Patrick: Tough times are no time for state to hunker down

Associated Press | 1/21/2009, 4:04 a.m.
Sonia Chang-Diaz (left) is congratulated by Gov. Deval Patrick (right) after the swearing-in of state senators at the...
Sonia Chang-Diaz (left) is congratulated by Gov. Deval Patrick (right) after the swearing-in of state senators at the State House recently. Don West

Gov. Deval Patrick warned residents of “dark economic clouds” in his annual State of the State speech last Thursday, but said now is not the time to hunker down and wait for skies to clear.

Instead, Patrick said that Massachusetts needs to forge ahead with new initiatives, from ethics reforms and a comprehensive anti-crime bill to an overhaul of the transportation system and a municipal package designed to help cities and towns raise more revenues.

“This is not the time to let up or give up. This is not the time to lose either our will or our way,” Patrick said.

The speech — equal parts pep talk and policy roadmap — came as Patrick faces making a second round of cuts to close a $1 billion budget gap.

Patrick didn’t detail those cuts, but acknowledged local services will take a hit and police, firefighters and teachers will face layoffs. He also made it clear that making those cuts isn’t a job he relishes, but one that is unavoidable.

Patrick made no reference to tax hikes in his speech, although in recent days he has indicated he may be willing to support an increase in the state gasoline tax, provided the increase is linked to transportation reform measures and toll cuts.

In the speech, Patrick acknowledged some of his own policy defeats, including his failure to convince lawmakers to support a bill to license three resort casinos. He conceded that the economic crisis has slowed his plans to dramatically overhaul the state’s public education system.

But he also pointed to successes, including passage of his 10-year, $1 billion life sciences bill, the ongoing success of the state’s landmark health care law and a series of clean energy and environmental initiatives.

He added that the state isn’t sitting back waiting for the economy to rebound. He said Massachusetts is launching $1 billion in building projects over the first half of the year.

Patrick also said the state is lobbying for federal stimulus funds that will help create new jobs installing solar panels and wind turbines and rebuilding roads, railways and bridges.

Patrick is hoping his personal ties to President-elect Barack Obama might help open up the spigot to those funds. In his speech, Patrick noted how his campaign slogan, “Together we can,” was echoed in Obama’s own message of “Yes we can.”

The fiscal crisis, Patrick said, is also an opportunity to push through reforms, including an ambitious ethics package for Beacon Hill, pension reforms to eliminate highly publicized abuses, and a radical overhaul of the state transportation system.

Patrick also made a new pitch for some of his earlier proposals, including a municipal partnership act, a portion of which would allow cities and towns to raise local taxes on meals and hotel rooms.

He also called for passage of a comprehensive anti-crime bill.

“Sentencing in the Commonwealth has become about warehousing people,” he said. “These practices may make a good sound bite, but they do nothing to make our communities safer.”