Picked-up pieces while bracing for the “soft-ish landing” that the new president and CEO of the Boston Fed thinks is a possibility as nagging inflation nears (or has just passed) its peak:
• The two local reporters waiting for Maura Healey after her speech to the Blackstone Valley Chamber of Commerce in Millbury on Thursday had basically the same question for the Boston Democrat who has been leading in gubernatorial race polling: What do you say to people around here who have gotten used to having one of our own representing us in the corner office and now face a choice between two Eastern Mass.-heavy tickets? Will they have the same kind of representation?”They absolutely will. You know, I grew up in a small town in New Hampshire and I have long said, both as attorney general and hopefully if given the privilege of being governor, that I will be a governor for the entire state, supporting Central Mass., supporting Western Mass., supporting all the regions,” Healey said. “I think that there are a lot of wonderful things underway and we’re going to continue to support Central Massachusetts.”
Central Mass. has had a pretty good run of influence in the corner office recently, but it comes to an end in January. There have been blips without any direct pull, like the four-year Romney administration and the two years after Tim Murray resigned, but the region has sent someone to the governor’s or lieutenant governor’s office for about 30 years.
Let’s stipulate here that we’re counting Hudson as part of central Mass. for the purposes of this exercise. Yes, it’s just inside of Interstate 495, and yes, it’s Middlesex County. But it’s pretty much right on the line, and it allows us to count Paul Cellucci, who was lieutenant governor or governor from 1991 until April 2001.
The next roughly six years were dimmer days for the middle part of the state. While Jane Swift brought a western Mass. perspective to her years as governor, the next four years of Mitt Romney and Kerry Healey were absent of central Mass. influence. That all changed when Worcester’s boy mayor, Tim Murray, was sworn in as lieutenant governor in early 2007. The year-and-a-half vacancy Murray’s resignation left has been filled since 2015 by Shrewsbury’s Karyn Polito.
• Staying outside of the Beacon Hill bubble for a while, let’s head down to the South Coast and check in on Senate Ways and Means Committee Chairman Michael Rodrigues. The Ways and Means posts are always busy jobs, but Rodrigues and his House counterpart, Aaron Michlewitz, are right in the thick of pretty much every major issue at the State House right now.The Westport Democrat is leading the Senate’s negotiations on the long-stalled economic development bill that was left unfinished when legislative Democrats were stunned by the late July revelation that about $3 billion of the state’s massive surplus was due to be returned to taxpayers. With that statutorily-required tax relief on track to go out the door, Rodrigues answered the big question since late July: will the House and Senate still follow through on the separate tax rebate plan that was agreed to as the Legislature’s way of responding to inflation and high gas prices?
“That’s still yet to be determined; probably not,” Rodrigues told WBSM’s SouthCoast Tonight. “Because $3 billion worth of checks are going out.”
He continued: “After the $3 billion gets returned to the taxpayers, we are still going to have a fiscal year 22 surplus of over $2 billion. The economic development bill totaled over $4 billion and a little over $3 billion in cash spent.”
Instead, Rodrigues told WBSM that he expects “we will able to pass an economic development bill in the neighborhood of maybe $2.5 billion.”
The Mass. Taxpayers Foundation agreed with Rodrigues to a degree when it put out its latest analysis of the state’s surplus situation. After the Chapter 62F money goes out, MTF said the state will still have a surplus of $2.39 billion. But MTF thinks that the Legislature can move forward with plenty more spending than Rodrigues projected this week.
“After accounting for 62F payments, the House and Senate can easily accommodate more than $3 billion in economic development spending if they adopt the Governor’s [closeout supplemental budget] plan and $4 billion if they do not move forward with several major spending initiatives included in Governor Baker’s closeout,” the organization that the Legislature relies upon for tax revenue forecasts and more wrote in its latest paper.
• The state’s health care system, its costs and the increasing stress that puts on Massachusetts residents were in the spotlight this week as the Health Policy Commission published its annual health care cost trends report and also approved a first-of-its-kind plan to rein in spending at Mass General Brigham, the state’s largest hospital system.Over the next 18 months, MGB will work to reduce its prices, adjust rates, reduce utilization, and shift care to lower-cost sites all in an attempt to cut its annual spending by $127 million and then to sustain the cost savings. MGB, which had more commercial spending in excess of the state’s health care cost growth benchmark than any other provider between 2014 and 2019, said it welcomes the HPC’s oversight as it adjusts to the new realities of its industry.
“The pandemic has profoundly changed our lives, our economy, and it has permanently changed health care. Hospitals and healthcare systems across the state, including Mass General Brigham, continue to operate over capacity, seeing more patients than they have beds for,” MGB President and CEO Anne Klibanski said in a statement. “Patients are sicker from delayed care, and we have no choice but to care for people in the hallways of our Emergency Departments. Combined with labor and supply chain shortages, this can make it difficult to provide the right care, at the right time.”
The frustration that many people feel whenever they have to interact with the health care system was illustrated vividly this week by Fred Toettcher, co-host of 98.5 The Sports Hub’s popular “Toucher and Rich” morning show who has been having problems with one of his feet and went to an area hospital this week at the urging of his general practitioner.
Over half an hour on Wednesday, Toettcher regaled listeners with every detail of his 10-plus hours at the hospital, accompanied by his elderly father. He doesn’t name the hospital, but describes hours of waiting for limited care, rude staffers who questioned why he was at their facility at all, and the uncomfortable and awkward situations that present themselves in shared hospital rooms.
“For the privilege of going there, it’s $350,” Toettcher, who said he had been to the hospital a handful of times recently, said.
The last straw for the morning yakker was when, after about 10 hours and getting no treatment beyond 5 mg of a painkiller, Toettcher was told that he wouldn’t be getting an IV antibiotic as had helped him previously. He said he stood up and began tearing EKG electrodes off his chest.
“So I rip it all out. And then the doctor comes in and he’s like, ‘What are you doing?’ I go, ‘I’m getting the hell out of here … There’s no point in — why am I here?’ And he’s like, ‘Um, well, we’re gonna give you a steroid.’ And I go, ‘I got the steroids at home!’ And he goes, ‘Well, I guess we could observe you’,” Toettcher said. He added, “And I go, ‘I’m not paying for this’ and he goes, ‘You don’t have insurance?’ Well done, sir! You really get the game, because of course, insurance is gonna cover all of this. I won’t get any bills from the hospital at all. Well done, I love your understanding of the medical industry, you jackass.”
• Days after a Boston Herald column called for her resignation or firing for her ties to a cannabis company, new Cannabis Control Commission Chairwoman Shannon O’Brien addresses the issue and the reasons her work in the industry she now oversees was not broadly disclosed in an appearance on WCVB-TV’s “On The Record” set to air this Sunday morning.”This past year, I signed an attestation. I basically gave up all ownership, equity and control in that company. That attestation is to be filed with the Cannabis [Control] Commission. I disclosed all this to the treasurer, I talked to the folks at Ethics [Commission] because I have no ownership and control,” the former state treasurer tells co-hosts Janet Wu and Ed Harding. “I have no conflict. But out of an abundance of caution, anything to do with any group that I’ve worked with, I will recuse myself in the future.”
• A tip of the cap to Boston Globe sports columnist Dan Shaughnessy, the master of this “picked-up pieces” format. I wonder if the “The Curse of the Bambino” author has considered a sequel, “The Curse of the Attorney General.”In a great column in Sports Illustrated after Scott Brown upset Martha Coakley in the 2010 special election to fill Ted Kennedy’s seat in the U.S. Senate, Shaughnessy wrote, “Welcome to Massachusetts, where it’s always about sports, politics and revenge. … In our town sports and politics are intertwined like strands on a double helix. You rarely see one without the other.”
The references in the column are gold: Coakley claiming that Red Sox hero (this was 2010…) Curt Schilling was a Yankees fan, Michael Dukakis’ 1978 re-election loss and its roots in the Red Sox late-season slide and one-game playoff loss to the Yanks, Auditor Joe DeNucci’s pro boxing career, and one prediction that certainly reads differently in 2022 than it did in 2010.
“Tom Brady for President,” Shaughnessy wrote. “Someday.”
• As another disappointing Boston Red Sox season mercifully approaches its end, so too does the last full season of any of our professional sports teams under Gov. Charlie Baker. Baker will leave office in January just behind Gov. John Volpe, who served as governor from 1961 to 1963 and again 1965 to 1969, on the list of governors who presided over the most Boston region team championships in the big four men’s sports.Volpe was in the corner office for five Boston Celtics victories in the 1960s — championships in 1961, 1962, 1965, 1966 and 1968. Baker was in office for the New England Patriots’ Super Bowl victories following the 2014, 2016 and 2018 seasons, and the Boston Red Sox last World Series championship, in 2018.
Also tied with four pro championships are Govs. Francis Sargent (Celtics 1969, Bruins 1970, Bruins 1972 and Celtics 1974) and Deval Patrick (Red Sox 2007, Celtics 2008, Bruins 2011 and Red Sox 2013).
The New England Whalers, playing their final season in Boston before moving to Hartford, won the defunct World Hockey Association’s playoff championship in 1973. If you want to count that, Sargent would be bumped up to a tie with Volpe at five championships. And counting the Boston Pride women’s hockey team’s three championships since 2016 would put Baker in the lead.
Govs. Mitt Romney (Patriots 2004, Red Sox 2004 and Patriots 2005), Michael Dukakis (Celtics 1976, 1984 and 1986) and Foster Furcolo (Celtics 1957, 1959 and 1960) each were in office for three championships. No governor has presided over a championship victory of each of the four major Boston area teams and only Patrick has been governor for championships in three of the four sports.
STORY OF THE WEEK: It’s the economy (and pandemic), stupid. All roads led to those destinations this week: The MBTA might have to wait even longer for its new Orange and Red Line train cars, Gov. Baker and his New England counterparts are trying to get ahead of high home heating costs this winter with an ask for federal help, and the effects of remote learning are still showing up in standardized test results.
SONG OF THE WEEK: Opening up to the people of the Blackstone Valley about how much the region reminds her of her childhood days hopping a stone wall to pilfer apples from a nearby orchard, one of Maura Healey’s messages was, “I am everyday people.”