Gov. Baker Proposes Streamlining Municipal-State Relations
City and town officials in Massachusetts are applauding a comprehensive effort by the Baker administration to cut red tape and make it easier to run their local governments. But it faces a long road in the state legislature.
The 200-plus page bill proposed Monday by Governor Charlie Baker would repeal or amend “obsolete” laws, give municipal governments more independence, and reduce state oversight of local decisions.
"This is a very comprehensive piece of legislation that touches almost every element of state-local relationships," said Baker.
He said the legislation is the result of an almost yearlong outreach effort to local governments led by Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito that included her visiting more than 130 municipalities, where she met with mayors and other officials. The administration also surveyed local officials for suggestions.
Much of the 250-section bill deals with highly technical areas of municipal-state government relations.
A key change sought by the governor would lift a population-based cap on the number of restaurant liquor licenses cities and towns can issue without seeking permission from the legislature to exceed the cap.
"We expect and anticipate there will be a robust conversation with our colleagues in the legislature on this one," said Baker.
While many in local government see restaurant liquor licenses as an economic development tool, the Massachusetts Restaurant Association considers the licenses assets that would lose value if existing caps are lifted. The legislature, just last year, rejected a similar proposal to change the liquor license system.
Other provisions in the bill, according to the Baker administration, would allow for posting certain official notices online, rather than paying to print them in the newspaper, tickets for motor vehicle violations could be issued electronically, the state would no longer have to sign off on all local tax abatements, and local governments would no longer need the legislature’s approval to exempt their police officers and firefighters from civil service requirements.
Haverhill Mayor Jim Fiorentini, president of the Massachusetts Mayors Association praised the bill at Monday’s Statehouse news conference.
" This bill removes red tape and regulatory barriers. It is something I've dreamed of for the 12 years I've been mayor. It takes the handcuffs off us," said Fiorentini.
Geoffrey Beckwith, executive director of the Massachusetts Municipal Association, which lobbies for the state’s 351 cities and towns, called the bill historic in its depth and breadth.
"This bill is a policy dream," said Beckwith. " The nuts and bolts never get enough attention and this bill focuses on the nuts and bolts of government and making government run well and run effectively."
Baker made helping local governments a priority during his first year in office. He created a cabinet level group to focus on municipal issues, increased local aid in his first state budget, and released additional state funds for local road repairs.