Saying the state is on the verge of an economic recovery, Governor Deval Patrick today dismissed any notion of raising the gas tax and defended the state and national health care reform laws, in the first breakfast forum planned for 2010 gubernatorial candidates.
The discussion, hosted by the Associated Industries of Massachusetts and Denterlein Worldwide at the UMass Club in Boston, was at once witty and serious as the governor sought to outline his agenda in hopes of a second term in office, and to explain his policy decisions over the past four years.
|Governor Deval Patrick|
Saying he has had to engage in “hand-to-hand combat” at times with even his friends to get measures approved, Patrick cited education and transportation reform, changes to the state’s pension system and the use of civilian flaggers as controversial, yet important achievements.
“Unless you’re willing to take shots, unless you’re willing to put your political capital on the line and take hits, you’ll never make change,” the governor said.
Patrick said he saw no valid argument for increasing the state's gas tax. "I just don't think we can keep adding at these times,'' he said.
The forum, called “In the News,” was the first that organizers hope to have with the gubernatorial candidates. Patrick engaged with host and longtime Boston television reporter John Henning as some 50 of the state’s top business leaders had a breakfast of bacon, eggs, home fries, and fruit.
State Treasurer Timothy Cahill, an independent candidate, is expected to meet with the group next month, and Republican candidates Charles Baker and Christy Mihos have also been invited, organizers said.
“The focus is really going to be on economic issues, business development and job creation,” said Paul Jean, of Denterlein Worldwide, a public affairs firm specializing in health care and public policy.
Patrick started his 40-minute appearance by expressing support for the national health care plan President Obama signed into law Tuesday, and he assured the crowd that he and the state’s congressional delegation worked to make sure that states like Massachusetts that already have their own plans will not be harmed.
He said Massachusetts could receive as much as $7 billion as a result of the national plan, and that the state will continue the Health Connector, which runs an online site where consumers can shop for health insurance.
He also defended the state’s universal health care plan against allegations that it is putting the state in debt, saying the plan only made the state budget grow by 1 percent.
“There’s a lesson in there, that we have to pay for it all one way or another,” the governor said. “But I think we are doing it in a way that is smarter, better, and more efficient.”
He acknowledged that any program of such magnitude would constantly need readjusting. Of particular concern is the impact on small businesses, he said, citing as an example a Worcester law firm that saw its costs jump more than 20 percent just by hiring two lawyers and a receptionist.
The governor vowed to continue to examine the state’s transportation system, but dismissed any notion of hiking the gas tax, saying the state cannot afford it at this time. The governor had supported a gas tax in the past because, under state law, any revenues from the tax would have to be redirected to transportation projects.
The governor did say he is moving forward with plans to connect commuter rail service to southeastern Massachusetts and said construction on a terminal in New Bedford could start this year.
“That is enormously important to our regional economy, and that’s a project that has to happen,” he said.
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