Healey setting new tone with Legislature

At budget hearing, she signals willingness to listen, collaborate

AFTER EIGHT YEARS working with Republican Gov. Charlie Baker, everyone wondered how the Democrat-dominated Legislature would get along with Gov. Maura Healey.

Judging from the governor’s presentation of her budget to a joint hearing of the House and Senate budget committees on Tuesday, it appears the relationship with her fellow Democrats is off to a good start.

Healey came across as respectful of the Legislature’s role. She mentioned several times that she doesn’t have all the answers. She signaled a willingness to listen and collaborate with legislators on legislation. There was almost no tension during the lengthy hearing.

Sen. Cindy Friedman of Arlington, chair of the Legislature’s Health Care Financing Committee and a vice chair of the Senate Ways and Means Committee, asked the governor what was in her tax relief plan to help people like her chief of staff who is paying $33,000 a year for child care.

“I understand your concerns. I share your concerns,” Healey said. “I personally support universal pre-K; this doesn’t accomplish that. This doesn’t expand the number of child care seats, which is necessary for what families are dealing with right now.”

Gov. Maura Healey greets Senate Ways and Means Committee chair Michael Rodrigues (right) and vice chair Cindy Friedman (center) ahead of the first hearing on the fiscal year 2024 budget bill. (Photo by Chris Lisinski/SHNS)

Friedman said after the hearing that she has noticed a change in dealing with members of the Healey administration.

“We had several conversations in the health care space with people in the administration who had some ideas and they wanted to talk about them,” she said. “That’s really different from my many, many years here before where things would happen and we would get told. We would get told. This was much more ‘we want your feedback on this.’ Maybe that’s because they’re new, but the people who came to us were not neophytes in terms of the issues. It was very noticeable.”

Sen. Liz Miranda of Boston raised questions about the lack of educational programming in the state’s prisons, which house 6,000 people.

“This is an area that will require more work on our part,” Healey said. “We don’t pretend to come with a single answer to all of this but with a willingness to work together on addressing this.”

Healey was asked about the lack of behavioral health services in many parts of the state. “I didn’t come before you today with all the answers,” she said. “It might be we can’t do enough.”

Rep. Russell Holmes of Boston said the state should consider moving the Department of Correction out of the public safety secretariat and into health and human services, largely because so many inmates are dealing with mental health and addiction issues. He also called for more furloughs and free prison phone calls.

“These are conversations that we need to get to sooner rather than later,” Holmes said.

“I’m glad you raised all of this,” Healey said. “I want to engage.”