STATE HOUSE NEWS SERVICE
STATE HOUSE, BOSTON, MARCH 21, 2014.....Gubernatorial candidate Charlie Baker supports decreasing the income tax to 5 percent, which would be keeping with a 2000 voter referendum, and supports increasing investments in renewable energy. The Republican frontrunner does not believe marijuana should be legalized, and highlighted a local university's education system as a project that has not received the recognition it deserves - and one that should be replicated in state schools.
Baker and the other candidates for governor responded in January to a series of written questions from the News Service. His answers are presented in full below.
QUESTION: Marijuana activists are seeking to make the drug legal through the 2016 ballot process and want non-binding questions on the 2014 ballot. Do you believe marijuana should be legal and regulated similar to alcohol?
BAKER: No. Having heard from law enforcement, social service and education professionals, I oppose full legalization of marijuana because of the adverse impact it could have on children and families.
QUESTION: Officials in Taunton, Fall River and New Bedford have long sought commuter train access to their cities, while others have argued the $2.2 billion project would be too expensive to build and operate. If elected governor, would you commit to constructing and then operating the South Coast Rail?
BAKER: I will commit to taking the idea of a link between the South Coast and Boston from a theory to a reality. The South Coast Rail project is still several years and $2 billion away from providing commuter rail service to the South Coast. If there are ways to achieve the objectives of South Coast Rail sooner and more efficiently, I will aggressively pursue them. I also believe a commuter train alone is not the key to bringing economic success to the region. In addition to pursuing a rail connection between the South Coast and Boston, I will work with the region to create an economic development plan which leverages the region's strengths to create jobs for the people of the South Coast.
QUESTION: A special commission is looking into the feasibility of making a bid for Massachusetts as a host of the 2024 Summer Olympics. Are you inclined to support an Olympic bid?
BAKER: I am interested to see the results of the feasibility study. Hosting the Olympics would be a complicated and expensive undertaking, but could also be of great benefit to our state - leveraging private investments to improve infrastructure and attract visitors to our great state. But just as with casinos, I don't think Massachusetts should hang its economic hopes on any silver bullets. Creating and sustaining a climate for economic growth requires constant attention and hard work by our state government. As a member of the Weld and Cellucci administrations that reduced unemployment from 9% to 3.3% and created hundreds of thousands of jobs, I've seen how challenging it can be but I also know it can be done. So while I'm open to the possibility of Massachusetts hosting the Olympics someday in the future, I'm running for governor so that I can help make Massachusetts great now.
QUESTION: What in your opinion is the most meritorious project in the Commonwealth that has not yet received the attention it deserves?
BAKER: Northeastern University's Cooperative Education or 'co-op' program is a perfect example of the types of partnerships between educational institutions and employers I would work to expand. Everyone in the co-op program wins. Students get invaluable work experience, job creators get enthusiastic young workers with an interest in their field, and the program can encourage students to stay and work here after graduation. Some of the smartest people in the nation call Massachusetts home, but far too many young people leave for opportunities elsewhere. As governor, I will work with the state's higher education and business leaders to bring the success of the co-op program to our public colleges and universities.
QUESTION: Gov. Deval Patrick has taken steps to import more Canadian hydroelectric power, support Cape Wind and other wind and solar projects, while at the same time price has made natural gas a dominant source of electricity, pushing out coal. How would you seek to change the way Massachusetts residents receive electricity as governor?
BAKER: Massachusetts consistently has some of the highest electricity rates in the country, not only for residential customers but for commercial and industrial customers as well. This contributes to the high costs of living and doing business in our state and is why pursuing more renewable energy sources is both good economic and environmental policy. As governor, I would seek to ensure that Massachusetts has access to a balanced portfolio of low-cost energy that doesn't put us at a competitive disadvantage relative to other states, or put an even heavier burden on working families. In pursuing alternative energy sources, we should make sure the state is not picking winners and losers, but encouraging competition so that ratepayers are getting the best deal. We should also encourage investment in technologies to increase our energy efficiency and decrease our carbon footprint - and in doing so, we will create jobs.
QUESTION: The Legislature recently raised the gas tax 3 cents, linking future increases to inflation, and increased tobacco taxes as a way to pay for transportation and other budget priorities. Do you support the new taxes that are on the law books?
BAKER: I do not support linking the gas tax to inflation. If our elected representatives want to further increase the gas tax, they should have to take a vote each time they do.
QUESTION: Who is your political role model?
BAKER: Bill Weld and Paul Cellucci are my political role models. They knew what they wanted to accomplish, didn't care who got the credit, worked well with all sides on the issues they cared about and left lasting legacies on education, health care, worker's compensation and welfare reform. They also enacted new legislation that basically created the assisted living industry in Massachusetts, so that seniors would have an alternative to nursing home care.
QUESTION: What is your impression of how the casino and slot parlor licensing process has gone, and do you support the effort to repeal the gaming law?
BAKER: In many ways, the process has played out the way the law intended - individual communities are determining whether a casino or slot parlor is something they want. The process is probably unfolding more slowly than most expected it to, given the promises of gaming revenue and jobs created that were made when the legislation passed, but that have yet to materialize. I proposed having just one casino in the state so the impact on our communities could be measured before expanding. I do not support repealing the law until we have a better sense of its impact - but encourage voters to be heard at the ballot box. Additionally, I believe Gaming Commission Chairman Stephen Crosby should recuse himself from any votes on the Eastern Massachusetts casino license in order to avoid any appearance of a conflict of interest.
QUESTION: Governors have in the past restructured the executive branch, consolidating or creating new secretariats. How would you change the executive branch if elected?
BAKER: When I left Harvard Pilgrim, it had been ranked first in the nation by U.S. News and World Report for customer satisfaction for six years in a row. Under a Baker / Polito Administration, state government will leverage technology, eliminate bottlenecks and strive to dramatically improve and simplify the way it works with taxpayers and others seeking answers and state support. I will strive to reach the same level of 'customer satisfaction' with state government that I achieved at Harvard Pilgrim.
QUESTION: In 2000, Massachusetts voters approved a ballot referendum to reduce the state's income tax from 5.95 percent to 5 percent by 2003, but in 2002, the Legislature froze the income tax at 5.3 percent and conditioned future reductions on economic growth triggers. As of Jan. 1, the income tax is now at 5.2 percent. Do you support the current system of lowering the income tax gradually as the economy grows?
BAKER: The fact that we triggered a decrease in the income tax this year, and next year's revenue forecasts predict further growth, suggest that we don't have a revenue problem in the state, we have a spending problem. I believe the will of the voters should be respected and the income tax should be reduced the additional 0.2% to 5.0%. I believe with responsible budgeting of the available revenue we can put money back in the pockets of taxpayers, stimulate our economy, and still provide necessary services to the people of Massachusetts.