BOSTON (AP) — Gov. Deval Patrick used his annual state of the state address Monday to urge lawmakers to strengthen the state’s community colleges, lower health care costs and revise the state’s criminal sentencing laws to focus on the most violent offenders.
Patrick, a Democrat in his second term, told a joint session of the Legislature that Massachusetts has stayed ahead of much of the rest of the nation economically in part because of tough political choices made during the past five years. But he said more such choices need to be made if the state is going to remain ahead of the curve.
“The strength of our progress is an indisputable fact. Things are better in Massachusetts than in most other places,” Patrick said. “But that doesn’t mean they are good enough.”
WBZ NewsRadio 1030′s Lana Jones reports
A proposal to unify the state’s 15 community colleges was the major new initiative in the address, his sixth as governor.
Patrick called for doing away with the 15 separate line items in the state budget for the community colleges that are spread around the state from Cape Cod to the Berkshires, and replace them with a single line item.
The state Board of Higher Education would then allocate the funds to the schools on the basis of factors such as enrollment and student performance.
The board also would set new curriculum standards and new guidelines for selecting presidents for the colleges.
Noting there were 240,000 people unemployed in the state at the same time there were 120,000 job openings, the governor said a unified community college system could play a vital role in training students for so-called “middle skills” jobs that employers often have difficulty filling, such as medical device manufacturing, lab technicians and solar power installation.
“We can’t do that if 15 different campuses have 15 different strategies. We need do to this together,” he said.
Patrick added that he would include an additional $10 million for community colleges in the state budget proposal he will make later this week.
During his speech, Patrick made a renewed appeal for passage of a health care cost containment bill that he first proposed last February, but the Legislature has yet to act on it. The measure would replace the current “fee-for-service” system for health care based on the frequency of tests and procedures to a “global payment” system that would stress overall patient outcomes.
“We need to put an end to the “fee-for-service” model. We need to stop paying for the amount of care, and start paying for the quality of care,” he said.
Patrick also renewed his call for new sentencing laws that toughen penalties for the state’s most violent criminals while at the same time making non-violent drug offenders eligible for parole sooner. He vowed to not sign a bill that included one without the other.
The governor said he would support a so-called “three strikes” bill imposing a mandatory life sentence without the possibility of parole for anyone whose third felony is murder or a similarly heinous crime.
But he said the state also needs better options for non-violent offenders who are subject to mandatory minimum sentences, pointing to the rising spending on prisons. He said simply warehousing offenders is a costly policy failure.
“We must be smarter about how we protect public safety,” he said. “That means targeting the most dangerous and damaging for the strictest sentences, and better preparing the non-dangerous for eventual release and reintegration.”
Patrick steered clear of politics during his address, which was interrupted several times by applause from the predominantly Democratic Legislature. But he is expected to spend considerable time in the coming year campaigning around the country for President Barack Obama, a close friend, and has formed a political action committee to pay for his travels.
Patrick has said his work on behalf of Obama will not interfere with his stewardship of state government.
Copyright 2012 The Associated Press.