Our own set of experts gives the new governor advice on making good policy and good first impressions

With a transition team of nearly 100 of the biggest movers and shakers in Massachusetts politics and business, Mitt Romney had no shortage of input as he took the helm of state government. But with the tough straits he’s in, we figure the new governor could use all the tips he can get. So we sought out a range of respected voices from across the state–some well known, others unsung–and asked them to offer some unsolicited advice to our state’s new leader. Here’s what they had to say.

Patricia McGovern

Special counsel and senior vice president,
Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, Boston
Chairman, Senate Ways and Means Committee, 1984-92

The governor has a great opportunity to be creative. He’s been elected in what in a very real sense was an upset. He can be a great change agent. He can do wonderful things for Massachusetts if he’s willing to take risks and use the opportunity he’s been given to try to make some profound changes in the way we run Massachusetts government: looking at laws that are no longer needed, looking at ways we can structurally change the government, looking at the ways in which we pay for certain things to be done.

He should think about restructuring government in a major way. Take everything having to do with health and put it in a secretariat, create a health czar. It’s our largest budget buster and the largest single cost item in the budget. Same thing with transportation. Taking all the transportation agencies and bringing them together into a secretariat that really does deal with transportation. There has been no transportation policy for years in the state. What are we doing? Is it rail? Is it roads? Is it planes? And how is it all integrated? And how are we going to pay for it all?

A test of leadership is making it happen. Put together a very bold, dramatic first budget that really will surprise people, that will take some major risks, that will try some profound structural change, and build public support for those changes through the media. Then work with the Legislature to convince them to get them on board and work through a negotiated process.

You have a much greater chance of success during an economic downturn and a financial crisis. When there’s a lot of money, no one will change anything; they just want more. I would think everything has got to be on the table, and the bolder the better, the more profound the better, the more you shake things up the better.

Stuart Altman

Sol C. Chaikin Professor of National Health Policy,
Brandeis University
Co-chairman, State Health Care Task Force

The state plays an important role in ensuring access to health care for our most vulnerable populations. I would strongly encourage him to preserve access for those populations. [But] we shouldn’t have an all-or-nothing policy where if you get on Medicaid, you get everything, and if you’re not on Medicaid, you get nothing. Many states are developing waivers to see if they can transfer some services that have less marginal value [out of the Medicaid program] in order to provide more services for more people.

We need to be mindful of making sure that we use our most expensive facilities and resources efficiently. That means where patients can be treated at lower-cost settings without any negative impact on quality, that should be encouraged. And it should start with Medicaid, where the state has the greatest responsibility.

The other thing the state can do is force the various institutions and payers to come up with a common terminology and information systems to talk to each other. There is a tremendous amount of waste and inefficiency generated by information systems that are outdated and don’t talk with each other. The problem is that each major hospital has its own information system and they would like everyone else to adopt theirs. Somebody needs to come in and say, “This is what it’s going to be.” It’s not going to happen voluntarily. The benefits are both in efficiency, or lower cost, and in reduced medical errors because you have better information and less places where the information gets lost.

Finally, it’s going to be appealing during a tight budget cycle to reduce provider payments. However, that tends to just shift costs from the state budget to private payers, because the providers, the hospitals, the doctors, the equipment manufacturers need to make up the difference. So you wind up having individual taxpayers pay it through their private health insurance premiums as opposed to their state taxes.

Helen Lemoine

Chairman, Framingham Planning Board
Chairman, MetroWest Growth Management Committee

I would encourage him to find some way to begin to change the culture of politics and government at the state level. The distrust has filtered down. These are literally the people who are living next door to us and around the corner from us, our neighbors, who automatically assume that local officials have sinister and hidden agendas. It becomes very hard to encourage people to get involved.

I also recommend that he reread de Tocqueville’s Democracy in America, because I think the state has forgotten that they get their power from us in the towns. It’s very difficult in regard to things like unfunded mandates that the state tells us to do but then doesn’t give us the wherewithal to do it. It’s become “them versus us,” when that’s really not what state government and local government was designed to be.

Two things are critical in terms of growth pressures. One is affordable housing. The biggest problem with affordable housing in many communities is a total lack of understanding and a fear of it, so it’s very hard to move forward with any positive initiatives. It’s fought all the way, mostly because of Chapter 40-B, which some look at as a carrot and a stick–which it is–but in many of the suburban communities it’s looked at as only a stick. Communities all have small committees and volunteer groups that are trying hard to educate the public, but it’s not working. We need a totally different policy and program approach at the state level.

I would also love to hear from Gov. Romney that there’s going to be a change in the mindset of pouring billions and billions of dollars into things like new lanes on routes 128 and 495, and instead take that money and talk seriously about mass transit and suburban mobility programs.

Alan Wolfe

Director, Boisi Center for Religion and American Public Life, Boston College

One issue that I’m particularly concerned about, which he is going to have a big impact on, is gambling in Massachusetts. I just assume there’s going to be huge pressure to go that way because we have a clear situation where there’s resistance to tax increases and yet the state is in deficit. Gambling will be put forward by lots of people as the way out, and I don’t think it’s a good idea.

I think there’s something morally problematic about the state being involved in gambling, even lotteries, let alone real casinos. I would hope that he would use his moral authority as a religious person to speak up for some of the negative consequences that follow when the state becomes deeply involved in such
problematic activities. I don’t have any objection to people who, from their private religious heritage, make larger points about public policy.

The poor tend to lose more money proportionately than the rich, so I think it can have negative consequences for income redistribution. But I also think the government should either be neutral on some of these big questions of right and wrong or should take the side of the right, the side of the angels. There just seems to me something unseemly about government relying for its revenue on behavior that’s self-destructive, that can cause huge problems for families.

Ray Stata

Chairman, Analog Devices, Norwood

I would like to see the new governor personally become the champion of a statewide science and technology policy and strategy. Nearly 20 percent of our employment comes from that sector, which is higher than any other state. Yet we’re 48th in terms of our investment in public higher education.

The state has been a passive observer of the successful growth of its most important industrial sector. The governor’s office has taken for granted that the great industry we’ve got here is just going to go on forever and continue to do great things. That’s got to stop. There are other states that are looking at our success and trying to figure out how to eat our lunch, and there’s no way we can continue without leadership and involvement from state government.

The University of Massachusetts in Amherst should be the equivalent of Berkeley in California, in terms of the prestige of the research and the ability to attract the best and brightest students. There’s no reason why it can’t be. But you don’t achieve excellence by one year inflating budgets and the next year depleting them. We’re blessed with very great private universities, but looking toward a more competitive future, we must strengthen the public university system as well.

The assumption that state government can stand on the sidelines as competitive states mount focused strategies to win the high-tech industrial sweepstakes is a mind-set that has to change. Romney, more than any governor we’ve had for as long as I can remember, has got the background and the credentials and should have the insight and understanding to be able to make state government a player in this game.

Celia Wcislo

President, Service Employees International Union, Local 285

For public sector workers, he’s got to realize that what the Commonwealth provides and delivers in terms of infrastructure, in terms of services, that’s all done by the regular frontline worker. He needs to look at putting resources toward the front line and maybe less toward the administrative and managerial. If he’s going to have to squeeze, look at protecting the services but cutting unnecessary duplication of services. I think public sector workers have taken hit after hit after hit. At some point, demoralization sets in, and it will impact quality and he needs to keep that in mind.

For health care workers, one of the biggest problems is staffing. For nurses or certified nursing assistants in nursing homes, there is a shortage. We can’t find the folks. Wages are going up as much because there’s a labor shortage as anything else.

He needs to put money and energy into training the work force that’s going to fill those jobs, and that means English, GED, basic technical skills, and college. Almost all the growth in our work force has been with immigrants. They go into nursing homes, they go into home care and entry-level positions in hospitals. We could have that work force become the professional and technical work force of the future if we put the resources into keeping them in health care and giving them the skills they need to move up. It means their lives are better, it means they can afford health insurance, it means we have a work force that’s not leaving but growing, and that’s important whether you’re the CEO of a Fortune 500 company or the governor of Massachusetts.

Kevin O’Sullivan

Vice president of development, Massachusetts Biomedical Initiative, Worcester
State representative, 13th Worcester District, 1987-94

I think the biggest issue right now is not only maintaining jobs but creating more jobs and creating a stronger economic base. It’s very unrealistic for us in the biomedical field or, for that matter, in the business community to think that there’s going to be an influx of investment or dollars in state government. It just isn’t going to happen.

My suggestion to Gov. Romney is to go directly to the existing toolbox of incentives–whether it’s the investment tax credit or the emerging technology fund. Those tools should be shaken off, sharpened, corrected, replaced, whatever has to be done. And I think he needs to pull all of his state bureaucrats together. All of those experts, the Mike Hogans from MassDevelopment, the Joe Donovans from the Department of Economic Development, and sit them down and say, “Okay, what do we need to do to be that much more effective, understanding the budget limitations we have here?”

The second thing I would advise him to do is continue to invest in our infrastructure. That would be everything from rail to roads to bridges to water and sewer, because I think the movement of people and goods and your infrastructure is really what makes your economy. I know that commuter rail and the Route 146-Mass. Pike project out here in central Massachusetts have made a whale of a difference, at least in our industry.

David Tibbetts

General counsel, Merrimack Valley Economic Development Council
State director of economic development, 1996-99

By embracing a community like New Bedford or Lowell or Lawrence, a community that has been challenged, he could make it a showcase for what state government can do when it puts its mind together with the private sector leadership, revitalizing neighborhoods, revitalizing downtowns. In each of those communities those things are starting to happen. They tend to escape the notice of the Beacon Hill powers that be. But they’re happening. They could get an incredible infusion of enthusiasm and energy and further private sector investment with a fairly modest investment of time and effort and resources by the Romney administration.

The University of Massachusetts at Dartmouth has played a tremendous role in the revitalization of downtown New Bedford and downtown Fall River. It has created campuses and presences in both of those communities, revitalizing old landmark buildings and bringing not only visible improvements to a community but also life in the form of students and new cafés and shops to serve those students. There’s a new vibrancy in downtown New Bedford and it’s starting to happen in downtown Fall River as well. That is clearly there because of the pump-priming done by the University of Massachusetts at Dartmouth. That’s not a huge investment of state resources. But it’s recognizing those kinds of efforts and then trying to replicate them and saying, for example, to the University of Massachusetts at Lowell, “Gee, look at what UMass-Dartmouth has done in Fall River and New Bedford. Have you thought about doing that in Lawrence and Haverhill?”

William Breault

Chairman, Main South Alliance for Public Safety, Worcester
Board member, Main South Community Development Corp.

Main South is a low-income area that’s been on the rebound the last 15 years or so. This area was wiped out by arson and crime and I don’t want to see us go back to that. We’ve made dramatic gains in housing, both nonprofit and for-profit.

He’s already taken new taxes off the table. I don’t know where the money is going to come from. I’m sure there are good and innovative ways to save money. When you start talking a billion or a billion and a half dollars, that’s beyond innovation. If we get into this area of slash and burn on housing, public safety, fire, I think we’re in for a devastating impact on the cities.

That so-called safety net people talk about, there’s no more net there. As we move forward, if there’s an additional billion [dollars] cut, who’s going to get hurt? It’s the people at the low end. We went through this in 1990. I saw what happened. I hope when he’s looking over what can be cut, he remembers what we said out here in Worcester.

Deborah Prothrow-Stith

Director, Division of Public Health Practice, Harvard School of Public Health
State commissioner of public health, 1987-89

I would encourage the governor to focus generally on prevention. And I underscore that because in times when the economy is not great, and cuts are made, they tend to be made in those things that are actually saving us money in the long run. Having served as the state public health commissioner, I know at times you have to cut some things, but the prevention work is the work that keeps us out of trouble in the long run.

I carry that same theme through to violence prevention. For so long society has taken the perspective that [violence is] inevitable and that the best we can do is respond aggressively with the police and with stiffer sentences and three strikes and all of that. But there is good evidence that violence can be prevented. Maybe not all of it, but a good deal of it, and violence is a lot more expensive to deal with than to prevent. There are wonderful school programs to reduce violence, teach conflict resolution. Those are small investments that can make a huge difference. I would be taking the “tough on crime” tone and adding to it “smart about prevention.” I think that begins to set the stage for a large array of strategies in the communities and in the schools.

The waste in government is not in “fat” and health and human services. The waste is in not providing quality public education, not providing universal access to health care, not providing family support services when a baby leaves the hospital and the visiting nurse to the home. That’s where we’re wasting money, because when the problems arise because we don’t do the prevention, then we have all this expensive stuff, whether it’s incarceration or major medical costs.

David Osborne

Managing Partner, Public Strategies Group, Essex
Co-author, Reinventor’s Fieldbook (2000); Reinventing Government (1993)

Start by defining the most important results you want to produce for the citizens, and then have your staff figure out which state programs have the most impact on those results and which have the least, and eliminate the least. He should frame everything in terms of results, because it speaks to the public.

He should use competition rather than consolidation as the driving force for savings. He’s talked a lot about consolidating these big bureaucracies, but when you consolidate big bureaucracies you just get bigger bureaucracies. The savings are often surprisingly slim, and the political and management troubles that result absorb a lot of your energy.

Make most internal services compete in a marketplace. There are lots of things in state government that serve other pieces of state government–maintenance, real estate, office space, vehicle fleet. Most of them don’t need to be a monopoly. Get the Legislature to repeal the Pacheco Bill. It’s the toughest thing, so I didn’t put it first. Then force a lot of service units in state government to compete with private bidders every three or four years.

When he proposes these kinds of reforms, he should give a list of those programs that would have to be cut or eliminated if the reforms were not passed. Make it clear that the price of not doing reform is throwing another 50,000 people off of Medicaid and shutting down low-income housing assistance programs, and cutting funding to public education, and cutting funding to local government. Then those people who benefit from the programs that he’s trying to save–he should try to organize them into a coalition to try to push for reform.

Dorothy Lopes

United Interfaith Action, coalition of South Coast religious congregations
Retired New Bedford school teacher

We have a large population of people who don’t have college degrees, many of them don’t have high schools degrees, many of them don’t speak English as a first language. The mills that have been in the city–those factories are gone. People need new skills. So we need real serious attention to job training or retraining for people to get decent paying jobs. I’m not talking about McDonald’s; I’m talking about raising a family on a decent salary, buying a home.

We have a serious problem with the dropout rate. We have several schools that were identified as under-performing schools on the recent MCAS tests. My personal feeling is that kids drop out of school long before they become 16 years old in high school. I know the schools aren’t the only answer. It’s school, it’s community organizations, it’s families. But we need a concrete plan.

All of these problems, they dovetail into one another, they’re all tentacles of the same monster. I know a lot of this is going to take money, and you look at the newspapers today and they’re giving a pretty bleak report in terms of Massachusetts’s state of affairs. Hopefully if he were listening, and if he were listening not only with his head but with his heart, he would find the means to begin addressing the problems here.

For a long time people have felt this is a neglected part of the state. He needs to come down and talk to the people. I don’t think people are looking for you to just hand it out. We have a reputation down here as people who have worked hard and come from families that work hard.

Andrea Cabral

Suffolk County Sheriff
Assistant District Attorney, 1993-2002

Certain aspects of corrections are routinely underfunded, DA’s offices are routinely underfunded. You have to have police officers on the streets, you have to have ADAs [assistant district attorneys] in the district courts, you have to have corrections officers on the tiers, and you have to have the money to do those things. Depending on what the budget is statewide, sacrifices will be made and budgets cuts will be made.I would like to see those areas prioritized. I’m sure if you talk to people in social services and in education, they’re saying the same thing. But whatever importance any elected official places on their safety and that of their loved ones should be directly reflected in the amount of funding that organizations charged with maintaining public safety receive.

The face of contemporary corrections is prisoner re-entry programs and reducing the rate of recidivism. It suits society’s needs and it’s just more cost-effective to keep people from coming back than to continually investigate, catch them, punish them for crime, and pay for the cost of warehousing them until they finish their punishment. Programs that are offered–not mandated–to inmates on their way out of the prison may have some positive effect on breaking some of these cycles. You can say everybody ought to have at least six months probation after they’re released from jail. Be prepared to fund that. Don’t say it and then don’t have enough probation officers.

Jay Healy

Owner, Hall Tavern Farm, Charlemont
State agriculture commissioner, 1992-2002

The state Department of Environmental Management owns 300,00 acres of land in the Commonwealth, and it is a shame it’s not looked at as a resource that could be helpful to rural economic development. I could take him to places where there are hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of lumber rotting in the woods because there is not a thoughtful vision past the acquisition of land. There’s no management, there’s very little stewardship of that land. Nobody should touch historic spots. But if the state owns 15,000 acres, as it does in a very rural town like Monroe, and there’s little economic development in that area, a more thoughtful program could be a winner with more jobs created and a little more income for the towns.

There’s an awful lot of really environmentally sound economic development that can be melded into good policy with all the land the state does own. Unfortunately, sometimes the urban areas view that as an oxymoron because of what they’ve learned from The New York Times. It gets wrapped up with what they’re doing with clear-cutting out in Montana or wherever, but there’s not even an analogy.

Having economically profitable businesses on [privately owned] land is equally important–not only preserving a land base for farmers but also understanding they’re no different from plastics in Pittsfield and paper in Fall River or high tech. They need the same targeted economic development assistance that we give to the Raytheons or the Fidelitys of the world. Otherwise, they’re going to be selling lots for $800,000 McMansions overlooking the Connecticut River.

Thomas Hollister

President and CEO, Citizens Bank of Massachusetts

As a member of Boston’s business community, I understand and appreciate the state’s fiscal crisis that Gov. Romney and his administration are facing. This must be the first order of business.

Looking further ahead, however, there are two areas I would suggest require focus and attention. The first area is the shortage of housing. With rising rents and housing costs, the lack of suitable and affordable housing is an issue facing an overwhelming majority of Massachusetts residents. This is both a competitiveness issue for the businesses in our state, and a fairness issue for us as a society. It would be instrumentally helpful to see the state take a leadership role on this issue, working with nonprofit agencies, community development corporations, city governments, and local developers to formulate a multi-pronged plan to increase our housing stock.

The second area of focus is the broad realm of the life sciences. Fortunately, we live and work in a state with enormous resources and services–world-renowned universities, premier teaching hospitals, and pioneering venture capital firms, to name a few. This position provides us with a competitive business advantage and one that we must fully leverage. Our new administration must encourage, support, and promote groundbreaking developments that our hospitals and biotech companies are making. They must work to educate the public on the impacts these institutions have on our lives and offer avenues to increase their significant presence in our Commonwealth. With the successful growth of this industry, we can move toward becoming the world’s biotechnology leader, thereby creating additional jobs and opportunities for Massachusetts residents.

David Cortiella

Executive director, Inquilinos Boricuas En Accion, Boston

Mr. Governor, you bring a vision to the state that is molded by your past business experience. Key among the assets that this Commonwealth has are its human assets, and it’s important that we start to invest in the job training essential for the competitive edge that the state needs to maintain.

Equally important is making technology accessible, especially in the urban areas, to low-income families and potential wage earners. Everybody talks about the digital divide. We recently completed wiring all 550 units of low-income housing here in Villa Victoria, a subsidized housing community in the South End. Through a collaboration between private industry, Cisco Systems, and ourselves, we provide the residents high-speed Internet access for a nominal fee.

We’re in a really tough economic situation, but it’s the time to be innovative and creative and start preparing for the economic upturn by taking a lead, issuing directives that any new housing or renovations funded by a state agency provide a link at least to [an Internet] hub. It’s a fallacy to think there has to be such a huge investment in this kind of technology. Pulling an extra wire when you’re pulling all the other wires, whether you’re renovating a unit or whether you’re building a new unit, is a very minimal cost in the total development budget. If we are able to expand this model throughout the entire Commonwealth, we will have embraced the notion that is essential that every single citizen is prepared for this knowledge-based economy.