By Andy Metzger
STATE HOUSE NEWS SERVICE
STATE HOUSE, BOSTON -- Democratic gubernatorial candidate Steve Grossman, the state's treasurer, has touted his longstanding support of in-state tuition rates for undocumented immigrants and says remarks he made in 2010 do not indicate any wavering on that issue.
"I'll acknowledge that I might not have been as clear in articulating my position, but bottom line is my position has been absolutely consistent in support of this policy from 2006 all the way to the present," Grossman told the News Service on Monday.
Grossman has called on his four rivals for the Democratic nomination - Attorney General Martha Coakley, businessman Joe Avellone, former homeland security official Juliette Kayyem and one-time Medicare and Medicaid chief Don Berwick - to join him in his support of in-state tuition for undocumented immigrants who attended a high school in Massachusetts.
In 2010, when he was running for treasurer against then-Rep. Karyn Polito, who is now the lieutenant governor candidate on Charlie Baker's Republican ticket, Grossman said state resources should not be used to support undocumented immigrants.
"I think we have rules in this state that govern how we use public expenditures, at least at the state level, and we just don't, and don't believe we should, in this environment use state resources - taxpayers' resources - to support or to be there for undocumented workers," Grossman said during an appearance on Nightside after WBZ host Dan Rea asked if he would support in-state tuition for the children of undocumented immigrants.
Polito answered Rea's question saying, "My answer's clear. Absolutely not. No."
During the same radio interview, Grossman said health care is a "different story" and said, "I would not deny emergency health care services for undocumented people."
Grossman, who backed a 2006 push to provide the in-state discount to undocumented immigrant residents, said that in 2010 he was trying to counter assertions made by Polito that extending the in-state tuition would cost money and displace legal residents.
"My opponent, the former chairman of the Democratic Party, has long supported in-state tuition for illegal immigrants. I oppose giving public entitlement benefits to illegal immigrants because I think doing so disadvantages taxpayers and provides an incentive for people to break the law," Polito said in a statement at the time.
Grossman said his response was designed to refute Polito's attacks.
"What I was doing in the interview in 2010 was really responding to a consistent mischaracterization of this issue by Karyn Polito. She kept banging away at the idea that this is going to cost our kids' seats; this is a competitive business here; that we're going to deny our young people seats - not true. She said it was going to cost taxpayers money, which is not true based on the Massachusetts Taxpayers study, and I was really doing my very best in the wake of her relentless attacks on this issue," said Grossman in a phone interview. Grossman said a Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation study found that the in-state policy "would produce positive cash-flow for the state," and he said the influx of as many as 900 new college students to the roughly 300,000 students at 29 public colleges and universities wouldn't create a dent. He said, "You're not taking up anybody else's seat."
While the Baker-Polito campaign declined to comment, the state Republican Party said Grossman was engaging in "double-talk."
"Double talk is double talk no matter how much historical fiction Mr. Grossman wishes to apply to his previous statements," said Massachusetts Republican Party spokeswoman Emmalee Kalmbach, in a statement. "Unfortunately, for the Treasurer, the tape doesn't lie and twisting the facts to suit his new-found position is not only political opportunism at it's worst, but an insult to voters' intelligence."
Grossman noted that when Rea pressed him to acknowledge that his answer was a "no," he did not agree with Rea. He responded to Rea's assertion by saying, "In this environment I think we need to use our resources wisely."
Grossman, who won his election against Polito, said he recalled standing with former Rep. Marie St. Fleur and recalled former Rep. Alice Wolf working on the issue during a "highly charged" 2006 debate, and said his position on in-state rates has not changed in the past eight years. Grossman was a businessman and former party chairman in 2006, and said he became aware of the issue that year.
"Charlie Baker is on the record, and if Charlie Baker wants to have a conversation about this issue, publicly, I'm happy to have that conversation," Grossman said.
Tuition makes up only a portion of the cost of higher education at state schools, as fees make up a substantial portion as well. Gov. Deval Patrick has used his executive powers to provide in-state tuition to certain young people who are undocumented immigrants and have been granted "deferred" status from the federal government.
Coakley has changed her position on the issue since running for re-election in 2010, when she said, "I don't support in-state tuition . . . and I don't support driver's licenses for those who are here."
"If and when that legislation ends up on my desk as Governor Coakley, I would sign it," Coakley said to Grossman's challenge at a forum in Lexington earlier this month.
During the forum in Lexington, Berwick said he had preceded Grossman in his support on the issue. Avellone said he would support requiring undocumented immigrants who receive the in-state rate to then work in Massachusetts. Kayyem, who is from a Lebanese immigrant family, said she supports in-state tuition and driver's licenses for undocumented immigrants.