Wonk & Roll: Improving economic competitiveness in Patrick’s next term

By John Schneider

Now that the election is over, the real work begins.  And the real work for Governor Patrick for next year is all about WORK and how we can get more of it here in Massachusetts.

So at the risk of piling on to the growing mountain of suggestions that will soon be higher than Mt. Greylock, here are my three for improving the state’s economic competitiveness.

  1. Conduct a top to bottom review of regulations that affect the state’s business environment. Yes Massachusetts has a lot of smart people and we come up with a lot of good ideas. But we need to streamline regulations that make the cost of doing business here more expensive, with an eye toward encouraging growth outside the Greater Boston Knowledge Corridor. Governor Patrick should establish a blue ribbon commission to take this on and, in a dramatic show of bipartisanship that would teach the nation something, ask Charlie Baker to co-chair it. To communicate a real sense of urgency about this, the commission should present recommendations to the Governor on day two of his second term.

  2. Make higher education reform a cornerstone of your second term. A lot has been accomplished in K-12 education reform over the last two years. Massachusetts has a lot of work to do on the implementation end things, and the Governor should use his bully pulpit to make sure we use Race to The Top funding, and other opportunities, smartly. But the state needs a strategic vision for bringing improved performance and greater productivity to higher education. The energy and leadership must come from the Governor. I suggest the following deal: Agree to spend more on the state system—using state spending per FTE student as a benchmark—and stabilize funding volatility, which makes planning for both administrators and students just nuts, in exchange for more accountability. That means granting the Board of Higher Education more power and leverage to align public campuses with state goals. That will be a fight, but it’s one worth having. This topic would add a lot of substance to the state of the state address in January 2011.

  3. Get a handle on rising costs, especially health care, energy, and local government. As we all know, there is a high cost of living in Massachusetts. Small employers are getting killed on rising health care costs (we know this first hand since MassINC is a small employer), the well-intentioned initiative to expand our use of renewable energy is going to cost consumers more, and local governments are feeling fiscal strain and cutting services. We ought to be able to reach consensus quickly on ways to help local government better control costs and such common sense reforms as bringing local government employees into the GIC and promoting more regional services should be included in House One. Getting a handle on rising health care costs is much trickier of course, but there is growing momentum to take this on. Finally, much more transparency—and better communication—is needed on what consumers will pay to meet renewable energy goals and how we can keep a check on rising costs without sacrificing important long-term goals.

Streamline regulations, reform higher education, and control rising costs—now let’s get to work.


Wonk & Roll is regular series of posts by MassINC Executive Vice President John Schneider on policy topics of interest to the MassINC community.

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