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This Week in Massachusetts – November 29, 2022

Posted on November 29, 2022

Healey Faces New Challenge: Saying How She’ll Govern

Boston Globe – When asked recently whether she would revive a stalled package of tax breaks next year, Maura Healey was coy. “We’re going to be taking a look at any number of executive orders, potential filings and the like.”

What would the governor-elect do differently than her predecessor to address homelessness and addiction in Boston? “What is absolutely imperative right now is that we work in partnership,” she said.

And does she believe the capital city should get a seat on the board of the MBTA? “I’m not going to get into the specifics of this right now.”

In the weeks since she decisively won the governor’s race, Healey has danced around specific questions and has yet to give any extended interviews to the media, leaving Democrats to guess — and hope — about how their standard-bearer will govern.

“She hasn’t really said much. . . . It wasn’t really much of a campaign at all,” said Jacquetta Van Zandt, a Democratic political strategist. Once Healey is governor, “she is going to have to be more open. She is going to have to talk to the press. She is going to have to have clear, direct answers.”

During her eight years as attorney general, Healey took firm, public stances through the lawsuits she filed, bringing cases against opioid manufacturers, the Trump administration, and others to build a national reputation as an aggressive, and progressive, litigator. As a candidate for governor, on a glide path to the office without major competition, she had little incentive to make specific commitments or promise sweeping changes.

Healey Names Lead Organizers for Jan 5. Inaugural Celebration

State House News – Gov.-elect Maura Healey and Lt. Gov.-elect Kim Driscoll announced the leadership team for their Inaugural Committee, which includes leaders in electing women to public office and the man behind Naomi Biden’s recent White House wedding.

The Inaugural Celebration is scheduled for Jan. 5, and the Healey-Driscoll team said it will be funded through private donations. The committee is setting a contribution limit of $25,000 for individuals and businesses, a press release said.

The ceremony will be produced by Rafanelli Events, fresh off the event planning company’s recent gig at the White House for President Joe Biden’s granddaughter Naomi Biden’s wedding last week. Bryan Rafanelli, the company’s founder and chief creative officer, has long served as the finance committee co-chair of Healey’s political committee, the release said.

Rafanelli will co-chair the committee with philanthropist Barbara Lee, who Healey’s team said encouraged the governor-elect to run for attorney general in 2013 and “has been a strong supporter ever since.”

Lee founded and serves as president of the Barbara Lee Political Office and the Barbara Lee Family Foundation, which focus on getting women elected to political offices around the country.

“Barbara Lee has helped elect 197 women in 33 states. Her reach is nationwide. She has helped elect the first woman Vice President of the United States, as well as every sitting Democratic woman Governor and U.S. Senator,” says the Barbara Lee Political Office website.

Communities Poised for Windfall if Congress Can Pass New Federal Budget

Boston Globe – Congress is racing to pass a federal budget before the end of the year, and Massachusetts communities have tens of millions of dollars at stake.

Members of the state’s all-Democratic delegation have requested more than $200 million in special projects, known as earmarks, many of which already have cleared the important hurdle of being included in drafts of budget bills prepared by the House and Senate.

If lawmakers can reach a deal to fund the government this year, as Democrats hope, it would likely mean a windfall for many Massachusetts communities and institutions. Just a few examples: $2.4 million for the New England Aquarium, $1.1 million for the MGH Center for Immigrant Health, $5 million to replace the Nantasket Avenue Seawall in Hull, and nearly $4 million for the Boys and Girls Club of Stoneham and Wakefield for child care and teen services.

But with Republicans set to take over the House majority next year, the fate of the more than $1.5-trillion federal budget and earmarks themselves are at risk, from a GOP push to reduce discretionary spending and to do away with the controversial practice altogether.

The Globe compiled all the requests from the state’s congressional delegation, which tally nearly $200 million already in the House’s draft budget, and more than $66 million in the Senate’s. While some of those projects overlap, the inclusion of the funds in the respective draft bills bodes well for their future — but, again, only if a funding deal can be reached. If not, lawmakers will either allow the government to shut down during the impasse or pass a continuing resolution to keep spending stable but frozen, neither of which will result in earmarks going out.


 Cannabis Prices Plummet; Some Predict Business Shutdowns

Telegram and Gazette – “Falling prices and steady revenue. On the surface, that’s a positive development for customers and owners in the recreational marijuana industry in Worcester and across Massachusetts.

But beneath the surface, some experts say there are cracks in the industry’s foundation and some pot shops could go out of business or get scooped up by better-capitalized competitors. It could happen sooner rather than later.

“Consolidation is inevitable,” said Peter DeCaro, owner of Resinate, a recreational and medical marijuana business at 1191 Millbury St.”

Federal Money Could Supercharge EV Infrastructure

Massterlist – It’s been well-established that for Massachusetts to meet its carbon-reduction goals it has to find a way to dramatically increase the number of drivers behind the wheel of electric vehicles.

Energy and Environmental Affairs Secretary Beth Card has said that Massachusetts will need to have at least 200,000 passenger electric vehicles on the roads by 2025 and 900,000 by 2030. That’s a 1,536.36 percent increase over the next eight years from the 55,000 EVs on the road today.

But it’s going to take more than just state and federal cash rebates to make the EV revolution winnable.

State House News Service’s Colin A. Young reports that a new study conducted by National Grid estimates that it could require enough electricity to power a small town to keep those electric vehicles rolling during peak travel times, with charging stations needed along highways at rest stops from Boston to New York.

Taxation and Budget

Question 1 Out-Raised, Outspent All Other Statewide Campaigns Combined

Boston Herald – The choice that was placed before voters on whether to levy an additional 4% tax on high incomes raised and spent tens of millions more dollars this general election cycle than all of the major party statewide campaigns for office combined.

“Question 1 wasn’t just a regular law,” Fair Share Campaign spokesman Andrew Farnitano told the Herald. “As a constitutional amendment, it was a once-in-a-generation opportunity to create a fairer tax system and fund decades of greater investment in transportation and public education.”

According to data provided by the Massachusetts Office of Campaign and Political Finance, the campaign to pass question 1, which passed by about 4 points, raised more than $32.2 million and spent about $28.5 million in 2022 to convince residents taxing incomes more than $1 million would result in better roads and more successful schools.

The general election campaigns of candidates for governor, lieutenant governor, state treasurer, attorney general, secretary of the commonwealth and state auditor from the Republican and Democratic parties raised, among the 11 of them, just $11.6 million in 2022, according to OCPF.

Health Care

Dreyfus Sounds Alarm about Health-Care Costs

Commonwealth Magazine – Andrew Dreyfus, who is winding up 12 years as president and CEO of Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts, says health-care costs in the state are on the verge of exploding.

Some of the increase is justified, with health-care providers grappling with inflation, labor shortages, and supply chain challenges. But Dreyfus warns that the state’s voluntary health care cost benchmark won’t be of much use in reining in the situation.

“I think that’s really at risk now,” he said on The Codcast with John McDonough of Harvard’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health and Paul A. Hattis of the Lown Institute. “Hospitals that used to negotiate with us with an eye toward the benchmark and to not exceeding it have been very explicit with us that it’s not relevant today. Many of them have been asking for increases that are four to five times the size of the benchmark.”

Dreyfus predicts health insurance premiums will grow at double-digit rates, employers will balk at paying, and government will be pressured to intervene with price controls or some other regulatory response, most likely initiated by the Health Policy Commission.

Don’t forget, Dreyfus adds, COVID is not going away, and Gov.-elect Maura Healey will have to pay a lot of attention to it. “We’re just one difficult variant away from being in a really challenging situation,” he said.

Dreyfus says health equity is another pressing issue. He said Blue Cross has spent considerable time over the last several years reviewing health disparities within its own system and plans to announce within the next few weeks a test of incorporating equity into the payment model it uses with health providers.

Hattis and McDonough pressed Dreyfus on health-care consolidation and the insurance executive responded with concern, both about new acquisitions and expansions. He said the evidence is strong that consolidation leads to higher prices and not better quality.

Shortage of Nurses, Staff, Plagues Hospitals in Post-COVID Recovery

MassLiveWestfield State University has 130 students in its pre-licensure nursing program but could double that to 260, much to the relief of staff-starved hospitals in the Pioneer Valley and across the state.

If only it had the students signing up for courses that lead, upon graduation, to jobs paying at least $60,000 a year with benefits. Salary and benefits, including tuition reimbursement, are constantly sweetened by hospital administrators looking to fill wanting shifts.

“It never was a challenge before,” said Jessica Holden, a registered nurse with a doctorate in the subject who is Westfield State’s executive director of nursing and allied health. “It’s a dilemma. Why is it that we are not getting the number of applicants that we got before? There used to be waiting lists. We are not seeing those anymore.”

The answer is burnout, say hospital administrators. Burnout and generational change as Baby Boomers continue to retire from the workforce, escalating a growing shortage of workers in health care.

“There’s this giant staffing problem running across the (health care) system, but that staffing problem is doing significant damage to the normal process by which the system works,” Gov. Charlie Baker told a Massachusetts Association of Health Plans conference 10 days ago in Boston. “People really need to think differently about how all the pieces of the system are organized.”

Sustainability, Climate and Energy

Organizations want Maura Healey to Ban Single-Use Plastic, Stop New Landfills

MassLive – As the incoming Healey-Driscoll administration continues to seek feedback from the public about top needs in the commonwealth, a coalition of environmental and climate-change advocacy groups want the future leaders to pave a path to a zero-waste Massachusetts.

Zero Waste Massachusetts — comprised of organizations including MASSPIRG, Community Action Works, Clean Water Action Massachusetts, Conservation Law Foundation, and Just Zero — unveiled 10 suggestions this week tied to landfill and recycling practices. The recommendations come at a crucial time during the holiday season, when the concept of reducing waste should be a top priority for Gov.-Elect Maura Healey, the coalition said.

“Massachusetts Gov.-elect Maura Healey and her administration have a huge opportunity to address one of the most pressing environmental and public health issues today — our waste crisis,” the coalition said in a news release.

Zero Waste, as defined by the Zero Waste International Alliance, is “the conservation of all resources by means of responsible production, consumption, reuse, and recovery of products, packaging, and materials without burning and with no discharges to land, water, or air that threaten the environment or human health.”

Cities See Electric-Rate Hikes as a Boost to Municipal Green-Energy Plans

Boston Globe – Tens of thousands of Eversource customers in Greater Boston can find relief from rising electric rates this winter from an unexpected tactic: going green.

Eversource last week unveiled plans to raise its electric supply rates by more than 40 percent as of Jan. 1 in Eastern Massachusetts, reflecting how the costs of producing electricity have skyrocketed in the last year. The main culprit: disruptions in worldwide supplies of natural gas, the most commonly used fuel for power plants in New England, following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

More than 150 cities and towns in Massachusetts, including Boston, offer plans that buy power on behalf of residents, often from more renewable sources. And many of those municipalities secured three-year contracts for electricity long before the war in Ukraine. Regulated investor-owned electric utilities, primarily Eversource and National Grid, need to buy power on behalf of their basic service customers twice a year in Massachusetts, and set rates accordingly.

The end result: The green-power aggregation contracts that cities and towns have adopted in the past decade for environmental reasons are now often much cheaper than the basic service through the utilities.

“For a large number of communities, this is benefitting the ratepayer,” said Geoff Beckwith, head of the Massachusetts Municipal Association.

Most residential customers in Boston were swept into the city’s municipal aggregation plan nearly two years ago. By default, city officials placed households and small business accounts into its standard plan, which gets 30 percent of its energy from renewable sources this year. (It needs to be 10 percentage points higher than the state mandate of 20 percent for Eversource and National Grid, a figure that rises every year.)

Nearly two-thirds of electric customers in Boston, or about 200,000, get their power supplies via the city contract. The rest get Eversource basic service (about 80,000) or buy power from a third-party supplier and could potentially switch into the city’s plan.

Mayor Michelle Wu’s administration hopes to persuade more people to make the switch, in light of the upcoming rate hike, and to encourage those in the standard plan to “trade up” to a “Green 100″ plan for 100 percent renewable power.


Boston Schools Lost 15,000 Black Students in the Past 20 Years

Boston Globe – Her son is only 3 years old, a shy, curious toddler who loves riding his scooter outside in the rain. But as Emily Centeio considers where to send her only child next fall for pre-kindergarten, she feels the weight of his entire education hanging in the balance.

She longs to enroll him at the well-regarded public school near their Dorchester home. But she cannot control where he ends up; Boston uses a lottery system to assign students to schools, making a gamble of this critical decision. The city has many fine schools — but also too many known for achievement gaps, deteriorating buildings, and outbreaks of violence.

Centeio can’t take a chance like that with her little boy. So, like many Black parents across Boston, she is making other plans. She will enter the BPS school lottery this winter, but she is also applying to charter and private schools; hedging her bets feels like the only way.

“It’s so pivotal where they go to school — they spend so much time there,” she said. “When I look at private schools, I’m nervous about the cost, but I’m also nervous about him in a traditional environment in BPS. … I just want to support him, and give him the experience he deserves.”

In a dramatic reshaping of its makeup, Boston Public Schools has lost half its Black student population in the last two decades, as Black enrollment fell from 29,300 in the 2002-2003 school year to 14,600 last year. There is no one reason for this colossal shift; it is part of a larger demographic trend, as the city has become home to fewer children overall, birth rates have declined, and the city’s housing crisis, with out-of-reach prices and limited supply, is driving Black families, like many other families, to move awgay.


Region’s Housing Crisis Comes to a Head on Cape Cod Golf Course

Boston Globe – A sense of peace permeates the air here, in the wind that swirls over shaded greens, through the brilliant orange leaves that line the fairways, and under the wings of the shorebirds coasting overhead.

Janet Milkman pauses atop a grassy ridge to take it all in, then sighs and shakes her head. “Why,” she says, “would anyone want to develop this?”

It is indeed tranquil as Milkman walks the grounds of the Twin Brooks Golf Course — 40 acres of greens and fairways in Hyannis about a mile from the Atlantic Ocean — on a pleasant autumn day. But a bitter fight rages here too, over what will become of the place, and, some say, over the future of Cape Cod’s economy.

Despite its charm and prime location, Twin Brooks, built in the 1960s, has long struggled to attract patrons due to its short layout, and two years ago a national housing developer, Quarterra, agreed to buy the place from the real estate firm that has owned it since 2007. (Quarterra declined to say how much it’ll pay.)

It plans to erect 13 buildings holding 312 apartments. It’s the sort of higher-density development that housing advocates say the Cape desperately needs to confront its acute housing shortage, which is squeezing out the workforce that sustains the region’s economy at an alarming pace. Already, 48 percent of the region’s workforce commutes in over the bridges linking the Cape to the mainland.

But pushback from the community against the development has been powerful, and it is still swelling as it inches closer to approval. Some local leaders groups want the town or a combination of public and private interests to purchase the property and preserve it as a massive swath of open space, a “Central Park for Cape Cod.” There’s been talk of a lawsuit if the project moves forward.