Outgoing Senate chief tells biz leaders she’s not “going away”

BOSTON, MAY 8, 2014……As she looks ahead to an uncertain professional future, outgoing Senate President Therese Murray told Boston-area business leaders Thursday she’s not “going away,” saying she was “incredibly grateful” for their support over the years and pledging her backing for the pricey expansion of the Boston Convention and Exhibition Center.

“I look forward to continuing our work together after I leave the Senate, because I share in a collective vision for the future, and I’ll never stop pushing for a better Commonwealth,” Murray said during her final speech as Senate president to the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce.

The 66-year-old Plymouth Democrat, who began her Senate run in the early 1990s, is not seeking re-election as she bumps up against an internal limit on the number of terms allowed for the Senate presidency.

Before she departs Beacon Hill, Murray must hammer out details of major bills with House leaders and she faces the distraction of a trial of three former state probation department managers on fraud and racketeering charges in connection with an alleged scheme to deliver jobs to politically connected individuals.

In the trial’s opening arguments Thursday, federal prosecutor Fred Wyshak described how an aide to Murray allegedly helped secure a job for Pat Lawton, who lasted less than two years at the department, having been fired after a drug arrest. After presiding over a Senate session, Murray declined to comment on the trial.

Murray dedicated the bulk of her remarks before the chamber to ticking off pro-business government policies, positive economic indicators and the fact that state government here has a high bond rating compared to other states and “one of the largest” reserve funds in the nation. She praised the work of the Massachusetts Life Sciences Center, the Mass. Technology Collaborative and the Mass. Growth Capital Corporation. Chamber President Paul Guzzi joked that most of Murray’s remarks “could have been the chamber of commerce” speech to its members.

>>> For the full video of Murray’s speech to the Chamber, go to http://www.statehousenews.com/video/14-05-08murray/ <<<

Murray said a $1 billion life sciences law approved in 2008 has created more than 2,500 new jobs. Companies that have received assistance from the life sciences center, which the law established, have created more than 7,700 jobs and invested more than $520 million, she said.

Murray made clear she sees Massachusetts as a leader in the life sciences industry.

“We are poised right now to be the center for the rest of the country,” she said. “Silicon Valley, I can tell you, we’re beating their clock. And no matter what they say given the size, particularly our size, we have more going on in the life science industry than Silicon Valley.”

Murray also singled out the “big data” industry as critical, saying Massachusetts is home to around 500 companies in that industry, which she predicted would see 4,000 new jobs in the next year. She said the state’s advanced manufacturing industry “has grown more than 50 percent faster here” than anywhere else in the nation.

The top ten global pharmaceutical companies now have a presence in Massachusetts, Murray said, promoting work conducted on trade missions to Finland and Ireland and noting that Massachusetts in October will for the third time host the EU-US eHealth Marketplace and Conference. During the same week in October, the Congress of Neurological Surgeons, the Bioprocess International Conference and Partners Healthcare’s 11th Annual Connected Health Symposium will all also be held in Boston, bringing more than 40,000 people to Massachusetts.

The EU-US eHealth Marketplace and Conference was supposed to be held in Washington, D.C., but officials there didn’t seize the opportunity to host. “So we stole it, pretty much,” Murray said, asserting her staff runs the entire event. She hopes her presumed successor, Majority Leader Sen. Stanley Rosenberg, will carry on the convention.

Murray described the size of the South Boston convention center as an “obstacle” to progress.

“In comparing the Commonwealth to the rest of the country, our convention centers, facilities and hotel space pale in comparison to what other states can offer,” she said. “The Boston Convention and Exhibition Center simply cannot house major events, both national and international, that want to be in Massachusetts. And as a result of this shortage, we are letting roughly $184 million in economic impact slip through our fingers each year.”

She called support for the center’s expansion, which requires legislative approval, “critical” and predicted expansion would compound the combined economic impact of the BCEC and the Hynes Convention Center by 35 percent, or from $532 million per year to about $716 million.

“The BCEC expansion will undeniably serve as a great boon to our economy, but more importantly, it will show that Massachusetts isn’t just a small New England state, but a player on the world stage,” Murray said. “This is a goal we’ve been working towards for years, and we are finally on our way to getting the international attention that we deserve.”

House Speaker Robert DeLeo recently called the $1.1 billion expansion project “vital to our economic future,” so the bill’s prospects appear favorable. The project would increase the BCEC’s footprint from 516,000 to 851,000 square feet and requires passage of legislation authorizing $1.1 billion in special obligation bonds.

A Patrick administration official recently testified that the convention center bill meets three administration requirements regarding the use of existing taxes and fees, private financing of hotel development, and creation of economic opportunities for businesses led by women, minorities and veterans.

The bill (H 3952) relies on existing hospitality industry charges – Boston-area taxes and fees on hotel rooms, sales and meals taxes, trolley tour levies, and a $10 rental car surcharge – to finance the expansion and leverage private hotel development valued at $700 million. The statewide room tax is specified in the bill as additional security on the bonds, a provision that has stirred concerns among lawmakers who represent districts far from Boston.

During her speech, Murray signaled the Senate’s intent to pass legislation next week aimed at fighting drug addiction and increasing access to treatment and said a Senate IT bond bill would feature reforms to address “serious consequences that come with having inefficiencies and lack of oversight in our systems.” She specifically mentioned problems at websites run by the Health Connector and the Department of Unemployment Assistance.

Reforms that will be included in the Senate’s information technology bond bill will require a greater centralization of oversight in the Information Technology Division and consistency in developing initiatives, reviewing contracts and establishing rules for the hiring process, Murray said.

“And before we let projects ‘go live,’ protocols must be tested as early as possible to make sure they are carefully designed – complete with backup plans in case problems arise,” Murray said. “To cut down on the probability of failure and to allow for more flexibility, we suggest breaking down large IT projects into smaller, more manageable projects whenever possible. This will open up the field for more bidders, allowing smaller companies and startups to submit proposals, encouraging more competition and increasing our likelihood of finding the best vendor to create an optimal product.”

The Senate also plans to introduce a grant-matching program for schools to update technology, Murray said, and will look at “how we can create a centralized database for residents who receive services and benefits from the state.” The system, she said, “will create a more transparent and uniform communication method across agencies, allowing them to cross-check benefits to better crack down on fraud and waste in spending.”

When asked about unfinished priorities, Murray voiced frustration with implementation of laws by the executive branch. “We pass laws, and we think they’re implemented by whatever administration is in power and they’re not, as we found out with DCF and the problems there,” she said. “We shouldn’t have to look over those agencies to make sure they’re following the statutes that are in law. But unfortunately we’ve seen it over and over and over that what we put in is not carried out by whatever administrations.”

[Mike Deehan, Matt Murphy and Andy Metzger contributed reporting]

Copyright 2014 State House News Service

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