Republican gubernatorial candidate Charlie Baker is stressing streamlining state government to get Massachusetts out of its current fiscal problems.
Baker met with GateHouse Media New England editorial staffers on June 3 in Needham, where the Republican challenger grew up, and laid out his ideas for saving taxpayer money and helping businesses create jobs.
“People in Massachusetts deserve state government take the financial crisis as seriously as they take their own,” Baker said. “We have to reform the way state government works.”
Baker is going up against incumbent Deval Patrick, a Democrat, and State Treasurer Tim Cahill, a former Democrat who is running as an independent.
Baker highlighted reforms he feels would take the Commonwealth in the right direction. He said he would seek to reduce the size of the workforce in the executive branch by about 10 percent, which would translate to about 5,000 jobs. He also emphasized pension reform as another way of tightening the state’s belt, saying he would favor a number of steps, including raising the retirement age from 55 to 60, to save the state money.
“We need to create a system where our financial liability doesn’t get worse,” Baker said.
Baker hit Patrick on the size of government, saying the incumbent didn’t live up to his campaign promises to reform Beacon Hill.
He described the state government as a
“very complex and almost overwhelming”
and stated his intention to standardize how
government agencies conducts business,
especially in health and human services.
“We should simplify how stuff works,” Baker said.
Baker, who as the CEO of Harvard Pilgrim Health Care gained prominence before running for governor, feels simplicity and standardization is something that could also translate to providing health care. He noted the varying costs from hospital to hospital for the same procedures as an example and said he would push for legislation that would provide incentives for health care providers to provide lower prices – making pricing transparent. When asked, he said he didn’t feel the recently-passed federal health reform was the solution.
“My big concern with the federal reform is they wrote the check but I’m not sure if they know how to pay the bill,” Baker said.
Simplicity was also a theme when Baker talked about tax policy, which he feels could be achieved through more fiscal responsibility at the state government level.
Baker served as secretary of Administration and Finance under Gov. Bill Weld, a Republican.
“We need to come up with a predictable tax policy,” he said. “It’s hard for businesses to plan and invest.”
As for his thoughts on job creation, Baker felt the state shouldn’t invest too much in particular sectors of the economy. He said education and health care are major sectors within Route 128 but noted that isn’t necessarily the case in the rest of the state.
“Our economic strategy should be based around what’s driving the economy and help employers grow and expand in these areas,” Baker said, noting manufacturing is still a major employer in other parts of Massachusetts. “The employer mix varies a lot.”
Baker said he was uncomfortable with the current plan to introduce casino gambling to Massachusetts. He felt putting casinos in multiple sites, along with introducing slots, may be too large a first step, potentially over-saturating the market.
In education, Baker promoted charter schools as an important mechanism for education reform. And even though he said he would not reduce state aid to cities and towns, he would like to take a closer look at the Chapter 70 formula.
“It’s a very difficult formula to
understand and interpret,” he said.
Baker also said he supported immigration reforms that would reward employers who “play by the rules” including not hiring undocumented immigrants. He also backed allowing specially trained State Police officers arrest illegal immigrants as a “tool to take some bad actors off the street.”
Baker noted he was for same-sex marriages in Massachusetts.
In addressing what has been described as a tepid campaign so far, Baker said he wasn’t concerned. He noted twice that Democrats have called him fraud, and said he wouldn’t campaign that way.
Baker said he lacked name recognition going into the race and is still fighting to familiarize voters with his views.
“I’m running against two people who are statewide office holders. I’m the new kid,” Baker said. “In the end of the day, people will make a decision in November based on who is most seriously committed on reform.”