StateLine: A look at Deval Patrick’s first year in office

Tom Benner

Editor's note: For Monday, Dec. 24 publication.

An ambitious wish list. And a slow start.

That’s a commonly held assessment of Deval Patrick as he nears the close of his first year as Massachusetts governor.

“He certainly has been active, from education reform to life-science initiatives, transportation and so forth,” said Brian Gilmore, executive vice president of the trade group Associated Industries of Massachusetts. “It remains to be seen if those initiatives will come into actual fruition.”

Patrick rode into office on a surge of optimism and expectation. One year into his four-year term, many of his proposals remain stalled in the Legislature.

That has many still waiting for Patrick to deliver on his promises.

“We expected there would be a concentrated effort trying to develop a statewide economic development strategy,” Gilmore said. “We’re a little uncomfortable that there isn’t a master scheme that might serve to benefit the entire state.”

Beacon Hill watchers say some of Patrick’s well intentioned budget reforms aren’t likely to happen after four years, much less one. Patrick pledged to save $735 million in state budget by limiting legislative earmarks; negotiate bulk purchases; improve detection of Medicaid fraud; enforce wage and hour laws; control health care costs; close corporate tax loopholes; crack down on state pension abuse; and develop a citizens budget that explains how the state spends money compared with other states in terms of taxes and services.

Throughout the year, Patrick has expressed frustration at the slow process of getting his proposals through the Legislature.

“Most governors underestimate the inherent power of the Legislature,” said Michael Widmer, president of the Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation. “Clearly, the governor’s been learning his first year.”

One step toward his promise of lowering local property taxes is allowing cities and towns to join the state-run health insurance and pension plans, Widmer said.

Patrick’s long list of proposed education reforms now rests with a task force called the Readiness Project, charged with developing public school improvements for the next decade.

The state’s largest teachers union says Democat Patrick has shown a willingness to listen to their concerns, a break with cool relations with earlier Republican governors.

“I can’t emphasize enough how much it improves morale,” said Anne Wass of Marshfield, president of the Massachusetts Teachers Association and a former Hanover middle school teacher. “We’re all working together now on common goals.”

Municipal officials credit Patrick with supporting their efforts to create a local option meals tax, to increase the allowable local option tax on lodging, and to charge property taxes on telecommunications properties.

“While they haven’t been enacted yet, the governor has followed through his commitment in each of those areas,” said Geoff Beckwith of the Massachusetts Municipal Association.

However, cities and towns still haven’t seen the huge increases in local aid that they were promised.

“This next budget is very important to see if the administration will embrace the fundamental goal of revenue sharing,” Beckwith said.

For his part, Patrick says he’s working at a steady pace and his efforts to boost revenues for cities and towns and to stabilize property taxes continue.

“I know that property taxes are on the minds of municipal leaders and homeowners alike,” Patrick said last week. “We have not succeeded yet in getting the Legislature to focus on that, but we will keep trying.”

Tom Benner may be reached at

The Patriot Ledger