Baker’s unkept promise

The then-candidate pledged to bring environmental spending to 1 percent

IN THE SUMMER of 2014, then-candidate Charlie Baker made a pledge to the environmental community.  He walked into a large hall at Suffolk University Law School, filled with hundreds of voters interested in his position on the issues.  The audience shared one simple interest, adequate state funding for state agencies charged with environmental protection. 

While every public interest group begs for more government money, the environmental budget was dire.  Massachusetts was spending less than 1 percent of our state budget on environmental protection, and environmental agencies were bordering on the dysfunctional.

In 2008, the Commonwealth had passed two landmark pieces of legislation.  The Global Warming Solutions Act required us to reduce our carbon pollution by 25 percent by 2020 and by 80 percent by 2050.  And the Green Communities Act required utilities to invest in energy efficiency and renewable energy before adding more fossil fuels to the portfolio.  An ambitious agenda.

At the very same time, we disproportionately cut agency budgets.  In fact, since 2008 we have cut the staffs of the Department of Conservation and Recreation and the Department of Environmental Protection by 30 percent.  The result:  We’re giving away parklands because we cannot maintain them, we’re slow to clean contaminated sites to revitalize urban areas, we’re not adequately protecting our coastline from storm erosion, and we will likely not meet the mandated 2020 deadline for reducing our carbon footprint.

On that summer day in 2014, candidate Baker was locked in a tight race for governor.  He needed our votes. The environmental community eagerly gathered to hear what he had to say.  Across the Commonwealth, the hundreds of thousands of nonpartisan members that belonged to the Environmental League of MA, Mass Audubon, Sierra Club and other organizations hoped he would be supportive.  Charlie Baker was a former Secretary of Administration and Finance, and the one thing he clearly understood was the budget.

The theme of the 2014 forum was simply “1 percent for the Environment.”  The question was whether Charlie Baker would pledge his support for 1 percent, or duck it?  To almost everyone’s surprise and gratitude, Baker pledged to increase state spending on the environment to 1 percent, albeit over four years.  Kudos for Baker.  We were prepared to be patient and wait.

It’s now almost four years later.  This week we’re revealing the “Green Budget FY ‘19”.  We’re moving in the wrong direction.  State spending on the environment is only HALF of 1 percent.

We understand rising healthcare costs consume much of the state budget.  But it would not take much to reach 1 percent of the budget to safeguard our coastline, beaches, rivers and parks.  Winter storms are more violent than ever.  Sea levels are rising.  And a pledge is a pledge.  Will the governor honor his?

Elizabeth Henry is the President of the Environmental League of MA.  George Bachrach is the former president of the Environmental League of MA and chairs the board of the ELM Action Fund.

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