Gov. Maura Healey delivered her first State of the Commonwealth address on Wednesday, pledging to keep the quality-of-life issues of housing, education and transportation at the top of her agenda this year.
Here’s a look at what to watch as she moves through that to-do list:
Major new spending is ahead
A week and a half after announcing a revenue shortfall and $375 million in budget cuts, Healey peppered her speech with proposals for new or increased state spending. She said the budget she’s filing next week will feature investments in student literacy, services for vulnerable youth and improving “all the ways we get around in Massachusetts.”
That means more funding for local roads and bridges and a boost for the T — Healey says she wants to “double our support for MBTA operations” and create a permanent reduced fare for low-income riders.
Finding the money to back up these plans could force tough choices for budget-writers, who are expecting to have less revenue to work with in next year's spending plan than they did in crafting this year's.
Healey acknowledged that the state is entering leaner times, saying the days have passed when the state’s coffers overflowed with federal pandemic relief dollars. But she didn’t dwell on the issue, calling the state’s fiscal health strong.
There’s no easy fix for the state’s challenges
A big part of Healey’s address served as a victory lap, celebrating wins from her first year in office like free school meals, a tax-break package that fulfilled a campaign promise, and free community college for students over 25 without degrees.
The governor said she delivered on the promises she made about a year ago in her inaugural address, such as hiring new MBTA employees and adding a housing secretary and climate chief to her cabinet.
But many of the themes from that speech remain pressing today, even with progress made.
Last year, Healey described the state's high housing costs and transportation infrastructure as “unacceptable.” She said record state revenues mean little to families who can't pay their rent, cover their heating bill, or pay for child care.
On Wednesday, she outlined familiar challenges facing the state — problems she said can be tackled “if we work together.”
“Costs are too high for housing and child care,” Healey said. “Our schools are the best, but not for every student. Congested roads and slow trains steal our time and our joy. It's frustrating.”
This could be a big year for early education
Healey set a new long-term goal for early education in Massachusetts, calling for “universal pre-school access for every 4-year-old in our state.”
She's planning to include more money in this year's budget to help families pay for child care — and Healey is not the only state leader eyeing early education reforms.
Senate President Karen Spilka has said she wants to pass a child care bill this year, which would also look to make more families eligible for financial assistance. If Spilka and Healey are aligned on details, that could help push a bill over the finish line.
She knows she needs lawmakers to buy in
When Healey was preparing to take office, a common talking point was that interparty tension can emerge when a Democratic governor clashes with legislative leaders over who sets the agenda.
So far, there have been some points of friction — like communication about the influx of migrants straining the state's shelter system — but no all-out brawls between the governor and the Legislature.
Even on a night that typically features a slew of ceremonial thank-yous, Healey seemed to make a point of acknowledging the Legislature. Recounting the state's support for farmers who lost crops in last year's floods, she said: “We asked the Legislature for help, and you delivered.” And she shouted out by name the two Western Massachusetts lawmakers, Sen. Jo Comerford and Rep. Natalie Blais, whose proposal for a permanent disaster relief fund she wants to adopt.
Republicans are ready to push back
Wednesday marked the first State of the Commonwealth address delivered by a Democrat since 2014. It also offered an election-year opportunity for the state Republican party to showcase both one of its rising stars and an alternative vision.
State Sen. Peter Durant followed Healey’s speech with a response on behalf of the Mass. GOP, saying the state has gotten less affordable in the past year and calling for reform to the state’s right-to-shelter law. Durant has emerged as a prominent Republican voice after flipping a formerly Democratic seat in a special election last fall, with a playbook the party hopes other candidates can draw from.
As the Legislature prepares to rewrite and debate Healey’s budget plan, minority leaders Rep. Brad Jones and Sen. Bruce Tarr said they’ll have a close eye on the governor’s proposed new spending.