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Baker Previews State Of The Commonwealth Themes

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Jose Luis Magana/AP Photo

With many of his legislative proposals idling on Beacon Hill, Gov. Charlie Baker will tout the benefits of bipartisanship and cooperation with the Democrat-controlled Legislature when he addresses the state on Tuesday night as the popular Republican enters the final year of his first-term looking to cement the record he will run on for re-election.

Baker, according to comments made the governor and a senior aide familiar with the speech, plans to highlight the successes he perceives as being achieved with support of Beacon Hill lawmakers over the past three years.

That includes passage of legislation to strengthen the state's response to the opioid crisis that has been followed by a reduction in prescriptions and annual overdose deaths, and his desire to pass follow-up legislation, called the CARE Act, which is currently being studied by legislators.

The governor will also lay out some ideas for the future that will enable the state to increase support for education at all levels, take new steps to fight climate change and promote renewable energy and respond to the transportation needs of the state.

An advisor to Baker did not provide specifics about what those proposals would look like, but said the governor would frame the initiatives as achievable without raising taxes.

"I'm going to talk a little bit about some of the success we've had over the course of the past few years as a collective up here dealing with things like the budget and the opioid epidemic and clean energy," Baker told reporters after his regular weekly meeting with top House and Senate Democrats.

"I'm also going to talk a little bit about some of the stuff we would like to work with the Legislature to get done before the end of the year, which includes a follow up on the opioid piece. I'd love to see us get something like our Housing Choices legislation done and few other items like that," he said.

Baker has filed a bill that would create new pathways for addicts to access treatment, enable more schools to educate young people on the risks of opioids and more directly align the health care system with the needs of those struggling with addiction.

His housing proposal calls for the creation of 135,000 new housing units by 2025 with as much as $10 million in incentives, grants and technical assistance for the state each year.

The contrast between a Republican governor working in tandem with Democratic lawmakers and the dysfunction of Washington has been drawn upon in the past by Baker in these speeches, but it will be particularly timely Tuesday night as the federal government appears ready to revive itself after a brief shutdown.

"Now that the shutdown appears to be have been averted, which was something we were starting to plan for, I think I'm going to stick mostly to stuff that involves the Commonwealth, but obviously what happens at the federal level matters here in Massachusetts and it's important, as I said last year in my State of the State, for us to be united in our efforts to make sure we protect what happens here," Baker said.

Protecting access to health care, and in particular women's access to health care services, will get specific mentions by the governor, according to an aide. Baker himself alluded to how much time his administration has spent on those issues in the face of uncertainty in Congress over how Republicans might alter the health care landscape.

"We spent a lot of time this past year working to preserve and protect the universal health care law that's existed here on the books in Massachusetts, which was written by a group of bipartisan players to provide insurance to people here in Massachusetts. People spent a ton of time working on that last year," Baker said.

The speech is scheduled for 7 p.m. in the House Chamber at the State House where, in addition to voters watching at home, Baker will be speaking to a room full of legislators and special guests who will be parsing his words carefully for signs of what the coming year will look like as most everyone gears up for re-election bids.

The governor is due to release his fiscal 2019 budget proposal on Wednesday where some of the details of the speech will likely get fleshed out on paper.

"I think you'll see some things in the budget that are builds on things we've done before and areas where we've worked together before with the Legislature and with others, but you'll also see some new initiatives as well," Baker said.

The governor last Friday already teased a 3.5 percent increase in unrestricted local aid for cities and towns and a $119 million hike in education aid to school districts. He has also said he intends to funnel more than $2 million into a proposed trust fund to help schools screen students for signs of substance abuse and educate them on the dangers of opioids.

Along those lines, a senior advisor said Baker will thank legislators for working with him to increase local school funding by almost $500 million since he took office in 2015 and for partnering with the administration to enhance the earned income tax credit benefiting families.

He will also highlight the accolades Massachusetts has received over the past three years under his watch, according to an aide, which would include being named the best state in the country by U.S. News and World Report.

 

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