Jan 18, 2024 - Politics

Maura Healey's State of the Commonwealth pitch: Housing, education, MBTA

Photo illustration of Maura Healey with lines radiating from her.

Photo illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios. Photo: David L. Ryan/The Boston Globe via Getty Images

Maura Healey is one year into her term as governor and less than two years away from a reelection campaign.

  • To convince voters she's moving the state in the right direction, Healey will need power brokers in the Legislature to get on board with her plans to build more homes, spend more on education and save the MBTA.
  • Healey has to find a way to pay for it or her Democratic allies in the House and Senate will quickly become obstacles.

Why it matters: The state's first elected female governor used her annual address — the State of the Commonwealth — to ask the Legislature's Democratic supermajority to support progressive goals lawmakers have been loath to confront over the years.

  • It's a big ask at a time when the state's ability to responsibly spend big bucks is under scrutiny.

Healey proposed doubling the MBTA's annual operating budget, something transit activists have for years called for to improve the T's day-to-day reliability beyond investments in capital projects like track improvements and new trains.

  • Democrats haven't wanted to throw money at the T, instead letting the agency figure out its own finances to rebuild its staffing and service in the face of hobbled ridership and failing infrastructure.

Details: Healey is also going to bat for her $4 billion housing borrowing bill that will include many of the policy changes she says are necessary to lower housing costs.

  • Education is another cornerstone of the governor's agenda. Healey wants to expand early education to 23,000 4-year-olds in the state's poorest cities.

Yes, but: The budget outlook is already pretty grim for the current fiscal year and it's unclear how Healey will balance her spending priorities in the budget she'll file next week.

  • Tax revenues dropped off last year, forcing Healey to make emergency budget cuts to balance the books just last week.
  • After the speech, both Senate President Karen Spilka and House Speaker Ron Mariano were enthusiastic about Healey's ambitious goals, but aware that the bucks stops with them if the numbers don't add up.

Reality check: To get what she wants, Healey may need Democrats to abandon some of their preferred policy solutions and sign on to hers.

  • The Legislature has very limited bandwidth to take on big issues and pass laws in any given annual session. This one wraps up in July.
  • House and Senate priorities often clash, the chambers dig in their heels and pressing issues get put off. Business leaders also have a lot of influence over how far and how fast policy changes.

The big picture: On Beacon Hill, 2024 will be about Healey's ambition and urgency vs. Democratic leaders' fiscal concerns.

What's next: Coming off her big speech, Healey isn't waiting to reiterate her message in front of lawmakers.

  • She and Lt. Gov. Kim Driscoll will go before the Legislature's housing committee later today to directly make the case in support of the administration's home-building goals.

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