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Baker Homes In On Climate Change, Transportation, Housing In Annual Address04:15
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Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker, center, waves at the conclusion of his state of the state address in the House Chamber as Speaker of the House Robert DeLeo, behind left, and Senate President Karen Spilka, right, look on, Tuesday, at the State House. (Steven Senne/AP)
Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker, center, waves at the conclusion of his state of the state address in the House Chamber as Speaker of the House Robert DeLeo, behind left, and Senate President Karen Spilka, right, look on, Tuesday, at the State House. (Steven Senne/AP)

Climate change and transportation dominated Gov. Charlie Baker's State of the Commonwealth address Tuesday night on Beacon Hill. The governor set an ambitious emissions goal and is pledging more money to operate the MBTA.

Baker is one of the rare Republicans in this country who acknowledges that the consequences of climate change are real and potentially devastating.

While some environmentalists say he's not doing enough, especially when it comes to allowing projects like the Weymouth Compressor Station to go forward, he touted his administration's climate change accomplishments and laid out an agenda to do more.

"I’m committing the commonwealth to achieving an ambitious climate goal: net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050," Baker told legislators, supporters and other state officials gathered in the House chamber at the State House.

To achieve that goal, the governor reiterated his support for a regional Transportation Climate Initiative (TCI), in which northeast states would work together on transportation issues with a goal of reducing emissions. TCI has been a difficult sell so far, with governors in some neighboring states raising concerns because it would raise gas prices. Still, Baker says TCI encompasses 70 million people and 50 million vehicles.

"I’m committing the commonwealth to achieving an ambitious climate goal: net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050."

Gov. Charlie Baker

"Greenhouse gas emissions from transportation have been on the rise for decades and now represent 40% of this state’s total emissions," Baker said. "Unless we take on transportation, we won’t meet our objectives. I get that this is going to be hard. But together, we have a real opportunity and a responsibility to achieve a significant reduction in transportation emissions."

The Governor says TCI would deliver millions of dollars in needed investments in transportation infrastructure. But legislative leaders wonder whether that's enough.

After the speech, House Speaker Robert DeLeo said while he supports TCI, the Legislature is also considering a revenue package.

"We think we have to have a dedicated revenue stream — in terms of not only for the T, but for roads and bridges and [regional transit authorities] and projects throughout the commonwealth," DeLeo told reporters after the governor's speech.

The governor has rebuffed calls to raise taxes for improving transportation, but pledged that his upcoming budget recommendation will call for an extra $135 million in operating funds for the MBTA.

Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker, center, enters the House Chamber before he delivers his state of the state address. (Steven Senne/AP)
Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker, center, enters the House Chamber before he delivers his state of the state address. (Steven Senne/AP)

Another area Baker focused on was affordable housing.

He says the current zoning laws make it almost impossible for local communities to do what makes sense for their residents. Baker says thousands of units of needed housing get majority support in their local communities, but are never built because current zoning laws require a super-majority vote. He says that doing nothing has been hurting families for years.

"For the sake of our communities, our young people, our seniors and our families, let’s find the common ground on housing policy that must be in here somewhere. And let’s get this one done," Baker said.

One of the big questions on Beacon Hill has been whether Baker will run for a third term. The next gubernatorial election is still more than two years away, and the governor has done little to signal his plans. But there were no clues given in last night's address.

He still enjoys a good working relationship with the Democrat-controlled Legislature, and said citizens understand pointless bickering solves nothing.

"They want us to work together to build stronger, safer communities, a better economy and a more resilient, respectful and hopeful commonwealth. They are civil to a fault," he said. "And we should be too. We all know campaigns are contests, and the siren call of sloganeering and cheap shots will be everywhere this year. Let’s rise above it."

The relationship between the governor and the Legislature gets put to the test later Wednesday, as he submits his budget recommendation for the upcoming fiscal year.

This segment aired on January 22, 2020.

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Steve Brown Twitter Senior Reporter/Anchor
Steve Brown is a veteran broadcast journalist who serves as WBUR's senior State House reporter.

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