Governor Deval L. Patrick
Neponset Valley Chamber of Commerce
Tuesday, February 26, 2013
Thank you, Sabine, for that warm welcome.
Sometime during the big blizzard early this month I was out on the Pike, heading to or from the bunker in Framingham, I don't remember which. Except for plows and emergency vehicles, the roads were clear of other drivers. The forecasts were pretty definite at that point. Most of the work of preparing for the storm was done. The big decisions (like whether to declare a state of emergency or to impose a temporary travel ban) were made. Except for the constant business of tracking the path of the storm, reading my hourly email updates on outages, shelter needs and school closings, and getting on periodic briefing calls with the Cabinet, there was little for me to do at that moment. For a minute, I let me my mind wander to that nearly empty road, knowing it would be jammed again soon enough, with people who depend on it.
And I thought to myself, "Our grandparents gave us that." Like Route 3 and I-95 or the street I came down to get here this morning; like the T and Logan Airport and UMass and Bridgewater State; like that bunker in Framingham we use during emergencies, the generation or two before ours asked themselves what kind of Commonwealth they wanted for themselves and for us, and then set about to shape it. They sacrificed to make things better for us, making investments that lead to the one the greatest expansions of wealth and opportunity in the history of the world. We take it all for granted now -- frankly because they did not.
As you know, I have challenged us to ask ourselves these same kinds of questions again. What kind of Commonwealth do we want and need for our time and the generations to come? What kind of educational opportunities do our children need? What kind of roads and bridges and public transit system do we need? What does a does a leading edge economy and a just community need and deserve to accommodate current growth today and encourage faster growth in the future?
And instead of dodging the question both political people and the general public hate, I have also asked us to think hard about how to pay for it, to have an adult, fact-based conversation (instead of an hysterical one) about taxes.
Mostly, that is just what we have been having. The Senate President, the Speaker, the legislators I have met with in their hometown coffee shops and pizza parlors, the business leaders in their board rooms and factories, the teachers in early ed and leaders in higher ed, the maintenance and repair workers at the MBTA, and the people that I have run into on the street and in their neighborhoods -- mostly they have not retreated to their usual rhetorical corners. They have considered the facts candidly, if a little nervously. And I am grateful for that. I am looking for more of the same with you today, and among you in the weeks and months ahead.
Let me tell you what I am hearing.
People in town want subways that run later into the evening. People in the suburbs and our Gateway Cities want regional buses that run on the weekends and bridges that are safe. People in New Bedford want access to the work and social opportunities in Boston, and in Boston to the affordable housing opportunities in the South Coast. People in Pittsfield want better connections to markets and customers in New York City.
Everybody wants projects that are built more quickly, and a system that is more modern. We all want safer, smoother roads that are more comfortable to drive on and cause less wear and tear on our cars and trucks. We all want better access to jobs, affordable housing, and recreation – and we want it equitably in all regions of the Commonwealth.
Of course, every mom and dad wants the best education for his or her child. It's true no matter what neighborhood they come from. Kids understand that, too, even the little ones. I have countless opportunities to listen to their stories about what they want to be when they grow up. As a parent, I hear optimism and energy, eagerness and hope. As a governor, I hear a call to action.
Whether it is from adults or children, whether about schools or roads, it all adds up to the same thing. Everybody wants opportunity. And opportunity requires growth. What our residents want is not frivolous or unreasonable. In fact, it's precisely what this Commonwealth needs to be economically strong today and in the future.
Last month I laid out a plan to prepare for that future. The budget I filed is a plan for growth – by investing in education, innovation, and infrastructure to grow opportunity.
By our best estimates, it will take a billion dollars in new revenue dedicated to transportation to pay the bills we inherited, restore our roads, rails and bridges to a state of repair, and expand the system modestly but strategically so that it unlocks long-term economic growth throughout the Commonwealth.
Everyone knows that a comprehensive transportation system is vital to supporting and growing our economy. Workers need it to get to their jobs. Students need it to get to school. Tourists need it to get to the sights. Police and firefighters need to get to emergencies. Business people need it to get to their appointments. People need it to get to the doctor, to the grocery store, to the gym or the rink, to the movies. Whether it’s good roads, reliable commuter rail, frequent bus or subway service, a nearby airport or a convenient ferry, transportation is about more than moving from Point A to Point B. It’s about quality of life, economic activity and growth. It’s about opportunity.
Because our job growth depends on our innovation economy, and because the success of that depends on a well-educated workforce, I have also proposed to target new investment in education where it is shown to have the highest impact. It will take another 900 million dollars in new revenue to get the nearly 30,000 kids off the waiting list for early education, to extend the school day for middle schoolers in Gateway Cities so they get what they need, to make college more affordable for our young people, and to support our community colleges as the platform for skills training.
Again, business leaders have called for just such investments for many decades, and you are right to do so. Brainpower is our signature economic edge, and failing to invest in that in Massachusetts would be like Texas failing to support the oil industry or Iowa their corn farmers. Ironically, now that we have put the means on the table to make those investments, some say now isn’t the time to invest in education, that we should focus on transportation for now. To those who say that now is not the time, I challenge you to show me which 4-year old you think should wait until the time is just right. There are 240,000 people looking for work in Massachusetts – and 120,000 vacancies. Employers tell us they can’t find the people with the right skills for the jobs they have. How can we possibly wait to build a more robust and responsive system of adult education and workforce training?
As you know, I have proposed to fund these investments mainly by rebalancing the sales and income tax rates. Specifically, I have proposed to cut the sales tax from 6.25 percent to 4.5 percent, raise the income tax a percentage point to 6.25 percent, double the personal exemptions, and eliminate a number of special deductions that no longer serve us well. The upshot is that for about half the workforce, total taxes would stay the same or go down, and for the other half they would go up according to one's ability to pay. And with these changes, tax rates would become or remain lower than or comparable to our neighboring states and those other states with which we compete.
I have also again proposed a number of reforms to improve the way government functions and achieve further savings. The total projected savings from those measures, if enacted by the Legislature, will be over $100 million annually. They follow a raft of reforms over the years: closing loopholes and extending the retirement age in the public pension, asking public employees to shoulder a larger share of their health care costs, replacing police details with civilian flaggers, simplifying the transportation bureaucracy and shutting down the Turnpike Authority, systematically combing through and discarding or updating old regulations, reducing headcount by 6,000 positions, and more. These and other reforms have enabled us to invest in education, innovation and infrastructure even during the downturn. And that in turn has lead to a faster and stronger recovery in Massachusetts than almost every other state. But it will not be enough to give us the 21st Century transportation and education systems our people deserve and our economy needs to grow stronger.
Now, that's my plan. But there is more than one way to accomplish these objectives and raise the $1.9 billion in new revenue annually that we need to grow a lot more jobs and create a lot more wealth. I am open to those ideas, from you, from the members of the Legislature and from others. But let's agree that the objectives are worthy. And let's also agree that they are too important to leave entirely to chance.
Americans rarely leave the things we decide are important entirely to chance. When we decided that educating our children was important, we created public schools and land grant universities. When we decided settling the west was important, we built the transcontinental railroad. When we decided freedom was important, really important, we freed the slaves and ultimately gave women the right to vote. We tend to shape our own future in America, rarely than leave what’s important to chance. Kicking the can down the road is a recent phenomenon in America, and not a good one.
Our grandparents did not leave the Mass Pike or the T or I-95 or that infernal MEMA bunker to chance. They made choices that shaped a better future. Now it's our turn.
I look forward to your questions.
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