Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker delivered this third State of the Commonwealth address Tuesday night.
With his eye on a bid for a second term this year, Baker touted many accomplishments including closing a $1 billion structural budget deficit without raising taxes, cutting by 95 percent the number of homeless families living in motels, and hiring more social workers to reduce caseloads at the state’s scandal-marred child welfare agency.
" Economically, we are hitting on all cylinders," declared Baker. "In 2017, we had more people working than at any time in state history. Our economy has added 180,000 new jobs since we took office. And best of all, the number of people looking for work has dropped in every county over the past three years, in most cases by more than 35 percent."
Baker declared the state of the Commonwealth “is strong.”
" We live in a great state filled with creative, community-minded, hardworking, and decent people," Baker said. " What they want from us is opportunity, possibility, and hope. Not noise, not name calling and not finger pointing."
The Republican governor stressed bipartisanship and was careful in his speech to share credit with the Democratic-dominated legislature for the progress he said the state has made in several areas over the last three years, including the opioid epidemic.
" With your help and support we have reduced opioid prescribing by 29 percent and overdose deaths have dropped by the first time in over a decade by ten percent," Baker said to applause.
Entering the last six months of the two-year legislative session, Baker urged action on a number of pending bills including one that would let doctors involuntarily commit drug addicts for up to 72 hours of treatment. He’s also filed legislation he said will result in 135,000 new houses being built by 2025 and to double the Earned Income Tax credit that benefits 400,000 low-wage workers.
Baker previewed parts of the $41 billion state budget he’s scheduled to release Wednesday. He plans to ask for a $37 million increase in unrestricted local aid to cities and towns, $120 million in additional state funding for school districts, $200 million for more drug addiction treatment, and $83 million for community-based services for adults with serious mental illnesses.
He pledged to continue the path the state is on toward greater reliance on renewable energy sources.
" Despite the progress we've made here in Massachusetts our climate is still changing and so that is why we'll dedicate an additional $2 million to climate adaptation and resiliency planning efforts in our 2019 budget," Baker announced.
In his speech, Baker highlighted several regional initiatives. He pledged to expand commuter rail to Boston from the south coast and to continue closing a digital divide in western Massachusetts in the more than 50 communities that lacked broadband internet access.
"The vast majority of the communities that had none when we took office either have it now, or have plans to install it. And thanks to this legislatures help in funding the build out, they will all have this must-have infrastructure over the course of the next two years," said Baker.
As he did in last year’s State of the Commonwealth address, Baker highlighted the Springfield Empowerment Zone school turnaround program as a model other struggling schools in the state could follow.
" The Springfield Empowerment Zone gives teachers and administrators a chance to share decision making on professional development, curriculum, budgeting, the works," Baker explained. " It seems to be working for the kids. I have visited these schools three times and each time came away filled with optimism for all involved."
The speech was interrupted more than a dozen times with standing ovations, and Democratic leaders praised it in comments to reporters afterwards. House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Jeffrey Sanchez spoke with WBUR.
"Frankly, a number of the things that he mentioned, they are successes that we've had. When I first came into office a number of years ago, the T was overburdened by its debt, there wasn't much going towards the capital infrastructure, and now a lot of that has changed with all the work that we've all done together," said Sanchez.
Not surprisingly, the three Democrats who would like to replace Baker in the corner office were critical of the speech. Bob Massie, Jay Gonzalez, and Setti Warren in statements and interviews faulted Baker for a lack of boldness and vision.