Western Mass out of the recession?
Date: 3/31/2010March 31, 2010.
By G. Michael Dobbs
Managing EditorNEWS ANALYSIS
SPRINGFIELD -- Is the state out of the recession? Moody's Investor Services, which helps determines bond ratings for states and municipalities, has declared the Bay State has come out of the recession and is one of 22 states with a growing economy, according to Lt. Gov. Timothy Murray, who was in Springfield last week.
At a press conference that seemed a little like a campaign stop, Murray added, "These reports are encouraging, but many of our neighbors throughout the Commonwealth are still struggling to find work. Gov. Patrick and I hear those concerns and we know if you're the one out of a job, you don't care about statistics."
While Russell Denver, executive director of the Affiliated Chambers of Commerce of Greater Springfield, welcomed the news, he told Reminder Publications, "With an unemployment rate in double digits in the city of Springfield I still think we have a long way to go before you can say we're out of a recession."
Denver added there have been "positive signs" in the area's housing market, but he has said there hasn't been real substantial jobs growth or the return of former jobs.
He added that while there has been construction work in the area, the projects have been in the higher education and healthcare sectors rather than the private sector.
"We need private construction," Denver said.
Denver is also concerned what will happen to the state and municipalities when funding through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act ends.
Murray said the Patrick Administration's goal is to get people back to work and said this year marks "a historic level" of public construction projects.
"We're not going to rest until we have greater employment," Murray added.
He said that families are moving into the state and that CNBC has designated Massachusetts as the eighth business-friendliest state in the nation.
The $70 million improvement project for the area's north-south rail corridor, the state's back-up data center in Springfield and the high speed computing center in Holyoke are three of the projects in which the Patrick Administration has shown support for the Western Massachusetts economy, Murray said.
He did acknowledge the state is still facing a budget gap and more cuts and consolidations must be made.
"Everything is on the table," he said.
Murray added the governor's cabinet have been told they will "have to do more with less" in the coming fiscal year. Preserving baseline levels of local aid and education funding from last year is still a priority, he said.
When asked about supporting a roll-back of the state's sales tax to five percent or less, Murray said he and Patrick support a roll-back but only when unemployment is down. Otherwise a decrease in the sales tax would lead to more cuts in state services at a time when those services are needed.
He noted that $275 million of the sales tax goes specifically to improve the state's transportation infrastructure.
With a clear swipe to Republican gubernatorial candidate Charles Baker, Murray spoke about "the unconscionable debt" caused by the Big Dig the Patrick Administration inherited. Baker served as the Secretary of Administration and Finance in the administration of Gov. William Weld and has been credited as one of the architects of the Big Dig funding.
Murray charged the Big Dig drained state transportation funds preventing needed maintenance.
Murray also discussed the educational advances made in Massachusetts with progress in reading skills as determined by the National Assessment of Educational Progress test. The state's fourth graders ranked first and eighth graders tied for first in the national test in 2009, the third time in a row the state's students have outscored the rest of the country.
"We are hard at work reviewing curriculum and instruction efforts at the school and district level to make the adjustments necessary to raise achievement levels even higher," he said.