By Lillian Eden
BU News Service
BOSTON – Governor Charlie Baker seemed comfortable and relaxed for the annual State of the Commonwealth address Tuesday, coaxing much applause and some laughter from the assembled representatives.
Baker began by reflecting on how well Massachusetts has done recently, stressing the state’s response to the dangers of vaping, the opioid crisis, healthcare, transportation and climate change.
According to Baker, the unemployment rate is below 3%, budget surpluses allowed the Rainy Day Fund to grow far beyond previous records and the state has made strides to decrease stigma and shame associated with drug use.
Baker also said statewide health insurance has come a long way since its inception.
“A health connector that had become a national punch line now stands as a model for every other state, providing affordable health insurance coverage to over 300,000 people,” Baker said.
Massachusetts has always led the nation in health care, he said, and they should continue to do so.
“We’ve maintained access to women’s health services in the face of federal cutbacks,” he said.
The Republican governor did not shy away from climate change either, despite some of the beliefs associated with the party.
“From fishing and farming to critical public infrastructure and basic necessities like clean drinking water, there’s no dispute that the consequences of climate change are real and potentially devastating,” he said.
The governor also discussed the Municipal Vulnerability Preparedness program, which he said is the first of its kind to work with communities in Massachusetts and protect properties and infrastructure from climate change.
“We urge the Legislature to move quickly on this critical bill,” Baker said.
He stressed that time is of the essence with regards to the ever-changing climate and committed Massachusetts to having net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.
The way transportation contributes to emissions needed to be addressed, as well, as admissions from transportation makes up 40% of the total greenhouse gas emissions in the Commonwealth, Baker said. Part of the Transportation and Climate initiative would include investing in public transportation infrastructure and finding ways to reduce congestion.
“I get that this is going to be hard. But together, we have a real opportunity and a responsibility to achieve a significant reduction in transportation emissions,” Baker said.
Emissions aren’t the only reason that transportation needs to be addressed, he said. Baker admitted that the T hasn’t been invested in properly and has been unacceptably unreliable. His administration has invested more in the T than any other in the state’s history, he said.
Throughout the address, Baker was quick to draw comparisons between progress in Massachusetts, the nation and Washington.
“We’ve been able to do all of this by finding common ground, by refusing to engage in the partisan nonsense that consumes so much of our national politics, by putting the people of our Commonwealth first,” Baker stated. “We’ve demonstrated time and time again over the past five years that we can find common purpose, that we can lead and represent the very special people of this very special place we call home.”
A previous version of this article identified this as Baker’s fifth State of the Commonwealth.