NAPLES, Fla. -- Massachusetts is certainly not out of the intense recession gripping the Northeast, but a bipartisan group of its top political leaders yesterday suggested the state's fiscal "crisis of confidence" is over.
Speaking at a conference sponsored by Municipal Bond Investors Assurance Corp., Lieut. Gov. Paul Celluci and William M. Bulger, president of the Massachusetts Senate, demonstrated the political unity the state so sorely lacked during the lame duck years of former Gov. Michael S. Dukakis.
Bipartisan Cooperation Cited
Mr. Celluci, a Republican who came to office with Gov. William F. Weld 10 months ago, sounded themes of reconciliation and cooperation that were later echoed by Mr. Bulger, who is perhaps the most vocal Democrat in Massachusetts. As evidence, Mr. Celluci submitted the fact that the commonwealth's House of Representatives, Senate, and governor's office were able to agree on a revenue estimate for fiscal 1992 before budget negotiations were begun.
"The return of the two-party system to this state has been critical" in addressing structural budget deficits, Mr. Cellucci said.
Agreeing on a revenue estimate was "unprecedented in my [30-year] experience," said Mr. Bulger. "Yet we came together last year and got a 'comfort zone.'"
The chief forum for this cooperative spirit is a weekly meeting between Gov. Weld, Mr. Celucci, Mr. Bulger, and other state leaders from both parties, the officials said.
Also critical to the political pact, which was historically unthinkable in overwhelmingly Democratic Massachusetts, is the ascendance of real political clout for the Republican party, Mr. Celluci said. The same voter disgust that enabled Gov. Weld to take the helm also doubled the number of Republican senators, to 16 from eight.
"Gov. Weld said he would veto any tax increase put on his desk," Mr. Celucci said. "The 16 senators gave him the ability to sustain that veto."
Residents Are Winners
At first glance, the Democrats would appear irreparably damaged by this emerging political dynamic. But Mr. Bulger said the relationship serves the residents well.
"The tone of things is much better in Massachusetts," Mr. Bulger said. "We have toned down the battle. Our new commitment of cooperation has made a substantial difference ... and provided an assurance to taxpayers that we are acting in their interest."
Still, none of the panel's participants were claiming the state should be moved from the intensive care ward, and every member pointed to fiscal 1993's budget -- beginning July 1, 1992 -- as the true acid test. Also taking part were Thomas Trimarco, deputy state treasurer; Guy E. Wickwire, portfolio manager at Fidelity Management Research Co.; and Mark S. Ferber, partner at Lazard Freres & Co.
Mr. Celluci pinned much of his hopes for the state's economic revival on the biomedical and biotechnology industries, which, he said, together include about 1,200 companies. These industries "are on the edge" of going from research and development to manufacturing -- an evolution that would quadruple the number of people employed, he said.
Industry analysts, on the other hand, have pointed out that these firms will never be labor intensive and therefore are unlikely to stimulate meaningful job growth upon reaching commercial success.
Other criticism leveled at the state came from Mr. Wickwire, whose Fidelity Tax Free Massachusetts Fund profited greatly from timely trades when the state was scraping by last year. Citing demographic data that show people are leaving the commonwealth on the order of 25,000 per year, Mr. Wickwire said the state's housing costs and living expenses continue to drive people out of the state.
"Pretending that things are getting better is wishful thinking," he said. "The recession will be a lot longer and more painful than anyone believes."
Mr. Celluci countered that emigration to southern states is a long-term trend, and he maintained that the state's educational and high-technology strengths will continue to attract a talented labor force. "MIT is still here. Harvard is still here. Mass General is still here. And Digital is back," he said.
Digital Equipment Corp. does appear to be back. Mr. Celluci said the computer manufacturer recently inquired about the environmental feasibility of building a $450 million manufacturing facility in the central part of the state. He did not say which town was under consideration for the complex