Bay State legislators aim to adjourn early this year

IT has been a long time since Massachusetts lawmakers wound up their annual session before year's end - so long that many of those in the legislature may have forgotten what it's like. The last time was July 5, 1980.

As rusty as legislative leaders may be at it, they intend to wrap things up early and in a more orderly fashion this year.

The windup could come in mid-July, just before the Democratic National Convention, which some lawmakers will attend as delegates. But a more realistic target is mid-August.

Much depends on passage of key proposals, such as auto insurance reform. The main focus seems sure to be Gov. Michael Dukakis's agenda. Provided he gets much of what he wants, it could be to his advantage to have the session end so he can concentrate on his campaign. Adjournment would also deny Republican critics a forum to question the governor's running of the commonwealth.

Dukakis enthusiasts would be free to campaign for him around the nation and defend his gubernatorial record.

Should a problem requiring legislative action occur, Mr. Dukakis could always call a special legislative session.

Adding to the appeal of adjournment is the current money crunch. There just isn't any money to spend this year. Then, too, the longer the legislature stays in session the greater the pressure for new taxes, which could alienate constituents.

Once the fiscal 1989 budget is passed, the momentum toward adjournment should become increasingly apparent.

Besides auto insurance reform, which is a ``must'' on the Dukakis agenda, it is unclear how directly the governor's lobbying might take. Obviously his anti-crime proposals will be pushed - and measures with low price tags. And Dukakis would like to see his proposal to crack down on drug pushers pass.

As eager as some Democrats are to help Dukakis, there is little enthusiasm for some of his proposals, including raising certain license fees.

The biggest 1988 legislative victory was passage last month of the universal health-care measure, the first of its kind in the United States.

Critical to closing down the legislative machinery until January are not only a nod from the governor but also agreement between two key Democrats, House Speaker George Keverian of Everett and Senate President William Bulger of Boston, on a list of measures that will be acted on before the lawmakers go home.

A July or August adjournment would also give legislators facing stiff reelection fights more time to campaign.

But if early adjournment proves beyond reach, the legislature will probably still shut down, at least informally, for most of the summer.

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