Placing his hand on the family Bible, Republican Gov. Charlie Baker took his oath of office Thursday and said in his inaugural speech that some of the state's toughest challenges have been pushed aside or ignored.
Baker was sworn in during a noon ceremony in the Massachusetts House of Representatives chamber before members of the state Supreme Judicial Court, House and Senate lawmakers, and other top elected officials.
In his speech, he said Massachusetts was a global leader in many areas and a national leader on issues like health care and marriage equality.
"But we're nowhere near our full potential," he said. "Some of our toughest challenges have been ignored and lost amid the successes or have become the equivalent of kicking a can down the road because they're not politically convenient or easy to fix."
He mentioned the more than 1,500 homeless residents living in hotels and motels, as well as recent management breakdowns including the initial troubles with the state's health connector website during the transition to the federal Affordable Care Act.
"I know we can do better," Baker said.
Baker said one of his first priorities would be fixing a state budget deficit. He said his staff has estimated the shortfall will exceed $500 million, higher than the $329 million deficit projected by former Democratic Gov. Deval Patrick's administration.
"We have to recognize that this is a spending problem," Baker said, adding that he intends to hold the line on taxes.
He received one of his longest and loudest ovations when he pledged to address the state's opiate abuse crisis.
Other priorities mentioned by the new governor included expanding charter schools in underperforming school districts - a proposal that died in the state Senate last year - and working with other New England governors to lower the region's soaring electricity costs.
"We will challenge the status quo, look for and try new approaches and recognize they might not always work," he said. "When that happens, we'll acknowledge it, learn from it, and try again."
The governor also expressed his condolences to the people of France after Wednesday's attack on a Paris newspaper that left 12 people dead.
Within hours of taking office, Baker made good on one campaign promise by ordering the release of $100 million in transportation funds earmarked for cities and towns. Lawmakers authorized $300 million in so-called Chapter 90 funds, but Patrick withheld $100 million, saying the state could not afford the entire amount.
Baker arrived at the Statehouse for his inaugural, accompanied by his wife, Lauren, and their three children. As they walked up the front steps of the Capitol, he shook hands with well-wishers then paused for a 19-gun salute.
Baker was sworn in using a Bible that his mother held for his father nearly a half century ago when the elder Baker was sworn in as an assistant U.S. Secretary of Transportation. Baker's mother, who has Alzheimer's disease, was unable to attend the inaugural ceremonies.
The Republican began his day with a reception for state lawmakers at Suffolk University Law School.
Legislative leaders said after the speech that they were encouraged by Baker's promise of bipartisanship and indicated that they were not offended by critical comments he made in the speech.
"He sounded like a governor ready to go to work with a Democratic legislature," said Senate President Stanley Rosenberg, D-Amherst.
House Speaker Robert DeLeo, D-Winthrop, said Baker set the right tone in his address.
Among those in attendance for Baker's swearing-in were Republican New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and Rhode Island's new Democratic governor, Gina Raimondo, along with former Republican Massachusetts Govs. Mitt Romney and William Weld and former U.S. Sen. Scott Brown.
Christie has been a strong political backer of Baker and last year chaired the Republican Governor's Association, an organization which donated more than $10 million to a pro-Baker Super PAC during the last campaign.
Baker's swearing-in marks the return of a Republican to the corner office for the first time since Romney, who opted not to seek election in 2006. Patrick won that contest and defeated Baker four years later, but decided not to seek re-election last year.
After swearing in his cabinet, Baker left the Statehouse to meet with community leaders in Boston's Roxbury neighborhood, and planned to wrap up the day with an inaugural party at the Boston Convention and Exhibition Center.