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Mass. gov prepares to offer goals for final months

January 18, 2014

BOSTON (AP) — Gov. Deval Patrick insists he has plenty left to accomplish in the final year of his administration, but with attention already shifting to the race to succeed him, he likely faces the additional challenge of simply staying relevant.

Patrick faces an important week ahead, delivering his last State of the State address on Tuesday, one day before submitting his budget blueprint to the Legislature.

“It’s a delicate balancing act because no one wants to view himself as a lame duck even if the reality is that the political focus is going to move well beyond the incumbent,” notes Peter Ubertaccio, a political science professor at Stonehill College.

Few on Beacon Hill expect Patrick to offer bold new proposals but to instead concentrate on completing work on goals his administration has pursued over the past seven years.

“The budget is going to be in balance,” Patrick told reporters recently. “We are going to continue to invest in the things we know make a difference, in education, innovation and infrastructure.”

Patrick has scuttled speculation that he might rekindle elements of the $1.8 billion tax package he proposed in last year’s State of the State address, including an income tax hike to finance improvements in transportation and education. The Legislature opted for a scaled-down package that increased gasoline and cigarette taxes and imposed a tax on software services that was later repealed under pressure from business groups.

It wasn’t the first time Patrick had been forced to settle for less than what he sought in his annual speech and budget. In 2012, the Legislature approved a $10 million funding increase for the community college system but balked at his call for centralized management of the colleges.

Some of Patrick’s loftier goals have also faltered. In 2008, after his first year in office, he called for a plan to “end homelessness in Massachusetts once and for all.” Recent figures have pointed to even more homeless families being sheltered in motels.

But there have also been notable successes, including the Legislature’s passage of a health care cost containment law championed by Patrick and reforms in the state’s pension system.

Former Democratic state Party Chairman John Walsh, one of Patrick’s closest political advisers, doesn’t foresee any significant shift in tone or policy during the governor’s final months in office.

Walsh, who oversees Patrick’s political action committee, also rejects the notion that the governor might try to lay the groundwork for future political endeavors by trumpeting achievements and trying to cement his legacy.

“I don’t think there is a sense of flying a lot of ‘mission accomplished’ banners with Gov. Patrick,” Walsh said. “His focus is on where we are heading, where we are in the journey.”

It’s a sensitive topic in Massachusetts, where many residents were irked when Patrick’s predecessor, Republican Mitt Romney, appeared to lose interest in the job as his attention moved to a White House bid. Two other former governors, William Weld and Paul Cellucci, resigned from office to pursue other ambitions.

For much of his second term, speculation had abounded that Patrick, a friend and political ally of President Barack Obama, might bolt for a high-ranking Washington job or even begin eyeing a 2016 presidential run.

Patrick has consistently promised to serve out his full term and return to the private sector after departing. Walsh said he was relieved that most people were finally coming to accept the pledge as fact.

Republican state Rep. Brad Jones, the House minority leader, derided last year’s failed tax proposal as the “Deval Patrick legacy project.” He said the governor should focus his final year on correcting problems within state government, including at the Department of Families and Children, which is under outside review after social workers lost track of a 6-year-old Fitchburg boy who is feared dead.

“He’s coming to the end of his administration. There is an ebbing of political capital,” said Jones, who doubts whether Patrick retains enough clout even with a solidly Democratic Legislature to push through major initiatives before leaving office.

But if Patrick is able to effectively push reforms in the DCF and his administration avoids other serious missteps, Ubertaccio believes he’ll leave a successful legacy as governor and assure a future as an influential voice in the Democratic Party.

“Barring anything on the radar that would be incredibly controversial, he could end on a very high note,” Ubertaccio said.

Democrats vying to succeed Patrick in the November election include Attorney General Martha Coakley; state Treasurer Steven Grossman; Don Berwick, a former top health care official in President Barack Obama’s administration; Juliette Kayyem, a former federal Homeland Security official; and Joseph Avellone, a business executive and former Wellesley selectman.

Charlie Baker, the 2010 Republican nominee and former CEO of Harvard Pilgrim Health Care, is making another run for governor. Mark Fisher, a Shrewsbury business owner, is also vying for the GOP nomination.

Two independents are also running.

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