By Andy McKeever On: 03:34PM / Tuesday April 29, 2014
Charlie Baker, in the middle, introduces himself to voters at Joe's Diner in Lee on Tuesday.
LEE, Mass. — Republican Charlie Baker says if he is elected governor, every time state revenues increase it will all go back to cities and towns.
The gubernatorial candidate met with potential voters over lunch at Joe's Diner on Tuesday. Baker has been all over the state preaching the need for more jobs, better education and improved communities.
"I spent most of my time talking about what I call the big three — jobs, schools and communities. Those aren't Republican, Democratic or independent issues, it is just what people worry about and what I worry about," Baker said. "We need more good schools, stronger communities and frankly, more jobs."
Baker has particularly noticed a disparity of school performances. Even in the same school systems, some schools are ranking high in student achievement while others are not. And he sees a lack of communication between the schools that are succeeding and those falling behind.
"We don't have those conversations. We treat them all like they are the same — they're not," Baker said.
Meanwhile, vocational, technical and career schools are "going under the radar" despite providing a great service. He wants those schools to have a greater emphasis in the state conversations about education and officials should be "more aggressive" in supporting them.
"They are really tied into local employers. They are working with the latest and greatest equipment. And they link together for kids the purpose of an education and opportunity for work," Baker said. "They are really doing a great job"
Meanwhile, the cost of education is growing for municipalities, eating up a majority of their budgets. Baker and running mate Karyn Polito say any time state revenues grow, local aid needs to grow at the same amount. That includes aid to both schools as well as municipal operations.
"If state revenue grows 5 percent, local aid grows 5 percent. Over the past five or six years, state spending has gone up six or seven billion dollars while local aid has gone down by $500 million," Baker said. "It puts tremendous pressure on cities and towns."
When local aid doesn't keep up with the costs, that puts more pressure on families who have to fund the schools through property tax increases and higher fees.
"As the state's tax revenues has been growing, they haven't been sharing that with the cities and towns," Baker said.
The same idea goes for Chapter 90 road funding. Baker said not enough money is being released to help cities and towns repair roads heavily damaged by the harsh winter.
"We're $600 million ahead of budget on the revenue side at this point in the fiscal year. We should be able to find the resources to help cities and towns dig out what for a lot of people was a tough winter," he said.
The former chief executive officer of Harvard Pilgrim said there is still a lot of "anxiety" about the economy. And while there are some sectors — such as what he calls the "inside [Route] 128 knowledge economy" — doing well, others are not.
Baker is in his second campaign for governor and says his experience will help him this time around.
"I can't tell you how many businesses I talk to, especially small ones, who just say that the way stuff works around here is so much more complicated than it needs to be," Baker said.
"A really simple example is in a lot of states you can get an LLC [limited liability corporation] to start a business online and pay $25 for it and it takes you a half an hour. In Massachusetts, you get an LLC and you have to pay $500 every year and a lot people will tell you it is so complicated that you need to hire someone with a legal degree to figure out how to fill it out and get it in."
Baker is calling for a full regulatory review to find ways to make it easier for businesses to operate.
"We've got to be competitive economically. We need to dramatically improve the speed of issuing permits and licenses, and our cost of pretty much everything," he said.
But he also knows that not every area of Massachusetts is the same. While in the eastern part of the state, costs are the biggest issue, the lower costs in the west is a strength. Each region has its own strengths and Baker said he would set economic plans for each region within the first six months after he is elected.
"I want to have within six months of taking office is to have strategic principles in place for every city in Massachusetts so I know what is expected of us and they know what is expected of them. We can hold each other accountable and go get it," Baker said. "If you don't have a stated set of goals and objectives, you won't get it done. Period."
The effort would mostly be led by local officials in conjunction with his administration.
He announced in September and came out of the Republican State Convention in March as the sole nominee. However, tea party candidate Mark Fisher is suing the party over the voting procedure and says he will have enough signatures in time to be listed on the ballot for governor
This is the second consecutive time Baker has been the Republican nominee; he lost to Deval Patrick in the 2010. He believes that campaign experience will help do better this time.
"You don't want to run the same race twice. But there is no doubt that having done this before I have a much better understanding about how it works and what to expect," Baker said.
"I also know a lot more about Massachusetts. You learn a ton doing this. You spend a year and a half of your life criss-crossing the state, you get to know a lot about places you wouldn't know about otherwise."
This time, Baker says he is hearing more talk about education and bringing more viewpoints to the State House than last time.
"Four years ago, nobody really cared about one party running Beacon Hill. It never came up. Now there are a lot of people I talk to, including Democrats, who say this one-party stuff is bad. It's unaccountable. It's not transparent," Baker said.
What has also changed is that there is no incumbent. Patrick is not running for re-election, leaving the seat open. Currently, there are six Democrats seeking the seat, one independent and Baker. He feels that plays to his strengths because he stands on the same ground to "make my case to the voters."
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