Gov. Charlie Baker gave his first State of the Commonwealth address Thursday night. Here were some of his big talking points:
Opioid crisis a priority
Baker urged the legislature to move on three issues that he established as priorities throughout 2015: the state’s opioid epidemic, adding hydroelectric power to the state’s energy supply, and expanding charter school access.
House and Senate officials are working to finalize a version of an opioid bill, which Baker said will “enhance prevention and education efforts, to build on our intervention work, and to strengthen our treatment and recovery programs.’’
He described the deadly effects of the opioid and heroin crisis as “terrifying,’’ and placed the blame on the overprescription of pain medications.
“You all know I’m a health care guy, and I’ll stand with my former colleagues when their clinical judgment is being improperly maligned. But not this time,’’ said Baker, the former CEO of Harvard Pilgrim Health Care. “Prescribers in Massachusetts—and across this country—are far too casual about the addictive consequences of these medications.’’
Lawmakers applauded as Baker demanded the state “get this done, and let’s not rest until we do.’’
Baker also pushed for action on the hydropower bill and one that would lift the charter school cap—a heated issue that the Senate said this week it would take up but that could be decided by voters in a ballot question in November.
Film tax credit revisited
Last year, Baker tried to abolish a controversial tax credit system for films made in Massachusetts, arguing the return is not worth the investment. He lost the fight with legislators.
Baker said the topic would be revisited this year, but with less gusto.
“We’ll also be filing legislation that makes a modest adjustment to the film tax credit,’’ he said. “We respect the legislature’s desire to retain the credit.’’
Baker said savings from the adjustment would be put toward “creating more affordable housing and an improved tax climate for Massachusetts businesses that sell products and services in other states.’’
“If I had to sum up the past year in office in one phrase, it would be the following: Don’t be surprised when you get surprised,’’ Baker said.
Baker cited last year’s snow—and its effect on the MBTA—as an example.
“With respect to the T, some say in the Chinese language the word crisis is composed of two characters. One representing danger, and the other, opportunity,’’ he said. “The T’s failures last winter became a crisis, and I am proud to say that by working together we found and seized opportunity.’’
After the winter, Baker’s administration pushed for the creation of a new governing board to delve into the agency’s financial and management issues.
“Turning around a system with the troubles and problems the T has won’t be easy or quick, and there will be some missteps along the way, but we are determined to do it,’’ Baker said.
Baker also pointed to plans to increase capital spending on the system, which includes maintenance and repair work.
His comments came as the T considers fare hikes to partially bridge a budget gap expected next fiscal year, which has caused grumbling among riders and transit advocates who believe the system needs further funding.
Tech school investment
The governor plans to introduce an economic development bill that will put $75 million toward career and technical schools, he said.
“These schools are a pathway to a bright future,’’ Baker said. “The skills they teach are widely in demand, and many of them are already well plugged into the job creators in their communities.’’
Baker said his proposal for the next fiscal year’s budget, due next week, will “increase local and education aid; continue our generous support for public transportation; and offer a number of important reforms in the way we operate.’’
He said the budget will not call for raises in taxes or fees.
As an example of bipartisan governance, Baker offered his administration’s work with Boston Mayor Marty Walsh to convince General Electric to make the city its new headquarters as an example.
“There wasn’t an inch of daylight between the Republican governor and Democrat mayor, and the folks at GE could see we were in this together,’’ Baker said.
Baker and Walsh together offered upward of $140 million in city property tax breaks and state infrastructure grants to the conglomerate. Walsh also celebrated GE’s arrival in his State of the City address earlier this week.
Baker said GE also chose Boston because “they saw who the people of Massachusetts are, what we do, and how the ecosystem we’ve developed can help propel GE into the future.’’
He said his administration is focused on the “blocking and tackling’’ of government, and pointed to efforts to reduce wait times at the RMV and through the state’s health connector.
“As the administration ends its first year in office, some have lamented how boring we are. I’ll admit: that makes me smile,’’ he said.