BOSTON, Mass. (SHNS)– Radio hosts were keenly interested Tuesday in where Gov. Maura Healey stands on a range of brewing political fights. In most cases, the governor opted to keep her powder dry.
Healey avoided stepping into the arena on several potentially controversial ballot questions that supporters want to put before voters in 2024. She also stopped short of criticizing legislative leaders for heading into their second straight August break without a final tax relief package, a proposal that Healey made an early centerpiece of her tenure.
Days after the outlook became clearer for which ballot questions could be in the mix next year, Healey did not take a concrete position on some of the most noteworthy measures, such as a petition backed by the Massachusetts Teachers Association that would eliminate the use of MCAS standardized tests as a graduation requirement.
She said it’s “important that we have assessment tools in our schools,” but did not indicate if she believes the exams should remain a prerequisite to acquiring a diploma.
“The question becomes what is it that you are assessing? Have we evolved in terms of our assessment and the kinds of things that we’re looking at? Or do we need to take more steps to evolve?” Healey said on GBH Radio. “There’s also the question that you’re raising about what are the consequences of scores, what’s the import. I think there are a lot of different ways to look at that, and probably any number of approaches. So we’re taking all of that in right now and will continue to have discussions with schools and with educators, with parents, with others on this.”
The proposal, which has already drawn opposition from groups like the Massachusetts High Technology Council, would not scrap MCAS altogether but would no longer link the tests to graduation.
Healey also gave a muted response about a ballot question that would lift the 1994 voter-approved statewide ban on rent control and replace it with a local-option system in which participating cities and towns could regulate rents.
Amid a push by Boston elected officials to revive rent control in the capital city, Healey has said broadly she thinks individual communities should have the ability to decide for themselves but has not made a public push for lawmakers to give the approval required for that change.
“I haven’t looked at it,” Healey said of the ballot question filed by Cambridge Rep. Mike Connolly. “But I continue to have the same answer, which is, you know, anything that comes before me, lands on my desk, I’m gonna have to review. But I certainly, as a general matter, supported local control.”
Healey, herself a Democrat, additionally sought to stay out of a long-running transparency battle between Auditor Diana DiZoglio and House and Senate leaders that might wind up before voters next year.
Stymied by resistance from legislative leaders, DiZoglio is pursuing legal action seeking to compel their participation with an audit by her office and also weighing a 2024 ballot question that would make explicit her authority to probe the Legislature. Both of those routes head next through the office of Healey’s predecessor, Attorney General Andrea Campbell, who must authorize the litigation and must also certify the ballot question as constitutional.
Healey did not give a direct either-or answer when GBH host Jim Braude asked whether the Legislature or DiZoglio were on “solid footing.”
“One thing I know is that Attorney General Campbell and her team will make a thoughtful and considered decision. She is the attorney general and I have every confidence in her decision-making,” Healey said. She added, “I’m the governor now. It’s appropriately before Attorney General Campbell, and as I say I have every confidence that she and her team will take the time to work that issue through.”
Before many lawmakers departed for vacations, the House and Senate last week approved a month-overdue $56.2 billion state budget for fiscal year 2024 that increases spending 6.6 percent and factors in an expected $581 million impact for tax relief that has not yet been enacted. Healey, who said Tuesday that “budgets take time,” has until Thursday to act on the budget bill.
Democrat negotiators remain unable to resolve differences in standalone House-Senate tax relief bills, and the amount they budgeted is lower than the $859 million Healey proposed in relief for FY24.
Asked if she was okay with the slow pace of Democrat-led tax relief talks on Beacon Hill, Healey replied, “It’s just the process of policymaking. No, I don’t have concerns. I know we’re all anxious and have expressed support for tax relief, and I would like to see that happen as soon as possible, and I will be advocating for that,” Healey said. “We’ve got to get that done, but let’s get the budget signed and then we’ll get on to the tax package.”
Tax relief has been in the spotlight on Beacon Hill since January 2022, when Gov. Charlie Baker used his State of the Commonwealth address to press for reform. Lawmakers initially agreed on a roughly $1 billion package last year, but they ended formal sessions without agreement and wound up scrapping the relief from the underlying bill after it became clear Massachusetts owed taxpayers nearly $3 billion in unexpected rebates.
Healey was more critical about the delay last year, when she was still a candidate for governor. She called in August 2022 for lawmakers to “get back in session now and pass the tax relief package,” arguing that taxpayers are “hurting right now in our state with high costs, and they can’t afford any further delay.”