Week Ending March 11, 2011
Obama Travels to Boston
President Obama came to Massachusetts this week to visit TechBoston Academy in Dorchester, a 6th – 12th grade technology oriented pilot school within the Boston Public Schools system. The President pointed to TechBoston as a model of success and said many of its key features—a focus on science and math, a strong public/private partnership, and longer school days—should be considered when debating national education reform. TechBoston has a 20% higher graduation rate (83%) than other schools in Boston and has gained recognition for its use of technology in the classroom.
Governor Patrick on Trade Mission Abroad
Governor Patrick was not in Massachusetts during the President’s visit because he was leading a trade mission to Israel and the U.K. along with representatives from Massachusetts based companies. The goal of the trade mission was to generate economic development opportunities in Massachusetts for Israeli and UK based companies and for Massachusetts companies in those countries. On Thursday, the Governor signed a memorandum of understanding with Israel that will enable more research and development collaboration between Israel and Massachusetts in the life science and clean tech sectors. After his trip to Israel, Patrick will travel to the United Kingdom. At the beginning of this week Governor Patrick spoke at the annual Jefferson-Jackson Day Dinner for the Colorado Democratic Party. Patrick has begun traveling outside of the state more, and has stated that he intends to continue doing so, with much of the focus of his trips on supporting President Obama politically and in preparation for the 2012 election.
Local Leaders Told to Expect Less State Funding
House Ways and Means Chair Brian Dempsey (D-Haverhill) said this week that municipal leaders should expect that local aid could be cut more than what was proposed in the Governor’s FY2012 budget, which he released in January. Chairman Dempsey said that as the House prepares its version of the FY12 budget, they are considering decreasing local aid payments. He pointed to the $1.5 billion in federal stimulus funds that will not be available next fiscal year as one reason cuts need to be made. House leaders have pledged not to include any tax increases in next year’s budget, despite a projected $2-3 billion budget gap.
Health Care Cost Control Debate This Week
Health care cost control stayed front and center at the State House this week as the Joint Committee on Public Service held a hearing on Tuesday to hear testimony about numerous bills regarding municipal health insurance cost control. The lengthy hearing consisted of testimony from municipal leaders who argue that they need more control to change health insurance plans for public employees and testimony from union officials and members who argued that they need the continued ability to bargain with municipalities about any changes to health care plans. The Governor’s bill, which requires municipalities to provide health insurance coverage to its employees either through the
Commonwealth’s Group Insurance Commission (“GIC”) or through an insurance plan of equal cost, is seen as a potential cost saver for municipalities that continue to struggle with increasing health care costs.
House Leader Expects Payment Reform Debate in 2012
The debate about municipal health insurance took place before the backdrop of the broader debate in the State House about health care cost control. The Governor’s payment reform legislation is currently before the Joint Committee on Health Care Finance. In the first indication of when the legislature may debate this legislation, the House Majority Leader, Ron Mariano, said this week that he expects the House to begin debate on the bill early in 2012. He said the bill is so complex, that the Committee and House members need plenty of time to understand all the aspects of the bill before they are asked to vote on it. Mariano also said that even if the bill does not produce immediate cost savings, the Legislature should still consider it because of the potential for long term cost savings.
Expanding Gaming Still at Forefront of Speaker’s Agenda
House Speaker DeLeo (D – Winthrop) said this week he hopes that the House and Senate will pass a gambling bill in the first year of this two year session rather than wait until next year to address the issue. The Speaker made clear that he and Senate President Murray (D – Plymouth) have had only preliminary discussions with the Governor, which he hopes to resume once Governor Patrick returns from his trip to Israel and the U.K. on March 17th. DeLeo also said that he is hopeful that expanded gambling can be part of next month’s budget discussions provided that legislative leaders and the Governor resolve their differences beforehand. This statement was followed later in the week by news that former Congressman Bill Delahunt was hired by the Mashpee Wampanoag tribe, in part to assist their efforts to get authorization to build a casino on their tribal land in southeastern Massachusetts.
Massachusetts Unemployment Rises
The seasonally adjusted unemployment figures were released this week and showed that the unemployment rate was up in all of the 22 geographic regions in the state. According to the new numbers, the statewide seasonally adjusted unemployment rate of 8% rose to 9% from December to January. The Executive Office of Labor and Workforce Development attributed the statewide rise to seasonal trends.
John Nunnari, Assoc AIA
Executive Director, AIA MA
MA Chapter of American Institute of Architects
The Architects Building
52 Broad Street, Boston MA 02109-4301