Updated Jan. 4 at 5:51 p.m.

There was never much doubt that House and Senate Democrats would return Ron Mariano and Karen Spilka to the top posts in the Legislaure for the two-year term that started Wednesday, but the occasion did produce glimpses into the policy areas where each veteran legislative leader will attempt to wield their supermajority margins in the coming months.

In speeches delivered to their respective chambers after taking the gavels, Mariano and Spilka looked ahead to a new year by declaring they plan to return to legislative business they didn't finish last term and setting their sights on a few other issues primed for possible action under Gov.-elect Maura Healey.

The pair of Democrats both mentioned some common goals, such as expanding access to affordable child care, as well as more individual priorities that might not yet have momentum across both branches, including a declaration by Spilka that the Senate will pursue a plan to make attending community college free.

Yet Mariano later in the day signaled he is still crafting his agenda and has not yet made a decision on some high-profile issues, like whether or how to return to the tax relief debate lawmakers spiked when they learned Beacon Hill was on the hook for nearly $3 billion in mandatory tax rebates.

Both Mariano and Spilka cruised back to the top posts in the House and Senate, the second straight full term as speaker for Mariano and the third straight full term as Senate president for Spilka.

Mariano earned 131 votes for the gavel, coming from independent Rep. Susannah Whipps of Athol and all Democrats except Reps. Patricia Haddad of Somerset and Erika Uyterhoeven of Somerville, who did not vote. Twenty-five Republicans cast their votes for House Minority Leader Brad Jones.

Senators at first voted along party lines, with 36 Democrats backing Spilka — Sen. Michael Rush of West Roxbury did not vote — and the chamber's three Republicans behind Senate Minority Leader Bruce Tarr. Tarr then moved for the vote to be recorded as a unanimous decision.

Overlapping priorities: child care, MBTA, housing

Mariano and Spilka voiced mutual interest Wednesday in addressing the slow-burning crisis in the early education and child care sector, where providers are coping with widespread staffing shortages, workers are languishing on low wages and families are struggling to pay for care, if they can even find available slots.

"We know how important early education and care is, both to addressing the 'she-cession' that worsened during the pandemic and in preparing our children to learn. Simply put, it is past time to update the way we imagine and support this crucial sector," Spilka said.

The Senate unanimously approved a bill in July seeking a years-long expansion of subsidies, increased pay and benefits for workers, and permanent grants to stabilize providers, but the timing of the bill's passage left the House with little time to fashion a response.

Mariano's comments on Wednesday could signal that he wants his chamber to get more involved in the issue this time around, though he stopped short of embracing the expansive proposal backed by the Senate last session.

"This session, the full attention of the House will be directed at examining ways to further support our vital early education and care workforce," Mariano said. "This workforce is made up largely of women and often women of color. As we work to build a system to provide affordable access to quality child care for Massachusetts families, I was proud of the work done last session to increase salaries and other key supports for EEC workers, and I'm confident that the Legislature can do more on this critical issue."

The two top Demorats aren't alone in their call for greater financial support to the early education system.

A poll published last month showed growing public support for state government spending more taxpayer dollars on child care and early education, which was also one of Healey's campaign promises.

Safe, reliable public transit and affordable housing featured as other common priorities flagged by Mariano and Spilka in their start-of-term speeches Wednesday, though neither offered much detail on how they want to achieve those goals.

"While this is certainly not an issue that the Legislature can tackle alone, it's the responsibility of all public officials in Massachusetts to help the challenges facing the MBTA," Mariano said.

Spilka encouraged senators to "put our minds and hearts together to solve our continuing housing crisis," focusing the crux of her comments about both housing and transportation on affordability and accessibility.

"We must also find the will and the way to expand safe, reliable and affordable public transit throughout the commonwealth," Spilka said. "We must seize the opportunity given to us by the people of the commonwealth through the passage of the Fair Share Amendment to build a transportation system that is safe first and foremost, but also accessible, sustainable, connected and regionally equitable."

Much like the strained child care sector, prominent failures at the MBTA and a housing market scorched by rising prices and tight inventory both continue to stifle Bay Staters.

So, too, do growing health care costs, and while both top Democrats flagged the issue as one in need of attention, they took aim at different areas, as they have in previous sessions.

Mariano said he wants to "revisit" the health care cost containment goals outlined in a 2012 law "and retool for the next decade," giving particular focus to protecting community hospitals, which often face financial threats from larger health care center expansions.

The House approved a bill in 2021 to beef up the regulatory review process when large hospitals expand into territory covered by smaller community hospitals, but it never emerged in the Senate for a vote. The idea remains at or near the top of Mariano's to-do list.

"If we want to guarantee access to affordable treatment for all residents, we must take action this session to protect community hospitals," Mariano said Wednesday.

Meanwhile, Spilka made no mention of hospital expansions, but focused her health care comments on lowering the cost of prescription drugs and expanding health care quality and access.

The Senate passed a bill early last year that would have required pharmaceutical companies to notify the state before bringing new drugs to market or significantly hiking prices for existing drugs, but House Democrats left the measure buried in committee.

The bill — which was built on similar legislation the Senate unanimously passed in 2019 that also failed to secure House approval — would have pulled drug manufacturers and pharmacy benefit managers into state agencies' reviews of health costs, capped out-of-pocket insulin spending at $25 a month and created a trust fund to help cover the costs of prescription drugs for certain chronic conditions.

Spilka promised Wednesday that "the Senate will once again pass a bill to lower the cost of prescription drugs," adding, "hopefully three time's a charm."

"It's hard to have hope for the future when one unplanned medical expense or the cost of prescription drugs threatens to wipe out everything you have worked for and saved for," she said.

Spilka targets free community college

Spilka has long called for investing in public education, and on Wednesday said the passage of a 2019 education funding reform bill often referred to as the Student Opportunity Act in her first year as president was among her "proudest accomplishments in this office." The law committed $1.5 billion in additional funding over a seven-year period toward the state's K-12 public schools.

During her speech, Spilka pushed to ride the momentum of the Student Opportunity Act to pass a "Student Opportunity Plan," to invest in Massachusetts' youngest learners as well as continued learning beyond high school.

Spilka's announcement that she plans this session to pursue free community college for all students was met with applause in the Senate chamber.

"It's beyond time," she said. "Let's make it free."

Since the cost of providing community college education will remain, the focus will shift to how the Senate plans to pay for its proposal and how much it will cost.

Investing in public higher education and reducing the cost of getting a degree will help close the racial wealth gap in Massachusetts, the Ashland Democrat said, and build a more educated workforce to fill jobs in the state's innovation, health care and scientific industries.

"It is clear that we have, right here in this commonwealth, the people and the institutions we need to ensure the workforce of our future and to tackle the challenges that we face, if only we see this opportunity for what it is and we are brave enough to seize it," she said.

Spilka isn't the only one with her eyes on investments in public higher education. The Massachusetts Teachers Association and the American Federation of Teachers, as part of a coalition that has deemed itself Higher Ed For All, started planning their offensive for increased funds to the state's community colleges, state universities and UMass schools in December.

Meanwhile, the state's Board of Higher Education plans to use this session to push for doubling the amount of state-funded financial aid for public higher education students to $400 million a year.

Spilka's expanded education goals come at a time when the sector might be about to tap into an unprecedented new funding stream following voter approval in November of a 4 percent surtax on the state's wealthiest residents to go toward public education and transportation investments.

Opponents of the surtax, called the Fair Share Amendment by supporters, argued throughout the election cycle this fall that there's no guarantee the additional tax revenue will go toward education and transportation because it is subject to legislative appropriation.

Spilka promised to use the funds as intended, while Mariano made no mention of the surtax in his speech.

"As long as I'm Senate President, every last Fair Share dollar will go to new investments in transportation and education," Spilka said.

Another priority Spilka mentioned that the speaker didn't touch was mental health legislation, celebrating a mental health access bill signed into law last summer, while saying there is still more to do.

Spilka said she's heard from many Bay Staters that they are "very grateful" for the new law, intended to help break down barriers to mental health access by requiring emergency rooms to have behavioral health clinicians available and covering a mental help wellness exam, similar to a yearly physical, for Massachusetts residents.

"I have also heard from providers, and from those in the Biden administration, who believe that this -- our -- reform can and will serve as a model for the entire country," she said to applause from those in the chamber. "Reforms to our mental health care delivery system here at home will help our young people get the care they need, but again, we must do more."

Mariano hasn’t ‘formed an agenda’ for tax relief

Other priorities that featured in Mariano's speech but not Spilka's included continued action to support the nascent offshore wind industry and ongoing action to update the state's gun laws.

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in June that a New York concealed-carry gun law was unconstitutional, implicating a similar Massachusetts law. The Legislature and Gov. Charlie Baker later agreed to bring the Bay State into alignment with the court's decision.

Mariano on Wednesday gestured at that opinion, telling lawmakers the state's status as "a national leader in gun safety" has been "put under threat by a highly politicized Supreme Court."

"We must build on the progress of last session, such as the implementation of a public awareness campaign regarding red flag laws, and continue to engage in a comprehensive review of our gun laws to ensure that the Supreme Court's flawed decision last summer will not endanger Massachusetts residents," he said.

Although he mentioned several topics with varying degrees of detail during his speech, the Quincy Democrat later on Wednesday was far less committal about the course he would chart when it comes to tax relief.

Both branches voted last summer in favor of authorizing hundreds of millions of dollars per year in tax relief for renters, seniors, caregivers and others plus reforms to the estate tax. After they were blindsided by the late-July emergence of nearly $3 billion owed back to taxpayers under a 1986 voter-approved tax cap law, legislative leaders this fall spliced tax relief out of the economic development bill that Baker signed.

Asked Wednesday afternoon how he expected the debate to move forward, Mariano — who served as speaker last term as well — replied, "I just got sworn in."

"I haven't thought about any of that stuff. I will think about it as we approach the new year," he told reporters. "We have a lot of organization and stuff to do. We haven't formed an agenda. I don't have any chairmen."

Pressed on whether he is still committed to delivering tax relief this session, Mariano said, "I think we're going to look at where we are economically and we'll make a decision."

Spilka said during her speech that she remains "committed to enacting permanent progressive tax relief, which will provide tangible benefits to low- and middle-income families, seniors and residents."

"I am hopeful that the Legislature will pass this soon after this new year starts," she said.