Patrick, DiMasi square off over casinos

Gov. Deval Patrick, stung by House Speaker Salvatore DiMasi's harsh criticism a day earlier of his casino construction job estimates, swung back Tuesday with a letter to House members calling rejection of his proposal, without offering an alternative, "not acceptable to your constituents or mine."

Also Tuesday, Patrick's top aides sat with Mashpee Wampanoag tribe officials, who are moving ahead with an effort to gain federal approval for a casino. Tribe officials said they are optimistic of reaching an agreement with the state. Patrick has opposed the tribe's effort site a casino on 540 acres it owns in Middleborough.

The second day of battle between the governor and the speaker comes with a little over a week before Patrick's casino bill goes before a House-controlled legislative committee in a March 18 public hearing. On Monday, DiMasi, who is scheduled to address Boston business leaders the morning of that hearing, said the casino plan was "losing credibility" in the face of a Boston Globe report finding inflated estimates of construction job creation.

Tribal Chairman Shawn Hendricks said the meeting did not touch on a possible compact with the state, but said the tribe "definitely" wants to work with the state, during the federal "land in trust" process that a tribal spokesman estimated at 18 months. But, Hendricks said, "Right now we're going to stick with the federal process."

Sharpening his own rhetoric in reaction to DiMasi's elevated criticism, Patrick wrote, "Attacking ideas without proposing sound alternatives is not good economic policy, nor what the public expects or deserves. If the Speaker has other proposals that will generate the benefits of our legislation, including direct property tax relief for over one million households, I look forward to hearing them."

Patrick wrote, "Regardless of whether the proposal creates 30,000 construction jobs over the next few years, or 5,000 to 20,000 construction jobs as reflected in other estimates, one thing is certain: the Speaker's alternative will create zero jobs."

In response, DiMasi spokesman David Guarino said, "It's understandable that the governor's concerned, since his numbers don't add up, and he's losing credibility on this issue. Clearly, the burden is on the governor to prove to legislators that welcoming a casino culture is sound economic development strategy. So far he hasn't gotten the job done, and the concerns raised months ago by the speaker and other members have not been answered."

Asked about other economic initiatives, Guarino pointed to economic stimulus bills passed in the last several years, and the governor's own $1 billion life sciences proposal, which cleared the House last week and could emerge next week in the Senate. Under the bill's ten-year timetable, Patrick has predicted 250,000 jobs from that plan, while DiMasi estimates about 100,000, Guarino said.

In opposing the Wampanoag plan, Patrick has argued that the best financial deal for the state would come through the commercial bidding process he laid out in the bill he filed last year.

In embracing some of Patrick's budget proposals earlier this month, DiMasi appeared to be working to defuse pressure on his members to produce new revenues through expanded gambling, which the House has historically opposed. But this week's back-and-forth effectively voided hopes for a toned-down debate over casinos.

During an appearance on a NECN news show Monday night, DiMasi said Patrick, who has called for $300 million in fiscal 2009 spending from casino licensing fees, is running out of time before the House passes its budget in April.



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