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Patrick will seek $120m for changes

In interview, he cites economic, police boost

MILTON -- Governor-elect Deval L. Patrick plans to ask the Legislature for $120 million to add 1,000 police officers and begin expanding full-day kindergarten across the state, and may call for additional state aid to help cities and towns eliminate school-activity fees.

Patrick, in a wide-ranging interview at his home Friday, also vowed to use the "convening power" of his office to bring business leaders together to work on stimulating the economy, pledged to find and eliminate waste in state government, and promised to look into consolidating functions of local municipalities -- all signals that he seeks to shake his liberal label and govern as a pro business centrist.

"I don't think any of it is going to be easy," Patrick said when asked whether he was concerned about fulfilling supporters' high hopes for his administration. "But am I worried about it? 'Worried' is not the word. I am conscious of the importance of meeting and exceeding expectations."

Three days after winning a resounding victory over Republican Kerry Healey, Patrick looked relaxed as he took care of more mundane chores and prepared for a weekend off at his vacation home in the Berkshires. When he greeted a reporter at the door, the Democratic governor-elect was in the middle of washing his 7-year-old yellow lab, Zoe.

But in an hour long interview on his back porch on this unusually warm November morning, Patrick made clear he was already deeply focused on how to transform his many campaign pledges into concrete results on Beacon Hill and how to continue fostering the civic energy generated by his candidacy.

Patrick has already hinted at much of his early policy agenda, but in the interview he began to chart out how and when he intends to roll out specific plans.

Patrick, who takes office Jan. 4, said one of his first acts will be to appoint a special inspector general to oversee the troubled Big Dig, and he said he had already reached out to potential candidates. He decline to name them or say precisely how soon after being in office he would make the appointment. "Right away" is all he would say.

Patrick said he expects his first state budget proposal, due roughly eight weeks after he's sworn in, will include $85 million for 1,000 new police officers, hires targeted at community policing efforts. He also hopes to include $34 million to expand full-day kindergarten to more cities and towns. Currently, full-day kindergarten is available to about 57 percent of Massachusetts pupils.

Regarding school-activity fees, which families in many communities pay so their children can play sports and ride buses, Patrick said he was considering whether to give additional aid to cities and towns that agree to get rid of the charges. He estimated that the price tag would be about $34 million, but said he would wait to see what his policy advisers proposed before committing to a specific solution on those fees.

Patrick also said he was interested in expanding early education opportunities for children up to kindergarten age. The Legislature passed such a bill last year, but it was vetoed by Governor Mitt Romney, who feared it would cost taxpayers more than $1 billion. Patrick said he believes the cost may be more like $600 million, but he has no immediate plans to seek that funding.

"We can't go there right way," he said.

For the moment, Patrick is focused on selecting his transition team and convening various "working groups" to help him craft his policy agenda. On Friday, he announced three co chairs for his transition team: lawyer Michael Angelini, banker Ron Homer, and former Weld administration official Gloria Larson.

Part of the working groups' charge, Patrick said, will be to consult with lawmakers or their staffs, so that the Legislature has a sense of what his administration wants to do, and vice versa. The Democratic leadership of the Legislature had a rocky relationship with Romney, a Republican, although they worked together to pass comprehensive healthcare legislation.

"I want to make good on this notion of a new partnership," Patrick said, speaking of his relationship with the Legislature. "And, you know, it's a great way to surface where we agree and where we don't, and then start working on those compromises."

He also said he wants to have a more transparent state budget, so the public can easily see which line items are paying for what.

"If it's for a gazebo in town X, let's say it's for a gazebo in town X," Patrick said.

As for longer-term initiatives, Patrick hopes to foster growth in the state's alternative and renewable energy industry . He said he's open to the direct investment of state dollars, perhaps in bonds or pension funds, and he wants to study what other states and nations are doing to attract business.

Patrick reiterated his belief that to reap economic growth, Massachusetts needs to invest in itself, both in local infrastructure such as sewer connections and in public higher education. Offering an example of this approach, he said that before the Quincy Shipyard could be converted into a manufacturing facility for wind turbines, the state might need to help overhaul the shipyard and see that a rail system existed that could transport the product.

"I'm not saying that there are trains or Quincy Shipyard plans in the future, but I'm saying that those kinds of infrastructure investments take time," he said.

One of the biggest challenges Patrick is sure to face as governor is how to fund and maintain the state's transportation system. The MBTA, which voted Thursday to raise fares again, is burdened with debt, budget shortfalls, and expensive maintenance needs. Pushed by Romney, the Turnpike Authority board is set to vote this week on a controversial plan to take down the tolls west of Route 128. Many state-run roads and bridges, meanwhile, are in disrepair.

The state-appointed Transportation Finance Commission is evaluating all these demands and is almost certain to assert the need for new transportation revenue. Patrick, who opposes the T fare increase and is highly skeptical that the elimination of tolls is fiscally responsible, said he would study the group's report closely.

When Romney took office in January 2003, he confronted a huge budget shortfall. Patrick said he wasn't ruling out the possibility that he, too, would face one. Indeed, fiscal analysts have cautioned that many promises made by gubernatorial candidates during the campaign would be impossible given the likelihood of lean budgets in coming years.

"We have to look at the whole government and how it delivers services and whether it does so as efficiently and as conveniently, frankly, to people as it ought to and where the savings are in there," Patrick said.

One way Patrick said he would look to reap savings for local communities is to promote a more regional approach to municipal services. He said it might make sense, for example, if the state helped cities and towns put their employees in a combined group insurance plan, a move that might bring relief to municipal budgets hard hit by skyrocketing healthcare premiums.

The same regionalization principle could apply to public safety, he said. Though California manages with only a handful of 911 call centers, Patrick said, Massachusetts has nearly 200.

"The idea of how we find regional efficiencies so the cost burden on cities and towns -- and therefore the burden of property taxes -- can be reduced is very much on my mind," Patrick said.

At this early stage, though, many details need to be worked out, including the potential savings from the regionalization idea that Patrick discussed. He did not suggest that the approach would offset the cost of new programs he wants to enact.

Asked what he thought was the biggest misconception about him, Patrick said, "the liberal thing." He emphasized that he believes in fiscal restraint, and he recalled with excitement meetings with his "business Cabinet," a group that advised him on the economy during the campaign.

Walking into his kitchen Friday morning, Patrick pointed to flowers from well-wishers and joked that the place resembled a funeral parlor. But the mood at Patrick's house, and in his tight-knit Milton community, is anything but funereal these days.

At his post election celebration at the Hynes Veterans Memorial Convention Center, Patrick said that he felt, weaving through the crowd of 6,000, the weight of people's expectations.

"There were people who said to me: 'Please don't let me down. Please don't let me down,' " he said. "I want people's expectations to stay high -- of their government and of themselves. And I want us to continue to beat those expectations in the government. It ain't going to be easy."

Scott Helman can be reached at shelman@globe.com.

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