Governor Deval Patrick yesterday proposed a state budget to back up the state-of-the-state address he delivered on Monday. That speech was competently, if not soaringly, delivered, and urged a modest, focused agenda, which the budget seems geared to implement. His list of state accomplishments was gratifying: students who lead the nation in test results; greatest percentage covered by health insurance; moving from 47th in job creation to 5th; greatest drop in automobile insurance costs. Other accomplishments in clean energy, pension reform, moving families out of shelters.
Even while he was congratulating legislators on their shared accomplishments, he was setting forth three areas most in need of work: dealing with the long-term unemployed, managing the costs of health insurance, and crime. He also wants to fill the jobs gap by closing the skills gap, working with community colleges and, in the process, controlling that system much more centrally and partnering with business in the process. In that, he’ll have to win over a group of community college presidents very comfortable with their current powers. Plus, it’s unclear whether more centralization will bring any benefits to a system that will rely on collaboration between community colleges and local businesses.
In the area of health costs, he wants nothing less than to end the fee-for-service system, reimbursing on the basis of quality care. Insurers and providers are already moving in this direction. It will be interesting to see where the state injects itself into the process. He also breathed words once unimaginable for an elected Democrat, “medical malpractice reform.”
His calls for reforming mandatory sentencing and punishment of habitual offenders have been around for years, as ways of reforming the reforms of yesteryear. These issues are cyclical, but it will be fascinating to see if he can make a dent in the challenge. And how big a dent will be meaningful? His previous “success” in replacing police details with civilian flaggers seems, unfortunately, to have yielded little more than tokenism.
The Governor’s budget would increase by three percent, which he justifies by citing the need to invest more in education. He would eliminate the sales tax exemption on candy and soda, while hiking certain tobacco taxes. All this is a way of investing in health, but will fall most heavily on those with the lowest incomes.
He proposes closing a state hospital and a prison, which would eliminate 400 state jobs. See the Mass. Budget and Policy Center for more details. But can you really close a prison before you change the sentencing structure?
Typically, a Governor’s budget proposal is either dead on arrival in the legislature or, at most, the first step in a long conversation. This one will be no different.
Where the President’s state-of-the union speech was aspirational and occasionally inspiring, a campaign tract more than a blueprint for action, the Governor was modest, grounded and workmanlike, the voice of a politician rounding out his second term rather than reaching for one.
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