Patrick's to-do list: Job growth, education, budget, health costs

STATE HOUSE, BOSTON, NOV. 3, 2010…..Coming of a decisive victory in a campaign in which he offered few substantive policy proposals, Gov. Deval Patrick identified job creation, access to quality education for all Massachusetts children and lower health costs as the centerpieces of a second-term agenda he described as “ambitious.”

Speaking with reporters in his State House office, a jubilant Patrick said he plans to pursue an increase in the state retirement age, fold the state’s scandal-plagued Probation Department into the Executive Branch and seek to invest additional state pension funds in the Massachusetts economy.

Patrick said voters’ decision to repeal the alcohol tax but to maintain the state sales tax at 6.25 percent required no interpretation.

“We’re going to have to eliminate the alcohol tax and we’re going to sustain the other measures until the economy is stronger,” he said. “I am very, very concerned, as you know, about support for the addiction programs, substance abuse programs. Substance abuse tends to go up at times of economic stress like this rather than down, so the demand for those services is even greater at these times. And without those resources, I’m not quite sure yet what we’re going to be able to do. We’re going to have to find some solutions.”

Pressed for specifics, Patrick added, “There are people who are dealing with substance abuse demons and they depend on programs to help them and the support for those programs has been voted away by the people of the commonwealth. That is an unfortunate outcome, but that is the outcome. We’re going to have to figure out some other way. We’re not at a place where there’s some room full of cash where if you just bring forward a worthy idea, we can just write that check.”

Patrick hinted at impending staff changes, saying, “I will let you know when I’m ready.” He also downplayed Republican gains in the Massachusetts House – the one redeeming result for the Bay State GOP in Tuesday’s election.

“My perception of life on Beacon Hill is that the dynamic isn’t a partisan dynamic. It’s an insider-outsider dynamic,” he said. “We’ve had some sharp differences with the Legislature. We have worked together more often than not.”

Asked whether the fact that a majority of voters preferred one of his opponents in Tuesday’s race would change his governing style, Patrick flashed his eyes at Lt. Gov. Tim Murray and said, “As my partner here says, a win is a win is a win.”

Patrick said he hoped a looming budget deficit would be solved mostly through projected “growth” in the economy – tax collections have recently exceeded benchmarks but a report from the University of Massachusetts on Friday said economic growth had slowed in the third quarter and would likely continue at that slower rate.

“We still have some tough decisions to make in the coming budget, but I don’t think they’re going to be as tough as were painted in the course of the campaign,” he said.

Fiscal analysts have described a $2 billion budget gap for the budget covering the fiscal year beginning July 1, 2011, largely due to onetime revenues in this year’s budget.

Patrick, insisting that he will serve out his full second term, also pleaded with reporters to stop asking him about his intentions.

“Don’t ask me every day for the next four years,” he said.

After presiding over a brief Governor’s Council meeting Wednesday, Lt. Gov. Tim Murray listed as second-term priorities job creation, improvements in education, health care cost control, and the fiscal 2012 budget, which must be balanced without the huge amounts of federal aid that went into the last two state budgets.

Murray said administration officials tend to expect turnover among Cabinet secretaries and other high-ranking administration officials, while getting to know the many new state representatives and senators elected on Tuesday – both branches will see turnover of roughly 25 percent in January.

Murray said the administration is also focused on selecting a nominee for the Supreme Judicial Court. Chief Justice Margaret Marshall announced in July her plans to retire by the end of October, to spend time with her husband Anthony Lewis, a former New York Times columnist who has been diagnosed with Parkinson's disease. But Patrick has not announced a potential successor. In late October, court officials announced that Patrick and Marshall had agreed that she would stay with the court “until such time her successor has been confirmed.”

Asked if the high court pick would come this year or next year, Murray said, “I think it will be this year, and hopefully soon.”