By Matt Murphy

STATE HOUSE NEWS SERVICE

STATE HOUSE -- Republican Charlie Baker sharpened his criticisms of the two leading Democratic candidates for governor on Wednesday, warning voters that both Attorney General Martha Coakley and Treasurer Steven Grossman are angling for tax increases if elected.

The pointed line of attack from the likely GOP nominee against his potential general election opponents came via a new web video that Baker's campaign described as the "most significant online ad purchase to date," though it declined to say how much the candidate planned to spend.

Meanwhile, Grossman followed up his Tuesday night debate performance by returning to a line of questioning he unveiled at Stonehill College the night before, blasting Coakley for a settlement she reached with a campaign contributor for lobbying violations and calling on her to return all donations from the lobbyist.

While Baker insisted during a Herald Radio interview that he was not looking past the Sept. 9 primary against Tea Party Republican Mark Fisher, Baker's campaign released a 42-second web spot warning that both Coakley and Grossman "would raise your taxes, again."

"Martha Coakley and Steve Grossman: Politics as usual on Beacon Hill," the female narrator says in the ad. In the video, Baker says, "The old way of spending more and taxing more isn't working.


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We need new ideas and a new approach. When I'm governor we'll lower taxes, reduce wasteful spending and reform welfare."

The ad suggests that Coakley wants to increase state spending by $2 billion, and claims Grossman has proposed "billions in new spending." It makes no mention of the third Democrat running for governor, pediatrician and former Obama administration health care official Don Berwick.

Baker campaign officials sighted Coakley's support for universal pre-kindergarten and longer school days, and the reported cost estimates associated with both proposals, as justification for the $2 billion claim, while Grossman reportedly told a UMass Amherst audience in April that he wanted to dedicate "billions" to transportation infrastructure.

While neither Democrat has endorsed the idea of higher taxes, both have said taxes would be on the table after other means of finding revenue, such as government efficiencies and economic growth, are exhausted. Baker, in contrast to his 2010 campaign, has refused to take a pledge not to raise taxes, but insists he wants to lower taxes overall and would be open to simplifying the tax code.

"The last time Charlie Baker was in state government, he brought us the Big Dig then tried to hide the cost overruns. That is the definition of politics as usual," said Coakley campaign manager Tim Foley.

Grossman called Baker's promises "stale, flat and uninspiring." He said, in a statement to the News Service, "I'm proud to have spent decades creating jobs, both in the private sector and as treasurer. As governor, I'll build on that record of leadership by investing in our innovation economy as Deval Patrick has done so successfully, while continuing to save tens of millions of taxpayer dollars."

Sen. Benjamin Downing, the coordinated campaign co-chair for the Democratic Party, accused Baker of "reading directly from the national Republican playbook" and returning to the negative messaging of his failed 2010 campaign.

"Republican Baker just doesn't like good news for our state because it doesn't help his political ambitions--even he must face the fact that Massachusetts is among the leaders in the nation in veteran services, education, clean energy and business competitiveness," Downing said in a statement. "The fact is we are now seeing the same old Republican Charlie Baker from 2010 who would rather carp from the sidelines and root for the state to fail."

Fisher and his supporters have also criticized Baker's positions on everything from illegal immigration to taxes and Cape Wind, accusing the Republican of being closer in ideology to the Democrat he hopes to replace - Gov. Deval Patrick - than the heart of the Republican Party. 

Coakley also became the target for Grossman, who questioned the attorney general's settlement with the Brennan Group during a debate Tuesday night, and returned to the issue on Wednesday calling on Coakley to return political contributions made to her campaigns over the years by former state Sen. John Brennan.

Coakley's office announced last week that it had reached a settlement with the Brennan Group to pay $100,000 to the Franciscan Hospital for Children and avoid civil or criminal charges stemming from lobbying fees collected from the hospital that were illegally contingent on the firm's success in winning state funding for the hospital. The Brennan Group had been paid $370,855 under the alleged improper contract.

Grossman, after the debate on Tuesday, questioned why the Brennan Group didn't have to repay the full amount and why the firm didn't face any additional penalties.

On Wednesday, he followed up with a statement: "At a time when voters have so many concerns about proper ethics and conduct in state government, it's deeply disappointing and inexplicable to see the Attorney General dodge tough questions and hide behind generalities. This is Beacon Hill at its worst, and the people of Massachusetts deserve better judgment as well as honest, detailed answers from the state's chief law enforcement official who wants to be their governor."

Coakley said the agreement her office reached was "very fair," considering the outdated statute her office was working with, and said the donations Brennan has made to her campaign were "very transparent." While Brennan donated $200 to Coakley in 2006, he has made no contributions to her gubernatorial campaign, and a Coakley campaign spokeswoman said it did return a donation from Brennan's attorney Tom Kiley.

Asked about the Brennan case on the radio, Baker called it a "great example" of what happens when one-party controls all branches of government.

"All these people just know each other and they all play for the same team," Baker said. "And to expect them to create the kind of constructive friction I think we all believe you need to create the kind of accountability and transparency you need on Beacon Hill to adequate represent taxpayers just isn't there."

Baker went on to say the fact that "virtually every major corruption case" over the past six or seven years has been prosecuted by the federal government, and not Coakley, "speaks volumes about what's going on up there."

Citing Coakley and Patrick's decision to fight a civil lawsuit brought by a Baltimore child welfare group alleging inadequacies in the state child protection system and the IT failures at the Health Connector, Baker said, "I think the performance of the attorney general leaves a lot to be desired."

Baker and Fisher will debate Thursday afternoon at Middlesex Community College in Lowell. The primaries are set for Sept. 9, with the general election to follow on Nov. 4.