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Berkshire Lawmakers Preview Baker’s State Of The Commonwealth

Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker.
Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker.

Massachusetts politicians and political observers are preparing for Republican Governor Charlie Baker’s State of the Commonwealth address tomorrow. WAMC took a look at what they’re expecting to hear on Tuesday.

Matt Murphy is a senior reporter and associate editor of the Statehouse News Service in Boston. He says he expects Baker to address two big issues. The first is transportation.

“This has been an ongoing theme of his administration since he first took over in 2015," Murphy told WAMC. "We all remember the winter of 2015 and what that meant for the MBTA as well as roads and bridges in all parts of the state. The governor is looking to put together a plan. He has filed legislation that would finance $18 billion of projects over the next five years. He would really like to see the legislature move on that, but it’s also coming at a time where the legislature is considering new taxes to also invest in transportation. And that’s something we’ll be listening to see if the governor gives any signals. He’s also been opposed to new taxes.”

Western Massachusetts Democratic legislators are keen to hear Baker address the topic.

“He has to obvious address the transportation needs in the state and not just talk about the Eastern part of Massachusetts and the MBTA and the problems that they’re facing," said 1st Berkshire District State Representative John Barrett. “We also have serious infrastructure needs out here in the western part of the state, and especially here in Berkshire County. And included in that is, actually, broadband – which I consider to be a most important need – how he’s going to pay for it, and how it’s going to be handled down the road.”

“He seems to think we don’t need any more revenue to be able to deal with the problems that we have in front of us, which are substantial," said 3rd Berkshire District State Representative Tricia Farley-Bouvier. “43% of all carbon emissions are from our transportation infrastructure and we need to do everything we can to address that and bring a different kind of infrastructure to the commonwealth to be able to reduce our carbon emissions.”

The other big issue Murphy expects Baker to address is housing.

“The housing crisis the governor has flagged repeatedly as something that poses not just a problem for families looking to live closer to where they work, but also the future growth of the economy," he said. "He has legislation to deal with that as well that has stalled in the legislature. I think we will probably hear him try to nudge them along.”

Outside of those issues, Murphy says there’s the potential for surprises, “especially given that he’s anticipated to file his fiscal 2021 budget the following day on Wednesday,” he told WAMC. “The governor has typically used these speeches to take a bit of victory lap, highlight some of the things he’s accomplished together with House and Senate Democrats. I expect to hear that. Particularly, he’ll probably talk about the education fudning reform law that they got done back in November. This budget the governor is filing is the first significant down payment on that law which should result in hundreds of millions of dollars in additional money going to cities and towns for public school.”

Farley-Bouvier – who represents most of the county’s largest community, Pittsfield – says she’s also listening for an update on the state’s Chapter 70 funding for fiscal year 2021.

“Chapter 70 is that state’s share of the k-12 funding, our school funding," explained Farley-Bouvier. "In 2019, we debated and voted on a brand new formula that takes into better account the real costs of education and it’s been proven that Pittsfield was underfunded for quite a bit of years, and we are now correcting that. And Pittsfield will stand to gain many millions of dollars in increased Chapter 70 funding.”

Baker’s Beacon Hill address begins around 6:30 p.m. Tuesday. You can hear live coverage of the speech on WAMC and at wamc.org.

Josh Landes has been WAMC's Berkshire Bureau Chief since February 2018, following stints at WBGO Newark and WFMU East Orange. A passionate advocate for Western Massachusetts, Landes was raised in Pittsfield and attended Hampshire College in Amherst, receiving his bachelor's in Ethnomusicology and Radio Production. His free time is spent with his cat Harry, experimental electronic music, and exploring the woods.
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