Gov. Deval Patrick is gearing up to sign or veto dozens of bills rushed through by lawmakers during the frenzied last days and hours of the Massachusetts Legislature’s formal session.
The bills include initiatives to rein in health care spending and pump more money into repairs for the state’s crumbling bridges. They give Patrick the chance to put his stamp on new laws while bulking up his political résumé.
Given only 10 days to sign or veto a bill once it is enacted by lawmakers, Patrick is wasting little time.
On Monday, he headed to the town of Goshen in the western part of the state to sign a bill expanding broadband access to underserved areas. Patrick had pushed for the bill to aid the 32 towns in Massachusetts with no broadband access. All but one of the communities are located in Western Massachusetts.
Patrick on Tuesday also signed another bill allowing the state to borrow nearly $3 billion to speed repairs for 250 to 300 “structurally deficient” bridges.
Patrick has said the bill would create thousands of engineering and construction jobs while saving the state an estimated $1.5 billion in avoided inflation and deferred maintenance costs.
There are 543 structurally deficient bridges on state-owned roads.
If the state continued at the current pace, the number of bridges in need of repair would jump to 697 in eight years, an increase of 28 percent. With the borrowed money, the number should decline to 450, a 17 percent drop, transportation officials said.
It’s not the only bond bill on Patrick’s plate.
Other bills authorizing the state to borrow huge sums of money include a $1.7 billion environmental bond bill to help improve parks and protect open space, and a $2 billion education bond bill to help pay for repairs at the University of Massachusetts and other state colleges.
Another such bill would let the Massachusetts Turnpike Authority use the state’s credit to look for better deals on the bond market and avoid $2.3 million a month in new debt payments.
Patrick also has a few environmental bills awaiting his signature. One would require the state by the year 2020 to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in Massachusetts to 20 percent below 1990 levels to help combat global warming. By 2050, the goal is to reduce emissions to 80 percent below 1990 levels.
Another bill would help make Massachusetts a leader in environmentally friendly jobs. The “green jobs” bill would provide funding to encourage green startup companies in Massachusetts and offer grants to help train workers for jobs in the green economy.
The bill signings are not only good photo opportunities for Patrick, but also give him a chance to claim victory on a series of key initiatives — a sharp contrast to his very public failure to convince lawmakers to back his plan to license three resort-style casinos.
“The governor is at this point racking up some accomplishments, some legislation he’s been pushing for. It’s a nice pay off for him,” said Jeffrey Berry, a political science professor at Tufts University. “He finally comes across as someone who’s in charge.”
Patrick has already signed some of the last-minute bills.
At a State House ceremony last Wednesday, surrounded by lawmakers and cheering gay rights activists, Patrick signed a bill repealing a nearly century-old law that had been used to bar same-sex couples from marrying in Massachusetts.
The elimination of the 1913 law made Massachusetts the second state in the country after California to allow gay couples from other states to wed.
In a quieter event on the same day, Patrick signed another bill formally establishing a universal pre-kindergarten program to help provide voluntary, universally accessible early education and care for preschool-aged children.
Bill signings can run the gambit from the hundreds of mundane bills signed by governors with no fanfare to those few, higher-profile bills like the 1913 law that call for a more public ceremony.
One of Massachusetts’ glitziest bill signing ceremonies came in 2006 when former Gov. Mitt Romney filled Faneuil Hall with the state’s political bigwigs — including Sen. Edward M. Kennedy — to sign the state’s landmark health care law.
Romney’s staff had an elevated stage built that allowed photographers to frame the future Republican presidential hopeful between Daniel Webster and John Quincy Adams on the massive mural at the back of Faneuil Hall — a theatrical touch Romney tried to downplay.
“I want to express appreciation to Cecil B. DeMille for organizing this,” Romney said during the ceremony. “This does classify as being over the top.”
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