Good Wednesday morning.
Who knew Gov. Charlie Baker would turn out to be such a train guy? Baker famously bought up all the third rail in the country in 2015 after one of the worst winters in history proved the MBTA was no match for mountains of snow. The state is on track to open commuter rail service to the South Coast by the end of 2023. And now Baker could leave office having laid the foundation for East-West rail (or West-East rail depending on your perspective)
Baker emerged from a meeting with U.S. Reps. Richard Neal and Jim McGovern and much of the western Mass. State House delegation yesterday having reached what he called an "agreement on a path forward" for East-West rail, which would expanded service from Worcester to Springfield to Pittsfield.
Baker said Amtrak would be the preferred service provider, with its interest in expanding in the Northeast, its access to the existing track and available resources to contribute. "This is a huge step forward here today," Neal said during a press conference at Springfield's Union Station, calling the meeting among the parties "historic."
The leaders said they would seek through a $9.7 billion transportation bond bill already filed by Baker to create a new Western Massachusetts rail authority to oversee the development of the project, which does not yet have a timeline. Neal and Baker also said they would seek to leverage federal support through the new infrastructure law signed by President Biden to cover its hefty price tag.
"I think we have a real opportunity," Baker said.
The Springfield Republican's Jim Kinney has more on the meeting, including the hurdles that still remain, such as the potential need for land takings, securing the funding and creating the rail authority to oversee it all. House Transportation Committee Chair William Straus told MASSterList he wants to talk with his colleagues who were at the meeting before commenting on the plan.
HEALEY'S UNION BOOST
Some endorsements matter more than others. They just do. And Attorney General Maura Healey picked up a big one Tuesday for her campaign for governor.
The SEIU Massachusetts State Council, an umbrella labor organization for six local unions, endorsed Healey for governor in what campaign officials said was the first time in at least 20 years the union has weighed in during a Democratic gubernatorial primary. This matters because SEIU is major organizing force in Democratic politics, and will give Healey's ground game a huge boost.
"Maura Healey’s commitment to fight for issues like affordable healthcare, housing, and child care is not only aligned with our members’ values - it’s what we need to advance racial and economic justice here in Massachusetts," said Peter MacKinnon, president of the SEIU Massachusetts State Council and SEIU Local 509.
The endorsement comes after a lengthy vetting process that included a forum for members with both Healey and Sen. Sonia Chang-Diaz, the attorney general's Democratic rival for the nomination. Healey was in Lawrence Tuesday to help make the vote of confidence stick, celebrating SEIU's support and meeting with home care workers from 1199SEIU as they seek a $20 per hour starting wage in ongoing contract negotiations.
FROM LAWRENCE TO CONGRESS
Healey has a different sort of day planned for Wednesday. Before a forum tonight with Chang-Diaz focused on the environment and their climate change plans, Healey will be testifying before Congress as part of an ongoing investigation into McKinsey and Company's role in the opioid epidemic.
The committee, on which both U.S. Reps. Stephen Lynch and Ayanna Pressley sit, has produced an interim staff report suggesting McKinsey consultants frequently worked on Food and Drug Administration contracts while also working for opioid manufacturers, like Purdue Pharma, and failed to disclose these conflicts of interest.
Healey has been invited to testify along with McKinsey Global Managing Partner Bob Sternfels and Jessica Tillipman, assistant dean for government procurement law studies at George Washington University Law School.
Healey was the first attorney general in the country to sue the Sackler family for Purdue Pharma's role in the opioid epidemic, and in February 2021 she co-led a $537 million settlement with McKinsey to resolve claims claims it advised Purdue on how to target doctors to “turbocharge” OxyContin sales.
The continuing opioid abuse crisis has not yet become a major issue in this year's race for governor, but maybe that's about to change.