By Matt Murphy and Katie Lannan, State House News Service
BOSTON (State House News Service) — Urging his fellow political leaders to resist the "siren call of sloganeering" in the heat of an election year, Gov. Charlie Baker will call Tuesday night for the state to embrace an aggressive new climate goal of net-zero emissions by 2050 and shower $135 million in new operating funds on the MBTA to ensure that the T can make safety and service improvements.
Baker will also try to nudge lawmakers to advance his housing and health care agendas, and will propose to "transform" the state's vocational high schools into three-shift institutions where adults and traditional students can also avail themselves of the training needed to fill jobs throughout the economy.
The governor, who is beginning the second year of his second term, was set to deliver his annual State of the Commonwealth speech before the Legislature and assembled guests at the State House as tensions in Washington have reached a boiling point with the impeachment trial of President Trump beginning Tuesday in the Senate.
The popular Republican has also flirted with the idea of seeking a third term, and is entering a key year for his agenda ahead of the time in early 2021 when some Democrats might start to think about whether to run for the governor.
"We all know campaigns are contests, and the siren call of sloganeering and cheap shots will be everywhere this year. Let's rise above it," Baker planned to say, according to a copy of his remarks shared before the speech.
Since being elected in 2015, Baker has had enduring popularity. The most recent Morning Consult poll found that in the fourth quarter of last year Baker had an approval rating of 69 percent, compared to the 19 percent who said they disapproved of the job the governor was doing.
The governor has filed bills to deal with everything from climate change to health care spending on behavioral health, addiction and senior care only to see many of his proposals languish before the Legislature.
Baker urged the Legislature to act on those pieces of legislation, as well as his housing bill, and added to that list by saying that he would commit the state to the goal of achieving net-zero carbon emissions by 2050.
The announcement comes days ahead of the Senate rolling out a major new climate bill of their own, and was followed up by a forceful defense of the regional cap-and-trade program for vehicle emissions that Baker is trying to put together with 10 other states.
Some other governors have expressed concern that the Transportation Climate Initiative could add up to 17 cents to the price of gas, but Baker said it must a part of the regional strategy to tackle climate change.
"Let's face it. Time is not our friend," Baker said, in his prepared remarks.
The timing of Baker's speech on the night before he files his annual budget with the House meant that it was also a prime opportunity for him to highlight some of what his spending plan will entail.
Baker said the budget he will file Wednesday will include an increase of $135 million in operating funds for the MBTA to ensure that the T can implement the recent recommendations of a safety review panel and speed up service improvements.
It will also make the first down-payment on a $1.5 billion commitment over the next seven years to public education as part of the school finance overhaul Baker signed two months ago aimed at closing persistent achievement gaps by reworking the state's funding formula to better account for the costs of teaching English learners, special education students and kids living in poverty.
Baker said that "many people" questioned whether the state will be able to fund the reforms, but said he thinks the funding "may be the easiest part."
"The harder part will be implementing the proven strategies in schools and districts throughout Massachusetts that change the game for kids," he said in his prepared remarks.
Baker planned to recognize 11 high school students from Lawrence, where Elementary and Secondary Education Commissioner Jeffrey Riley used to be the superintendent and receiver, during his speech. The students participated in an early college program and earned full scholarships to Merrimack College and Northern Essex Community College.
After describing the state's economy as "booming" and noting the unemployment rate remains below 3 percent, Baker also announced plans to launch a new $15 million partnership with the state's vocational schools, which he said will "turbocharge our approach to applied learning and industry specific credentialing" and ultimately train 20,000 new workers over the next several years.
The initiative, Baker said, will "transform" vocational schools to provide classes in three shifts, so that adults can take classes in the evening, traditional high school students after their regular school day, and full-time vocational students during their regular class hours.
Baker also said he plans to file legislation based on his administration's new economic development plan next month.
As he has in the past, Baker tried to draw a distinction between the partisanship in the capital and the way his administration has been able to work with the Democrat-controlled House and Senate to accomplish major reforms.
"People who deal with much greater troubles than ours will rightly question us if we waste our time, and theirs, on the politics of personal destruction. They want us to be better than the yelling they see on TV and across social media," Baker will say.
Baker also plans to pay homage to Pete Frates, the former Boston College baseball standout who raised millions for research after being diagnosed with ALS by starting the ice bucket challenge. Frates recently passed away.
As Baker was preparing to ascend to the lectern, climate activists were outside the State House in the frigid temperatures where a faux governor delivered the speech they said they wished Baker would give, including declaring a climate emergency.
Opponents of a natural gas compressor station to built on the Fore River in Weymouth were among the protesters.
Before the speech, House Speaker Robert DeLeo said in a statement that he hoped to hear about the administration's plans to address ongoing issue at the Department of Children and Families. He said Baker visited him in his office last week to discuss DCF, and he wanted to hear more about the governor's budget plans, which weren't detailed.
"I'm proud of the House's leadership to reform DCF and protect vulnerable children, but it is clear more work remains. The House is committed to that work, yet in light of recent tragedies, we realize we can only be effective when we have a full picture of the agency's needs," DeLeo said in a statement.
WBZ NewsRadio's Carl Stevens (@carlwbz) reports