Four Takeaways From Gov. Baker’s State of the Commonwealth Speech

He's focused on the blocking and tackling of government.

Gov. Charlie Baker delivers his 2016 State of the Commonwealth address. (AP Photo/Michael Dwyer)

Gov. Charlie Baker delivers his 2016 State of the Commonwealth address. AP Photo/Michael Dwyer

Gov. Charlie Baker delivered his first ever State of the Commonwealth speech on Thursday at the State House. Baker touched on reforms his administration enacted in its first year while looking forward to the challenges of its second. Here are four takeaways from Baker’s big speech:

True to Baker’s Nuts and Bolts Approach

There was nothing in Baker’s first State of the Commonwealth speech that shot for the moon. Baker’s vision for the Commonwealth is that of an emergency repairman called at midnight to fix a flooded basement, not a visionary architect building the next great tower. Baker inherited a state government that contains several agencies riddled with deep systemic and cultural problems. As Baker noted in his speech, he’s concerned with the basic “blocking and tackling” of government, a phrase used on Beacon Hill for decades. “It’s where we can have the most impact on people’s everyday lives, and it’s what people care about most,” said Baker.

He has some big, bold ideas, but right now he has to pump out the basement before adding an addition.

Mr. Baker’s Transportation Authority

With the creation of the Fiscal and Management Control Board, the MBTA now belongs to Baker. The legislature moved Heaven and Earth to give Baker the emergency reforms he wanted, including the suspension of an anti-privatization law that empowers unions at the cash-strapped agency. As noted above, fixing the T is a monumental task, but it’s Baker’s headache now.

He summed up the situation best when describing the state of the MBTA: “Turning around a system with the troubles and problems the T has won’t be easy or quick, and there will be some missteps along the way, but we are determined to do it.”

Baker Really Wants Strict Limits on Opioid Prescriptions

While the House and Senate hammer out the final details of an opioid abuse bill, Baker made it very clear that he wants strict limits on prescriptions that doctors dish out. The current divide on this issue between Baker and the legislature is measured in inches, not feet. It’s unclear what the final bill will look like, but this is an instance where Baker is deploying the power of his bully pulpit to influence legislation that has universal support.

“Prescribers in this state wrote more than four million opioid prescriptions for 200 million pain pills in 2014. These numbers have been climbing for a decade. The rise in opioid and heroin addiction deaths has traveled hand in hand with the growth in prescriptions,” said Baker.

Baker Will Go to the Mat for Charter Schools

The way Baker sees it, charter schools have become an answer for many of the problems in public education since they were introduced in Massachusetts in 1993. They provide an opportunity for educators to function outside stubborn work rules, give parents a choice for their children, and offer students an opportunity to excel in places where they otherwise would not.

Charter schools have been so successful in Massachusetts that 37,470 children are on a waiting list for admission into one. The only real way to reduce that waiting list is to open more charter schools, something that can be done only if the legislature lifts the state-mandated cap on them.

Baker supports a statewide ballot question that seeks to lift the cap, but he would prefer it if the legislature acted. He has his work cut out for him on this front; the divide in the legislature was very evident when Baker addressed charter schools.