State of the Commonwealth: Baker touts accomplishments, sets goals in speech
BOSTON — Gov. Charlie Baker hailed what he called the spirit of bipartisanship on Beacon Hill as he detailed some of his goals for the new year in his first State of the State address Thursday.
The Republican governor spoke for about 25 minutes to a joint session of the Legislature — overwhelmingly controlled by Democrats — and a statewide television audience.
"As the administration ends its first year in office, some have lamented how boring we are. I'll admit, that makes me smile," Baker said. "No fights. No yelling. No partisan scrums."
The speech was punctuated by applause in the packed House Chamber.
Here are some of the highlights from his speech:
Baker took advantage of the prime-time address to tout what he said were some of his top accomplishments during his first year in office.
Among those was the closing of what Baker said was a $765 million hole in the state budget and the creation of a Fiscal and Management Control Board to help manage the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority after trains were stuck and service stalled during last winter's historic snows.
He also pointed to changes made at the state Department of Children and Families, the Massachusetts Health Connector, and the Registry of Motor Vehicles.
One of the initiatives Baker highlighted in the speech was his push to make it easier for the state to tap into hydropower from Canada.
Baker said while other sources of renewable energy like solar and wind power are critical as older power plants go offline, the state must significantly increase its supply of hydropower to continue to reduce the state's carbon footprint.
Administration officials have said the state can't meet its greenhouse gas reduction goals without hydropower.
"Governors across New England — Democrats and Republicans — have made clear to me that they're ready to go," Baker said. "They're waiting on us."
Baker said another top priority is to stem the alarming rise in the number of opioid-related overdoses and deaths.
Baker laid part of the blame on doctors and other prescribers who he said have been "far too casual about the addictive consequences of these medications," referring to opioid painkillers.
"This is a real human tragedy," Baker said. "Moms, dads, brothers, sisters and friends all tell hauntingly similar stories."
House and Senate lawmakers are working to hammer out a single, compromise opioid-abuse bill to send to Baker.
Baker urged action on lifting the cap on charter schools in Massachusetts.
Baker pointed to a waiting list of 37,000 children hoping to get into a charter school, many of them from minority communities.
Baker has filed legislation to ease the cap. There is a pending lawsuit and a proposed ballot question that would also allow more charter schools— something Baker said the state owes the parents of those children.
"They cry when they talk to me about the hopes and dreams they have for their children, and as a parent, I feel their pain," he said.
Baker also touched on elements of his budget plan for the 2017 fiscal year that begins July 1.
Baker, who will file his full budget proposal next week, said the plan won't raise taxes or fees and will add to the state's rainy day fund.
The proposal also will increase education aid, boost state aid to cities and towns, and continue support for public transportation.
Baker also said he'll be filing legislation to make what he called a modest adjustment to the state's film tax credit and use the savings from that adjustment to help create more affordable housing and "an improved tax climate for Massachusetts businesses that sell products and services in other states."
He said he also hopes to invest $75 million in career and technical schools.
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