Governor Maura Healey’s report January 17th on the state of the Commonwealth was nearly an hour of celebration: what her new administration has accomplished, what challenges remain, how she intends to address each and every one of them. The standing O’s from the full house were as stretch-and-dip a workout as at the Boston Sports Club. Not for the weak-knee’d. Considering the dearth of sunshine on the national and international political landscape, her state-of-the-state speech was a pleasure to listen to – except for the little unmentioned black cloud, a $1 billion deficit.
Jeesh! can’t we just enjoy the moment? She made a ton of promises a year ago upon taking office and can rightly proclaim that she, with help from the state legislature, has made good on a majority of them: cabinet level chiefs of housing, climate and veterans affairs; free community college for those more than 25 years of age who haven’t earned a certificate or degree; extended child credits; tax cuts for multiple constituencies, including business and cutting the estate tax; improved mental health and nutrition for students; hiring hundreds of additional T workers and putting in place more experienced T administrators; increasing jobs and getting thousands of work permits for newcomers; and more. With the help of the Massachusetts congressional delegation, Healey has brought home federal money for rebuilding the Cape Cod bridges, improving east-west rail and stimulating innovation in the life sciences.
So what’s not to celebrate? Of course the devil is always in the details. But when we think about the polarization and gridlock in Washington, is it so wrong to feel good about what is happening in Massachusetts?
Going forward, the Governor’s top priorities are housing (she has submitted her plan to the legislature, but it is complex and, in parts, controversial), child care and early education expansion (in her upcoming fiscal budget). Also in her budget are funds for expanded literacy programs with the goal of being best in the country. She also promises to double the T’s operating budget, easier to do now that new T chief Phillip Eng’s managerial style is garnering cautious praise from the weary, under-served public. Climate is also a top priority, and her vision is of a Commonwealth that leads the nation in developing and manufacturing innovative green technologies.
I’m not naive. The days of sugar highs from Covid relief funds are over. Revenues are down. There are big challenges ahead, including that pesky matter of trimming MassHealth and elsewhere to cover revenue shortfall. And time is short. This is a state election year, and the legislature will cut out by July.
I’m just happy that for one night out of 365 (actually, this year it’s 366)I can feel good about a government that is forward-looking and responsive to the needs of diverse constituencies. Now, if Newton’s mayor can get the potholes fixed on our neighborhood streets and settle the longstanding teachers’ salary dispute, life -at least from a local perspective – would be very grand indeed.