By Isabel Tehan
Boston University Statehouse Program
BOSTON — Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker reflected on successes and difficulties his administration has faced and announced initiatives for the remainder of this legislative term during his fourth and final State of the Commonwealth address last Tuesday.
“Our goal has always been to be better, and do better, together,” said Baker, highlighting the importance of collaboration with local communities and organizations, a key aspect of his past work, and future plans.
Baker outlined important feats achieved throughout his tenure. He addressed the opioid crisis, housing reform, bringing broadband internet to more than 50 communities in western Massachusetts, and transit improvements, particularly the MBTA Green Line extension and the planned expansion of the commuter rail to the South Coast. The administration also increased the state’s “rainy day” safety net funds from $1 billion to $5 billion, creating one of the largest emergency funds in the country, said Baker.
“The State of the Commonwealth remains strong,” he said.
Over the past 22 months, the impact of COVID-19 has significantly affected the daily lives of all commonwealth citizens, Baker said, and responding to the continued effects remains a priority.
“We have one of the most expansive free COVID testing programs in the country,” he said. The state continues to be a “national leader,” with 80% of residents fully vaccinated, and vaccination rate among those aged 65 and older nearing 100%. Nearly 50% of vaccinated individuals in the state have received a booster, Baker said, and reiterated his firm stance that the vaccine is safe and effective.
Baker also highlighted the state’s recovery from the economic downturn caused by the pandemic. The unemployment rate is at 4%, and small business support from the state has allowed many to keep their jobs. Baker lauded these efforts, stating that 50% of the businesses are women-owned, and nearly that many are owned by people of color.
“Together we set the course for a comeback, and it’s working,” said Baker.
He also credited the National Guard for their essential work supporting the pandemic response, which he said was vital to its success. “Collaboration is how difficult things get done.”
Baker said he plans to utilize the trust built through community relationships to tackle several issues before he leaves office, focusing on domestic violence legislation and mental health care reform.
The mental health crisis is not a new issue in the state or the country, but “COVID made it worse and more visible,” said Baker. The goal, he said, is to enact this reform before the end of this year’s legislative session in July.
The governor also asked the lawmakers to increase tax breaks for families and eliminate income tax for the lowest 230,000 earners in the state.
“Instead of paying income taxes, these people should be able to use their earnings to pay for necessities,” said Baker.
As he finishes his term and makes plans to leave office, Baker said his goal is to “leave the state better for people who come after.”
“Let’s get to work.”