GOVERNOR PATRICK’S final State of the State address Tuesday was as much a reflection on the last seven years as it was an action plan for the next one. Despite bombings and weather disasters, Massachusetts is in decent shape. As Patrick pointed out, its population is growing faster than that of any neighboring state; its international links are deepening; its fundamental economic strength shone through even amid a global economic crisis.
What Patrick’s speech mostly lacked, though, was an ambitious policy agenda for 2014. Last January, the governor pressed for a major tax overhaul and big new educational and transportation initiatives. But the Legislature stopped far short of that. This year, Patrick focused his annual message on what he called “unfinished business” — on necessities like bond bills and automated tolling, and on the troubled Department of Children and Families.
Above all, Patrick’s speech reflected the unending struggle of his governorship — the need to fit his hopes for state government within tough fiscal constraints. Under his recent budget plan, cities and towns don’t get much more aid; and yet Patrick pressed them to speed up business permitting, get retiree health costs under control, and hold the line on property taxes. This is tough love, and cities and towns should take him up on the challenge. As venerated as municipal government is in Massachusetts, it too is subject to inefficiencies and special interests, and simply plowing more money into it won’t move the state forward.
Patrick’s basic formula has proved sound: Education, innovation, and infrastructure creates what he called a “platform for private investment and personal ambition.” Even without big new proposals, his pro-growth vision for progressive politics in Massachusetts offers a worthy playbook for Patrick’s final year and beyond.