Emphasizing Bipartisanship, Gov. Baker Cites Government's 'Powerful Obligation'

Republican Gov. Charlie Baker gives his State of the State address in the House chamber Tuesday. /Steven Senne/AP)
Republican Gov. Charlie Baker gives his State of the State address in the House chamber Tuesday. /Steven Senne/AP)
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Offering a contrast to the division that has surrounded Washington politics and the start of President Donald Trump's administration, Gov. Charlie Baker on Tuesday night extended his hand to the Democrats who control Beacon Hill and asked for their help in supporting better education, job opportunities for veterans and state mental health services.

The governor called for a new $4,000 tax credit for businesses that hire unemployed veterans and promised to boost funding by $2 million for law enforcement to advance efforts to arrest and prosecute drug traffickers.

He also vowed to oppose broad-based tax increases in an apparent bid to snuff out any efforts that may be percolating among Democrats.

"Fiscal responsibility is challenging work. It's not the stuff that wins popularity contests," Baker said.

After losing a ballot campaign to expand charter schools last year, Baker said he planned to work with Rep. Alice Peisch of Wellesley and Sen. Eric Lesser of Longmeadow to create more school "empowerment zones" to give educators flexibility and urged state education officials to use their authority to take over struggling school districts, which has worked in places like Lawrence and Holyoke.

Baker delivered his State of the Commonwealth address as he begins his third year in office amid a period of economic prosperity in Massachusetts.

Despite persistent state budget problems, the state is experiencing a 16-year low in unemployment and slow, but prolonged economic growth that has created 120,000 jobs in the past two years, he said.

"Too much of what passes for political dialogue these days isn't dialogue at all. It's talking points, character assassination and deliberate misrepresentation," Baker said. "Wedge issues may be great for making headlines, but they do not move this commonwealth forward. Success is measured by what we accomplish together."

The governor, in a speech that ran 3,581 words long, ran through the litany of accomplishments that he credited to his partnership with lawmakers, including a clean energy bill and the regulation of ride-ordering services like Uber and Lyft.

He also took credit for speeding the expansion of broadband internet to underserved communities in western Massachusetts and reducing the number of homeless families living in hotels and motels, and the number of prescribed opioids by 15 percent. State welfare caseloads have fallen 25 percent, Baker said.

"The changes in Washington don’t change this powerful obligation. Our jobs remain the same. That is to represent Massachusetts to Washington and not Washington to Massachusetts."

Gov. Charlie Baker

In contrast to Trump's inaugural during which he chided government and the political class for getting in the way, Baker spoke of what government can accomplish for people when public servants work together.

"Our obligation to the people we serve is too important to place politics and partisanship before progress and results," Baker said. "The changes in Washington don't change this powerful obligation."

Baker also called out Boston Mayor Marty Walsh, telling him he looked forward to planning a Super Bowl victory party with the Democrat in a few weeks.