SHNS, Boston – It was the best of signs, it was the worst of signs. Two committees. Two bullet points on Gov. Charlie Baker’s agenda. Two very different receptions.
On Monday, Massachusetts Convention Center Authority officials went before a House-Senate committee to pitch the governor’s plan to finance a $500 million expansion of the Seaport convention center by selling off the state’s other convention center – the Hynes – in the Back Bay.
It might as well have been an ambush because it didn’t take long to become clear that there were some real reservations in the Legislature and the community about the BCEC addition being contingent on selling Hynes.
“Somebody on the team and including the administration should also be focusing in on the political problem that you have. It was just self-evident with the testimony that we had here,” Chairman Marc Pacheco told the authority members.
The administration wants to use the sales of the Hynes to finance the expansion and avoid incurring huge debt, but not everyone thinks pulling the plug on the Hynes is the best thing for the Back Bay.
Sen. William Brownsberger said that if the expansion of the BCEC is going to generate so much additional economic activity, that should be enough to put together a financing plan.
Baker got a far better reception the next day when he showed up in person with Health and Human Services Secretary Marylou Sudders before the Health Care Financing Committee. Rather than needing to be convinced of Baker’s plan to require insurers and providers to increase spending on primary and behavioral health, some lawmakers were already on board.
“This shows that you picked up on those parts of our health care system that are struggling and you attempted to fight back on it,” Senate President Emerita Harriette Chandler said.
Support was certainly not universal. For instance, Dr. Zirui Song, a primary care physician from Massachusetts General Hospital, worried that provider organizations might simply raise their prices to meet the new spending requirements.
Overall, though, the governor left feeling he had a “pretty good chance” of working with the Legislature to get something done on health care this year.
It was already well established coming into the week where legislative leaders stood on Baker’s commitment to make Massachusetts a net-zero carbon emission state by 2050.
The Senate made sure Thursday to do its part to lock that in.
The Senate passed a trio of climate bills to set the 2050 emission reduction requirement and direct the administration to pursue carbon pricing mechanisms for the transportation and building sectors. The package also looks at electrifying the MBTA bus fleet and putting efficiency standards on products and appliances.
“People wanted to get radical, they wanted to get dramatic, and I think we gave them the bill they were looking for,” Sen. Michael Barrett said after the Senate debate.
The bills, however, would not address the state’s preparedness for the effects of climate change, as Speaker DeLeo’s “Green Works” bill or the governor’s $1 billion plan would. And in the course of the debate, Senate Minority Leader Bruce Tarr raised the real, if not entirely answerable, question about what widespread carbon pricing would cost residents.
“What would this do?” read a sign the Gloucester Republican held up in the chamber.
What would it do, indeed?
Without knowing what types of programs the Baker administration or future administrations would implement to comply with the law, a full accounting of the side effects and price tag is difficult. But Chris Carlozzi of the NFIB took a stab anyway: “Get ready for much higher energy bills, fuel prices, more expensive products, and limits on what consumers can buy or install in their homes or what companies can sell.”
With President Donald Trump’s Senate impeachment trial flashing on TV screens and fears of a spreading Chinese coronavirus putting a premium on Purell, aides in lunch lines all over Beacon Hill were bracing for next Wednesday – otherwise known as Joint Rule 10 day.
Feb. 5 is the day by which all joint committees are supposed to make recommendations on the thousands of bills filed at the start of the session that are still being reviewed.
For two more representatives, this will be their last Joint Rule 10 day, a final chance to convince leadership of the merits of that (fill-in-the-blank) bill that they’ve been filing since they arrived on Beacon Hill.
Reps. Aaron Vega of Holyoke and Jose Tosado of Springfield both announced this week that they would not seek re-election, ensuring another cycle of turnover in western Massachusetts. Both men said it was simply time to move on, and Tosado went so far as to suggest that he wanted to give way to a new generation of leaders and ideas.
Both Vega and Tosado, however, lasted a few more turns around the sun than Comptroller Andrew Maylor, the former North Andover town administrator who was tapped by Baker in February.
During his short tenure, Maylor feuded with legislators over their habit of tardy budgeting, and then said this week that he’d be leaving for a job closer to home at Merrimack College.
Maylor happens to be a constituent of Sen. Diana DiZoglio, who unrelatedly attracted a lot of cameras and coverage by rallying former Fox News personality Gretchen Carlson to her cause of banning the use of non-disclosure agreements on Beacon Hill.
The issue is not a new one, and one DiZoglio has been hammering for years. But her recruitment of Carlson to Massachusetts was timed to the aforementioned bill-reporting deadline and her desire to see her legislation advance.
If not, DiZoglio threatened, she may try to force another debate on the floor during budget deliberations in a Senate where she has already been successful once.