REMARKS BY HOUSE SPEAKER ROBERT A. DELEO UPON THE RELEASE OF BHI'S TENTH ANNUAL COMPETITIVENESS REPORT
Thank you for inviting me to introduce the Beacon Hill Institute’s State Competitiveness Report. And thank you for that introduction, Frank.
It’s always a pleasure to speak at my alma mater, the Suffolk University School of Law.
The reason I’m here – which has nothing to do with Frank growing up in my home neighborhood of East Boston – is the importance of keeping Massachusetts competitive. During my tenure as Speaker and, before that, as the chairman of the House Committee on Ways & Means, I have tried to target and support those measures which make our state a productive place to work, live and do business. I am particularly happy to learn that when a host of factors are taken into account (as the BHI index does): government and fiscal policy, security, infrastructure, human resources, technology, business incubation, openness, and environmental policy – Massachusetts’ strengths shine.
As the economy faced the most profound downturn since the Great Depression, that mission has shifted to combating horrific fiscal conditions while securing jobs across our state. For most of this calendar year our focus has been on creating jobs.
It’s very encouraging to see Massachusetts doing so well in the competiveness index. Even with the slippage of our state to third place,the data makes clear that we have set a very high standard and other states are racing to catch up with us. When I speak with my counterparts from other states, I am constantly reminded of the fact that this survey bears out: most of the other states in the country would love to be in Massachusetts’ position. Even now we stand higher than 47 other states. Yet we cannot rest on our laurels. That’s why today
I hope to highlight initiatives which have the potential to launch us back into first place and help us retain our relative position among the 50 states.
In addition, we managed a very challenging budgetary situation. At a time when other states were giving vendors IOUs and engaging in litigation over the budget, Massachusetts filed timely and orderly budgets. We also reformed our state system of transportation, pensions and ethics. As the economy improves, I hope we can rebuild the rainy day fund.
Each of the following initiatives promises to spur growth among the Massachusetts businesses that employ our residents and contribute greatly to our economic stability.
Among the pieces of legislation passed with this goal of cementing our economic future was the economic development law. While the August 14th and 15th tax holiday garnered significant attention, other provisions which will help our state over the long term have received scant notice. That law promotes a business-friendly environment that will help small businesses open, expand and create jobs. It will overhaul the state’s network of business development agencies, establishing a streamlined, cohesive model with built-in oversight and transparency to reduce redundancy and waste.
It also extends the period in which a corporation can carry forward its losses, from the current five-year period to 20 years and encourages investment in Massachusetts-based start-ups by creating a 3 percent tax rate on capital gains earned on investments made in these companies for a minimum of three years.
I am encouraged that Massachusetts received high marks for its coverage of the uninsured. In just three years since the passage of our healthcare law, we covered more than 97 percent of our residents. Not only did skeptics believe – at the time that we were working on Chapter 58 - that we could not achieve this level of coverage so quickly - they also believed that we would never see this level of coverage in the state. We have also continued to see an increase in the support of the reform law with each passing year of implementation.
In that spirit, back in August, the House and Senate passed small business health care legislation that will reduce small business health insurance costs and promote job retention and job creation.
The bill, which was signed into law by the Governor, reduces premium fluctuations in the market and requires insurers to offer affordable health plans.
The legislation also delivers an estimated premium relief of at least 10 percent that small businesses can save and reinvest in their operations and workforce.
It also establishes standardized transparency measures for provider pricing and annual public reporting which will decrease marketplace ambiguity and collect important financial information for ongoing policy discussions about long-term system reform.
I am sure that as we continue to grapple with these difficult issues, our state will remain ahead of the curve in terms of health care.
We in Massachusetts are fortunate to have an abundance of outstanding institutions of higher education – of which Suffolk is one. From Harvard to Hampshire College, Williams to Wellesley, MIT to the University of Massachusetts – our universities serve to draw top talent from around the country and around the world into our state. Walk down Ashburton Place near the State House and notice how many students at this institution come from everywhere.
And once here, it’s important to get these students to stay, to create business, work and invest. Your survey demonstrates that we are doing a terrific job training a high-tech workforce. This, in turn, spurs foreign investment as well as the continued presence of venture capitalists, who also rated Massachusetts highly.
All this, we take great pride in. We must keep doing what we are doing.
But even with this success, we must remain focused in a couple of areas.
One is public, higher education. Our public colleges and universities play an important role in educating our workforce. We have to continue to find ways to make sure they remain competitive with our private institutions.
A good example of the success we have had in this area is the Life Sciences Bill signed into law a couple of years ago. As part of the bill, the already renowned University of Massachusetts Medical School -- one of its faculty members is the recipient of a Nobel Prize -- will add a 500,000 square foot facility devoted to research and education.
The new space will undoubtedly act as a beacon to the top researchers, faculty, students and doctors, bringing top-level talent and ideas to the school. Set for completion in 2012, the center will add to Massachusetts’ reputation as a hotbed of medical and scientific advancement, driving new disease treatments and partnership across disciplines.
Even as we celebrate the success of our institutions of higher education, we need to ensure that this success reaches to the secondary level of education and to those residents who may not attend college. In order to do this, we targeted the achievement gap.
Passed into law by the legislature and signed by the governor, this year’s law targeting the achievement gap received recognition at the highest levels of the federal government. Thanks to our efforts, Washington awarded our state with $250 million in education monies. During budgetary times like these, additional funds are always welcome. Equally important, however, was the profound improvements that this piece of legislation represented.
This law established a new category of public schools and provided options to improve existing school districts that are underperforming,
The consensus bill, An Act Relative to the Achievement Gap, created Innovation Schools, which are district public schools with increased autonomy and flexibility to operate. Any school, in any district, may take advantage of this new model, and the funding of these schools is the same as for any other school in the district. Any groups or individuals can submit proposals for innovation schools and approval depends on collaborative evaluation by the school committees, teachers union and superintendent.
The bill also addresses “underperforming” and “chronically underperforming” schools by authorizing the commissioner of elementary and secondary education to intervene and work with school superintendents to develop turnaround plans for those schools.
Before concluding, I have to stress something which has been an interest of mine throughout my career. While I’m very honored to be recognized for the investments we have made in life sciences, green energy and other sectors that help the best educated among us, we have to be cognizant of the needs of the population as a whole.
In our effort to continue to build the workforce of tomorrow, I want to maximize the return on our investment in vocational technical high schools, community colleges and the entire higher education system. We can and must tie our technical high schools and the community college system more directly to specific industries like bio technology and health care as well as other emerging fields such as renewable energy and the green technologies.
I know this kind of coordination isn’t revolutionary, it’s just hard work, but it’s work I’m willing to see through to the end because I believe in the notion that a well educated workforce – at a diversity of levels – is our greatest natural resource. This one unique characteristic has defined us as a state in the past and must continue to do so in the future.
One model is Bunker Hill Community College. This school has some terrific partnerships it has with NStar, the East Boston Community Health Center, and others. Students can participate in the NStar program and walk out of Bunker Hill with a degree and a job. They can learn how to become certified medical interpreters and go to work at the health center. We have to find ways to make sure programs like these are accessible to more students.
Once again, it has been a pleasure to speak to you today, and I look forward to taking any questions you may have.