A meeting of Democratic legislators, presided over by Rep. Birmingham, decided to set up a steering committee to work with newly elected Gov. Joseph Ely, the Boston Herald reported Jan. 23, 1931, p. 30.
The committee would consist of 15 House members and 4 senators, who would be appointed by Birmingham and Sen. John P. Buckley.
The committee would meet weekly with Gov. Ely to cooperate on passage of legislation he supported.
Gov. Ely was inaugurated on Jan. 8, 1931, after defeating the incumbent Republican Governor Frank Allen. Ely received 606,902 votes and Allen received 590,228 votes, according to the book Four Decades of Massachusetts Politics: 1890-1935 by Michael Hennessey.
Ely was the first Democratic governor of the state since 1914, when David I. Walsh held the position.
During his inaugural address, Ely asked the legislature for a bond issue of $20 million for public works to help employ the unemployed workers hit by the Depression. He said half of that money should be spend on public buildings and the rest on highways.
Ely requested another $1 million that he would spend at his discretion on work projects designed to get the unemployed working immediately and $300,000 for improvement of state forests, work along public ways, and other projects.
The newly elected governor also called for the appointment of a commission to study the problem of unemployment and propose ways to provide relief now and to avoid it in the future, including adopting unemployment insurance. He also proposed a reduction in the age limit to receive old age assistance.
He backed a study by the legislature about regulating power holding companies, “which are now the means of circumventing the present laws of the Commonwealth in reference to the regulation and ownership of utilities.”
Ely supported modification of the Volstead Act, which implemented Prohibition, to “put the matter of intoxicating liquors on a reasonable, sane and enforceable basis, in the interest of temperance and sobriety and the peace and good order of the Commonwealth and the country.”
Regarding public control of the Boston Elevated Railway, Ely said that the “chief object and real justification of the present method of doing business with the Boston Elevated Railway is to provide continuity of reasonable service rather than to protect the interests of private investors in the securities of the company.”
He favored strengthening the sale of securities law and transferring the bureau that implements the law out of the Department of Public Utilities.
In March, Birmingham said that the Democratics in the House and Senate plan to invite Ely to a luncheon to discuss legislation before the state legislature, the Boston Globe reported March 13, 1931, p. 27. A caucus was called at the close of the legislature session by the Democratic steering committee of the House. Birmingham indicated that other caucuses would likely be called to discuss pending legislation.
The Globe also reported that Birmingham gave a speech at the Expressmen's League annual dinner in the Parker House on March 12 in which he advocated for an increase of one cent in gasoline tax to fund improvements to the state highways.
Rep. Birmingham backed the appropriation of $200,000 to build a municipal building in East Boston, one of a number of projects proposed by Mayor James Michael Curley in an $18 million Boston construction program submitted to the state legislature for approval.
However, during a March 31 executive session, the Committee on Municipal Finance recommended only to fund a $250,000 park in the West End, the Boston Herald reported on April 1, 1932 (JMC Scrapbooks Vol. 73, p. 5).
The raft of projects not approved by the committee included $600,000 for construction of Porter street, $600,000 for a public works building, $400,000 for a Charles River Basin playground, $1 million for sewer extensions, $2 million for City Hospital expansions, $200,000 for the East Boston municipal building, $10.1 million for new school construction and renovation of existing schools, $1 million for street reconstruction, and $500,000 for Dorchester Municipal Hospital.
The committee decided to fund the West End park because an existing playground was eliminated as the result of the city’s widening of Charles Street, the newspaper reported.
In explaining the gutting of Mayor Curley’s construction program, Committee Chairman Sen. Samuel H. Wragg of Needham said in a statement: “No city or town has been permitted to exceed its debt limit this year and it was the consensus of the committee that no exception should be made in Boston’s case. The single bill reported probably would not have been recommended had not the committee members been convinced that the city is under a moral obligation to make some provision for the playground eliminated by the Charles street widening.”
Rep. Birmingham, who was a member of the committee, joined with Rep. Edward J. Kelly of Worcester, Rep. George C. McMenimen of Cambridge, and Rep. John P. Higgins of Boston in dissenting from the committee’s recommendation not to fund the East Boston municipal building.
Birmingham backed a bill to give Boston authority to build a bridge between Boston and East Boston, according to the Boston Globe March 21, 1930 (JMC Scrapbooks Vol. 20, p. 18).
Boston had already received legislative authority to build a tunnel the previous year, so the bill was intended to give the city the option of building a bridge.
In arguing in favor of the bill, Birmingham said that building a bridge would be cheaper than digging a tunnel, and Mayor James Michael Curley should be given the option of building a bridge, the newspaper reported.
Public Utilities Commissioner Everett Stone had earlier argued in favor of building a bridge because of the cheaper costs and other factors. In addition, Mayor Curley favored construction of a bridge.
The House Rules Committee recommended that the rules be suspended so that the bill might be admitted for consideration by the full House. However, the House, by voice vote on March 20, refused to consider the bill.
Reps. Barker and Carr of Boston opposed the bill, arguing that bridge construction would mean extensive damage to the land and that money and time had already been spent on the tunnel.
The legislature the previous year had authored $16 million to build the tunnel and $50,000 had already been spent on plans and surveys. The tunnel, which was later named the Sumner Tunnel, was completed in 1934.
During a March 25, 1930, hearing of the Legislative Committee on Municipal Finance, Rep. Birmingham argued in favor of including unaccepted streets in a bill to authorize Boston to borrow $10 million to pave accepted and private roads. He said it was an outrage to force people to pay taxes on unaccepted roads without fixing them (JMC Scrapbooks, Vol. 20, pp. 31, 52, 65, 66; Vol. 21, p. 8).
Massachusetts defines an unaccepted street or road as one that is open to public travel but not formally accepted by a community, usually by a vote of the town meeting. Some private roads are also considered unaccepted roads.
Birmingham urged favorable action to help outlying sections of the city instead of spending road improvement money on widening streets downtown.
Rep. James J. Twohig of South Boston testified that his district badly needed money to improve its streets. Most of the accepted streets are in "horrible condition," he said.
Corporation Counsel Samuel Silverman testified that the mayor was seeking $10 million for permanent paving of new streets. He said that the city was ready to start work on spending between $5 million and $6 million on its street improvement program.
On March 30, the committee reconvened the hearing at which Silverman said that there were 502 petitions for permanent paving of unaccepted streets. Of the 502 petitions, 96 were for paving of Brighton streets. Silverman estimated that paving would cost $10,000 per street, or a total of $5 million, with Brighton getting $1.1 million.
Public Works Commissioner Joseph A. Rourke said that there were also a large number of accepted streets that needed paving and submitted his department’s paving plan to the committee. He said that $590,000 was already earmarked in the Boston city budget for street improvement.
Senator Frank W. Osborne of Lynn asked Rourke how much it would cost to “clear up the street problem in Boston?” Rourke replied that it would probably require between $80 million and $90 million in total.
In response to a question by Rep. John P. Higgins of Boston, Rourke said his department would have to double its workforce to implement the entire Boston road improvement program.
Silverman was then asked whether Boston would be asking for another $10 million loan next year to carry out the program. He replied that he did not anticipate that the city would ask for a similar amount next year.
Birmingham said that Rourke had told him that the money would be equally divided between improving unaccepted and accepted streets. He said the street improvement program met with his approval and favored the bills.
Also in late March of 1930, Birmingham was elected president of the newly formed Massachusetts Democratic Legislative Club, which was set up to assist Democratic party candidates in state elections and to elect more Democrats to the state legislature.