Senate President Karen Spilka has appointed me to serve in a new role: President Pro Tempore of the senate. My role is to help her move the senate’s agenda forward.
I fully endorse the agenda that she has defined for the senate. Her agenda speaks directly to the concerns that have motivated me to serve in public office.
I started my involvement in local politics as a young parent concerned about education funding and that remains a central concern for me. In her inaugural address, she affirmed that “Adequately funding our education system will be one of the top priorities of the Senate this session.”
She also appreciates the close relationship between housing, transportation and environmental concerns. Everyone is frustrated with traffic congestion. The problems created by inadequate housing production are well understood. What is emerging now is the possibility that a big upgrade in our regional rail system could help alleviate congestion and housing supply needs while reducing carbon emissions.
If we could offer frequent all-day service between the inner core and gateway cities like Brockton, Worcester and Lowell, then people could live more affordably in or around those communities and commute to jobs in the core. With adequate connectivity, the gateway cities could themselves become employment centers. That potential would be greatest if we had the North-South rail link connecting communities across the region.
Cut through traffic in inner core communities could be further reduced if suburban commuters could leave their cars at stations on 128 and switch to frequent rail to get downtown. Congestion in the inner core would no longer constrain job and housing growth and the quality of life in the inner core communities that I represent could be improved.
Getting people out of cars reduces emissions, especially if the rail is electrified and supplied with power from green sources. And, there may be a connection between long-term climate resiliency of the region and an emphasis on development in the gateway cities instead of concentrating all development in Boston.
All of that is somewhat theoretical, but MassDOT is engaging in a careful study of the rail options to determine what is physically possible. Then we will need to address the financial challenge.
The Senate President is starting with an open mind and a clear set of principles — regional equity, access and affordability, sustainability, connectivity, innovation and responsiveness. She has said that “now is the time to be bold” while recognizing that “we still need to find ways to reach political consensus on our bold ideas.” That is a challenge I’m eager to be helpful with.
The Senate President was a close partner to me in the Criminal Justice Reform package that we moved forward last year. She was Ways and Means Chair and her support and guidance was critical to the success of the package. She has a career-long commitment to justice issues and will continue to support progress on that front.
She has been a champion for the vulnerable and has made a personal commitment as Senate President to achieving “true mental health parity” and improving preventative mental health care.
She has a strong track-record on economic development issues and fiscal responsibility. She has chosen Senator Rodrigues from Fall River as her Ways and Means Chair. He brings a business perspective and I believe will run a very solid budget process.
An agenda of this breadth requires a strong leadership team and I’m very pleased that she has asked me to be part of her team. I’m looking forward to all of the important work that lies ahead.