Massachusetts governor, Democratic challenger debate issues
BOSTON (AP) — Massachusetts Republican Gov. Charlie Baker and his Democratic challenger, Jay Gonzalez, sparred on everything from public transportation and taxes to abortion rights and criminal justice as they squared off for their first debate before next month’s election.
Gonzalez faulted Baker for not being ambitious enough when it comes to upgrading the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority. He called the public transit system one of the worst in the country, saying people cannot depend on it to get to work.
“I’m surprised riders haven’t revolted,” he said. “They are done with this system that they can’t rely on.”
Gonzalez also said he would fire Keolis which operates the commuter rail system.
Baker said his administration has done the nuts and bolts work needed to prepare the transit system for the future and to keep the trains and buses running.
“It’s not sexy stuff. It’s signals and switches and third rails and track,” Baker said during Tuesday’s televised debate on WBZ-TV. Baker said his administration is planning to continue spending billions to improve the MBTA. He also took credit for helping rescue the Green Line extension project.
Baker criticized a plan by Gonzalez to tax the endowments of the state’s wealthiest colleges and universities like Harvard University and MIT saying it would harm the ability to offer scholarships to lower income students.
He also called the state’s universities and colleges some of the strongest economic drivers and said he opposed a similar plan to tax their endowments offered by President Donald Trump.
Gonzalez said that Baker’s refusal to consider new taxes is holding back the state’s progress. Gonzalez said the colleges and universities targeted by his plan could afford to pay the tax and continue doing everything they’re currently doing, including offering scholarships.
“It’s fair,” Gonzalez said. “They can afford it.”
Gonzalez also tried to tie Baker to Geoff Diehl, the Republican state representative running against Democratic U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren.
Baker, who describes himself as a moderate, pro-abortion rights Republican, has endorsed Diehl, while acknowledging they differ on some key issues.
“I’m running for governor, not Geoff Diehl,” Baker said.
Baker also ticked off what he said were some of his administration’s top accomplishments, from pushing ahead to expand the state’s access to renewable energy sources to working with lawmakers to address problems in the criminal justice system.
He also said he’s worked to improve the lives of the homeless.
“If I was a status quo governor we would still have thousands of homeless families still living in hotels and motels,” Baker said.
But Gonzalez said Baker has been too cautious and that he would move more boldly to push the state forward, including leading a renewed effort to pass a so-called “millionaire tax.”
The proposed constitutional amendment — a version of which was blocked by the courts from the November ballot — would have imposed a surtax of 4 percent on any portion of an individual’s annual income that exceeds $1 million, which supporters said would generate some $2 billion annually in additional revenue for education and transportation.
Gonzalez said he would lead an effort to get a reworked version of the question on a future ballot.
Baker said Gonzalez is overpromising by pledging to spend the money years before it could start to flow into state coffers.
Gonzalez also said that Baker should have taken a lead in trying to end the lockout of National Grid workers.
“This is definitely an instance where the governor should have stepped in much earlier,” Gonzalez said, adding that he believes the workers have been treated “reprehensively” by the company.
Baker said his administration spent a fair amount of time with the workers and National Grid, including putting them “in the same room to try to get them to agree.”
The election is Nov. 6. Baker is seeking his second four-year term on Beacon Hill.
Gonzalez was the state’s top budget official under Baker’s predecessor, former Democratic Gov. Deval Patrick.
Two additional debates are scheduled before Election Day.