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Gov. Baker Would Let Municipalities Spread Snow Costs Over Two Years

Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker marked 50 days in office today.  Baker was the keynote speaker at a luncheon sponsored by the Affiliated Chambers of Commerce of Greater Springfield, where 800 business and community leaders from throughout the Pioneer Valley gathered.

Baker’s first two months in office was not a baptism by fire, but a trial by snow and ice. On Friday, the governor recapped his management of circumstances largely beyond his control—an unprecedented succession of four major snow storms that left parts of the state under five feet of snow, collapsed more than 100 structures, and crippled the greater Boston public transit system.

" Just to give you some sense of how much snow we moved, about half-way through the snow removal process we stopped counting how many times we had filled Gillette Stadium, and at that point it was 100," said Baker.

Baker said he was grateful for the help Massachusetts received from other states, including New York and Vermont, which loaned heavy equipment and manpower for snow removal.  He thanked the National Guard, the Red Cross, and Peter Picknelly, the owner of Springfield’s Peter Pan Bus Company, who after a personal call from Baker, sent 30 buses to Boston to shuttle commuters when an MBTA subway line had to be shut down.

" I called him on Sunday and on the Monday holiday he had people there," said Baker. " On behalf of myself and the people of Massachusetts I thank him. It was a tremendous gesture and it made a big difference."

With most cities and towns having exhausted snow removal budgets, Baker filed legislation Friday to allow municipalities to spread the costs out over the next two years.   He is also pressing for financial help from FEMA.

" We have their full attention and I fully expect we will receive federal reimbursement for some of this. How much at this point I am not sure," said Baker.

Baker will file his first budget next week.  He described the budget process as " difficult and complicated."

Speaking with reporters, Baker did not dispute an estimate from the Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation that the state is faced with a $1.5 billion budget gap.  Baker again pledged not to cut local aid.

Baker said he and the other New England governors are working on a plan to increase natural gas pipeline capacity to help lower energy costs.

" There are a lot of things we should do to enhance our clean energy footprint, which we will also pursue on a collaborative basis," said Baker.  " But we have got to do some quick work to expand our existing capacity to bring natural gas into this region."

Baker also highlighted his administration’s effort to produce a comprehensive job-training strategy.  He said it will focus on the so-called “skills gap” which is blamed for hampering employers as they try to fill job vacancies.

Richard Sullivan, a top official in the administration of former Democratic  Gov. Deval Patrick, who is now president of the Economic Development Council of Western Massachusetts, praised the Republican Baker for addressing a problem that impacts local manufacturers.

"In order for them to grow we need to bring young people into the workforce and  retrain people who do not have the skill set for the jobs available today and available in the next five years," said Sullivan.

Baker and Polito also visited the western Massachusetts governor’s office in Springfield Friday.  Baker is keeping the office staffed.  It was re-opened 8 years ago by Patrick after it had been closed by former Gov. Mitt Romney.

Paul Tuthill is WAMC’s Pioneer Valley Bureau Chief. He’s been covering news, everything from politics and government corruption to natural disasters and the arts, in western Massachusetts since 2007. Before joining WAMC, Paul was a reporter and anchor at WRKO in Boston. He was news director for more than a decade at WTAG in Worcester. Paul has won more than two dozen Associated Press Broadcast Awards. He won an Edward R. Murrow award for reporting on veterans’ healthcare for WAMC in 2011. Born and raised in western New York, Paul did his first radio reporting while he was a student at the University of Rochester.
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