BOSTON (AP) — Gov. Charlie Baker said he wants to dramatically reduce the state’s reliance on polluting fuels while expanding housing opportunities and upgrading the state’s public transportation system.
Baker outlined the goals Tuesday during his State of the Commonwealth address at the Massachusetts Statehouse.
The Republican said one of his top goals for the new year is to help ease the worst effects of climate change in part by reducing carbon emissions.
“Tonight, I’m committing the commonwealth to achieving an ambitious climate goal: net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050,” Baker said.
Key to reaching that goal Baker said, was to push for the adoption of a multi-state proposal called the Transportation and Climate Initiative that aims to reduce carbon emissions from cars, trucks and other means of transportation.
Rhode Island, Connecticut and other northeastern states are also weighing the initiative, which has been championed by Baker but has met some resistance because it would could result in an increase in gas prices of up to 17 cents per gallon.
“Greenhouse gas emissions from transportation have been on the rise for decades and now represent 40% of this state’s total emissions,” Baker said. “Unless we take on transportation, we won’t meet our objectives.”
Democratic Senate President Karen Spilka said she supports the net-zero goal.
“The Senate is coming out with a climate bill on Thursday and it will contain a net zero emissions of greenhouse gas by 2050,” Spilka told reporters after Baker’s speech. “So I’m thrilled that the governor is joining us with that.”
Democratic House Speaker Robert DeLeo said the House will also be supporting the net-zero goal.
Baker also pointed to two major offshore wind projects awaiting final federal approval and a proposed Canadian hydropower project — investments he said would meet 30% of the state’s electricity consumption requirements while eliminating 5.7 million metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions every year.
Another challenge facing Baker is public transportation, particularly the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority — the network of subways, buses and commuter rails that serve the metropolitan Boston area.
Despite the billions poured into system in recent years, the MBTA has been plagued by derailments and delays.
“Our 2021 budget proposal will include an increase of $135 million in operating funds for the T,” Baker said, “This will ensure the T has the resources it needs to implement the recommendations of its Safety Review Panel and continue to accelerate service improvements.”
The red hot economic boom of recent years in the eastern portion of the state has brought with it soaring housing costs.
In his speech, Baker pointed to local zoning laws as one culprit, calling them the “wall between the well off and the up and coming.”
“They punish families and young people who are not already ‘in the market’ and they make it almost impossible for local communities to do what makes sense for their residents,” said Baker, who has pushed for changes that would make it easier for housing projects to win local approval.
Baker said the state also needs to make changes to its health care system — changes that he said will encourage doctors to work to keep patients healthy.
“People dealing with two, three or four chronic illnesses need guidance, advice and support, and so do their family members,” Baker said. “Our system should reward clinicians who invest in time and connection with patients and their families.”
Baker also pointed to education initiatives including one that he said will focus on addressing the persistent skills gap between people looking to work their way up the job ladder and the needs of employers.
One upside from the state’s strong economy is a rise in revenues that has allowed Massachusetts to build up its “rainy day fund” — a cushion against any future economic downturn.
“Today, that fund balance stands at $3.5 billion,” Baker said. “It’s the highest level ever, by a wide margin.”
Even with the boom times, there have been some caution signs on the horizon.
The Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation has warned the state faces a nearly $900 million budget gap in the fiscal year that begins July 1 as a result of rising costs and slowing tax revenue.
Despite the challenges, Baker — now in his second term — remains popular in his home state.