|By Michelle Symington|
AGAWAM As the keynote speaker of the Agawam Chamber of Commerce annual Legislative Breakfast at Chez Josef, Secretary of the Commonwealth William Francis Galvin outlined three areas in which the state government needs to make improvements healthcare, transportation and technology advancement.
After commenting on how beautiful the state is, and that he enjoys visiting western Massachusetts, he explained to the crowd of about 150 people that there are many problems in Massachusetts with the state's economy.
"The reality is that the economy is not good," he said.
He mentioned that Agawam is one of the bright spots in the state.
According to Galvin, many of the manufacturing corporations in the eastern part of the state have left and many jobs have been lost as a result.
He said that a lot needs to be done to redevelop parts of the state.
"We do not have an economic plan," Galvin said.
He said that there is little guidance coming from the state to local businesses. There has been a "failure of government" and the government needs to deal with the issues, he added.
One of the main concerns outlined by Galvin is the state of the Commonwealth's healthcare system.
According to Galvin, the state is in a "odd situation" when it comes to healthcare because there is a high expectation for quality healthcare and the state has a variety of quality medical facilities.
However, he said that the state has a "haphazard way" of delivering the care to citizens.
He explained that there are non-profit organizations in the state, which do not have to pay taxes because they are a non-profit, but are "into making a profit."
He added that there are non-profit HMOs that are reporting profits, for example.
In addition, he said that there are many areas in the state with very little coverage.
"There are over 700,000 [people] who have no heath care [coverage] at all," he said, adding that it is important to look at the coverage for the uninsured.
He also said that coverage for the insured has become more expensive with premiums doubling.
He explained that the state spends hundreds of millions of dollars on health care.
According to Galvin, many residents of Massachusetts visit the emergency room when they are sick because they do not have any health coverage. In turn, the state subsidizes the cost of the visits through its free care pool, which he said is not free because the state pays for it.
"There is something wrong when it costs millions of dollars," he said.
According to Galvin, the state of the healthcare system has a direct affect on the economy.
He said that it is hard to add jobs because when jobs are added, it increases the cost of healthcare and benefits for companies.
"It is time for us to look at healthcare as a totality," he said.
He said there should be greater state involvement at every level.
He explained that it is unrealistic for the federal government to solve the state's healthcare problems.
"States have to lead," he said, adding that with Massachusetts's history of healthcare, the state needs to step up to the plate.
He said that there are a few ideas out there about improving the healthcare system, one of which would be to charge businesses that do not offer coverage, but said that would be another deterrent for many businesses.
He explained that one of Governor Mitt Romney's proposals would shift the burden of healthcare onto the individuals. He added that there needs to be a blend.
"We really want to make sure everyone has coverage," he said.
In addition to making improvements to healthcare, Galvin said that the state needs to improve the state's transportation program.
He said that he comes from Boston and is "tired of hearing about the Big Dig" while hearing that the rest of the state is being neglected.
An improved transportation program would help improve the economy, according to Galvin.
He said that after speaking to manufacturers in Massachusetts, he found that many of them would like to find a more efficient way to get their raw materials in and out of the state.
He said that the transportation program is haphazard, poorly planned and poorly executed.
According to Galvin, many communities in the Commonwealth are continuing to grow and an improved transportation program would "allow the communities not to be choked by [their] own growth" and get the access they need.
He said that the state has been spending "millions and billions" of dollars while it was failing.
Another area that Galvin believes needs improvement is technological advancement.
He said that some advancements have been made in the Commonwealth, with the Registry of Deeds making 19th century documents available through technology, and his office making advances in technology.
He said, however that more businesses need to have access to technology and the Internet.
He said that the real problem with technology can be seen heading west in the state.
Galvin took out a map to demonstrate the areas of the state with the most access to high-speed internet. Eastern Massachusetts was clearly the leader with the most access to high-speed Internet, while some communities in the far west portion of the state do not have any access.
He said that the map "tells the tale that the west has been neglected once again."
He explained that a state-wide network had been built and it continues to be upgraded.
He said that the Springfield and Agawam City Clerk's offices will be among the first to receive a high-speed upgrade.
He also said that high schools and libraries in communities such as Springfield and Agawam should be provided with high-speed internet along with municipalities.
"There is no reason for the west to be treated like a step child and not have technology," Galvin said. "The state and the government needs to step up and do something."
He said that healthcare, transportation and technology all relate to the quality of life and economy of the state.
"We don't have a state government just to have a state government," he said.
He also said that is has been "far too long" that the state has let cities and towns "float out there."
"I find in my experience it takes leadership to get things done," he said
He added that the state needs to concentrate on making the "beautiful state" that he drove through to attend the breakfast a better place for all citizens and families.