Sun Spots with Hitch [Vol. 182]: Pedestrian safety at a crossroads

Much attention was paid last week to the safety — or lack thereof — of the city’s bustling byways, boulevards and thoroughfares.

One city councilor, possibly driving for pole position in what could be a contentious election this fall, suggested a reduced speed limit, while an independent study showed Worcester to have the most dangerous intersections in the Bay State.

Hitch, of course, always draws his own conclusions.

Baker cuts $320M from budget, digs in on MassHealth reform [+ video]

BOSTON — Almost two weeks ago, the Democrat-controlled Legislature approved what would be the state’s first budget in excess of $40 billion.

Republican Gov. Charlie Baker said not so fast Monday to the already scaled back $40.2 billion spending plan.

Baker planned to sign a budget for fiscal 2018 that includes $39.4 billion in spending after he vetoed $320 million from the plan, and went even further than House and Senate budget negotiators to revise tax revenue projections downward for this year by $749 million.

The governor also returned to the Legislature a new assessment on employers that he initially proposed to help pay for growing MassHealth expenses, calling on lawmakers to act quickly to package the $200 million in new employer fees with MassHealth reforms that lawmakers laid aside during budget deliberations.

Watch: Baker and Polito press conference on fiscal 2018 budget

Baker’s budget vetoes hit Worcester hard

Worcester’s four members of the state House of Representatives last week issued a statement trumpeting a number of spending priorities they were able to include in what was to be the state’s first $40 billion budget.

“I am very pleased with the budget put forth by the House this year, which demonstrates our commitment to exercising fiscal responsibility while making meaningful investments in programs and services that our constituents rely on most,” Rep. Dan Donahue said in the July 12 press release.

By the time Gov. Charlie Baker was through cutting more than $320 million and adjusting tax revenue projections Monday, the Legislature’s proposed $40.2 billion plan had been reined in to a $39.4 billion package — and eight of the 14 “budget priorities” totaling $535,000 in funds highlighted by the city’s delegation were among the vetoes, according to Erik Mayberg, chief of staff for Rep. John Mahoney.

Among the cuts were allocations to community center programs in a trio of the city’s most vulnerable neighborhoods, plus earmarks for UMass Memorial Medical Center and the Worcester Public Library’s bookmobile program.

She’s always been a hustler: The Soofi family story

Imrana Soofi and her two sons, Ali and Shahbaz, are many things. They are Bengali-Americans, with Imrana immigrating here to the United States in 1981 as a young girl. They are Muslims. They are entrepreneurs, hustlers, inspiring hard-workers and, perhaps most of all, givers.

Editorial: A week’s worth of fireworks in Worcester

Worcester just enjoyed a week of dazzlers — and that’s not even counting Friday’s Independence Day fireworks display.

The succession of positive news flashes runs the gamut, and in some cases calls for patience or for optimism tempered by caution. But in the glow of a holiday stretch and with summer just getting started, we might as well sit back and enjoy it.

In terms of practicality and overall impact, the Central Building at 332 Main St. may be the biggest cause for celebration in Worcester’s good-news week.

Until a couple of years ago, the former office building had been on the demolition list. On Wednesday, the state announced that it will help redevelop it for housing. Of 55 apartments planned, 14 will be “workforce housing,” meaning they will go to people who have jobs but still can’t afford market-rate rents.

On Beacon Hill: A watched pot never boils

Recap and analysis of the week in local, state and federal government
from State House News Service

BOSTON — The Fourth of July holiday, with any luck, may be just the dash of salt legislative negotiators need to bring to a simmer deals over a new annual budget and marijuana legalization legislation that proved elusive as the hours peeled away on fiscal 2017.

Shuffling off into the weekend, tails tucked between their legs, important decisions hanging over their heads, not even the enticement of fireworks, parades and an unencumbered four-day break could pull a compromise out of the back rooms of the State House, where frustration between the branches was mounting.

Two issues were in play this week, both with looming — if inconsequential — deadlines. Anticipation, unrequited, was high.

The new fiscal year began Saturday, but with an interim budget in place to pay $5.5 billion worth of bills in July, state lawmakers had the luxury of not trying to rush a deal if there was no deal to be made. Not only are lawmakers trying to decide what to do with Gov. Charlie Baker’s comprehensive Medicaid reform plan dropped on the conference committee last week, but unreliable tax projections have complicated the math.

As for the overhaul of the voter-approved marijuana legalization law, the House and Senate have been at odds over taxes, local control of the siting of retail shops, and the makeup of a regulatory panel known as the Cannabis Control Commission.

Leadership of the House and Senate set an artificial deadline of June 30 to complete their work, but nothing happens if talks spill over into next week, or the week after that.

The tax rate, according to some close to the negotiations, remained at least one of the sticking points, with the House entering talks at 28 percent and the Senate asking for an unchanged 12 percent tax rate, as prescribed in the ballot law.

Asked if a deal over marijuana was imminent late Friday afternoon, Sen. Patricia Jehlen, D-Somerville, shrugged. “How should I know?” said one of the few people actually in a position to be able to answer that question with any authority.

As Beacon Hill waited, last week provided enough actual news to fill what Gov. Baker described in an interview with State House News Service as the “black hole” that is the conference process.

President Donald Trump left mouths, including Baker’s, slack-jawed by the cruelty of his Twitter fusillade against MSNBC host Mika Brzezinski last week; Eversource and National Grid shelved plans to bring a $3.2 billion natural gas pipeline into New England; state Revenue Commissioner Michael Heffernan revoked a directive that would have required many online retailers to begin collecting sales taxes on July 1; and long-serving Education Commissioner Mitchell Chester passed away after a battle with cancer.

— Matt Murphy

ALSO ON THE AGENDA

  • Senate again passes bill to ban device use while driving
  • Warren tweaks CEOs on health care, Polito lauds Worcester investment
  • Eldridge teams up with Republican to close healthcare loophole
  • State rebuffs White House election panel’s request for voter information

Inbox [July 2-8]: News and notes from Zipcar, South High, Armory Business Center, Worcester Public Library, WPS, POW! WOW! Worcester

Have news you or your group would like to share? Let us know by emailing it to info@worcester.ma. Be sure to include a link to the full release on your site or Facebook page so we can include it and send Sun members your way.

Zipcar launches in Worcester

Zipcar, the world’s leading car-sharing network, announced a partnership with the city of Worcester to bring its “wheels when you want them” membership service to area residents, businesses, visitors and students.

Six Zipcars are available for reservation by the hour or by the day in easily accessible locations downtown. The vehicles are parked in designated spots for convenient pickup and drop-off and can be reserved on Zipcar’s mobile app, online or over the phone.

The Zipcar Worcester fleet features a variety of makes and models. Each reservation includes gas, insurance and 180 miles of driving per day.

“We’re excited to bring Zipcar to Worcester as part of the city’s growing transportation network,” said Chris Moulding, Zipcar regional community marketing manager.

In Worcester, battle for pedicab supremacy is afoot

The race is on for local bike taxi companies to get the official “green light” from City Hall to hit Worcester streets this summer. But with the support of key city influencers, one enterprising firm appears to have a head start.

Otherwise known as “pedicabs,” these bicycle-towed taxis are aimed at the city’s high-traffic nightlife areas in hopes to help bar and restaurant hoppers beat the heat.

“I think [bike taxis] would be big for Worcester. Just being out and around, I think it would be easy to jump in an open-air cab to take you to the end of the street so you don’t have to move the car. They’re very popular in bigger cities, and I know they will be popular here — especially getting between the major nightlife areas,” said Jason Grayson, president of Worcester Pedal Bike Company.

Inbox [June 28]: News and notes from Worcester Regional Airport, city of Worcester, Anna Maria and Worcester Public Library

Have news you or your group would like to share? Let us know by emailing it to info@worcester.ma. Be sure to include a link to the full release on your site or Facebook page so we can include it and send Sun members your way.

Airport gains Worcester-Cape Cod flights

Rectrix Aviation announced the launch of a Worcester-to-Hyannis passenger flight with a ribbon cutting at Worcester Regional Airport.

Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito, Massport CEO Thomas Glynn and Rectrix CEO Richard Cawley were on hand to mark the expansion of the Rectrix Cape Cod shuttle. They were joined by Worcester Airport Director Andy Davis, Worcester County Sheriff Lew Evangelidis and Worcester Regional Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Timothy P. Murray.

The shuttle service debuts tomorrow afternoon with the maiden flight arriving in Worcester at approximately 3:30 p.m. with Boston Bruins legend Bobby Orr as its first passenger.