State House News Service Weekly Roundup: Double Smog Dare

Article Source: State House News Service
Article By: Matt Murphy

Double Smog Dare

JAN. 15, 2021…..The risks were known, or should have been.

The longer the Legislature waited to finalize its negotiations over major climate, jobs and infrastructure bills, the more power they relinquished to Gov. Charlie Baker. Discussions had been ongoing since the summer, and now all legislators could do was wait.

What would he sign? What wouldn’t he?

Knowing they had no recourse either way, legislators held their breath this week as they waited for Baker to render his verdicts on scores of bills that landed on his desk in the final days and hours of the last legislative session. And those verdicts came in bunches.

Beer distribution and campus sexual violence prevention bills got signed, as did one creating a commission to study whether to change the state’s seal. A bill known as “Laura’s Law” to ensure no one ever gets lost looking for the entrance to an emergency room also earned the governor’s signature.

And the bulk of a $626 million economic development bill was basically guaranteed to become law, given the governor’s authority to keep what he liked and veto sections he didn’t. That bill included long sought zoning reforms, known as “Housing Choice,” to spur development and requirements for multi-family zoning around MBTA stations. It also turned Sen. Eric Lesser’s student borrowers bill of rights into law.

But the climate legislation was a take-it-or-leave-it proposition for the governor, and by Tuesday the chatter coming from people with feelers into the administration suggested Baker was ready to leave it.

House Speaker Ron Mariano and Senate President Karen Spilka tried to call Baker’s bluff. Go ahead, they said. Veto the bill, and we’ll send it right back to you in a matter of days.

The two Democratic leaders issued a joint statement saying as much, hoping the governor and the stakeholders whispering in his ear would see that resistance was futile. It was a rare public flexing of power for legislative Democrats who typically prefer to maintain the veneer of cooperation with the executive branch.

The only problem was there apparently wasn’t enough bipartisan cooperation in drafting the bill, and Baker wasn’t bluffing. In fact, the governor said he found the Legislature’s willingness to get right back to work on climate legislation encouraging. And so on Thursday, the formal veto arrived.

Baker supports the goal of net-zero carbon emissions by 2050 and, by his own words, was “largely in agreement” with many of the bill’s provisions. But Baker listened to the construction industry when they told him allowing cities and towns to adopt a “net-zero” building code could stop housing production in its tracks.

He said the 5 percent difference between his administration’s goal for emission reductions by 2030 (45 percent) and Legislature’s (50 percent) was a $6 billion choice for residents that he didn’t want to make. And he said lawmakers missed an opportunity to make money available for climate adaptation, as he and the House tried to do with competing plans to spend $1 billion over ten years. Both plans went nowhere in the Senate.

Baker is now being cast by activists and Democrats in the role of anti-environment Republican who caved to immediate business interests at the expense of future generations. Some groups, however, privately commiserate with the administration’s frustration that it was actually the Democrats who control the Legislature who waited until so late in the session to get him a bill that he couldn’t seek to amend.

“If he doesn’t sign this, the Legislature owns part of this failure,” one environmental advocate said earlier in the week.

But if Democrats are as serious as Mariano and Spilka say they are, this bill still could be law by the end of the month with or without Baker. In fact, it could be on his desk again by the time you are reading this column next Friday.

Passing the climate bill, or any other bill, next week would require at least some lawmakers and staff to return to the State House amid warnings from the FBI and other federal law enforcement that state capitals in all 50 states could be a target for violence in the coming week.

The fallout from the attack on the U.S. Capitol continues as President-elect Joe Biden prepares for his inauguration next Wednesday, and the House this week impeached President Donald Trump for the second time in his four years in office, this time for inciting violence by spreading unproven claims about election fraud.

All nine members of the Massachusetts delegation voted for impeachment, including U.S. Rep. Ayanna Pressley, who cast her vote from quarantine after her husband contracted COVID-19 during the siege of the Capitol.

Baker repeatedly stated this week that there were no known threats in Massachusetts to the State House or any other government target, but law enforcement agencies remain in constant contact as Jan. 20 draws closer.

Baker signed orders Thursday activating 1,000 members of the National Guard, deploying 500 to Washington, D.C. to assist with security for the inauguration and putting another 500 on standby in Massachusetts should any city or town request backup.

The Massachusetts presence in D.C. may help to make Mayor Marty Walsh feel a bit more at home. He did, after all, promise to bring Boston with him to Washington as he prepares to join the Biden administration.

Walsh gave what was surely not the “State of the City” address he might have been planning just a few weeks ago on Tuesday night. Instead of laying out an ambitious agenda for his reelection year, Walsh gave a valedictory that nearly brought the Dorchester native to tears.

Walsh’s timeline for leaving the city and City Hall remains to be seen, but the City Council is already debating whether to do away with a special election requirement should he resign before March 5.

Regardless of when the next election is to replace Walsh as mayor, Rep. Aaron Michlewitz and Suffolk County Sheriff Steve Tompkins both said this week the race would take place without them.

Michlewitz said he came to the conclusion that he can best serve the city perched atop the House budget-writing Ways and Means Committee, where he hopes to and likely will remain under Speaker Mariano. Possible future speaker, it turns out, had a nicer ring to it than mayoral hopeful.

The North End Democrat will soon have to get to work on building a new state budget, and the Legislature agreed with the administration on Friday to an estimate of revenues in fiscal year 2022 of $30.12 billion, a 3.5 percent increase from what officials expect to collect this year.

The budgeting exercise will also be made a little easier by the more than $9 billion Massachusetts expects to receive from the most recent federal stimulus package, though two-thirds of that will be doled out in the form of unemployment assistance and direct cash payments to taxpayers.

The MBTA expects to see about $250 million to $300 million in stimulus support, but only $17 million will be put toward restoring services cut to deal with declines in ridership because of the pandemic.

T officials say the priority for restoration will be high-ridership bus routes and maintaining evening commuter rail service, while the rest of the money will go into the capital budget.

Maybe they’ll be able to run trains to Foxborough where Baker announced this week that the state would be setting up its first mass vaccination site at Gillette Stadium.

The home of the New England Patriots will open next week for first responders to get the vaccine, and eventually to the general public as more cohorts become eligible for vaccination.