Governor Deval Patrick's State of the Commonwealth address Tuesday night had a wistful tone, which is not surprising as it was his final one. The governor's seven years in office have on balance been good ones for Massachusetts, though it has been and continues to be apparent that Mr. Patrick wishes economic realities had not forced him to trim his loftier goals. He has just under one more year left in office, of course, and he has opportunities to at least advance those goals.
As he reminded his audience in the House chamber and viewing at home, he was greeted in 2007 with a global economic collapse that back-burnered much of his campaign platform. Still, today Massachusetts has one of the nation's best educational systems, a burgeoning green energy sector, a health care system that, sign-up problems aside, is insuring almost every state resident, and an improved infrastructure. Manufacturing is making a modest comeback, and a much-needed fiber-optic system has made its way into the rural communities of the Berkshires, where the governor has a home.
The governor and the Legislature can be proud of these and many other accomplishments. While it is fashionable, and far too easy, to bash government as invariably corrupt and inefficient, government's ability within its limits to benefits its residents has been demonstrated in Massachusetts over the past seven years.
As did his White House counterpart hours later Tuesday night, the governor acknowledged the economic inequalities that afflict the state and nation. These inequalities defy government resolution, but both the governor and President Obama made a strong argument for an increase in the minimum wage that would at the least lift hard-working residents above the poverty line and lower their reliance on government programs. The governor asked opponents to "consider whether you could live on it" in reference to the state's $8 an hour minimum wage.
Mr. Patrick made requests of others in his final speech of its kind. He asked businesses to "Hire somebody," observing that the state's community colleges are "better integrated than ever to meet your skills needs." Referencing the state's efforts to boost cities and towns over the past seven years, the governor asked municipalities to "hold the line" on local property taxes in response. Easier said than done as communities await likely discouraging news on state aid in the next fiscal year.
In essence, said the governor, we're all in this together, a theme he returned to at the conclusion of his speech in praising the "big-hearted, pragmatic and compassionate people" he has met throughout the state, and in particular, in the aftermath of the Boston Marathon bombing. The governor and the state have challenges ahead, but the governor and the state's residents have reason to feel good about how far we have come to get where we are.