Baker budget packed with policy proposals

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.

When Baker announced his revised fiscal 2021 budget proposal Wednesday, he included 118 “outside sections,” policy proposals inserted into the budget.

Some relate to budget initiatives – increasing ride-hailing fees, delaying the implementation of a state charitable deduction, accelerating sales tax collections, and establishing a tax credit for businesses that hire people with disabilities. But they also include a potpourri of other policy proposals, many of which were pulled from earlier bills that were never enacted.

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.

When Baker first tried to cap sick time accruals for state employees to 1,000 hours in 2016, it created controversy and got strong union pushback. By now, the pattern has been established over several years: Baker repeatedly introduces the proposal, as he did again this week, and lawmakers repeatedly ignore it.

SHIRA SCHOENBERG

 

FROM COMMONWEALTH

Massachusetts moves into high-risk COVID-19 territory, largely because 43 percent of the state’s cities and towns are seeing much higher infection rates. Lawrence is the most troubling.

Despite the pandemic, Gov. Charlie Baker proposes higher spending in fiscal 2021 and no new taxes.

Governor tells MBTA riders to get back on board. “I can’t think of a less risky activity,” he said.

Secretary of State William Galvin settles a lawsuit over voting access for people with disabilities.

The state’s housing courts gear up for an eviction rush, with interpreters, special days for people who speak different languages, and Zoom rooms.

FROM AROUND THE WEB             

 

BEACON HILL

Housing activists march to Gov. Charlie Baker’s home to urge him to support more robust protections for tenants and homeowners. (Associated Press) A Globe editorial says Baker’s eviction mitigation plan is a good start, but it needs more money and time. A Herald editorial says we should give the plan a try.

Attorney General Maura Healey and four district attorneys pledge to decline abortion-related prosecutions if Roe v Wade is overturned. (WBUR)

MUNICIPAL MATTERS

The Globe looks at revitalization efforts in Brockton, which stands out as a rare affordable community within easy reach of Boston. (Boston Globe)

After a weekend crowded with tourists, Salem officials are looking for new ways to control crowds during the pandemic. (The Salem News)

North Andover officials do not believe their town should be designated “red” because of an outbreak at Merrimack College. While several towns raised concerns that the designation reflects contained clusters — at a nursing home or college — Gov. Charlie Baker says it doesn’t make sense to change the model. (Eagle-Tribune)

A renovated Taunton City Hall reopens a decade after arson attack. (Taunton Gazette)

MGM Springfield, hurt by the coronavirus pandemic, owes the City of Springfield $2.3 million. (MassLive)

HEALTH/HEALTH CARE

Several Boston-area researchers are among the 80 scientists who signed on to a letter to The Lancet medical journal denouncing the idea of tackling the pandemic by allowing the population to acquire “herd immunity.” (Boston Globe) Some Great Barrington are none too happy about the herd immunity proposal that originated in their community and was named after it. (Berkshire Eagle)

An investigation digs into what went wrong at Orig3n in Boston, which was hired by the Department of Public Health to do COVID-19 testing and produced hundreds of inaccurate results. (MetroWest Daily News)

WASHINGTON/NATIONAL/INTERNATIONAL

The US Census count comes to an end today after the US Supreme Court ruled that the Commerce Department can end the census two weeks early. (Gloucester Daily Times)

NPR has the takeaways from Amy Coney Barrett’s confirmation hearings for the Supreme Court.

ELECTIONS

As in 2016, Republican Gov. Charlie Baker doesn’t plan to vote for fellow Republican Donald Trump for president. He isn’t saying whether he’ll vote for Joe Biden or blank the race. (MassLive)

A box of 500 envelopes for Massachusetts mail-in ballots — but not the ballots themselves — end up on the counter of a New Hampshire plumbing business. The store owner, citing President Trump, says it shows Massachusetts can’t handle mail-in voting. (Eagle-Tribune)

Tracy Lovvorn is making her second attempt at unseating US Rep. Jim McGovern. (Telegram & Gazette)

Republican Jerry McDermott of Westwood and Democrat Patrick McDermott of Quincy are facing off in a special election to become the Norfolk County sheriff. (Patriot Ledger)

Democratic enthusiasm appears to be driving a huge wave of early voting across the country. (Washington Post)

BUSINESS/ECONOMY

Despite the eviction ban, some landlords have been pressuring tenants to move out. (WBUR)

Businesses are facing a “perfect storm” of higher labor costs next year, with a minimum wage increase, a new paid leave law, rising health care costs and expected skyrocketing unemployment insurance costs. (The Salem News)

A Fall River businessman is peeved his company isn’t one of nine US businesses chosen to share $335 million worth of Department of Defense contracts to deliver 73 million COVID-19 resistant isolation gowns to the feds by January. (Herald News)

EDUCATION

A Suffolk Superior Court judge denied an injunction request from the Boston Teachers Union to allow teachers to work remotely whenever the city’s coronavirus positive test rate exceeds 4 percent. (Boston Globe)

A 15-year-old Shrewsbury high schooler starts a website to track COVID-19 cases at schools nationwide, but finds that the data can be hard to get. (MassLive)

ARTS/CULTURE

Peter DuBois, the artistic director at the Huntington Theatre, resigns with little explanation. There had been concerns raised about layoffs falling most heavily on minorities. (WBUR)

Director and producer Bernardo Ruiz aims to highlight the diversity of Latino voters in his documentary, Latino Vote: Dispatches from the Battleground. (NPR)

ENERGY/ENVIRONMENT

Worcester is no longer taking drinking water from the Quinapoxet Reservoir because the water level is so low. (Telegram & Gazette)

With other activities curtailed by the pandemic, hiking in New Hampshire’s White Mountains has gained in popularity, and with it has come an increase in emergency calls for help from those outmatched by the terrain. (Boston Globe)

East Boston residents and elected officials ripped Eversource’s plans for a power substation in their neighborhood during a Boston Conservation Commission hearing. (Boston Herald)

Cape Cod Commission, a regional planning agency, is taking steps to develop a Climate Action Plan for area municipalities to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and plan for adaptations that will be needed to protect property and businesses. (Cape Cod Times)

The Great Barrier Reef has lost half its corals. (New York Times)

CRIMINAL JUSTICE/COURTS

The man accused of breaking into Gov. Charlie Baker’s house has a lengthy criminal record, and has been sued civilly. Questions remain about how he was able to enter Baker’s house despite the presence of Baker’s security detail, and why he was only arrested two days later at the senior living complex where he lives. (Gloucester Daily Times)

MEDIA

The Atlantic launches Planet, a vertical and newsletter combo devoted exclusively to climate change. (Nieman Journalism Lab)

PASSINGS

Jake Kennedy, founder of the Christmas in the City charity that raised thousands of dollars each year to buy holiday gifts for poor children, died at age 65 of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or ALS. (Boston Globe)