January 31, 2008 — Vol. 43, No. 25
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Patrick speech highlights jobs, education, civic engagement

Steve LeBlanc

Gov. Deval Patrick, delivering his first State of the State address last Thursday evening, said the key to reviving the state’s economy is strengthening education, creating more jobs and inspiring the public to become more engaged in civic life.

He used his own rags-to-riches life story to drive home the point — and make the case for a handful of contentious initiatives, including his call for the creation of three resort casinos in Massachusetts.

He also threw down a challenge to lawmakers with whom he has occasionally clashed to help push through his agenda — from a $1 billion, 10-year life science initiative to a five-year plan to virtually eliminate homelessness in Massachusetts.

“The people don’t expect us to agree on everything, but they do expect us to engage. They expect us to work together toward the best solution. They expect action, and they deserve it,” Patrick told an audience of lawmakers, state and local officials and family members. “I ask you to join with me in partnership.”

Patrick, who has described himself as an impatient governor, also spoke about what he called the cost of inaction on key programs like early education, renewable energy initiatives and repairs to roads and bridges.

In the speech, Patrick also announced the creation of a nonpartisan Governor’s Council of Economic Advisors chaired by Cathy Minehan, the former president and CEO of the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston. The council will include economists and leaders from local, national and international commerce.

Patrick launched the address telling the story of his own journey from a poor neighborhood on the South Side of Chicago to a Milton prep school to Harvard University — a life that he said mirrored the quintessential American story of hard work and opportunity.

“One generation and the circumstances of my life and family were profoundly transformed. That story is not unlike many of yours in this room or elsewhere in this Commonwealth,” Patrick said.

“For most of us, that story was made possible by a good education, great opportunities to work and develop our skills, and adults who involved themselves in our lives in key moments and ways,” he added. “That is our agenda: schools, jobs and civic engagement.”

The themes echo elements of the $28.2 billion state budget proposal Patrick unveiled last Wednesday.

The budget included hoped-for dollars from Patrick’s plan to open three casinos in Massachusetts — which he said would create 20,000 permanent jobs. Patrick has said he also hopes to create jobs in the clean energy and life sciences areas.

In addition, Patrick’s budget includes an increase in education aid for cities and towns.

Patrick used the speech to press reluctant lawmakers gathered to hear the address on the casino plan and his call for the state to close so-called business tax loopholes.

Patrick wants to use $124 million in casino licensing fees to help close a shortfall in lottery aid to cities and towns. His budget plan also relies on nearly $300 million in revenue from the business loophole closings.

House Speaker Salvatore DiMasi, a casino opponent, had warned Patrick against including the money in his budget. Lawmakers have yet to hold a hearing on the casino plan.

DiMasi, who sat directly behind Patrick during the speech, has also been cool to the tax loophole plan, saying a recession is not a good time to increase the tax burden on business.

DiMasi downplayed any friction with Patrick after the address.

“He basically gave a lot of people a call to action here,” DiMasi said. “He focused on most of the similarities we have, not the differences.”

But DiMasi also said he hadn’t changed his mind on casinos, and said lawmakers need more time to weigh the question. He said there will be a hearing on the casino bill and promised some legislative action, but offered no specifics.
“I’ve been skeptical [of casinos], and I’ve told the governor that. There’s nothing that’s changed here,” said DiMasi, D-Boston.

Senate President Therese Murray, D-Plymouth, said the Senate is ready to take up Patrick’s initiatives.

“He wants us to get moving and we’re ready to move,” she said. “He says he’s impatient, but what we do here takes a little time.”

House Republican Leader Brad Jones said he was disappointed by what he called “more of the same” in Patrick’s warning of a looming deficit while recommending increases in spending.

Jones, R-North Reading, said he was also surprised by what he said was Patrick’s lukewarm reception by fellow Democratic lawmakers.

“I was a bit taken aback by the amount of time that members of his party sat on their hands,” he said.

Patrick used the half-hour, televised address to trump successes from his first year in office, including the deregulation of the auto insurance rate-setting system and leading an effort to preserve gay marriage by pressing lawmakers to oppose a proposed constitutional amendment defining marriage as the union of a man and woman.

Unlike last year’s inauguration speech, which he delivered outside, Patrick delivered the State of the State in the House chambers.

Before the speech, Patrick appointed 10 members to the board of a volunteer corps he helped create with legislation he filed last year.

Members of the Commonwealth Corps promise at least a year of full- or part-time service, such as teaching after-school programs, mentoring poor children or cleaning up parks. The corps hopes to have 250 volunteers its first year, and 1,000 by its fifth year.

(Associated Press)

Gov. Deval Patrick delivers his first State of the Commonwealth speech as Senate President Therese Murray (left) and House Speaker Salvatore F. DiMasi (right) watch last Thursday at the State House in Boston. (AP photo/Bizuayehu Tesfaye)

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