10:00 a.m. | The Cannabis Control Commission meets. The commission is meeting to consider action on a series of polices set to expire Dec. 31
10:30 a.m. | Boston Mayor Wu, Boston Police Commissioner Michael Cox and other officials host a press conference to discuss plans for First Night, the city's annual New Year's Even celebration. Traffic and parking changes are listed online.....Boston City Hall, Third Floor Mezzanine, 1 City Hall Square, Boston
It’s been quite a ride since I took over writing this newsletter in April. Thank you for all your tips, edits, encouragement and, of course, critiques. Keep it coming in 2023.
With the year drawing to a close, we thought it only fitting to take a look back on 2022 and some of the storylines that drove the news in Massachusetts politics. As the the pandemic receded to a point where we could once again talk shop without it being almost entirely about COVID-19, here are my Top 5 stories that shaped the year:
— Roe Decision Ripples: Yes, this was a major national story that change the trajectory of the midterms. But it was also a local story. Almost immediately after the Supreme Court’s decision to reverse decades of established law on abortion, Beacon Hill reacted. Gov. Charlie Baker used executive authority to protect abortion providers, which was later codified into law. And the politics of abortion provided definition to the sleepy race for governor. It also drove the wedge between Baker and the MassGOP deeper, speeding what will be a reckoning for the party earlier in the new year with lasting impacts on the future of the state’s opposition party.
— Come one, come all: Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis thought he was being clever and making a point by sending a planeload of migrants to Martha’s Vineyard in September. And he did. It just might not have been the point he was going for. Instead of exposing hypocrisy in a blue “sanctuary” state like Massachusetts, the island welcomed the migrants, gave them shelter and helped them find their way in a new country. It was a fascinating drama that played out as Massachusetts voters weighed whether to keep a brand new law giving immigrants unable to prove legal status access to driver’s licenses. House Speaker Ron Mariano made a bold move taking this bill off the shelf and deciding this was the year to pass it, and, for supporters, he bet correctly. The ability to quickly organize a repeal campaign and qualify for the ballot was one of the biggest achievements of the MassGOP this cycle, but it was short lived as voters elected to stick with the new law. However, immigration debates are not going away. Baker’s late request for funding to create more shelter beds for arriving migrants is an issue that will carry over to the new year and new administration.
— All aboard, at your own risk: In some ways, the course for Baker’s entire governorship was set in those first wintry weeks of 2015 when the MBTA showed its age in the face of piles of snow. And in his last year in office the challenges and possibilities for transportation — price, reliability, and reach — all came to a head again. Safety incident after safety incident on the T brought the feds in to investigate and it will fall to Gov.-elect Maura Healey to fully clean up the mess. But it wasn’t all bad. The Green Line Extension was finally completed, South Coast rail is nearly a reality, and federal dollars and a commitment from state leaders means East-West rail may actually come to pass.
— Money, money, money: Beacon Hill has been swimming in money. Whether its been the record tax receipts or federal stimulus, the challenge of balancing the books has not been one born of shortfalls. So much so that we were forced to relearn the details of a 1986 law known as 62F that delivered nearly $3 billion in refunds to state taxpayers. That didn’t stop voters from approving a new 4 percent surtax on income above $1 million, which may or may not be contributing to the Red Sox’ infuriating offseason. It also put tax cuts on the menu. But the Legislature’s inability to decide how and how much means this will also be a big story in 2023.
— Baker says goodbye, Healey says hello: Finally, I would be remiss if I didn’t put Healey’s history-making election on this list. It might have been higher if she hadn’t romped quite so easily to victory, clearing the Democratic field and dispatching nominal Republican opposition from Geoff Diehl. But as with any changing of the guard in the governor’s office, it’s a BFD, as President Biden might say. That said, Baker leaves next week with sky-high popularity. And he’s still going to be making headlines. You just might need to read more ESPN to get your Baker news fix once he takes over as NCAA president in March.
For more on these stories and other big headlines from the year, check out the State House Press Corps’ Top 10, published by State House News Service.
This will be our last newsletter for the year. But we’ll be back in your inboxes on Tuesday, Jan. 3 to keep you covered on Inauguration Week.
— State to vacate large chunks of downtown office space
It’s a sign of the times and bad news for the revival of downtown Boston: The Commonwealth of Massachusetts, a major tenant in downtown Boston, plans to vacate 355,000 square feet of space by 2024, according to a scoop by the Boston Globe’s Jon Chesto. The executive branch leases nearly 900,000 square feet downtown, but realizes, like many private enterprises, that it can do just as well with much less square footage though hybrid work arrangements. Meanwhile, foot traffic downtown this year is estimated to be about half of 2019’s levels. With this pending blow, Chesto poses the question of whether the state has an obligation to help prop up a critical and struggling economic center.
— Advocates see leadership role on housing for Driscoll
Housing advocates are expressing optimism that incoming Lt. Gov. Kim Driscoll will be the key to continuing momentum on expanding the state’s housing supply in the new Healey administration, Andrew Brinker of the Globe reports. Driscoll’s track record of broadening housing options while mayor of Salem is giving hope to advocates that she can provide key leadership on one the state’s most intractable and urgent issues.
— In latest farewell interview, Baker explains evolution on NCAA president gig
Gov. Charlie Baker sat down with MassLive’s Alison Kuznitz for an exit interview and explained how he got from “what?” to “yes” on his upcoming role as NCAA president, as well as what he’ll miss most – and least – about his eight years serving as governor of the Commonwealth.
— Amherst accused of inequitable distribution of ARPA funds
Officials in Amherst are defending the way they distributed $750,000 worth of American Rescue Plan Act funds to local businesses after some minority company owners said they were unaware the funds were available. Scott Merzbach of the Daily Hampshire Gazette has details on the dustup and the data released by the town to underscore efforts to ensure the funds were distributed equitably.
– Heroux pledges change in Sheriff’s office
Incoming Bristol County Sheriff Paul Heroux tells Frank Mulligan of the Standard-Times he takes office with a mandate for change, but that he’ll start with a careful review of current operations before he starts revamping the office held for more than two decades by Thomas Hodgson. Heroux said his track record on transitions from his time as Attleboro mayor shows he isn’t about to make abrupt, wholesale changes in staffing or leadership.
— Still suffering: Community colleges struggle to emerge from pandemic downturn
Bay State community colleges collectively have lost nearly 13,000 students working toward degrees since the fall of 2019, a stark drop fueled by the pandemic and worsened by inflation, the Globe’s Hillary Burns reports. The situation has observers worried about the long-term impacts on both would-be students and the state’s economy.
— Hands off: Bourne declares tourism info booth a historically significant building
A tourist information booth built in the 1920s and slated for demolition to clear the way for a gas station expansion just over the Bourne Bridge has been granted protected status by the Bourne Historical Commission, which has scheduled a hearing next month that could end with the booth being protected from demolition for up to a year. Rachael Devaney of the Cape Cod Times has details on the latest twist in the ongoing saga.