Our Opinion: A good address, as far as it went

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Gov. Charlie Baker placed a strong emphasis on the related issues of climate change and transportation in his State of the Commonwealth address Tuesday night, proving once again that he is a much-different breed of Republican than those found in Washington. But while the focus was refreshing, there was a lot that was left unsaid.

Noting pointedly that there have been "significant steps backward in Washington," where an anti-science president and Republican Party deny the reality of climate change, the governor promised to move the state toward net-zero emissions by 2050, going past the goal of 80 percent established in the state's Global Warming Solutions Act of 2008. Democratic leaders applauded this pledge and promised to join the governor in providing specific plans for achieving this goal. Gov. Baker, who normally avoids tax hike proposals, urged lawmakers to take up his stalled objective of hiking taxes on real estate transfers to help fund climate resiliency projects.The governor again touted the ambitious Massachusetts-led regional effort to reduce carbon emissions from transportation and raise funds for climate change responses through a cap-and-trade program. However, with New Hampshire's Republican Gov. Chris Sununu already announcing he will have no part of such a progressive effort, this is definitely a project for the long haul.

The state's immediate problems of traffic congestion in the east and poorly maintained roadways and bridges in much of the state needed more Tuesday from the governor, who surely had eyes rolling in the largely Democratic Legislature when he proposed an additional $135 million in the next fiscal year for the money pit that is the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority. Whatever is plaguing the MBTA, it is more than clear that simply more taxpayer funding for the Boston agency is not the solution. House and Senate leaders maintain that the state must consider an increase in the modest gas tax to fund necessary projects around Massachusetts, which the governor opposes and didn't allude to in his address. The speech, said state Rep. "Smitty" Pignatelli, a Lenox Democrat, to the State House News Service, "had too much focus on the T and public transit in the Boston area, and not across the commonwealth."

In the absence of such advocacy from the governor, we'll cite a Boston Globe op-ed column of Tuesday in which Joan Vennochi made the case for high-speed east-west rail as a solution to congestion problems in the Boston area and a boost to the western end of the state, which needs jobs and businesses and can offer lower housing costs and a high standard of living. This idea is under discussion in Boston, and The Eagle has floated the idea editorially of beginning the project in the west and working east. Rep. Pignatelli says this would assure political will for the project, observing in The Eagle last month, "If you start in Berkshire County with west-east rail, I promise you it will get to Boston. But if you start in Boston I can almost guarantee you it won't get to the Berkshires."

State of the Commonwealth speeches are akin to grocery lists, and the state partnership with vocational schools that the governor floated is a list item that merits attention. While it is clearly in the planning stage, Mr. Baker talked of a $15 million partnership that would "turbocharge" vocational training programs for both teens and adults. Modern-day vocational training, which is a long way from the traditional metal shop, is critical to the small manufacturing that must play an expanded role in the Berkshire economy. Such a partnership, if realized, could pay huge dividends for Berkshire schools like McCann Tech in North Adams and Taconic in Pittsfield.

With the state and nation having embarked upon what is sure to be an ugly election year, Gov. Baker's brief detour from the wonkery of government programs to call for an end to "the politics of personal destruction" was welcome. "We all know campaigns are contests, and the siren call of sloganeering and cheap shots will be everywhere this year," the governor told his audience. "Let's rise above it." For every person who succeeds in rising above it, the election din of 2020 will be that much more tolerable.

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