Gov. Deval Patrick said Friday that as he sought Sen. Scott Brown's support for federal Medicaid funding for the state, the senator lobbied for adding slot machines at a racetrack in his former legislative district. The governor said he doesn't think the Republican was trying to trade one for the other.
The Medicaid issue has far-reaching consequences for Massachusetts residents, because the state is already slashing services in the expectation it won't get the funding. Brown has offered alternative legislation on Capitol Hill to grant it only if it doesn't add to the national debt.
Brown, who was elevated from Massachusetts Senate to the U.S. Senate in January after winning a special election to replace the late Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, has long supported adding slot machines at the Plainridge Racecourse harness racing track in Plainridge.
Records show the track's owner, Gary Piontkowski, gave Brown the maximum $500 annual state campaign contribution during his six-year tenure in the Massachusetts Senate, for a total of $2,750 in contributions.
Patrick, a Democrat, opposes placing slot machines at the state's four racetracks, fearing they would cut into business at the three resort-style casinos he favors for Massachusetts.
House and Senate conferees are now trying to settle the question while working to produce an expanded gambling law for the state. The governor has said he wants a deal by July 31, when the Legislature concludes formal sessions for the year.
Patrick told reporters Brown pushed for the slots last month as the governor and House Speaker Robert DeLeo lobbied him to support an extension of nearly $700 million in federal Medicaid funding for Massachusetts. The issue is a major topic discussion this weekend as Patrick hosts a meeting of the National Governors Association. Earlier this year, 47 governors urged Congress to provide the money.
Patrick said he and DeLeo urged Brown to support the $700 million in Medicaid funding or, alternately, an end to procedural blocks preventing the issue from coming to a Senate vote. Brown represents a pivotal 40th Republican vote that can extend or curtail Republican filibuster efforts.
The governor added: "In that same meeting, he repeated what I think everybody knows to be the case, which is his support for slots at the tracks. But one as a condition for the other, no, that was not the nature of the conversation."
Brown's communications director, Gail Gitcho, said the senator raised the subject in the context of job preservation at the tracks.
"Sen. Brown speaks to Gov. Patrick often regarding many issues that affect Massachusetts, especially when it comes to jobs, the economy and spending," she said.
The spokeswoman said a U.S. senator was involving himself in a state gaming debate because "jobs are everyone's concern. And Sen. Brown views gaming as a way to help stimulate the economy and create thousands of jobs in Massachusetts."
Asked whether Brown would withhold a positive vote on the Medicaid funding, known as FMAP, if Patrick refused to accept slot machines, Gitcho replied: "Sen. Brown has already offered a bill that would fully pay for FMAP, unemployment extension and summer jobs."
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