During the past month, Governor Baker has moved more boldly than ever to implement his vision of state reform. Not everybody approves. I’m not sure that I approve, either, of all his current decisions: but no one can now doubt that he means to alter significantly the principles steering state administration. So far, his boldness has not cost him any popularity at all ; in a recent Western Massachusetts University poll, his favorable-unfavorable numbers stand at 68/14 — by far the highest of any Massachusetts elected official.
The big drama arises from Baker’s decision to have the MBTA hire private contractors to operate its money counting room and some of its vehicle maintenance. As these shifts put many Carmen’s Union jobs at risk, it’s no surprise that the union and its supporters in the legislature have mounted large protest rallies outside the State House. This week, Boston Mayor Walsh joined one such. Posted in social media, and broadcast on television, the rallies look big and loud; and doubtless many people watching at home wonder why has Baker taken on such committed opposition.
My own view of the decision — justified by the MBTA Board of Directors as a money-saving measure — is that basic operations should not be outsourced. I doubt that contractors’ employees will be any more honest at the money counting than the Carmen; nor do I find it wise to ship maintenance work to outside firms rather than modernize the T’s own repair shops and warehouses. I don’t like the idea of well-paid local workers losing their jobs. The T has many other places it can look to save money : selling off or leasing T-owned land; leasing advertising space on T billboards and the sides of buses; raising fares (which it did do this year). Firing well-paid workers should not be among them. Well-paid workers spend generously into the local economy. Why hurt them ?
Baker’s moves, and Walsh’s opposition to them, smell to me like re-election campaigning. Walsh wants full Labor support as he seeks a second term as Mayor this coming year. Baker wants the full support of voters who dislike the high pay and benefits accorded to unions via taxpayer dollars. It is certainly hard that re-election priorities imperil the prospects of workers, but that’s how campaigns take shape. I get that. I also get that Baker has angered the irreconcileables in his party by rejecting Trump, early and all the way. Curbing the Carmen’s dominance of MBTA operations is a red-meat way for him to stroke these voters and to prevent their leaders from supporting a primary opponent : because if there’s one issue that binds almost all Republicans together, it’s tax dollar rigor.
Nor is Baker’s privatization likely to upset many non-Republican voters. As transportation management in Massachusetts moves from special interest protection laws to free market innovation — think regulated taxis giving way to Uber and Lyft — breaking one union’s control of the T’s budget and work rules looks like innovation. It may well be that. (Public worker unions have hardly endeared the voters to their case of late. Though the charter school cap lift initiative looks likely to fail, that failure has little to do with the teachers unions opposing it and more to say about voters not favoring, or caring about, a cause that helps only the poorest 25 percent of the state’s kids.)
Baker must feel that his privatization moves at the T have given him room to take an equally bold stand on another issue : transgender civil rights. He waited a long time before committing to the civil rights law known commonly as the ” #TransBill,” but he did sign it, and he has now moved early and clearly to declare that he will vote to defend it against the ballot initiative brought by those who would repeal the “TransBill.”
I applaud Baker’s bold stand here. He and Attorney General Maura Healey standing together assures that our state will not abandon any of its residents on civil rights matters. It’s also good politics. Most Republicans who oppose the “:TransBill” are his personal opponents within the party. He isn’t going to win them anyway, so why not boldly support a law favored by about 62 percent of our voters ? Support for transgender civil rights is strongest in the cities and in the major suburbs of Boston — a vote that Baker cannot afford not to win.
Yet his move is not merely political calculation. Baker understands that everyone’s life is her own and is not the business of anyone else; and he respects that integrity. I have seen it personally. My only critique is that support for everyone’s right to be who they are should never be “bold.” It should be a given. Unfortunately, in today’s America, lots of voters think that it IS their business to dictate to other people, and to kidnap the law to work their will upon us. I am thrilled that Governor Baker opposes such dictates. For whatever reason. Its’ good politics, and it’s the right thing to do.
In any case, this column’s focus is on how Baker has shifted the locus of state administration. The Baker mission is to wring a dollar of value from every dollar of taxpayer money. We all want efficient and reliable state services. Every state agency must now answer for its accounts. Serve the public, not the servers. That’s the message that Baker is sending to every state employee and to those who those employees answer to. It’s good, and it’s about time.
—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphdere