Mayor Menino opened the meeting with a brief, straightforward assessment of the need for assistance to municipalities. He was followed by Governor Patrick who entered the room from a back door and exited the way he entered. The Governor’s presence and presentation was a stark contrast to the victor who entered the overflow auditorium to deafening applause in January 2007. The audience responded vigorously to his pledge to not balance the budget on the backs of towns and cities, although he offered no hope for improved local aid.
He speech entered the stump for casinos and even he looked tired of repeating the worn mantra. “…not the centerpiece of our economic strategy” then proceeded to spend the majority of his speech on the issue. The audience was lukewarm to the subject as it offers no real solutions to current fiscal challenges. The subject was an undercurrent throughout the weekend with a decidedly unenthusiastic reception by municipal leaders who comprehend what spittle the projected 300-400million in casino revenues is to the state budget. After mitigation there is nothing in it for towns and cities.
But, there was plenty of rhetoric about the local economy being the basis of economic health for the state. Plenty of warm air expended on statements about local services being the front-line and all that. The Globe dropped the ball on covering the event but their step-child the T&G (read the comments!) and the Springfield Republican captured a little flavor. The MMA summary is probably the most accurate/neutral report.
Secretary of Labor and Workforce Development Suzanne Bump was one of the speakers who described her ethos in public service and said she was there to give her “sales pitch” on casinos. She was questioned on casinos and didn’t seem to have a grasp on the subject contradicting herself in describing casino jobs as 50K middle class jobs then answering a question about workforce development for people with special needs and thought these individuals could work in the “back of the house”. Umm…who pays to transport special needs individuals to the proposed three casino sites (which apparently is the Administration’s answer to all job creation, but not the centerpiece)? Will that come out of the mitigation funds too? Geoff Beckwith former state rep. and colleague of Ms. Bump, attempted to save the decaying dialog by asking a question about her call to public service. The word lame comes to mind.
Anyways, some good breakout sessions revealing that local officials know more than the experts on the challenges towns and cities are confronted with and have the skills but not the power to solve the problems. The formula for revenue sharing between the state and local government is broken. MMA supports a goal of a 40:60 split local:state and put together a nifty DVD in the closing session on the subject of municipal government.
Senator Kerry addressed the Mayors Association and spoke in the closing session as well. He was great. Centered, on topic and really got the pulse of the audience. He introduced his staff stressing his/their interest in hearing from local officials and he rendered a thoughful broadstroke summary of the challenges of creating change in DC. His presence and words were appreciated.
Cynicism was palpable and unfortunately, there has been an enormous erosion of support for the Governor by a strong block of constituents, local leaders.