Wednesday, February 10, 2010

The Governor Hits a Home Run

Governor Deval Patrick’s speech this morning to the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce was a home run, not a grand slam perhaps, but a home run nonetheless. He made a compelling presentation of his administration’s accomplishments in “the worse economy in living memory” and laid out a six-point plan for boosting the state’s economy, with particular emphasis on the 85 percent of the economy represented by small businesses. He was forceful and energized and very well received.

His accomplishments are many, and he finally seems able to deliver the message. While dealing with $9 billion in budget gaps (eliminating 2000 jobs, negotiating the “first-ever” contract concessions, cutting programs – many of them worthy), he said he has moved the state up to 8th in a CNBC rating ( from 15th last year ) of how states are managed, also reflected in Massachusetts’ AA bond rating.
We are first in the nation in student performance and in getting people health insurance. We have major accomplishments in alternative energy.

With the legislature, major (though not flawless) reforms have been passed in education, public pensions, lobbying, transportation, and auto insurance. While the sales tax has been hiked, the corporate income tax has been reduced. Much needed infrastructure repairs are underway (“the level of neglect was shocking,” he said). And, according to Patrick, Massachusetts ranks in the top ten states for efficiency of usage of stimulus funds. He explained how his administration has been strategic in using that spending to leverage private investment.

Citing the creation of new jobs in biotech and clean energy, the Governor asserted that “From the beginning, our #1 job has been all about jobs.” (Hopefully, none of the stimulus funds for new energy initiatives will be used for production in China as reported on ABC News.)

He then laid out his plans for doing more. A new $50 million small business tax credit, which he said could generate 20,000 new jobs; a $40 million growth capital fund; efforts to hold down health costs by disapproving “unreasonable and excessive” increases (requiring legislative approval and causing some health executives in the audience to squirm); freezing unemployment insurance costs; and regulatory simplification.

The Governor supports Senate President Therese Murray’s proposal to consolidate numerous economic development agencies to make it easier for businesses to seek their help. He also will work with House Speaker Robert DeLeo on workforce development. All this makes sense, though the devil, as they say, is in the details.

Have I drunk the Kool-Aid? I don’t think so. The Governor has pledged to sustain funding for Chapter 70 education aid across the Commonwealth, a worthy commitment. He has also promised to hold harmless the local communities for local aid. But the one phrase that hasn’t come up in the Governor’s recent policy pronouncements is human services, which have been reeling from the cuts in three budget cycles. In response to a blogger question, he said human services cuts would be about half a percent. He said it’s time to think about how you deliver services and hinted at consolidations that would make it easier for clients to access services. He said he wants to help people help themselves, but you can only go so far with people who are developmentally disabled or have other special needs. [ Disclosure: I consult with human services clients.] “A robust human service capability is a reflection of the best of our values,” he stated.

So where does all this leave us in this, an election year? And what is the lesson of Scott Brown’s upset win last month? The Governor seems to get it. He says “people want to feel you see them and hear them and are doing everything you can to help them.”

One wag said to me recently that Deval Patrick is “circling the drain.” I don’t think so. Not if he campaigns hard across the state and is the same Governor Patrick who presented this morning.

Judge for yourself. The speech to the Chamber will be broadcast at 8 pm Sunday night on WBUR, 90.9 FM.

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