Governor Deval Patrick brought his budget stump speech to the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce at the Park Plaza this morning. The Chamber event took up the entire Imperial Ballroom. The business community was clearly interested in what the new governor had to say to them in his first formal appearance before the group as governor. More than 800 people were in attendance.
On the substance, much of what Patrick had to say was very interesting. His idea of increasing local aid and allowing local cities in towns to gain the local option is well overdue. Massachusetts’ tax structure is hopelessly outdated. I’ve already written how this is a holdover from the days when the Yankee suburbs feared Irish Boston. Patrick’s notion of “centers of excellence” also intrigued me. My guess here is that he’s trying to translate the old economic model that worked well for Massachusetts — local cities with their own special industries, such as the shoes of Peabody and textiles of Lowell — for the 21st Century. Lowell, he suggested, “could be built around nanotechnology”. The South Coast, formerly the seat of the whaling industry, could become an international center of “marine science.” This kindof thinking demonstrates creativity.
Patrick also stood by his plan to close tax loopholes for corporations. Press Secretary Kyle Sullivan made sure the press had a hand out comparing Massachusetts to other states. Here is its most effective line: “Of the seven corporate loopholes Governor Patrick proposed to close, two of them — so called ‘check the box’ and combined reporting — make up 80% of the expected revenue that would be collected from these changes in FY 08. Elsewhere, it stated, that the Commonwealth is one of only five states that use this costly “check the box” kind of reporting.
Much of the speech, however, did not go well. It’s axiomatic that the leading business group in town is going to bristle at the idea of paying more taxes, so the group is not necessarily a friendly crowd. Having said that, this talented executive could have performed much better.
First, he delivered largely the same speech, with the same phrasing and wording, as he gave last night. For a room filled with political insiders and lobbyists, this was a non-starter. These people are hungry for new information. If the governor gives these people what their bosses could see on television the night before, it diminishes the value of the attendees. Worse, its a sign that the pressure of doing so much at once is affecting the governor. As skilled as he is, he can’t carry all the weight — especially at a high profile venue like the Chamber. A stump speech is great for all the different regional media hits Patrick will do in promoting his budget. But the Chamber requires something more.
There’s also the media piece. From my vantage point at the press table in the back, I could see Boston Globe columnists Scot Lehigh, Joan Vennochi, and Adrian Walker as well Rochelle Cohen and Virginia Buckingham of The Boston Herald. If you’ve got this impressive crew all gathered together this early in the morning, my opinion is you’ve got to give them something new to work with. Or else, there’s going to be trouble.
Patrick used the old trick of invoking the names of attendees to win over the crowd. This is something that Mayor Menino does expertly in his speeches. Unfortunately, only one of the people Patrick mentioned, Bob Culver, was present. The others — Chris Gabrieli, his erstwhile opponent, and Bill Gunthers — were not. Patrick saved it at the end by quipping “nobody I know is here.”
Finally, a nugget surfaced that could be very damaging for the prior governor, Mitt Romney. A questioner rose to ask Patrick, who had promised to speed up permitting, why he should be believed. “I believed your predecessor when he said the very same thing,” the questioner stated. To me, this is Romney’s great Achilles heel. Four years after Mitt Romney came into office promising to be a c.e.o. who could bring jobs to Massachusetts, the new governor is trying to do exactly the same thing. In fact, after four years of Romney, Massachusetts is in worse shape than it was four years ago.
Patrick’s got a tough road to head. But if he can find the tenacity to stick with it, he’ll perform far better than his predecessor.