As the 2023 legislative session comes to an end, we sat down with Molly Horan, Managing Director at Issues Management Group Public Affairs (IMGPA), who offered some insight into major happenings on Beacon Hill this year and what to expect for 2024.
Molly has been with IMGPA for nearly five years and oversees our day-to-day public affairs activities including lobbying, government relations, coalition building, ballot question campaign management, and strategic counsel.
Q: 2023 saw the inauguration of Governor Maura Healey and her Lieutenant Governor Kim Driscoll. As we head into 2024, can you reflect on the Healey administration’s first year and what IMG is looking out for moving forward?
Horan: The Healey-Driscoll administration so far is making a very concerted effort to deliver on their campaign promises. They have put forth a number of policy ideas and been a very active administration.
In the first year, those of us who work in this space like to watch the dynamic of the Governor and Lieutenant Governor because the LG’s role is ambiguous, and much of what they take on depends on their working relationship with the Governor. We have seen Governor Healey empower Kim Driscoll as her Lieutenant Governor, and I think we are seeing them work well as a team. This allows our clients multiple inroads with the administration, not just working through the Governor’s lens but also through the LG’s.
Another very important relationship to watch is between the Big Three (Governor, Speaker, and Senate President). Given that all three are Democrats now, we think some people have had high expectations that they would reach consensus quickly on any and every policy issue, and that has not been the way it has played out. Understanding how the three branches interact is important so that we can properly advise our clients on how to advocate for their priorities with all three.
Q: Let’s talk about trends. What’s been happening with healthcare policy this year?
Horan: There are always a million and one things moving on the healthcare front in Massachusetts. The desire to control drug costs, streamline processes like prior authorizations, address long-term care settings, and control premium costs for individuals are major focuses for healthcare. Many of our clients are trying to figure out how to make the case that they have proven tools to deliver quality outcomes while also controlling costs.
The rising cost of healthcare is above the benchmarks set by the Healthcare Policy Commission and above what some think is sustainable to be a competitive state both for individuals as well as businesses, so policy efforts aimed at lowering costs will be under consideration.
Q: What policy conversations have you been seeing in the real estate and housing sectors?
Horan: The state of the economy and inflation have had real impacts on real estate and housing. As the Housing Bond Bill moves, the real estate community is going to be very active, rightfully so, in explaining to policymakers what they need for a more desirable climate to build. The Housing Bond Bill was met with excitement this year as it was rolled out, and we anticipate it to be a major topic of conversation next year as the House and Senate weigh in on the Governor’s proposal. There will certainly be controversial aspects, such as the local option transfer tax proposal, but there will be many other areas of agreement as state leaders look to work with developers and communities to address the housing crisis.
The state’s housing problem also ties into the migrant crisis that we are facing. Massachusetts is the only state with a right-to-shelter law, which means that for any family that arrives in Massachusetts that is unhoused, we, as a Commonwealth, must put a roof over their head. As we have seen a dramatic influx of migrants arriving in the state, the budgetary impact has been dramatic and there is no quick solution or end in sight. How our policy leaders decide to address it in the short and long term will be a big part of the conversation heading into 2024.
Q: What kind of activity can we expect to see moving into an election year?
Horan: For our Representatives and Senators to be able to continue advocating for the policies they want to become law, they must get re-elected by their constituents every two years. They need to be able to demonstrate to voters in their district that they have delivered. This year, many elected officials will be proud to point to the tax relief package that included one billion dollars in tax cuts for Massachusetts residents.
An election year also means that the legislature will break at the end of July and pause their active policymaking to be able to go back to their districts. This means that we will see a lot of activity and events in districts rather than just in Boston. It also means that July 31 is the deadline to move any major piece of legislation. Any and all legislative strategies need to consider that timeline.
Q: What are you advising your clients to look out for in 2024?
Horan: The dynamics between the House and Senate this session have been complicated. The two sides did not agree on joint rules, so we lack some clarity around how some of the committees will be reporting out bills. We will continue to advise clients to pay close attention to the evolving dynamics between the two.
At the beginning of next year, it will become clearer what the fiscal picture looks like for the upcoming budget cycle. Many clients who rely on state funding for their programs may be hoping for an increase in the budget, which could be a challenging argument to make since the state is well below revenue projections.
We will also advise clients to pay attention to the different priorities that each chamber is articulating urgency on. We have seen the Healey-Driscoll administration focus on housing, and we know that healthcare is a large priority for both the House and Senate, but each chamber is tackling healthcare issues in pieces, so figuring out how those competing priorities evolve between January 1st and July 31st will be key.
There will be a lot of activity next year. For our clients, IMG recommends having an ongoing and consistent relationship with elected officials and keeping the doors of communication open. We want to position our clients to be an expert resource on different topics and find different ways to foster successful relationships with policymakers.