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Opinion | Karen E. Spilka

The Mass. state Senate prepares for an urgent 2019 agenda

Massachusetts Senate President Karen E. SpilkaPat Greenhouse/Globe Staff/Globe Staff

When I first ran for state representative in 2001, I chose “For Our Future” as my campaign slogan. I didn’t realize it at the time, but this phrase would become much more than a slogan; it has become a constant call to action.

As the state Senate opens its first session of the 191st General Court on Wednesday, that call to action feels more urgent than ever. We are currently in a time of remarkable change, not just in our state, but nationally and globally. Technology has radically changed the way we live and work, and shifting priorities have caused us to rethink everything from where we live to how we commute. We are also experiencing pressures due to a neglected transportation system and soaring housing prices, among other things.


The complex challenges facing us in this uncertain future are daunting. But Massachusetts can navigate them by calling on our fundamental principles, the first of which is education.

Education has always been Massachusetts’ lodestar, beginning with the birth of public education. I’m proud that the Senate successfully advocated for a record investment in education funding this past year. The Legislature can also help ensure every child has access to a quality public education — and therefore a firm footing for future success — by passing a bill that fully implements the recommendations of the Foundation Budget Review Commission this session.

Massachusetts can also call on its penchant for ingenuity, innovation, and leadership. We have never been shy about shaking up the status quo, from the Revolutionary War to the fight for marriage equality. Now we have both the opportunity and the obligation to lead as gridlock grips the federal government.

Increasing health care costs serve as a silent stranglehold on budgets everywhere. To continue our leadership in this area, we can address the impact of rising drug prices by passing legislation that ensures customers are provided with relevant drug cost and efficacy information, and that the state’s health care cost oversight process includes pharmaceuticals. The Senate also introduced initiatives last session to implement more effective care delivery; we should take a close look at those again this year.


As for climate change, our potential for leadership is virtually limitless. We can work with businesses and scientists to push the envelope on clean energy technologies. Collaborating with town and city governments, we can figure out how to affect smart environmental changes on a local level that also help solve our transportation and housing concerns. No idea should be off the table.

The final core principle that will serve Massachusetts well is our dedication to caring for each other and building resilience. The term Commonwealth reminds us that we are all invested in preserving our common good. To that end, we must create an economic development and tax framework for the 21st century where innovative ride- and home-sharing companies can develop and thrive here, but where we also ensure we capture new revenue to continue providing essential services for our most vulnerable citizens.

So far we have been addressing these new industries on a piecemeal basis, which only serves to breed confusion for business, government, and consumers. We must work together to find a balance that benefits us all.


As for building resilience, I am proud that the Legislature has increased the balance of our Rainy Day Fund to more than $2 billion — an increase of more than 50 percent over the past two years. More importantly, we must continue to build resilience in our individuals, families, and communities. To that end, I pledge to work with stakeholders across the state to make mental health parity a reality and end the stigma of mental illness once and for all.

Albert Camus once wrote, “Real generosity towards the future lies in giving all to the present.” As Senate president, I am committed to the hard work of collaboration, creative problem-solving, and compromise needed now to produce real change for our future. The people of the Commonwealth deserve nothing less.

Karen E. Spilka is president of the Massachusetts Senate.