BOSTON (SHNS) – The list is long and growing longer by the week.
Health care, energy and offshore wind, voting rights, transportation investment, economic development, soldiers’ home oversight, tax relief, sports betting, pre-trial detentions. And there are more, all in various stages of the legislative process. That doesn’t even include the annual budget, which will occupy the Senate for the next two weeks.
The only certainty is that the clock is ticking. Seventy-seven days and counting until the end of July when the Legislature wraps up formal business for the years. So is Gov. Charlie Baker getting anxious about pieces of his final-year agenda becoming lost in the chaos?
“No,” Baker told MASSterList in an interview Monday. He then took a long pause. “No,” he repeated.
The governor and top Beacon Hill Democrats skipped their semi-regular Monday meeting yesterday, which has become less and less regular over the past couple of months. But Baker said he still talks with Speaker Ron Mariano and Senate President Karen Spilka one-on-one.
“The end of the session is always a crush. In 2018 and 2016, which were election years for us or them or both, we had a lot on the plate heading into the last 90 days and it’s hard to say how this will all play out, but some years we got almost everything,” Baker said.
Baker said he was happy to see the Democrat-controlled Transportation Committee on Friday advance a $9.75 billion infrastructure investment bill, and he believes there’s an appetite when it comes to getting something done on health care, energy and economic development, even if the details are still works in progress.
“The cost of everything is going up a lot. The longer we go without starting the process of finalizing permitting, doing design work and putting stuff out for bid, the more years it will take to get this work done,” Baker said. “Whether you believe there’s going to be a slowdown or not, what better way to push back than to have all these people out there working on all these projects.”
House Ways and Means Chairman Aaron Michlewitz said last week that it was still too early to say whether the Legislature would be ready to commit the remaining $2.3 billion in American Rescue Plan Act funds this year (as Baker wants) or if the projected state surplus can be tapped, instead, to fund economic development.
Baker said the longer that ARPA money remains uncommitted the harder it is for lawmakers in Congress to make the case for more programmatic federal funding, and he said the 2026 deadline to spend ARPA money will come up faster than people think.
“I would argue the surplus money doesn’t have the same ticking clock on it,” Baker said.
The Legislature usually allocates any budget surplus within months of the June 30 end of each fiscal year.
Massachusetts received $5.3 billion in flexible Fiscal Recovery Funds under ARPA that must be obligated by
the end of 2024, and spent by the end of 2026. About $3 billion of those funds have already been allocated and Baker, whose successor will be elected in November, has proposed uses for the remaining $2.27 billion.
While Baker remains bullish on tax relief, he told MASSterList he wasn’t ready to put any new ideas on the table to help families struggling with inflation.
The $700 million package he developed four month ago includes updates to the estate and short-term capital gains taxes, as well as relief for very low-income householders, renters and senior property owners.
“I want to let them chew on what they got in front of them, and if they want to add stuff or go in a different direction I want to give them plenty of room to do that,’ Baker said.
While Baker is focused on policy on Beacon Hill, the Massachusetts Republican Party will gather in Springfield on Saturday for its election-year convention. The only big question mark is whether Wrentham businessman Chris Doughty, and his chosen running mate Kate Campanale, will get the 15 percent he needs to appear on the primary ballot opposite former Rep. Geoff Diehl for governor.
Neither Baker nor Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito plan to attend the convention, deciding to decline an invitation to speak as it has become clear that the party has moved well to the right of the centrist administration.
“I really do believe the best thing convention delegates can do is hear from people who are going to be on the ballot in September and November. That’s really what this event is about,” Baker said. “Obviously I have disagreements with the chairman of the party on a bunch of things and that’s unfortunate, but it is what it is. (The decision) had a lot more to do with the first thing.”