NORTH ANDOVER — If elected, Republican gubernatorial candidate Charlie Baker said he would push to lower the state sales tax to 5 percent, impose a hiring and wage freeze for state government, and take aim at various laws and policies that give too much influence to labor unions.
At a meeting with The Eagle-Tribune editorial board yesterday, the former CEO of Harvard Pilgrim Health Care also continued his call for a receiver or control board to take over financially troubled Lawrence.
As governor, Baker said his priorities would be to create jobs in Massachusetts and shrink state government. He said he's the only candidate with private industry experience creating jobs and any experience at all turning around financially struggling institutions.
"I'm going to take an enormously hard run at shrinking state government to make it less expensive and more efficient," Baker said. "We have more than a dozen health and human service agencies with lots of duplication, when it probably takes one to get the job done."
Baker has held two Cabinet posts under Massachusetts governors — secretary of health and human services and secretary of administration and finance. He joined Harvard Pilgrim in 1998 after eight years in state government. He is credited with turning around the health care benefits company, which found itself in receivership.
Baker is running against Democratic Gov. Deval Patrick, Treasurer Tim Cahill, who is running as an independent, and Green-Rainbow candidate Jill Stein. Baker trails Patrick 45 percent to 42 percent in the latest Rasmussen Poll, with Cahill a distant third at 5 percent. The poll shows 5 percent favoring "some other candidate" and 2 percent undecided. Rasmussen now lists the race as a "tossup."
Baker said he doesn't believe Massachusetts is turning the corner on an economic recovery — a claim Patrick has boasted on the campaign trail.
"If people believe that, they should vote for him," Baker said of his Democratic opponent. "Not one net job has been created in Massachusetts in the last 10 years."
Baker said Patrick has fallen short not only on job creation, but on a host of issues, such as the Legislature's failed attempt to bring casinos to the state.
Baker said the governor should have taken a leadership role in the casino debate "early on" by calling for one resort casino and a few thousand slots and "see how it goes. Rather than waiting until four days left in the Legislative session to get involved."
Baker said the proposal out of the Legislature for three resort casinos and two 3,500-slot racinos was much too ambitious.
"It would create problems for entertainment venues all over the state, as well as the lottery and small businesses like restaurants and bed-and-breakfasts," he said.
On taxes, Baker favors lowering the sales tax to 5 percent, but said he would support lowering it to 3 percent if that's what voters want.
He also promised to work to end rules that allow only union-only companies to bid on state construction projects. He said he would campaign for legislation that would give cities and towns more control over the cost of providing health care for their workers.
"A lot of union members will vote for me, but I won't get any endorsements from union leadership," Baker said. "But I don't want them. The price is too high. The governor and treasurer have suffered from that."
Baker has been an outspoken advocate in calling for a receiver or financial control board in Lawrence. Patrick has appointed an overseer to work with the mayor and City Council to monitor the city's budget and give advice about financial matters.
Baker criticized Lawrence Mayor William Lantigua for trying to hold on to his state representative job during the early days of his administration.
"(Lantigua) didn't think he needed to be the mayor, 24/7, 365 ... that he could continue to be the state rep at the same time," Baker said. "That should have been the warning bell to everybody that this guy didn't understand the size and the significance of the problem that Lawrence faces."
Baker said conditions have only worsened over the past six months in Lawrence because "the governor is more concerned with politics than doing what's right."
"Chelsea and Springfield both had receiverships and control boards and they got better," Baker said, adding that he would appoint a control board or receiver "right away" if elected.
Baker also touted his work ethic.
"I didn't take a day off for (my) first year at Harvard Pilgrim and weekends were almost as bad," he said. "I wanted people to know nobody was working harder than I was. ... They (Patrick and Cahill) had their chance to demonstrate a commitment to reform and they didn't do it. I'm not a career politician. I got in because I'm deeply concerned with the direction the state is headed in."
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