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Gov. Healey focuses on housing, education in State of the Commonwealth address

Massachusetts Gov. Maura Healey delivers her first State of the Commonwealth Address in the House Chambers of the Massachusetts State House. (Photo by Barry Chin/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)
Massachusetts Gov. Maura Healey delivers her first State of the Commonwealth Address in the House Chambers of the Massachusetts State House. (Photo by Barry Chin/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)

Citing efforts to ease financial pressures on housing, child care and education, Gov. Maura Healey focused on creating a more affordable Massachusetts during her first State of the Commonwealth address.

The speech, delivered Wednesday evening, bounced between hailing the accomplishments of her first year and setting the agenda for her second, and was laden with specific figures and pitches for new legislation.

“A year ago, you put your trust in us,” Healey said. “We have worked, every day, to try to live up to it. And we have been guided by this truth: Behind every decision we make is a person — a student, a family, a small business owner, a senior. That’s who our work is for.”

She touted a series of tax cuts passed after months of wrangling in the Legislature, even as her administration now grapples with a $1 billion revenue shortfall.

“That’s right, we cut taxes in Massachusetts for the first time in 20 years,” she said. “You’ll see the savings when you file your returns in April.”

Healey pledged to introduce a $4 billion housing package, which would include breaks for first-time homebuyers and expand affordable housing. The legislation, which Healey unveiled in October, would provide a combination of new spending on housing, changes in public policy and tax credits to help people buy homes.

“If you’re born here or come to school here, I want you staying here,” she said. “If you run a business here, I want you to expand and hire employees who can afford to live here. Let’s pass this bill and get going.”

Healey also touched on her early education plan, which she introduced Tuesday. The initiative includes $114 million in new spending and would help provide free pre-K education in the state’s Gateway Cities, and raise the income floor to qualify for child care assistance.

“Let’s have universal pre-K access for every 4-year-old in our state,” she said. “By 2026, we will guarantee access to high-quality, affordable preschool for every 4-year-old in all 26 Gateway Cities. That means a seat in a classroom for over 23,000 children. And we won’t stop there.”

Healey also announced a program aimed at improving literacy among the state’s students.

“On last year’s MCAS, a majority of our third-graders were not meeting expectations in English Language Arts,” she said. “That number reflects social inequities. It also reflects the fact that many districts are using out-of-date, disproven methods to teach reading.”

The “Literacy Launch” initiative would provide up-to-date reading materials and lesson plans to schools.

“Over the next five years, backed by budget investments, we will make the best reading materials available to more districts. Schools using the right materials are seeing major gains,” Healey said. “We can bring that impact to every classroom. We will also mandate that educator training programs teach evidence-based instruction. And we’ll support our teachers in adopting best practices every step of the way.”

Healey said she would expand a program that allows high school students to earn college credits, and another that provides job and trade training.

Massachusetts has netted more than $3 billion in federal funding for infrastructure, including money to help rebuild the Cape Cod bridges and “advance” east-west rail across the state. She also lauded new MBTA General Manager Phillip Eng for hiring close to 1,500 new workers and eliminating some of the so-called “slow zones” plaguing the subway system. (Eng unveiled a plan in November that involves a series of shutdowns across the system for repairs to eliminate the speed restrictions by the end of 2024.)

Healey pledged to build on those road and rail gains in the coming year.

“We’ll increase funding for local roads and bridges to record levels, with special investments dedicated to rural communities,” she said. “We’ll double our support for MBTA operations, and tackle deferred maintenance, to build a system worthy of our economy. And we will establish a permanent, reduced fare for low-income T riders and continue affordable options at regional transit authorities.”

She also pledged to develop a plan to fund transportation and its conversion to clean energy.

“Under my administration, we will not kick this can down the road any longer,” Healey said.

Healey briefly touched on migration into the state, which has stressed the state’s shelter program and is costing hundreds of millions of dollars. She demanded that Congress help to address the situation, because “Massachusetts did not create this problem.” She also said the state’s work authorization clinic has helped 3,000 migrants find work.

Citing projects like ARPA-H and the Microelectronics Hub as examples, Healey said she wants to expand on the success Massachusetts has experienced in bringing biotechnology and climate-focused businesses into the state. That includes expanding climate technology and building on the “Climate Corridor” idea she announced during her inaugural address in 2023.

“You can see it coming to life. Look at Commonwealth Fusion — a clean-energy innovator started at MIT, now with 500 employees in Devens,” Healey said, also noting Sublime Systems, a Somerville startup bringing low-carbon building materials and 70 manufacturing jobs to Holyoke, with state partnership.

Offshore wind is part of that plan, she said. With Vineyard Wind’s first turbines now active, Healey said Massachusetts will review potential wind projects that could power a quarter of the state’s electricity needs.

“We can land scallops and we can land megawatts as well,” she said.

After a year of massive rain and flooding events, the governor pledged to devote resources to securing homes, improving dams and rivers, and ensuring quick reaction times to water emergencies.

“This is what it looks like when old infrastructure meets today’s storms,” she said. “Severe weather isn’t going away any time soon.”

Citing the Massachusetts State House as a backdrop to great moments in American history, Healey said the state will ensure it brings people together to “make America’s founding promise real for all our people.”

“It’s who we are,” she said. “And it’s why, whatever happens in national politics, Massachusetts will defend democracy. More than that, we will live democracy, and show how it works. We will take on our toughest challenges by making sure every voice is heard, every community seen, and every step we take, we take together.”

Healey will need help from the Legislature to move her priorities forward.

House Speaker Ron Mariano had high praise for Healey’s address.

“It was a great speech, very enthusiastic, very energetic, with a lot of great ideas,” he said.

Senate President Karen Spilka said she agreed with many of the governor’s proposals, especially on supporting the development of affordable housing.

“No matter where we go, what area of the state, we hear we need more housing, housing, housing,” she said.

However, both leaders said they would not consider raising taxes to pay for any new proposals outlined in the speech.

That sentiment was echoed among those more critical of Healey’s speech. Republican Brad Jones, the House minority leader, said the state doesn’t have the money for big new programs.

“There were a lot of ambitious goals laid out that to jive with the fact that we just instituted 9C cuts two weeks ago, don’t jive with the fact that the migrant issue is going to upwards of a billion dollars going forward,” he said “and how we’re going to be able to afford to do that.”

Worcester Sen. Peter Durant gave the Republican party’s official response to Healey’s speech.

He says the state has become unaffordable, and residents are being priced out. Durant pointed to the recent tax revenue shortfall, and subsequent budget cuts.

“These cuts slashed nearly 4 million from our cities and towns affecting services that they provide to their residents. This burden becomes personal when we have to inform our city and town leaders of these cuts,” he said. “They then begin to distrust the commitments made by the administration.”

Durant says more people will continue to leave the state if leaders fail to address Massachusetts’ high cost of living.

This web story was written by WBUR’s Roberto Scalese, and the audio story atop the page was reported by WBUR’s Walter Wuthmann.

This article was originally published on WBUR.org.
Copyright 2024 WBUR. To see more, visit WBUR.

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