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Governor Deval Patrick speaks in Student Union Ballroom

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Gov. Deval Patrick spoke Wednesday afternoon in a panel discussion as part of a young adult community meeting in the ballroom at the Campus Center.

Joining the governor on the panel were Ruby Maddox-Fisher, Program Coordinator at the Center for the Environment at Holyoke Community College, Tony Maroulis, Executive Director of the Amherst Chamber of Commerce, Aron Goldman, Executive Director of the Springfield Institute, and Brianna Johnson, a student at UMass and founder of the Brianna Fund for children with physical disabilities.

Over the ten weeks between September and November, the Office of Civic Engagement and senior officials from the Patrick-Murray Administration will be hosting several community meetings with young adults across the Commonwealth. The administration has stated interest in getting young people to provide their input on state issues during this ‘listening tour,’ particularly as Patrick debates how to resolve Massachusetts’ $600 million budget shortfall for fiscal year 2010.

After recently announcing that tax revenues for the first quarter of the year fell $212 million short of expectations, Gov. Patrick unveiled plans to explore unpaid executive furloughs, consolidation of state agencies, farming out public programs to private companies and the sale of surplus state property and expressed hopes that he could get further concessions from unions.

Chancellor Robert Holub introduced Patrick Wednesday slightly after 12:15 p.m., telling the mostly filled ballroom that he and Gov. Patrick share a common agenda in hoping to improve the state’s flagship university.

“Governor Patrick and I share a common belief that public higher education is a pathway to opportunity for those deserving students in the Commonwealth,” he said.

From there, Holub announced that members of the panel would receive a University of Massachusetts bobblehead doll.

“I hope to see this bobblehead on desks in Beacon Hill, and on desks across the Commonwealth,” said Holub, before giving the floor to the governor.

In his opening remarks, Patrick noted the sweeping changes Massachusetts has seen in the 40-odd years he has lived here, setting up the primary point of his opening statements: that Massachusetts is in the midst of a challenging period, but still an innovator in technology and education.

“You are here at a very different time, one of the most profoundly challenging times in American history,” the governor said, “but innovation, IT, clean energy, health care, education, are all coming on strong and leading us out of the recession,” he said.

“Young people are fueling that innovation,” continued Patrick. “Every new innovation is led in Massachusetts by an influx of highly talented young people.”

From there, Patrick made what amounted to his sales pitch for Massachusetts.

“The reason I’m here today is to emphasize that we want you here,” he said, “we need you here, we need you to think about your future here, I hope there are ways we can talk seriously about making Massachusetts a part of your future.”

Patrick then turned the floor over to his civic engagement director, Elizabeth Clay, who introduced the panelists who would field questions along with the governor.

The question and answer session of the panel’s discussion featured a number of tough queries sent in Patrick’s direction.

“It’s getting more difficult to get loans. I can afford [going to UMass], but I know many people who can’t afford to come here,” said senior Marco Cross in his question to the governor. “What are you doing to make it cheaper to come here, and so everyone who wants to come here has a chance?” Patrick responded by stating his commitment to higher public education, despite the state’s budget deficit. In a moment of spontaneity, Gov. Patrick also said that his daughter once “came home from backpacking abroad with a Marco,” to which Cross deadpanned, “Not me, sir.”

The Governor did not seem to shy away from the harsh reality of the steep cut in public higher education funding, including the $30 million cut to UMass.

“The answer is to get the economy moving again,” said Patrick. “Trust me, I know what to do once the revenue returns, and we will continue to fund public education.”

“The fact that we value smarts in Massachusetts is a comparative strength,” said Gov. Patrick, later on in the panel.

Other students asked about potential ways of bringing in revenue.

One student asked Governor Patrick if he would consider raising income taxes to the pre-1992 level of 9.9 percent.

“I’m not a ‘no new taxes’ guy,” he said, modifying that by stating that “it’s a crummy time to raise taxes.”

The governor continued to say he favors targeted tax increases until the state’s economy has stabilized and would ultimately be a proponent of a graduated income tax, or one that taxes proportionally based on income. That change, he noted, would require a constitutional amendment.

“One has to be very sensitive to ask people to contribute more when they are watching every penny they have,” he said.

When a student wondered whether he would be able to afford to continue to live in Massachusetts after graduating from UMass, suggesting that Governor Patrick consider cutting taxes, Patrick praised the idea of creating more affordable housing and keeping taxes low, but cautioned that “we aren’t ‘Taxachusetts’ anymore.”

After the question and answer session, Patrick stepped outside to a gray Wednesday afternoon near the steps leading to Campus Center to field questions from reporters.
He said he is always impressed by the engagement and motivation of students in Western Massachusetts and stated that his administration wants to work with young people in Massachusetts to help advance the state’s future.

“We care about the young people,” he said, “We want them to stay here.”
Patrick also announced what he called “a transformative initiative,” to build a high-tech computing system in Holyoke which he hopes will create an information technology hub in Western Massachusetts and, specifically, the economically disadvantaged Springfield–Holyoke area.

Before he was ushered off in a caravan of state vehicles, Patrick was asked to explain the seeming disconnect between his repeated commitments to public higher education and the substantial cut in public higher education funding passed in his tenure.

“The bottom is falling out of the state’s fist,” he said, “there are some miserable, sad choices the state is having to make, and we are all having to share that burden.”

“We will get through it,” he continued. “We were able to close what could have been a very calamitous situation with a modest surplus this year, and as we turn around we need to invest in our state’s resources, and UMass Amherst is one of those resources.”

Nick Bush can be reached at nbush@student.umass.edu. Sam Butterfield can be reached at sbutterfield@dailycollegian.com.

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