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Mass. Gov. reflects on past, future

Talks minimum wage, unemployment, DCF

BOSTON — Gov. Deval Patrick looked back at his legacy and ahead to his last year in office as he delivered his final State of the State address on Tuesday.

Patrick pledged to continue to make government more effective, calling for an overhaul of Massachusetts’ unemployment insurance system and vowing to pass legislation making it easier to register to vote.

The governor also said he’s working to fix the state’s health insurance website and strengthen the Department of Children and Families in the wake of the disappearance of a 5-year-old Fitchburg boy who was under state care before he went missing. The boy is feared dead.

The governor, who is not seeking re-election, renewed his call for an increase in the state’s minimum wage. The proposal was met with a standing ovation in the Massachusetts House chamber, which was filled with state lawmakers and members of the administration.

He also called for reforms in the unemployment insurance system and reviewed some of the initiatives in the state budget proposal he filed with lawmakers last week, such as increases in education aid for cities and towns and funding for the University of Massachusetts.

Patrick pointed to education as one area that, despite the state’s first-in-the-nation ranking in key test scores, still needs more work to reach every child.

He said the state has made progress in other areas, but can’t rest on its laurels.

“We lead the country in student achievement but some of our students remain stuck in achievement gaps. We’re using better tools to combat youth violence but still lose too many people to a cycle of violence. We are the only state to guarantee emergency shelter but too many people need it,” he said.

While the economic recovery is continuing, Patrick said, he also believes too many in the state are being left behind.

“The recession is not over for everybody,” the governor said. “The single most important solution is economic growth, growth that reaches out to the marginalized not just up to the well-connected.”

Patrick also took time to look back and offer his version of his legacy in office, saying the state was able to rally in the face of daunting challenges while overhauling the state’s pension system and working to bring down health care costs.

“When I came to work here in 2007, I expected to face economic challenges, but not a global economic collapse,” Patrick said. “I expected to face public safety challenges, but not the failure of a key water supply, a tornado, or a terrorist attack.”

Patrick called the April 15, 2013, bombings at the Boston Marathon the most trying moment of his tenure, adding: “But I could not have been prouder of the grace and kindness on display in the wake of the Marathon bombing.”

Patrick ended his speech pledging a strong finish to his second and last term in office.

“Now is no time for valedictories,” he said. “We have work to do. Let’s get to it.”

Earlier Tuesday, administration officials pointed to the decision of bond rating agencies to reaffirm Massachusetts’ current ratings, the highest in state history, citing the use of earnings from a tobacco settlement fund to bolster a trust fund for state retiree health care costs.

Patrick’s budget proposal contributes $76 million from the tobacco settlement to the trust fund.

On Monday, the governor met with representatives of the Child Welfare League of America, which is conducting an independent review of the agency.

Patrick, who called the lapse “inexcusable” that led to the disappearance of the boy, Jeremiah Oliver, included more than $9 million in his budget to bolster staff and reduce the caseload at DCF.

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