Gov. Charlie Baker called for a suite of tax breaks for families, low-income workers and seniors in a televised speech Tuesday night where the two-term Republican governor had the chance to set the stage for his final year in office.
Baker also challenged the Legislature to finally act on legislation he has repeatedly filed over the course of the past several years to protect victims of violent crimes and residents, many of them women, from abusive relationships.
The two-term Republican governor delivered his sixth and final State of the Commonwealth address on Tuesday night from the Hynes Convention Center, an unusual venue and an unusual time in the state’s history as it nears the second year anniversary of the start of a global pandemic that altered the course of his governorship.
Baker opted against seeking a third term last month despite high job approval ratings and more he said he wanted to accomplish. By staying off the campaign trail, Baker said he would have the time and focus to continue to guide Massachusetts through its recovery from the worst of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Despite his fiscally conservative leanings, Baker has seldom pushed the Democrat-controlled Legislature on tax cuts over his first seven years in office. That will soon change.
Baker plans to file an annual budget on Wednesday that would double the tax break for families with children and dependents, and he said he will propose to eliminate income taxes for the lowest paid 230,000 workers in Massachusetts so that they can use that money instead on necessities like food, housing and transportation.
The governor’s tax cut plan will also include a “bigger tax break” for renters, and property tax relief for senior citizens.
“We’ve asked the people of Massachusetts to do a lot these past few years,” Baker said. “It’s time for us to invest in Massachusetts families. To give them back some of the tax revenue they created through their hard work.”
The governor did not in his speech put a total dollar figure on the value of the tax cuts, or outline specifics for income eligibility, though earlier an administration official said many of the details would become clearer on Wednesday when the governor files his final budget for fiscal year 2023.
In preparation for the speech, Baker said he went back and read his previous five State of the Commonwealth addresses and his two inaugurals, finding the common thread to be optimism and positivity.
“We all know the past 22 months have been tough. We’ve all suffered some degree of loss, disruption, confusion, anger and isolation. But the people of Massachusetts did what they always do. They collaborated, created, reimagined, and made the unbearable bearable,” Baker said.
A year ago in his speech to the state, Baker said of the COVID-19 pandemic, “The end is in sight.”
And yet, while vaccines have arrived and fewer healthy people are dealing with severe COVID-19, hospitals are again overcrowded and life has not returned to normal. At that moment in January 2021 the Department of Public Health had just reported 2,215 new daily cases bringing the total infected in Massachusetts since the start of the pandemic to 481,617, with 13,640 confirmed deaths.
Fast forward to the present, and the state on Tuesday reported 7,120 new cases and 145 new deaths from the weekend. There have been 21,107 confirmed deaths from COVID-19 in the state, and the seven-day average of daily recorded deaths is 41, down from 73 at this point last year.
Baker did not offer much in terms of new steps to fight COVID-19, though he did talk about the strategies the state has pursued, the sacrifices made by residents and he offered a defense of vaccines.
“Vaccines and all the other resources we have now work. The chance of suffering serious illness if someone is vaccinated is very, very small,” Baker said.
With just over six months left in the formal legislative session for Baker to cajole Democrats into acting on his priorities before he gives up the office to the next governor, Baker prodded the Legislature to finally act on bills he has filed to close a loophole that he says allows violent criminals to “walk free” before trial, and to prohibit the unauthorized sharing of sexually explicit photos or videos.
Massachusetts is one of two states, Baker said, that doesn’t treat what is sometimes referred to as “revenge porn” as a crime.
“We’ve filed bills to deal with these issues three times, to no avail. The time to do something about this is long past,” Baker said.
He also said he wants to work with lawmakers to improve mental health care, and plans to file a transportation bond bill that will allow Massachusetts to take full advantage of the billions in federal infrastructure aid recently made available by Congress.
“Together, we set the course for a comeback – and it’s working,” Baker told those assembled at Hynes and watching at home. “Our unemployment rate is below 4 percent for the first time since March of 2020, and we’ve gained back over half a million jobs.
“And because of all you’ve done, and all we’ve done together, I can stand here tonight and say the State of our Commonwealth remains strong.”