By Matt Stout
Gov. Deval Patrick used his swan song State of the Commonwealth address to trump up his accomplishments -- and briefly address the glaring issues that have rocked his administration in recent months -- in a speech observers say smacked of his lame-duck status.
Earning rousing applause from a packed House chambers -- most notably on his commitment to raising the minimum wage -- Patrick yesterday weaved through his seven years in office in mostly rosy tones, touting the state as better than he found it and urging legislators and local leaders to work with him to finish it.
"I know there is unfinished business. But I also know that we are a more prosperous, more promising and more just commonwealth for more people today," Patrick said during the 30-minute address, delivered a week late after a snowstorm forced him to reschedule.
He pointed to two priorities, but without offering fine-point details, in backing a minimum wage hike but also reforms to unemployment insurance, urging organized labor to back the latter. And he also called on local leaders to "hold the line on local property taxes," drawing criticism from Republican leaders who noted Patrick once pledged to cut them.
"The goal is, he's trying to tie his historic legacy up with a big red bow," said Boston University professor Thomas Whalen. "That's common for lame ducks. Judging on how he's behaved the last few weeks, what he's been saying, you get the feeling here it's truly over."
But amid drilling home calls for more education and infrastructure funds, Patrick largely grouped together what he called the "serious failings" that have rocked his administration, from the state's tainted crime lab to, more recently, the scandal-pocked Department of Children and Families and dysfunctional Health Connector website.
"It's inexcusable to lose any child we are charged with protecting," Patrick said, referencing DCF's mishandling of the case of Jeremiah Oliver, the now-missing 5-year-old from Fitchburg. But he also said he expects the public and legislators to "find solutions, not just fault" in issues that have marked the start of his final year, before moving on to goals for his remaining days in office.
Speaker of the House Robert A. DeLeo welcomed Patrick's dual focus on wage hikes and benefits reform, something the state Senate resisted in tying together but DeLeo has vowed to address as one.
The Senate last November passed a bill that would eventually raise the state's minimum wage to $11. "We've been talking about addressing (unemployment insurance) for years and years and years, and I think it's about time we do that," DeLeo said.
House Minority Leader Bradley Jones (R-North Reading) accused Patrick of double-speak.
"He was talking about investing in infrastructure but he's holding back $100 million from cities and towns in Chapter 90 money for bridges and roads," Jones said afterward. "I thought it was funny when he told the cities and towns to hold the line on property taxes. That was a big campaign pledge and he hasn't done much on that issue. I thought it was an underwhelming speech."
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