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Baker targets spending in inaugural speech

Diverse team faces daunting challenges

Yawu Miller
Yawu Miller
Yawu Miller is the Banner’s senior editor. VIEW BIO
Baker targets spending in inaugural speech
Newly elected Governor Charlie Baker and Lt. Governor Karyn Polito were sworn in at the State House last week. Baker says his administration will begin working with a $500 million budget deficit and has instituted a hiring freeze. (Photo: Courtesy Governor’s Press Office)

Governor Charlie Baker visited the Kroc Center in Dorchester after his swearing-in ceremony. The new Governor put the “spotlight of excellence” on the Dudley Street Neighborhood Initiative and its programs. (l-r)Tony Hernandez-DSNI staff, Chris Jones-DSNI ED, Lt. Governor Karyn Polito, Dudley Street School student Nysia Hernandez, Gov. Charlie Baker, Dudley Street School 3rd grade student Makya Ware, DSNI staff member Travis Watson and Uphams Corner artist-in-residence Cedric Douglas.

Sounding themes of fiscal restraint and government reform, Gov. Charlie Baker pledged to tackle some of the state’s more intractable problems — homelessness, educational disparities and opiate addiction — during his inaugural address last week.

The speech was delivered at the State House Jan. 8 amid a series of inaugural events including appearances by the new governor in Roxbury, Springfield, Pittsfield and Worcester.

The aspirations Baker outlined in his speech were tempered by what his administration estimates will be a $500 million budget shortfall for the second half of the fiscal year — a development the new governor says will necessitate hard choices in state government.

Spending problem

“If we’re honest with ourselves, then we can’t blame our deficit on a lack of revenue,” Baker said in his address. “We have to recognize that this is a spending problem. And that dealing with it now will make balancing next year’s budget that much easier.”

Baker’s prescription for the expected deficit will likely involve cuts to government programs.

“We will hold the line on taxes,” he said. “We’re already demanding enough from hard-working people. And we will protect cities and towns and fulfill our promise to end the cuts to local aid. Otherwise, every line item will be looked at. While there are efficiencies to be gained and structural changes to be made, there’s no doubt that we have to make difficult decisions. We will do so with great sensitivity and careful judgment.”

Baker’s speech pledge to hold harmless local aid — the state funding provided to cities and towns for basic municipal services — echoed a pledge he made on the campaign trail to increase state funding for cities and towns. That pledge may mean other priorities in the $36 billion budget will see cuts. Coupled with the Baker’s pledge to cut business taxes, the revenue shortfall that Baker characterized as a spending problem may translate into substantial belt-tightening when Baker releases his first budget, due out Jan. 28.

A new administration

Whatever decisions Baker makes, he will do so with what observers say is the most diverse cabinet in the state’s history. Next Street Financial founder Ron Walker is heading Labor and Workforce Development, Chrystal Kornegay is Secretary of the Department of Housing and Community Development, and Francisco Urena is Secretary of Veterans Services.

Other high-ranking people of color in the Baker administration include Linda Spears, Commissioner of the Department of Children and Families; Joel Barrera, Deputy Chief of Staff for Cabinet Relations and Nam Pham, Assistant Secretary for Business Development.

District 7 City Councilor Tito Jackson says he’s encouraged by the diversity in the Baker administration.

“I look forward to inclusive policies, as well as a budget that continues to focus on the communities that Baker visited in his inaugural celebration,” he said.

Jackson sounded a cautionary note on Baker’s pledge to expand charter schools, noting that half of the $150 million Boston receives in state Chapter 70 funds for schools goes to the 21 charter schools in the city. The remaining $75 million goes to the 128 district-run schools.

“It’s critical that we figure out a fair funding formula for charter schools that does not take away resources from district schools,” he commented. “The funding formula is broken. It needs to be fixed. And it needs to be fixed urgently.”

Democratic activist Melvin Poindexter said he is encouraged by the diversity in Baker’s newly-forming administration.

“Now he has to tie in the goals he laid out in his urban agenda,” Poindexter said, referencing the agenda Baker announced at his Grove Hall office opening during the gubernatorial campaign. “His department heads should be able to use that agenda as a blue print.”

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