Governor Baker gearing up for State of Commonwealth address
BOSTON >> When Gov. Charlie Baker steps to the rostrum of the Massachusetts House chamber on Thursday to deliver his first State of the Commonwealth address, he'll be speaking to a number of audiences.
There are those longtime supporters who first pinned their hopes on a future Baker administration going back to the days when he was a rising GOP star and top aide to former Republican governors Bill Weld and Paul Cellucci.
There are also those voters who helped Baker eke out a narrow win over Democrat Martha Coakley in 2014.
And then there are the 70 percent or so of residents who have told pollsters they have a favorable impression of the job Baker has been doing during his first year, earning him the unofficial title of most popular governor in the country.
That job could get trickier in the new year with the state facing an uncertain revenue picture.
The business-backed Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation has forecast a slowdown in tax revenues in the 2017 fiscal year that begins July 1, with collections increasing by just 3.8 percent — below the past five-year trend of 4.6 percent annual growth.
Baker and Democratic House and Senate leaders on Thursday released their own revenue estimate for the 2017 fiscal year of $26.86 billion — a 4.3 percent growth over revised revenue estimates for the current fiscal year.
Baker can balance those mixed budget projections — and his pledge not to raise taxes — against a number of upbeat stories, most recently the decision by General Electric to move its headquarters, and about 800 jobs, to Boston.
Baker can also point to efforts to improve service at the beleaguered MBTA while also reigning in future spending, including putting on hold the planned extension of the Green Line.
Ahead of the speech, Baker's campaign released a three-minute video recapping what they see as highlights from his first year, including his handling of last winter's historic snowfall.
But State of the Commonwealth speeches are as much about the future as the past — and there are still plenty of tasks on Baker's to-do list.
In a recent interview with the Associated Press, Baker talked about some of the themes he expects to touch on during the address, including a legislative package aimed at the state's alarming rise in opioid-related overdoses and deaths.
Baker had hoped to sign an opioid bill last year, but lawmakers were unable to get a final version to his desk. He will likely get his chance soon as House and Senate lawmakers work to hammer out a compromise bill.
Baker also told the AP he wants to sign energy legislation that would make it easier for the state to import hydroelectric power from Canada and raise caps on the state's "net metering" program that allows electric customers to sell excess solar power they generate back to the grid.
Another top issue in the speech will likely be Baker's push to increase the number of charter schools in Massachusetts. There's a ballot question, a lawsuit, and a bill filed by Baker all aimed at lifting or increasing the state's charter school cap.
"I'm certainly going to continue to talk about charter schools and lifting the cap and we'll have some initiatives around economic development as well," Baker said.
There will be little time to rest after the speech, as Baker puts the final touches on his budget proposal for the new fiscal year.