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^ bold plan, inviting much controversy : Charlie Baker shakes things up

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Charlie Baker’s “Let’s Be Great Again, Massachusetts” Plan highlights fewer issues than Martha Coakley’s plan but addresses these issues in great detail. Where Coakley speaks cautiously and generally, Baker gives specifics, boldly inviting voters to agree — or to not agree. So far, so good. It’s what a candidate for our state’s highest office should do.

That said, there is as much in the Baker plan that voters may well decline — and should — as there is of policies voters should agree with.

First, however, let’s talk about Baker policies that voters all ought to say “yes” to :

Baker vows to transform state administration : to give us “a state that we can be proud of,” as he puts it. It’s a promise that, having all the managerial experience a governpr could need, Baker can surely keep. In his words :

“The people of Massachusetts deserve a state government that’s as thrifty and hard-working as they are. Unfortunately one-party rule on Beacon Hill has led to a lack of transparency and accountability. Recent scandals prove the Commonwealth needs an independent Governor who knows how to lead and manage large, complex organizations and will be accountable to no one but the people.”

On this issue, Baker’s on solid ground. The failures at DCf and the 200 million dollar collapse of our state’s health care connector cry out for administrative transformation of our governance. So does the frequent confusion and disconnect between the Govern0r and the legislature on crucial issues such as transportation funding. And can anyone forget the software tax that, once the media pointed it out, was quickly repealed ? This was no way to enact laws that govern how we live, work, and budget.

Of all this, there’s not one syllable in Coakley’s plan.

Baker also embraces marriage equality and women’s reproductive rights, without reserve — as he must, and always has. Today, these are no longer an issue in Massachusetts, but for a candidate running as a Republican they are very much a voter concern. Baker takes no prisoners on these basic rights issues. As he puts it :

Marriage equality : “Charlie supports marriage equality. For Charlie, the issue of marriage equality isn’t political, it’s personal. In 1983, Charlie’s brother Alex first came out to Charlie and his family. For the past ten years, Alex has been married to his husband Butch.”

Reproductive Rights : “Charlie is pro-choice. He supports and will protect a woman’s right to choose in Massachusetts. He will oppose unnecessary and burdensome regulations intended to make it more difficult for women to access health care. Additionally, in light of the Supreme Court’s decision on the state’s “buffer zone” law, Charlie supports the passage of new legislation that will protect both the first amendment and women’s right to access health services. Charlie supports the state’s parental notification law.”

(NOTE : this statement was posted before our legislature passed a new buffer zone law. Bakers’ wife and running mate both attended (and his running mate joined leaders on stage at) the huge NARAL Rally in Boston to protest these two Supreme court decisions.)

Baker’s plan to reshape state business tax policy so that small businesses can grow — particularly in depressed cities beyond Route 495 — also has smart appeal.

He proposes eliminating the inventory tax. That will help. So will extending an income tax credit to low income families without children. Baker also supported the minimum age increase passed two months ago, and he supports paid sick leave for workers (though not the specific paid sick leave referendum, claiming that it is too inflexible for some small businesses to meet). His workforce development program will — if properly administered: but that is Baker’s forte — boost workers who face layoffs, or who are out of a job seeking to get one again, by giving them a way to stay technologically current.

And now to the facets of Baker’s plan that voters may well take issue with:

His plans for welfare — “transitional assistance” — seem unrealistic. Forcing applicants to seek work as a pre-condition of receiving benefits greatly misreads the huge difficulties most people in this situation live with — poor workplace skills, lack of education, low self-confidence; often a single parent household with many kinds to tend to, mental health issues, chaotic homes — that make a “job search requirement” an almost impossible barrier. It is hard enough to live on the edge of domestic disaster without also having to face economic disaster unaided. Baker seems to think that people seeking assistance are schemers looking to game the system. Much waste this past year, by demagogues on the right, of “EBT fraud,’ and legislation was adopted that will re-impose a photo ID for EBt cards, that even Governor Romney gave up on as being not worth the administrative effort.

It’s not good to see Baker committing to this view of what poverty is like.

He seems to think that people living outside the workforce can be spanked, hustled, pressured to get into work. If only it were so. it isn’t.

(Baker has made a huge campaign effort to reach the state’s communities of color, and of immigrants. i would have liked to read, in his plan, at least some of the feedback he must have received all through the heart of Boston. maybe we’ll see it in October…)

The only feasible ways that I see for people living by public assistance, because it’s all they can handle, to move into the workforce are (1) dramatically improve education in poor communities, whose schools usually get short-funded and draw the least qualified teachers and (2) require communities to hire youth workers and family mentors and to encourage citizen intervention groups, especially sports programs and after school sessions. Of this one reads only hints in Baker’s plan — he talks of “safe, secure communities” — although, to be fair, there isn’t even a hint of any such in Coakley’s plan. For her, people living on public assistance evidently don’t exist.

Coakley’s Plan has much to say , however, about people who already have jobs : raising wages, protecting their right to form unions, enforcing laws against wage theft and non-payment of overtime.

Of that, there is nothing in Baker’s plan. He doesn’t even mention the word “unions.” Even politically, this is a mistake. Unions today are much stronger than they were four years ago, and Baker knows that he must have some union support — and he is actively seeking it. Can’t he at least mention the wage and rights issues that workers are looking to unions to secure for them ?

Baker talks a lot about job creation and uses tax policy and strong education reforms to bring it about. All good : but jobs are created not by tax benefits and schools but by consumer spending. Consumers create a full two thirds of the economy. If people don’t have more money to spend,the economy can’t grow. This is why economic improvement starts with the minimum wage increase that Baker supports — and by securing to service workers the $ 15 hourly wage that they now seek. Make that happen, and you won;t have to tax-cajole businesses to add jobs. On their own they’ll hold job fairs and train wotrkers for the 1000s of jobs they’ll need to add to meet consumer demand.

They’ve done it before. They did it in the 1990s.

This is common sense. W hen it comes to state administration, efficiency, transpareency, and technology, Baker has common sense aced. Why not common sense about economic and workforce policy ?

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere

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