Gov. Deval Patrick looked back at his legacy and ahead to his last year in office as he delivered his final State of the State address on Tuesday.
Patrick pledged to continue to make government more effective, calling for an overhaul of Massachusetts’ unemployment insurance system and vowing to pass legislation making it easier to register to vote.
The governor also said he’s working to fix the state’s health insurance website and strengthen the Department of Children and Families in the wake of the disappearance of a 5-year-old Fitchburg boy who was under state care before he went missing and is now feared dead.
The governor, who is not seeking re-election, renewed his call for an increase in the state’s minimum wage. The proposal was met with a standing ovation in the Massachusetts House chamber, which was filled with state lawmakers and members of the administration.
Patrick pointed to education as one area that, despite the state’s first-in-the-nation ranking in key test scores, still needs more work to reach every child.
He said the state has made progress in other areas, but can’t rest on its laurels.
“We lead the country in student achievement but some of our students remain stuck in achievement gaps. We’re using better tools to combat youth violence but still lose too many people to a cycle of violence. We are the only state to guarantee emergency shelter but too many people need it,” he said.
While the economic recovery is continuing, Patrick said, he also believes too many in the state are being left behind.
“The recession is not over for everybody,” the governor said. “The single most important solution is economic growth, growth that reaches out to the marginalized not just up to the well-connected.”
Patrick also took time to look back and offer his version of his legacy in office, saying the state was able to rally in the face of daunting challenges while overhauling the state’s pension system and working to bring down health care costs.
“When I came to work here in 2007, I expected to face economic challenges, but not a global economic collapse,” Patrick said. “I expected to face public safety challenges, but not the failure of a key water supply, a tornado, or a terrorist attack.”
Patrick called the April 15, 2013, bombings at the Boston Marathon the most trying moment of his tenure, adding: “But I could not have been prouder of the grace and kindness on display in the wake of the Marathon bombing.”
Patrick ended his speech pledging a strong finish to his second and last term in office.
“Now is no time for valedictories,” he said. “We have work to do. Let’s get to it.”
Rep. Brad Jones, the House Republican leader, called the speech “underwhelming.” Referring to a request by the governor that cities and towns hold the line on property tax increases, Jones noted that property tax relief had been among Patrick’s original campaign promises and he’d done little on the issue during his administration.
“It’s easy to talk about the greatness of the commonwealth,” said Sen. Bruce Tarr, the GOP leader in the Senate. “The governor does it very well. He’s a very charismatic, inspirational speaker, but the fact of the matter is there are real issues that have to be addressed underneath those points.”
Democratic House Speaker Robert DeLeo, who planned to outline his legislative priorities in a speech on Wednesday, said it was time for Massachusetts to show it was serious about attracting new business to the state. He predicted that the House would tackle both unemployment insurance reform and the minimum wage in the coming months.
Patrick made only a brief reference in his speech to the Department of Children and Families, under intense scrutiny after social workers lost track of 5-year-old Jeremiah Oliver.
“It’s inexcusable to lose any child we are charged with protecting,” he said. Patrick earlier asked the Child Welfare League of America to conduct an independent review of the agency and included more than $9 million in his state budget proposal to bolster staff and reduce caseload at DCF.