State House News Service Weekly Roundup: A Very Important Date

Article Source: State House News Service

Author: Matt Murphy


MARCH 19, 2021…..Runners won’t be lining up at dawn in Hopkinton, and there will be no crush of spectators on Boylston Street to see the elite racers sprint to the finish.

The Bloody Marys won’t be flowing at local brunch spots, revelers packed elbow-to-elbow, and the city the day after the race won’t be crowded with tourists sporting their newly earned Boston Marathon jackets.

But there will be morning baseball played at Fenway Park on Patriots’ Day this year. And there will certainly be a buzz in the air. Gov. Charlie Baker made sure of both things this week.

The governor on Wednesday – St. Patrick’s Day – announced that by the time the next holiday on the calendar rolls around on April 19 everyone 16 and older will be eligible to get a COVID-19 vaccine.  Call it a date to set a date. Because of course, you’ll still have to score a coveted appointment.

Buoyed by assurances from the White House that increased vaccine supply is on its way, Baker laid out a timetable this week for everyone not yet eligible to receive a vaccine to become eligible. The news from Washington was so encouraging, apparently, that the governor did a double take.

“I called a number of other governors and said, ‘Did you guys just hear what I heard?’ And I think for the most part many of us are really enthusiastic about where this is going…,” Baker said.

The expansion starts Monday with anyone 60 or older and certain workers, including restaurant, retail and transit workers, able to start booking appointments. Residents 55 or older and those with one qualifying health condition will become eligible April 5 and the general public will become eligible April 19.

Monday is also the day that Massachusetts will advance into Phase 4 of the governor’s reopening plan, meaning large venues like Fenway can open at 12 percent capacity, wedding dances are back on the program and overnight summer camps can start booking reservations.

Baker is also making the state’s travel “order” and “advisory” without fines and giving the fully vaccinated a rhetorical passport to cross state lines (though some states are considering actual passports).

All of this is being made possible by improving infection and hospitalization trend lines that continue to be balanced on the head of a needle as new variants become more dominant, creating great unknowns for epidemiologists.

The state crossed the 1-million-vaccinated threshold this week, and the administration’s goal is 4 million by the summer.

While for most residents their vaccine eligibility date can’t come soon enough, one date people probably don’t mind seeing pushed back is the tax filing deadline. After the Internal Revenue Service postponed by a month the April 15 deadline for the second straight year, the Legislature and administration moved quickly to follow suit for state taxes.

The Senate added the extension to May 17 to an unemployment insurance and tax relief bill that Democratic leaders are attempting to rush through before the end of the month. It was announced in a manner rarely seen over the previous 12 years, but in what is now a regular occurrence — a joint statement from Speaker Ron Mariano and Senate President Karen Spilka.

This “agreement” appears more likely to hold up than the one pronouncing a deal on “targeted” tax relief for low-income workers. The Senate altered the way the House structured a tax break on unemployment benefits, and removed the House’s proposed $50 million cap, driving the cost of the total bill to $350 million.

Now businesses waiting to learn how much they will owe in unemployment insurance for the first quarter will have to wait to see if the branches can quickly resolve this difference.

All differences appear to have been resolved over major climate legislation that landed back on Gov. Baker’s desk for the third time. This time — after a veto and returning the bill with dozens of amendments — Energy Secretary Kathleen Theoharides said the governor is “very pleased” with many of the amendments adopted, and even okay with some of the elements that seemed make-or-break just a few weeks ago.

Theoharides wouldn’t say for sure that Baker will put his name on the bill, which will commit Massachusetts to net-zero carbon emissions by 2050, but it sure seems like that’s the case.

A win for all parties on major climate legislation could come at just the right time for Baker, who has seen support for the job he is doing managing the state and the coronavirus pandemic erode since the summer.

A new UMass Amherst/WCVB poll out this week showed the governor with a 52 percent approval rating, down from 78 percent in August and basically on par with the public’s approval of the Legislature, which, no offense to lawmakers, isn’t really where you want to be if you’re thinking about running for a third term.

He’ll also have to try to smooth over some of the frustration city and town leaders are feeling about the state’s plan to fund public education and the Student Opportunity Act. A decline in enrollment recorded last October of roughly 35,000 students led to the formula for state aid delivering less than many school districts were anticipating.

Local officials believe many of those students will be returning in the fall, and fear their budgets could be undersupported by the state to the tune of $120 million.

Superintendents and school committee members raised the issue with House and Senate budget writers at a hearing the same day UMass President Marty Meehan announced he would seek a tuition freeze for the 2021-2022 school year thanks to federal stimulus funding. Elementary and secondary schools are also in line to receive substantial support from the relief bill, which will be the subject of a legislative committee hearing on Beacon Hill in two weeks.

Not that they necessarily want his job, but the state’s Congressional delegation, and especially South Boston’s Rep. Stephen Lynch, were not shy about weighing in on some of the decisions Baker is making, especially after they delivered on billions in relief through the “American Rescue Plan.”

Lynch was particularly fired up about cuts in service and staff at the MBTA and commuter rail, and on Friday the T backtracked on plans to furlough 40 workers and promised Lynch no layoffs.

Thomas McGee didn’t need to get laid off, He announced he’s giving up his job voluntarily, and adding another “former” to his biography in the process. The former senator and former Democratic Party chairman will now be the former mayor of Lynn at the end of the year because he’s not running for reelection.

He’s one of a number of mayors to give up their seats this cycle, but so far it hasn’t sparked the stampede of legislators seen in past years eager to trade the State House for City Hall.