- Associated Press - Wednesday, January 21, 2015

BOSTON (AP) - State Sen. Karen Spilka was named Wednesday to chair the powerful Senate Ways and Means Committee, a position that will give the Ashland Democrat significant influence in state budget negotiations with the House and Republican Gov. Charlie Baker in the weeks and months ahead.

Senate President Stanley Rosenberg also named Worcester Democrat Harriette Chandler to serve as Senate Majority Leader, the position Rosenberg held before he was unanimously elected by Democrats earlier this month to succeed former Senate President Therese Murray.

Spilka is beginning her sixth term in the Senate after previously serving in the House. She is a graduate of Cornell University and Northeastern University School of Law.

“She’s a strong negotiator, a good listener,” Rosenberg said of Spilka after a private meeting with Democrats. “You’ve got to have a lot of stamina and patience and she has both in abundance.”

The Ways and Means Committee is responsible for drafting the Senate version of the more than $36 billion state budget for the fiscal year that begins July 1. As chairwoman, Spilka would participate in negotiations leading to the final version of the spending plan.

More immediately, Spilka will be a key player in discussions about how to close what Baker said Tuesday was a $765 million deficit in the budget for the current fiscal year. Baker has blamed the shortfall on a “spending problem” in state government.

Spilka succeeds former Ways and Means chairman Stephen Brewer, who also retired from the Senate.

In a statement, Spilka said she is grateful to Rosenberg for putting his faith in her and promised not to take the assignment lightly.

“I will work hard every day with my colleagues to assist our communities and help raise up all of the residents of Massachusetts,” she said.

Chandler in 2001 became the first woman from Worcester to be elected to the state Senate after serving three terms in the House.

In assembling his leadership team Rosenberg also named three assistant majority leaders: Sen. Cynthia Creem, D-Newton; Sen. Mark Montigny, D-New Bedford, and Sen. Brian Joyce, D-Milton.

In a break from tradition, Rosenberg said all three assistant majority leaders will also chair Senate committees.

The chamber on Wednesday also approved several changes in its operating rules that Rosenberg said would increase transparency. One change would require the Senate to post an agenda on the Legislature’s website at least 48 hours in advance of upcoming sessions, rather than one day in advance as the rule previously stated.

Republicans also won passage of a rules change that will require roll call votes in committees to be posted online within 48 hours.

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