The economic address given yesterday by Governor Deval Patrick before a friendly audience at MIT's Sloan School of Management was an attempt to lay out Patrick's vision of the future, his concrete proposals in realizing said vision, & his attempt to persuade his MIT audience in particular (& the public at large) to support his vision by green-lighting through the Legislature his proposals.
From the point of view of style, Patrick was at his best. He rarely stumbled during his speech & his delivery was very engaging. The location of his address was a clear indication to the business community that he wants to work with them in realizing his objectives. However, the presence of key labor union figures also underscored Patrick's desire to make sure one of his key backers had a place at the table as it pertained to economic policy. Among those seated were House Speaker Sal DiMasi & Senate President Therese Murray. Patrick went out of his way during his speech to praise both politicians for the groundwork done thus far by the representatives of the governor's office, of the Senate, & of the House. The hall was standing-room only & the speech seemed to be well recieved.
From the point of view of substance, the speech laid out how the current economic environment is more problematic on the international/national level than it is thus far with the state. He tried to project the aura of a man rolling up his sleeves to tackle long-neglected problems & in the process lay down the foundation for a better tomorrow. Patrick thus outlined his blueprint:
So, I want to address four measures we will take in partnership with the Legislature to meet the current challenges facing our community. Our plan to secure our future involves (1) restraining discretionary spending; (2) investing aggressively in our infrastructure and our people; (3) positioning ourselves for long-term growth; and (4) maintaining an adequate safety net.
Patrick's first benchmark was touchy-feely with few hard numbers ($344 million “in reductions” the details of which weren't provided in his speech) & should therefore be taken with a grain of salt.
Patrick's second benchmark was more detailed; he pledged to “invest in our infrastructure & our people” starting with a “5-year capital spending plan” which would take into account an ambitious request for “up to $16 billion in our public infrastructure in the next several years, & front loading as much of that as we responsibly can – all of it within debt limits we can afford.” Job training grants totaling $18 million would be used “to train 16,000 workers for jobs available right now.” A “ten-year $1 billion Life Sciences Initiative” was proposed to “strengthen & extend” Massachusetts “lead in stem cell research, biomedical device manufacturing, and pharmaceutical development.” [As you can see, that's a lot of spending being proposed by a state already burdened with a lot of debt. No wonder the State Treasurer is nervous!]
Patrick's third benchmark is contingent on certain assumptions made by the second benchmark should said benchmark recieve its funding as proposed by the governor. Patrick used buzzwords like “economic diversity,” “sustainable development,” & “growth districts” to outline his quasi-mercantile vision for the state's economic development. The vision was grandly inspiring but there were no details to anchor Patrick's vision to reality (which is too bad since aspects of his plan have some merit).
His last benchmark focused on the state's obligation to maintain its “safety net”. On this point, Patrick delivered a mixed message; he supported cutting “the corporate excise rate for some 15 to 20,000 mostly local and mostly small businesses, ultimately saving each an average of $10,000 per year” but he also advocated “a moratorium on the eviction of renters from foreclosed properties”. Not a peep about municipal issues such as property tax relief or predictable local aid revenue streams.
Still, Patrick gave a good speech – which he had to do, politically speaking. The speech allowed him the opportunity to cut his losses following the casino debacle he inflicted upon himself by presenting a new set of proposals (which in some ways are as ambitious as those which dealt with the casinos). Patrick took great pains to show unity of purpose with Murray & DiMasi, obviously with the hope that such a feint will score enough points with both leaders to assure that some version of his new proposals will get passed. Patrick & his fellow Democrats also provided to Republicans an example of what Democrats do best: an unabashed display of practical ideology marbled into policy proposals which, in turn, appeal to the vanity of the voters who love to think that Massachusetts remains the “Hub of the Universe”.