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In state of the commonwealth, Gov. Healey highlights housing, education, climate among 2024 priorities

Massachusetts Governor Maura Healey.
Office of the Massachusetts Governor
Massachusetts Governor Maura Healey.

Heading into her second year in office, Massachusetts Governor Maura Healey laid out her priorities for 2024 in her State of the Commonwealth address Wednesday.

On Beacon Hill, Healey argued that under her leadership, Massachusetts is more affordable, competitive, and equitable than before she took office.

“We passed a billion-dollar tax cut this year that will save money for everyone in this state,” she said to applause. “That’s right, we cut taxes for the first time in 20 years in Massachusetts. You will see the savings when you file your returns in April. We now have the most generous child and dependent tax credit of any state in the country.”

Organized labor and progressive groups sharply criticized Healey’s tax cut plan as too generous to the wealthy, especially on the heels of the Fair Share Amendment’s passage in 2022. The measure added a new tax on income over $1 million to be dedicated to public transit, education, and infrastructure.

“I want to thank the legislature for your partnership in making Massachusetts more affordable," Healey continued. "And tax cuts were just the start. We also made school meals, both breakfast and lunch, free for all students, saving parents money and feeding more kids. I'm grateful to the speaker for his leadership and his passion on this issue.”

The governor addressed the influx of migrants over 2023, filling the commonwealth’s emergency shelter system to capacity and leading to a scramble to find temporary housing across Massachusetts, including in Pittsfield and Great Barrington.

“While Massachusetts did not create this problem, we're going to continue to demand that Congress take action to fix the border to get us funding," said Healey. "We're also not waiting. We're showing a way forward. In November, we put on a work authorization clinic. And now, thanks to that, 3,000 of our new arrivals have work permits. Every day, every day we're connecting them with businesses who need work.”

Despite a surprise billion-dollar revenue shortfall triggering mid-year cuts to kick off 2024, Healey says she’s bullish about the economy.

“The budget we file next week, I promise, will be balanced, responsible, and forward looking," she said. "It will build on our progress, and we will take new steps to lower the cost of housing and childcare, to strengthen our schools, and support all our young people in reaching their potential, to get our roads and our rails moving, help our businesses and workers thrive, and meet the climate challenge by creating clean energy careers across our state. This is the work ahead of us, and there's no time to wait. It starts with housing. The biggest challenge we face.”

Healey visited Pittsfield in October to stump for her legislation that would make a historic investment in the commonwealth’s housing.

“We're dealing with a housing shortage that's decades in the making," she said. "To get cost down, we have to go big and we have to go big now. That means passing our $4 billion affordable homes Act, which is the most ambitious housing plan in Massachusetts history.”

Across Berkshire County, aging, limited housing stock has contributed to soaring prices in the property market, with wages lagging far behind a constantly rising cost of living.

“We will create middle class housing and make homeownership a reality for families who've been priced out for far too long," Healey continued. "We will build affordable homes at every income level and repair our long neglected public housing. We will create supportive homes for seniors, veterans, people with disabilities, and we will support good construction careers with strong labor standards.”

Healey also promised to transform the commonwealth’s approach to early education.

“First, we'll direct help to thousands of families by expanding eligibility for state financial assistance," she said. "In this program, child care costs are capped based on what you can afford. Next, we'll set a new goal for early education in Massachusetts. Let's have universal pre-K for every four year old in Massachusetts. Let's do it!”

Healey said she wants to establish guaranteed access to high-quality affordable preschool for every 4-year-old in all 26 of the commonwealth’s Gateway Cities by 2026, a category that includes cities like Springfield, Pittsfield, and Holyoke.

The governor says her administration will also address a decline in English language arts performance on standardized tests among third-graders.

“That number reflects social inequities," she said.
It also reflects the fact that many districts are using out of date, disproven methods to teach reading, and our children are paying the price, some struggling for years to catch up if they even can. So, we're changing that. Tonight, I'm announcing Literacy Launch. And over the next five years, backed by budget investments, here's what we want to do- We will make best reading materials available to more districts. Schools that are using the right materials now are seeing major gains. We can bring that impact every single classroom. We’ll also mandate that educator training programs teach evidence-based instruction, and will support our teachers in adopting best practices every step of the way.”

Turning to high school, Healey said her administration will continue to invest in early college programs and vocational education.

“For too long, too many children and teens haven't felt okay," said the governor. "There's a crisis in youth mental health. It's hurting our young people, it's stressing parents and straining families, and we have to do everything we can to address that. Now, last year, we expanded school-based mental health support from early childhood to higher ed. We also launched 26 community behavioral health centers to provide urgent in-person crisis response around the clock. They've served thousands of children already. And in just one year, we've cut in half emergency room stays for youth mental health. That's real impact. So, we know what's working, so we're going to do more of it, with support in school and in community. And for young people with the most complex needs, we'll address a serious gap in services. Our budget will call for $10 million to develop service models including residential that ensure the most vulnerable young people get the care they need and parents get support. Let's be a state where every young person knows that it's okay to sometimes not be okay, and we will help you.”

Healey added she wants to see Massachusetts become the climate innovation lab of the world.

“We'll help climate tech companies, not just start in Massachusetts, but scale in Massachusetts creating good jobs in the climate quarter we're building across our state,” she said.

Healey also pledged to continue seeking federal funding for improvements to the state’s roads, further investment in clean energy, and more support to municipalities attempting to shore up infrastructure in the face of climate change-driven extreme weather.

You can find the full address here.

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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