Sarah Birnbaum

State House Reporter, WGBH Radio

Sarah Birnbaum is WGBH Radio’s political and State House reporter. When she’s not on the campaign trail, she loves telling stories about health care and education policy, and all the issues that come through the Legislature that matter to voters.

Before coming to Massachusetts, Sarah worked for CBS Network News in New York, where she covered stories ranging from the Virginia Tech shootings to the Clinton/Obama primaries to the Academy Awards. Her stories have been heard nationally on NPR and CBS Radio, and on stations throughout Massachusetts.

Sarah has a B.A. in art history and English literature from Stanford University.

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Politics & Government
4:41 pm
Tue April 14, 2015

DeLeo And Rosenberg At Odds Over Beacon Hill Rules

Know the rules well, so you can break them effectively, says the Dalai Lama.
Credit Fogster

A power struggle between Massachusetts' top legislative leaders is becoming increasingly public. It's about the rules that determine which bills make it to the floor.

Senate President Stan Rosenberg says the joint-committee structure gives the House more power.  Last month he took his cause to Twitter and Facebook.

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Politics & Government
6:22 pm
Mon April 13, 2015

Legislature Aims To Rollback Baker's $5 Million Tourism Budget Cut

In terms of employment, tourism is Massachusetts' third largest industry.

Massachusetts lawmakers expect the legislature to undo cuts proposed by Governor Charlie Baker to the 16 regional councils that advertise local tourist attractions.

This is the second time in several days that the Democratically controlled legislature has shown signs of resistance to the Republican Governor's plans to balance the state budget, which is out of whack to the tune of $1 billion.

Last week the state Senate expressed reservations about plans to offer early buyouts.

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Local News
7:53 pm
Thu April 9, 2015

AG Healey Joins Bid To Offer Corinthian College Students Relief From Loans

Attorney General Maura Healey is seeking relief for students burned by a for-profit college.
Credit Steven Senne/Associated Press

Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey has joined with eight other attorneys general to ask the US Department of Education to forgive the school loans of students enrolled at a for-profit college chain. 

Healey and the other attorneys general sent a letter to the Secretary of Education Arne Duncan. The letter asks his department to relieve Corinthian College students of their obligation to repay their federal student loans.  

Here's Healey:

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Local News
9:27 am
Thu April 9, 2015

Panel Report Rips MBTA

Passengers board a Red Line MBTA train at Park Street.
Credit Anne Mostue / WGBH News

A panel convened by Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker to examine the MBTA ripped the transit agency, saying it’s in severe financial distress, has ineffective management and struggles to complete all types of projects.

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Politics & Government
6:39 pm
Mon April 6, 2015

State Senate Skeptical Of Baker's Buy Out Plan To Fix Budget Defecit

If Gov. Baker's early retirement plan is rejected, the alternative to balancing the budget would be layoffs.
Credit Fogster

  The Massachusetts State Senate is not fully on board with an early retirement program proposed by the governor and passed by the House.

Governor Charlie Baker wants to offer thousands of state employees early retirement packages in order to help plug a $1 billion plus budget hole.  

Senate President Stan Rosenberg has some reservations:

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Local News
9:41 am
Fri April 3, 2015

As Mass. Heroin Deaths Exceed 200, Rehab Beds Remain Scarce

The plague continues.
Credit Wikimedia Commons

Heroin addicts and their families Thursday sad there are not enough beds in treatment facilities. Speaker after speaker shared that point at a State House meeting of the Massachusetts heroin task force.

“I’m getting a lot of messages and it’s horrible,” said William Pfaff, who founded the group Heroin is Killing My Town. 

Pfaff read one of those messages to the panel: “We could not find that bed.  We called and asked around.  But we don’t need the bed anymore. They died."

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Local News
5:17 pm
Wed April 1, 2015

Baker Declines To Nix Indiana Travel

Governor Baker
Credit AP Photo

The governors of Connecticut, Vermont and New York have banned non-essential state-funded travel to Indiana in the wake of a controversial law critics say discriminates against gay people. Massachusetts' governor is declining to do the same.

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Politics & Government
5:14 pm
Tue March 31, 2015

Hollywood On The Charles: State Looses 77 Cents On Each Dollar Of Film Tax Credits

Emotions were in full flower at the legislative hearing to consider repeal of the film-tax credit.
Credit Fogster

 At a contentious state house hearing today, workers argued that Governor Charlie Baker's proposal to eliminate the 25 percent film tax credit will cost Massachusetts thousands of jobs. 

The hearing room was packed with union reps and small business owners. Some wore yellow stickers saying films equal jobs.

Deb Cutler, a Boston-based set decorator, said: “75 percent of my job is buying things and I buy everything in Massachusetts whether its furniture, hardware, antiques, artwork, window treatment lighting.  It’s all bought here.”

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Local News
9:50 am
Wed March 25, 2015

Nothing's Easy: The Ins And Outs And Politics Of An Olympic Ballot Question

Boston 2024 says it wants to collect signatures to put a referendum on the ballot, asking Massachusetts residents if they want to host the Olympics. But Secretary of State Bill Galvin's office is raising a red flag.

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Local News
9:22 am
Tue March 24, 2015

AG Maura Healey Argues Against Legalizing Marijuana

Attorney General Maura Healey
Credit Steven Senne/Associated Press

While Massachusetts state lawmakers are mulling a bill to legalize recreational marijuana, Attorney General Maura Healey is publicly lobbying against the idea.

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Politics & Government
8:47 am
Tue March 24, 2015

Beacon Hill Leaders To Hire A $250K Consultant To Advise On Boston Olympic Bid

Beacon Hill leaders are looking to spend up to $250,000 to hire a consultant to look into Boston's Olympic bid. 

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Politics & Government
10:54 am
Wed March 18, 2015

AG Moves To Regulate E-Cigarettes

A sales associate demonstrates the use of a electronic cigarette and the smoke like vapor that comes from it in Aurora, Colo. on Wednesday, March 2, 2011.
Credit AP Photo/Ed Andrieski

New proposed regulations of e-cigarettes in Massachsuetts are attracting some unlikely allies.

Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey wants to prohibit the sale of e-cigarettes to minors, ban free giveaways  and require the devices to be stored behind the register.

Jon Hurst represents Massachusetts retailers.  He’s supporting these regulations.

“Frankly we would prefer a good moderate statewide law, then a crazy quilt of local ordinances."

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Politics & Government
7:57 am
Tue March 17, 2015

Legislature Plans To Hire Olympics Consultant To Shield Taxpayers

A rendering of the proposed 2024 Olympics.
Credit Boston 2024

Top Massachusetts lawmakers say the state is moving forward with a plan to hire an outside consultant to make sure no taxpayer money is used for a potential 2024 Boston Olympics.

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Politics & Government
8:39 am
Wed March 11, 2015

Galvin: Baker Didn't Budget For 2016 Primary

Credit Fogster

Gov. Charlie Baker didn't budget enough money for Massachusetts to run presidential primaries in 2016, according to Secretary of State Bill Galvin.

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Politics & Government
9:05 am
Tue March 10, 2015

Baker's Budget Would Mean Fewer Lottery Games — And Less Revenue For Cities

Lawmakers on Beacon Hill hold their first public meeting Tuesday about Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker's budget plan — there's one particular point of contention.

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Politics & Government
9:01 am
Fri March 6, 2015

Baker's Homelessness Plan Is Much The Same As Patrick's — But It Just Might Work

Massachusetts Gov.-elect Charlie Baker, center, greets diners while serving meals at the Pine Street Inn homeless shelter in Boston, Wednesday, Dec. 24, 2014.
Credit AP Photo/Michael Dwyer)

    

Gov. Charlie Baker laid out a seemingly intractable problem at at a press conference this week.

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Politics & Government
4:19 pm
Wed March 4, 2015

Baker's 1st Budget Proposal Increases Spending, But Not Taxes

Snow falls on the State House in Boston.
Credit Edgar B. Herwick III / WGBH News

Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker unveiled his first state budget Wednesday, calling for a 3 percent increase in overall spending, but no new taxes.

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Local News
6:01 pm
Mon March 2, 2015

Baker Administration To Focus On Homelessness Prevention

Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker announced plans today aimed at reducing the number of families in homeless shelters, hotels and motels. 

The last administration pledged to end homelessness, but governor Baker says the number of homeless families is increasing. There are about 5,000, he says. Half in shelters and the other half in hotels and motels.
 
“The amount of family homelessness in Massachusetts must be rethought and reconsidered with respect to how the families are served.”

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Local News
8:44 am
Fri February 27, 2015

Legislature Grills MassDot Head Stephanie Pollack On MBTA

MBTA passengers leave a Green Line train for a shuttle bus handling the remainder of their trip.
Credit Edgar B. Herwick III / WGBH News

Massachusetts lawmakers grilled the state’s top transportation official Thursday about the massive breakdowns on the MBTA and Commuter Rail. The testimony yielded more questions than answers.

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Local News
4:56 pm
Wed February 25, 2015

Watchdog Group Says State's Budget Defecit Will Be $1.5 Billion

A week before Massachusetts governor Charlie Baker is set to release his first budget plan, a leading fiscal watchdog group is estimating a $1.5 billion shortfall.  The Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation President Eileen McAnneny says the state saw larger budget gaps– on the order of $3 billion– in the middle of the recession. "But it’s important to realize that this is happening when we’re in an economic recovery." McAnneny says state spending on things like healthcare and pensions is outpacing growth in tax revenue. Noah Berger, the president of the left leaning Budget And Policy Center s

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Politics & Government
4:48 pm
Tue February 24, 2015

Campaign Finance Lawsuit Unites Conservatives And Liberals — Up To A Point

A new lawsuit against Massachusetts is bringing together opposite sides of the political spectrum — sort of.

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Local News
8:18 am
Tue February 24, 2015

Equal-Pay Bill Proposed In House

Snow falls on the State House in Boston.
Credit Edgar B. Herwick III / WGBH News

A bill making its way through the Massachusetts Legislature aims to close the pay gap between men and women.

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Local News
5:28 pm
Mon February 23, 2015

Bill Aimed At Equal Pay Makes Its Way Through Mass. Legislature

A bill making its way through the Massachusetts Legislature aims to close the pay gap between men and women.
 
The bill would prohibit employers from asking job applicants how much they’re currently making.

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Politics & Government
3:40 pm
Fri February 20, 2015

Baker Creates Commission To Study MBTA Problems

Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker is creating a commission to study the problems at the MBTA — though this is not a completely original idea.

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Politics & Government
8:27 am
Fri February 20, 2015

Data Shows Spike In Mass. Heroin And Prescription Drug-Related Deaths

Credit Wikimedia Commons

Data released Thursday from the Massachusetts Department of Public Health show a stunning increase in the number of heroin and prescription drug-related deaths.

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Local News
4:33 pm
Thu February 12, 2015

Charlie Baker, MBTA GM Beverly Scott "Exchange Views"

Governor Charlie Baker says he had a "healthy exchange of views” with the leader of the MBTA as the two met on a day of new commuting woes for residents who use mass transit.

Baker said Thursday that he would have more to say later about his meeting with MBTA General Manager Beverly Scott and the agency as a whole.

The MBTA has come under fire for its on-again, off-again service problems during recent snowstorms, including the decision to suspend all rail service on Monday night through Tuesday.

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Local News
4:31 pm
Wed February 11, 2015

Political Shocker: MBTA GM Beverly Scott Will Step Down In April

MBTA GM Beverly Scott spoke to the board of MassDOT Wednesday before announcing she would step down.
Credit Howard Powell / WGBH News

In a move that surprised Beacon Hill, the newly controversial general manager of the MBTA,  Beverly Scott, submitted her letter of resignation Tuesday.

Scott said that she will step down in 60 days, and that she's looking forward to spending quality time with her family.  

The letter made only parenthetical reference to the punishing snow that has hit the region. And it made no reference to the political storm that swirled around her ever since Governor Charlie Baker said he was  "disappointed" in recent T performance, which he termed "unacceptable".

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Politics & Government
10:37 pm
Tue February 10, 2015

MBTA GM Beverly Scott, Gov. Baker Haven't Spoken With Each Other About Snowstorms

MBTA GM Beverly Scott, left, and Gov. Charlie Baker had successive press conferences Tuesday.

MBTA General Manager Beverly Scott is defending her controversial decision to shut down rail service due to the snowstorm, stranding thousands of workers who depend on public transportation, making a stunning admission during a press conference Tuesday.

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Local News
12:00 pm
Tue February 10, 2015

Gov. Baker Puts 500 National Guard Members On Snow Duty; Still Has MBTA In His Sights

Snow falls on the State House in Boston.
Credit Edgar B. Herwick III / WGBH News

Governor Charlie Baker activated 500 members of the Nation Guard Tuesday to assist communities in eastern Massachusetts recover from the record-setting snow of the last two weeks.

50, four-person teams will deploy to help dig out hydrants and other critical pieces of infrastructure.

The remaining 300 guard members will operate heavy machinery to aid in snow removal across the hardest hit areas of the state, especially Boston’s South Shore.

Baker said the state has purchased two snow melters capable of dissolving up to 25 large truckloads of snow per hour.

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Local News
3:22 pm
Mon February 9, 2015

Mass. Snow Brutalizes Local Budgets

Worcester has seen lots of snow over the past two weeks.
Credit Rupa Shenoy / WGBH News

Massachusetts’s cities and towns are plowing through their snow removal budgets faster than the historic snow of the last two weeks has accumulated. There is really no choice but to plow first and then figure out how to pay for it later. 

Geoff Beckwith of the Massachusetts Municipal Association says communities are running into tens of millions of dollars in budget overruns in their snow and ice accounts, and will carry over that deficit into the next fiscal year which begins in July:

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