As a believer in the ability of government to improve people’s lives, Deval Patrick didn’t run for the state’s top job to preside over a long period of budget austerity. That role was thrust upon him, not just by a global economic crisis but also by the debilitating debts run up by the Big Dig political culture that he decried during his first campaign. During his State of the State address Wednesday night, though, the earlier, more expansive version of Patrick re-emerged — with a far-reaching transportation, education, and tax proposal. After six difficult years, during which Massachusetts made some key reforms and outperformed the national economy, it’s time to have a discussion about a long-term plan.
As matters stand, payments for Big Dig-related debts and maintenance costs for existing roads, rails, and bridges far exceed the money available. Patrick proposes to address that problem — and then some; he also described the outlines of a package of transportation improvements across the state that range from later weekend hours for the MBTA to the long-delayed South Coast rail to train service between the Berkshires and New York.