Who’s keeping whom in check on Beacon Hill?

Massachusetts, the old adage goes, elects Republican governors to keep the free-spending Democrats on Beacon Hill in check. But lately it seems like the roles are reversed.

Every chance Gov. Charlie Baker gets he pushes the Legislature to move faster to spend the $4.8 billion the federal government has given the state to deal with the fallout of COVID-19. He believes speed is of the essence to revive the economy and to set in motion transformative change. Top lawmakers are more cautious; they say such funding is extremely rare and they want to make the right choices.

On Monday, the state’s Big 3 (Baker, Senate President Karen Spilka, and House Speaker Ronald Mariano) met privately and then answered questions from reporters, many of which had to do with the timetable for the federal money.

Spilka and Mariano spoke in broad terms. They said their branches are holding their final hearing on what to do with the federal funds Tuesday and the goal is to have a spending plan in place for at least part of the money by November 17. 

Spilka said the hearings have shown the state’s $47.6 billion budget is not covering all of the state’s needs. “One thing that these hearings have made so clear is that there are so many urgent needs in Massachusetts. There are so many areas, whether it be housing or climate. There is also incredible need in the mental health area, public health. I could just go on and on,” she said.

Mariano said there is no consensus yet on spending priorities or the spending timetable. The federal funds must be spent by 2026.

Baker warned against delaying too long, noting an appropriation of the money would only be the start of a long spending process. “It doesn’t happen overnight,” he said. 

The governor said addressing the state’s climate infrastructure, building new housing, and helping first-time homebuyers will take time. “We have one of the largest, if not the largest, gaps between White-Black home ownership of any state in the country,” he said.

“I certainly get and understand the Legislature’s desire to deliberate on this, and I certainly learned a lot from the testimony that’s been offered, but at the same time I would say a lot of the folks who testified testified on behalf of a lot of the elements and stuff that we proposed back in May,” he said.

Spilka quickly moved to the microphone and said it was important to listen to the public. She also said the deliberations on Beacon Hill are taking place while lawmakers in Washington are trying to decide whether to pass an infrastructure bill.

“Particularly things like culverts or other areas might be included in the infrastructure bill so there is a feeling that as we’re doing this it’s also giving the federal government time to finalize their bill so if we are getting money directly from the federal government on some of those areas we don’t duplicate the spending,” she said. 

“I’ll end this little debate by saying I’m unbelievably excited that I heard one of the leaders of the Legislature use the word culvert,” Baker said.

BRUCE MOHL 

 

FROM COMMONWEALTH

No toll hikes: Senate President Karen Spilka scored a major political victory when the Baker administration said tolls on the Massachusetts Turnpike would not be increased to help pay for the $1.7 billion I-90 Allston project. Spilka is passionate about the toll issue, believing her constituents west of Boston are unfairly singled out for the repair and upkeep of the Turnpike. Read more.

Help for the 413: State Auditor Suzanne Bump documents the dire state of infrastructure in Western Massachusetts and urges the Legislature to address the situation using federal funds from the American Rescue Plan Act. Read more.

Shift in horse funding: With thoroughbred racehorses out of action in Massachusetts and horse racing funds provided by casinos continuing to grow, a pot of cash is building that will only be partially reduced by the shift of more money to Plainridge Race Course in Plainville. Read more. 

OPINION

ICU space tight: In a Q&A with Paul Hattis, Dr. Jarone Lee of Massachusetts General Hospital explains why ICUs are so full right now and provides updates on COVID treatments. Read more.

 

FROM AROUND THE WEB

 

BEACON HILL

Gov. Charlie Baker signed a new law changing the order in which the Legislature and municipalities will draw their new electoral districts. (State House News Service)

Terrence Reidy is appointed as the new secretary of public safety and security. (MassLive)

Massachusetts Democrats push for more efforts to help incarcerated people vote. The advocacy group, Democracy Behind Bars Coalition, describes enfranchisement for the incarcerated as an issue of racial and social justice. (GBH)

Advocates are pushing for the passage of a new “right to repair” bill for electronic equipment. (Gloucester Daily Times)

MUNICIPAL MATTERS  

Suffolk DA Rachael Rollins said the situation at Mass and Cass has become “untenable” and some tents set up in the squalor there must go. (Boston Herald) Attorney General Maura Healey said Suffolk County Sheriff Steve Tompkins’s idea of using surplus space at the South Bay House of Correction as an addiction treatment center needs to be one option “on the table.” (Boston Globe

The Milford Select Board fires Police Chief Michael Pighetti in connection with a traffic stop he conducted while lacking the police powers to do so. Pighetti, who had not taken the state’s police academic course, said the car he pulled over ran a red light and almost hit a number of cars. (Metrowest Daily News)

In a raucous meeting, the Sturbridge city council votes to hire a new deputy fire chief, then hours later rescinds that vote. (MassLive)

HEALTH/HEALTH CARE

J&J asks the FDA to approve a second dose of its COVID-19 vaccine. (Associated Press)

Baystate Health vaccine mandate takes effect, with 99 percent of employees in compliance. At Cooley Dickinson Hospital, the percentage was 91 percent. (Daily Hampshire Gazette)

ELECTIONS

Gail Huff, a former Channel 5 news reporter and the wife of former Massachusetts senator Scott Brown, announced her candidacy for the Republican nomination for the US House seat held by Democrat Chris Pappas in New Hampshire. (Boston Herald

BUSINESS/ECONOMY

Facebook and many of its apps went down for hours on Monday. (New York Times)

Fidelity Investments CEO Abby Johnson said nearly a quarter of the company’s 52,000 employees have voluntarily returned to in-person work at their office at least part-time. (Boston Globe

An Abington pot purveyor says he’s committed to selling “affordable” cannabis. (The Enterprise

EDUCATION

Experts worry about a growing gender gap on campus, with more women than men attending college. (Telegram & Gazette)

Boston has made little progress over the last decade in boosting educator diversity in its public school system. (Boston Globe

ENERGY/ENVIRONMENT

The New Yorker examines the prospects for nuclear fusion, focusing primarily on efforts by a startup affiliated with MIT. 

Massachusetts companies are reducing the amount of toxic chemicals they use, according to a new state environmental report. (Gloucester Daily Times)

CRIMINAL JUSTICE/COURTS

The US Supreme Court will not hear an appeal in a case that affirmed Gov. Charlie Baker’s authority to impose COVID-related restrictions on businesses and gatherings. (Associated Press)

The former president of the largest Boston police union agrees to plead guilty in an overtime scandal in which officers lied about their hours worked. (MassLive)