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Romney on disclosure, job growth

Governor Mitt Romney signed a $24.5 billion state budget last month, vetoing $108.5 million in proposed spending. He also vetoed measures to restrict disclosure of public pension fund data and to ban outsourcing. The 57-year-old governor, in an interview, said his economic policies were accelerating the state's recovery and predicted Massachusetts could see a labor shortage by the end of the decade. He spoke in his State House office last week with Globe staff reporter Robert Weisman.

People were surprised when you, a former venture capitalist, vetoed legislation to keep secret details of the state pension agency's investment in venture funds. What was your reasoning?

When that piece of legislation came through, it was the first I'd seen of it or my staff had heard of it. Literally no one from the industry or the treasurer's office ever contacted us and said, ''By the way, we've got a bill coming forward with these provisions." We never got briefed, never received any information about it until it was on our desk along with 400 other [last-minute] items. Not to mention a massive budget.

So with 10 days, we raced through a wide number of areas and, with regards to anything related to confidentiality, secrecy, and the treasurer's office, we naturally have a great deal of concern.

Given our history in Massachusetts of abuse and potential self-dealing, we're very concerned about confidentiality provisions as they relate to investments of billions of dollars of public pension funds. So members of my staff said, ''We've got a red flag here. We have not the time to thoroughly analyze this bill and we recommend, governor, that you veto it and then work with the treasurer and the industry next year to see if this or other provisions are necessary."

What was the reaction of your former colleagues in the venture capital industry, who tend to oppose disclosure of fund performance data?

If my colleagues care about something, all they have to do is call. I would not favor a confidentiality provision relating to a [public] pension without extensive involvement, thorough legal review, hearings with give and take, as opposed to ''Here's a bill. Will you sign this this afternoon?"

You also just vetoed a proposal banning outsourcing by vendors doing business with the state. But the offshoring trend has hurt workers in Massachusetts, especially software programmers. What can the state do to keep good jobs from being shipped overseas?

There's no question we are affected by outsourcing, as is every other state. Any job that leaves is a big loss, and you want to fight to keep every job in the Commonwealth. The legislation I vetoed was not designed to do anything for Massachusetts employers. It might help ''call center" states, but it didn't necessarily protect a single job here.

But it had the potential of costing our citizens a lot more money. Ultimately, how you compete with low-cost countries is having a more educated, innovative, hard-working, and capable workforce. And that means that you invest in two things: education and innovation.

Massachusetts was harder hit than most states in the downturn and has lagged in the recovery. What can state government do to restore the 200,000-plus jobs lost since early 2001?

As a technology center, there's no question we will lose more jobs when you have a technology bubble burst. What we can do is make Massachusetts as attractive as humanly possible for any company thinking of starting, expanding, or moving. And we're doing a pretty good job by learning the lessons of California.

They let housing prices get completely out of line, they lost their energy capability, and they let their taxes go out of control. All those things cost them jobs in a state which, like us, is a technology center, but also has the weather going for them.

We don't have the weather. We don't have that sort of Hollywood culture. But we're making a much stronger effort to control our taxes, to balance our budget without placing additional burdens on businesses, to make this an easier place from a regulatory standpoint, and to get a handle on the runaway cost of housing.

How do you stop the brain drain of smart students graduating from college here and taking jobs in lower-cost states?

Well, don't forget we have more colleges and universities than probably any state in the nation. People send their kids here. They get their education with every expectation of returning to their homes.

So the idea that, gosh, people that went to school at Harvard, why can't we keep them all, that's not terribly realistic. But we'd like to keep a larger share. And that means creating new businesses, expanding current businesses, and having others move here.

What sectors do you see the job growth coming in?

Biotechnology is an area that has growth, but it's small. We have 30,000 employees in the biotechnology sector today, and it probably ought to grow to 100,000 over the next decade. We have roughly 300,000 today in travel and tourism, and we want to maintain those, probably see some growth there.

Clearly, the areas that you would expect to see growth in Massachusetts are going to be technology-related. High-intellectual-content jobs are where you'd expect us to do better and better. And that will be in biotech, it will be in computer-related and software-related businesses. You're going to see an adjustment away from low-skilled manufacturing to high-skilled manufacturing and highly engineered manufactured products. And that is another area where we have good potential for growth.

When you ran for governor, you promised to visit chief executives around the country and persuade them to move to or expand in Massachusetts. How many have you visited so far?

Scores. I've met with a lot of chief executives and a lot of senior executives. It's interesting how people are now considering the best opportunities for their expansion and growth. That wasn't the case in the last year and a half -- everyone was shrinking and cutting back.

We look attractive to many. I was happy today to be with the 3Com Corp., which moved from California to Massachusetts. I've been at a number of companies that moved this way. I'm pleased at those that have come into our state. I wish we'd get a lot more.

My expectation is that within the next five or six years, we'll have a labor shortage. You'll see demand for skilled and capable individuals will outstrip our supply. That's what I'm looking forward to in my second term or, perhaps, just at the beginning of my reelection campaign.

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