After a harrowing two years battling the COVID-19 pandemic, Massachusetts has emerged stronger as it looks forward to new challenges, Gov. Charlie Baker said Tuesday as he delivered his eighth and final State of the Commonwealth address.
Baker said Massachusetts is already on its way to a comeback, with an unemployment rate that has fallen below 4% for the first time since March, 2020, and more than half a million jobs recovered.
"Because of all you've done, we can stand here together tonight and I can say the state of our commonwealth remains strong," he said.
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During the speech, the Republican made a case for a series of tax cuts he said will be included in his state budget proposal for the new fiscal year.
One would eliminate income taxes for the lowest paid 230,000 taxpayers in the state. Instead of paying income taxes, the individuals should be able to use their earnings to pay for necessities like food, housing and transportation, Baker said.
Citing the rising cost of rental units, Baker proposed giving renters a bigger tax break on their monthly payments. He also said his budget bill would propose doubling the tax break for children and dependents.
The administration will also file a transportation bond bill soon to make sure the state gets the full benefit of the federal bipartisan infrastructure law, he said.
Baker said he also wants to close what he described as loopholes that threaten public safety, including one that he said leaves state residents, many of them women, with little recourse when a former partner attempts to destroy their lives by taking explicit photos and posting them on the internet.
"Massachusetts is one of only two states that doesn't treat this as a crime," Baker said. "Forty-eight other states treat this as a crime, because it is a crime."
Other administration priorities include the state's ongoing effort to switch to a renewable energy future.
Baker said he'll continue to push a climate proposal which he said is designed to build on the state's ongoing offshore wind agenda with the creation of a $750 million Clean Energy Innovation Fund.
Another priority is mental health, which has worsened under the anxiety, disruption and isolation that came with pandemic. Baker said it's critical to continue to support and expand access to mental health care.
Baker said the administration will continue to press its fight against COVID-19. He said the state had already made progress with more than 80% of the state's eligible population fully vaccinated, and nearly 100% of those over the age of 65 vaccinated.
"Throughout this pandemic, there's been no shortage of things we just don't know, and it's easy to get lost in that," Baker said. "But we should also remember what we do know. Vaccines and all the other resources we now have available to us work."
Before wrapping up the speech, Baker offered a warning about the struggles those in public life face as they try to build trust in an increasingly divisive political landscape.
"The explosion of social media, the arrival of hundreds of news channels and information distribution platforms and the ongoing churn of information have made it almost impossible for anyone in public life who wants to collaborate to build trust," Baker said.
"Facts are often fungible and curated. Missteps play out in real time and can go viral in the most bizarre and unusual ways. Context is non-existent. And in many cases, history and current events get twisted to support whatever point of view someone is advocating for," he added.
With the Statehouse still closed to the public, Baker delivered the speech from the Hynes Convention Center.
Baker announced last month that he won't seek a third term as governor of Massachusetts.
The decision came near the end of a second exhausting year during which his main focus has been the pandemic.
Baker first took office in January, 2015, and easily won reelection in 2018.
He's been among the nation's most popular chief executives. His decision — and the decision of Lieutenant Gov. Karyn Polito — not to seek the office means there will be an open race for governor this year.
Three Democrats have declared their candidacies — Attorney General Maura Healey, Harvard professor Danielle Allen and state Sen. Sonia Chang-Diaz.
Republican Geoff Diehl, a former state representative from Whitman, has announced his candidacy. Shiva Ayyadurai, who in 2020 lost a Republican primary bid for the U.S. Senate, also plans to run.