Governor Charlie Baker pledged Thursday that his $40 million in proposed cuts to the state’s transportation system to help bridge the state’s urgent budget deficit won’t impact MBTA service, which has operated poorly in recent days in part as a result of aging infrastructure and winter weather.
“Based on the conversations we’ve had with the leadership at the T and at [the Department of] Transportation, the proposals that we’re pursuing here, if the Legislature approves them, won’t have any impact on service,” Baker said.
The comments came after he delivered one of his first major speeches as governor.
In his remarks, he recounted his busy first month in office, emphasized his administration’s economic agenda, and pledged cooperation with the Legislature at a breakfast of the influential Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce.
Baker, who took office Jan. 8, began describing the surprises of his first four weeks, from Boston being named the US candidate for the 2024 Summer Games to protesters blocking Interstate 93 to massive snowfalls to a urgent state budget deficit.
He recalled, one week on the job, being driven into work by a state trooper and learning about protesters on the highway, some chained to barrels filled with concrete, snarling the commute on a major artery. And, later, learning about forecasts that called for a massive snowfall and spending many hours in the state emergency management bunker as Massachusetts dealt with the storm.
“I’m realizing every day is not going to be what you think it is going to be,” he said.
Reprising themes from his campaign and his inaugural address, he spoke about boosting the economy and the quality of education across the state. Baker also emphasized actions his administration has taken as it faces a fiscal gap: a review of contracts, a pause on most new regulations, and a hiring freeze.
“It’s always better,” he said, “not to fill a job you can’t afford to pay for than it is to lay somebody off.
He also spoke about his plan to bridge the state’s estimated $768 million budget gap, and bemoaned the large increase in state spending – particularly huge year-over-year increases in Medicaid spending – that is outpacing the increase of tax revenue.
He said his administration will be pursuing reforms to the state’s Medcaid program.
After his speech, the Republican was asked his strategy for dealing with the overwhelmingly Democratic Legislature.
“Kumbaya,” he replied.
Baker was also asked, given this week’s severe transportation delays, whether his administration intended to revive a public discussion about additional investments in transportation infrastructure.
“Everybody always wants to spend more money on everything, I get that,” he said. “But I’m going to start this conversation with Stephanie” Pollack, the state transportation secretary, people at the MBTA, and the Legislature.