speaker's bill finally came out, it was primarily a set of sin tax adjustments, including an increase in the gas tax and the cigarette tax. The alleged total would be $500M. Progressive groups rightly critiqued this amount as insufficient to meet the need.
Progressive groups also pointed out that these revenue sources tax poorer residents rather than the wealthier residents who would have been impacted by Patrick's proposal, and that both are self-decreasing proposals (people smoke less when cigs cost more etc).
Seeing the limited scope of the proposal, Patrick declared that he would be vetoing the bill. Progressives began organizing in support of legislators voting against DeLeo's bill in order to keep it from having a veto-proof majority.
This is where Kaufman enters the story. Kaufman, then chair of the revenue committee, should have played a central role in crafting the House's bill, but my understanding is that he had long since been cut out of that work and was generally known to be a disempowered chairman.
Kaufman (D-Lexington), like others from progressive districts, began to get big (over 200 people) pressure to vote against the bill via emails, letters, calls, conversations, op eds, etc. The vote was shaping up to be the "are you a real progressive" vote of the session.
Meanwhile, the Speaker and his team were individually pressuring all progressives to vote for the bill. The crucible was, for those straddling the frying pan and the fire, intense.
Legislators often say the Speaker's job is to "protect the members," which has long meant "protect Democrats holding purple seats to ensure a supermajority." No progressive would consider DeLeo's tepid to insulate them against a challenger. Just ask Jeff Sanchez or Byron Rushing.
One reason why DeLeo et al care to protect the supermajority is MA's history of electing GOP governors, as we did less than two years after this vote took place. Of course, we rarely pass bills the Governor would veto (that's for another thread). There are other reasons too:
1) DeLeo is politically + culturally aligned with conservative Dems. He would likely have lost a few close political allies to challenges after forcing a major a tax vote. He would also have angered many of his close friends. And more:
2) DeLeo is a fairly conservative Dem who probably doesn't agree with a $2B tax increase. So are his close allies, like Ron Mariano. Their favorite think tank - Mass Taxpayers Foundation - is conservative and opposed Patrick's bill. And more:
3) Popular small changes are easier to make than big changes that address deep problems. DeLeo, for all his legislative political skill, is a limited public-facing politician and not capable of running a state-wide coordinated campaign to justify a major tax bill. And more:
4) Legislators don't want to work that hard. It's a painful grind to sell higher taxes to constituents. People yell at you and sometimes you draw a challenger when you might not have had one. Even if you win easily, you have to run a campaign, which sucks. And more:
5) Whether you drew a challenger or not, the powerful Associated Industries of Massachusetts, a conservative business interest group, would have papered every purple district. And more:
6) The political cost of voting for taxes comes immediately and the benefit of the investments comes long after the memory of the tax increase has passed.

I'm sure there are many other reasons, but I'll leave it at that. Here's how it all played out:
Ultimately enough progressives did vote against the bill, and a tepid, confusing, poorly crafted "tech tax" was added (and I believe ultimately beaten in court?), bringing the total to just over $600M and decreasing (tech tax issues, declining sin taxes).
As a result, at the moment when we might have intervened in the #mbta's budget crisis and laid the groundwork for regional rail, we did not. Instead, we labor on with a broken T and no real progress on regional rail.
With no achievement for Dems to campaign on, Charlie Baker beat weak candidate Martha Coakley 2 years later. Despite myriad scandals, his "Mr Fixit" brand has matured. DeLeo's House has rarely forced Baker's hand with bills he can't sign. So much for using that supermajority.
Some lessons here are: 1) don't underestimate the power of social pressure in the legislature, 2) don't overestimate legislators - they're people too and many don't like working harder than they have to, and 3) when you come to do something big, get organized first.
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