BOSTON (SHNS) – On a day when many students reentered classrooms for the first time in six months, Senate President Karen Spilka said she’s closely monitoring the return to school, as well as efforts to control COVID-19 in local hotspots as legislators contemplate what the next three months will bring.
Spilka and House Speaker Robert DeLeo successfully pushed to extend formal legislative ssessions past July until the end of the year, but immediately went on an extended recess and the agenda remains unclear. Leaders have said they wanted to preserve their ability to respond to any pandemic needs.
The Senate president took part in a “Women in Leadership” event hosted by the One SouthCoast Chamber of Commerce on Wednesday, but after several weeks out of the spotlight gave away very little about what the fall might look and sound like on Beacon Hill. She instead focused on her biography and what the Legislature had accomplished since March, and asked for the chamber’s input.
“With a global pandemic, it’s more important than ever to be bold and creative with our policy ideas,” she said.
The Ashland Democrat mentioned the ongoing negotiations of conference committees over policing reform, economic development and health care, and noted the need to “come back” to pass a budget for fiscal 2021.
She and DeLeo resumed their regular, private Monday meetings with Gov. Charlie Baker this week after a summer hiatus. Spilka also said Senate Ways and Means Chairman Michael Rodrigues, who introduced her on the call, meets weekly with House Ways and Means Chairman Aaron Michlewitz and Administration and Finance Secretary Michael Heffernan.
“Unfortunately, we thought we would have a better idea by now, but we don’t. We honestly have no idea in terms of any help from the feds, as well as how the virus will unfold, if they will get their act together a little faster,” Spilka said.
One area where Spilka said she’d like to see the federal government help is with early childhood education. Asked if expanding early childhood education opportunities would be a priority when funding became available, Spilka said that in an “ideal world” the state would have the resources to do that.
“It pains me, It really pains me when we do not have the funds to do that. And you know, we’ll have to see what happens with the federal government. Every state is hurting right now. It’s not a blue state or a red state. It’s all states and we need the federal government to step up to the plate and help us out,” she said.
State officials have not updated tax revenue estimates to reflect the pandemic’s impacts or offered any post-pandemic budget proposals to ouline state spending plans, so the budget problems have not been quantified.
Along with transportation, Spilka echoed politicians like U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren, who have described daycare as a necessary foundation on which the economy will be rebuilt.
“You don’t have a strong economy if you can’t have a strong both transportation and child care, and we need to look at COVID-19, I believe, as an opportunity. There are some silver linings …” Spilka said. “We should learn from this whole experience. We’re not going back to the old normal. We will have a new normal. So let’s put our collective ideas, thoughts and heads together to build back an even better normal, a better economy for all of our residents.”
At various points during the call, one of Spilka’s two rescue dogs Lincoln and Mikasa could be heard barking, for which the Senate president apologized.
“Could be an Amazon delivery guy, could be a squirrel, could be a turkey. The joys of working from home,” she joked.
“Never feel bad about a dog,” One SouthCoast CEO Rick Kidder replied.