The Packet Post Update from Massachusetts State House via MassAccess – November 17, 2022

Update from Massachusetts State House via MassAccess – November 17, 2022

by: Press Release

David Gauthier
Thursday, November 17, 2022:

• On November 10, 2022, DPH reported there were 5,524 new, confirmed cases reported during the past 7 days, bringing the total to 1,920,814 total confirmed cases of COVID-19.
• On November 9, 2022, there were 147 patients primarily hospitalized for COVID-19-related illnesses and 540 total patients hospitalized with COVID-19.
• There were 45 patients in ICU and 8 patients were intubated.
• There were 83 new confirmed deaths reported during the past 7 days. There have been 20,697 confirmed deaths in total.

• A flurry of one-time funding injections improved the near-term financial outlook for the MBTA, but with costs growing more quickly than revenues and a still-undetermined amount of spending required to comply with federal orders, that optimism might not last long.
• MBTA budget writers announced Wednesday they now expect operating budget gaps on the horizon will not erupt until at least the fiscal year 2025, a year later than previously projected, and might in fact hold off until the fiscal year 2026 if fare revenues rebound.
• But there are several catches. The new expectation for a balanced budget in FY24, which starts in July, stems from the deployment of reserves that will soon be depleted rather than from more durable financial improvement. T officials expect spending to swell more quickly than revenues, fueled by marquee expansions such as the Green Line Extension.
• The MBTA long struggled with structural funding problems, and the COVID-19 pandemic – which decimated transit agency budgets across the nation – only exacerbated them. O’Hara said fare revenue, which previously made up roughly a third of T’s operating revenue, dropped by more than 75 percent between FY19 and FY21.

• The state transportation department will serve as a “conduit” to steer $145 million to the MBTA in state-level matching funds for an injection of federal dollars the transit agency expects to receive under a new infrastructure law.
• MassDOT board members on Wednesday unanimously approved a transfer that will fulfill the requirement for states to put their own dollars on the table with substantial federal money set to arrive. The transfer represents the latest example of the state pouring more money into the T, which is struggling with a maintenance backlog and staff shortages that prompted service cuts.
• The T expects to receive about $580 million in additional federal formula grant funds over the next five years as part of the bipartisan infrastructure law, according to MassDOT Director of Capital Planning Michelle Ho. Federal Transit Administration grants at play need a state-level match of 20 percent, Ho said, and Wednesday’s vote solidifies that match.
• A state infrastructure bond law Gov. Charlie Baker signed in August authorized $145 million in matching funds, which will be transferred from the Commonwealth Transportation Fund to the MBTA via MassDOT following the board’s vote.

• Left as a loose end from the chaotic and then delayed end of serious lawmaking this session, tax policy is poised to reemerge as a major focal point when the next governor and Legislature get to work early next year.
• But the next head of an influential advocacy group on Wednesday ran through a litany of other things he will be keeping his eyes on come January, including a looming change for MassHealth, a fresh look at workforce development and a government reorganization.
• Doug Howgate, a longtime Beacon Hill fixture who will move up into the president’s job at the Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation in the new year, held court with Rasky Partners for an hour Wednesday to assess where state policy and finances stand and where they could be headed under Gov.-elect Maura Healey and an even more Democrat-dominated Legislature.
• On the healthcare front, state budget writers will need to keep an eye on MassHealth. The state’s Medicaid program is one of the largest drivers of spending in the state budget, though Howgate said it has not been the same kind of “budget buster” in recent years even as enrollment has climbed 30 percent while eligibility redeterminations have been paused.
• Howgate also said he will also be on the lookout for a possible Article 87 government reorganization plan from the Healey administration. The governor-elect has already announced plans to split the Executive Office of Housing and Economic Development into two Cabinet posts, but a reorganization could also include a new safety oversight structure for the MBTA and other transportation services, he said.

• As Encore Boston Harbor looks to expand its gambling offerings into a new development across the street from its existing casino, state regulators are revisiting the 2013 referendum through which Everett voters backed the casino to try to suss out exactly what it was that city residents approved.
• Encore’s parent company Wynn Resorts wants to construct a new building across Broadway from its resort casino to host a dedicated poker room, second sports betting parlor, a new nightclub, a theater, a parking garage and more.
• The Gaming Commission ruled in March that a previous draft of Wynn’s proposal – one that did not include any gaming areas – would not be part of the official gaming establishment and therefore would not fall under commission jurisdiction or oversight, an outcome the casino had lobbied for.
• But Wynn has since changed its plans and now wants its “east of Broadway” expansion to include both casino gaming (poker) and sports betting, which would require the facility to be regulated by the Gaming Commission. And because the state’s 11-year-old casino-style gambling law “is silent when it comes to expansion of gaming operations beyond the footprint of the existing gaming establishment,” commission general counsel Todd Grossman said Wednesday, the Gaming Commission is in uncharted territory as it considers Wynn’s expansion.
• In essence, the question the commission has to answer is whether the language of the June 22, 2013 referendum that cleared the way for the casino to be located in Everett authorized casino gaming at just the location specified on the ballot or whether voters approved of Wynn’s casino license generally.

• With states competing for venture capital and the presence of life sciences companies, the industry group backstopping that sector in Massachusetts plans in 2023 to press for a third major funding commitment from the state.
• According to MassBio’s chief of corporate affairs, Zach Stanley, a recently signed economic development law extended the state’s ability to spend under a $623 million life sciences law passed in 2018 for an additional two years. Spending authorizations under that law had been scheduled to expire in June 2023.
• Without identifying an exact funding request, Stanley wrote last week on the 1,600-member trade group’s website that the group “will use this longer runway to educate the incoming Healey administration and legislative leadership about the need to reauthorize the Life Sciences Initiative for a third time during the 2023-2024 session in order to sustain and protect Massachusetts’ leadership for this industry.”
• According to MassBio, the life sciences sector employs 106,000 people in Cambridge, Boston, and around the state. Its legislative agenda has expanded over the years to include drug pricing and patient access and affordability, and there are plans to engage in workforce development and early college efforts.
• Stanley also wrote that initial estimates suggest that the prescription drug pricing reforms contained in the federal Inflation Reduction Act will cut revenue to biopharmaceutical companies by $300 billion, but said: “the true impact is still unknown.”

• An “unusual increase” in cases of a respiratory virus is ramping up pressure on the already-strained healthcare sector in Massachusetts, and Bay Staters should take steps including possible indoor masking to protect themselves, medical experts said Wednesday.
• Leaders of three statewide medical groups warned that physicians are dealing with a spike of respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) cases, particularly in children, “that is causing severe illness and stretching capacity in emergency departments and hospitals.”
• The trio urged Massachusetts families to vaccinate all children older than 6 months against both the flu and COVID-19, including COVID boosters for children older than 5, and practice regular hand hygiene.
• Children and adolescents who display symptoms such as fever, coughs, congestion, and sore throats should stay home until they are free of a fever for 24 hours, and “anyone gathering in crowded indoor spaces, including children who are symptomatic, should consider wearing a mask,” the doctors said.
• Many providers across the country have observed an increase in RSV among pediatric patients. In Massachusetts, the five-week average of RSV cases detected by PCR test was 4.4 on March 19; by Nov. 12, that figure had exploded to 296.3, according to data reported by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control.

• About 60 percent of students who graduated from Massachusetts public high schools over the last 10 years were employed in the state years after graduation, according to state education department data.
• The Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education released a wage earnings report for the first time in late October, showing employment and earnings rates for graduates of Massachusetts schools.
• The report was required under the Student Opportunity Act, a law signed in 2019 to address educational inequity in the state. Postsecondary education data, which is also included in the report, has been publicly available for several years.
• Rob Curtin, the associate commissioner for DESE’s Center for District Support, gave a presentation on the report to the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education at its meeting Tuesday, calling the wage earnings numbers the department’s “newest venture” into data sharing.
• Of the 65,022 high school graduates in 2010 – the earliest year explored in the data – 47,804 were enrolled in postsecondary education the following year. While most of these former students have now moved into the workforce, there were 4,104 students still pursuing higher degrees from this class in 2021.
• Curtin said the report is only for public information, and there are no current plans to use it for school accountability purposes. He also called October’s report “version one,” saying the department will likely “make improvements” and “go deeper” into the data in the future, as well as update it annually.

Press Release

View Bio