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Patrick calls idea of slots at tracks a gift to developers

Senate President Therese Murray echoed Governor Patrick’s comments against slot machines at race tracks. Senate President Therese Murray echoed Governor Patrick’s comments against slot machines at race tracks.
By Noah Bierman
Globe Staff / July 8, 2010

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Governor Deval Patrick ramped up his rhetoric against a signature proposal of House Speaker Robert A. DeLeo yesterday, calling DeLeo’s plan to license slot machines at four race tracks “effectively a no-bid contract’’ that would hand valuable gambling licenses to a handful of private developers.

DeLeo quickly shot back, asserting that his plan is the state’s best hope at assisting cities and towns that have recently been hit by budget cuts and challenging his opponents to come up with something better.

“How can we forgo $100 million in local aid for the next fiscal year?’’ DeLeo told reporters. “If someone can come up with a better plan that’s going to bring $100 million to local aid next year, then so be it, I’m willing to discuss it.’’

Patrick and DeLeo’s positions are not new, but their tone has become more urgent as House and Senate negotiators get ready to begin meeting today to hammer out compromise gambling legislation. The House passed a bill in April to authorize two resort-style casinos, as well as slot machines at four current and former racetracks. The Senate’s gambling bill, passed a week ago, would authorize three resort casinos, but no slots at the tracks.

Senate President Therese Murray echoed Patrick’s comments about slots yesterday. “I think a no-bid, noncompetitive contract isn’t where the Senate wants to go,’’ Murray said, according to State House News Service.

Lawmakers are racing to finish their negotiations before July 31, when the legislative session is scheduled to end. Patrick said the impending deadline has increased his desire to involve himself in the negotiations.

On his regular “Ask the Governor’’ radio program on WTKK-FM, Patrick said he wanted to “try to do what we can to make sure that the bill that comes to me is one I can sign.’’

“The three of us — meaning the speaker, the Senate president, and I alone — have not had a conversation about this on the merits, and that’s something we’re going to try to do,’’ Patrick said.

Patrick also repeated that he would be willing to accept fewer casinos, even though his initial proposal called for three.

Immigration was also a topic on Patrick’s radio show. The governor sounded supportive of the federal government’s lawsuit against a restrictive new enforcement law in Arizona. That law has propelled the immigration debate into the political dialogue in Massachusetts and elsewhere. Based on his understanding, Patrick, head of the US Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division in the Clinton Administration, said the federal suit was correctly challenging a state’s right to trump the federal government in protecting US borders.

“If that’s the argument, that’s right,’’ he said. “That is a constitutional fact.’’

Noah Bierman can be reached at nbierman@globe.com.

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