Bright Beginning

Menino delivers a positive message in State of the City address

-By John Lynds

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If you expected to hear some sobering news from Mayor Thomas Menino during his annual State of the City address last week there was none, only positive reflections of a city that is moving forward in a tough economic climate.

Compared to past states of the city where the mayor warned of looming budget cuts with a dire tone, this year the fifth-term Mayor of Boston focused on the positive progress being made in Boston despite challenging fiscal times.

“We are here to talk about Boston, but, let us take a moment to remember that  across Boston, we see signs of progress,” said Menino. “New community health centers are under  construction in Roxbury, East Boston and Mattapan.  We invested $5 million to improve the  Brighton Branch Library.  Liberty Mutual started work on their expanded headquarters.   Soon, the state-of-the-art Kroc Center will open its doors in Uphams Corner.    As I said, we build on a year full of successes.”

Mayor Thomas Menino delivers the annual State of the City address last week at Faneuil Hall.

In front of an audience of residents, local leaders and dignitaries, Menino delivered his annual State of the City address at historic Faneuil Hall. As the City continues to make strides toward economic recovery, Menino emphasized the need for shared prosperity and recounted the progress of the last year. Menino highlighted education reform and development growth and laid out an agenda to create jobs, reduce disparities in healthcare and education, and strengthenpublic safety.

“One year ago, I stood here and laid out an ambitious innovation agenda. By so many measures, given all that we’ve faced, it’s been a year full of progress,” said Menino.  “Even with the challenges behind us and the big ones that remain to tackle, I’m upbeat about our prospects, confident in our neighborhoods, and energized for the coming days.”

Noting that Boston has fared well under tough circumstances, and much better than other cities and towns nationwide, Menino declared the state of the city, “exceptionally strong and resilient.”

However. there remain exceptions to that great strength, said Menino and that he believed true progress should be shared widely.

Menino named job creation as a top priority over the next year, vowing to help Bostonians who still do not have work find it. To promote job growth and the economy, Mayor Menino announced a $100 million “stimulus” to green city buildings and other assets.  The work could be financed through energy savings and would generate approximately 1,000 new jobs in construction and other sectors.  The Mayor also pledged to ease the complex permitting process for small businesses by cutting red tape and reviewing permit requirements.

Highlighting education reform as one of the major successes of 2010, Menino pledged to continue aggressive transformation efforts so that educational opportunity is shared across the city.  Having in the past year secured landmark education reform at the State House, the City began making use of the new authority to create in-district charters and put the best educators in struggling buildings.

“Turning around underperforming schools is the best way to provide great schools in every neighborhood,” said Menino. “It lays the groundwork for us to tackle changes to student assignment.  But we can’t stop there.”

The Mayor called for doubling the number of early education seats in the Circle of Promise and invited non-profit institutions and private sector partners to help meet that challenge.  He said that full day kindergarten for four-year olds has been successful, and that increasing early education seats in the Circle of Promise would help young children who live there and create capacity in Eastie and across the city.

The Mayor announced NeighborCare a proposal to increase access to affordable, quality health care. The initiative is designed to increase the use of community health centers by providing more hours and more services in the neighborhoods.

“I am asking our Public Health Commission to team up with hospitals, health insurance companies and the community health centers to help the centers extend their hours and access,” said Menino. “America’s first community health center was established on Dorchester’s Columbia Point. A long tradition across the city continues to this day… While some in Congress now seek to limit access to health care, in Boston we remember what a good man told us: healthcare is a right, not a privilege.”

After a year marked by an increase in homicides, including several high-profile cases, Mayor Menino pledged resources to public safety, including a second police academy class in addition to the one already in the academy now and a new Anti-Gun Task Force with the Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms (ATF).

“In Boston and around the country we’ve seen too much mayhem from the wrong guns in the wrong hands,” said Menino but noted that although violent crime is down for the fourth year in a row, criminals in pockets of our city have contributed to the tragic increase in murders.

Menino also called for better coordination of re-entry programs with the state prison system.

Another item atop Menino’s agenda for the new year is reform to the design of municipal health care plans.  Boston taxpayers currently cover approximately 82-percent of health care costs totaling nearly $300 million. The State, on the other hand, pays only 67-percent of healthcare costs for new employees.  Mayor Menino noted his proposal for a Boston Group Insurance Commission, which – following the state version – would produce savings of more than $1 million a month and approximately $17 million a year.

“In this economy, it’s tough enough for our neighbors to cover their own healthcare costs,” said Menino. “We should not ask them to cover the vast majority of ours.”

Menino said the city budget challenges next year will be as harsh as they have ever been, and healthcare costs are an enormous strain on an already grim financial situation.

“Municipal union leaders can make this right at the negotiating table,” said Menino. “The City Council can make this right by approving my home rule petition for a Boston version of the state’s Group Insurance Commission. The State can make this right by granting us the power they gave themselves.”

In closing Menino said that as Boston navigates 2011, the city should work to make sure the recovery the city enjoyed in 2010 is a recovery for all citizens.

“I thought it was a very good speech that put a positive spin in these tough fiscal times,” said Councilor Vice President Sal LaMattina. “Boston, unlike a lot of major metropolitan cities, is moving forward despite the economic climate in the nation. The Mayor has challenged us, the council, and residents to rise up and help keep the momentum we started two years ago.”

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