Governor Deval Patrick used his final State of the Commonwealth address to argue that he is leaving Massachusetts in stronger shape than when he took office in 2007 and that the state is a leader in education, health care coverage and entrepreneurial activity.
Before a joint session of the Legislature on Beacon Hill, Patrick said he knows “Massachusetts is back in the leadership business.”
In an mostly upbeat speech, light on new policy specifics and tinged by reflections on his time in the Corner Office, Patrick emphasized that despite all the progress, work remains.
Lauding past investments and successes in education, innovation and infrastructure, the governor repeated the refrain: “Let’s keep going.”
He called for increasing opportunity for citizens at all income levels, echoing the ascendant strain of economic populism in the Democratic Party.
“Our economy is growing, booming in some quarters. But we are leaving some of our neighbors behind. The recession is not over for everybody,” he said. “It’s not just that income inequality is widening; it’s that it’s harder for average people to bridge that gap and get ahead.”
To help those who are struggling economically, Patrick pressed for the reform of the state’s unemployment insurance system, encouraged the private sector to hire more people and, most passionately, called increasing the state’s hourly minimum wage, currently set at $8 per hour.
Patrick did not specify how much he would like to see it boosted, saying only doing so would bring relief to the working poor.
“To those who are reluctant to raise the minimum wage, I ask only that, before you resolve to oppose it, consider whether you can live on it,” he said to approving murmurs and applause from the audience in the House chamber.
Late last year, the state Senate passed a bill that would incrementally increase the minimum wage to $11 by the middle of 2016 and connect subsequent hikes to inflation.
Patrick also struck some personal notes in his speech.
He said he expected serving as governor to be a great honor, but did not expect it to be “so enlightening, so humbling, and so much fun.”
He reflected on the surprises of his seven years in office, including the Boston Marathon bombings, expressing pride in the way people responded to the attacks.
“The way first-responders and bystanders alike ran to help the injured...the way we came together to grieve and support the families of those lost; the way we worked together to find the killers; the way we turned to each other, rather than on each other — I still believe all this and more reflects the best of who we are.”
As Patrick concluded his speech, the chamber broke into thunderous applause and the governor turned, shook Senate President Therese Murray’s hand and smiled.