Senate budget committee head named

Murray selects Barre lawmaker

By Michael Levenson
Globe Staff / January 21, 2011

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Stephen M. Brewer, a veteran lawmaker from Central Massachusetts, was named yesterday to one of the state Senate’s most powerful positions, the chamber’s chief budget writer, charged with crafting a nearly $28 billion spending plan in the months ahead.

Senate President Therese Murray, handing out committee assignments for the new legislative session, named Brewer to be chairman of the Senate Ways and Means Committee, filling a vacancy left when Steven C. Panagiotakos, a Lowell Democrat, retired this year.

Normally a plum post that gives a lawmaker the power to dole out money to favored groups and pet projects, the job has, of late, been something of a downer.

The state faces a projected $1.5 billion shortfall for the next budget year, which begins in July.

“It’s going to be a very difficult year,’’ said Brewer, a Barre Democrat first elected to the House in 1988 and to the Senate in 1996.

“Government is going to have to rethink its role, to a degree,’’ he said.

Brewer was vice chairman of the Ways and Means Committee and represents a sprawling district with 29 rural towns. He has been active on legislation affecting veterans, the mentally retarded, and dairy farmers, among others.

He said that he and his colleagues are not inclined to support tax increases and that slashing aid for schools and for cities and towns cannot be ruled out, but is “the last thing that’s on the table.’’

“I need to be the bearer of truth, and this will be a truthful budget,’’ he said.

In November, an independent investigator identified Brewer as the Legislature’s second most frequent sponsor of candidates for jobs in the state Probation Department, which is the subject of several investigations for patronage and rigged hiring practices.

The investigator, Paul F. Ware Jr., also identified Brewer as among the 20 most frequent recipients of campaign cash from Probation Department employees since 2000.

Brewer, who will help determine the Probation Department’s budget, said yesterday that he has “probably written 10,000 letters of recommendation’’ for candidates for various jobs across the state and wants to help repair the agency.

“It’s important we only recommend those that have worthiness for those positions,’’ he said.

Murray also named several other senators to key positions. Steven A. Baddour, a Methuen Democrat who was chairman of the Transportation Committee, was chosen to succeed Brewer as vice chairman of the Ways and Means Committee.

Thomas M. McGee, a Lynn Democrat, was chosen to succeed Baddour as chairman of the Transportation Committee, and Sonia Chang-Díaz, a Boston Democrat and former teacher, was named chairwoman of the Education Committee.

Several senators also held onto prominent committee chairmanships, including Richard T. Moore of Uxbridge, who leads the Health Care Financing Committee, and Cynthia Stone Creem, who chairs the Judiciary Committee.

Michael Levenson can be reached at