Recap and analysis of the week in state government
Like anyone preparing for vacation, legislative leaders are undoubtedly eyeing the calendar and their check-list and wondering if they’ll be able to get everything done in time.
Of course the contents of that list and the exact timing of that time off hasn’t been broadcast publicly. (It is Beacon Hill, after all.) But it’s not hard to put it together, and no one wants to be late for their vacay.
A road repair and infrastructure funding bill was the first domino to fall this week, with the House and Senate unanimously passing a $350 million borrowing bill to put $200 million into Chapter 90 and another $150 into competitive grants for municipalities to apply for things like bus lanes and electric vehicles.
But by Friday other pieces were falling into place. In addition to House and Senate negotiators striking a deal to temporarily extend mail-in voting, Gov. Charlie Baker played his part by signing the fiscal year 2022 budget.
The stars. It would appear, are aligning for a smooth transition to the traditional August recess.
With the state flush with cash, Baker issued just $7.9 million in vetoes to a roughly $48 billion spending proposal and signed off on making the state’s film tax credit permanent. He also recommended that the state finally let a 2000 voter-approved ballot law take effect, allowing taxpayers to take deductions for their donations to charity.
The governor did, however, return the Legislature’s proposal to use $600 million in higher-than-previously-anticipated revenues over the next 11 months to increase the state’s pension contribution by $250 million and create a $350 million Student Opportunity Act reserve fund.
Baker said he liked the Legislature’s “instincts” to invest in long-term liabilities, but suggested using real fiscal 2021 surplus funds rather than guestimates for the next 12 months.
With one budget being etched into the books, House and Senate negotiators struck a deal Friday on a $261.6 million supplemental spending bill that would authorize voting-by-mail and in-person early voting for this year’s municipal elections. The Dec. 15 extension would give the Legislature more time to sort through longer-term voting reforms, which was the Senate’s plan all along.
A vote on that conference report will likely come early next week as Democratic leaders also start to think about veto overrides.
If anything is going to rain on the remainder of the summer, apart from all the rain itself, it could be COVID-19. Case counts and other metrics are starting to creep up again, and Provincetown this week rolled in mobile testing vans after detecting a number of breakthrough cases among vaccinated individuals.
But reopening continues to move full steam ahead with dates booking up at the Boston Convention and Exhibition Center and the Legislature slowly making plans to return to in-person work.
The “bullpen” opened this week, enabling first-term House lawmakers to begin working out the State House, while Senate President Karen Spilka sent a note to staff telling them to be prepared to start working in a hybrid capacity after Labor Day.
The State House, of course, can spare the hearing room space for makeshift desks because committees continue to meet virtually. This week’s schedule featured hearings on everything from pharmaceutical drug pricing controls and paying student athletes to legislation that would give teachers and other public sector employees the right to strike and make it easier to get canine first-responders medical attention if they are injured on the job.
The State House reopening was not something McKinsey and Co. looked at when preparing its “Future of Work” report for the administration, which landed this week with a bit of a thud. The reception was mostly due to the fact that the state paid McKinsey $1.6 million for the management consulting firm to point out some no-brainers, like how hybrid work models may become more common and child care and housing is expensive.
Nevertheless, Baker said the report would be a blueprint for how the state makes investments, such as his plan to put federal economic relief funds into housing. In fact, Baker and Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito seldom let a chance go by lately without plugging their plan to spend American Rescue Plan Act funds, and this week was no different as the duo put some miles on their State Police rides.
Baker made stops in Adams and Lawrence to celebrate grants for open space, recreation and affordable housing, while Polito kicked off a summer small business tour in Lowell.
Think they’re running again?
One of them almost certainly is, and while the governor still isn’t saying if he’s made up his mind on 2022 the Republican pair plan to be in Mashpee next month at the home of PR guru George Regan for a bold-faced-name fundraiser as Baker picks up the fundraising pace.
On the other side of the aisle, Attorney General Maura Healey said she plans to take the summer to consider her political future, putting a soft timeline on her decision-making. Will the two-term Democrat run for governor, seek reelection or see what’s behind door No. 3?
“It’s serious stuff, right? I just want to get that right,” Healey told GBH’s Jim Braude, addressing a question about whether and when her indecision might begin to hurt Democrats’ chances because she is freezing the field and potential donors.
There are three Democrats fighting that chill, and former state Sen. Ben Downing was quick to take credit this week for writing the offshore wind law that led to a major agreement celebrated in New Bedford Friday between the building trades unions and Vineyard Wind for construction of the nation’s first large-scale offshore wind farm.
Sen. Sonia Chang-Diaz is another Democrat who didn’t wait to see what Healey does before getting into the governor’s race, and her planned departure from the Senate has some on Beacon Hill wondering if that seat could be in the future for Rep. Jon Santiago.
Trailing four women of color in this summer’s race for mayor of Boston, Santiago ended his campaign this week and with that decision came the inevitable questions about what’s next for the House lawmaker who, after beating former Rep. Byron Rushing in 2018, has quickly endeared himself to leadership on Beacon Hill.
If the South End representative does have his eyes on the Senate, he may need to wait. Santiago currently lives in one of two majority-minority Senate districts in Boston, but advocates on Monday urged lawmakers in charge of redistricting this year to consider creating a district that would enable a Black candidate to better compete to represent neighborhoods like Roxbury and Mattapan.
What might that mean for the South End? It’s too early to tell. And that’s not the only district where the incumbent is eying the exits and could see his district redrawn as he walks out the door.
Sen. Joseph Boncore filed ethics disclosures this week confirming he is in talks with the Massachusetts Biotechnology Council for the lobbying group’s top job. Sen. William Brownsberger, the co-chair of the Special Committee on Redistricting, said if that comes to pass, prospective candidates for his Senate seat would do themselves a favor by first considering how the First Suffolk and Middlesex District might change.
With the committee this week focused on Rep. Ayanna Pressley’s 7th Congressional District, Pressley urged the Legislature to leave her district as in-tact as possible, even as it grows.
Advocates and local officials in her district echoed her calls to stay in the 7th, but many did request other changes.
Notably, lawmakers were asked to create new House districts centered around Chelsea, Revere and Randolph that would keep those communities whole and make it easier for candidates of color to compete.
STORY OF THE WEEK: House and Senate play “Let’s Make a Deal” on Chapter 90, voting by mail. What’s next?
SONG OF THE WEEK: Summer is short, but there’s still time to work it out.