Gov. Charlie Baker looked back at some recent successes and laid out his priorities for the new year in his state of the state address on Tuesday evening.
The Republican discussed the progress that the state has made in reducing its deficit, increasing health care enrollment, creating jobs and developing Boston's downtown.
"Economically, we're hitting on all cylinders," said Baker. "We began with a $1 billion structural budget deficit. Today, we've reduced that...to less than $100 million without raising taxes."
Baker pointed out that the Massachusetts economy has added 180,000 new jobs since he took office, while the homeless families in the state have reduced by 95 percent.
Baker spoke on the progress Massachusetts has made in combating the opioid overdose epidemic. The Governor pointed to a reduction in opioid deaths and the lower number of opioid prescriptions as signs that efforts by the administration and state lawmakers are showing results.
"Today, with your help and support, we’ve reduced opioid prescribing by 29%. And overdose deaths have dropped for the first time in over a decade by 10%," Baker told the crowd, which was met with applause.
Baker said he'll push lawmakers to approve a follow-up bills on the opioid crisis that would allow police officers and medical professionals to bring high-risk individuals to substance abuse treatment centers, even against their will, for up to 72 hours.
The bill would set credentialing standards for "recovery coaches" who help people to overcome addiction, allow all pharmacies to carry the overdose-reversal drug naloxone, and make it easier to prescribe small amounts of opioid painkillers.
Baker also talked about ongoing efforts to increase the state's reliance on renewable energy and discussed his plan to create 135,000 new housing units in Massachusetts by 2025 in part by delivering more than $10 million in incentives, grant funding and technical assistance each year.
"The process enabled by our 2016 legislation will lead to clean energy pricing that’s competitive with carbon-emitting fossil fuels, a huge win for families, businesses and our environment," said Baker.
Baker went on to promise to add an additional $2 million to climate adaption and resiliency planning efforts in the 2019 budget.
Baker spoke of the state's successful bipartisan commitment to veterans -- enhancing benefits for Gold Star families and creating a tax credit for small businesses that hire veterans, as well as the Home Act, which he signed into law in July 2016, that provides assistance for veterans with financial security, housing and education.
Baker said he's committed to improving the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority and making commuter rail from Fall River and New Bedford to Boston a reality. The Governor also announced Tuesday the formation of a new commission to help the administration come up with solutions to the state's future transportation needs. He said the commission will focus on climate and resiliency; transportation electrification; autonomous and connected vehicles, including ride-sharing services; transit and mobility services; and land use and demographic trends.
Baker discussed his plan to create 135,000 new housing units in Massachusetts by 2025 in part by approving more than $10 million in incentives, grant funding and technical assistance each year.
Baker said Massachusetts home prices have soared at the fastest rate in the nation, and rents in metropolitan Boston are among the highest in the country.
"It has been decades since this state produced enough housing to keep up with demand. The result has been predictable," he said. "A limited supply creates overheated demand and rising prices."
Baker said he's committed to protecting the state's 2006 health care law in the face of changes to the federal health insurance law. He said he'll also continue to push for bipartisan fixes to the 2010 Affordable Care Act. Baker has often found himself at odds on policy with members of the Republican party in Washington and said that regardless of changes to the federal law, "no woman in Massachusetts will be denied reproductive health care services."
Baker concluded his speech by saying that it is important to keep political discussions civil. "That doesn't mean we always have to agree. We won't," Baker said. "Some of us will agree with each other most of the time. Some will agree some of the time. And some will never agree at all. That's OK. That's called 'democracy' and more often than not, it works."
“We’ve done great work with you on many important issues. But our work has just begun," said the Governor, "We stand ready to do so much more."
Baker is up for re-election. He faces at least three Democratic challengers: former Newton Mayor Setti Warren; environmental activist Robert Massie; and Jay Gonzalez, a top budget official under former Democratic Gov. Deval Patrick.