Reviving the Massachusetts economy and creating middle class jobs will require the state to both rein in health care costs and align educational standards with available jobs while closing the achievement gap that hinders low-income students, according to Democratic gubernatorial candidate Joe Avellone.
According to the former Wellesley selectman and health care administrator, the first step in his plan—which focuses heavily on education—is to bring the state’s medical expenses under control by promoting a system of better-coordinated care among physicians.
"The key is moving toward coordinated care," said Avellone at Suffolk Law School’s Rappaport roundtable discussion this week, the second in a series of discussions with all of the gubernatorial candidates. "Health care is 40 percent of the state budget; if we get that down to 39 percent, that’s $130 million."
"I’m the only candidate who has controlled health care costs in this state," he said.
Avellone said he is committed to applying those savings to schools by funding pre-kindergarten education and establishing a rolling fund that would support at-risk schools.
To fund the pre-K and longer-day initiatives, Avellone has proposed creating a rolling fund that pays for the programs up front but that is paid back into by schools after they realize savings from reduced costs of special education and students repeating grades.
He added that connecting businesses to schools through a more advanced science, technology, engineering and mathematics curriculum is important, but emphasized his commitment to doing so without cutting arts programs.
"Even though I focus on STEM, that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t have art," he said.
Improving schools goes hand-in-hand with connecting them to businesses—new and existing—in the Commonwealth in order to prepare students to fill jobs starting in middle school and continuing through to state colleges and community colleges, Avellone said.
A key to job creation is luring businesses from around the world to Massachusetts while other states are trying to do the same, he added.
"We have to make sure that it’s fertile ground here in Massachusetts for these businesses, big and small, to come here, grow here and thrive here," Avellone said. "Massachusetts is not an island unto itself. We need to be more connected. We need to reach out and find where we can expand in the world.
Otherwise, potential international trading partners will go elsewhere."
His experience as an executive with the health research firm PAREXEL prepared him to establish the student-employer connection, he said, because of similar programs that company has established overseas.
A relative unknown in a Democratic field that includes Attorney General Martha Coakley, State Treasurer Steven Grossman and former Homeland Security advisor Juliette Kayyem, Avellone said the difference he’s made in the private sector is what sets him apart.
"I bring different skills, different backgrounds and different attitudes; and I’ve lived by results," he said.
Answering questions from students and other guests at the roundtable, Avellone voiced his support for an increase to the minimum wage, said he was committed to expanded transit initiatives like the creation of commuter rail service to communities like New Bedford and Taunton and expressed his belief that Massachusetts should take a wait-and-see approach to marijuana legalization.