HOUSE SPEAKER Ron Mariano recently announced that he planned to seek a second two-year term as speaker in January 2023. But Mariano, 75, made clear in an interview on The Codcast that he has no intention of rivaling the tenure of his predecessor, Robert DeLeo, who held the role for a record-setting 12 years.
“I had a lot of respect for Bob and his style, but I just don’t see myself lasting as long as he did,” Mariano said. “Although I do say that in another three years, I’ll be old enough to run for president.”
In a wide-ranging interview, the first podcast he has participated in as speaker, Mariano weighed on issues from the personal to the political. He called his first year of his speakership challenging and fun, and acknowledged the difficulty of maintaining relationships with 159 members during the COVID pandemic.
Policy-wise, the veteran Quincy lawmaker has made his top priority as speaker developing the state’s offshore wind industry. Asked which parts of the recently passed $4 billion American Rescue Plan Act spending bill are most likely to transform the Commonwealth, Mariano cited its investment in offshore wind, along with money for public health. Asked what he would like to leave as a legacy of his speakership, Mariano again turned to offshore wind.
“An offshore wind industry that’s stabilized our energy portfolio so that businesses and citizens in Massachusetts have reliable energy at a reasonable rate – if that’s something I could walk out of here having done, I would be extremely proud,” Mariano said.
Rep. Jeffrey Roy, a Franklin Democrat who chairs the Joint Committee on Telecommunications, Utilities, and Energy, is currently working on a bill that the House will consider next year which would change the procurement process for offshore wind. Until now, Massachusetts imposed a price cap so each successive procurement must come in at a lower price than the previous one. Mariano said this approach led to a good initial price, but discouraged companies from investing in infrastructure to grow in Massachusetts. “It is time now to change the procurement laws to encourage more investment into our infrastructure, more of an investment in some of these companies to locate here and stay here,” Mariano said.
Mariano has taken some flak recently for passing the $4 billion spending bill in lightly attended informal sessions, after lawmakers failed to reach agreement on a final bill before they concluded formal sessions for the year before Thanksgiving. The speaker defended the House’s lengthy hearing process, which he said helped identify needs that were not included in the governor’s earlier proposal, like spending on education and food pantries.
Another long-time priority of Mariano’s is helping financially struggling community hospitals, and the House voted on a bill before Thanksgiving that aims to regulate hospital expansions to prevent large hospital systems from siphoning revenue away from community hospitals. Asked why he chose that approach instead of price regulation, which would more directly address pricing disparities between community hospitals and larger systems, Mariano said he would “prefer a free market solution” rather than price capping.
Asked about several Senate priorities – a bill improving insurance coverage for mental health services and legislation permanently allowing voting by mail – Mariano said he anticipates the House will take up both bills. In both cases, he said the House supports the broad ideas, but details will need to be negotiated.
Mariano did voice concerns that the Senate has yet to pass a bill legalizing sports betting, a policy the House voted for twice. “It was my hope that we’d have it in play for the football season. Now, I don’t know if we’ll even have it for March Madness,” Mariano said. “So I have great concerns that we’re being left at the altar.”