Let Us Lead: Remarks to the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce

Paul, I'm so proud to be here today. As I've said many times before, speaking to the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce is one of the highlights of the year.

Today holds even more meaning because it's the last time I'll address this group with you at its helm. With your background, including a stint in the Massachusetts House of Representatives, I believe the impact you've had on Greater Boston has been incalculable. You have understood the people, the businesses, and the public leaders of our area, and your contributions have likewise been invaluable.

On key issues, such as universal access to health care and health care cost, your voice has been vital. In that respect, I'm also proud to mention something we worked closely together on. Savings from the municipal health care reform law are now estimated at almost $250 million annually, far exceeding early projections.

Paul, I've been fortunate to have had your advice and counsel over the past years. You are a good friend and I'll truly miss working with you.

As you conclude your remarkable tenure, the Chamber is stronger than ever, poised for the next step in its growth and evolution. The Chamber's trajectory has mirrored the Commonwealth's, as we too stand ever positioned for growth.

Before I begin let me briefly say how pleased I am to start this new chapter of leadership with Governor Baker and Senate President Rosenberg. They've been exceptional about keeping open lines of communication and they have been incredibly receptive to partnership.

Each year a key focus of my talk here is the economy. Since I first spoke to you, we have moved Massachusetts out of a recession, into a position of strength. Unemployment is down from January 2009 and we recently added the most jobs since 2008. Massachusetts is on the move.

While it's fashionable to repackage and rebrand already successful programs and call it progress, that is not enough. The House has had the foresight to enact groundbreaking, insightful legislation and the determination to stand by them. We have been at the forefront of initiatives aimed at attracting and retaining talent, providing foundational math and science skills to community college students, and funding computer science training for high school students. Whether it was the outstanding intern partnership, the inspiring STEM Starter Academy or the first-of-its kind MassCAN program, we pushed past conventional strategies to foster a culture of opportunity.

I've met university and graduate students in Kendall Square inspired by the abounding innovation in Massachusetts. I've heard from business leaders, such as Aaron St. John, the CEO of Hitpoint Studios, a Springfield gaming-development company that sponsors students through the Intern Partnership program. I've seen the work of students at Massasoit Community College whose dreams for a fulfilling career in the sciences were sparked by the STEM Starter Academy. And I've had the pleasure to stand with high school students inspired to learn more about computer sciences as part of the MassCAN program.

In recent months, budgetary problems have slowed the pace of progress. While I understand the realities surrounding our current fiscal situation, I ask that we meet it with confidence and courage. We will not retreat. We remain committed to training individuals across all skillsets and to supporting programs that achieve these goals. We will seek to restore and protect funding for initiatives like MassCAN, the Intern Partnership, STEM Starter and advanced manufacturing programs.

Since the economic downturn, the House has helped narrow the skills gap through partnerships, education programs and a dedicated funding stream from the gaming law. We have been the anchor holding together our educational and retraining efforts - from vocational techs to community colleges to the workplace. Just last week Governor Baker announced he will create a Workforce Skills Cabinet to address the skills gap. I welcome his collaboration to advance the House's work in building skills and helping our workforce connect with employers. I invite him to join us as a partner in the efforts we've discussed in this venue over the past seven years.

Just as we care about workers across all skillsets, we value expanding the circle of prosperity beyond greater Boston. We know that the ecosystem of emerging industries extends across the state. I believe in the profound resources our cities and towns have to offer.

In January, I said we have to do a better job of encouraging Boston businesses to discover the benefits and resources in other parts of the state. As part of that effort, I'm proud to highlight leading members of the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce, such as EMC, Boston Scientific and the Waters Corporation, that have a significant presence outside of Route 128. They work across the state to share knowledge, share resources, and in doing so, effectively bolster our economy.

For example, EMC, Boston Scientific and the Waters Corporation have initiated programs across the state to help prepare an exceptional workforce for exceptional jobs.

These are the kinds of linkages I'm talking about. I appeal to those in this room today: before looking for an out-of-state vendor, service-provider or business partner, look in Massachusetts. My belief is that whatever you are seeking can be found right here.

As we work to preserve the kind of innovative programs that are proven economic engines, we understand that they are only possible through responsible management. The House is known for its fiscal prudence and problem-solving. Like the Administration, we plan to take a deep look into MassHealth. It's becoming clearer and clearer that we must work to reverse the trend of MassHealth consuming an increasingly greater percentage of the state budget, year after year.

Fixing problems involves facing tough realities. Over the last half-decade, MassHealth's gross budget has risen close to 50 percent. That is not sustainable. We must find a durable way to solve this if we're going to invest in what makes our state great: educating our children, protecting our most vulnerable residents like the elderly and the disabled, and spurring innovation.

Our challenge extends beyond the state budget. Thirty-seven percent of MassHealth members are serviced by Medicaid MCOs. But as MassHealth costs rise and expensive new drugs hit the market for rare disease treatment it has been well-documented that these organizations face significant losses.

To effectively address this issue, we will create a legislative commission to examine how the state can collaborate with these groups. Through our world-class R&D institutions, seasoned business community and committed doctors, Massachusetts is uniquely positioned to solve this problem. Let's lead.

Speaking to you last year, I identified behavioral health as a House priority. The state was facing, and continues to face, an unprecedented opiates crisis. I've been fortunate to meet with individuals courageously battling substance addiction. I've learned how frequently mental health problems coincide with addiction: about nine million adults have co-occurring disorders yet only 7 percent receive treatment for both. This session we will enhance our commitment to addressing behavioral health on the whole - that means addiction and mental health.

Expanding upon last session's substance abuse bill and finding additional creative, structural changes for treatment is the next step, and this session I hope to work with each of you to do so.

Managing our MassHealth costs impacts our state budget; addressing our energy costs affects our state's individuals, families and businesses. Massachusetts is ahead of the curve. Seven years ago, we knew that the time for action was upon us. We now have a foundation of achievements on which to build.

In short order, I will ask Chairman Golden and members of the energy committee to meet with state and area stakeholders about our current and future needs. We will review our energy infrastructure. Our goal will be to facilitate a reliable system -- one which is resistant to price spikes during our notoriously tough winters. To do this we will promote a modernized system that is more responsive to the needs of our state.

When I meet with Speakers from other states energy frequently comes up. I hear about the importance of regional collaboration. As frequently as I trumpet our state's unique attributes and character -- often to the annoyance of some of our national competitors, such as California -- I believe this is one area where Massachusetts shouldn't go it alone. I'll look to meet with Speakers and legislative leaders from other New England states. I am encouraged by the progress Massachusetts is beginning to make in addressing energy regionally and want to hear ideas, best practices and ways the House can help.

This year the House will expand upon our cost-effective energy policies while making strides towards achieving our goals. Strong energy policies can and should contribute to economic success. We will do this for the future of our children, the economic health of the state and the environment.

Few areas carry more potential to improve the future of our children than early education and care. Through years of meeting with advocates, experts and parents - whether as the chair of House Committee on Ways & Means, as Speaker or in my early days as a town selectman - I've come to understand the game-changing nature of EEC. Multiple studies reinforce promising findings: adults who participated in high-quality programs earn more, have better employment and educational prospects and are less likely to commit crimes.

Real financial constraints shouldn't prevent us from thinking ahead and renewing the framework to improve our EEC programming. Members of the House recognized over a decade ago, as we do now, that promoting quality programs and services for our youngest children is the best way to ensure they are on track for success. Our accomplishments were recently recognized by the federal government which is awarding Massachusetts funds to expand high-quality Pre-K programs in five high-needs communities, including Boston. I look forward to the lessons we can learn from Boston, and I applaud the city for its efforts which have garnered international acclaim.

This directly affects the business community; nearly seventy percent of children under the age of 6 have parents in the labor force. Our system benefits your current and future employees. We will be bold in our ambition yet fiscally prudent, creating long-term plans to achieve our goals, to make Massachusetts a place where opportunity abounds.

Those are our long-term goals. In the near-term, all of us are painfully aware of the toll the recent failures at the MBTA and commuter rail have taken on riders, businesses, and citizens, like those in my own district.

Many of you are aware of the efforts and energy the Legislature has directed toward the T and transportation, because I have outlined major transportation plans twice here, including two reform plans accompanied by major funding increases. Since enactment, the Legislature's reforms and funding have positioned the system well. After all these efforts and resources this winter's problems were disappointing at best. I am following the Administration's actions closely and look forward to hearing from the new leadership at the MBTA.

As we move forward, I'd like to see policy be guided by three concepts:

• Emergency planning -- Planning for extreme weather is essential. Good management considers these problems in advance;

• Customer communication -- Even in bad weather, riders deserve concrete information about MBTA train arrival times. Every station should post reasonable time estimates, and consumers should be able to use a GPS-capable app that works for all trains system-wide;

• Mission -- The MBTA's first priority must be to manage and maintain the system as it exists today. The T needs a 30-Day, 5-year and long-term plans as well as sound reporting to work now and into the future.

These are broad areas where the House may be able to have a positive impact. But we are at the beginning of the process. It won't be easy, however by collaborating with executive and legislative leadership, we can set the stage for a workable public transportation system.

Whether aimed at addressing serious problems before us, such as the T, energy and healthcare costs, or setting the stage for a prosperous future on jobs and early ed and care, our discussion today focused on issues we face together. You have spurred us on and inspired us. When the stakes are high, as they are now, and whether it's been gaming, municipal health reform or gun safety legislation, we have not been afraid to confront issues with dogged persistence until we get it right. With your help, we are in a position to do that again. Thank you. I look forward to your questions.