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Patrick talks state deficit, education at town meeting

ASSOCIATED PRESS

Gov. Deval Patrick fielded pointed questions on transportation reform, education funding and the appointment of a political supporter to a long-vacant state job during a televised town meeting last Thursday at the John F. Kennedy Library in Boston.

Patrick defended the hiring of state Sen. Marian Walsh, D-Boston, to a $175,000-a-year post as assistant executive director of the Massachusetts Health and Educational Facilities Authority, a position that had gone unfilled for 12 years. Walsh later agreed to take a $120,000 salary.

Patrick said he understood why people were upset but called Walsh a good and capable person who’d been asked to fill a meaningful job.

“Give her a chance to do the job, and then judge her on the job she does,” the governor said.

One audience member implored Patrick to be “honest with the people of Massachusetts” about reforming the state’s transportation system before asking for more revenue.

The governor, who has proposed a 19-cent-a-gallon increase in the gasoline tax as part of a major transportation overhaul, said he was “not interested in revenues without reform.”

He said his package would replace six major transportation agencies with one and provide a more transparent means of funding those operations.

A teenager who identified herself as a student at Boston Latin Academy questioned Patrick about the distribution of federal stimulus money for education, saying the affluent suburb of Wellesley had received $1.1 million in funding while Boston had received nothing.

“This is a good opportunity to put one urban legend to rest,” Patrick replied. “A lot of people seem to think that from this recovery act there has been one great check written to me personally, and that you just have to get me in a good mood and I will write you a check. Most of [the money] is actually for very specific things.”

Patrick went on to say that there was more than one channel for education funding and that all communities would receive their share, though he could not say exactly how much Boston would receive.

On several occasions, Patrick deferred questions to cabinet secretaries and administration officials, such as when a man who said he had recently lost his job complained about the lengthy delays in handling claims at state employment agencies.

Secretary of Labor and Workforce Development Suzanne Bump said that since December, the state has doubled the size of its staff that takes claims.

One lighter moment came when moderator R.D. Sahl of New England Cable News asked Patrick if President Barack Obama had ever approached him about or offered him a position in the new administration.

“You can ask any question you want,” said Patrick, “but I don’t have to answer it.” Then he added, “I’m still here.”

The governor also answered questions submitted by e-mail and on Twitter.

(Associated Press)