Baker budget packed with policy proposals
Some deal with pressing matters; other unlikely to go anywhere
GOV. CHARLIE BAKER said Wednesday he understands why lawmakers are taking a long time to negotiate the bills currently pending in conference committees, covering topics from police reform to economic development to health care to transportation.
“They all passed bills that were conceptually consistent with each other but had a heck of a lot of details in each of them that were different,” Baker said. While he would “love to see many enacted sooner,” the governor said he respects the “difficult conversations.”
But that doesn’t mean Baker plans to wait for those bills to get his policy priorities passed. Instead, he’s pinning his hopes on the state budget.
Secretary of Administration and Finance Michael Heffernan said some came from the governor’s health care bill and others from his transportation bond bill, versions of which are pending in conference committees. A lot were left over from the governor’s January budget bill, and others are perennial initiatives the governor has never previously been able to get passed.
Some have potential – if tenuous — budgetary ties, like letting the state charge the decommissioned Pilgrim Nuclear Power Station for costs related to radiation monitoring and emergency planning, or increasing penalties on natural gas companies for safety violations. Others, less so.
On health care, Baker is reviving proposals to let MassHealth negotiate more drug rebates, to prohibit insurers from charging more because a medical or behavioral health service took place the same day as another visit, to penalize drug manufacturers that raise prices excessively, and to create a universal application for health care providers to join the networks of MassHealth and commercial insurers. A provision included in another bill related to the Department of Children and Families would restructure a team examining child fatalities.
Baker is reprising a provision from an old road safety bill to let the Department of Transportation set speed limits in construction zones and increase related fines. Also transportation-related, he wants to create metrics to standardize how Regional Transit Authorities are funded.
Heffernan described some of the new items as urgent matters – presumably things like Baker’s proposal to give the Department of Public Health more authority over nursing home licensing or to create a COVID-19 recovery fund for early education providers.But others seem far from urgent: Repealing a blue law to “allow the hunting of deer by bow and arrow on Sundays” or repealing a prohibition on catching edible crabs from coastal waters between January and April.
Others are perennial retreads that appear no more likely to pass this year than previously. A 15 percent excise tax on manufacturers of opioid medications got a lot of attention when Baker introduced it in 2019. But lawmakers declined to pass it then, and although it is included in an outside section in this year’s budget, it did not merit a mention in Baker’s press conference, and the budget does not rely on any revenue from it.