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Baker Focuses On Energy, Education And Opioid Abuse In First Address

This is a picture of Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker speaking in Great Barrington in December 2015.
Jim Levulis
Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker speaking in Great Barrington in December 2015.

Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker delivered his first State of the Commonwealth address Thursday night. The Republican focused on energy, education and combating the rise in opioid abuse.

The governor started off his speech at the Statehouse by thanking numerous people including members of the armed forces and their families. In attendance was the family of Springfield native and Marine Thomas Sullivan, one of five service members killed in an attack on a Navy reserve center in Tennessee.

“We are joined tonight by Corporal John Dawson’s parents and Gunnery Sergeant Tom Sullivan’s parents,” Baker said. “Last year both lost their sons in service to our country. Every man and woman who serves in combat is special. And their families serve right alongside them. Your presence reminds us what service, sacrifice and loss is really all about.”

He then summed up his first year in office with one phrase.

“Don’t be surprised when you get surprised,” the governor said. “Stuff just happens. Some good. Some bad. Twelve days after we took office we determined there was a $765 million budget deficit to deal with. Thankfully it was 40 degrees out and winter was almost over. Six days after that it started to snow. And nine feet of Snowmaggedon later we had a transit system in serious trouble.”

Governor Baker touted his administration’s accomplishments such as implementing a management board to oversee the MBTA, reforming the embattled Department of Children and Families and investing in transportation. The Republican also acknowledged the bipartisan work with the Democratic-led legislature.

“Now as we end our first term, some have lamented how boring we are,” Baker said. “And I must admit: that makes me smile. No fights. No yelling. No partisan scrums.”

Baker said one of his top initiatives this year is energy, stating New England stands to lose 10,000 megawatts of power as powerplants shut down over the next few years. He’s called for lifting the cap on incentives for large-scale solar projects and pursuing offshore wind. During the address, he urged lawmakers to approve a plan to tap into Canadian hydropower.

“But if we’re serious about reducing our carbon footprint while maintaining a reliable energy grid and improving our competitive position, then we must significantly increase the supply of clean and affordable hydropower,” said the Republican.

Baker announced a plan to invest $75 million in career and technical schools as part of his education focus. He continued his call to ease the cap on charter schools, saying 40,000 children are currently enrolled in them, while 37,000 remain on waiting lists.

“But a state that places such high value on education should not place arbitrary limits on high-quality school,” Baker said. “And it should not sit idly by while so many parents feel the pain of missed opportunity for their children.”

Finally, Baker focused on continuing the fight against opioid abuse, which kills four people per day in Massachusetts. The governor, who served as Massachusetts’ Secretary of Health and Human Services in the 1990s and has worked in private healthcare, called the statistics terrifying, saying doctors in the state prescribed more than 200 million pain pills in 2014.

“You all know I’m a health care guy, and I’ll stand with my former colleagues when their clinical judgment is being improperly maligned,” Baker said. “But not this time. Prescribers in Massachusetts – and across this country – are far too casual about the addictive consequences of these medications. “

The Republican is expected to file his 2017 budget next week, which he says won’t raise taxes or fees while continuing to invest in local education and transportation. The state Democratic Party is challenging Baker’s characterization of the $765 million deficit, saying it was actually a surplus. The party also says Baker’s speech lacked any true vision for the future of the commonwealth.

Jim is WAMC’s Associate News Director and hosts WAMC's flagship news programs: Midday Magazine, Northeast Report and Northeast Report Late Edition. Email: jlevulis@wamc.org
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