As he prepares his final State of the Commonwealth for delivery, Governor Deval Patrick has been working out of an anonymous office, one floor down from the grand and historic governor’s suite.
Tuesday night, though, he will be front and center, speaking in the House chamber to the assembled lawmakers and politicians, and the voters who elected him twice to lead the state.
He steps to the podium juggling a number of controversies, and battling the inevitable perception that he is a lame duck. His annual address, and his budget proposal scheduled for release the following day, gives him an opportunity to reenergize his agenda.
Aides say the final year’s docket will include changes to unemployment insurance and the state’s minimum wage, and that the speech’s biggest challenge has been editing it for length.
Patrick said last week that his budget will contain targeted revenue increases he has proposed before, including a bottle bill and the elimination of current tax exemptions on candy and soda, though lawmakers have little appetite for tax increases.
At a Friday press conference, he said his speech would touch on what he called his “strong record” and unfinished business.
“I also want to be clear with everybody that we’re going to run through the tape,” he said. “And that as hard as we run, there will still be things that will have to be done, because there are still people in this Commonwealth, as strong as our recovery has been, who are hurting.”
During an interview later in his temporary office, Patrick said he is aware of “an expectation that when you get to the end, people are kind of on cruise control.”
“But,” he said, “it wouldn’t be the first expectation that we’ve been pushing against.”
Without even the modest revenue proposals he is contemplating, Patrick would be lacking the funds to pursue many of the spending initiatives he would like, although he said Friday he wants to build on previous early education expansions and implement reforms for convicts’ reentry into society after prison.
“He’s in a difficult position,” said House majority leader Ronald Mariano, a Quincy Democrat. “He’s got a year to go. The last year has not been the most harmonious. But, of course, it’s an election year for us, too, so there’s an incentive for us to work with him as he leaves [to] help the Commonwealth and put a stamp on his legacy.”
There have been waves of speculation in the State House and political circles about Patrick’s next step; advisers say that he hopes to land a job in the private sector after he leaves office.
Meanwhile, he continues to keep up an active travel schedule outside the state — going to Alabama to help christen a naval vessel and to Chicago to speak at a Martin Luther King celebration — even as his administration faced a number of governing woes.
Earlier this month, under pressure from the Legislature, Patrick ordered a review of the Department of Children and Families, after a 5-year-old boy in Fitchburg went missing, prompting a legislative oversight hearing this coming Thursday.
The list of other troubles is significant. Last month, the state’s jobless rate rose above the national average for the first time in more than six years.
In November, a state drug lab analyst pleaded guilty to evidence tampering. Last May, the state auditor found that millions of dollars in welfare benefits had been paid out to fraudulent applicants. The state’s online health insurance exchange has launched with significant problems.
And, after Lieutenant Governor Timothy P. Murray departed the administration last year, Patrick suffers the weekly indignity of presiding over the Governor’s Council. Corralling the oft-bickering, low-profile body is a task traditionally delegated to lieutenant governors.
Since a break over Christmas, when the governor said he spent two weeks with his infant grandson, Patrick has maintained a steady public profile.
He rolled out a $50 million plan to address climate change and, through an executive order, announced a school safety task force geared toward helping districts prevent and respond to school shootings.
Last year’s State of the Commonwealth speech touched off the ongoing cold war with legislative leaders, who felt blindsided when Patrick sprung a $1.9 billion tax increase plan on them to fund transportation and education priorities. The Legislature sent back a starkly smaller, $500 million tax package and devoted the monies to transportation.
Some lawmakers said the avenues of communication with the administration have revealed little insight into Patrick’s final-year plan.
“I have no advance notice whatsoever of what the governor’s going to say in his State of the Commonwealth address,’’ said Representative Jay R. Kaufman, a Lexington Democrat and House chairman of the Revenue Committee, during an interview Friday. “If last year’s any indication, there could be some surprises.”
This year, he confronts a familiar challenge: persuading a Legislature that has been previously reluctant to accept his proposals.
Said Mariano, “This being his last year, he’d want to do some things that he could point to – no matter what he chooses to do, and I don’t know what he’s going to do – and say, ‘This is my legacy.’ I would think that would be important to him.”Jim O’Sullivan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @JOSreports.