In bragging about Massachusetts, Patrick paints a largely accurate, if incomplete, picture
In his speech to the Democratic National Convention on Tuesday night, Governor Deval Patrick boasted of Massachusetts’ accomplishments, offering the kind of list that he would no doubt repeat time and again if he were ever to seek higher office.
“Massachusetts leads the nation in economic competitiveness; student achievement; health care coverage; life sciences and biotech; energy efficiency and veterans’ services,” Patrick declared.
The list presents a largely accurate, if at times incomplete and arguable, accounting of Massachusetts under Patrick’s leadership.
On economic competitiveness, Patrick’s claim is based on a report the Beacon Hill Institute, a conservative think tank affiliated with Suffolk University, released in March that ranked Massachusetts first among the states, ahead of North Dakota and Colorado. The report was based on an analysis of 44 factors, including government and fiscal policy, student test scores, human resources, security and infrastructure.
Other rankings have found Massachusetts to be less competitive. CNBC, the financial news station, recently ranked Massachusetts the 28th best state for business, down from sixth in 2011, the biggest decline of any state. That analysis was based on factors that include quality of life, access to capital, and the cost of doing business.
On student achievement, Massachusetts is widely acknowledged to be a national leader. In 2011, Massachusetts’ fourth- and eighth-graders were tops in the nation in reading and math scores on the National Assessment of Educational Progress, or NAEP, exam. That was the fourth consecutive year that Massachusetts students were first or tied for first on the exam.
Nevertheless, there are some worrisome signs.
Massachusetts was the fastest-improving state on the NAEP from 1998 to 2005, when the state first achieved number-one ranking in reading and math for fourth- and eighth-graders. Since then, the state has been slower to improve, with performance that has been flat in the past several years, according to the Pioneer Institute, a conservative think tank.
In health care coverage, Massachusetts is the national leader, with more than 98 percent of the state’s residents insured in 2011, a far higher percentage than in any other state. The high rate of coverage is due, of course, to the health care law that Patrick’s predecessor in Massachusetts, Mitt Romney, signed in 2005. That law required every resident to obtain health insurance or pay a tax penalty.
In life sciences and biotech, Massachusetts, with its cluster of high-tech businesses and top-flight research universities, is often ranked as one of the three most vibrant states, along with California, New York, and North Carolina.
Patrick’s boast is based on a 2011 report by Jones Lang LaSalle, a real estate and investment firm, which ranked the Boston area as the best place for biotech in the United States, ahead of the New York/New Jersey area, the Bay Area, and Los Angeles.
The analysis examined, among other factors, the share of the workforce employed in the life sciences, the amount of federal research dollars flowing into the area, and the number of science and engineering students in the area. However, it is not hard to find analyses that do not rank Massachusetts as highly and critics may debate how much credit Patrick, or any governor, deserves for the success of any sector of the economy.
On energy efficiency, Patrick points to the 2011 scorecard by the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy, which ranked Massachusetts first in the nation, ahead of California, the long-time leader, and New York. The analysis was based on factors that include transportation policies, building energy codes, state government initiatives, and appliance efficiency standards.
Veterans benefits can be hard to measure by state, since many are administered by the federal government. In asserting that Massachusetts is tops, Patrick cites a 2011 report by Michael F. Rush, a Democratic state senator from West Roxbury and an Iraq War veteran, who is co-chairman of the Legislature’s Joint Committee on Veterans and Federal Affairs.
The report, which is not available online, compared the websites for the veterans affairs departments of all 50 states, tallying factors such as the tax credits, employment and housing benefits available.Michael Levenson can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @mlevenson.