Fifty-one percent of Massachusetts voters negatively view Gov. Deval Patrick, compared to 48 percent viewing him positively, according to a Rasmussen/FOX25 poll released this week. But the low approval ratings were not evident at a two-hour forum with the Caribbean community on Tuesday night at the Unity Club near Codman Square, where Patrick stood on friendly turf and fielded questions on an impending increase in the state sales tax and changes to the stateâ€™s criminal offender record information (CORI) system.
Morgan James, a Mattapan resident, praised the governor for insisting on reforms of pension and ethics laws, along with an overhaul of the sprawling transportation infrastructure, before signing a hike of the sales tax to 6.25 percent from 5 percent.
Asked if there was language in the fiscal 2010 budget, which Patrick signed into law on Monday, that included a rollback of the tax hike after the economy brightens, Patrick said there wasnâ€™t.
â€œItâ€™s a pretty good idea,â€ Patrick said of a rollback.
Patrick said he was â€œnot hostileâ€ to taxes, but skeptical of broad-based taxes such as the sales taxes, instead preferring targeted taxes on gas, candy and soda to fund transportation and health initiatives.
But Patrick added that there is a connection between receiving government services and paying for them.
â€œWe are well past the point of cutting fat,â€ Patrick said, noting that he could lay off every state worker and still be stuck with a $1 billion budget deficit.
Patrick also pushed his bill reforming the CORI system, which would give access to employers and housing providers, contingent on fees that would pay for re-entry and job training programs for offenders. The bill is due for a committee hearing at the State House on July 27.
â€œWe are looking for a show of force,â€ Patrick told a crowd of about 100 people at the forum, which was put together by the Caribbean Political Action Committee. â€œIt will take some pressure to reform the systemâ€¦ It doesnâ€™t have anything to do with being â€˜soft on crime.â€™â€
While struggling with low poll numbers, Patrick has ratcheted up criticism of lawmakers, who view it as a consequence of the first-term governor running for re-election and attempting to recover from political fall-out over attempting to place an ally, Sen. Marian Walsh in a high-paying, long-vacant position at a quasi-public agency after he campaigned against patronage appointments.
â€œThose are trivial as far as what concerns the people,â€ James told the Reporter after the forum, when asked about the Walsh debacle and other political mistakes over the course of Patrickâ€™s term. â€œThese are slight mistakes. But they have no bearing on the weight of his achievements. Those reforms are significant. That takes a lot of nerve and stamina to achieve that. He stood by his guns.â€
City Councillor At-Large John Connolly, who attended the forum and is running for re-election himself, noted that Patrick ran up huge margins in Boston in 2006.
â€œThis is his base,â€ he said. â€œI think people here are hoping heâ€™s going to have a strong two years to finish the term. Itâ€™s also important that heâ€™s here tonight and not forgetting that he carried Boston with 70 percent of the vote.â€
Trinidad native Faustina Gabriel, who mounted an unsuccessful primary run last year against state Rep. Willie Mae Allen, said the weak economy, which has led to the shedding of tens of thousands of jobs, canâ€™t be blamed on Patrick.
â€œTimes are tough,â€ she said. â€œWe have to stick together as a community.â€
In his talk, Patrick pointed to the availability of 10,000 summer jobs, handing out a phone number to call, and said he was proud to be the stateâ€™s first black governor with a diverse administration.
â€œI think what matters most is whether at the end of four, or eight or twelve years, have your lives improved,â€ he said.
Patrick ran late to the evening forum, coming from the formal unveiling of a portrait of former Gov. Mitt Romney at the State House.
â€œNow that heâ€™s out of office he looks incredibly relaxed,â€ said Patrick, whose name has repeatedly surfaced as an appointment to the Obama administration in Washington. â€œMy ambitions are all about right here and right now.â€