House Speaker DeLeo's Massachusetts outlook

Tuesday August 2, 2011

PITTSFIELD -- Casino gambling will be on a fast track when state lawmakers reconvene next month, according to House Speaker Robert A. DeLeo.

"No guarantees that it will be passed," he cautioned during a discussion with Eagle editors and reporters on Monday, part of his two-day visit to the Berkshires organized by state Rep. William "Smitty" Pignatelli, D-Lenox.

Pignatelli organizes a trip to the Berkshires each summer for state lawmakers who attend Tanglewood on Parade and other events.

DeLeo, who was on his way to a barbecue at Gov. Deval Patrick's Richmond home, said he and the governor have narrowed their differences over a potential welcome for three major casino operators.

"I'm more confident than in the past," DeLeo said.

The main sticking point between him and Patrick has been over DeLeo's push for slot machines at racetracks, including two in his district.

"The governor is willing to talk about a slot component. We can't leave the revenues and the jobs on the table," DeLeo said, adding that casino resorts would add 15,000 to 18,000 construction and permanent jobs statewide and produce revenues for education, travel and tourism, and manufacturing.

Despite financial setbacks at the Foxwoods and Mohegan Sun casinos in Connecticut, DeLeo maintained that major players in the industry are eying Massachusetts as a strong market and are willing to make large investments.

He said strict guidelines would be applied by a commission that would determine sites for resort casinos, probably including one in Palmer or a nearby site just east of Springfield.

On another subject, DeLeo said he was "very pleased" with Probation Department hiring-reform legislation approved by state lawmakers Friday, and he expressed hope that Patrick -- who has signaled some reservations because the legislation doesn't encompass Parole Board staffers -- would sign the bill.

"We needed to change hiring practices to make management of the court system more business-oriented," DeLeo said. "People lost a lot of confidence in how we operate."

He cited required testing for judiciary personnel, personal interviews for applicants, and a ban on recommendations by lawmakers until a candidate becomes a finalist.

DeLeo was listed in a Boston Globe investigative report last year as having recommended a dozen applicants for Probation Department positions, including his godson, who became the state's youngest chief probation officer.

Now, once the bill is signed, a professional administrator would prevent patronage hiring. DeLeo also emphasized a more open, transparent process.

"If I were to recommend a person, the public would know," he said. "I'm anxiously awaiting the governor's reaction to the legislation."

DeLeo also predicted no major impact on Massachusetts from federal spending cuts included in the deficit-reduction agreement negotiated in Washington. In addition, he praised the Berkshire delegation's efforts to protect the county from state budget-cut fallout, lauded new health insurance cost-cutting measures for municipal workers, and promised that cities and towns could count on extra local aid if there is a budget surplus, as expected.


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