On the cusp of taking the reins of the executive branch, Governor-elect Maura Healey said Monday she wants to pour resources into the state’s climate technology sector, outlining the broad strokes of a policy vision that could rival the $1 billion, decade-long initiative of grants and tax incentives created under former governor Deval Patrick to bolster the state’s behemoth biotech industry.
“Many years ago, we made investments in life sciences. I think we can make similar investments when it comes to climate technology here in this state and become a global epicenter,” Healey said, though she didn’t say how her financial commitment would compare to Patrick’s. “It’s certainly going to require an investment.”
In a wide-ranging interview inside her campaign’s sparse State House transition office, Healey said she wants to name an MBTA chief with transit experience, transform swaths of state-owned land into new housing, and craft a business-friendly message and create “a vibe” to keep people in Massachusetts instead of taking their talents to California, Texas, or North Carolina.
“I don’t want to lose out to other states, other regions. I want people here,” she said in her first sit-down interview with the Globe since her electoral victory. “We’ve just got to make sure that it is desirable and affordable for people here. And businesses here.”
She wants to set Massachusetts apart by spurring what she calls a “climate corridor” that incentivizes the clean energy sector to invest in the state. She described it as being similar to the legislation Patrick pushed and later signed that promised $1 billion in state investments over 10 years to help spur biotech research through the then-newly created Massachusetts Life Sciences Center. That, too, was among Patrick’s first, and most sweeping, policy pitches in the Democrat’s first term.
Metrics gauging the success of Patrick’s life sciences effort produce varied verdicts, but officials at the Life Sciences Center have told the Globe it has helped create 15,000 jobs since its inception more than a decade ago.
Governor Charlie Baker repeatedly pushed his own plan for a $750 million injection of federal funds to super-charge clean energy investment in the state. But the Democrat-led Legislature rejected his pitch several times, raising questions of how a proposal would be received from Healey, who has repeatedly underscored climate change as a major focus of her fledging administration. The governor-elect underscored her commitment Monday by naming the state’s first Cabinet-level climate chief, a position unique in the nation, according to Healey’s transition team.
“It is imperative to us being able to meet our climate goals as established by the Legislature,” Healey told the Globe, describing her broader climate goals. “and it is a huge economic opportunity for us as well.”
While she aspires to set Massachusetts apart, she said she doesn’t see herself as assuming the role of a national political figure, though she may inherently be one. She was the first woman to be elected governor in state history, and one of the first openly lesbian governors-elect in the country. The morning after her victory, she woke up to her face splashed across front pages nationally.
On Monday she waved off any wider ambition, and declined to say, for example, whether she believes President Joe Biden should seek a second term. “I haven’t given that any thought,” she said.
Her focus, she stresses, is on making the state more competitive, including pursuing a still largely undefined tax relief package in coming months as part of her first budget proposal.
Healey said she wants to make it easier for developers to build desperately needed housing. She said she wants to “streamline some” of the permitting process — something that is handled at both the state and municipal level — and wondered aloud about what incentives the state can offer to spur more housing construction.
Healey said she also wants to explore turning “unused, underutilized public land,” including state buildings, into more housing.
“We need to big-time increase the production of housing around the state,” Healey said, punctuating her sentence by slamming a fist into her open palm.
But she said she is still weighing what those changes might be, or whether she’d have to pursue them through legislation.
Healey also said she’s unclear at this point how many additional units it would take to ameliorate the housing crisis gripping the state. “I don’t know that yet,” Healey said. “But that’s something we’re assessing.”
That’s a common refrain for Healey in several areas 2½ weeks before she will be sworn into office. She said she is also still assessing what changes she can make to the housing stock through executive authority, and assessing whether the Department of Public Utilities is the best fit to oversee safety at the troubled MBTA.
When asked whether her Cabinet would be more diverse than that of Baker, whose Cabinet was mostly white, Healey underscored the importance of diverse leadership, but did not directly promise to make diverse Cabinet appointments.
“I think you know me and how much I believe that representation matters,” she said, pointing to the many leaders of color on her transition team. “Seeing is believing, and I think that we’ll have better laws and policies and regulations when we make sure that we are hearing from a diversity of experiences and perspectives.”
She was also vague about Lieutenant Governor-elect Kim Driscoll’s role in the administration, saying Driscoll would be a liaison to cities and towns, as past lieutenant governors have been, but also indicating she’ll have her hands in several policy areas, including housing.
“We’re both going to be involved in everything,” she said.
When it comes to transit, Healey said “job one” is ensuring that the state’s transportation system is safe, reliable, and affordable. To the governor-elect, that means appointing a general manager and a transportation safety chief who will be charged with conducting an audit of the whole system and ensuring that the state is in line with recommendations made by the federal government. The Federal Transit Administration identified weak safeguards, worker shortages, and lack of training, among other things, in a scathing report released earlier this year.
Healey’s team is still recruiting “nationally and internationally” to fill the job of MBTA general manager, which is being vacated by Steve Poftak, who announced his departure last month. Baker has had five GMs during his two terms, four of whom he selected.
“You want somebody with transit experience, with operational experience, and who brings an energy and an urgency to address the safety concerns,” said Healey, who mentioned that she plans to occasionally ride the T. “I expect to use the T, I expect to use public transportation. I don’t expect, probably, to use it for my daily commute.”
Her Cambridge apartment, which she moved into months before the election, is a stone’s throw from the Red Line station in Porter Square.
Healey moved from the South End to Cambridge earlier this year, but she did not tell the general public or even some supporters she had relocated.
State law requires candidates to tell the Office of Campaign and Political Finance within 10 days when they change addresses. Healey, despite moving in July, did not do so until the day the Globe reported on her move in mid-November.
She said Monday she wasn’t seeking to hide the move.
“I thought I was forthright. I filled out all the forms and did all the work. I may not have thought of apprising everybody in the media about it, necessarily,” she said. “It was a temporary move at the time.”
But she said she intends to live in Cambridge upon taking office. “For now,” she added. “For now.”
It will take more than Cabinet appointments and executive orders to realize all her goals. In other words, she will need to build connections, make inroads statewide, and persuade others, namely the Legislature, to buy in.
In the mostly empty transition office, a bright yet wilting bouquet of pink carnations, roses, and lilies stood out among the off-white walls, aging office furniture, and a hulking gray fax machine.
Stuck in the bouquet, a card read: “Welcome to the State House! If you need anything, don’t hesitate to reach out to me or my team. We’re excited to work with you all!”
The signer? Senate president Karen Spilka.