Boston (SHNS) – Governor-elect Charlie Baker again visited the State House on Monday, this time to meet with the Democratic leaders of the House and Senate who promised a “smooth” return to bipartisan government.
Unaccompanied by advisors, Baker met for about 30 minutes each with Senate Majority Leader Stanley Rosenberg, who is poised to become president of the Senate in January, and House Speaker Robert DeLeo. After the meetings, all three men said they were optimistic about having a good working relationship.
The three plan to continue with meetings that took place, sometimes weekly, under Gov. Deval Patrick with DeLeo and Senate President Therese Murray, who met with Baker separately after a press conference.
“I know it’s going to be a very smooth beginning and I’m expecting we’ll do some really great work together and we may disagree at times, but we will do so without being disagreeable. We’ll find common ground. We’ll build solutions so the people of the Commonwealth have the government they’ve elected and that they deserve to have,” Rosenberg said.
Rosenberg and DeLeo both noted they served in state government with Baker when he was a Cabinet member under Republican Govs. William Weld and Paul Cellucci. Rosenberg and DeLeo have both chaired Ways and Means committees and Baker was finance secretary.
“My hope and my expectation is that we’ll have a very positive and constructive working relationship,” Baker said. “I agree with the leader’s point of view about the fact that we’re not going to agree all the time but as the son of a Democrat and a Republican I grew up in a house where I watched two people disagree a lot without being disagreeable and I certainly think that’s an important part of success in government.”
On the campaign trail, Baker pitched himself as someone who could serve as a check on the Legislature. He promised voters the “constructive friction” between a Democrat-controlled Legislature and a Republican executive branch would yield positive results.
DeLeo, who will seek a fourth two-year term as speaker in January, said he believes the Legislature can find common ground with Baker on the economy, job creation, education and fighting opiate abuse.
“Those are issues that I know have been, I think, important to both the House and Senate so quite frankly I don’t go into this relationship with any ideas of any problems,” DeLeo said.
DeLeo, who at one point referred to Baker as “Charlie,” said the importance of working together was the “biggest issue” they talked about during their meeting.
Rosenberg said he was not thinking about Baker’s comments of needing to be a check on Democrats: “It’s about looking to the future, not the past…,” he said. “The people have spoken and they’ve elected a gentleman who has a distinguished background. He shares some of our values, he has some different visions for how to execute some of those and we will sit down and we’ll work it out together.”
Saying “unlike our friends in Washington we have no gridlock here,” Rosenberg said “ideas are not Democratic or Republican, they are the best ideas to move the Commonwealth forward.”
The officials said they didn’t get deep into policy specifics during their sit-downs and Baker said he will be focused early in his tenure on assembling his first annual budget, calling it his “first opportunity to make a statement about where we are and where we’re going.”
Baker is also in the process of assembling a transition team and building a senior staff, with finding a chief of staff, an administration and finance secretary and a health and human services secretary among his earliest priorities, according to advisors.
The Baker team launched a new website on Monday, www.BeGreatMA.com, inviting people to submit their resumes as he looks to staff up ahead of his swearing-in in January. The site features a resume upload tool and a constituent contact form and Baker’s team says new content will be added in the coming weeks.
After last Tuesday’s election, Gov. Deval Patrick’s budget team last week disclosed a $325 million shortfall in the fiscal 2015 budget and said they would be drafting a plan over the next two weeks to address the gap before Baker takes control.
Baker said it was important to give Patrick “leeway” to make those decisions, but said he agreed with the administration’s early pledge not to draw from state reserves to address the problem.
Warning that using reserves sends a “bad signal” and would create an “automatic gap” in next year’s budget, Baker said Patrick’s team had been “very forthcoming to us.”
Baker said, “I’m fully anticipating he’s going to put something before the Legislature and that this issue’s going to get resolved.”
DeLeo agreed that budget officials should be “very careful” not to rely on reserves to balance the budget.
DeLeo said he was waiting on further word from Patrick about spending cuts he believes are necessary.
“I think it will be at that time, there will be some discussion in terms of where we go from there,” DeLeo said. “In fairness to the governor, these are very difficult decisions to make. Unfortunately, after extensive hearings, the amount of money which we had expected that we would be receiving has not met up to expectations.”
After a press conference with DeLeo, Rosenberg and Murray, Baker followed Murray back to her office for a brief meeting, and he planned to meet Monday at 5 p.m. with Senate Minority Leader Bruce Tarr and House Minority Leader Brad Jones.
At the press conference, Murray said Baker should be able to ease into his new job. “He’s very familiar with the building and how the building works,” she said. “He understands the legislative process and so he can hit the ground running.”