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January 7, 2015

Rosenberg to reach out to Baker, push update of tax credit

Incoming Senate President Stanley Rosenberg plans to extend an early olive branch to the Republican Baker administration over taxes, according to aides and remarks he's prepared to deliver Wednesday, while pledging a new era of "openness and transparency" in the Senate under his leadership.

Rosenberg, a 65-year-old Amherst Democrat, is poised later Wednesday to be elected as the next Senate president, succeeding Therese Murray, who has left Beacon Hill after a 22-year career and eight years as leader of the chamber.

In a speech he plans deliver to the Senate after his election, Rosenberg intends to ask his fellow senators to join him in sending a "clear message" to Governor-elect Charlie Baker that they want to work with him, not "obstruct him for obstruction's sake."

On the campaign trail, Baker called for an expansion of the state's earned income tax credit as a way to help lower-income families. Rosenberg chaired the Senate committee in 1997 that recommended the state's first EITC.

"I urge this Senate to join with the Governor to meaningfully update the Earned Income Tax Credit so that we can make sure those who are struggling to make ends meet are rewarded for their hard work," Rosenberg plans to say, according to a draft of the speech obtained by the News Service. "Together, we can and must do this."

Rosenberg also plans to call on the Senate to be a partner with Baker in figuring out how to tap into the state's information technology expertise to improve the functioning of government. Noting "breakdowns" over the past year in state IT systems, he will argue that state leaders must figure out how to "deliver more for the buck."

While pledging to work with Baker on those issues, Rosenberg will ask for the new governor's partnership in continuing to build "safer roads and bridges," invest in public transit and all levels of education, address climate change to protect the shoreline, combat drug addiction and reform the criminal justice system to be both "tough and smart."

As some senators have quietly lamented the concentration of power in the president's office over the past eight years of Murray's leadership, Rosenberg intends to make "shared leadership" a theme of his remarks.

After November's elections, Rosenberg convened a "retreat" with Democrats at the UMass Club in downtown Boston to solicit input about priorities moving forward.

"Over the last year, many of you have asked to be more involved in the challenges facing our Commonwealth. I assure you, you will have that chance," he plans to say Wednesday.

Rosenberg indicates in the speech that committees will be encouraged to "generate new ideas," debate them and bring them to the floor for consideration. He also plans to promise to consult members regardless of their position in leadership or committee assignments "on issues large and small."

Just how Rosenberg plans to accomplish this new empowerment of rank-and-file Senate members remains to be seen, but the president does wield broad control of not just committee structure and assignments, but also chamber rules, which are usually adjusted at the start of each two-year session. Committee memberships and rules are not expected to be finalized until later this month.

Rosenberg said collaboration will not end inside the State House with members of the Legislature and the governor's office.

Sen. Michael Rodrigues, a Westport Democrat, will offer an order to initiate a series of forums around the state to engage with the public on potential policy priorities of the Senate for the next 24 months.

The forum series, which is being organized in conjunction with Senate Minority Leader Bruce Tarr, is expected to wrap up by early March, according to a senior aide, allowing Rosenberg and his team to craft an agenda by that time.

In addition to Rodrigues being picked to carry the order to the floor, Sens. Daniel Wolf, of Harwich, and Harriette Chandler, of Worcester, will give the nominating speeches for Rosenberg on Wednesday. Their ceremonial roles could be an early signal from Rosenberg about who he intends to include as members of his senior leadership team.

Though Rosenberg plans to wait until after the public forums to craft a specific policy agenda, his speech does lay down several principles, including an interest in tackling income inequality, or "shared prosperity."

"For those at the top, the recession is an increasingly distant memory. But for those at the bottom and in the middle, the struggle continues," he will say.

Quoting at times from former President Calvin Coolidge, Rosenberg will challenge his colleagues to find a middle path in policy that will allow both business and workers to thrive.

The Legislature last year approved a major three-year, $3 increase in the state minimum wage over the objections of some business groups concerned about halting job growth. And in November, also over the objections of business groups, voters approved a law extending earned sick time benefits to more workers.

"We know we need to create an environment in which our companies - from large corporations to family-owned businesses - can thrive," Rosenberg will say. "But at the same time, the business community must work with us to solve the problem so many of our workers face: having to turn to government or the non-profit sector to help pay their rent, heat their homes, subsidize their health care, or feed their families."

Democratic senators are expected to formally choose Rosenberg as their nominee for president during a closed-door caucus Wednesday morning at 10 a.m. before the public swearing-in and full Senate vote at 11 a.m. in the Senate chamber.

Rosenberg, who served four years in the House before being elected in 1991 in a special election to the Senate, is poised to become the first openly gay and Jewish president of the Senate.

Rosenberg's call for openness and empowerment of committees connects him with the philosophy of former House Speaker George Keverian, who ran that branch in the late 1980s. It also runs up against an institutional reality: the House, with more members on joint committees, has a built-in advantage in the competition between branches to set legislative priorities and surface bills for floor votes.

Sen. Marc Pacheco, a Taunton Democrat with the most years of continual service in the Senate after Rosenberg, will preside over the start the new session and Rosenberg's election.

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