Recap and analysis of the week in local, state and federal government from State House News Service and Sun research.
Storm clouds were moving in, literally and figuratively, when Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker walked out of Faneuil Hall and met the quartet of reporters waiting by his car last Wednesday morning.
After the governor posed for a photo with a group attending the Recovery Day event he just addressed while taking a few questions, his press aide told the reporters the governor had to get going and had time for just one last question.
Baker added as the wind picked up, “it’s also going to start raining on all of us.”
The literal storm clouds threatening to drench that cobblestone scrum were from Jose, the spitfire tropical storm moving up from the south. Behind that storm loomed the specter of another redrafted Obamacare repeal bill in Congress that could harm Massachusetts to the tune of billions of dollars — this one taking the name Graham-Cassidy — on its way to the Senate floor in Washington, D.C.
“Graham-Cassidy would be, as it’s currently conceived … a huge problem for the commonwealth of Mass.,” said Baker, the popular governor whose party has been promising to pass such a bill for years. “And it’s my hope that it doesn’t pass.”
About five miles away in Chelsea last week, U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren warned of a “staggeringly irresponsible” bill that would turn Medicaid into a block-grant program and reduce federal funding to Massachusetts, according to the senator, by an estimated $5 billion over 10 years.
“We are looking at the perfect storm in terms of education budgets in the coming year,” Chelsea schools Superintendent Mary Bourque said, not in reference to the approaching tropical storm. Graham-Cassidy would result in a loss of $700,000 in Medicaid reimbursements that go into her school budget, she said.
(With U.S. Sen. John McCain’s Friday announcement that he would not be supporting the Graham-Cassidy bill, the forecast for Bay State health care — and Baker’s popularity — got a bit sunnier. If only for a while.)
In about 13 months, Baker and Warren will most likely be the highest-profile candidates on their respective party’s ticket. But last week, with the threat of block-granting Medicaid bearing down, they were on the same page.
The Republican governor has joined with Bay State Democrats in resisting GOP-sponsored healthcare bills targeting Obamacare, a position that U.S. Senate Democrats have made part of their resistance to the new GOP bill.
Baker’s friends in the GOP, such as South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham, are using Massachusetts as leverage to try to drum up support for the bill.
“Four states under Obamacare get 40 percent of the money — New York, California, Massachusetts and Maryland,” Graham said. “If that bothers you, this is a chance to do something about it.”
The U.S. Senate, despite the McCain blockbuster, is still planning to vote on Graham-Cassidy this week, before the Sept. 30 deadline to pass a repeal bill with a simple majority. At the end of the week, depending on how the Senate votes, only one of the following will be cheering: the Republican Party or Baker, a GOP member.
While Baker still hasn’t said whether he is going to run for reelection next year, plenty of others have turned their sights to the 2018 election.
Activists are trying to compel action on a state sales tax cut, a new income surtax on millionaires and an increase in the minimum wage, issues that don’t lend themselves very well to a governor taking a firm position — and remaining the nation’s most popular state leader — heading into an election year.
Unlike his advocacy on federal health care reform that’s made some waves, Baker has tried to calm the waters back home. He hasn’t staked out a firm position on those three issues he could be sharing space with on next year’s ballot.
— Colin A. Young
ALSO ON THE AGENDA
- Health care in the crosshairs
- Markey and Sanders on Graham-Cassidy, Healey on DeVos
- Challenging Baker, Warren eyes Worcester-Amazon marriage
- Watch: Polito on ‘Fight for $15’
- Evangelidis named head of Massport board
D.C., state place MassHealth in crosshairs
Another perilous week for healthcare policy is taking shape, and the Massachusetts House and Senate will each have formal sessions on their agenda, the first time since late July that both branches are doing so.
State senators are mulling the restoration of funds for the massive MassHealth program, the costs of which are putting a drag on the entire state budget. Meanwhile, the House is weighing additional overrides to restore budget funds vetoed by Gov. Baker. In Washington, U.S. senators trying to ease the fiscal burden of Obamacare on the federal budget are preparing for a pivotal vote on legislation that would upend the financial underpinnings of programs that have helped Massachusetts achieve the highest rate of insurance coverage in the nation.
- TUESDAY: Controversial “aid in dying” bills are before the Public Health Committee for a public hearing; education funding issues and standardized testing are on the Board of Education’s agenda for a meeting in Malden; a sales tax holiday bill and other tax relief measures are before the Revenue Committee.
- WEDNESDAY: The House plans its second post-Labor Day formal session with plans to take up additional fiscal 2018 budget vetoes and amendments.
- THURSDAY: Senate returns for its first formal session since July; U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos talks parent empowerment at Harvard; a “Massachusetts GI Bill” and other veterans-related legislation get a hearing.
A LITTLE BIRDIE …
Markey, Sanders react to McCain’s Graham-Cassidy rejection
It’s going to be down to one or two votes. Get the word out. Flood the phone lines. We can defeat this bill if we rally the American people. https://t.co/PeuArsqKwG
— Bernie Sanders (@SenSanders) September 22, 2017
— Ed Markey (@SenMarkey) September 22, 2017
Healey issues dare to DeVos, invites meeting
— Maura Healey (@MassAGO) September 22, 2017
ON THE CAMPAIGN TRAIL
Challenging Baker, Warren eyes Worcester-Amazon marriage
Worcester is the ideal Massachusetts location for Amazon to build a second headquarters, and the technology company could help pay for high-speed rail linking both ends of the state, gubernatorial candidate Setti Warren said Friday.
“We should urge Amazon to come to Worcester,” the Newton mayor, a Democrat, told reporters in a conference call. “It needs to be combined with high-speed rail.”
Metropolitan areas across North America are expected to bid for the opportunity to host Amazon’s HQ2, which the company promised would include $5 billion in capital investments and the employment of as many as 50,000 high-paid workers.
“There could be an opportunity for Amazon to contribute to high-speed rail,” Warren said. “This would meet the needs of Amazon.”
Warren backs a high-speed rail linking Western Massachusetts to Boston regardless of where Amazon chooses to build, and he said he supports increasing state revenue, “including” a tax on incomes over $1 million to help pay for it.
As Boston Mayor Marty Walsh and other local leaders put together Amazon applications ahead of the Oct. 19 submission date, Gov. Baker has stayed out of picking favorites at this stage, backing the whole state as a good fit for the online retailer and tech giant.
“Locals are going to propose on their own. We’re not going to partner with any particular local,” the Republican governor said on WGBH Thursday.
Worcester Regional Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Timothy P. Murray, who was Democrat Gov. Deval Patrick’s lieutenant governor, told State House News Service that New England’s second-largest city “has a lot to offer” and leaders there are “working to put together a proposal in response to the bid.
“I think there’s a pretty compelling case,” he said.
Worcester has an airport, a startup community, thousands of college students, Worcester Polytechnic Institute and connections to Boston and other New England cities, Murray noted. Amazon’s prerequisites include a million-plus metro-area population and an international airport, neither of which Worcester boasts.
There have been “dramatic improvements” in the commuter-rail connection between Worcester and Boston, said Murray, adding that he expects service to improve along the line – which passes through Warren’s hometown.
An Amazon investment in Massachusetts would “put a dent in the problem of economic equality,” said Warren. He said any tax breaks offered the company “must be tied to real outcomes for people.”
In addition to Boston and Worcester, Merrimack Valley officials have reportedly discussed a bid to land Amazon.
Seizing on one particular region of the state for the biggest economic development opportunity in years is an interesting political move for a gubernatorial candidate looking for statewide appeal, and one that could potentially open a rift between him and Walsh, a Democrat who is also a close partner with the Republican governor.
The two other Democrats who have announced their intention to run for governor next year are Jay Gonzalez, who was Patrick’s budget chief, and Bob Massie, an entrepreneur and environmentalist.
In a statement released after his conference call, Warren said:
“Amazon is a disruptive force that has shaped the world of online commerce and beyond. I believe that Amazon can also be a disruptive force to fight economic inequality while still making smart business decisions. Worcester is experiencing a renaissance good enough to support Amazon, and all of the future Jeff Bezoses [Bezos is Amazon’s founder and CEO] located in Springfield, Framingham and East Boston who could create the iconic companies of tomorrow anywhere in Massachusetts – if only they had the 21st-century transportation system to do it.”.
— Andy Metzger
VIDEO OF THE WEEK
Polito addresses minimum-wage-hike proposal
IN THE NEWS
Evangelidis named head of Massport board of directors
Worcester County Sheriff Lew Evangelidis of Rutland, a former prosecutor and Republican state legislator, was elected last week by the Massachusetts Port Authority as chairman of its seven-member board of directors.
Evangelidis will take over the chairmanship from Worcester attorney Michael Angelini, whose board term has ended.
“Massport’s facilities not only move cargo and passengers, they create opportunities for commerce and education throughout the Commonwealth,” Evangelidis, appointed to the board by Gov. Baker in 2015, said in a statement. “I look forward to continuing to work with our partners to ensure the safety and security of our customers and employees while maximizing Massport’s unique ability as an economic engine for New England.”
Before leaving the Legislature, Evangelidis led an unsuccessful effort, assisted by then-Rep. Karyn Polito, to unseat then-House Minority Leader Brad Jones of North Reading. Evangelidis was elected sheriff in 2010. He also previously worked as an assistant state prosecutor in Florida and an assistant district attorney in Suffolk County.
Massport oversees Logan International Airport, Hanscom Field, Worcester Regional Airport and public port terminals in Boston Harbor. Board members are not paid.
— Michael P. Norton