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Massachusetts Connections In Biden Administration 'Certainly Can't Hurt' The State

Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker's hands during a press briefing on January 21, 2021.
State House News Service
Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker's hands during a press briefing on January 21, 2021.

Massachusetts Transportation Secretary Stephanie Pollack is headed to Washington, D.C., for a top position in the Federal Highway Administration. And Boston Mayor Marty Walsh is slated to head President Biden's Labor Department.

Matt Murphy of the State House News Service joins us to talk about the week ahead in government in politics — and whether these changes may ultimately help the state.

Carrie Healy, NEPM: Do you get the sense Republican Governor Charlie Baker will be able to use those Bay State connections to his advantage, and maybe more easily get what the state needs from the feds?

Matt Murphy, State House News Service: Well, it certainly can't hurt. I think we heard the governor say last week — with the announcement that Transportation Secretary Stephanie Pollack would be leaving for the Federal Highway Administration — that, you know, he expects her to behave like a good public servant and not show any prejudice toward her former state, or her former agency.

But I think, especially as the new administration takes control, this gives the governor already-established relationships within the new Biden administration.

And especially in the case of Pollack, she has a familiarity with a lot of the transportation highway projects going on in Massachusetts. As they come up for federal funding, she understands what they need. She understands their importance to the region — and perhaps with a little cajoling from the state, can free up some federal dollars to help move these projects along.

Speaking of the governor, the stay-at-home advisory in Massachusetts put in place in November is lifted. Baker also ended the 9:30 nightly business closing time, but is continuing to enforce a 25% capacity limit. With state health officials tracking new cases of a more contagious virus strain, how is Baker justifying the rollback?

There are certainly people who think these restrictions should stay in place. Perhaps they should go even further. But the governor always intended these to be temporary. They were put in place largely to guard against a really severe surge during the holidays, during the Christmas, and New Year's holidays. A bunch of these went into place the day after Christmas.

The governor says the numbers have shown a leveling-out in the surge of cases that Massachusetts was seeing particularly post-holidays. They feel that they're over that holiday bump, which is why you're seeing the governor roll back some of these.

But I think keeping in place the 25% restriction on capacity across the board is a nod to the fact that we're still seeing thousands of new positive cases identified every day, and dozens of new deaths. The state by no means has total control over the spread of this virus yet.

The Boston Globe had a front-page report Sunday showing how the state is well behind other states in New England on vaccination rates, and also for nursing home residents and staff. Has the governor acknowledged that the vaccine rollout has been rocky?

Yeah — he's used terms like “bumpy” and “lumpy” at times to describe the rollout. He has pointed the finger, in a lot of cases, to the uncertainty the state has with regard to how much vaccine it gets week to week. He has suggested that the federal government has made it difficult to plan long-term for the state.

But we're also starting to hear some concerns from state leaders — including Senate President Karen Spilka, over the weekend — about the governor's phased approach to vaccine distribution, suggesting that it's confusing.

People don't know what to expect when they might be eligible, or even who or where to go or call to get information. So I think we will look this week to see if the governor has anything more to say about what Phase 2 of his plan will look like, and if there will be any modification.

Baker delivers his annual State of the Commonwealth address Tuesday night ahead of filing his 2022 budget proposal, expected Wednesday. Have you gotten any early reactions from lawmakers about that budget plan, after some of those numbers were released last week?

It's a bit of a wait-and-see. People want to see more of the details.

Lieutenant Governor Karyn Polito teased last week to municipal officials that local aid would increase. This is unrestricted local aid that would increase by about $36 million — a 3.5% increase, consistent with what they're projecting for state tax revenues.

In some respects, this is a good sign, because it's a return to normal for the governor. He routinely aligns growth and tax revenue projections with his budget allocation for local aid.

He also told the Massachusetts Municipal Association that he will fully fund the Student Opportunity Act, this major education funding reform that was passed in late 2019, but was sort of paused during the pandemic year of 2020.

But lawmakers, officials, education leaders are still waiting to see the actual dollar numbers attached to that full-funding pledge from the governor. More details to come Tuesday night in the governor's state of the state, and Wednesday when he files that budget.

Keep up here with Beacon Hill In 5.

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