Steven Senne/Associated Press
Governor Charlie Baker outlined his agenda before the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce on Thursday.
Charlie Baker has been buried in his first few weeks as governor, under deep snow and deeper red ink. So business leaders are cutting him some slack for not coming out of the gate with more specific economic goals.
They say they like what they are hearing, even if it amounts to broad themes right now: curbing energy prices, more health care cost transparency, fewer annoying regulations. Baker has also put a number of familiar faces in his administration, giving many in the business community the sense they have got an open door.
But not everyone is smiling. Venture capital types, for example, are annoyed that Baker cut a promising program to help foreign-born entrepreneurs stay here. Other fledgling tech programs got the ax this week, including a mentoring program for start-ups, as the Baker administration plugged a nearly $770 million budget hole.
In his first major speech as governor to a Boston-area business group, Baker told the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce on Thursday that he wants to fix an out-of-balance budget first before tackling new initiatives. During the breakfast, at the Fairmont Copley Plaza hotel, Baker regaled the crowd with war stories from his first month: the 2024 Olympics decision, the protesters who shut down Interstate 93, the travel ban during last week’s blizzard.
Then it was on to business.
He pledged to think locally about economic development, instead of taking a one-size-fits-all approach to community needs. He said he will prioritize working with other New England governors to control the region’s steep energy prices. And the former Harvard Pilgrim chief executive vowed to reform the state’s MassHealth subsidized insurance program, as part of a broader effort to curb state spending.
But those hoping for specific initiatives with their eggs and muffins would have left disappointed.
“Hey, it’s been ‘all-weather, all the time’ and ‘all budget deficit, all the time’ for him,” said Jon Hurst, president of the Retailers Association of Massachusetts. “We can’t really fault him for focusing on that.”
The cuts to technology, however, upset a few in the sector Thursday.
C.A. Webb, the New England Venture Capital Association’s executive director, said axing the program to help young entrepreneurs from other countries sends the wrong message.
“We’re saying to them, ‘Sorry, you’re going to have to go home to Shanghai, you’re going to have to go home to Bangalore,’” Webb said. “It’s an economic development opportunity that we’re missing out on.”
But Christopher Anderson, president of the Massachusetts High Technology Council, said cuts are understandable in the face of such a large budget hole. He said he hopes the underlying issues can be addressed in the next budget cycle or through separate legislation.
As Baker sets budget and legislative priorities in the coming months, he will probably turn to the findings of a 50-plus member transition committee tasked with suggesting ways to improve the economy. The group was led by Baker’s economic secretary, Jay Ash, along with Hill Holliday chief executive Karen Kaplan and MassMutual CEO Roger Crandall. It submitted final recommendations this week.
Ash will also continue a tradition from the Patrick administration of holding regular, closed-door meetings with representatives from key business groups that include the Greater Boston Chamber, Associated Industries of Massachusetts, and the Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation. The first one will take place next week.
In effort to reach out to the start-up community, Baker will speak at incubator MassChallenge next week.
Jon Chesto can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @jonchesto.
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