We might lose some progressive readers for suggesting this, but Governor Charlie Baker is apparently doing an impressive job in the driver’s seat. Not only because he looked appropriately gubernatorial at those mid-blizzard press conferences, which he did, but rather because he doesn’t appear to be targeting the weakest and poorest among us. That’s more or less what we expect from politicians these days, especially Republicans, and so it’s somewhat refreshing to see Baker handle deficits and trim spending relatively delicately. It’s regrettable that his proposed $38.1 billion budget includes harsh cuts for critical health care programs that serve disabled and poor individuals, but Baker appears to be addressing poverty elsewhere, like by looking for creative ways to boost tax credits for low-income families.
What we’re saying is that this guy may be capable of doing the right thing. At least in some cases; on elementary education, for an example of his inevitably foul side, the future holds an onslaught of charter school subterfuge. Nevertheless, since every politician needs a nudge from time to time, we asked nonprofits and activist groups that are important to Dig readers what they would like to see from a Baker administration. A few made specific requests, referencing newly pitched legislation, while others asked for larger sweeping changes. And while we won’t attempt to speak for them all, it seems that many share our cautious optimism. Of course, we did ask them to write these blurbs before the Baker budget was proposed, but if we know anything about our do-gooder friends, it’s that while services get cut all the time, their resolve remains intact.
Support civil legal aid. Cutting back on civil legal aid is the working definition of penny wise, pound foolish. Successful representation of people living in poverty improperly denied federal benefits brought $8.6 million into Massachusetts last year. Other benefits related to fighting illegal foreclosure and evictions, and winning child support and unemployment insurance awards, totaled $11.5 million. All told, civil legal aid generated $33.7 million in benefits. Access to justice should not be dependent on your ability to pay for legal representation.
ARTS & EDUCATION
You want to create jobs? Close the achievement gap? Deal with drug addiction? Then marry your urban agenda to the arts. Downtown development in cities like Pittsfield and Lowell would have failed without art, which generates $2.1 billion in economic activity each year. Art is critical to reducing youth violence and helping people recover from substance use. No governor has ever tapped the full power of the cultural sector. Do this and you’ll make history.
Restructure the Mass Film Tax Credit to increase the benefit to working-class communities and youth in Massachusetts. Incentivize creating job opportunities on sets for youth in media training programs and vocational schools. Increase benefit for dollars spent in locally owned small businesses, women-owned businesses, and businesses owned by People of Color. For the price tag, we need to demand more tangible benefits for our communities.
Help us invest in public higher education to make it possible for all of our young people to attend and graduate from college, and become productive citizens without the burden of massive debt. It is clear that investing in public higher education pays off. College educated people have higher incomes, pay more in taxes, demand fewer social services, and create more businesses. Ensure access for all by making two years of college free to residents of the commonwealth.
PUBLIC HEALTH & LGBT SERVICES
Improve services for LGBT youth. LGBT youth need safe options for emergency shelter apart from adults where they can be out. They need access to comprehensive sexuality education to reduce their risk of pregnancy and sexually-transmitted infections. Support the bill to add gender identity to the state’s public accommodations law so transgender youth will be safer in public spaces. Make use of the bully pulpit to reinforce that LGBT people of all ages deserve the same rights as everyone else.
Improve services for LGBT elders. Many LGBT elders are reluctant to come out to caregivers and go without help rather than turn to service providers such as home care aides. Many return to the closet when they enter assisted living facilities or nursing homes. Support the “Cultural Competency Training for Service Providers for LGBT Elders” bill which would require the Executive Office of Elder Affairs to develop training for caregivers on how to appropriately deliver services to LGBT older adults.
Take action to reduce transmission of HIV and viral hepatitis. Maintain funding for outreach, prevention, and testing of HIV/AIDS and hepatitis, both of which remain major threats to public health. Gay men make up nearly half of all new HIV infections; Black and Hispanic people are diagnosed 10 and seven times that of white people, respectively. Young people age 15-24 are most vulnerable to viral hepatitis due to shared use of injection drug equipment. If we don’t hold the line, we will lose the fight.
BHSC seeks Governor Baker’s leadership to: 1) Declare a State of Emergency to address the related crises of homelessness and substance abuse, bringing together affected people and agencies to help forge solutions. Supplement and upgrade shelters to meet state sanitary codes. Replace motels with “Housing First” programs and rental vouchers. 2) Immediately restore Long Island’s residential recovery programs utilizing ferries and ambulance boats. Utilize $20 million provided by the legislature for the substance abuse epidemic to expand detox services statewide.
It will take more than affordable housing to reduce homelessness. People who are homeless need access to resources such as: workforce development skills training; substance use treatment programs; and assistance with reintegrating into society upon release from prison. Formerly homeless men and women also benefit from long-term follow-up after securing housing to stay connected with these resources, and increase the likelihood that they will stabilize their lives and remained housed for the long term.
CIVIL LIBERTIES & PUBLIC SAFETY
ACLU (American Civil Liberties Union)
We hope Governor Baker will support three things. Massachusetts needs legislation to prohibit racial profiling, and to require the collection and sharing of information about every police stop. We need privacy legislation to regulate the use of automatic license plate readers, and to prevent bosses from demanding access to employees’ private social media accounts. And we need to reform our public records law, which hasn’t been updated since 1973, to streamline access to public information.
We would like Governor Baker to bring police acquisition of military equipment under municipal control (HD430), mandate police bodycams with strong data controls (SD1546), and rein in Massachusetts’ out-of-control fusion centers (SD1492).
Our wish is to see Governor Charlie Baker’s administration commit to making youth sports an option for every middle school student across the state, no matter whether they live in an affluent or underserved community. Sports-based youth development (SBYD) opportunities are demonstrated to reduce the risky behaviors of adolescents, improve grades and motivation in school, and promote healthier lifestyles. All students in Massachusetts deserve these opportunities.
Governor Baker: You are a numbers guy, and you need only scratch the surface of Boston 2024’s bid to see their numbers don’t add up. Please break out the green eyeshades and force the boosters to prove to you that taxpayers will not be on the hook for their three-week bash. Los Angeles refused to provide the IOC a public-funding guarantee in 1984—you should only allow Boston 2024’s bid to advance on the same terms.