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Endorsement for Governor: Charlie Baker

October 8, 2010

With the state facing a projected $2 billion budget deficit next year, whoever is elected governor on November 2 will be making critical budgetary decisions next year and in the coming years that will impact every Massachusetts citizen. We already know that our current governor, based on his record, will cut all state aid to cities and towns he can get his hands on, including prison mitigation money. When he raised the state sales tax last year for the first time in 33 years, cities and towns still saw a 30% cut in local aid, and Walpole still has not seen its prison mitigation money restored. The sales tax increase hurt businesses along the New Hampshire border, and yet cities and towns throughout the Commonwealth still saw no increased revenue.

For 180, this election is about local aid and the budget. Charlie Baker would most certainly not make a perfect governor. Nor is he any better than our current governor in some ways. But Baker has proposed a number of common sense government reforms and specific spending cuts, all the while promising to restore local aid to cities and towns.

Baker has been a local official – he knows the impact local aid cuts have on communities. Patrick clearly does not.

Baker has brought a large company out of bankruptcy and into profitability again, earning him tremendous praise – he understands what businesses need to succeed in Massachusetts. Patrick clearly does not.

Baker has already proposed dramatic reforms he would implement to make the RMV more efficient for state citizens – he knows what it’s like to stand in the line at one of the worst-run state agencies. Patrick clearly does not.

Baker visits cities and towns throughout the Commonwealth regularly – he listens to people’s concerns. Patrick clearly does not.

For these reasons, and more, Charlie Baker is 180’s choice for governor this year.

We all remember Governor Patrick’s hefty promises during the 2006 campaign. Promising property tax relief, 1,000 more cops on the street, and no more cuts to local aid, it was easy to believe that Patrick would deliver on his commitments. Needless to say, none of his promises have been met. Of course, Governor Patrick was elected before the economy soured. But the job of a governor is to adapt to unforeseen changes in the economic climate. As Governor Patrick said in 2006 soon after being elected, “I want people’s expectations to stay high – of their government and of themselves.” So let’s hold him to a high standard.

At the end of Governor Patrick’s first six months in office, the state’s rainy day fund had more than $2 billion in it. Shortly after, however, Governor Patrick, along with the Legislature, took out about $625 million in stabilization funds to balance two budgets before the economy went sour in 2008. This is not responsible spending. As Charlie Baker has said, “we should not be using rainy day funds when it isn’t raining.” The state is now suffering under the burden of higher taxes and less state aid thanks to the governor’s decision to dive into the state’s reserve funds too early. It would have been more responsible for Patrick to work to cut spending and promote fiscal conservatism immediately after being inaugurated.

There are major cuts we could have been making during the past four years that Patrick has never and will not entertain. “A year into a recession that has forced families and businesses to reevaluate their own spending, the state still maintains policies that please employee unions but waste money that could go instead to shoring up vital services,” the Globe’s editorial page shouted in October 2009. The Governor has repeatedly deflected calls from some, mostly Republicans, to eliminate the Pacheco Law, which the Globe wrote, “severely restricts the state’s ability to hire private contractors to perform public services valued at more than $500,000.”

Baker, on the other hand, as part of his “Baker’s Dozen” of 13 ideas to cut $1 billion from the state budget (outlined in plain English for all to read on his website), has proposed repealing the Pacheco Law, cutting nearly $100 million from the state budget. Patrick, meanwhile, hasn’t budged on efforts to repeal the law, even as his allies at the Globe’s editorial page call it a “wasteful policy.” Meanwhile, Baker has also proposed reforming the state’s Medicaid and Medicare programs, bringing in up to $300 million in total savings. Patrick hasn’t even touched any of Baker’s ideas. Baker has been proposing millions of dollars worth of cuts that can be made right now to the state budget, and Patrick doesn’t appear to have noticed. He’s too busy raising taxes and cutting local aid.

In terms of other specific cuts Baker would make to the state budget that Patrick hasn’t noticed is the $4 million alone the state spends on lobbyist expenses. A number of state agencies, including the Massachusetts Convention Center Authority, use taxpayer dollars to lobby the state legislature and the governor in a needless expense. Essentially, state agencies are lobbying other state agencies on the taxpayer dime. Baker also proposed the consolidation of a number of redundant state agencies – including a number of health and human service bureaucracies.

Baker’s ideas for cuts to the budget make sense, both economically and logically. The past four years have been challenging for municipalities across Massachusetts, as Patrick has consistently cut local aid while raising taxes. Responsible leadership involves making the hard decisions about waste in the state budget – decisions Patrick hasn’t made and won’t make in a second term. In a sign of a true desire to lead, Baker hasn’t even been elected yet, and he is already proposing serious cuts he’d impose to make government more economical.

Patrick’s attacks on Baker and highlights of his record are also unfair in many ways. For example, in terms of job creation and business in Massachusetts, Patrick likes to tout the recent gains in employment in Massachusetts. Thousands of private sector jobs have been added to the state during the past few years. Patrick also boasts that CNBC has rated Massachusetts the fifth best state in the nation to do business in. These accomplishments are both great news for Governor Patrick and Massachusetts as a whole. Yet Patrick can’t answer to the fact that Massachusetts still has the 26th highest unemployment rate nationwide. We have the second highest unemployment rate out of all six New England states, according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics. The business climate in Massachusetts remains poor. Massachusetts was ranked the 47th worst state to do business in the the country by Chief Executive magazine in 2009. Meanwhile, last month, the Massachusetts High Technology Council, a nonprofit business trade group in Waltham, surveyed some of its members and found that 40 percent of CEOs believe the state business climate is “worsening.” That’s the highest level of pessimism since its 1991 survey, according to the council. This month, the Council and the Pioneer Institute teamed up to release a nine-page policy brief suggesting ways the state can make the state business climate more hospitable. The report cited “the cost of doing business and an unfavorable and unpredictable tax environment” in Massachusetts. This does not bode well for Patrick.

On the other hand, while the state receives negative reviews by entrepreneurs, Baker has proposed some common sense reforms to make the state easier to do business in. Among his ideas are consolidating state permitting agencies and streamlining state permitting bureaucracies, reforming the unemployment insurance program, and even bringing Hydro Quebec to Massachusetts as a renewable energy source. Patrick, meanwhile, has proposed no specific ideas for improving the state’s business climate. Even CNBC, while ranking the state as one of the top five states to do business in, admitted that the cost of doing business itself, including high wages, high rents, and high utility costs remain among the highest in the nation. Massachusetts scored highly in education, access to capital, quality of life, and technology and innovation, which allowed it to make the top 5. But that’s not much to shout about, considering that CNBC reports that it is still cheaper to do business in 40 other states, including New Hampshire. Baker wants to expand on the state’s positive economic signs, while making it easier for businesses to thrive in Massachusetts. He was a businessman who turned around Harvard Pilgrim and was widely lauded for that work – he knows what businesses need to succeed and puts them in plain English, common sense terms for all of us to understand.

For a governor who promised “change” during his 2006 gubernatorial campaign, there doesn’t appear to any serious change in our state government. Baker has proposed reforms in campaign finance laws, and wants to mandate that all candidates for state office meet an 80% threshold for disclosure of both the occupation and employer of political donors $200 and above. According to a 2009 Boston Globe report, Governor Patrick himself did not report the occupation or employer for 37 percent of his donors in 2006. Maybe that is the reason why he hasn’t announced any support for Baker’s campaign finance reforms. Massachusetts is 37th in the nation in the effectiveness of campaign disclosure requirements, according to a 2008 study by the California-based Campaign Disclosure Project. Baker doesn’t just talk the talk on more transparency in state politics, like Patrick did in 2006. He is actually proposing specific laws he would like to implement in this area. Baker’s own finance disclosure rate is not exceptional – it is just a bit more than 80%, but at least he’s willing to punish those who should be disclosing more.

Governor Patrick has also not been changing the culture on Beacon Hill when it comes to back-door deals for political insiders. In June, the Globe published an excellent story highlighting the involvement of a lobbyist, Sean Curran, in Governor Patrick’s campaign. Patrick was “benefiting increasingly from the kind of fund-raiser whose influence he has vowed to curb: a special-interest State House lobbyist,” the article reported. Curran, who is co-chairman of Patrick’s finance committee, promotes his lobbying business by boasting of his connections to state government. He has arranged meetings with corporate executives at Patrick’s home, where corporate executives pay thousands of dollars to talk with the governor. As far as I’m concerned, that sounds like more of the same on Beacon Hill. Let’s not forget Marian Walsh, either. She was one of the first state legislators to endorse Patrick in 2006, and he rewarded her by trying to give her a $120,000-a-year position in the Massachusetts Health and Educational Facilities Authority that hadn’t been filled in years. The position had not been advertised and no search firm had been hired to compile a list of candidates. Walsh quickly withdrew her name from consideration after media outrage. Hack jobs have become a regular part of Beacon Hill culture, and Patrick has apparently fallen victim to it on more than one occasion. In contrast, Baker has already averted allegations of patronage by announcing he will not be hiring Paul Loscocco, Tim Cahill’s turncoat running mate, for a job in his administration. Baker remains the only candidate in the race for governor who hasn’t actually been in the center of patronage jobs, and he handled the Loscocco deal very well: he announced there will be no patronage jobs in the Baker administration. 180 will hold him to that. It can’t be any better than the Patrick administration, at the very least. (This week, Tim Cahill filed a lawsuit against some of his former aides and some Baker loyalists for plotting to sabotage his campaign while employed by Cahill’s campaign. At press time, there is no verdict on this lawsuit, and it is not clear how this will affect Baker’s stand against patronage jobs.)

As for change in other areas of state government, there are virtually none. Governor Patrick came into office in 2006 with an appealing message of ending what he termed as the “Big Dig Culture” on Beacon Hill. The governor has not ended the so-called “Big Dig Culture.” In 2008, he appointed James Aloisi, who was an integral part of that “Big Dig Culture”, to be Secretary of Transportation. Aloisi’s law firm, before he became Secretary of Transportation, charged taxpayers over $3 million for Big Dig consulting work. His law firm described Aloisi as the “principal author of landmark legislation to establish the statutory framework for the operation, maintenance and financing of the nation’s largest construction project of this decade,” otherwise known as the Big Dig. In 2009, as the Governor and the legislature exchanged barbs over how to handle the state’s transportation debt, Aloisi called the slogan “reform before revenue” a “meaningless slogan”. Even members of the popular liberal blog Blue Mass Group called Aloisi’s appointment “the wrong pick for many reasons.” Frank Phillips and Matt Viser at the Globe wrote, “Aloisi was part of the team that kept a cloak of secrecy over the true cost of the $15 billion project.” Governor Patrick, while boasting about ending the so-called “Big Dig Culture” on Beacon Hill did just the opposite. Further, his latest attacks on Charlie Baker for being a part of the Big Dig financing scheme are hypocritical. It’s acceptable to criticize Baker for his role in the Big Dig, but let’s share credit where credit is due. A number of people were involved with the Big Dig and its complex financing issues and no one person should take all the blame, especially Baker. In addition, the Big Dig financing program that Baker came up with and that the Governor has criticized is very similar to the financing scheme that is being used by Governor Patrick himself, borrowing more than $1 billion against future federal highways grants to pay for needed infrastructure throughout the state. The “Big Dig Culture” is clearly alive and well on Beacon Hill, thanks to Governor Patrick.

In another notable example of unfair criticisms of Baker during this campaign, Governor Patrick has attacked Baker for being an out-of-touch CEO of Harvard Pilgrim. During his time at the helm, the company’s health care premiums went up while Baker collected millions of dollars in compensation. “Charlie Baker is woefully out-of-touch with the needs of regular people,” Lt. Governor Tim Murray said in a statement in July. Woefully out of touch? Look who is talking! Since the Patrick campaign is going to call Baker an out-of-touch CEO who is not a man of the people, we might as well turn the attacks around on Patrick. Before becoming governor, Patrick collected millions of dollars in stock and other compensation while serving over the years as legal counsel and consultant to two international billion-dollar corporations, including an oil company. While working at Texaco and Coca-Cola during the early 2000s, Patrick defended both companies against accusations of environmental and human rights abuses in South America. While serving as a top executive at Texaco, then the world’s third largest oil company, he defended the company against allegations that Texaco had contaminated the soil and caused health problems in the remote rain forest of Ecuador. At Coca Cola, he dealt with allegations that the company was enabling violence against workers at Coca Cola’s bottling partners in Colombia. The activist group Campaign to Stop Killer Coke actually devotes a hate website to him, calling Patrick a “fee-hugger” and chronicling his work at Coca Cola. Patrick is no more a man of the people than Baker is. At least Baker took a company from bankruptcy to profitability again. Patrick, on the other hand, was a high-paid attorney for two billion-dollar corporations, including an oil company charged with destroying the Amazon. Baker sounds like a real man of the people to me.

We should also get some facts straight about the premium increases that Baker oversaw while at Harvard Pilgrim. In 2003 testimony before the Federal Trade Commission, Baker stated that “the vast majority – well in excess of 90 percent – of the increase in health insurance premiums between 2000 and 2002 has been driven by rising medical costs.” Baker testified that there was a 26.1% increase in total health care costs over a two-years period. “We are so sure about this particular issue that we would welcome any audit, review, analysis or investigation the Commission might consider necessary to confirm these rates of increase in medical expense for Harvard Pilgrim members,” Baker said. Furthermore, Baker opposed some premium increases too, as reported by the Globe in a 2009 article. In 2001, he fought aggressively against a move by Partners HealthCare, Inc. to make insurers pay more money in exchange for patients’ access to their network. Partners wanted Harvard Pilgrim to pay more, which would have meant higher premiums. After battling Partners, Harvard Pilgrim was finally forced, by June 2001, to raise premiums, but not because Baker supported the increases. “Do I believe that Harvard Pilgrim Health Care members pay more today for services purchased from Partners and CareGroup as systems than they would pay if each hospital in these systems had continued to contract with HPHC directly? I believe the answer to that question is, ‘Yes.’,” Baker testified. Also, remember that those premium increases helped Baker turned Harvard Pilgrim around. Baker turned a bankrupt company around. We can’t say the same for the Governor.

Governor Patrick deserves praise for the good decisions he has made that have benefited Massachusetts taxpayers and residents. Under his leadership, along with the state legislature, the state swiftly enacted pension reform and transportation reform. He moved Massachusetts towards a system of using civilian flaggers, used by every single other US state. Unfortunately, Baker has proposed going back to using police details at construction sites, but Baker, as stated, is not a perfect candidate. On another important issue, Patrick responded to a string of scandals by pushing for ethics reform. He also reacted to pension abuses by enacting significant reform. But these accomplishments are not utterly remarkable, given the likelihood that any other governor in his situation likely would have approved the same initiatives. Governor Patrick did not do anything out of the ordinary in passing these types of legislation. Pension reform, for example, passed unanimously in the state legislature, meaning that the Governor was not going out of his way to lead a crusade for good government – he was doing what everyone else favored anyway. Governor Patrick would have been crazy to veto the pension reform legislation, because there were few people who were against it in Massachusetts. But even amid all the fanfare and applause for the landmark pension reform that the Governor signed into law, his opponent, Charlie Baker, has rightly pointed out that there is still work to be done. Baker has called for raising the state’s retirement age from 55 to 60. He has also called for capping pensions at $90,000. Transportation reform, on the other hand, certainly can be credited largely to Governor Patrick. It passed the legislature by what was called a “closer than expected vote,” and, indeed, the sweeping initiatives in that legislation did save the state a lot of money. As for ethics reform, once again, it would have been political suicide for the Governor to veto it. Nearly everybody, except perhaps Salvatore DiMasi and Dianne Wilkerson, was in favor of solid ethics reform. The reform bill passed the legislature unanimously, and to no one’s surprise, the Governor signed it into law. Baker and anyone else would have signed the same legislation.

On the education front, Governor Patrick deserves some credit for making tremendous investments statewide in education. But even while he boasts that Massachusetts is first in the nation for student achievement, the only student achievement level he is referring to that is first in the nation is only because Massachusetts 4th and 8th grade students have consistently ranked first in the nation in math between 2007 and 2009. That’s it. He claims credit for the fact that just two grades happen to score high in mathematics every year. The American Legislative Exchange Council gives Massachusetts a C+ when it comes to education reform, and gives the state a D+ when it comes to removing ineffective teachers and a D- on identifying quality teachers. Meanwhile, here in Walpole, we have been laying off teachers everywhere you look. I take several classes at Walpole High School with nearly 30 kids in them. Who can be blamed? Governor Patrick, of course. We have not seen our prison mitigation money in several years because the Governor cut it. That money would certainly come in handy to shore up our school finances. Baker has promised to restore our prison mitigation money while taking a serious look at the state budget to streamline government.

Governor Patrick has also demonstrated a disappointing campaign strategy, in contrast to Charlie Baker. Walpole has not seen Governor Patrick in an official capacity in the four years since he was elected in 2006. In the meantime, he’s been laying off Walpole teachers and shutting down the East Walpole Fire Station through his devastating cuts in local aid and prison mitigation money. After whipping through a whole four years and never stepping foot in Walpole, he visited for the first time in February of this year, to attend a private fundraiser in a private home for a friend of his in East Walpole. So after cutting our money and slashing our budget, the Governor comes pleading to us asking us for money in an invitation-only fundraiser. The same week that the Governor attended the Walpole fundraiser, his opponent, Charlie Baker, came to town to meet citizens, talk with business owners, and take a walking tour of downtown for an entire morning. There is clearly a marked difference between a candidate who attends an invitation-only fundraiser in a town he hasn’t even visited even once in the four years he’s been governor, and a candidate who arrives in town not to ask for money but to ask for ideas for how to move the state in another direction. At Walpole Day in May, the Governor made another appearance in town in what was essentially a photo-op, shaking hands and walking through a throng of supporters holding campaign signs, nearly all of whom didn’t actually live in Walpole. Meanwhile, at the same event, Charlie Baker made a surprise, low-profile appearance and actually campaigned, chatting with people casually and sharing some concerns about the state. Instead of focusing on making sure that his visit was highly publicized and that photographers would be in attendance to take his picture, like the Governor had done with his visit, Baker arrived as a regular guy interested in hearing directly from the citizens. The only reason the Governor came to Walpole Day was to get his photo taken, and almost as quickly as he had arrived, he was off again, to another photo-op, never having a substantive conversation with town officials and residents about his crippling cuts to local aid and prison mitigation money. It doesn’t seem likely, either, that the Governor will be back to Walpole before November 2. During the 2006 campaign, too, Patrick didn’t bother showing up in Walpole. In fact, his opponent that year, Kerry Healey, and her running mate, Reed Hillman, set up a satellite campaign office in Walpole Center, and Hillman himself actually visited Walpole in 2006 (in an apparently low-profile visit) as part of his tour of all Massachusetts towns. Not surprisingly, Patrick lost the Walpole vote in 2006, albeit by only 286 votes. He’ll likely lose Walpole again this year if he doesn’t start to show a little more compassion for the impact his policies have had on our community, rather than using our town as a campaign photo-op. A common excuse that we hear for the governor’s absence from Walpole is that as a full-time governor, Patrick doesn’t have the time to visit every individual city and town, whereas Charlie Baker quit his job at Harvard Pilgrim to campaign full-time in every town. But it is part of the governor’s job to visit every city and town in Massachusetts. It says a lot about our governor when he doesn’t even step foot in Walpole for the four years he is governor.

Baker has some good ideas for other areas of state government, besides the budget. As Walpole residents all know, the Registry of Motor Vehicles is the most notorious state bureaucracy, and during the Patrick administration, millions of dollars were cut from the RMV’s budget. Branch closures ensued, and our nearest branch, in North Attleborough, shut down just weeks after undergoing a massive renovation. Charlie Baker, in contrast, has proposed some reforms that he would make to the RMV to make the branches run more efficiently. He offers them in plain English on his website, which is actually quite atypical for politicians, who like to try to be as vague as possible so as not to make too many empty promises. Baker’s idea: put 24/7 RMV kiosks, like Nevada and Mississippi have successfully done, in convenience stores, department stores and grocery stores throughout the state. Sounds good to me. Governor Patrick, on the other hand, hasn’t even mentioned any of the reforms, and likely has barely heard of them. If you are happy with the way the Registry of Motor Vehicles is run, a vote for Deval Patrick is a vote to maintain the status quo at that notorious bureaucracy. Keep in mind that our closest RMV branch, in North Attleboro, was shut down by the Governor, and now the nearest branch to Walpole is in Brockton. We all recognize that the RMV website has come a long way, and that many of the transactions you can do at a branch can now be done on the state’s website. But as Baker has wisely pointed out, transactions on the RMV website can only be done with a credit card, and furthermore, to an elderly resident who can’t use a computer, being able to drive to the nearest CVS to renew their license is definitely a difference from having to drive all the way to Brockton. Under Baker, fewer people will need to go to the RMV branches, if at all. The RMV could become the most efficient agency in the state, rather than the least efficient, as it is now.

The past four years have been wrought with challenging budget times for Walpole and so many other towns across the Commonwealth. Our state needs new leadership, and Charlie Baker is the right man for the job. In a nutshell, Baker has promised to restore local aid and prison mitigation money, implement common sense reforms to state government, improve our business climate, and lower taxes, all the while building on the few successes of the Patrick administration. Furthermore, his liberal positions on abortion and gay marriage seal the deal. Governor Patrick’s tenure in office does not deserve a four-year extension. One look at the now-shuttered East Walpole Fire Station is ample reason why.

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