We’ve had Climate Week and Infrastructure Week. Let’s belatedly call this one “Bridge Week.”
When Beacon Hill stirred back into action from a quiet holiday weekend, it was still in the realm of the Baker administration. Now, after a couple of days of symbolic artifact exchanges and oaths of office and a basketball-themed gala funded by groups with state government interests, we’re officially in Healey territory.
The transition did not end when Gov. Charlie Baker exited the building in the ceremonial “lone walk” back into civilian life — Baker continued to work signing bills from his Swampscott home afterward — nor when Gov. Maura Healey and Lt. Gov. Kim Driscoll stood before a packed House chamber to deliver their first remarks as the new executive team.
In her time as attorney general and on notably on the campaign trail as well, Healey often praised Baker and his work over the past eight years. Healey returned to that well in her inaugural speech, saying he “governed with integrity and care,” hinting that she intends to take a roughly similar approach to the top job despite their partisan differences on paper.
Indeed, state government will retain a Baker strain for the foreseeable future with many Baker holdovers keeping offices running at least in the early days of the Healey administration, and perhaps longer.
Healey kicked off her first full day in the corner office Friday by convening her first Cabinet meeting, bringing together a still-incomplete group of top deputies who will oversee the vast network of executive agencies. That list includes Baker appointee Terrence Reidy, who will remain in the position of public safety and security secretary for Healey, and Jennifer Maddox, Baker’s housing undersecretary who will serve as acting housing and economic development secretary until Healey pick Yvonne Hao takes the oath of office as a standalone economic development secretary. Healey plans to file legislation to create a separate housing secretary position, and she has not yet said who she will pick for that important new role.
Even in departments where Healey has named her own secretary, Baker appointees remain in charge of day-to-day tasks. Highway Administrator Jonathan Gulliver, who stepped into that role during Baker’s first term in 2017, appeared live on WBZ Friday morning to talk about road conditions amid ongoing winter weather, and Baker-era Department of Transportation Communications Director Jacque Goddard tweeted a plug for the segment.
On Baker’s final full day in office Wednesday, his administration named Audrey Morse Gasteier as acting executive director of the Massachusetts Health Connector, putting in place another official who will stick around at least partly into the Healey administration.
It’s an open question how long some Baker veterans will stay in their roles under Healey. They might be happy to hand the reins over once the new administration is ready, or see valuable opportunities outside the halls of state government as employers clamor for talent. Or they might simply enjoy the work enough to stay on board if Healey will have them.
The Healey policy agenda became clearer this week, too.
An ongoing theme during the campaign was a lack of specificity from Healey, who published lengthy plans online but also drew criticism for regularly stopping short in her public comments of outlining exactly how she would tackle a given issue or problem. Her inaugural speech was far more granular and detailed, and she even circled a few specific dates on the calendar.
That gives the press and the public a few early milestones to watch. The first annual state budget Healey needs to file by March 1 will “include funding to hire 1,000 additional workers focused on the operation of the MBTA.” By March 6 (“in the next 60 days”), Healey expects to appoint a new MBTA safety chief; by April 15 (“in my first 100 days”), she plans to file legislation to create a standalone secretary of housing separate from the combined housing and economic development secretary under Baker; and by the time Healey hits the one-year mark on Jan. 5, 2024, she said those 1,000 T workers would be on board and her team will have finished its work to identify unused state land and facilities that can be converted to rental housing.
Problems are already piling up for the Democrat to address, beyond the near-omnipresent issues she’s targeted like high costs of living, child care access and clean energy.
The National Transportation Safety Board appears to have broken news about a two-year delay to an MBTA safety project that is already overdue. In a report published Thursday about a July 2021 Green Line crash, the federal agency said anti-collision technology it first recommended more than a decade ago is slated to come online by June 2025 — roughly two years after the most recent target the T mentioned publicly.
MBTA officials refused to explain the June 2025 timeline. On Friday, a day after the NTSB revealed the development, T spokesperson Joe Pesaturo said only that agency staff would provide an update about the anti-collision technology at a board meeting “this month.”
Meanwhile, adding to our Bridge Week theme, the federal government dealt a major blow to the Cape Cod region by rejecting the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ latest application for nearly $2 billion in grant funds for replacement of the Bourne and Sagamore bridges connecting mainland Massachusetts to the Cape.
It was the second time in the past four months that an effort to secure federal dollars for the project stumbled, and while there will be other grant rounds and options available, questions about how to pay for a project whose price tag has soared to almost $4 billion remain unanswered.
Massachusetts has an all-Democrat delegation in both the U.S. House and the U.S. Senate who ostensibly have good relationships with President Joe Biden, a fellow Democrat, but so far that has not delivered much-needed money for the effort to replace the decades-old spans that shuttle millions of visitors every year.
Based on the way the U.S. House has been functioning this week — a dozen rounds of voting for speaker across four days, and Republican Kevin McCarthy still unable to wrangle enough support to win the gavel — serious questions are forming about how much Congress can accomplish during at least the first two years of Healey’s tenure. That could make a big difference for every state.
STORY OF THE WEEK: New lawmakers and a new executive team took their places atop Beacon Hill, but the celebrations won’t last long as looming issues and tough questions are already piling up.
SPEECHES OF THE WEEK: On a hill where decision-making is centralized — claims to the contrary notwithstanding — a person can learn a lot about the year ahead by listening to the inaugural speeches from incoming Gov. Healey and Lt. Gov. Driscoll, returning House Speaker Ronald Mariano, and reelected Senate President Karen Spilka.
SONG OF THE WEEK: For those who missed the inaugural bash at TD Garden, where Grammy-winner Brandi Carlile helped write the opening chapter of the Healey-Driscoll story.