The Challenge for Deval Patrick

The countdown to the start of the Deval Patrick era continues, as does the speculation about what will happen once he assumes office.

While some in the Bay State are wary about a Democrat in the corner office (there hasn’t been one for 16 years) and the loss of some brand of checks and balances, we see an opportunity for some actual progress on issues, not the posturing for higher office that defined the Mitt Romney administration.

It’s up to Patrick, who invited weary voters to “check back in” during the campaign, and earned their support by pledging a different kind of leadership, a communal undertaking he announced with his campaign slogan Together We Can. Time will tell if the rhetoric translates into effective, shared leadership, but for now, there’s hope.

Here are some priority items for the Patrick administration, areas that need attention if the state and this region are going to achieve the kind of prosperity everyone desires.

  • The Control Board: Leave it alone. As we’ve said on a few occasions, while much of the hard work has been done with regard to balancing the budget and negotiating labor contracts, the Finance Control Board’s work is far from finished. Changes in the way the city is run need to be institutionalized, and progress must be made on several economic development projects. An intact control board, operating for at least a few more years, represents the best hope for getting these assignments done.
  • Pay Real Attention to Western Mass.: While campaigning in the region in 2002, Romney offered the obligatory ‘I’m bullish on Western Mass.’ He then proceeded to largely ignore the area, sending out the lieutenant governor to deliver a check once in a while and showing up (finally) at the Big E. Patrick is also ‘bullish,’ and offered similar campaign pledges. We hope he backs them up with policies and funding that will make the area more competitive and able to attract the kind of real economic development that has come to other sections of the Bay State, but not the Pioneer Valley.
  • The Brain Drain: It’s real, not imagined. While tens of thousands of people still come to Massachusetts to be educated, the number is, in fact, declining. Part of the reason is that some people can’t afford it. The private schools will always do well, but the public schools have been forced to raise tuition and charge higher fees because the state’s commitment to public higher education has fallen, and is now among the lowest in the nation. State and community colleges are viable options for many residents — sometimes the only option — and they drive economic development because a large percentage of their graduates stay in the region. Patrick should make efforts to increase the Commonwealth’s commitment to public higher education a real priority.
  • Push the University: Speaking of public high education, the state also needs to make a bigger, better commitment to UMass, on all campuses, but especially in Amherst. Perhaps this region’s best hopes for real job creation comes from research at the school. Research centers are built on facilities, faculty, and overall reputation, and thus the Commonwealth must continue to make significant investments in the state university.
  • Lower the Cost of Doing Business: This was another of Romney’s priorities, or so we were told. But today, the state is more expensive, in terms of doing business, than ever before. Part of it is taxes, fees, and red tape (although some of those numbers have actually gone down) but there are other issues, especially the cost of living, commuting, and heating one’s home or business. If the state is to remain competitive with other regions of the country, especially warmer climates, its leaders must take steps to ensure that fewer business owners and individuals are forced to say, ‘I can’t afford to be in Massachusetts.’

Patrick can’t do all this by himself — and according to his campaign rhetoric, he wouldn’t even try. By forging partnerships with the Legislature, local governments, and the business community, he can bring real progress on these issues and more.

And that’s critical, because the Commonwealth is at a crossroads, and needs to take the right path.