The year ahead
Stateâ€™s new business is much the same as the old
The election of Massachusettsâ€™ first Democratic governor in 16 years prompted predictions of massive change on Beacon Hill in 2007. After a year of political sparring between the administration and legislative leaders, there remains a heaping plate of unfinished business to tackle.
Still pending on the agenda:
â€¢ Health insurance. More than a year after it was launched, Massachusettsâ€™ first-in-the-nation mandatory health insurance law remains a work in progress. However, some 300,000 previously uninsured residents â€” many of whom depended heavily on costly emergency room care â€” now have basic coverage. Remaining challenges include signing up the thousands of residents who are still uninsured, finding primary care physicians for all the newly insured residents, signing up eligible residents to the federal-state Medicaid program, and keeping a tight lid on the cost of the subsidized program to taxpayers.
â€¢ Medical liability. A badly misguided Supreme Judicial Court ruling this month involving a lawsuit blaming a physician for a fatal auto accident involving one of his patients opens a whole new area of medical liability litigation â€” raising the specter of rising malpractice premiums, more costly â€œdefensive medicineâ€? and an exodus of physicians from the state. Prompt action on House bill 985, which would reform medical liability laws, should be high on the legislative agenda.
â€¢ Biotech leadership. Still on the to-do list is most of the Patrick administrationâ€™s biotech development proposal. As important as direct incentives, however, are efforts to maintain a skilled biotech labor pool, simplify and speed permitting and nurture collaborations among biotech firms, academia and the public sector.
â€¢ Commuter rail upgrades. A new rail service to Southeastern Massachusetts was unveiled this year and planned work on the Fitchburg-Boston line will substantially reduce the commute time. Yet service on the heavily used Worcester-Boston line has remained stuck at 10 trips a day for years. Wrapping up negotiations with freight handler CSX warrants top priority.
â€¢ Unemployment costs. Of all the disincentives to economic development in Massachusetts, the employer-funded unemployment insurance system may be the most vexing to existing businesses and job-creating enterprises considering locating or expanding here. Yet, despite a cushion of more than $1 billion in the Unemployment Insurance Trust Fund, efforts to freeze the excessive rates have been fruitless.
â€¢ Auto insurance. Even before the launch of the new â€œmanaged competitionâ€? system April 1, a small but persistent minority in the Legislature is working to return to the old â€œSoviet-styleâ€? regulatory system. The administration and legislative leadership must make sure the opponents of reform do not prevail.
â€¢ Casino gambling. Before any decision is made, the administration needs to provide evidence that its promise of $500 million or more a year in revenue to the state is anything more than pie in the sky. The most authoritative analysis of gambling revenues indicates the administration estimate is vastly overblown.
â€¢ Education reform. The landmark 1993 law has made Massachusetts students the best in the nation by several national measurements. Still, a stubborn socio-economic achievement gap must be addressed. The overarching priority of the yet-to-be-named new education commissioner and S. Paul Reville, chairman of the Board of Education, must be to stay the course on high-stakes MCAS testing, pilot and charter schools, accountability and other elements of the reform law that have brought such huge, measurable improvement to the quality of public education.
In his inaugural remarks last January, Gov. Deval L. Patrick emphasized the need for high expectations. Before embarking in new bold directions, the state needs to focus on completing the work already under way.