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Vaccine Rollout Has Some Unhappy With Baker Administration

Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker.
Stuart Cahill
Boston Herald / Pool / State House News Service
Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker.

From lawmakers to seniors to local officials, Massachusetts residents have plenty to say about the Baker administration's rollout of the coronavirus vaccine, and little of it has been positive.

This will be a big week for COVID-19 vaccine rollout in the state, with people 75 and over eligible for the shot. But many have been unable to navigate the state's website to register, and many others haven't been able to find an available appointment. 

Matt Murphy of the State House New Service joins us to talk about the week ahead in government and politics.

Adam Frenier, NEPM: There's a lot of heat on Governor Baker over the vaccine rollout. What has he promised to do?

Matt Murphy, State House News Service: There is a lot of heat on the governor, and a lot of pressure to get this up and running this week. Of course, the snowstorm not going to make that easier.

Fenway Park is opening today as one of the new mass vaccination sites. So we'll see how smoothly that runs.

The governor has also said that, and admitted that he wishes he had in place a call center earlier for people who are having trouble navigating the online appointment system, or simply have questions, could call and get those answered.

He is expected to announce more details, but said he would hope to have a new call center set up this week to assist both the Phase 1 eligible people — including first responders, home health care workers and others — and the newly-eligible 75-and-older crowd. So we're looking for that to become operational this week.

There's also been criticism from Democratic Attorney General Maura Healey. She's noted the governor's past reluctance to let folks call in for assistance on other issues. Baker has stayed quite popular during this pandemic — but could this be a turning point for his administration if he's able to fix these problems, or not?

It could be. And this is the other point of criticism that the governor has faced, not having a centralized vaccination registration system like other states have.

State Senator Eric Lesser and others have filed legislation to force him to do that. More than 70 lawmakers, both Democrats and Republicans, have signed on to that legislation.

Attorney General Healey is among those saying there should be a one-stop shop for people to type in their ZIP code, find a place close to them and preregister, and be notified when they could get an appointment.

The governor has built a reputation as being this technocrat, this Mr. Fix-It, who is focused and attuned to all these details. And his inability to anticipate some of these issues arising is a challenge for his administration, one that he is going to have to face quickly if he is thinking about a third term.

The governor filed his annual budget proposal last week that increases education spending. Then, during a public health emergency, it also actually cuts total state spending. So what are those cuts, and what are lawmakers going to push back on?

We haven't seen a budget quite like this in a long time on Beacon Hill — one that actually proposes to reduce spending from the previous year. But last year's budget was really supported by federal relief aid. More could be coming.

There's also a lot of use of reserves in this budget. The big cut that we're seeing is in the MassHealth Medicaid program, which probably is due to reduced caseloads, fewer people coming on to that program.

But there are other cuts sprinkled throughout the budget, despite when you subtract MassHealth from the equation — spending overall going up by 1%. There's less money. For instance, for the Mass. Cultural Councils, there's been some cuts for youth jobs, which has been criticized by advocates. And then there's other places where money is being moved around. For instance, it looks like the Mass. Bureau of Substance [Addiction] Services is taking a cut. But overall, the governor says substance use and recovery spending is up about $30 million.

So there's a lot to digest in this budget, and the House will get the next crack at it over the next couple of months.

And finally, Matt, there's been a call for more transparency in the state House of Representatives. At the beginning of each new session. There's usually House debates and they set the new rules for the upcoming session. But with a pandemic going on and the new speaker in charge, that hasn't been happening, at least not for now.Matt, what have we been hearing about the discussion coming up in the session?

The chance for a new speaker to reform some of these rules as seen by advocates as a big opportunity. Speaker Mariano pushing that off now until July, extending the pandemic rules that allow members to vote and participate remotely, that makes sense, members say. The question is, how committed is the new speaker to transparency reform? We saw one minor tweak he made right away, making sure that the roll call votes are posted online as soon as they're taken in the chamber. That was welcomed. But, the speaker asking for his rules committee to do a thorough review, advocates not all pleased that he's postponed what is usually the first thing out of the gate that members do.

And he's also included this review by the Rules Committee of how members interact with what he calls these opaque outside groups, some of which have been pushing for rules reform. And, this is an unusual step the speaker is taking to review these groups and create a set of recommendations for how members take meetings with these groups, for instance, and interact as they're not exactly sure who's in these large coalition organizations, such as Act Mass, the Raise Up Massachusetts Coalition or the Massachusetts Fiscal Alliance.

Keep up here with Beacon Hill In 5.

Adam joined NEPM as a freelance reporter and fill-in operations assistant during the summer of 2011. For more than 15 years, Adam has had a number stops throughout his broadcast career, including as a news reporter and anchor, sports host and play-by-play announcer as well as a producer and technician.
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