Governor Deval Patrick surrounded himself with business leaders and spoke with an optimistic tone yesterday at the State House as he announced he would lead a delegation from Massachusetts on a trade mission to Israel and Britain next month.
The 10-day trip, wrapping up in the UK on St. Patrick's Day, is aimed at showcasing the state's innovation-based industries, including those in clean energy and the life sciences.
Yet the announcement coincides with another economic-development mission that illustrates his and the state's choppy history with business development.
And that's not taking into account Evergreen Solar Inc., the solar-panel manufacturer the administration promised $58 million in state aid before it decided to shift manufacturing jobs to China and close a new plant at Devens.
As Patrick spoke in Boston, his secretary of housing and economic development, Greg Bialecki, was in Los Angeles trying to promote Massachusetts as a destination for film production.
Traveling with John Dukakis, an advertising executive who also is son of former Governor Michael S. Dukakis, Bialecki called on NBC-Universal, Walt Disney, Warner Bros., Sony, Fox, Paramount, Creative Artists Agency, and others.
The traveling party included two labor officials: Local 25 Teamsters President Sean O'Brien, and Chris O'Donnell, a local official with the Motion Picture Studio Mechanics union.
"These meetings are designed to build on our progress and expand the film industry here," spokeswoman Kimberly Haberlin said in a statement. "We want to bring more jobs, more business investment, and more tourism dollars home to the commonwealth. As with any growth industry, we need to send a clear signal to studios, producers, and filmmakers that Massachusetts is open for business."
While that may be true, Bialecki's own boss sent the industry a muddied signal last year, when he proposed a $50 million cap on a prominent film tax credit for a two-year span.
Patrick said the credit was "wildly successful but expensive" amid a yawning budget gap. Seeking a cap was responsive to the economic times and not inconsistent with his initial support for the credit, aides said.
Created in 2005, it gives movie producers a 25-percent tax credit on all payroll and production expenses incurred in Massachusetts. In addition, it exempts most of a film company's purchases from the state's 6.25 percent sales tax.
Michael Widmer, president of the business-friendly Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation, said during a March 2010 legislative hearing: "This is probably the most costly tax credit with the least economic benefit in my experience $125 million a year is the estimate for the next fiscal year."
The proposed cap, though, met with stiff opposition from the film industry and the Legislature.
The House led the charge against it last March, voting against the $50 million cap. It later opposed an even more restrictive $7 million cap, and the proposal was spiked.
Last month, Patrick unveiled a proposed fiscal 2012 budget retaining the credit in full form, and this week, he sent Bialecki to the West Coast as the emissary of a supposedly industry-friendly state.
House Speaker Robert DeLeo couldn't resist a needle two weeks ago when he issued a statement noting "The Social Network," "The Town," and "The Fighter" with 16 Oscar nominations between them were all filmed in Massachusetts since the credit was instituted.
The Winthrop Democrat added that they "are a good reminder of how important the film tax credit has been to our state’s economy in these challenging times. As we strive to put folks across Massachusetts back to work, the film tax credit continues to stimulate local business and job growth throughout Massachusetts."
Bialecki's visit to California recalls a similar Massachusetts mixed message.
In 2008, Patrick pushed through a $1 billion Life Sciences Initiative aimed at boosting the Massachusetts biotechnology industry. He quickly jetted off for San Diego to attend the annual Biotechnology Industry Organization (BIO) conference and promote the new law.
But he, then-House Speaker Salvatore DiMasi, and Senate President Therese Murray received a rocky reception because of a separate health care cost-control bill pushed by Murray and later signed into law by Patrick.
It included a ban on gifts of any kind from pharmaceutical manufacturers to doctors, their family members, or their employees.
That prompted the strange juxtaposition of Patrick arriving at the conference to participate in an industry panel discussion, and shortly be named BIO's "Governor of the Year," while BIO leaders were still cleaning their ink-stained hands after writing letters complaining to members of his delegation.
BIO itself said to DiMasi "the gift-ban provision threatens research and treatment for patients in the commonwealth.”
And GlaxoSmithKline accused the Massachusetts political establishment of harboring "a strong anti-biopharmaceutical streak."
Last fall, Patrick made two fresh points on the subject during his re-election campaign. He said the ban was never intended to extend to the state's medical device industry, and thus should be narrowed.
He also said the state pharmaceutical ban itself was ripe for repeal or modification, since the Obama administration's federal health care overhaul included superseding language.
"The Department of Public Health, which oversees these regulations, is currently reviewing the ways in which our state regulations are impacted by federal law in order to determine whether there are any additional steps that need to be taken," a spokesman said yesterday.
Today, though, the ban remains, crystal clear for all to see.
Glen Johnson can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @globeglen.
About Political Intelligence
Glen Johnson is Politics Editor at boston.com and lead blogger for "Political Intelligence." He moved to Massachusetts in the fourth grade, and has covered local, state, and national politics for over 25 years. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @globeglen.