BEVERLY — Budget hearings might not be the most exciting events, but no one could argue with the setting for Thursday’s discussion on Gov. Charlie Baker’s $40.5 billion proposed spending plan.
State legislators came to Endicott College for the first of six public hearings to be held around the state over the next few weeks. With the ocean serving as the backdrop, 20 lawmakers on the Joint Committee on Ways and Means listened to testimony at Tupper Manor, the college’s 1901 mansion.
“This is certainly the most scenic of places that I’ve ever given testimony,” Energy and Environmental Affairs Secretary Matthew Beaton said.
The hearing was part of the Ways and Means Committee’s annual practice of bringing its budget hearings to various parts of the state. Sen. Joan Lovely of Salem, who serves on the committee, said she was asked if she would host one of the meetings in her area.
“We looked for a venue and Endicott College popped up as a nice way to kind of showcase the North Shore,” she said. “People were thrilled, especially people who hadn’t been to Beverly before. They said it was so beautiful.”
The meeting was open to the public, but at 10 a.m. on a weekday few members of the general public showed up. Most of the attendees were legislators, government officials, their staffs, and advocacy groups.
The committee listened to testimony from Beaton and state Transportation Secretary Stephanie Pollack about how their departments are spending the public’s money and about their needs in the fiscal 2018 budget.
In addition to Lovely, the committee includes two other North Shore legislators, Rep. Paul Tucker of Salem and Rep. Tom Walsh of Peabody.
Tucker said it was an honor to be appointed to the “prestigious” committee, which considers all matters related to finance.
“It really gives us a seat at the table for all of these budget hearings,” he said. “There’s no substitute for hearing first-hand from people who run these agencies and the need for them to justify their budget. I found it very, very helpful.”
Tucker asked Beaton how President Donald Trump’s proposed cuts to the Environmental Protection Agency would affect Massachusetts. Beaton said his office receives roughly $65 million from the federal government.
“We very much are reliant on some of the funds, so we will be watching this very closely,” he said.
Legislators questioned Pollack, the transportation secretary, about MBTA financing and proposed cuts to weekend service on the commuter rail. According to Lovely, Pollock said it costs eight times as much to provide weekend services due to fewer riders.
“They’re not sure they can justify subsidizing it like that,” Lovely said. “I think there will be more discussion on that.”
Staff writer Paul Leighton can be reached at 978-338-2675 or firstname.lastname@example.org. The State House News Service contributed to this story.