After meeting for the first time as the triumvirate that controls the levers of Beacon Hill power, the so-called Big Three on Monday downplayed questions about policy disagreements among them and said they are looking forward to working through any differences they might have.
In addition to their party affiliation, Gov. Maura Healey, Senate President Karen Spilka and House Speaker Ronald Mariano share many of the same broad priorities — but they predictably don’t completely see eye-to-eye-to-eye on the fine details that could turn those priorities into policies.
One glaring example was highlighted Sunday when WBZ-TV aired an interview that Spilka did with Jon Keller. The Senate president, who called on Wednesday for free community college (tuition and fees) for all, told Keller she did not know why Healey’s proposal is to make community college free for students over 25 without a college degree.
“I look forward to working with her on this issue to iron it out,” Spilka said. “So we both have the same values, same priorities, in this area, which is very exciting and makes it more likely that it’s doable. I look forward to hearing why it’s over 25 on her plan.”
Asked about the differing community college proposals after Monday afternoon’s roughly 90-minute meeting, Healey said she and legislative leaders “talked about a number of things: our general approach, we talked about some of the priorities that we share in terms of the work for people in this state, residents, and businesses, and the health and well-being of the state.”
“We did touch on issues of education and, you know, I expect that there’s an area — we’ve all articulated support for education and I know we’ve talked about community colleges, and we’ll we’ll find a way to work through that. And that’s all good,” she said.
To get any kind of free community college policy onto Healey’s desk for her to sign it into law will require both the House and Senate to be on board, but Mariano was non-committal Monday and borrowed one of former Gov. Charlie Baker’s favorite lines when asked where he stands on the issue.
“Well they’re two separate proposals, and so now the devil is in the details as we begin the discussion,” the Quincy Democrat said. “You know, there’s a cost involved, we have to ascertain what the costs are. There’s a whole lot of questions that haven’t been answered about it.”
At another point, when asked where he is on the free community college idea, Mariano said, “I haven’t thought about it. I just found out from the governor and the Senate president.”
Activists have been publicly clamoring for years about making college free, or at least more accessible to people, and the community college plans from Spilka and Healey are beginning to show what may be possible.
Spilka said on WBZ this weekend that she estimates her plan would cost about $50 million, but Mariano said any bills on the idea would go to the Education Committee.
“The House will have a hearing, we’ll try and assemble some information about it and go from there,” he said.
But first, the House and Senate will need to organize themselves into committees to begin holding hearings and processing legislation. Asked Monday what his timeline is for making committee and leadership assignments in the House, Mariano said, “quick.”
There’s also the issue of tax reform and relief.
Spilka and Mariano last summer agreed to a $1 billion package of tax code changes and immediate relief, but later tabled those plans after a state law triggered $3 billion in tax relief. Healey and Spilka each said last week that they are interested in resurrecting at least parts of that plan in the new session, but Mariano suggested last week that he had not “thought about any of that stuff” and said the House would have to “look at where we are economically” before making any commitments.
On Monday, the speaker said the consensus revenue hearing this month would influence his feelings on tax relief and reform.
Healey said Monday that she would be “back to you more about that” and said the idea of permanent tax relief is “certainly something that we’ve talked about.” But she also deferred to the consensus revenue hearing.
Mariano did tell reporters one thing that is likely to be on the House’s radar this session: changes to the 1980s voter law known as Chapter 62F that required the state to send nearly $3 billion back to taxpayers after collections exceeded a cap.
“I’m sure it’s going to be something that we discuss. When I have a leadership team and we have an opportunity to talk about that agenda for this session, obviously 62F is going to be something that we talk about,” Mariano said.
The governor deflected when asked if she had any plans to make or go along with changes to 62F, which upended plans at the end of formal sessions last year and led to record tax refunds.
“I think today, again, it’s day four. I am grateful to everybody who’s welcomed us into the building — who’s literally, quite literally, had to show us around — because there’s a lot new to figure out here,” Healey said. “And so, you know that’s where we are. In addition to sitting down with some of our teams, I think the work on the budget is incredibly important, obviously, and we’re looking to get after that. As well as beginning to flesh out some of the things that we’ve talked about over the course of this campaign and just really grateful to be in this position.”