Wednesday, April 11, 2007

New Wrinkle in GIC Propsoal

Casey Ross over at the Boston Herald's Daily Briefing noted tonight that House Speaker Sal DiMasi is interested in allowing municipalities to join up with the state's GIC Health Plan without first negotiating with unions. The bill currently before the legislature, endorsed by Governor Deval Patrick, would require cities and towns to collectively bargain with their employees before changing their health plans, as a compromise to win over skeptical unions. DiMasi's proposal would obviously make it much easier for localities to take advantage of the state's group health insurance as they would not have to do it on a union by union basis.

Now, I had thought last week that the votes wouldn't be there if the collective bargaining language wasn't included. With DiMasi on board, however, that becomes a real possibility. There's no reason to think that DiMasi couldn't get his version of the bill through the House -- otherwise he likely wouldn't have floated the idea. The next question is whether new Senate President Therese Murray supports removing the collective bargaining language. If she does and can get it through the Senate, all that remains is whether the change is acceptable to Governor Patrick.

I would have to imagine that he would sign a bill that did not include the collective bargaining language. First, Governor Patrick has hitched his wagon to his package of municipal reforms and he needs a policy victory. Stymying a stronger version of one of his proposals would be a serious blunder, even if it means upsetting public employee unions. They're already upset with him over his proposal to force underperforming pension funds to be taken over by the state. In any case, this could also be a good opportunity to compromise with DiMasi. Would the speaker soften his stance on local option taxes or closing the telecom loopholes in exchange for Patrick taking the heat from the unions? If so, the cities and towns of Massachusetts would benefit.