By Bonnie Adams, Managing Editor
Westborough – As part of an ambitious tax proposal that would see billions invested in the state's infrastructure and education, Gov. Deval Patrick is advocating for a hike in the state income tax. On Feb. 28, John Polanowicz, the commonwealth's secretary of health and human services (HHS), spoke to the more than 200 business leaders who gathered for a Corridor Nine Area Chamber of Commerce breakfast meeting held at the Doubletree Hotel to discuss Patrick's proposal.
As the HHS secretary, Polanowicz, a Northborough resident, is charged with overseeing 15 state agencies, more than 22,000 employees and an annual operating budget of more than $15 billion. Although he has only been on the job for just a month, he said he will lean on his experience as an executive at several institutions, including St. Elizabeth's Hospital in Brighton, Marlborough Hospital, and UMass Memorial Medical Center in Worcester, to help him with his new responsibilities.
“I'se worked to turn around financially struggling institutions, and I know what it takes to balance a budget, make payroll and ensure that patients have access to quality care at affordable costs,” he said.
A 10-year, $13 billion transportation investment plan is a key element of the governor's proposal, Polanowicz said.
“An efficient, comprehensive transportation system is vital to supporting and growing our economy.?Workers need it to get to their jobs.?Students need it to get to school.? Whether it's good roads, reliable commuter rail, frequent bus or subway service, a nearby airport or a convenient ferry, transportation is about more than moving from point A to point B.?It's about quality of life, economic activity and growth.?It's about opportunity for people,” he said.
“People in central Massachusetts want us to ease congestion on major arteries, but we need to support the governor's growth agenda to make this happen,” he added. “It's about quality of life, about our economic activity and growth. It's about opportunity.”
Patrick is also proposing a $550 million investment in education – $1 billion over four years – that would provide universal access to high quality early education for children across the state, from birth through age 5.
The plan would also fully fund K-12 education and allow for extended school days in high-need schools, Polanowicz explained. It would also make college more accessible for high school graduates and allow community colleges to expand so that they may offer relevant skilled training courses.
“The commonwealth's “Innovation Economy” relies on a high-knowledge, well-skilled workforce, and in order for Massachusetts to remain competitive in the 21st century global economy, our commitment to excellence and opportunity for all of our students must start earlier, run deeper, and be sustained longer,” he said.
No one wants to pay additional taxes, he acknowledged. But “cutting our way to success” was not an option, he stressed.
“If we want to accelerate our growth and expand opportunity in central Massachusetts and throughout the commonwealth, we have to continue to invest.”