Where would a journalist be without friends ? Last night I attended Governor Baker’s State of the State speech thanks to the loyalty of a good friend, who secured me a seat despite my not having one of those printed invitations given to the Governor’s list of notables.
I sat in the balcony, directly above the center aisle of the House chamber, almost looking Governor Baker in the eye. I liked what I saw : confident, but at ease; comfortable in his skin, often policy-serious, sometimes good-guy fun.
What I saw, Baker also spoke. He stayed on course, doubled down in fact. He came into office as Mr Fix It, the diligent manager, that’s what he has done, and last night he vowed to continue doing it.
Yes, he has priorities; but they’re the same priorities that he has advocated all along : $ 1 billion for MBTA infrastructure; $ 75 million for career and technical schools; a much stronger opioid addiction bill than the milquetoast law passed by the legislature last week; charter school cap lift; and dramatic increase in hydro power supply. All were needed last year, and they’re still needed.
He also stuck with one of his initiatives that did not pass last year : cutting the Film Tax Credit. Here his proposal has changed. Instead of eliminating the tax, which Speaker DeLeo will not allow, he requested decreasing the tax’s spread. we will see if the Speaker accepts the compromise.
Baker touted several first year successes : getting DCF completely reorganized, with all parties in agreement — no simple task; legislation ending the civil commitment of women to Framingham prison; balancing a budget badly overrun; restoring local aid to its full funding; restructuring management of the T.
Lastly, Baker made clear that “no longer does the state balance its budget on the backs of our cities and towns.” Balance the budget he must, and will; but local aid will not be nicked; may, in fact, see increases, many the result of the Municipal Administration Reform law he has filed.
He held course despite significant pressures to shift. Advocacy groups are pushing for a tax surcharge on high incomes with the money earmarked to education and transportation. Other groups want baker to adopt universal pre-kindergarten schooling, or to embrace substantial MBTA expansion, or to stop charter schools, or to halt further opioid addiction legislation. Some politicals are sniping that Baker is all talk, no action, that he can’t fix the stuff he says he’ll fix — as if the stuff he’s trying to fix can be corrected magically overnight. To all of these, Baker gave his answer last night : I am on the course I believe to be the right one, and I am staying on it.
I fully approve his decision. Baker has changed the conversation about what Massachusetts government is for, and how it should be for it; and the change is all good, as attested by his huge approval rating. The voters want their government to work. The voters want the services state government purports to offer. Getting these services effectively, and within budget, to the people is the bedrock of everything else. It gives the voters confidence in their government.
All across America, voters have lost confidence in their governments, and in the unhinged, irresponsible talk going on in this year’s presidential election, we see the angry, amoral, dangerous result. If baker can build a rock solid foundation of public confidence in Massachusetts state administration, he will accomplish the most vital mission our politics cries out foir.
That is why he was right to double down on his plan of action. That is why he was applauded by everyone in the room — including our two Democratic United States Senators — of both parties or no party. And that is why he is held in uniquely high esteem by the voters of our state.
It was the right speech delivered in the right way.
—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere