Jonathan Melle

Jonathan Melle
I turned 39 (2014)

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Charles D. Baker is running for the Republican Party nomination for Governor of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts in 2010

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Charles D. Baker
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"Harvard Pilgrim CEO Charles Baker announces bid for governor"
By Matt Viser and Andrew Ryan, Boston Globe Staff, July 8, 2009

Harvard Pilgrim Health Care chief executive Charles D. Baker announced to his staff today that he will leave his job and seek the Republican nomination for governor.

In an internal message sent to Harvard Pilgrim employees, Baker outlined his decision and said that his last day at the company would be July 17, 2009.

"I know you know I've given this issue a lot of thought, and in the end, I love working here," Baker wrote in the message. "But I also recognize the terrible financial and operational strain that will face state and local government in the years ahead. I know both sectors pretty well -- better than most, I would say -- and I believe I can bring ideas, energy and leadership to the tasks that face state government in the years ahead."

Baker has not chosen a running mate, according to one of his advisers who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak about the announcement. The adviser said Baker plans to open a campaign committee July 28, 2009, after taking a weeklong family vacation.

"He’s in the race for governor," the adviser said.

Baker could not be immediately reached for comment, but he has scheduled a press conference this afternoon at Harvard Pilgrim headquarters in Wellesley. Republicans seemed downright giddy about Baker’s decision to get in the race, comparing him to Governor William F. Weld running in 1990 after 16 years of Democrat’s in the corner office.

"I think a lot of people just breathed a big sigh of relief," said Senate Minority Leader Richard Tisei, a Republican from Wakefield. "This means there is going to be a debate in this election as to whether or not the last 2 1/2 years the state has been on the right path -- or should we change directions. I think Charlie is the perfect person to explain why we need to change directions."

Baker spent eight years in state government in the Cabinets of Weld and Governors Paul Cellucci. He served first as secretary of health and human services and then as secretary of administration and finance during some of the Big Dig.

Baker flirted with a run for governor four years ago, almost mounting a challenge to then-Lieutenant Governor Kerry Healey for the GOP nomination. Baker announced he would not run at the end of August 2005 because he and his wife, Lauren, decided that a campaign would put an "unfair burden" on their family. They have two teenage sons and a young daughter.

Baker has served one three-year term as selectman in his hometown of Swampscott. He received a bachelor's degree in English from Harvard College and a master’s degree in management, concentrating in public administration and finance, from Northwestern’s Kellogg School.

In the fight for the GOP nomination, Baker joins Christy Mihos, a convenience store magnate from West Yarmouth. Mihos garnered 7 percent of the vote when he ran for governor as an independent in 2006. Mihos announced in April that he would run in 2010 as a Republican.

On Tuesday, the Globe reported that State Treasurer Timothy P. Cahill plans to leave the Democratic Party this week in what is probably a first step toward an independent challenge to Governor Deval Patrick, a Democrat, in next year's election. The news set off a massive scramble as potential candidates for treasurer tried staking a claim on frontrunner status.
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Baker
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Baker at Babson College on 7/8/09. (John Tlumacki/Boston Globe Staff).
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"Harvard Pilgrim CEO Charles Baker announces bid for governor"
By Matt Viser and Andrea Estes, Boston Globe Staff, July 8, 2009

Harvard Pilgrim Health Care chief executive Charles D. Baker announced today that he will leave his job and seek the Republican nomination for governor in the 2010 election.

"I'm in," Baker said at a press conference this afternoon at Babson College in Wellesley. "I'm very well suited for this task. And I would regret it -- for quite a while -- if under such difficult circumstances I chose to sit idly by and not participate."

Baker said he would run in the mold of former Governor William Weld, who was a fiscal conservative but held more liberal stances on social issues. He deflected several questions about Democratic Governor Deval Patrick, but said he would focus on jobs and the economy and retaining young workers.

"It's a pretty dark picture," he said of the economy. "And I don't think we're doing the things we need to do to make that picture better."

"My crystal ball isn't telling me what the election in 2010 is fundamentally and ultimately going to be about. But I can tell you right now, it ought to be about jobs and the economy and the business climate because a state that can't grow jobs and can't keep its young people is in deep, deep, serious long-term trouble. That's what I see when I look at Massachusetts right now," he said.

Republicans seemed downright giddy about Baker’s decision to get into the race, comparing him to Weld running in 1990 after 16 years of Democrats in the corner office.

"I think a lot of people just breathed a big sigh of relief," said Senate Minority Leader Richard Tisei, a Republican from Wakefield. "This means there is going to be a debate in this election as to whether or not the last 2 1/2 years the state has been on the right path -- or should we change directions. I think Charlie is the perfect person to explain why we need to change directions."

Patrick welcomed Baker's entry into the race, saying, "I think competition is good. I don't think we have enough."

Baker spent eight years in state government in the Cabinets of Weld and Governor Paul Cellucci. He served first as secretary of health and human services and then as secretary of administration and finance during some of the Big Dig.

Baker flirted with a run for governor four years ago, almost mounting a challenge to then-Lieutenant Governor Kerry Healey for the GOP nomination. Baker announced he would not run at the end of August 2005 because he and his wife, Lauren, decided that a campaign would put an "unfair burden" on their family. They have two teenage sons and a young daughter.

Baker has served one three-year term as selectman in his hometown of Swampscott. He received a bachelor's degree in English from Harvard College and a master’s degree in management, concentrating in public administration and finance, from Northwestern’s Kellogg School.

In the fight for the GOP nomination, Baker will battle Christy Mihos, a convenience store magnate from West Yarmouth. Mihos garnered 7 percent of the vote when he ran for governor as an independent in 2006. Mihos announced in April that he would run.

On Tuesday, the Globe reported that State Treasurer Timothy P. Cahill would leave the Democratic Party this week in what is probably a first step toward an independent gubernatorial candidacy. The news set off a massive scramble as potential candidates for treasurer tried staking a claim on front-runner status.

"The governor never expected to stand for re-election unopposed," Charlotte Golar Richie, executive director of Patrick's re-election committee, said in a statement. "There is plenty of time for the campaign in the future, but we welcome all candidates into the race and look forward to a serious discussion about how we will create new jobs, provide our children with the best education and the other important issues facing Massachusetts."

"Given the troubled times for families and for the Commonwealth, Charlie's breadth of experience in the private sector and in helping manage the state's financials will be extraordinarily helpful," former Governor Mitt Romney said in a statement. "With so many politicians that promise much but deliver little, it will make a real difference for Massachusetts families to have a governor who has actually accomplished so much."

Mihos, who announced in April that he would run in 2010 as a Republican, has hired Dick Morris, a well-known conservative political consultant and commentator who was involved in campaigns for Weld.

Mihos, in an interview this afternoon, characterized Baker as the pick of the party faithful, and someone who is “big business and big government.”

“Lookit, I am not an institutional or an insider Republican,” said Mihos, who is scheduled to speak to the Republican Town Committee tonight in Baker’s hometown, Swampscott. “If that’s what they want, they have Charlie. I’m an outsider, a populist Republican. We’ll let the people see what they want.”

Baker is well known among top political and business circles, but one of his major challenges will be trying to achieve better name recognition.

“A lot of people don’t know him,” said former governor Jane Swift. “He’s got to get out there quickly and define himself before his opponents do. He’s going to have to raise a lot of money and spend a lot of time shaking hands and kissing babies.”
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(John Tlumacki/Boston Globe Staff)
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In 1996, Baker, secretary of administration and finance, listented intently during an afternoon briefing. (Jonathan Wiggs/The Boston Globe/File 1996)
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"For GOP's Baker, a long resume at a relatively young age"
By Eric Moskowitz, Boston Globe Staff, July 8, 2009

Not yet 50, Charles D. Baker Jr. had built a considerable resume when he first ran for public office in 2004 — the Harvard basketball player who became a think-tank dynamo, served as trusted adviser to two Republican governors, and orchestrated the turnaround of a struggling health plan.

Although Republican operatives envisioned Baker on Beacon Hill, he set his sights closer to home: the Board of Selectmen in Swampscott, population 14,000.

Some colleagues from the Weld and Cellucci administrations tried to discourage him, worried that a loss would dash a future political career. ‘‘He took it all in and heard me out,’’ said Virginia B. Buckingham, a chief of staff to both governors who tried to dissuade Baker. ‘‘Then he said, ‘I’m doing it because I care about my town, and I think I can help my town.’’’

Baker won in a landslide and proceeded to dig into the budget in his North Shore suburb, where his three kids were enrolled in the schools.

It was, friends say, classic Charlie Baker, at once high-achieving and grounded. They describe the newly announced Republican gubernatorial candidate as an exacting policy wonk with charisma; a towering, energized man who pauses to listen patiently; a high-powered executive who showed up for his first Memorial Day ceremony as selectman in T-shirt and shorts, then had to scurry home for a suit.

‘‘Charlie is bigger than life, but exactly the opposite at the same time,’’ said Mindy d’Arbeloff, a Boston marketing executive who has been friends with Baker since childhood.

For as long as d’Arbeloff can remember, Baker is the guy who has explained complex policies to her with simple diagrams on scraps of paper. He is also the avid music fan who occasionally worked as a bouncer at rock shows in his youth and remains unabashed about taking his teenagers to see the Dropkick Murphys.

As a new candidate for governor, Baker, now 52, is unknown to many voters, and he is not without critics on policy. Some service providers used the term ‘‘slash and burn’’ to describe his 1990s efforts, as undersecretary for health and human services, to close state hospitals and rein in costs. But Baker has earned respect on Beacon Hill and in the business community as a smart, measured leader.

‘‘He’s easygoing, but no one should mistake that [he also has] a steely determination to get the right result,’’ said Paul Cellucci, the former lieutenant governor and governor who worked with Baker for much of the 1990s.

Baker grew up in Needham — aside from a stint in Washington, while his father served as a deputy undersecretary of transportation in the Nixon administration — and attended Needham High, where he was a multisport athlete.

The oldest of three boys born to a Republican father and Democrat mother, Baker was a voracious childhood reader and early participant in kitchen-table debates that ran ‘‘hot, heavy, and all the time,’’ said his father, Charles Sr., who also served in the Reagan administration and is now retired from business, government, and education.

‘‘He’s got a great degree of curiosity,’’ Baker’s father said. ‘‘He’s a quick study, but he’s a really serious thinker. A lot of quick studies, they stop right there.’’

At Harvard, Baker concentrated in English, lettered in basketball, and began a Big Brother relationship that he maintained through decades, eventually serving as best man at his Little Brother’s wedding. After earning an MBA at Northwestern’s Kellogg School, where he met his wife, Lauren, Baker worked as a consultant and helped build the Pioneer Institute, a Boston think tank with a libertarian bent.

Baker’s ‘‘best quality is probably his ability to get along with people. And second, he has an excellent mind, and he knows how to channel energy,’’ said Lovett C. Peters, the retired oil man who founded Pioneer, made Baker his second hire, and remains an office regular at age 96.

Peters ultimately recommended Baker to William F. Weld, who consulted Baker broadly on policy issues and asked him to be undersecretary for the Health and Human Services Department after his 1990 election.

But first, Weld arranged for Baker to speak with David P. Forsberg, Weld’s choice for secretary of the agency, to ensure they had chemistry. The resulting conversation was a dizzying call in which Baker peppered Forsberg with questions and wowed him with ideas that would help shape the administration’s plan to cut costs and reorganize public services.

Afterward, Forsberg told his wife, ‘‘I think I’ve just been interviewed to see if I can be somebody’s boss,’’ he recalled yesterday.

By the time Weld left office, Baker had joined his Cabinet, serving first as health and human services secretary and then as secretary for administration and finance, a position he continued under Cellucci. But Baker passed at the opportunity to run as Cellucci’s lieutenant governor, a spot subsequently offered to Jane Swift.

Baker instead left government to become chief executive of Harvard Vanguard Medical Associates, a nonprofit group practice with physicians across Eastern Massachusetts. A year later, in mid-1999, the struggling HMO Harvard Pilgrim Health Care brought Baker in to right an organization that was hemorrhaging money.

After initial bumps, Baker oversaw a turnaround that included more than two dozen consecutive profitable quarters, at the same time the company finished atop the National Committee for Quality Assurance’s ranking of health plans five years in a row.

Even as he ran Harvard Vanguard, served as selectman, kept a healthcare blog, and maintained a steady presence at his children’s sporting events, friends say, Baker nurtured an interest in becoming governor.

‘‘There are still idealistic people in this business who care and think they can help, and that’s why they get in,’’ said Buckingham, now director of public affairs for Pfizer Inc. ‘‘He’s one of them.’’
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Steve Rosenberg of the Globe staff contributed to this report.
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The Boston Globe, Op-Ed, JOAN VENNOCHI
"The challenges for challenger Charlie Baker"
By Joan Vennochi, July 9, 2009

CHARLIE BAKER finally stopped thinking about running for governor. He will run, he announced yesterday.

Baker, the CEO of Harvard Pilgrim HealthCare, is a numbers guy. He doesn’t act on whims. If he’s in, he must think Governor Patrick, the incumbent Democrat, is truly vulnerable.

He must be looking at the 2010 race and thinking back to 1990. Massachusetts, universally disdained as “Taxachusetts,’’ was in deep fiscal trouble. Democratic governor Michael Dukakis, with support from the Democratic leadership of the House and Senate, made the tough call to raise more taxes. Voters decided they wanted the check of a Republican governor against the GOP-framed perception of Democrats gone wild.

But it wasn’t that simple then and it isn’t now.

Republican Bill Weld won an open seat against John Silber, a grouchy, unconventional Democrat who was still leading the race until he imploded during an infamous TV interview shortly before Election Day.

Baker will be challenging a first-term governor who has had a rocky tenure, but can still count on his liberal base. Unless Baker keeps fellow Republican Christy Mihos off the ballot, he must win a primary fight against the convenience chain owner, who already signed on Dick Morris, a nasty and nationally-known political consultant. The general election turns into a three-way race if state Treasurer Timothy Cahill runs, as threatened, as an independent.

A past Cabinet secretary for two Republican governors, Baker is smart and thoughtful. But he’s a virtual unknown to the general public and untested as a candidate for political office. Then again, that makes him a lot like Patrick, who beat an incumbent attorney general and millionaire businessman to become his party’s nominee, and then went on to become the first Democrat in 16 years to win the governor’s office.

Recent poll numbers show that Patrick faces a tough reelection fight. His job approval rating is low. But the election is more than a year away and a Democrat, especially in a three-way race, holds an important advantage in Massachusetts.

Baker’s tenure at Harvard Pilgrim will be scrutinized. He also should have to answer for decisions made during the Weld-Cellucci era. Weld, especially, promised leaner, more streamlined government. His pledge was mostly a euphemism for drastic cuts in social services.

Baker said he wants to be governor so he can tackle the state’s fiscal challenges “and bring ideas, energy, and leadership to the tasks that face state government in the years ahead.’’ Yet when Baker was secretary of administration and finance, the state borrowed billions against future federal highway aid to underwrite ever-ballooning Big Dig costs. Taxpayers are still paying that tab.

Baker was secretary of health and human services when the Weld administration moved to deregulate the healthcare industry in Massachusetts. Healthcare providers now compete with one another; the state no longer sets rates. Massachusetts residents are paying for that, too.

Voters may simply consider such decisions ancient history, or conclude a governor, not a Cabinet secretary, is accountable for them. Either way, Baker is an impressive opponent. He can run as an antidote to Patrick’s poetry and undelivered promise to lower property taxes. He can run as a cool-headed agent of post-partisan politics - Barack Obama without the rhetorical flourish and compelling personal story. If the economy is as bad as it is now, or worse, it will be even harder for Patrick to weave a narrative for reelection. In the meantime, Baker has a lot of credibility in the Massachusetts business community. That could help him with fund-raising, and undercut Patrick’s ability.

Yet winning election requires more than money, as any number of failed millionaires demonstrates. It’s about connecting with people in a personal way, convincing voters to trust you with important aspects of their lives and children’s future. It’s about selling a vision of government to a disparate population. Is that vision strictly business? Is there room for compassion, not to mention state-funded programs for the vulnerable?

With Baker in, this will be a fascinating election, with serious candidates debating substantive issues - or so we can all hope.
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Joan Vennochi can be reached at vennochi@globe.com.
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"Race for governor begins"
The Berkshire Eagle, Editorials, Friday, July 10, 2009

While it could be argued that it is always campaign season at the state and federal level, the 2010 Massachusetts governor's race officially began Wednesday when Charles Baker announced that he would challenge Governor Deval L. Patrick next year. If Treasurer Tim Cahill decides to run for governor as an independent, as seems likely, the race could be fascinating and difficult to predict.

Mr. Baker will step aside as CEO of Harvard Pilgrim Health Care to run for the state's top office, pleasing Republicans who had hoped he would challenge unimposing Lieutenant Governor Kerry Healey for the GOP gubernatorial nomination last time around. A former top aide in the administrations of Governors William Weld and Paul Cellucci, Mr. Baker is well-regarded for his business acumen, in large part for his efforts in rescuing Harvard Pilgrim from insolvency and keeping the nonprofit financially sound.

As secretary of health and human services, Mr. Baker was instrumental in health care deregulation that was of more apparent benefit to health care organizations than the general populace. Later, as secretary of administration and finance, he was one of the early proponents of the financial fiasco that was the Big Dig. While Mr. Baker is regarded as a fiscal conservative and social liberal, the typical formula for successful Massachusetts Republicans (Weld was both, Mitt Romney pretended to be the latter), the Big Dig may weaken his financial credentials.

The politically ambitious Mr. Cahill apparently saw his road blocked by Governor Patrick, and Wednesday he set up a run for governor by switching his party registration from Democrat to unenrolled. The only state office-holder not chosen as a delegate to the most recent Democratic convention, Mr. Cahill is not popular with his former party's liberal wing and will be seeking the same fiscal conservative banner as will Mr. Baker and Christy Mihos, the wealthy businessman making his second bid for the Republican nomination. Independents rarely win major office, and Mr. Cahill will be a long shot.

Many of Governor Patrick's ambitious plans were sacrificed to the bad economy, and voters may go into 2010 fed up in general with Beacon Hill. However, if Mr. Baker and Mr. Mihos run against the "tax and spend" Democrats, they may find it is not the ‘90s anymore, when the nickname "Taxachusetts" was a better fit than it is today. Whatever the strategy of the GOP, and Mr. Cahill, the race is under way.
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www.topix.net/forum/source/berkshire-eagle/TT9V39IP067H3LHDO
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Charles Baker said he will leave his post at Harvard Pilgrim Health Care to run for governor of Massachusetts. (Steven Senne/Associated Press)
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"Role in financing Big Dig may test Baker’s campaign"
By Noah Bierman, Boston Globe Staff, July 17, 2009

When the Big Dig was short on cash in the mid-1990s, state officials made a decision that is still affecting the quality of roads, bridges, and highway finances today.

In exchange for $1.5 billion upfront, the state pledged to surrender to bondholders more than a quarter of its federal highway grants from 2006 through 2015, about $150 million per year.

Governor Paul Cellucci’s top financial adviser when the program was conceived and passed into law was Charles D. Baker, who announced last week that he is running for governor.

At the time, Baker defended a plan to increase short-term borrowing as a way to save money over the long term, by getting as much work done as possible before the cost of labor and materials went up.

“The thing that really drives up costs is inflation,’’ he told the Globe in 1997.

Now that Baker has reentered the political arena at the state’s highest level, his decisions as the state secretary of administration and finance from November 1994 through September 1998 and the impact they still have on state government will provide a significant test of the Republican’s ability to pitch himself as a fiscal conservative against primary opponents and, potentially, Treasurer Timothy P. Cahill, an independent, and Governor Deval Patrick, a Democrat.

His reputation as a strategic player inside the administrations of governors William F. Weld and Cellucci could also grow more complicated if he attempts to distance himself from some of their more controversial actions.

“If you are paying with tomorrow’s dollars to build something you can’t afford today, it’s inevitable that sooner or later the financial structure is going to implode,’’ said Senator Mark C. Montigny, a New Bedford Democrat who voted for elements of the Big Dig financing structure, but later became a vocal critic.

Baker declined several requests to speak about his role in financing the Big Dig, stating in an e-mail and through a spokesman that he is in a transition period, leaving his job as chief executive of Harvard Pilgrim Health Care, and will not be an official candidate until the end of the month.

He referred inquiries to a spokesman, Rob Gray, who could not answer specific questions about Baker’s thought processes at the time or speak in depth about Baker’s involvement in key decisions. Gray said Baker had a “limited role in the financing process’’ of the Big Dig and that, as administration and finance secretary, he “had no control over management of the Central Artery/tunnel project.’’

Gray said Baker left state government before “peak construction and the revelation of cost overruns by the Turnpike Authority, an independent agency’’ that managed the project.

It is true that the project’s most startling cost overruns, a hidden $1.4 billion, were revealed in 2000, after Baker stepped down as secretary. But the first of the project’s three peak spending years began in 1998, before Baker left, when costs reached $4 million a day. And the overall projected price tag had already reached $10.8 billion by the time he left. It would eventually reach $15 billion.

And the decision to assign the project, and much of its debt, to the Turnpike Authority in two bills passed in 1995 and 1997, was also crafted during Baker’s time as a top finance man on Beacon Hill. In 1997, when critics were cautioning that the state was not setting aside enough money to pay for the Big Dig, he defended the turnpike plan as “the right mechanism for dealing with a situation that everyone admits is going to be challenging.’’

Since then, the Turnpike Authority’s role has been attacked by Big Dig critics, who have complained that the authority, which has an unelected board, was not directly accountable to the public for cost overruns and that commuters on the turnpike were forced to pay an undue share of Big Dig debt through tolls.

That debate is still being fought on Beacon Hill, where an overhaul of the transportation system was recently passed, eliminating the Turnpike Authority as of November, though not the $2.4 billion debt it carries, largely courtesy of the Big Dig.

Former House Transportation Committee chairman Joseph C. Sullivan, who led the panel when many financing decisions were made, said Baker had a heavy hand in the plan to assign Big Dig expenses to the Turnpike Authority.

“The primary author was the governor and, instrumental in that authorship, was Secretary Baker,’’ said Sullivan, a Democrat and now mayor of Braintree.

Sullivan, who helped pass the most significant piece of the plan in 1997, praised Baker as smart and competent and pointed out the economic and political dynamics at the time: Big Dig costs were climbing. The federal government’s promise to shoulder the burden was dwindling. And state officials at all levels were scrambling to define costs and explain how they could be paid. There was intense pressure to develop a financing plan.

“He had a role to play, but the major decisions were not made at his level, in other words, the decision to move forward and to build this project,’’ said Cellucci. “Once the governor says ‘This is what we’re going to do,’ it’s the responsibility of the secretary of administration and finance to do it.’’

Although it was clear the state did not have the money for its share, there was no political will to raise taxes. The state was running out of places to borrow money, so it hatched a plan akin to a debtor who agrees to have future wages garnisheed to pay urgent bills.

“We already were so heavily borrowing, the state, through the normal processes of borrowing,’’ said Michael J. Widmer, president of the Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation. “And in this case, the price, I would argue, is high . . . almost a decade of sacrificing a third of our highway money.’’

In addition to an average of $150 million a year that gets taken out of statewide highway and bridge grants, Massachusetts pays an average of $60 million a year in interest out of the state Treasury.

Yet even as the original plan was taking shape, Baker told legislators in 1998 that regional projects would not be hurt. “I don’t see how anybody could argue that the artery will be pulling money away from non-artery projects.’’

The debts taken out at the time have made it harder for the Patrick administration to pay for bridge repairs that engineers say are desperately needed.

So Patrick has settled on the same solution. As part of his own $3 billion bridge repair program, Patrick is borrowing $1.1 billion from future federal grants, agreeing to make payments between 2015 and 2021, when the Cellucci loans are paid off.

Patrick has made the same argument Baker made, that it saves money to spend money now, before inflation and wear and tear make repairs more expensive.

And Widmer and other fiscal watchdogs are making similar criticisms, that borrowing into the future will extend the state’s cycle of poverty.

None of the earlier decisions were Baker’s alone, of course. Key members of the Legislature, Weld and Cellucci and their staffs, and, significantly, former transportation secretary James J. Kerasiotes, and the Turnpike Authority all weighed in. Patrick’s transportation secretary, James A. Aloisi Jr., a former general counsel for the Turnpike Authority, drafted the actual legislation that put the turnpike in charge of the Big Dig.

But Montigny, who was not in leadership at the time but has since controlled key financial committees, said those decisions could not have been made without significant input from the state’s top finance adviser.

“It would be impossible to get that kind of a monster created without the [administration and finance] secretary, the governor, and the legislative leadership,’’ he said. “It’s just too big of an undertaking.’’

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"Gubernatorial hopeful Baker filing papers Wednesday"
By Associated Press, Sunday, July 26, 2009, www.bostonherald.com - Local Politics

Charles Baker is officially leaving the business world behind for politics.

The former Harvard Pilgrim Health Care president is filing papers Wednesday to enter the 2010 Massachusetts gubernatorial race as a Republican.

The move comes as Democratic Gov. Deval Patrick sees his stock ebb in polls amid the state’s recession and a 25-percent sales tax increase slated to take effect next Saturday.

After years of speculation about whether he might run for governor or U.S. Senate, Baker is taking the plunge with a round of media interviews on Tuesday and the paperwork filing on Wednesday.

The former Weld administration aide then heads to a Boston law firm for his first fundraiser.

Convenience store owner Christy Mihos is also seeking the GOP nomination.

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"Baker: Dems Made Mass. Crisis 'A Calamity': Republican Kicks Off Campaign"
www.thebostonchannel.com/politics - 7/28/2009

BOSTON -- Republican Charles Baker kicked off his gubernatorial campaign Tuesday by saying Gov. Deval Patrick and Beacon Hill Democrats have "turned a crisis into a calamity" and made the Massachusetts economy "a wreck" with excessive government spending and an unwise sales tax increase.

In a video to supporters on his new Web site, the former Harvard Pilgrim Health Care president said he is worthy of being elected governor next year because he has twice engineered economic turnarounds.

The first came in the 1990s when he served as finance chief in the Weld and Cellucci administrations; the second came during the past 10 years, as he turned Harvard Pilgrim from the verge of bankruptcy into one of the nation's leading health insurers, he said.

"When it comes to change, I am two things: fearless and determined," he said. "And as your governor, I will be both."

The video shows Baker in a dungaree shirt, gesticulating with his hands as he stands against a park backdrop. It actually was produced by having him stand indoors in front of a green screen and then superimposing the scenery behind him.

In it, he says: "The Massachusetts economy is a wreck right now." Lamenting empty store fronts, home "For Sale" signs, lost jobs and a 25 percent sales tax increase taking effect Saturday, Baker adds: "Massachusetts is on the wrong track, and Beacon Hill has no idea how to fix it. In fact, they're making it worse. They've turned a crisis into a calamity."

A Patrick campaign spokesman did not immediately respond to a request for comment, but on Monday, the governor defended his leadership in the face of sagging polls.

He said he has been focused on the state's long-term interests and insisted governmental reforms accompany the tax increase he signed into law. Such reforms, he said, had eluded some of his Republican predecessors.

The Democrat took office in January 2007 after a 16-year GOP run in the Corner Office that began with Baker's former boss, William F. Weld.

"Campaigns are about explaining what we've done and, more importantly, where we're going," Patrick said. "And we'll have an opportunity in the campaign to do just that, and the people will have an opportunity to choose whether they want to go forward or go backward."

Baker, a 52-year old from Swampscott, officially enters the race Wednesday when he files his candidacy declaration with the state Office of Campaign and Political Finance. He then has a schedule of activities, including organizational meetings, fundraisers and a speech Thursday to the Cape Cod Chamber of Commerce.

The video appears on his new Web site, www.charliebaker2010.com.

Convenience store owner Christy Mihos also is seeking the Republican nomination. Treasurer Timothy Cahill is mulling an independent candidacy.

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"Baker: Massachusetts Democrats have turned crisis to ’calamity’"
By Associated Press, Tuesday, July 28, 2009, www.bostonherald.com - Local Politics

Republican Charles Baker kicked off his gubernatorial campaign today by saying Gov. Deval Patrick and Beacon Hill Democrats have "turned a crisis into a calamity" and made the Massachusetts economy "a wreck" with excessive government spending and an unwise sales tax increase.

Surrogates for the incumbent immediately struck back by branding his opponent "Big Dig Baker."

In a video to supporters on his new Web site, Baker said he is worthy of being elected governor next year because he has twice engineered economic turnarounds.

The first came in the 1990s when he served as finance chief in the Weld and Cellucci administrations, he said. The second came during the past 10 years when, as president of Harvard Pilgrim Health Care, he turned the company from the verge of bankruptcy into one of the nation’s leading health insurers.

"When it comes to change, I am two things: fearless and determined," he said. "And as your governor, I will be both."

The video shows Baker in a dungaree shirt, gesticulating with his hands as he stands against a park backdrop. It actually was produced by having him stand indoors in front of a green screen and then superimposing the scenery behind him.

In it, he says: "The Massachusetts economy is a wreck right now." Lamenting empty store fronts, home "For Sale" signs, lost jobs and a 25 percent sales tax increase taking effect Saturday, Baker adds: "Massachusetts is on the wrong track, and Beacon Hill has no idea how to fix it. In fact, they’re making it worse. They’ve turned a crisis into a calamity."

The Massachusetts Democratic Party, controlled by Patrick and run by his 2006 campaign manager, John Walsh, immediately launched a Web site accusing Baker of allowing the $15 billion Big Dig project to escalate in price during the 1990s.

The site - www.bigdigbaker.com - asks five questions, including why his campaign advisers insisted he had a "limited role" in the highway project when, at the time, he was the state’s finance chief and authored a project financing plan. Baker had refused to respond to such inquiries before he had resigned from Harvard Pilgrim at mid-month or taken a previously scheduled family vacation.

"When a news report last week detailed Republican Charles Baker’s prominent role in decisions about financing the Big Dig, several questions were raised, but he still refuses to answer them," Walsh said in a companion statement released by the Democratic Party.

On Monday, the governor defended his leadership in the face of sagging polls. He said he has been focused on the state’s long-term interests and insisted governmental reforms accompany the tax increase he signed into law. Such reforms, he said, had eluded some of his Republican predecessors.

The Democrat took office in January 2007 after a 16-year GOP run in the Corner Office that began with Baker’s former boss, William F. Weld.

"Campaigns are about explaining what we’ve done and, more importantly, where we’re going," Patrick said. "And we’ll have an opportunity in the campaign to do just that, and the people will have an opportunity to choose whether they want to go forward or go backward."

Baker, a 52-year old from Swampscott, officially enters the race Wednesday when he files his candidacy declaration with the state Office of Campaign and Political Finance. He then has a schedule of activities, including organizational meetings, fundraisers and a speech Thursday to the Cape Cod Chamber of Commerce.

The video appears on his new Web site, www.charliebaker2010.com

Convenience store owner Christy Mihos also is seeking the Republican nomination. Treasurer Timothy Cahill is mulling an independent candidacy.

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Photo by Ted Fitzgerald
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"Baker: No new taxes if elected governor in 2010"
By Hillary Chabot, Wednesday, July 29, 2009, www.bostonherald.com - Local Politics

Gubernatorial hopeful Charlie Baker vowed to roll back the 25 percent sales tax hike as he kicked off the 2010 race this morning, brandishing a “no new taxes,” mantra that some GOP candidates have come to regret.

“Read my lips, ‘No new taxes,’ ” said Baker, brushing off the criticism that the slogan sunk former Republican President George H. W. Bush. “I remember (former Gov. William Weld) said it too, and he meant it.”

Murray also took some shots at Gov. Deval Patrick, saying the governor let the budget, “get away from him.”

“I wouldn’t have traded modest pension reform, modest ethics reform and modest transportation reform for (an increase) in the sales tax in the middle of the worst recession we’ve had in my life time,” said Baker.

Lt. Gov. Tim Murray, once again taking up the mantle as Patrick’s attack dog, hit back by tying Baker, who worked as secretary of administration and finance under former Gov. William Weld, to the Big Dig and questioning his work with Harvard Pilgrim.

“If you’re a fan of higher insurance premiums, you’ll like Charlie Baker, and if you’re a fan of the Big Dig financing and record debt, you’ll love Charlie Baker,” Murray said in a statement.

Baker, who appears to be fashioning himself after Weld, filed his campaign finance information this morning will officially announce his candidacy in September. Baker said he supports abortion rights and gay marriage but he also backs the death penalty.

Weld declined to speculate on a running mate, or discuss the campaigns of fellow GOP candidate Christy Mihos or potential unenrolled challenger Treasurer Tim Cahill.

“I haven’t ruled anything in or out at this time,” said Baker.

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"The money debate starts now"
A BOSTON GLOBE EDITORIAL - August 2, 2009

FOR STATE VOTERS starved for a robust debate on pocketbook issues, Wednesday was a red-letter day. That was when former Harvard Pilgrim Health Care CEO Charlie Baker officially joined the race for governor in 2010. His entrance ensures a Republican primary contest with former Massachusetts Turnpike Authority board member Christy Mihos. If Baker wins that, he would likely face incumbent Democrat Deval Patrick and, possibly, Treasurer Timothy Cahill running as an independent. As long as Baker is in the race, voters have a right to expect from him solid numbers on how to fix state government, and not the specifics-free boilerplate about reducing waste, fraud, and abuse that many candidates stoop to.

Baker’s special credential for the race is the other important “former’’ in his past - he was secretary of administration and finance under Governor William Weld. That means he has a working knowledge of the ins and outs of the state budget. Baker helped Weld steer the state out of red ink caused by another recession. The two got assistance from tax increases passed by the Legislature before Weld took office.

In this recession, too, the governor and Legislature have resorted to tax increases - principally a hike in the sales tax from 5 to 6.25 percent - to balance the budget. Baker has said he would move to repeal that increase. An early challenge for him will be to explain what cuts he would propose to make up for the $900 million of annual new revenues provided by the increase.

So far, Baker has implied he might invoke a hiring freeze, without an estimate of what that would save. Beyond that, he has said everything would be on the table, including cuts in the state’s program of universal health insurance. Between Medicaid, the state-subsidized Commonwealth Care program, and state employees’ own insurance, healthcare makes up so much of the budget that major cuts in state spending are almost sure to affect some residents’ health. Indeed, legislators have already taken back more than half the money that would have gone toward insuring legal immigrants.

What other benefits would Baker rescind? Would he make additional cuts in state support for the safety-net hospitals, even though the biggest of them, Boston Medical Center, has already taken the state to court for aid it believes it is owed? The Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation says health reform adds just $88 million a year to the state budget. Would Baker cut into benefits residents were receiving before reform?

In difficult times, voters are looking for specific solutions. Fortunately, Baker’s extensive background in both health insurance and government leaves him - and his rivals - no choice but to speak frankly about the state’s grim finances.

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The Boston Globe, Op-Ed, JOAN VENNOCHI
"Reading Baker’s lips on taxes"
By Joan Vennochi, Boston Globe Columnist, August 2, 2009

READ MY LIPS. No new taxes.

Is George H.W. Bush’s broken promise of 1988 really the best campaign slogan for Republican gubernatorial candidate Charlie Baker?

Last week, Baker officially entered the 2010 race to become governor of Massachusetts. Quickly, Andy Hiller, a veteran TV political reporter who knows how to get his sound-bite, goaded the newly minted GOP candidate into repeating the words that helped make the elder Bush a one-term president. “Yeah,’’ said Baker. “Read my lips. No new taxes.’’

What’s next? A “lead-pipe guarantee’’? Oops, that was a Democrat. Governor Michael Dukakis said that back in the ’70s, and paid the price.

Baker was once dubbed “the smartest man in state government.’’ It may be brilliant strategy to wrap yourself in the words a leading Republican pollster ultimately called “the six most destructive words in the history of presidential politics.’’ But, I have my doubts.

Running on a no-new-taxes platform is the obvious play for Baker, the former chief executive of Harvard Pilgrim Health Care. He is counting on the same kind of backlash that drove Massachusetts to elect Republican Bill Weld as governor back in 1990.

Baker held high-profile policy positions for Weld, and then for Weld’s successor, Paul Cellucci. He will try to win the governor’s office by making the same case as Weld: that a socially moderate, fiscally conservative Republican governor is the voters’ best hope against a state run by tax-and-spend Democrats.

He is helped by an economy that is currently working against the Democratic incumbent. Faced with a national recession and declining state revenues, Governor Deval Patrick is presiding over unpleasant budget cuts and unpopular tax increases. This weekend, the Massachusetts sales tax increased from 5 percent to 6.25 percent. Baker, of course, is pledging to repeal it. Recent polling shows voters are unhappy with Patrick’s handling of the economy. For now, Patrick is unpopular and looks vulnerable.

Even so, is it wise to launch the campaign against him on a rhetorical flourish that is now equated with political defeat?

Bush made the pledge more than 20 years ago. When he raised taxes to reduce the national budget deficit, the reversal allowed Democrat Bill Clinton to question his trustworthiness.

So many politicians have broken so many promises since. It is hard to believe voters still accept any at face value, especially a promise that turned into a political punch line. But many voters want to believe in the sanctity of a candidate’s vows, just as many ex-couples still want to believe in true romance. When voters and lovers get burned, they are disappointed, to say the least.

When he ran for governor, Patrick floated a lot of pretty-sounding promises involving hope and change. He made a specific promise to lower property taxes and a broad promise to deliver on a different kind of politics. For a variety of reasons, including the economy and an entrenched political establishment, making good on them is tough. It may not be fair to blame Patrick for forces beyond his control, but recent polling shows that’s what voters are doing, at least for now.

So, the last thing any smart challenger should do is over-promise. Because that’s exactly what Patrick did. He set expectations so high, falling short was always a threat. In the midst of a recession, it was inevitable.

In light of voter disenchantment with the political model Patrick represents, a successful challenger should think about the antidote. Prose, not poetry. Realistic goals instead of broken promises like “Read my lips. No new taxes.’’

Bush made the promise because he wanted to win. And win he did - once. If Baker wins, and faces a revenue gap, he will do what Republican governors always do in Massachusetts: look to a Legislature controlled by Democrats to solve the problem, and then blame them for solving it.

If elected, Baker said that he will try to repeal the sales tax increase - just as Weld said he would try to roll back the state income tax. To Weld’s relief, that never happened, despite his alleged commitment to the cause. Mitt Romney, the state’s last Republican governor, kept his no-tax pledge by raising millions in fees.

Read my lips. Baker knows the truth, even if he won’t admit it.
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Joan Vennochi can be reached at vennochi@globe.com.
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ACE IN THE HOLE: Ex-Red Sox hurler Curt Schilling is throwing his support behind GOP gubernatorial contender Charlie Baker. The politically minded Schilling is shown meeting with Sen. John Kerry in Washington. (Photo by John Drew)
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"Curt Schilling’s pitch: Vote Charlie Baker"
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By Jessica Fargen / Pols & Politics - The Boston Herald Online, Sunday, August 2, 2009
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Retired Red Sox [team stats] pitcher Curt Schilling [stats] has thrown his weight behind GOP gubernatorial wannabe Charlie Baker, according to a post Tuesday on his blog, 38 Pitches.

The Medfield Republican and former Sox ace previously campaigned for Red State men President George W. Bush and Sen. John McCain.

Admittedly, Schilling hasn’t yet done his “homework” on the conservative candidate.

That doesn’t matter.

“I’ve known Charlie for about five years now, and I’ll state right up front I have not dug into his policies or his agenda,” Schilling wrote of Baker, calling the candidate a “man of integrity” and a “man of his word.”

He added: “I’ll vote for him. I’ll vote for him because he’s someone that has always appealed to me as being out for the greater good above all else. This state is in dire need of exactly that right now.”

Ouch.

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Charles Baker (The Boston Herald; Photos by Stuart Cahill) August 2, 2009
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EYE ON THE STATE HOUSE: While downplaying Gov. Bill Weld’s ‘walrus list,’ Republican gubernatorial candidate Charles Baker says he will require his state employees to be qualified ‘based on their skill set and experience.
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"Charles Baker defends Bill Weld’s recipe: Gubernatorial hopeful won’t rule out hack hires"
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By Hillary Chabot, Saturday, August 1, 2009 - www.bostonherald.com - Local Politics

GOP gubernatorial candidate Charles D. Baker refused to take an anti-patronage pledge yesterday even as he wraps himself in his mentor William F. Weld’s reform image and defended the former governor’s use of a “walrus” list of campaign backers in state hiring.

“It’s hard to draw a really bright line in the sand on that because, you know, everybody’s definition of that might be different,” Baker said in an exclusive sit-down with the Herald. “I’d rather have the right person for the right job, and I care more about that than how they got there.”

When asked if he would condemn Weld’s so-called “walrus list,” which was a roster of job candidates prioritized by legislative sponsors, Weld supporters and their relatives, Baker downplayed the practice.

“When I look at my own experience with the Weld administration, we appointed a lot of different people to a lot of different roles,” said Baker, who was Weld’s administration and finance secretary. “I don’t recall (the walrus list) having a particularly significant influence on our ability to put the right person in the right job.”

Weld, whom Baker credits with teaching him “about government and politics,” railed against patronage during his first run for governor in 1990 and promised to rid government of political “walruses,” using the basking tusked sea animal as the symbol of a hack.

But Weld went on to pack state branches with pals and political supporters - so many that those hired referred to themselves as the walrus club. His personnel office tracked job applicants based on political activity and even contributions, a practice of which Weld said he was unaware.

Baker’s stance comes on the heels of Gov. Deval Patrick’s recent patronage scandal, where Patrick offered a $175,000-a-year job to early supporter Sen. Marian Walsh. Public outrage prompted Walsh, a West Roxbury Democrat, to turn down the position, which had been vacant for a dozen years.

The 52-year-old Baker, former CEO of insurance giant Harvard Pilgrim Health Care, said he will require his state employees to be qualified “based on their skill set and experience.”

Baker blasted Patrick for hiring 7,500 employees despite a brutal fiscal free fall and said personnel cuts would be one of his first actions if elected.

“It’s like state government is doing business as usual at (a) time when everybody else is working overtime to figure out how to solve their problems,” said Baker, of Swampscott.

During his Herald interview, Baker also:

• Opposed Patrick’s plan to legalize three resort casinos in Massachusetts, saying the resorts would “cannibalize each other.” Baker said he is open to some sort of expanded gaming, however.

• Defended his $1.6 million salary at Harvard Pilgrim while Bay State residents struggle to make health care payments. He argued he helped maintain competitive pricing by turning around the floundering agency.

• Supported using flagmen instead of police details on road work projects, but said Patrick should have pushed for a lower wage to ensure savings.

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"State House Weekly Roundup: Straight to the face"
By Jim O'Sullivan / State House News Service - wickedlocal.com/swampscott/news - Saturday, August 1, 2009

Boston - For his 53rd birthday on Friday, July 31, 2009, Gov. Deval Patrick got a pie.

Technically, Sen. Steven Baddour, Democrat of Methuen, was on the receiving end of the delicious-looking cream pie from Mann Orchards, when FOX25 “Morning News” co-host V.B. strong-armed the confection right into Baddour’s grill, getting some in the hair, which nonetheless did not budge.

“Baddour got it! Baddour got it!” crowed V.B.

The pieing must have been for the birthday-boy governor a pleasant end to a tough week. It started with his crummy poll numbers (36 percent favorability rating) becoming national news as part of a trend for Democratic chief executives. The week also featured the popularization of the term “Bakercrat,” a term that aptly describes Baddour.

A Bakercrat is defined as a member of a small and largely anonymous division of Patrick’s party that was emboldened this week when Senate President Therese Murray, also a Democrat, noncommittally asserted and then re-asserted her party affiliation Wednesday when asked whether she would back the governor’s re-election. “I think he’s the only Democrat running,” she enthused.

The Bakercrats are fans of Swampscott’s own Charles Baker, the recently departed CEO of Harvard Pilgrim Health Care widely seen as the most substantial threat to Patrick in 2010, when Republican Christy Mihos will also be running and when unenrolled Treasurer Timothy Cahill is also expected to join the fray.

Baker made it official this week, and promptly positioned himself as a no-new-taxes, lower-current-taxes, pro-choice, gay-marriage-lovin’, death-penalty-supportin’, straight-talkin’ campaigner who is not afraid to walk into Capitol Coffee on Bowdoin Street and right over to a couple Democratic incumbent legislators, at least one of whom looked positively mortified that the television cameras outside might catch him on B-roll and identify him as a Bakercrat.

“He asked how my brother who has a full head of hair could actually be my brother,” said Sen. Ben Downing, the Pittsfield Democrat known as “the Benator” and who is bald. Downing said Friday that Baker queried Rep. Daniel Bosley about the timing of the gambling debate. Fall.

Democrats and Mihos (Mihocrats?) countered by framing Baker – “Charlie” on the lawn signs in Methuen and in Plymouth – as a Big Dig bogeyman who while he was in state government deregulated the health care industry, then left state government and made a bunch of money while presiding over a health care company that partook in soaring premiums that have hamstrung business growth, which happens to be a big Baker talking point.

The wonderful thing was that the 2010 campaign wasn’t even close to the dust-up that was snippiest and least productive to the actual governing wing of Beacon Hill. That was the to-the-death cage match between Transportation Secretary James Aloisi, a former Baker colleague, and MBTA General Manager Daniel Grabauskas, a former Baker colleague.

The Patrick administration has made something of a cottage industry of forcing out high-ranking officials they find unsuitable or distasteful – the Wallace-Benjamin/Festa/Petersen/Cohen/Tocco dynamic. Grabauskas would certainly be the largest buck to be bagged. When you boss the T, you have an unimaginably fertile drawer of favors to dispense and Grabauskas is a savvy infighter who after Aloisi turned up the temperature this week deployed his own band of supporters, among them Boston Mayor Thomas Menino, a politician unaccustomed to losing personal political battles in which he chooses to engage.

Still, even if Grabauskas does end up getting (sorry) railroaded, former Gov. Mitt Romney will still hold the title, boasting the heads of both Bill Bulger and Matt Amorello on the wall.

Oh, and there was some actual governing and lawmaking that went on. As an $80 million spending bill trundled along, legislation that tried to undo some gubernatorial vetoes, the Senate president said revenues for July could come in as much as $35 million off the mark and said there would be “even more drastic cuts” if the hard rain keeps falling.

Capitol veterans were befuddled by the Legislature’s circumvention of state budget rules by reversing about $80 million of Patrick’s budget vetoes through a supplementary budget rather than taking individual override votes on spending decisions, the way it’s historically been done.

The notion of adding spending, in any form, as tax collections continued to sag was troubling to Republicans and scattered Democrats. Lined up with the half-funded zoos and quarter-funded legal immigrant health care program were elders’ health insurance, probation and court and jails, and beach preservation.

House leaders gave vague reasons – “flexibility” – for taking this route, then made the appropriations bill available to the rank and file two hours before the debate started, which is how things have been done here for a long time and/but which had been promised to change under the new regime.

The frenzied Wednesday night (July 29) essential completion of the legislative calendar for the summer came on the heels of an odd session the previous day when House leadership, complying with Senate will, had to do some fast triage on their language override of Patrick’s resistance to forcing inmate medication programs into the state pharmacy.

And it was curtains for the Legislature until September, when the docket reemerges littered with casinos, charter schools, maybe some criminal justice issues, and changes to the health care payment structure. All of which will manifest themselves through the increasingly clouded and crystal-clear 2010 prism.

Story of the week

The close of business for the summer, legislatively speaking, was Dems on Dems, GOP on GOP, and prominent transportation official on prominent transportation official.

Comical installment of patrick cabinet looking to get new jobs of the week

The Globe reported Friday that Patrick’s labor and workforce development chief got all uppity with Auditor Joseph DeNucci recently and told him she wanted his job.

DeNucci, who was elected auditor during the Hancock administration after an extended career in the House of Representatives, has steadfastly maintained he’s running in 2010, but the rumors of his departure have continued, tempting other political heavies. Worcester Sheriff Guy Glodis, for one, has ruled out a challenge to DeNucci.

Good News

There’s no such thing as Major League Baseball taking away the 2004 and 2007 World Series wins. Despite the drop-off in economic activity last quarter, the University of Massachusetts found a slowdown in the contraction, pinpointing the state’s pace of business “at or near” its bottoming, which Professor Clyde Barrow said would likely occur before the end of the year. A “growth recession” is still a recession, but employment growth in 2010 would likely be good for a lot of people, among them the governor.

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Malden, Melrose
"Tisei named Baker's campaign chairman"
Boston.com - August 3, 2009
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Richard R. Tisei
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The following is a news release from state Senator Richard R. Tisei, who represents Malden and Melrose:

BOSTON - Senate Minority Leader Richard R. Tisei has been selected to play a key role in Charlie Baker’s upcoming campaign for Governor of Massachusetts.

Baker, who recently stepped down from his post as CEO of Harvard Pilgrim Health Care to enter the 2010 gubernatorial race, has asked Tisei to serve as his campaign chairman. In this capacity, Tisei will be one of the key players responsible for honing Baker’s message to the state’s voters as he seeks to unseat Democrat Deval Patrick.


“I am really pleased to have Richard on my team. He helped Bill Weld get elected and then straighten out the budget and stop new taxes in the early 1990's, and that kind of know-how will help me immensely,” said Baker. “He's a good friend and someone I will look to for sage advice and support.”

Tisei, who previously served as campaign chairman for William Weld’s successful run for the Corner Office in 1990, said he is “honored” to join Baker’s campaign team and is “looking forward to helping the voters become acquainted with Charlie Baker and his message of change.”

“Charlie Baker brings a lot to the table,” said Tisei. “As a former Secretary of Health and Human Services and Administration & Finance, he knows the inner workings of state government and the budget process, and understands just how important the art of compromise is for making progress and getting things done. He also has experience in the private sector, so he is well aware of how the decisions made on Beacon Hill can directly impact taxpayers and businesses.

“Charlie had a proven track record of strong leadership at Harvard Pilgrim, which he helped to turn around and transform into one of the state’s most successful and profitable health care insurers,” Tisei added. “Now he is ready to take on the challenge of governing the Commonwealth during these tough economic times. As governor, Charlie will be ready from day one to hit the ground running and help steer the Commonwealth back on a steady course of economic growth and jobs creation.”

Tisei, 46, was first elected to the Massachusetts House of Representatives in 1984, at the age of 22. He served three terms as a state Representative for the towns of Lynnfield and Wakefield from 1985 to 1991.

Tisei is currently serving his tenth term as state Senator for the Middlesex and Essex District, which is comprised of the cities of Malden and Melrose and the towns of Lynnfield, Reading, Stoneham and Wakefield. He was elected as the Minority Leader of the Massachusetts State Senate in January of 2007.

To learn more about Charlie Baker’s campaign for governor, visit his official campaign website at www.charliebaker2010.com.

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"Charlie Baker's budget"
Boston.com - My Daily Work: Posted by Dan Wasserman, The Boston Globe, August 4, 2009
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Gubernatorial candidate Charles D. Baker Jr. cites his role in rescuing Harvard Pilgrim. (Lane Turner/Globe Staff/File 2005)
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"State aided Baker’s business triumph: Harvard Pilgrim a key credential"
By Megan Woolhouse, Boston Globe Staff, August 5, 2009

Former Attorney General Thomas F. Reilly and Charles D. Baker Jr. were not natural allies.

Reilly, a lifelong Democrat, and Baker, a devout Republican, met in January 2000 as Harvard Pilgrim Health Care teetered on the edge of financial ruin. Baker, the company’s new chief executive, had just told the state of a $58.5 million accounting error that pushed the company’s losses to a dangerous $227 million.

The mistake, which became known as the “January surprise,’’ shook the New England healthcare industry. A collapse of the state’s second-largest health insurer would have left 1.3 million patients scrambling for coverage, and shortchanged hospitals and doctors across Massachusetts and beyond.

Within 24 hours, Reilly successfully petitioned the Supreme Judicial Court to put Harvard Pilgrim into receivership, a dramatic step akin to bankruptcy protection, and one that put the insurer under state control. “We all realized this was bigger than any one of us,’’ Reilly said.

The crisis would test the limits of Baker’s political and business skills, but Harvard Pilgrim survived. Today, the company is slightly smaller than in 2000, but on firm financial footing. It wins top scores for customer satisfaction.

And now Baker, 52, is pointing to his role in rescuing Harvard Pilgrim as a reason voters should elect him governor in 2010. He is also highlighting his 1990s budget-slashing work in the Republican administrations of governors William F. Weld and Paul Cellucci.

“I’m actually the only person in this race who’s actually been part of two successful turnarounds,’’ Baker said last week, after making his candidacy official.

Many in healthcare view him as Harvard Pilgrim’s savior. Yet many see a less heroic story line, noting that Harvard Pilgrim probably would not exist if the state had not created a public-private alliance to save it from bankruptcy.

Philip W. Johnston, secretary of Health and Human Services under former governor Michael Dukakis and current chairman of the Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts Foundation, noted that the action was at odds with Baker’s free-market philosophy, one he espoused in the 1980s as cofounder of the Pioneer Institute, a libertarian-leaning think tank.

Baker “metamorphosed from [a] conservative, Pioneer Institute libertarian to government interventionist in the blink of an eye’’ when the company and his reputation were on the line, Johnston said. “The reality is that Harvard Pilgrim was saved by the government,’’ he added. “There’s great irony in that.’’

Weld hired Baker in 1991 as an undersecretary in the Office of Health and Human Services, but he quickly rose to secretary, becoming the youngest member of Weld’s cabinet. Baker recommended major cuts in welfare and Medicaid programs and closed hospitals.

Judy Meredith, a longtime human services lobbyist, described Baker at the time as “the most charming slash and burn artist that this human resources advocate has ever seen.’’ In a recent interview, she said Baker sent her a thank you note after reading the quote in the newspaper.

“I guess he took the charming part as a compliment,’’ she said.

When Baker stepped into the top job at Harvard Pilgrim in 1999, the company had posted its first ever operating loss, $94 million for 1998. Its chief executive and chief financial officer had resigned under pressure. Baker said at the time that he could turn the company around in 60 days.

Five months into his tenure, Baker discovered the massive accounting error. He called then-Insurance Commissioner Linda Ruthardt, whom he had worked with in the Weld and Cellucci administrations, and asked to meet. Baker was “pale and very, very serious,’’ she recalled, and told her that Harvard Pilgrim faced insolvency because of the $58.5 million mistake.

Harvard Pilgrim went into receivership, with regulators from Ruthardt’s office, lawyers from Reilly’s office, and Baker’s management team working to create a turnaround plan that would ultimately be approved by the Supreme Judicial Court.

Baker had previously closed Harvard Pilgrim operations in Rhode Island, leaving 125,000 subscribers to seek other coverage. Under receivership, he continued to find ways to save money. He laid off 200 of Harvard Pilgrim’s 4,000 employees over a three-year period, and imposed insurance premium increases on customers. He and his staff also renegotiated provider contracts and hired a contractor to handle information technology and claims processing.

Under the turnaround plan presented to the court, Reilly and Ruthardt asked that Harvard Pilgrim be allowed to increase the value of its vast real estate holdings by considering its current market value, not its replacement value. Experts at the time said the change added $70 million to Harvard Pilgrim’s assets.

Harvard Pilgrim had a negative net worth, so the plan called for the insurer to issue surplus notes, or the equivalent of an IOU to bondholders, promising to return their investment plus 9.5 percent interest, to be paid at the insurance commissioner’s discretion. The arrangement also meant that the holder of those surplus notes would be paid back last if the turnaround failed.

A quirk of insurance accounting allowed Harvard Pilgrim to characterize the bonds as equity instead of debt.

So with a couple of deft strokes of the accountant’s pen, Harvard Pilgrim went from being $88 million in the red to $178 million in the black in 2000.

In an interview with the Globe last week, Baker described the state’s role as an “important backstop to the turnaround.’’ But, he added, “They didn’t bail us out; there was no government money in this transaction at all.’’

“The role of [Reilly] and the role of the Division of Insurance provided a sort of comfort to the public that the issue was being managed professionally and competently by a state office,’’ Baker said.

Competitors credit Baker for the way he tackled a problem not of his making. James Roosevelt Jr., chief executive of Tufts Health Plan, said Baker showed “strong leadership.’’ But like Johnston, Roosevelt said it was the “unusual method of debt financing’’ that ultimately saved the day, referring to the revaluing of real estate and loans.

Harvard Pilgrim emerged from receivership after five months, although limited state oversight continued until 2006. During those years, the insurer paid off debt and worked to keep subscribers from defecting with a $500,000 radio ad campaign featuring Baker’s confident presence. By March 2000, the efforts appeared to be working. Harvard Pilgrim had paid more than $388 million of its debts to hospitals and other healthcare providers.

But there were other major setbacks.

Partners HealthCare Inc., the state’s largest healthcare system, demanded increased payments from insurers in exchange for allowing patients access to their network. Partners’ hospitals, including the prestigious Massachusetts General Hospital, had already cut a deal with Blue Cross for higher payments and were pressuring Tufts and Harvard Pilgrim for the same.

Baker objected. He had already raised prices and he feared additional increases would cost the company members. He also criticized what he called “the Partners effect’’ - other providers realized they too could increase their rates, forcing everyone’s healthcare costs to go up.

In an interview last year, Sam Thier, Partners’ former chief executive, recalled meeting with Baker and Reilly at the time. Thier said they painted a bleak picture of Harvard Pilgrim’s finances, calling it their “End of Western Civilization as we know it’’ presentation.

“It was just kind of silly,’’ Thier said.

In the end, Partners won. By June 2001, Harvard Pilgrim agreed to pay steep fee increases. Baker passed on the costs to employers, charging premiums that were 10 to 15 percent higher. By 2002, membership dropped to 751,000 members, a 10-year low.

Baker did not back off of criticism of Partners, testifying at a 2003 Federal Trade Commission hearing that Partners and other healthcare providers’ growing market power had made them “virtual monopolies.’’ And his criticism of Partners continued into last year, when Baker in a series of stories by the Globe’s Spotlight Team blamed dominant providers like Partners for inflating healthcare costs in the state.

Partners’ chairman, Jack Connors, referred to Baker as “a first-class human being’’ and “formidable candidate.’’

“We, on the providers side, have very good relationships with the CEOs of major plans,’’ Connors said in a recent interview. “It doesn’t mean we spend a lot of time hugging and kissing.’’

Yet to this day, tensions between Partners and Harvard Pilgrim appear to persist. At a November Arthritis Foundation of Massachusetts dinner honoring Baker with a lifetime achievement award, Partners executives were noticeably absent from the audience of about 400, even though Connors bought several tables.

One of the missing Partners executives was Baker’s brother, Alex, chief operating officer at Partners Community Healthcare.

Charlie Baker said recently that his brother had a scheduling conflict, and that despite what some might believe, Partners’ absence did not signal a rift.

“I have good relationships with all those people,’’ he said. “I always have.’’
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Megan Woolhouse can be reached at mwoolhouse@globe.com.
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The Boston Globe, Op-Ed, JAMES ALAN FOX
"Baker's half-baked and pricey support for capital punishment"
By James Alan Fox, July 30, 2009

“No new taxes,” pledged gubernatorial hopeful Charlie Baker, a political position likely to resonate with countless Massachusetts voters mired in their own financial crises. In the next breadth, the Republican candidate, regarded by many as a fiscal wizard, declared his support for capital punishment, a posture also guaranteed to appeal to those citizens who yearn for seeing the state’s death penalty restored. Leaving aside the many compelling arguments against capital punishment, reinstating the supreme penalty would be rather difficult without raising taxes.

Notwithstanding my hesitancy to judge justice purely in terms of dollars and cents, there is one absolute truth about capital punishment: it costs a state millions to establish and manage the process. When a prosecutor chooses to seek the death penalty, the state incurs unusually large expenses not so much related to the punishment itself, but associated with the trial and appellate review. For example, an analysis of capital trial costs in Maryland published last year by the Urban Institute estimated the average expense of a successful death penalty prosecution to be about $3 million, triple the lifetime cost of a capital-eligible case in which prosecutors did not ask for death.

The last Massachusetts capital punishment bill that died on Beacon Hill in 2007 called for layer-upon-layer of procedural safeguards in an attempt to make the system “foolproof.” Its strongest backer, then Governor Mitt Romney, called it the "gold standard" for the administering the death penalty. Romney’s words were never more prophetic and true. Apparently, price was no object.

Had Romney been successful on his own campaign pledge to reinstate capital punishment, the Commonwealth’s economic burden would have been considerably higher than Maryland’s. Under the failed Massachusetts proposal, taxpayers would have been obliged to pay for defense counsel chosen from a list of particularly experienced attorneys and given wide latitude in hiring consultants and expert witnesses, for a jury trial lengthier than most, for a sentencing process involving a separate jury to determine if there was "no doubt" with regard to a defendant's guilt, for a review by a group of independent forensic scientists with oversight from a death penalty review commission, and for several rounds of state and federal appeals also with superior legal representation. Each capital prosecution would have been the new MassMillions.

Charlie Baker, given his many years heading up Harvard-Pilgrim, knows a lot about the high cost of heath care and how that can impact the state budget. If he were at all familiar with the capital punishment landscape, he would know that in recent years several states—including New Jersey, New Mexico and New Hampshire—have abandoned or abolished the death penalty precisely because of the exorbitant price tag. Baker would also know that the Massachusetts murder rate ranks 14th from the lowest nationally and is just about half the rate for the United States as a whole.

At least in terms of murder prosecution, the Massachusetts justice system is hardly broken. But if Charlie Baker has his way, the state could go broke trying to fix it.
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James Alan Fox is the Lipman Family Professor of Criminal Justice and Professor of Law, Policy and Society at Northeastern University. He was the 2007 recipient of the Hugo Bedau Award for excellence in death penalty scholarship given by the Massachusetts Citizens Against the Death Penalty.
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"Gubernatorial candidate Baker downplays role in financing of Big Dig"
By Martin Finucane, Boston Globe Staff, August 12, 2009

Republican gubernatorial candidate Charles D. Baker downplayed yesterday his past involvement in the financing of the Big Dig, seeking to distance himself from the costly project as Democrats try to make it an issue in the 2010 campaign.

In a live chat yesterday on the Globe’s website, boston.com, Baker said the project was a “25-year financial headache for all involved, Democrats and Republicans alike.’’

Baker pointed out that he was state secretary for administration and finance for four years, from 1994 to 1998, and that he had already moved on to his job at Harvard Pilgrim Health Care in 2000, when cost overruns on the Big Dig came to light.

“Moreover, [the state Executive Office for Administration and Finance] had no role in directly managing the project. It was managed by the Turnpike Authority, an independent authority,’’ he said.

The project’s most startling cost overruns, a hidden $1.4 billion, were disclosed in 2000, after Baker stepped down as secretary. But the first of the project’s three peak spending years began in 1998, before Baker left, when costs reached $4 million a day. The overall projected price tag had already reached $10.8 billion by the time he left. It would eventually reach $15 billion.

Yesterday, Baker blamed the Massachusetts Turnpike Authority for issuing swaptions, complex credit transactions, in 2002 and 2003, saying it “screwed up their financials.’’

Responding to a Globe report on his role in the turnaround of Harvard Pilgrim, Baker credited state officials with playing “critical roles’’ in helping the company emerge from state receivership and said he was sorry if he ever “implied otherwise.’’

Weighing in again on last week’s forced resignation of Daniel A. Grabauskas as MBTA general manager, Baker said that “canning him was a mistake.’’

“His departure is a loss for the T, the state, and its riders,’’ he said.

Baker insisted that he has no interest in running for higher office than governor. “None,’’ he said. “Nada. Zero. Zip.’’
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Noah Bierman of the Globe staff contributed to this report.
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"Candidates raising cash for 2010 gov.'s race"
By Steve LeBlanc, Associated Press, Sunday, August 16, 2009

BOSTON -- Candidates for next year's governor's race are wasting no time trying to build up their campaign bank accounts.

Harvard Pilgrim Health Care president Charles Baker, who officially filed papers on July 26 to enter the 2010 Massachusetts gubernatorial race as a Republican, has already stockpiled $24,325 -- all of it collected on the final day of the month.

Among the early donors were veteran GOP strategist and Massachusetts Republican National Committee member Ron Kaufman and Republican state Rep. Elizabeth Poirier of North Attleboro.

It's just a drop in the bucket for a campaign that will require many millions before election day. Still, Baker spokesman Andrew Goodrich said the campaign is happy with its first day of fundraising.

"The campaign has an aggressive fundraising plan in place to fight the special interest groups that will do everything in their power to protect the status quo on Beacon Hill," Goodrich said.

Fellow Republican candidate Christy Mihos also began fundraising in July and has raised $60,728 -- including an initial donation to himself of $25,000.

Spokesman Kevin Sowyrda said Mihos plans to ratchet up his fundraising as the campaign heads into the fall.

"We need to raise what it takes to reach the voters in a highly competitive governor's race," he said. "We need as much as we can raise."

Baker and Mihos have to work fast to close the fundraising gap with incumbent Patrick. By the end of July, Patrick had $585,414 in his account -- a total that is likely to soar as the campaign ramps up in earnest.

Although Patrick has said he's not in campaign mode yet, he has been steadily pulling in donations. During a trip to Washington last month to testify before Congress on the federal stimulus program, he managed to squeeze in two fundraisers. Patrick's friendship with President Obama is also seen as a potential fundraising asset.

Adding to Patrick's arsenal is Lt. Gov. Timothy Murray.

During the first three months of the year Tim Murray pulled in more than a quarter of a million dollars, bringing his total campaign war chest to more than $1 million. Since then he's collected nearly another quarter million dollars.

A possible wild card in the race is state Treasurer Timothy Cahill, who is weighing a run for governor as an independent.

Cahill is no fundraising slouch. The former Democrat ended July with $577,745 in his campaign account and another $2.3 million in a savings account for a total war chest of nearly $2.9 million.

Trying to capture the top political office in Massachusetts isn't for the feint of heart -- or shallow of pocket.

Candidates in the 2006 gubernatorial campaign spent a combined total of $42.3 million, according to state campaign records.

Fueling the spending was the presence of several millionaires, including former Republican Lt. Kerry Healey, Democrat Chris Gabrieli and Mihos.

Healey was the top spender, shelling out about $13.2 million on her unsuccessful campaign, with $9.4 million coming out of her own pocket.

Gabrieli set a state record for the most contributed in personal spending -- $9.5 million. Mihos, whose family started the Christy's convenience store chain, came in third in personal spending, pouring $3.7 million of his own money into his failed bid.

Patrick, who boasted of running a "grassroots" campaign with broad support spent $8.9 million, including $348,173 of his own money.

The 2006 total smashed the previous record of $30.6 million set during the 2002 campaign, when former Republican Gov. Mitt Romney pumped $6.3 million of his own money into his winning campaign.
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www.topix.net/forum/source/berkshire-eagle/T5RUGPSNBSI0OPPU0
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"Baker opposes senate appointment power"
By State House News Service, Friday, August 21, 2009, www.bostonherald.com - Local Politics

Republican gubernatorial hopeful Charlie Baker checked in last night on a topic that dominated the news all day – Sen. Edward Kennedy’s request that the Legislature pass a special law allowing a temporary gubernatorial appointee to be named to the Senate in the five or six months preceding a special election.

Baker, in a statement released to the News Service, said he opposed changes to 2004 law establishing the special election process and removing the governor’s appointment power.

"I believe Legislature made the right decision in taking the power away to choose a United States Senator from the Governor five years ago. While I respect Senator Kennedy’s longstanding service, the voters have the right to choose their elected officials, regardless of the circumstances," Baker said in his statement.

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"GOP's Baker raises over $400,000 for Mass governor"
Boston.com - October 5, 2009

BOSTON --Republican Charles Baker says he's already a winner in the 2010 gubernatorial fundraising race.

The former Harvard Pilgrim Health Care chief says he raised $404,00 during September, exceeding the top monthly amount of any other candidate for governor this year.

All told, Baker has raised $543,000 during its first 60 days of his campaign and has over $461,000 in cash in the bank.

Baker may not hold the distinction for long.

President Barack Obama is coming to Boston later this month to raise money for Gov. Deval Patrick.

The take could easily exceed what Baker raised last month.

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"GOP’s Charles Baker says he’s raised $500K governor race"
By Associated Press, November 2, 2009, www.bostonherald.com - Local Politics

BOSTON — Republican Charles Baker says he’s raised another $500,000 for his gubernatorial campaign.

The former Harvard Pilgrim Health Care chief said in a statement Monday the money he raised in October appears to be a record for any gubernatorial candidate in a non-election year.

The Baker campaign has now raised more than $1 million in less than 100 days. It claims more than 3,500 individual donors.

Convenience store owner Christy Mihos is challenging Baker for the GOP nomination.

Gov. Deval Patrick is alone among Democrats as he seeks re-election, while Treasurer Timothy Cahill is challenging him as an independent.

Patrick had a big-ticket fundraiser last month with President Barack Obama that should boost his fundraising total.

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Republican Massachusetts gubernatorial candidate Charles Baker, left, and state Sen. Richard Tisei, right, face reporters outside the civic center in Wakefield this morning (Monday, November 23, 2009). (Photo by AP).
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"Candidate Baker got $516,123 last month"
By Matt Viser, Boston Globe Staff, December 2, 2009

Republican gubernatorial candidate Charles D. Baker raised more than $500,000 last month, his campaign said yesterday, yet another strong fund-raising haul in his bid to unseat Governor Deval Patrick, a Democrat.

Baker’s campaign raised $516,123 during the month, significantly more than any other candidate. Baker, a former health care executive, has raised more than $1.5 million this year from more than 5,000 donors.

The announcement was made about a week after Baker announced his running mate, Senate minority leader Richard R. Tisei of Wakefield.

“Voters are responding to our campaign for one reason: Charlie Baker is the only candidate who will stand up for taxpayers and put our fiscal house in order starting on Day One, and he has the record to prove it,’’ campaign manager Lenny Alcivar said in a statement. “Our strong fund-raising this year means the Baker-Tisei team will have the resources we need to win on Election Day and start a turnaround in Massachusetts.’’

Baker significantly outraised his GOP primary opponent, convenience store magnate Christy Mihos, who deposited $55,935 during November, according to state campaign finance records; more than $20,000 of that was his own money.

State Treasurer Timothy P. Cahill, who is running as an independent, had raised $23,040 by Nov. 15, according to campaign finance reports. He still has by far the most money in the bank overall, about $3 million.

Patrick raised about $138,000 during November and about $1 million so far this year, according to his campaign.
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Matt Viser can be reached at maviser@globe.com.
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POLITICAL CIRCUIT
"Baker team warming to Mihos match"
By FRANK PHILLIPS, Boston Globe Staff, December 20, 2009

Initially, the thought of having to face Christy Mihos in next year’s Republican gubernatorial primary produced some teeth-gnashing in Charles D. Baker’s camp.

But the thinking among Baker advisers has shifted: They now believe that having Mihos in the race could be a good thing, in part because a primary fight would give Baker a good tuneup for the general election next fall.

They say they have no plans to try to keep Mihos off the primary ballot.

Whether that’s a smart move remains to be seen.

Though Baker is the favored candidate of the Republican establishment, Mihos has millions of dollars at his disposal to spend on a campaign. When he ran as an independent in 2006, he used $4 million of his own funds, though he captured 6 percent of the vote.

Mihos also has a certain populist, antigovernment appeal that could play well against the Ivy League-educated Baker among some GOP primary voters.

“Anybody who underestimates Christy’s political prowess does so at their own peril,’’ said Kevin Sowyrda, who was Mihos’s communications director until last month.

His campaign team, including well-known Republican consultant Dick Morris, has been trying to get Mihos to pour as much as $15 million into this race, starting immediately. But Mihos has yet to pull the trigger.
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www.boston.com/news/local/massachusetts/articles/2009/12/20/baker_team_warming_to_mihos_match/?comments=all
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"Baker’s funding shatters records: Patrick foe raises $2.3m in months"
By Frank Phillips, Boston Globe Staff, January 6, 2010

In one of the most aggressive political fund-raising pushes in recent memory, Republican gubernatorial hopeful Charles D. Baker has amassed a $1.85 million war chest over roughly five months of campaigning, tapping into a broad range of supporters and establishing himself as a major threat to Governor Deval Patrick’s reelection bid.

Baker doubled, in less than half the time, what Patrick raised for the entirety of 2009, despite a fund-raising visit by President Obama this past fall for the Democratic governor. Baker’s coffers currently hold almost three times the amount in Patrick’s campaign account.

The Republican has also raised 3 1/2 times the amount that state Treasurer Timothy P. Cahill, an independent rival in the governor’s race, collected last year. Baker’s rival for the Republican nomination, Christy Mihos, lags far behind, relying mostly on personal wealth.

Baker’s fund-raising haul, which has broken records for a nonincumbent candidate who is not yet a party nominee, provides another jolt for Democrats already discouraged over Patrick’s underwhelming poll numbers and comparatively slow pace of fund-raising.

“This is the political fund-raising version of shock and awe,’’ said Warren Tolman, a Democrat and former state senator who ran for governor in 2002. “Baker has cast a pretty wide net.’’

Campaign finance records show that Baker has collected $2.3 million since late summer, when he assembled a team of Republican fund-raisers and set up events almost nightly from Labor Day into late December. In addition, his running mate, Richard Tisei, the Senate minority leader, who joined the ticket in late November, raised $313,000.

Last month, typically the toughest of the year to collect political donations, Baker reported raising a whopping $726,000, ending the year with a donor base of 7,449 people. Raising money every year is key for candidates in Massachusetts, because the annual contribution limit for individuals is $500.

The fund-raising success has allowed the campaign to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars already to position itself for this election year.

Baker’s feat exceeds the expectations his aides had when the former CEO of Harvard Pilgrim Health Care decided to jump into the 2010 governor’s race.

“He blew away the fund-raising benchmarks we set for the campaign,’’ said Rob Gray, Baker’s chief strategist, adding that he had hoped Baker could raise $1.6 million by the end of 2009.

Baker also helped raise about $500,000 for the state Republican Party, which has $271,000 in its state account.

Patrick, a reluctant fund-raiser who has shunned the traditional path of building a huge account to finance a reelection, raised $1.3 million in 2009 and just $685,000 in 2008. He has $667,000 in his campaign account.

Patrick will be able to draw on the state Democratic Party, which had $581,150 at the end of 2009, and on the funds his lieutenant governor, Tim Murray, has in his campaign account; Murray currently has $1 million.

“We are not worried that we will not have the necessary resources,’’ said Steve Crawford, a spokesman for Patrick’s political committee.

Crawford said the reason for the committee’s low bank account balance is that it has spent money to reignite Patrick’s statewide campaign organization.

“We invested a lot in building our grass roots, both on the ground and on the Internet,’’ Crawford said.

If state political history is any guide, Cahill, who left the Democratic Party last summer, will also have to step up fund-raising to be competitive. Since 1998, no candidate who spent less than $10 million has won a campaign for governor. In 2006, Patrick, with the financial help of the Democratic Party and unions, spent $19 million to become the first Democrat in 16 years to win. His Republican opponent, Kerry Healey, spent $16.5 million.

Cahill, treasurer for seven years, has used the leverage of his office to build a $3.24 million political account. But he has raised only $650,000 over the past year.

In a potentially ominous sign for Patrick, Baker has raised some of his funds from traditional Democratic donors, including previous Patrick supporters.

Edward M. Murphy, an economic development aide in the Dukakis administration and current CEO of Mentor Network, broke from his strong history of Democratic financial backing and donated $1,000 to the Baker-Tisei ticket. In 2006, he had donated $5,000 to the state Democratic Party, and $500 to Patrick’s candidacy.

Baker’s health care background has also prompted some in the industry to break from their partisan roots.

Norman Stein, an administrator at Boston Medical Center, has a long history of donating to Democrats, and gave Patrick $500 four years ago. But this time around he donated $500 to Baker (a gift mistakenly listed under the name of his wife, Mindy Lubber, a former press secretary for Michael Dukakis, because they share a checking account). Lubber said her husband, who has disagreements with Patrick over his policies, has known Baker professionally.

Paul Levy, the CEO of Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, has also given to a long list of political figures on Beacon Hill since 2002, and none of them - until this past fall - were Republicans. He has contributed $1,000 to the Baker-Tisei ticket.

Republican analyst Todd Domke said Baker’s success lies with his ability to draw on his large professional network and his apparent willingness to press donors for cash.

“You have to give him the credit for doing the hard work,’’ Domke said. “Most candidates are reluctant to do that.’’

An earlier version of this story had an incorrect balance for Patrick's campaign account. The story has been corrected to note the governor currently has about $667,000 in the account.
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Video:
www.boston.com/news/local/massachusetts/articles/2010/01/06/bakers_funding_shatters_records/
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Readers' Comments:
www.boston.com/news/local/massachusetts/articles/2010/01/06/bakers_funding_shatters_records/?comments=all
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(David L. Ryan/ Globe Staff/ File)
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JOAN VENNOCHI: "Round One goes to Baker and his big bucks"
By Joan Vennochi, Boston Globe Columnist, January 10, 2010

DEVAL PATRICK, asterisk.

The Bay State’s first black governor, and the first Democrat to win the corner office in 16 years, is at risk of turning into a blip in Massachusetts political history - a one-term governor whose legacy becomes the zeal to replace him with a Republican.

In the early voting - money - Republican Charlie Baker is winning.

Baker raised $1.85 million over five months of campaigning, giving him three times more cash on hand than Patrick. That’s a fairly serious wake-up call for an incumbent Democrat who is best friends with a president.

Some of Baker’s money is coming from traditional Democratic donors, including previous Patrick supporters.

Baker’s big bucks mean one thing to Lawrence DiCara, a longtime Democrat. “He’s for real, which I knew anyway,’’ said DiCara, who remains a Patrick supporter.

Still, it’s only Round One. It’s a winning one for Baker, the former CEO of Harvard Pilgrim Health Care, but there’s a long way to go before a knock-out. One question, said Democrat Scott Harshbarger, a former attorney general and gubernatorial candidate, is whether this is “one-shot money’’ - contributions from people who know Baker, like him and owe him what Harshbarger labels “the chits of good will’’ - or something deeper and more dangerous for Patrick.

Baker was “able to translate his reputation and record into a significant fundraising event. If the next round demonstrates significant political strength . . . don’t kid yourself, this is going to be a major fight,’’ Harshbarger said.

Rob Gray, Baker’s chief strategist, predicts the money flow to the Republican’s campaign is “eminently sustainable.’’ He attributes the fundraising success to “a combination of people knowing Charlie as a government leader and a business leader and believing in his ability . . . plus a dissatisfaction with the way Deval Patrick has managed, or really not managed effectively, the state budget.’’

The landscape is tough for Democrats nationwide, from the president to members of Congress to governors. Voters are angry over fallout from the poor economy and unhappy over some policies, such as healthcare reform.

In Massachusetts, disappointment over Patrick’s tenure is translating into a real sense of political vulnerability. He was elected with expectations so high they would be difficult to meet under the best circumstances. A poor economy, plus Patrick’s own missteps, worsened the gap between promise and reality.

“When you cut programs, you lose people along the way,’’ said Steve Crawford, a spokesman for Patrick’s political committee.

But it’s more personal than that. Patrick should not underestimate the sense of betrayal some of his original backers feel, nor the lack of fear they have about giving money to a challenger. Being unafraid of repercussions may say something good about Patrick as a person, but it lessens his control as a politician. Boston Mayor Thomas Menino could tell him that.

Much of the conventional wisdom about Patrick’s chances for reelection focus on the presence of a third-party candidate in the race, state Treasurer Timothy Cahill. As long as Patrick holds onto his base, he will prevail, the general thinking goes. But counting on Cahill is risky, because even some who make up Patrick’s liberal base are disappointed in his performance and agenda.

The governor is doing more to drive a positive message about his accomplishments - pension, ethics and transportation reform. He is also working to finalize education reform legislation. With revenue up, he was able to restore money to a program that aids poor families. He can also try to contrast his administration to a Legislature that is ever ripe for scandal and generally unpopular with voters.

But whether he can recapture anything close to the enthusiasm that drove the original Patrick movement is an open question.

“Deval may win despite himself,’’ DiCara said. “. . . He has to hope the economy does better and tax revenues improve. He also has to hope Cahill beats up Baker.’’

By itself, money doesn’t guarantee success. In the last gubernatorial campaign, Patrick wasn’t the candidate with the most money. He was the candidate with the most true believers.

To beat Baker, he needs them to believe in him again.
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Joan Vennochi can be reached at vennochi@globe.com.
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www.boston.com/bostonglobe/editorial_opinion/oped/articles/2010/01/10/round_one_goes_to_baker_and_his_big_bucks/?comments=all#readerComm
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Charlie Baker, right, speaks with Don Rochelo, president of Apex. Baker is a Republican running for governor of Massachusetts. (Caroline Bonnivier Snyder / Berkshire Eagle Staff)
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"GOP’s Baker campaigning for governor"
By Benning W. De La Mater, The Berkshire Eagle, 1/23/2010

Charles D. Baker understands why people are frustrated with government.

While families have had to cut back amid rising unemployment rates and a slumping economy, politicians continue to spend taxpayer money and add to the mind-boggling deficit that will take generations to pay off.

This, he said, is why he’s running for governor.

Baker, 53, a Republican from Swampscott, visited Pittsfield Friday as part of his statewide campaign leading up to the November election.

"The message that our politicians are sending is that state government doesn’t have to play by the same rules," he said. "It feels like there’s two sets of rules. Families and towns have been asked to scale back, but state government isn’t tightening the belt like everyone else."

Baker said under Gov. Deval Patrick’s administration, the state has gone from having a nearly $1 billion surplus to a $3 billion deficit.

"I don’t blame (Patrick) for all of it," he said. "But I know that we’ve raised taxes and cut local aid. We haven’t consolidated government at all."

Baker toured Apex Resource Technologies, Inc., in Pittsfield, where owners Don and Donna Rochelo and their 70 employees have been producing high-end plastic products for 28 years.

Inside their Downing Industrial Park location, they specialize in medical devices -- implantables including plastic screws for broken bones, plastic vertebrae and sutures. But they also make items like memory card holders and sound-deafening devices for submarines.

Rochelo said business is good. They hired seven employees last year ($400,000 worth of salaries), but they all had to be recruited from outside the area.

"So I’d like to see if government and education can be more connected for a common goal," Rochelo told Baker. "We have an aging work force, so we need to train younger workers. We know we can grow them, but we end up recruiting from outside the area. We need work force training."

Baker has been touring small manufacturing sites like Apex across the state. He believes government needs to do more to nurture a positive climate for these types of businesses.

"Small manufacturing businesses don’t get treated with the attention they deserve," he said. "They have the potential to grow all the time, and they’re all making unique products. We need to try and figure out how to build on this."

Baker said he would like to see government focus on regional approaches.

"Every part of this state is different; everyone has different strengths," he said. "Don said there’s something like 25 companies in this area that deal with plastics. Why isn’t there an attempt to get them working together?"

Baker is one of three candidates, so far, that has entered the race to unseat Patrick.

The former president of Harvard Pilgrim Health Care, Baker held several top administration positions for Govs. Bill Weld and Paul Cellucci, including secretary of human services and secretary of administration and finance.

He was raised in Needham, graduated from Harvard College, where he played basketball and majored in English, and later earned an MBA from Northwestern University. He and his wife Lauren have three children.

The Boston Globe recently reported that Baker has outpaced his opponents -- Patrick, state Treasurer Timothy P. Cahill, and Christy Mihos -- in fundraising efforts.

He was supportive of Scott Brown’s successful campaign for the U.S. Senate seat, but urged state Republicans to push on.

"The big lesson from Brown’s campaign is that you must earn every vote and listen to what people are concerned about," he said.

He said his platform is based on keeping families in the state and easing their financial burden.

"Add jobs, cut spending, keep taxes level, consolidate government," he said. "The thing we can do to encourage growth is to grow the businesses we already have."

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"Baker formally announces campaign for governor"
Boston.com - January 30, 2010
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Mutual appreciation -- Charlie Baker and his running mate, Richard Tisei, applaud as the crowd cheers them at Faneuil Hall. (John Tlumacki/Boston Globe Staff).
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Republican Charles Baker was in the mood for fun yesterday as he pretended to play air guitar during a rally at Faneuil Hall to officially announce his candidacy for governor. (John Tlumacki/Globe Staff)
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"Baker vows to make state more friendly to business: Rally kicks off Republican’s run for governor"
By Carolyn Y. Johnson, Boston Globe Staff, January 31, 2010

A cheering crowd waved flags and signs in Boston’s historic Faneuil Hall yesterday morning as Republican Charles D. Baker Jr. kicked off his campaign for governor, saying he would cut taxes and spending, and work on job creation by making it easier to do business in the state.

In a speech that wove personal anecdotes with policy positions, Baker said that he wanted to stop businesses - and people -from moving away from the state by increasing opportunities.

“If we really want people to invest in Massachusetts, we have to send the signal that state government will be a reliable, predictable, and dependable business partner,’’ said Baker. He stressed that by keeping businesses and jobs growing in the state, more people will decide to live here, too, instead of being pulled away by the “siren song’’ of other parts of the country. He added that he hoped his three children would eventually settle in Massachusetts, instead of a plane ride away.

A week and a half after US Senator-elect Scott Brown captured national attention with his upset victory in the Senate race, Baker and his running mate, state Senate minority leader Richard Tisei, also sought to feed off that momentum to bring change to Beacon Hill.

“I’m the guy Scott Brown voted with 96 percent of the time,’’ Tisei said.

The campaign kickoff drew loyal Republicans, but also unaffiliated voters, and some who said that in recent elections they had voted for Democrats - including President Obama, Governor Deval Patrick, and Martha Coakley.

“It’s an interesting time for this state. We just had an election with a senator who was not supposed to win,’’ said Bryan Nguyen, 32, of Quincy, a registered Democrat who said he voted for Scott Brown and came out to hear what Baker had to say. “I think controlling spending costs and creating jobs for people - I think that should be on people’s minds.’’

In his speech, Baker focused on the need to cut taxes and spending, as well as to balance the budget. He also said that making the state more welcoming to business was a critical step to creating more jobs. He talked about the need to make tax policies for small businesses more predictable, and told anecdotes about time-consuming government audits of sales taxes faced by struggling manufacturers.

When he sees Red Sox road games where Sox fans outnumber the home team, Baker said, what he sees is people who left the state for better opportunities.

“We’re not holding on to the next generation of people,’’ Baker said.

Nearly all the 800 seats in Faneuil Hall were filled with people who braved temperatures barely out of the single digits. Some said they came just to hear what he had to say, while others were already making plans to volunteer for the campaign.

“For the last 3 1/2 years, there’s been nothing but dead wood, everything has been stagnant,’’ said Peter J. Solomon of Wakefield, who said that he would contribute financially and emotionally to the campaign. “The budget is the most pressing issue.’’

Ravi Vaithinathan, 38, who works in the financial services industry, said he thought that in the same way that frustration with the Republicans helped Democrats when Obama was elected, frustration with the dominant party would help Republicans in November.

“I hope he [Governor Deval Patrick] gets the fact we’re all angry,’’ Vaithinathan said.

While many in the crowd expressed hope that Brown’s momentum could help push Baker to victory, the differences between the candidates were also a selling point to some. While Baker and Brown both have an antitax platform, Baker is more socially liberal.

Matt Skinner, a 26-year-old sales manager from Leominster, said he liked Baker’s platform in part because of his more liberal views on issues such as abortion and gay rights. Skinner said that he voted for Coakley in the Senate race, but was excited about Baker.

“I agree with a lot of his platform,’’ Skinner said. “This is probably the first candidate I’ve gotten behind this early in the race.’’
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Carolyn Y. Johnson can be reached at cjohnson@globe.com.
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Charles D. Baker Jr. spoke to an audience member after a speech yesterday at Suffolk University. Baker gave the first of four speeches this winter and spring by candidates for the office. (Wendy Maeda/Globe Staff)
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"Baker says governor’s seat is his sole intent: Says office not a political waypoint"
By Stephanie Ebbert, Boston Globe Staff, February 5, 2010

If elected governor in November, Republican Charles D. Baker Jr. says he will serve for as long as voters let him.

“I have no interest in serving in Washington,’’ Baker said, adding, in an allusion to the aspirations of the past several governors: “I don’t want to be an ambassador. I don’t want to write a book and I’m not doing this because it’s the next step on my political ladder.

“I’m doing this,’’ he said, “because I am worried about the future of the Commonwealth, and I think I have a lot to bring to it.’’

Baker’s speech at the Rappaport Center for Law and Public Service at Suffolk University Law School was the first of four addresses scheduled by the candidates for governor. Treasurer Timothy P. Cahill, who is running as an independent, is scheduled to speak March 22, followed by Republican Christy Mihos April 7, and Governor Deval Patrick, the incumbent Democrat, May 24.

Echoing some of the themes raised by Mitt Romney, a Republican who was elected governor in 2002 and soon launched a candidacy for president, Baker cast himself as a cerebral, clear-eyed reformer who would streamline regulations and condense government agencies to make the state more welcoming to businesses and young people.

“I have 30 years of experience fixing things that were broken,’’ said Baker, who was brought in to stabilize the financially troubled Harvard Pilgrim Health Care in 1999.

Baker blamed the state’s current budget problems not just on the national economic crisis but on the state’s Democratic leadership. After 16 years of Republican governance - and strong surpluses and rainy day funds - the state began depleting its savings even before the recession made the fiscal situation desperate, he charged.

“When we got into trouble, did we reform state government? Did we restructure the operating model? No,’’ Baker said. “What we did was we raised taxes and we hit higher education and we hit the cities and towns. That is exactly what we continue to do as we move forward.’’

But his lauding of Republican governors’ stewardship prompted a question about why Baker, who during the 1990s was an undersecretary of health and human services to Governor William F. Weld and administration and finance secretary for both Weld and Governor Paul Cellucci, did not streamline government during their tenure.

“State government’s kind of like whack-a-mole,’’ he said. “You can get the ones you can get at.’’

Asked to contrast his approach to streamlining government with that of Romney, Baker pointed to his experience as a Swampscott selectman and a government official and to his staying power in the job.

“I have more life experience in this space than most other folks who end up in this job, and I am well aware of the nature of the grind coming in the door,’’ he said. “The history on this is, most of the time the bureaucracy just kind of waits for you to lose focus. Not going to happen.’’

A recognized policy wonk, Baker offered a somewhat apologetic tutorial on energy pricing and talked at length about regulatory overhaul, duplicative bureaucracy, and the esprit de corps he experienced at a once-foundering health plan.

His often cerebral discussion was tempered by an informal demeanor in the casual roundtable discussion. He joked that he is the product of a “mixed marriage’’ - his mother is a Democrat, his father a Republican - and that their kitchen-table debates convinced him early on that “checks and balances are a good thing.’’

Raised in Needham, Baker said he stayed for college in the Boston area, without mentioning that meant Harvard. His biggest accomplishment at graduate school at Northwestern in Illinois was getting his Midwestern-born wife to move east and marry him, he said. As he tried to remember the fiscal year of one particularly nettlesome budget, he hesitated for a moment, put his pen between his teeth and bit down like a dog with a bone.

Though he played the intellectual on economic issues, Baker ducked a question about whether he agrees with the “scientific majority that climate change is caused by human activities.’’

“I don’t think whether I believe that or not matters in this conversation,’’ Baker said. “What I do believe is that our overreliance on foreign oil is a big problem for national security and the economy. People can fight that fight all day long. I can get eight professors from MIT on both sides of this issue and no one in this room will walk away understanding what they said about climate change.’’
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A BOSTON GLOBE EDITORIAL
"Cahill and Baker owe voters specific plans for budget cuts"
February 21, 2010

AS THE state faces a budget gap of $2 billion, it’s reasonable for challengers Tim Cahill and Charlie Baker to criticize Governor Patrick’s handling of the budget - and to promise deeper cuts in state spending. But neither Baker nor Cahill has fully explained how to achieve those cuts. The fact is, neither challenger is leveling with voters about the difficulty of bringing costs down.

Cahill, a former Democrat now running as an independent, is standing on principle, to a degree, by promising cuts in education, health care, and local aid. Yet he undercuts his own credibility by suggesting that more details must wait until he is elected. “I don’t have enough insight into the budget,’’ he told the Globe, “especially particular areas where money is being wasted, until I get in there.’’ Deep into his second term as state treasurer, Cahill should have more to say on the subject, and voters deserve to hear it.

Baker at least sounds more forthcoming. A health insurance executive seeking the Republican nomination, he has vowed to cut 10 percent of the executive branch’s 50,000 workers. But this is just a number, absent far more specifics about which agencies might be targeted. Some of his other ideas, such as getting CVS and Walgreens to take over various functions of the Registry of Motor Vehicles, would involve significant transition costs. Baker should know all this; as a former secretary of administration and finance, he understands the state budget process in gory detail.

Patrick, too, has been known to make his own airy promises of fiscal austerity. In his 2006 campaign for governor, he promised big cuts in waste, fraud, and abuse. Once in office, he damaged his own cause with the bungled hire of a political ally and through a proliferation of administrative positions in the state’s transportation agencies. Yet Patrick also fought for and signed major transportation and pension bills, which will cut expenses significantly over time.

To their credit, both Baker and Patrick have introduced solid new plans to build on last year’s pension reforms, but neither would save much money right away. Indeed, these plans speak to the fundamental dilemma in state budgeting: While long-term structural reforms generate major savings, the savings only add up over decades. Meanwhile, it’s politically difficult to close a yawning budget gap simply by slashing programs. Paradoxically, the functions of state government that are easiest to cut - human services and education - are among the most vital.

If candidates for governor can identify specific instances of bloat that can be abolished right now, they should do so. The state would be far better off for it. And if they want voters to commit to sacrifices even in valuable services, that’s a legitimate, if painful, approach in lean times. But nobody benefits when candidates purport to balance a budget by conjuring unspecified cuts out of thin air.

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"Charlie Baker"
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Posted by Dan Wasserman February 18, 2010
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THE GOVERNOR’S RACE - FACT CHECK
"Filings show Baker compensation in line with peers"
By Brian C. Mooney, Boston Globe Staff, March 17, 2010

The claim
Lieutenant Governor Timothy Murray, the attack dog in Governor Deval Patrick’s reelection campaign, seized this week on the private sector compensation of Charles D. Baker Jr., Patrick’s leading GOP challenger. Murray, in an interview with the Boston Herald, accused Baker of “jacking his own pay’’ as chief executive of Harvard Pilgrim Health Care at a time of soaring premiums in health insurance and health care costs.

The facts
Baker’s compensation package as chief of the state’s second-largest health insurer was not out of line with those at the other not-for-profit insurers in Massachusetts, a review of the companies’ filings shows.

Baker was paid less than his counterpart at Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Massachusetts, the largest insurer, and more than those at Tufts Health Plan and Fallon Community Health Plan.

In 2008, his last full year at Harvard Pilgrim, Baker’s compensation totaled $1.7 million. Until his resignation last July, he received $1.3 million in 2009. The figure for last year includes a bonus of $692,071, which he earned for the company’s performance the prior year, according to the insurer. If he had stayed at Harvard Pilgrim for the entire year, his compensation package would have been roughly the same as in 2008, but with a higher salary and lower bonus.

In 2009, Blue Cross-Blue Shield chief executive Cleve L. Killingsworth was paid $1.98 million, down from $3.67 million in 2008, because of sharply reduced bonuses to senior executives at Blue Cross. Killingsworth’s 2009 package consisted of a $1.04 million salary, $849,680 bonus, and $90,390 in other compensation. In 2008, his bonus was $2.5 million. Killingsworth resigned from Blue Cross this week.

At Tufts Health Plan, chief executive James Roosevelt was paid $1.15 million in 2009, up about $90,000 from the prior year. His 2009 package included a salary of $526,857 and a bonus of $623,526.

Fallon chief Eric H. Schultz received $787,033 last year, up from $714,280 in 2008. Schultz’s package included a $450,000 salary, a $200,000 bonus, and $137,033 in other compensation.

The analysis
With health care shaping up to be a dominant political issue this year, the attacks on Baker’s salary and record by Patrick and Murray signal the Democrats’ intention to try to transform Baker’s major credential into a liability. Patrick’s campaign clearly believes it can sully Baker’s brand by linking him and his tenure at Harvard Pilgrim to the high cost of health care. Baker counters that his corporate experience uniquely qualifies him to fix what’s wrong with the universal health care plan.
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A BOSTON GLOBE EDITORIAL
"Baker deserves support on plan to help cities cut health costs"
April 3, 2010

REPUBLICAN GUBERNATORIAL hopeful Charlie Baker should get credit for proposing that cities and towns be given the power to make relatively minor changes in union-negotiated health plans in order to save millions of dollars for taxpayers. The burden on workers is fairly small, while the benefit to local finances is great. Baker’s likely rivals, Governor Deval Patrick and Treasurer Tim Cahill, have insisted that unions should retain the right to veto such a move. Baker’s plan provides the greater good.

State law now lets municipalities join the Group Insurance Commission, the agency that provides health insurance plans for state workers, but fewer than 20 of 351 communities have done so. That’s the case even though the GIC has a proven record of keeping its premium increases significantly below those of local health plans. One big reason is that many unions have been unwilling to go along. Not without savings-negating concessions, anyway.

In the face of that reality, Baker and running-mate Richard Tisei have proposed two changes. First, they would grant local governments the ability to join the GIC without union approval. But because that wouldn’t work for every city or town, the Republican duo would also give local officials the same authority the state has to set, rather than bargain, plan features like co-payments and deductibles, with the proviso that their plans be consistent with GIC offerings.

The GIC offers plans that are usually better and less costly to those covered than the plans private workers have, so municipal employees would still be getting a good deal. Many cities and towns, however, would accrue the cost benefits that come from joining a large pool of insured workers, with the clout to negotiate lower rates. The Republican team says their proposal would save about $100 million a year, an estimate Michael Widmer, president of the Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation, calls “very reasonable.’’

If the Legislature declined to adopt those changes, Baker would work to put them on the 2012 ballot as an initiative petition, thereby giving voters an opportunity to decide the issue.

This proposal clearly won’t endear Baker to organized labor. But it’s just as clear that the current approach hasn’t worked. Nor is there much reason to think that merely tweaking the union veto — Patrick’s preferred approach — would yield much better results.

With the cost of health plans eating up larger and larger shares of municipal budgets, local officials need the ability to pare those expenses if they are to avoid more layoffs or service cuts. Baker’s proposal is an idea whose time has come.
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"Baker romps, Mihos is out: Candidate wins 89% of vote and avoids a primary fight"
By Frank Phillips and Michael Levenson, Boston Globe Staff, April 18, 2010

WORCESTER — Massachusetts Republicans gave an overwhelming endorsement to gubernatorial candidate Charles D. Baker at their state convention yesterday, giving him a massive margin that forces GOP rival Christy Mihos out of the race and frees him from what could have been a bitterly divisive primary battle.

In an impressive display of support among party leaders and activists, Baker won 89 percent of the delegate votes, while Mihos got 11 percent, falling well short of the 15 percent threshold needed to qualify for the September primary ballot. GOP leaders said Baker’s margin was the biggest in recent convention history.

Baker, who has been the party establishment’s favored candidate to retake the governor’s of fice, claimed victory late in the afternoon surrounded by his parents, wife, and children, as red, white, and blue confetti and balloons rained on the crowd inside the DCU Center.

“We have a job to do and that job starts today,’’ Baker told cheering delegates. “It’s time to take our state back from the Beacon Hill insiders, the status quo-ers and nonreformers, and give the people of Massachusetts the government they deserve — affordable, accountable, and responsive.’’

With the convention endorsement and the collapse of Mihos’s candidacy, Baker has cleared a major hurdle and is now free to focus on the general election race against Governor Deval Patrick and state Treasurer Timothy P. Cahill, a former Democrat running as an independent.

Baker, a 53-year-old former health insurance executive and Cabinet official in the Weld and Cellucci administrations, said his campaign themes of “jobs, taxes, and spending’’ appealed to the Republican delegates, and he predicted they will fuel a GOP victory in November.

“It’s a message that clearly resonated with the crowd,’’ Baker told reporters after the vote, as his aides boasted of their huge “wipeout’’ of Mihos.

The battle over the gubernatorial endorsement capped a day that Republicans believe will launch a strong push toward November by statewide and legislative candidates, one they hope ends with the party regaining influence on Beacon Hill after years of decline. The GOP leadership is looking to capitalize on the voter unrest and anger that helped propel Scott Brown to victory in January’s Senate race.

The convention endorsed Mary Z. Connaughton, an accountant and former Turnpike Authority board member, for state auditor, with 85 percent of the vote. But her rival, Kamal Jain, a candidate inspired by Ron Paul, the libertarian conservative, slipped through to the primary by one vote on a recount, party officials said. State Representative Karyn Polito of Shrewsbury was endorsed as the only candidate for treasurer, and William C. Campbell, Woburn’s city clerk, got the nod as the only candidate for secretary of state.

The battle between Baker and Mihos ended weeks of speculation over whether Mihos’s candidacy could survive the convention. While Baker advisers had downplayed any efforts to block Mihos from the primary ballot, their strategy yesterday was clearly aimed at driving a wedge between the Cape Cod convenience store executive and the delegates.

Mihos, who bolted the party in 2006 to run for governor as an independent, immediately threw his support to Baker. He attributed his resounding loss to his refusal to be part of the GOP establishment. Baker and his aides played heavily on Mihos’s defection four years ago, which many Republicans feel undercut the party’s candidates.

“I stepped on a lot of toes,’’ Mihos told reporters after the vote, saying he would not run for office again.

In his convention speech, Baker, who spent 10 years as chief executive of Harvard Pilgrim Health Care, never once mentioned his experience leading the company, which Democrats have blasted for regularly increasing premiums on businesses and families. Instead, he sought to play up jobs in his youth, saying he had once been a bouncer at a Harvard Square bar and had “worked my way through school on a loading dock at a welding supply and bottled gas company.’’

Baker went on to assert that he had the experience to bring fiscal stability to state government, while painting Patrick and the Democrats on Beacon Hill as tax-raisers and patronage-hungry politicians.

“He says he wants to finish what he started,’’ Baker said of the governor, drawing jeers. “He thinks that Massachusetts is heading in the right direction. Well, governor, tell that to hard-working families making due with less, while the state payroll continues to rise and political appointees fill jobs after ‘nationwide searches.’ ’’

He went on, “If one of these two insiders wins in November, they’ll just do what they’ve done for the past four years: wring their hands about cutting services to the bone, while they back their trucks up to the loading dock of state government and fill it up to feather their cronies’ and their special interests’ nests on your dime.’’

Democrats responded to Baker’s speech hours later by challenging, in a point-by-point rebuttal, several of his assertions about Patrick’s record. They said that despite Baker’s assertions, Massachusetts is deemed to be a good state to do business in, that people are moving back to the state, and that there was no budget surplus when Patrick took office.

At one point before the balloting, Baker faced a revolt among social conservatives who flooded the delegations with a leaflet attacking a bill for transgender rights that Senator Richard Tisei has cosponsored with other lawmakers. Contending that it would allow men to enter women’s bathrooms, they demanded to know whether Baker supported the bill. The Baker campaign immediately circulated a leaflet saying he would veto the “bathroom bill’’ if he were elected.

The issue could have cost Baker some critical votes at a time when his aides were not certain he had enough to block Mihos from the ballot. Mihos fanned the flames, declaring to applause that he would veto the “bathroom bill.’’

“There is a lot of buzzing going on,’’ said Kris Mineau, a conservative activist and delegate from North Reading. He said Baker’s statement was a “positive influence’’ in his decision about whom to support; he declined to say whom he ultimately backed.

At an awkward press conference after Baker won the convention’s endorsement, he stood next to Tisei and said he opposed his running mate’s legislation and was not concerned about labeling it “the bathroom bill’’ — a term used by opponents of gay rights. Baker, who supports gay marriage and abortion rights, denied that he was trying to court social conservatives.

“I think a guy who supports gay marriage and is prochoice and has been pretty clear on those and picked a gay fella as his running mate is pretty much not pandering to much of anybody,’’ Baker said, putting a hand on Tisei’s shoulder.

Tisei has, in the past, strongly rejected the phrase “bathroom bill,’’ saying critics use it to misrepresent the goal of equal rights for transgender people.

“I think they’re trying to scare people into opposing the bill and I don’t think it’s really an issue,’’ he told his local paper last summer. “I know it’s been dubbed the ‘bathroom bill,’ but this is really a bill to treat people equally and fairly under the law.’’
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THE GOVERNOR’S RACE | BACK STORIES
"Baker relied on revenue increases"
By Frank Phillips, Boston Globe Staff, April 28, 2010

Republican Charles D. Baker is campaigning for governor as a fiscal hard-liner, repeatedly attacking Governor Deval Patrick and Democrats in the Legislature for raising taxes and showing little discipline on spending.

In Baker’s telling, Patrick and Democratic lawmakers have avoided tough budget-cutting decisions, choosing instead the easy path of raising revenue to balance the budget.

But Baker’s own experience in the public and private sectors — as a one-term selectman in Swampscott, as the state’s top budget official, and as the chief executive of a major health insurer — muddies his critique.

In all three roles, Baker either relied on new revenue to balance the books or had the luxury of a booming economy, obviating the need for drastic cuts.

In Swampscott, he helped build local budgets that imposed higher property taxes on home owners and supported an override of Proposition 2 1/2. At Harvard Pilgrim Health Care, he presided over insurance premium increases that averaged 10 percent a year. And while he was secretary of administration and finance in the 1990s, robust tax proceeds were flowing into the state treasury.

Baker, in an interview, rejected the notion that his record undercuts his campaign attacks against Patrick. He pointed to what he said were bold reforms and restructuring that he put in place in state government, where he helped overhaul the welfare program and consolidate agencies, and at Harvard Pilgrim, where he said he cut jobs in half and kept administrative costs flat.

“I think we engaged, at both Harvard Pilgrim Health Care and in state government, in wrenching reform efforts, which, while very difficult, positioned both organizations to move forward,’’ he said.

The tax increases during his time as a Swampscott selectman, Baker said, mostly came in the form of voter-approved Proposition 2 1/2 overrides, one to build a high school and another for operational budget increases, which he supported.

Baker also said he sees a big difference between raising health insurance premiums and taxes, saying insurance clients can shop elsewhere for coverage, while taxpayers have no choice.

Baker has been able to parlay his management experience on Beacon Hill, at Swampscott Town Hall, and at Harvard Pilgrim into a strong public profile that now forms the backbone of his candidacy. He earned a reputation as a sharp mind in the Weld and Cellucci administrations in the 1990s, guided Harvard Pilgrim out of bankruptcy 10 years ago, and used his management experience to help his hometown.

Indeed, even his political opponents credit him with having a successful career managing some difficult and complex organizations.

As a candidate, Baker has hammered Patrick for his handling of the state budget, criticizing the governor’s decision to support tax increases and draw money from the reserve account, and saying he has not sufficiently cut state government.

A major theme in Baker’s campaign platform is a rigid opposition to new taxes. He calls for the immediate repeal of last year’s sales tax boost, from 5 percent to 6.25 percent, that Patrick signed to help close a budget shortfall. And Baker wants to cut the state income tax rate to 5 percent.

“I’m a no-new-taxes guy,’’ he said when he launched his campaign last summer. “Read my lips: ‘No new taxes.’ ’’

But as a selectman in Swampscott, a town of 14,000, Baker approved budgets that raised property taxes, and he supported a tax levy override to fund town operations that raised taxes beyond the cap set by Proposition 2 1/2. In one of the three years he served, the tax rate climbed nearly 8 percent because of the override.

State and local budgets are very different, of course, but there are similarities, as budget officials at both levels face increasing costs of staff, energy, health care, and other items and must find revenue or spending reductions to offset them.

Minutes from selectmen’s meetings and local news reports offer no indication that Baker opposed increasing the local tax burden. He voted to approve annual town budgets, voted to place the override on the ballot, and later voted for the override at the ballot box.

Baker said he backed the override to support town services, and he made a distinction between voters choosing to raise taxes and lawmakers imposing tax increases from on high.

Baker was deeply involved in the budget process during his three years on the board. His colleagues and the town administrator, Andrew W. Maylor, said they looked to him for guidance on almost every major fiscal issue.

“I don’t think we ever resolved any issue until we heard from Charlie and what he thought,’’ said Adam P. Forman, a former selectman who served with Baker. Forman, a Democrat, said he strongly supports Baker for governor after having worked alongside him.

Baker was secretary of administration and finance under governors William F. Weld and Paul Cellucci at a time of economic boom. His tenure, from late 1994 through 1998, came as the state was roaring back from a recession. Tax revenue was rising by as much as 10 percent annually.

Baker boasts that he balanced state budgets without raising taxes and proudly points to the 27 tax cuts that took place under the GOP administrations he served in. He argues that his experience demonstrates that he could balance the state’s nearly $28 billion budget with layoffs, restructuring of state agencies, and overhauls and not through new taxes.

But the surge in revenue that allowed Baker to balance the budget while taxes were cut came in part from proceeds from an income tax increase that Governor Michael Dukakis and Democrats in the Legislature had put in place years before. (Weld and Cellucci had denounced the increase when it was approved during the fiscal crisis of 1989-1990 and later sought to repeal it.)

Though Baker slams Patrick for “spending our state into oblivion,’’ state expenditures during the years Baker oversaw the budget grew by an annualized rate of just shy of 5 percent, according to an analysis by the Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation, a nonpartisan, business-funded watchdog group. Since Patrick presented his first budget, for fiscal year 2008, state spending has increased an average of 2.4 percent, according to the group.

When Baker joined Harvard Pilgrim in May 1999, the nonprofit insurer was staggering from huge annual losses, losing more than $200 million that year. Baker received credit for navigating the insurer back into the black. He trimmed costs, including a controversial decision to shut its Rhode Island operation.

But Harvard Pilgrim also raised premiums to generate revenue. Facing skyrocketing charges from providers, including hospitals and doctors, the insurer continued to raise premiums through the next decade, as many other insurers did. To help remain solvent, Baker and his board approved average rate increases of about 10 percent or more annually.

Baker’s financial management paid off. The nonprofit survived and has in recent years been consistently ranked the best or among the best insurers nationally.

From 2000 through 2009, Harvard Pilgrim’s net income exceeded $400 million in all, according to federal tax filings. At the same time, Baker’s compensation nearly tripled to about $1.7 million, which included a $692,000 bonus for the company’s performance, although his pay was not out of line with that of the leaders of other major insurers in Massachusetts.

Baker rejected any suggestion that imposing higher premiums on policyholders to bolster Harvard Pilgrim’s budget is any way comparable to what Patrick and the Legislature have done to bolster the state budget. He said policyholders can look to other insurers.

“The difference is between people who have options and those who don’t,’’ Baker said.

But Alan Sager, a professor of health policy and management at Boston University’s School of Public Health, disagreed. He said that in reality, customers of health insurers can get out of paying higher premiums only by forgoing insurance.

“Health insurance premiums are essentially privately raised taxes,’’ Sager said.
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Republican Charles D. Baker, with running mate Richard Tisei (left), said his rivals lack the will to overhaul Beacon Hill. (John Tlumacki/ Globe Staff)
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"Baker outlines changes he says would save state $1 billion"
By Noah Bierman, Boston Globe Staff, May 5, 2010

Republican gubernatorial candidate Charles D. Baker proposed a series of reforms to state government yesterday that he said would save taxpayers more than $1 billion, accusing his political rivals of lacking the “political will’’ to change Beacon Hill.

Calling his ideas the “Baker’s Dozen,’’ the GOP hopeful outlined a list of 13 changes he said he would work toward if elected, including eliminating rules requiring the use of union shops in public construction projects; changing state law to allow cities and towns to design their own health plans without union approval; consolidating the state agencies that award professional licenses and certification; and requiring proof of legal residency for state benefits.

“We’ve chosen as a state to protect the special interests and sacred cows,’’ Baker said at a press conference on the steps of the State House, with a handful of supporters holding campaign banners. “It’s time for reform.’’

He added, “They are difficult and disruptive, and they ought to be.’’

Many of the ideas have been floated before, and the event seemed designed in part to address criticism by opponents that Baker’s attacks on state government have been short on specifics.

Baker also called for moving MassHealth recipients onto managed care, which he said would save $175 million to $250 million annually, charging inmates for room and board, and conducting a forensic financial analysis to ensure residents receiving benefits are not gaming the system.

The implication was that his rivals in the race, Governor Deval Patrick and state Treasurer Timothy P. Cahill, have failed to implement such changes.

Baker’s running mate, Senate minority leader Richard Tisei, said, “We find ourselves sliding further and further into the danger zone,’’ asserting that the state has not fundamentally restructured its budget during the economic crisis, relying instead on federal stimulus and rainy day money.

“There’s just not an appetite here at this building to step up to the plate,’’ he said.

Patrick spokesman Alex Goldstein hit back in a statement, saying, “Much like the rest of Republican Charles Baker’s misleading claims, today’s announcement about supposed reforms has a lot of holes in it.’’

Goldstein also highlighted Baker’s support for the Quinn Bill, a lucrative bonus payment system for police that Patrick has phased out, and his opposition to using civilian flaggers, another Patrick initiative at work sites.

Baker’s campaign said he does not want to reinstate the Quinn Bill but wants the state to maintain funding for officers currently enrolled in the program.

“Governor Patrick and Lieutenant Governor Murray took the actions their Republican predecessors refused to take and have delivered on real reforms, passing strong pension, ethics, auto insurance, transportation, and education reforms that have already saved taxpayers and consumers over $500 million,’’ Goldstein said.

Cahill’s political director, Jordan Gehrke, responded on Twitter, saying that Cahill had saved taxpayers $3 billion through his work leading the School Building Authority.

Baker’s press conference came as the Republican Governors Association, which has already launched an aggressive ad and media attack on Cahill, targeted him in a new web video, highlighting occasions in which he has criticized some state action, law, or plan after not having spoken out for years before.

Baker said his proposed crackdown on benefits for illegal immigrants mirrors an amendment that state Representative Jeff Perry narrowly failed in attaching last week to the House budget plan for next fiscal year.

“I don’t think it’s appropriate for people who are residents of Massachusetts to be on waiting lists’’ while undocumented immigrants get those services ahead of them, Baker said.

On the new strict immigration laws in Arizona, Baker said he did not know enough to form an opinion. “Every state is different,’’ he said.

Baker also declined to weigh in substantively on the water crisis, saying, “I don’t think that’s a political or a partisan issue.’’ He did praise the work of the Massachusetts Water Resources Authority.
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Charles D. Baker
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"Baker criticizes Patrick's approach to budget"
By Jack Nicas, Boston Globe Correspondent, June 3, 2010

Republican gubernatorial hopeful Charles D. Baker today criticized Governor Deval Patrick for counting on $608 million in federal funding in building a state budget for the next fiscal year, money that now is at risk of not materializing.

“When the governor filed his budget back in January, I said I thought it was a mistake to rely on an unbudgeted and perhaps not real $600 million from the federal government,” Baker said at a downtown breakfast with business leaders. “So now it looks like it may not happen, and the budget’s got to go to bed in 30 days … that’s not the plan-for-the-worst approach; that’s the hope-for-the-best."

State lawmakers are awaiting word from Congress about whether the money, which Patrick, the House, and Senate all baked into their spending plans for next year, is still coming. The money is part of an expected six-month extension to the Federal Medical Assistance Percentage program.

If Congress declines to extend the program, the Legislature will have less than a month to fill the gap, and lawmakers have warned of major spending cuts if that happens. Baker said the governor is most at fault for not providing a backup plan.

In January, “the message coming from the governor’s office and the House and the Senate was, ‘We’ll build a contingency plan by June 1 if it looks like we’re not going to get the money,' ” Baker said, adding that it's now June 3.

He said budget writers may now have to scramble to balance the budget.

“Everything is going to have to be revisited in a very short period of time,” he said. “You’re going to have to make that decision in the span of a couple of weeks, instead of being able to do it over the course of a couple of months.”

Baker also addressed a Globe story today on Patrick’s finance committee cochairman, Sean Q. Curran, who is also a special-interest State House lobbyist.

Patrick “ran saying he was going to change the culture on Beacon Hill and take the state in a different direction,” Baker said. “That looks a lot like the Beacon Hill people from Massachusetts are sick of.”

Patrick's campaign says it has never tried to hide Curran's role in fund-raising, and trumpeted the governor's role in tightening ethics and lobbying rules last year.
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"Massachusetts GOP’s Baker calls for cut to corporate taxes"
By Glen Johnson, Associated Press, June 10, 2010

BOSTON (AP) -- Republican gubernatorial candidate Charles Baker unveiled a plan Thursday to reduce business taxes in Massachusetts, saying it will create job growth badly needed in the state.

In a speech to the pro-business Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce, Baker said he wants to lower the tax rate for some corporations from 8.75 percent to 5 percent, phased in over four years.

He also proposed extending the number of weeks an employee must work to be eligible for unemployment insurance, from the current 15 to 20. And he said he would like to eliminate a requirement he says punishes smaller businesses that pay higher tax rates as they grow.

Baker aides estimated the plan would cost the state an estimated $175 million per year in tax revenue.

"We have earned our national reputation as one of the most difficult states to operate a business in," Baker said. "We must be willing to make bold moves to improve our business environment."

Baker was the Weld administration’s chief budget officer before spending a decade as president of Harvard Pilgrim Health Care. He said his goal is to make the state’s tax code more "predictable, competitive, and stable."

While the former CEO conceded "I have a lot of friends in this audience," the crowd he addressed was about half that which greeted the Democratic incumbent, Gov. Deval Patrick, when he addressed the Chamber in the same room earlier this year.

And Baker also was placed in an uncomfortable position as the question-and-answer session ended, when Chamber President Paul Guzzi asked him about a negative advertising campaign the Republican Governors Association has launched against Deval Patrick and independent gubernatorial candidate Timothy Cahill.

A fourth candidate, Green Rainbow Party member Jill Stein, will also be on the November ballot.

Guzzi, a former Democratic secretary of state, elliptically asked Baker about the perception he is "far better than those ads," and even though the candidate cannot legally coordinate with the RGA, "they should be stopped."

In the aftermath of the ads, Cahill has plummeted in public opinion surveys but Patrick has opened a double-digit lead in the race.

Baker shifted uncomfortably from leg to leg during Guzzi’s question, before saying the campaign will ultimately be decided not by such ads, but the candidates’ vision for the state.

"Neither I nor anybody else can tell any of these groups to stay out of Massachusetts, because at the end of the day, it’s up to them; it’s not up to us," said Baker.

Baker and Cahill, the state’s treasurer, have been competing for fiscally conservative voters, while Patrick has been targeting the small business community with an aggressive push to lower their health insurance premiums.

While dwindling tax collections have forced Massachusetts to slash its budget in recent years, both Patrick and Baker have expressed support for a weekend sales tax "holiday" this summer to spur retail sales.

Both candidates did so despite fears the state may have to slash $800 million from its fiscal 2011 budget if expected federal aid does not materialize.

Baker’s tax plan also includes a proposal to reduce the income and sales tax to 5 percent, as well as eliminate an expansion of the state’s liquor tax made last summer.

"As governor, I will fight to keep every job we have in Massachusetts, and will fight to create a climate conducive to business expansion and investment in order to make Massachusetts work again," Baker said in a statement after a campaign stop Wednesday in Andover.

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THE GOVERNOR’S RACE | BACK STORIES
"Baker’s role in Big Dig financing process was anything but ‘small’
Records undercut his campaign claim"
By Michael Rezendes and Noah Bierman, Boston Globe Staff, June 13, 2010

Throughout his campaign for governor, Republican Charles D. Baker has sought to minimize his involvement in the $15 billion Big Dig.

When he launched his candidacy last summer, Baker said he played a “small role in the Big Dig.’’ Days later, his campaign said that, as the state’s budget chief under governors William Weld and Paul Cellucci, he had a “limited role in the financing process.’’

And in March, Baker told a Globe columnist that when it came to figuring out how to pay for the massive project at one critical juncture in the 1990s, he was only “one of about 50 people’’ involved.

But those statements are sharply at odds with a picture of Baker’s financial leadership of the project that emerges from hundreds of pages of memorandums, letters, and other documents culled from his four-year tenure as secretary of the Executive Office of Administration and Finance, from 1994 to 1998. The documents show that Baker was the chief architect of a financing plan to sustain the project during its peak construction years, just as federal support was diminishing substantially.

The $3 billion plan depended almost exclusively on heavy borrowing and modest toll increases, deferring the toughest decisions on tolling and taxes to future leaders. It wasn’t designed to deal with the massive cost overruns that would eventually plague the project, despite multiple warnings at the time that the price tag would likely grow.

Baker, in a recent interview, acknowledged that he played a major role in assembling the financing plan, but said many others participated in the effort. He also said the plan was responsible, effective, and based on good-faith assurances by other government officials that the Big Dig would be built on time and on budget.

“There were a lot of other people involved in it, all the way through,’’ he said. “And I was looking to build consensus with all those other people who ultimately had to sign off on whatever we were doing, including the Legislature and the governor and the Turnpike Authority and Massport and all these other folks.’’

A valued officer
By the time Weld named Baker as the state’s top fiscal officer in November 1994, Baker had already served as his secretary of health and human services and was considered a rising star. So valued was Baker’s counsel that Weld referred to him as “the man behind the curtain’’ and “the soul’’ of his administration.
By 1997, when the state was enjoying huge budget surpluses, the Big Dig, then expected to cost $10.8 billion, was the most daunting fiscal challenge on Baker’s desk.

At the time, the federal government was preparing to cut funding for the project by about $300 million per year. Project managers were desperate to find billions of dollars to fund the most expensive years, when contractors would be tunneling through downtown Boston.

While former state transportation secretary James J. Kerasiotes was the public face of the project, supervising the depression of the elevated Central Artery and construction of a new cross-harbor tunnel to Logan Airport, Baker was working out of the limelight, to find a way to pay for it, records show.

Among the Big Dig records reviewed by the Globe — obtained under a public records request — that bear Baker’s name are official agreements among the state agencies involved in financing the project; letters to key legislators; a $600 million securities prospectus for potential lenders; and dozens of internal memorandums, including several between Baker and his staff outlining the borrowing plans.

As he struggled to find a way to overcome the drop in federal dollars, Baker, in crafting a financing plan, also had to contend with politics. His Republican bosses, Weld and Cellucci, were dead-set against new taxes and fees.

In 1996, Weld knocked down three turnpike tollbooths during his unsuccessful Senate campaign against John F. Kerry, eliminating a potential source of Big Dig revenue. Weld also oversaw the elimination of some motor vehicle registration fees, another potential source of direct funding.

At the time, Baker could have relied on the money overflowing from state coffers. In June of 1998, Baker was presiding over a $1 billion budget surplus, with state income tax collections rising.

But with acting governor Paul Cellucci campaigning on a pledge to cut more than $1 billion from the state’s revenue stream by slashing the state income tax rate, there was little enthusiasm in the administration for diverting surplus funds to the Big Dig.

“People, generally speaking, thought that the tax policy that was being pursued by state government at that point in time was a positive development with respect to the economic growth of the state,’’ Baker said.

Baker’s borrowing plan
With federal dollars dwindling and little political appetite for raising tolls or taxes, Baker engineered a two-track financing plan.
The first part relied on selling short-term bonds to investors that would be repaid by the Massachusetts Turnpike Authority and the Massachusetts Port Authority. The Turnpike Authority would kick in $1 billion, while Massport would contribute $300 million.

That money, under agreements Baker signed in 1997 and 1998, would be provided in large part through tolls collected on the Mass. Pike and the Tobin Bridge.

As a result, in 1997, tolls in the tunnels were raised from $1 to $2, and on the Tobin from $.50 to $1, inciting the ire of commuters and concern among elected officials about the political consequences. But it could have been steeper: Further increases, including higher tolls at turnpike booths in Greater Boston, were put off until 2002, after Baker and his bosses were gone. From there, turnpike and tunnel tolls in Greater Boston were scheduled to go up every six years.

The second part of Baker’s borrowing plan was more complex and, at the time, more innovative. It called for selling up to $1.5 billion in Grant Anticipation Notes, known as GANs, which allowed the government to borrow money and pay back the principal using future federal highway grants to the state. The interest — an estimated $550 million over 18 years, which has since ballooned to an estimated $840 million — would be picked up by taxpayers.

Although the sale of GANs is common today, they had been used only occasionally at the time, and never on the scale that Baker proposed, according to state and federal records. The GANs eventually raised $1.5 billion, and will not be paid off until 2015, a decade after the project was virtually finished.

Kerasiotes, recalling the funding crisis confronting Big Dig officials, praised Baker’s work.

“We were caught in a confluence of events,’’ Kerasiotes said. “Charlie had a job to do, and he did his job and he did it well.’’

State legislators, eager to find a way to keep the Big Dig going while avoiding unpopular toll increases, largely embraced the overall plan.

Joseph Sullivan, the House transportation committee chairman at the time, said there was general cooperation among political leaders, as well as state and federal transportation officials, on the need to find a new source of funding for the project. Sullivan said Baker was a key player, especially in bringing all the parties together.

“When you are the secretary of administration and finance, your voice matters,’’ Sullivan said.

Underfunded needs
While the Legislature approved the plan with little objection, others raised red flags. That was because borrowing against future federal transportation aid was nearly certain to delay other highway and bridge projects.
Baker maintained that using the money for the Big Dig would not compromise road and bridge work elsewhere in the state, arguing that at least $400 million would be available every year for other projects.

“I don’t see how anybody could argue that the artery will be pulling money away from non-artery projects,’’ he said during a 1998 legislative hearing.

But others disagreed. “The administration kept denying the obvious,’’ Michael Widmer, president of the Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation, a business-backed watchdog group, said in a recent interview. “If you keep spending more on the Central Artery, you’re going to have less to spend on state highways. I learned that in second grade. If you’ve got a dollar, you can only spend it once.’’

In the interview, Baker said overall spending on other state road and bridge projects actually grew — with the help of additional state funds — after the financing plan was approved.

Nevertheless, the need for road and bridge repairs has long exceeded the state’s ability to pay for the work, and Baker’s financing plan for the Big Dig exacerbated the problem, by committing federal aid to the project until 2015. A blue-ribbon panel in 2007 concluded that the state was underfunding its transportation needs by nearly $1 billion a year.

Moreover, in a 1999 report, the Taxpayers Foundation pointed out that issuing the GANs would require taxpayers to pay substantial interest on the loans, “adding to the mounting spending pressures on the budget.’’

Today, Baker stands by his plan, insisting it was the right tool for the right job at the right time.

“I think the GANs worked,’’ he said. “They served their purpose as intended. They made it possible to finish the project on an uninterrupted basis. They dealt with the cash flow problem that we would have otherwise faced.’’

Governor Deval Patrick, faced with limited revenue to rebuild deteriorating roads and bridges, has used a similar approach in borrowing $1.1 billion against future federal highways grants. Like Baker’s plan, this has drawn criticism from Widmer, who says it “puts a burden on future taxpayers because of a refusal to pay for our obligations now.’’

The decision, during Baker’s tenure, to delay major toll increases also had ripple effects. As the Big Dig’s needs grew, successive governors, transportation officials, and state lawmakers also balked at raising tolls and entered into ever-more complex financing schemes, leaving the Turnpike Authority at the brink of insolvency before the Legislature and Patrick agreed to dissolve it last year. Patrick and state lawmakers also increased the state sales tax rate in 2009, in part to pump $100 million a year into turnpike debt and avoid a politically unpopular toll increase.

Warnings on cost overruns
The financing plan structured by Baker left no cushion for future cost overruns in the project, even though, at the time, fiscal watchdogs said overruns were probable.
In 1994, a project manager with Bechtel Parsons/Brinckerhoff, the private engineering consortium overseeing the project, told Weld and other administration officials that costs were likely to rise dramatically, but the administration kept the information private.

The Taxpayers Foundation in 1997 said publicly that it would take a “Herculean’’ effort to avoid cost overruns. The federal Government Accounting Office warned in 1997 and again in 1998 that Baker’s borrowing plan could fall hundreds of millions of dollars short because it failed to account for $450 million in cost increases announced in March 1997, and as much as $500 million more in potential construction overruns.

“If current trends continue, further cost increases of some magnitude seem likely,’’ the 1997 audit cautioned, advising the state to update its cost estimate.

In his interview, Baker said that he believed his plan was flexible, and that he was more concerned at the time with the ups and downs of federal funding than changes in the official price tag.

“I know there was a lot of other chatter going on at the time,’’ he said. “But the people who were closest to it, who had direct oversight of it, were basically saying that that was a reasonable estimate at that point in time and all the way through.’’

Baker said he was not at the 1994 meeting where the Bechtel official briefed Weld on cost overruns, and does not recall being informed about it.

By 2005, seven years after Baker left the State House, and five years after Big Dig managers conceded that the project would cost more than $1 billion more than the public had been told, the final bill came to nearly $15 billion, with taxpayers facing another $7 billion in interest that will not be paid off until 2038.

Today, as Baker runs for governor, one of the central tenets of his campaign is that state government should live within its means.

“In my administration,’’ he pledged, as he was accepting the Republican convention endorsement in April, “we’re going to stop spending money we don’t have, starting on day one.’’

In his interview with the Globe, Baker said he has no regrets about the course he pursued. But he did take away a larger lesson.

“The biggest issue on all of this stuff,’’ Baker said, “is we should be very careful about entering into these things going forward unless we really know what they’re going to cost.’’
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Noah Bierman can be reached at nbierman@globe.com., Michael Rezendes can be reached at rezendes@globe.com.
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Big Dig funding scheme

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"Patrick: Baker's 'fingerprints all over' Big Dig finances"
By Noah Bierman, Boston Globe Staff, June 16, 2010

Governor Deval Patrick and Republican challenger Charles D. Baker clashed this morning over the state budget in their first debate of the campaign.

Baker accused Patrick of putting off tough decisions as the state faces looming deficits due to the faltering economy. "The plan you’ve been executing is just kicking the can," he said.

Patrick bridled at that statement, saying, "Charlie, I have a lot of respect for you. But the notion you, with your fingerprints all over the Big Dig financing plan would talk to me ... "

The exchange came during a lively debate between all three candidates, including independent Timothy Cahill, in which they also discussed immigration, education, health care.

In another exchange, Baker said Patrick “started spending the rainy day fund before it started to rain.”

Patrick said his administration had "wisely stewarded" the budget.

The hour-long debate, during on WRKO-AM’s Tom & Todd show, was the first face-to-face showdown for the three candidates in advance of the November election.

The format allowed the candidates to interrupt each other often, but also left time for substantive responses to the major issues confronting the Commonwealth.

Patrick argued that Massachusetts is emerging from the economic downturn "faster and stronger" than other states, but has work left to do. Baker countered that Patrick had squandered his opportunity and left Massachusetts an inhospitable place for businesses to locate and hire workers. Cahill, the state treasurer who was until last year a Democrat, said things were not as bad as Baker portrayed them, but not as good as Patrick claimed they were.

Still Cahill, despite seeking middle ground at times, was eager to attack his opponents on health care, saying Patrick had not done enough to give small businesses a seat at the table or control costs. And he challenged Baker’s record leading Harvard Pilgrim, the health insurer, dismissing Baker’s contention that his calls for reform fell on deaf ears from government officials.

"If you’d have taken some leadership, you could have led the way. … That's leadership, Charlie, you've got to provide some leadership," Cahill said.

Baker tried to position himself as an outsider, despite his prior service as a top financial aide in the Weld and Cellucci administrations, because he has never run for statewide office and has been in private industry for a decade: “They’ve had four years to deal with this issue and we haven’t made any progress at all.”

Cahill shot back: “You’ve had 10 years.”

Patrick also had to answer questions about internal e-mails revealed last week that showed an official at the state Division of Insurance warning that Patrick’s plan to cap insurer rates could lead to a "train wreck" for the industry.

"That e-mail is from somebody who has absolutely nothing to do with the development or the issues of this policy," Patrick said in his defense.

On immigration, both Cahill and Baker took a harder line than Patrick, supporting a measure passed in the state Senate that calls for additional screening of immigrants who seek state services. Patrick said the state already screens applicants for state services and that the measure could have unintended consequences such as excluding veterans and legal immigrants from benefits.

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(Istock Photo/Boston Globe;Staff Photo Illustration)
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A BOSTON GLOBE EDITORIAL
"On Big Dig, governor's race is an overdue moment of truth"
June 20, 2010

MASSACHUSETTS HAS never fully come to grips with the costly excesses of the Big Dig, which dog the state’s reputation in Washington and limit its ability to make improvements at home. The project may be a boon for Boston, but its construction will always be a case study in public profligacy. This year’s race for governor will force the state to reckon with what went wrong on the Big Dig and how to move past it.

Republican standard-bearer Charlie Baker, who served as administration and finance secretary under Governors William Weld and Paul Cellucci when the project’s finances were restructured, will have to explain his actions more fully. He should tell voters why Weld and Cellucci, in the mid- to late-’90s, chose to tie up future highway funds and state revenues in a two-decade-long financing scheme — rather than tap $1 billion in annual surpluses that could have significantly reduced the burden on today’s taxpayers.

The reason, as the Globe reported last week, appears to be that the governors preferred to present themselves as tax cutters. Baker, it seems, had no objections.

Baker was hardly alone in choosing to quietly feed the Big Dig rather than demand accountability. Governors and legislators of both parties, along with their appointees, all chose to accept the project’s cost as the price of doing business in Massachusetts. The question for today is whether the same ruinous strictures still hold, and whether the Bay State can ever again feel confident about putting shovels in the ground.

The Big Dig proceeded with relatively little political blowback partly because all constituencies were given a piece of the pie. For labor, there was a guaranteed prevailing wage, higher than the market, that was paid to union and non-union workers alike. For politicians, there was a trove of patronage positions as neighborhood coordinators and community liaisons. For business, there was an open-ended contract that allowed the project manager, Bechtel/Parsons Brinckerhoff, to do its own design and then charge up billions of dollars in overruns for its own mistakes. Major property owners or institutions that might be inconvenienced were given mitigation funds. It was a feast for the powerful.

All along, political leaders failed to demand closer scrutiny. Liberal reformers like former Governor Michael Dukakis and his transportation guru, Fred Salvucci, put their desire to build a grand project ahead of the need to enforce discipline; fiscal conservatives like Weld and Baker downplayed the mounting debt to preserve a false image of austerity.

The result is a continuing burden to the state budget to the tune of $600 million a year for debt service alone. That’s money that’s unavailable for students or the needy, or for any other priority. The high cost of the Big Dig is visible today in higher tolls for commuters, in Congress’s reluctance to provide badly needed transportation money for Massachusetts, and in other important projects that were delayed or denied. It’s visible, too, in a broader cynicism about government, a sentiment that jeopardizes the state’s ability to improve its education and infrastructure to compete for jobs in the 21st century.

The culture must change. To embark on public projects without ensuring that the work is done as inexpensively as possible insults every taxpayer in the Commonwealth. Changing a political dynamic that drives up costs through giveaways to powerful labor interests and contractors, and then hides the implications in complex financing schemes, should be the central issue of the governor’s race.

Baker’s actions on the Big Dig are at odds with his promise of a more frugal government. Governor Patrick employs some Big Dig veterans and enjoys the support of groups that benefitted greatly from the transportation boondoggle. Patrick must explain what he means when he says he changed “the Big Dig culture.’’ Yes, the transportation agencies have been reorganized, but to what effect? Is this anything more than a paper shuffle? How can taxpayers know that their money isn’t being wasted?

Right now, they can’t. That’s the true legacy of the Big Dig.
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Economy, Healthcare, Politics: "Baker, as promised, joins credit union"
By Glen Johnson, Boston Globe Staff, Posted by Glen Johnson, March 22, 2011

Former Republican gubernatorial candidate Charles Baker has made good on his pledge to take a credit union job in addition to his high-flying venture capital position.

Braintree-based Tremont Credit Union announced today that Baker has joined its board of directors.

He formerly spent a decade as president of Harvard Pilgrim Health Care, after serving as human services director and budget chief in the Weld and Cellucci administrations.

“Charlie’s consummate blend of business skills, government experience, financial expertise, and regulatory knowledge will provide extraordinary organizational benefits," George Hardiman, chairman of Tremont’s board of directors, said in a statement.

Baker said: "I admire and appreciate the critical role the credit union industry plays in providing accessible and low cost financial services to the people of Massachusetts."

The statement noted Baker is joining Tremont as it strengthens its financial controls after state bank regulators issued critical findings of the bank’s operations last April.

Since then Tremont has changed its board, brought on new executives, and reorganized its loan, sales, and customer service staff.

Board members, including Baker, receive no compensation for their service.

Governor Deval Patrick branded Baker as an out-of-touch business leader during their recent campaign. The Democrat complained his salary had risen at Harvard Pilgrim as consumer premiums increased. Baker pointed to repeated top customer satisfaction ratings the insurer received, as well as his ability to pull it out of state receivership.

While announcing earlier this month he was joining a venture capital firm, Cambridge-based General Catalyst Partners, Baker said he would focus on growing small- to mid-sized companies — especially in the health care arena.

At that time, he also said he was considering a credit union board role.

The Tremont Credit Union is open to workers who live or work in Suffolk, Norfolk, and Middlesex Counties, are Massachusetts residents of Latvian heritage, or are affiliated with several community or employer groups including the Boston Public Schools, Boston Children’s Hospital, Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, Amtrak, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts, and the Iron Workers Union Local 7.

Glen Johnson can be reached at johnson@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @globeglen.

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"GOP's Baker is taking 2nd shot at Mass. gov office"
By STEVE LeBLANC / Associated Press / February 15, 2014

BOSTON (AP) — Charlie Baker says he learned the art of politics around the kitchen table watching his Democratic mother and Republican father hash out the issues of the day.

‘‘They weren’t trying to score points when they were debating. They were trying to get somewhere,’’ said Baker, a Republican making his second bid for the governor’s office.

It was a lesson that would serve Baker well years later when he took a job as Health and Human Services secretary and later as budget chief for former GOP Govs. William Weld and Paul Cellucci.

Weld and Cellucci also practiced the art of political compromise as they negotiated with Democratic leaders, Baker said.

‘‘If they had a choice between scoring points or getting something done, they almost always chose getting something done,’’ Baker told The Associated Press in a recent interview.

Baker said he'll also adopt a practical approach if elected, focusing on what he calls a ‘‘meat and potatoes type of agenda’’ of jobs and education.

‘‘If you talk to most people about what they really care about ... they want to be able to work and pay their bills, they want their kids to go to good schools and they want to live in safe, thriving places,’’ he said.

While workers in the state’s ‘‘knowledge economy’’ are succeeding, he said, workers in more traditional fields are hurting.

Baker said the state needs to better prepare workers for an abundant supply of skilled jobs like machinists and tool and die makers. He said vocational and technical schools can only go so far and the state should help subsidize employers for on-the-job training.

‘‘We've drawn this bright line between job training and workforce development and actual work when the truth of the matter is that in many cases, the real opportunity is probably to support the actual work,’’ said Baker, 57.

Baker also backs an increase in the state’s minimum wage but would tie it to an overhaul of the unemployment insurance system. He supports putting a question before voters that would repeal the state’s casino law, though he’s not sure how he would vote.

He’s called the federal health care law ‘‘burdensome ‘‘ and said Massachusetts should seek a waiver, given the state’s success in expanding health care.

‘‘My preferred option would be: ‘We’re doing it fine here, leave us alone,'’’ he said.

Another challenge is the stubborn achievement gap in the state’s schools.

Baker said he'd focus less on prekindergarten and more on K-12 education — lifting caps on charter schools, investing in longer school days and encouraging more individualized structured teaching and classroom autonomy.

‘‘The lost opportunity in not getting kids the kind of education they deserve is enormous,’’ he said.

Baker, who ran for governor in 2010 and lost to Democratic incumbent Deval Patrick, faces fellow Republican Mark Fisher for his party’s nomination. Five Democrats and three independent candidates are also in the running. Baker is considered the Republican front-runner and finished January with a campaign account balance of $562,808.

Baker, a former chief executive of Harvard Pilgrim Health Care, has also been critical of Patrick’s handling of the Department of Children and Families following the disappearance of a 5-year-old boy now feared dead.

Baker has called for the resignation of DCF Commissioner Olga Roche and said the state needs to more aggressively pinpoint potential trouble areas by managing DCF on a region-by-region basis.

‘‘There’s been almost no evidence of that,’’ he said. ‘‘Instead, it’s just one reactive thing after another that just makes everyone more and more concerned.’’

Baker has also faulted Attorney General Martha Coakley, who topped a recent poll among Democratic candidates for governor, saying she should advise Patrick to settle a lawsuit with a New York-based children rights group over the state’s foster care system.

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Charlie Baker. Globe file 2013.


"Grossman voters could be up for grabs for Baker: Democratic bloc cool to Coakley; GOP hopeful’s fiscal record cited"
By Jim O’Sullivan, Boston Globe Staff, August 17, 2014

If Republican Charlie Baker erases Martha Coakley’s lead in the polls and becomes the next governor, he may have Democrat Steve Grossman to thank for it.

Not because Grossman has so sorely tested Coakley in the Democratic primary, where she has consistently enjoyed a strong, and sometimes whopping, lead. But because Grossman supporters are signaling they would more likely back Baker than Coakley in November.

In a weekly Globe poll, voters planning to side with Grossman, the state treasurer, in the Sept. 9 primary have consistently said, by a margin of more than 10 percentage points, that they would vote for Baker if their preferred Democrat did not survive the primary. And, among likely Democratic primary voters undecided in a Baker-Coakley matchup, Baker, the venture capitalist and former health care executive, has both a higher favorability rating and lower name recognition — indicating that he has more room to improve among those voters.

“These are probably moderate, pro-business Democrats, and they’re probably concerned about Coakley as governor,” said Ray La Raja, a University of Massachusetts political science professor. “They weren’t impressed with her last campaign, they’re not impressed with her this campaign. And they feel comfortable with Baker; they see him as a good manager.”

Of course, that lack of a firm profile in the minds of voters also leaves Baker susceptible to being defined negatively — a preview of which Baker got last week, when a super PAC backed by unions and the Democratic Governors Association purchased more than $3.1 million worth of television time. The ads are expected to raise questions about Baker’s business record.

And, as Coakley campaign strategists note, she has already been hit with $475,000 in negative advertising from a pro-Grossman super PAC, before her own campaign has begun to advertise assertively. Coakley’s team says it is confident that, once the passions of an occasionally embittered primary cool, Democrats will return to their base camp.

But Baker, who is heavily favored over Tea Party candidate Mark Fisher in the Republican primary, has been assiduously courting Democratic activists, trying to soften both his image and his policy stances from his failed 2010 run against Governor Deval Patrick when, by Baker’s own admission, he came off as too strident.

Baker strategists figure that, to win, they would need at least 20 percent of Democrats to pull the lever for the other party. That’s roughly the same benchmark set by former US senator Scott Brown’s campaign in 2012, when he ran against Democrat Elizabeth Warren. But Brown was running concurrently with a presidential election, which garners significantly higher turnout.

Among independents — the vast voter universe in between the two parties that comprises the majority of the state’s electorate — Baker steadily collects about three in five voters, according to the poll. Coakley, the attorney general, gets about one in three.

This year, with polls showing Republican voters more enthusiastic than Democrats about the gubernatorial election, Baker is overtly trying to reach across the aisle. Of Baker’s roughly 17,000 donors, campaign officials estimated that some 1,500, about 9 percent, have been Democrats.

And abiding doubts among Democrats about their candidate field are a boon to Baker’s efforts. Baker consistently lures more Democratic voters than Coakley does Republicans in a head-to-head matchup.

“We’re just focused on the primary right now,” Coakley adviser Doug Rubin said. “If we’re lucky enough to earn the vote, we’ll turn our attention to the general.”

One Democrat who has already gone over the fence is John Connors. He owns a Waltham advertising agency, and had donated exclusively to Democrats on the state level, including to Patrick in 2009. But he hosted a Baker fund-raiser this summer at the UMass Club that he said netted $20,000, and plans to host another next month.

“I like the guy,” said Connors, whose father, Jack, is the longtime Boston advertising and health care magnate and a major Obama fund-raiser. “I like the fiscal side of him, and I like the social side of him. If you put those two together, as a business guy.”

Connors said his partisan fence-jumping had drawn “eye rolls” from some of his friends, but said he liked Baker’s plan for statewide economic improvement, instead of just inside Route 128. “This was the rational side of me more than the emotional side. Strategically, I think he’s just really smart about how to build the economy,” Connors said.

Former North Adams mayor John Barrett squired then-District Attorney Coakley around the state to meet with other mayors in 2006, during her first campaign for attorney general. Barrett, who later had a falling out with Coakley after she backed his political rival and who has backed Republicans before, initially expected to throw in this year with Grossman.

“Basically, I was leaning toward Grossman at the beginning of this and I just stepped back and I just said, ‘Jesus, I go back with Charlie Baker some 20 years’,” Barrett said, praising Baker’s work as a top aide in the 1990s Weld and Cellucci administrations.

He added, “I think there are a lot of other Democrats out there, too, who are looking at it that way, and I think they’ll come in after the primary.”

Braintree Mayor Joseph Sullivan, a former legislator, supports Grossman, but did not have a cross word for Baker or his running mate, former state representative Karyn Polito.

“I served with Karyn. I’ve worked with Charlie. Charlie performed well here four years ago. I think the people of Braintree are really focused on results. We have a pragmatic attitude toward government,” said Sullivan, whose town voted for Baker over Patrick four years ago by nine percentage points. “Rigid ideology is not going to get you too far.”

Asked whom he would back if Coakley wins the primary, Sullivan was not ready to concede anything and reiterated his support for Grossman.

Of course, Baker’s leftward shift poses significant perils on his right flank, where Fisher has inflicted some headaches and where unenrolled candidate Jeffrey S. McCormick has been nibbling. (McCormick picks up around 10 percent of the Grossman vote if Coakley secures the nomination, according to the Globe poll, while another unenrolled candidate, Evan Falchuk, receives only a handful.) Baker supports the state’s new abortion clinic buffer zone law, backed Patrick’s embrace of the chance to shelter immigrant minors clustered on the US-Mexico border, and spoke in favor of stricter gun-control legislation.

None of those positions enhanced his already-shaky appeal to the GOP right wing. But they are clear components of Baker’s strategy to project a more liberal image than he did when he ran against Patrick.

Jon Whitesell, a Northbridge conservative activist, ticked through a laundry list of Baker apostasies against the party’sconservative base, including resistance to a no-new-tax pledge and support for raising the minimum wage.

“Is that a Democrat or a Republican? He’s running as a full-spectrum Democrat,” said Whitesell.

After backing both Mitt Romney during the 2012 presidential election and Gabriel Gomez in last year’s Senate election, two candidates who gave conservatives heartburn, Whitesell said he had “had enough.”

“I can take an imperfect candidate like a Romney or a Gomez, but you’re giving me nothing,” he said. “Baker’s running as a Democrat — why bother?”

During a WBZ-TV roundtable on Friday, Fisher, the Tea Party candidate, sought to underscore the contrast between himself and Baker, mocking the Republican front-runner as Patrick’s “identical twin.”

Democratic candidates, too, have dealt with the tug of their base, which dominates the caucuses and convention, but is more liberal than the party mainstream. Coakley, with a comfortable lead in the primary polls, has worked to avoid the type of broad leftward stride that could knock her off balance for November. Still, she has shaded left on immigration issues.

“I suspect that now that she sees the nomination being more open to her, she’ll start toning down her liberal rhetoric,” said La Raja, the UMass professor.

Of the party’s liberal activists, La Raja said, “They’re opening up space for someone like Baker to pick off some of these moderate Democrats who might not be so liberal. The Democratic nominees have opened themselves up to this. We’ll see if Baker is a good enough politician to gain more of that.”

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"Baker's cure harmful to many"
The Berkshire Eagle, Letter to the Editor, 10/08/2014

To the editor of THE EAGLE:

I was practicing medicine in Boston when Charlie Baker "saved" Harvard Pilgrim Health Care and my memories are quite different than the Baker campaign messages.

As noted by The Boston Globe during the 2010 gubernatorial race, Baker had bankruptcy protection or receivership status from the state, as well as help from the Massachusetts Health and Educational Facilities Authority, which issued an $80.9 million tax free bond. So apparently the poorly conceived merger of Harvard Health Care and Pilgrim Health Care was too big to fail at the state level. Using a familiar formula which made Mitt Romney a very rich man, the answer was fire employees, outsource jobs and raise premiums. Health insurance premiums for working families were raised 150 percent, increasing rates an average of $3,000/year.

Between 2003 and 2009, Harvard Pilgrim raised premiums 70 percent for small business plans and between 56 and 66 percent for large-employee businesses. Approximately 50 percent of the 4,000 employees lost their jobs.

Collateral damage was also done to the state of Rhode Island. As stated in The Boston Globe on Sept. 29, 2010, "In December 1999, Harvard Pilgrim Heath Care pulled out of Rhode Island with two months’ notice, shuttering the company’s three health centers and forcing 1,200 physicians and other employees to search for new jobs."

Thousands of patients were suddenly without the services of their doctors, and about 128,000 subscribers scrambled for other health insurance. Here in Western Massachusetts more than 3,000 subscribers were also cut from the health plan.

Special deals were made by Harvard Pilgrim Health Care, particularly with the goliath Partners Hospitals severely constraining physician practices as well as limiting patient choice. Suddenly patients with Harvard Pilgrim coverage in my practice at a major university hospital could not continue to see me -- we were dropped by Mr. Baker’s company.

Charlie Baker was however rewarded with a $1.7 million salary for his fine work in "saving" the company. Do we really want our governor to be a wealthy health care executive who cares little about how corporate decisions affect working families? Do we want someone who would cut life-sustaining benefits from the needy and less fortunate among us to enable a tax cut?

I certainly don’t. I’m supporting Martha Coakley for governor -- she cares about and fights for the people of our state regardless of their income status.

STANLEY M. SHAPSHAY, M.D.
Richmond

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As a prosecutor, Bill Weld often pursued lobbyists as part of his crusade against public corruption. BILL BRETT/GLOBE STAFF/FILE

"Bill Weld’s reinvention as lobbyist is jarring"
By Adrian Walker, Boston Globe Columnist, December 12, 2014

Charlie Baker, the incoming governor, talks about William F. Weld, the former governor, in almost paternalistic terms, regularly
listing him as one of the greatest influences on his life.

Weld was a regular and welcome presence on the campaign trail, to the point that he almost seemed to consider it a personal comeback. There’s nothing wrong with any of that — in fact, it’s fun to see Weld back on stage.

But now comes word that Weld has just registered as a lobbyist, something no previous governor in recent memory has ever done.

It’s both amusing and jarring, the notion of one of the state’s most popular recent governors roaming the corridors of the State House as a registered lobbyist. Yet this remarkable image could become reality, and soon.

For him to lobby Baker, about anything, is going to become problematic in no time. With Baker in the governor’s office, who wouldn’t want Weld as their lobbyist?

Weld maintained that he has registered out of an abundance of caution, now that Baker, his protege, is about to become governor. In a statement to the Globe, Weld noted that he was not necessarily registering to represent a specific client, but was seeking to avoid any burden on his friendship with Baker.

It’s anyone’s guess how much lobbying Weld will actually do, but it could be substantial. He’s spent the past couple of years as a principal at ML Strategies, the government relations arm of the high-powered law firm Mintz Levin.

Obviously, his access to the new administration could hardly be better, and lobbying is integral to his firm’s business. That access is precisely the problem.

As it happens, Weld already has a client with plenty of business pending with the state — casino magnate Steve Wynn. While his Everett casino license has already been awarded, he will need plenty of state approvals in the course of getting it built over the next year.

Wynn’s relationship with ML Strategies well predates Baker’s election, but he must feel good about his choice of representation.

Since walking out of the State House in 1997, Weld has displayed a restless spirit, reinventing himself with surprising frequency.

For a time, he was a corporate lawyer in New York. He did a stint in a private equity firm. He made a painfully awkward bid for governor of New York in 2006. His quirky old-Yankee charm seemed lost on the New York Republican Party, which regarded him as an alien.

Since returning to Boston, he has appeared before the state gambling commission on behalf of Wynn, and in US District Court, defending his former aide Jim Kerasiotes, who was embroiled in a no-win tax evasion case.

There was a time when the notion of Weld lobbying would have been unthinkable. He was a man who wore his patrician roots proudly, often quoting John P. Marquand’s old line about family wealth: “We don’t get money, we have money.” When he ran for governor in 1990, he resigned from the Tavern Club in a comical attempt to portray himself as a man of the people.

But he has been getting money for a while now.

Weld will not be any old lobbyist. He probably won’t have to cool his heels in the waiting room of the Senate president’s office, or cozying up to the bar at Mooo with his new peers.

His lobbying figures to mostly be out of the public eye. And he isn’t going to start hanging out with a bunch of guys whose claim to fame is winning a medical marijuana dispensary someplace. He’s still Weld.

But the world has changed, and the lines that once separated professions blurred long ago.

The distance from representing Steve Wynn to lobbying for him barely exists. It’s all good for a laugh, until Governor Weld calls Governor Baker and gets what he wants.

Adrian Walker is a Boston Globe columnist. He can be reached at walker@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @Adrian_Walker.

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"Ex-Gov. William Weld registers as lobbyist"
By Associated Press via The Boston Herald, December 11, 2014

BOSTON — Former Gov. William Weld, now an attorney with an influential Boston law firm, has registered to be a lobbyist at the Massachusetts Statehouse.

The Boston Globe reported Thursday that Weld, a Republican, would be the first ex-governor in modern times to be registered as a Beacon Hill lobbyist. He said in an email to the newspaper that he had no specific lobbying plans but thought it would be "prudent" to register just in case.

Weld is a partner at ML Strategies, the government relations arm of Mintz Levin. His clients include Wynn Resorts, the Las Vegas company operated by Steve Wynn that has been awarded a state license to develop a $1.6 billion casino along the Mystic River in Everett.

The move came just weeks before Republican Charlie Baker takes the oath of office as the state's next governor. Baker served in Weld's cabinet and the former governor was a strong supporter of Baker during the gubernatorial campaign.

Weld said in the email that he would seek to manage his professional activities in a way that would not burden his friendship with Baker or Lt. Gov.-elect Karyn Polito.

A onetime federal prosecutor, Weld served as governor from 1991 through 1997, when he resigned after being nominated U.S. ambassador to Mexico, though he was not ultimately confirmed to the post by the U.S. Senate. He later worked in the New York City office of an international law firm and mounted an unsuccessful campaign for governor of New York in 2006.

Weld appeared on behalf of Wynn at a number of meetings of the Massachusetts Gaming Commission leading up to the panel's vote to award the company the sole eastern Massachusetts resort casino license.

Other lobbying clients of ML Strategies in 2014 included Johnson & Johnson, Boston University and the Massachusetts Hospital Association, according to documents filed with the Massachusetts Secretary of State's office.

Stephen Tocco, a former Weld aide and chief executive of the Massachusetts Port Authority, is the president and chief executive of ML Strategies and William "Mo" Cowan, who served as an interim U.S. senator after John Kerry became U.S. secretary of state, is the firm's senior vice president and chief operating officer.

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"Charlie Baker’s goal to hike Mass. bond rating to AAA"
By Jordan Graham, The Boston Herald, December 13, 2014

Hiking the Bay State’s bond rating to AAA — the highest possible — is a top goal of the next administration, Gov.-elect Charlie Baker told a group of investors yesterday.

“We’re certainly going to focus on solving whatever short-term financial problems we may face, but we’re also going to continue to pursue strategies for the long term to protect and preserve the commonwealth’s financial credibility,” Baker said at the state’s annual investor conference. “That fundamental thing would be how we would go about pursuing and eventually earning AAA credit.”

Standard & Poors has issued AAA ratings to 15 states, although only nine have received AAA ratings from S&P and Moody’s, two of the top rating agencies, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.

“There are a lot of things we can do,” Baker said. “But, it won’t be easy. Like every state, we have challenges.”

Massachusetts has pulled its credit rating up dramatically in the past two decades, from a poor BBB rating to AA+ today. Baker credited a rainy day fund created in the early 1990s for the state’s progress.

“When we’ve seen two significant downturns, the availability of that rainy day fund has served as a shock absorber,” he said. “It still today is one of those things we need to continue, so whenever the next downturn is, and there certainly will be one at some point, we have the financial capacity to manage our way through.”

Hitting an AAA mark won’t be easy, though.

David Hitchcock, the rating analyst for Massachusetts for S&P, cited the state’s relatively high levels of debt and unfunded pension liabilities as barriers to the AAA rating.

S&P has rated Massachusetts’ outlook as stable, meaning the firm does not anticipate raising or lowering the credit rating in the next two years.

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Governor-elect Charlie Baker declined to discuss specifics of how he might address any budget gap until he takes office. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images).

"Massachusetts shortfall is closer to $750 million, tax group warns: Governor’s aides call analysis misleading"
By Joshua MillerGlobe Staff December 17, 2014

A massive $750 million shortfall, larger than previously estimated, will confront Governor-elect Charlie Baker when he takes office next month, potentially forcing him to make unpopular cuts as he begins his term, according to the Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation.

“He faces a huge fiscal challenge that is more daunting than anything we have seen in an economic recovery in a long time,” said Michael J. Widmer, president of the business-backed group, which has an established presence on Beacon Hill.

The estimate, which advocacy groups on both sides of the political spectrum said was potentially in range, was vigorously disputed by aides to Governor Deval Patrick.

Widmer’s projection takes into account the $250 million in savings and cuts Patrick has already made to state spending in recent weeks, meaning Widmer’s total estimate of the budget gap is $1 billion.

A discrepancy of the size estimated by Widmer’s group could represent a blow to the legacy of the outgoing governor, who has prided himself on guiding the state ably through the recession during his eight-year tenure, and it could limit Baker’s flexibility as he starts his tenure.

Glen Shor, Patrick’s budget chief, blasted Widmer’s projection, saying it “is incorrect, it’s inflated . . . misleading” and based on assumptions from limited data. Further, Shor said, it fails to take into account likely boosts to this year’s budget, such as leftover money that agencies give back to the state’s general fund at the end of the year.

Last month, Shor announced a much smaller shortfall, pegged by the administration at $329 million of the state’s more than $36 billion budget, which runs from July through June.

In addition to identifying $250 million in cuts and savings, Patrick sent a bill to the Legislature that would close what the administration says is the rest of the currently anticipated gap, about $80 million. The Legislature has indicated, however, that it is unlikely to take action on Patrick’s plan, thereby leaving the problem to be solved when the new governor takes office.

In an interview, Baker said that he was surprised by Widmer’s “big number” and that he does not know how much the shortfall will actually be.

He declined to discuss specifics of how he might address any budget gap until he takes office, but he reiterated pledges not to raise taxes or cut aid to cities and towns.

He also ruled out taking money from the state’s stabilization fund. That “rainy day’’ account stands at about $1.2 billion and is considered an important metric by the bond-rating agencies that assess the state’s financial health. Baker underscored that any withdrawal from the fund would have an impact on the next year’s budget. But Baker added that everything else “is going to have to be on the table.”

The governor-elect noted that part of the anticipated budget gap is the result of an automatic cut of the state’s income tax from 5.2 percent to 5.15 percent, which takes effect in January, triggered by growth in state tax revenues exceeding certain benchmarks.

“What this really says is the Commonwealth has a spending problem that we need to deal with,” Baker said.

A former state budget chief, Baker described himself during his successful gubernatorial campaign as “a guy who is pretty facile with math.’’ He said Tuesday that whatever its actual size, the gap is a “challenging exercise to be sure, but it’s not impossible” to solve.

So where might Baker be able to make cuts?

Widmer, in an interview at the Taxpayer Foundation headquarters on Washington Street, let out a whistle.

“It’s really tough,” said Widmer, who is soon leaving his post after more than 20 years.

Much of the state budget is dedicated to what are considered nondiscretionary costs.

The Widmer-projected gap of $750 million is based on less-than-expected tax and fee collections and higher-than-anticipated spending, on items such as insurance for state and municipal employees and emergency aid for poor people.

It also includes $106 million in estimated spending unaccounted for in the budget, related to mopping up the state’s bungled health insurance website.

In addition, the $750 million figure includes estimates of how much more money the state will have to pay for the health care services of people who were enrolled in a temporary Medicaid program.

That program was instituted after the state’s health insurance website — for people who do not get insurance through their employer — failed last year after it was changed to comply with the federal health care overhaul.

To make sure people would not lose coverage, Massachusetts placed hundreds of thousands who sought assistance in a temporary, almost all-expenses-paid Medicaid program.

Shor, Patrick’s budget chief, and Emme Schultz, a top state budget official, disputed almost every line of the Taxpayers Foundation analysis.

They said that Widmer’s analysis was based on a mix of incorrect and very incomplete data and that projections were concocted with too little information.

For example, the decline in the state’s tax revenues, which accounts for $43 million of Widmer’s projected shortfall, is calculated just through November although there are seven other months in the fiscal year. And data on how much the temporary Medicaid program will cost the state are incomplete.

Shor and Schultz emphasized that just because something is costing more than expected does not automatically equal a budget gap: Agencies can sometimes reallocate resources within their specific budget. And everything that is budgeted is not always spent.

Schultz underscored that the analysis did not include reversions, the money that is budgeted but not used and then given back to the state’s general fund.

“There are just some things we plain-out disagree with,” Shor said.

“It only shows downsides, some overstated, some incorrect, and some we would acknowledge — without offsetting against it some potential upsides,” he said.

But Jim Stergios, executive director of the conservative-leaning Pioneer Institute, said Widmer’s analysis is “absolutely” in range of what is a reasonable estimate.

Noah Berger, the president of the liberal-leaning Massachusetts Budget and Policy Center, said he believed there was definitely a budget gap beyond the $329 million the Patrick administration has acknowledged. But he said he did not have all the information he needed to make a final analysis of Widmer’s projection.

Berger added there are also expected and potential boosts to the budget that would make a gap smaller, perhaps significantly so.

“I don’t have data to estimate the Medicaid shortfall,” he said. Still, “if the Medicaid numbers are accurate, then this is in the ballpark.”

Joshua Miller can be reached at joshua.miller@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @jm_bos.

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"Baker filling out senior staff"
By Matt Murphy, State House News Service via 22 news wwlp.com - December 17, 2014

STATE HOUSE, BOSTON - Governor-elect Charlie Baker has begun to round out his senior staff, bringing on board a mix of campaign aides and outside professionals to fill roles in his executive team.

Among the new aides set to join the Baker administration, longtime Republican fixture Dean Serpa will become director of operations. Serpa currently runs his own event management and design company Full Impact Productions, and has worked in the cabinets of former Govs. William Weld, Paul Cellucci and Jane Swift. Serpa also worked as deputy campaign manager for Mitt Romney in 2002.

Mindy d’Arbeloff, an advisor and constant presence with Baker on the campaign trail, will become deputy chief for community relations and constituent services after helping Baker make inroads in urban communities during the campaign.

Ryan Coleman, political director on the campaign, will take over as legislative director in the new governor’s office, while Baker’s campaign policy director Elizabeth Mahoney will become associate chief and policy director in the administration.

Joel Barrera, a familiar face on Beacon Hill through his role as deputy director the Metropolitan Area Planning Council, has accepted a position as deputy chief for Cabinet relations.

Breean Fortier will work with Barrera as associate chief for Cabinet relations, coming from Northeastern University where she was associate dean for administration and finance in the College of Social Sciences and Humanities.

Molly Bode, who has worked at both the World Bank and Dartmouth College’s Center for Health Care Delivery, will be the second associate chief for Cabinet relations.

The new hires join previously announced senior aides such as Steven Kadish, who comes by way of Dartmouth University and Northeastern University, to become chief of staff. Jim Conroy, Baker’s campaign manager, has agreed to join the administration as a senior advisor, and BJ’s Wholesale Club general counsel Lon Povich will be Baker’s top lawyer.

Tim Buckley, as previously announced, will stay on as communications director after filling the role of top press aide during Baker’s campaign, and East Boston Rep. Carlo Basile is slated to give up his seat in the House to become chief secretary overseeing appointments to boards and commissions and helping as a liaison to legislative leadership.

Michael Vallarelli will become Lt. Governor-elect Karyn Polito’s top aide as deputy chief for the lieutenant governor’s office.

With three weeks until Baker takes the oath of office, the Republican has stocked several key positions in his Cabinet, but has yet to name leaders for the education, public safety or transportation secretariats.

Buckley said the transition team does not have a timeline to fill those posts.

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"Baker team leaves Western Mass. wanting: Activists cite ‘oversight,’ press to get counties included on governor-elect’s transition team"
By Jim O’Sullivan, Boston Globe Staff, December 22, 2014

Governor-elect Charlie Baker hustled in the five weeks after his election to corral a transition team that reflected the state’s diversity, filling the changeover corps with people from a wide range of socioeconomic and professional backgrounds.

One box Baker didn’t check? Western Massachusetts.

Of the approximately 175 people named to Baker’s transition team, none hails from Berkshire, Hampshire, or Franklin counties, three of the state’s four westernmost counties — all three of which voted for Baker’s opponent, Democratic Attorney General Martha Coakley, in last month’s gubernatorial election.

That leaves a gaping vacancy for a candidate who scored political points early in the campaign by promising to spread the state’s economic wealth beyond the Greater Boston region.

The oversight has already caused political headaches for Baker, as several Western Massachusetts political activists have begun circulating a letter protesting the omission.

“It appears that there was an oversight in including representatives from our communities on your team,” a group of Western Massachusetts leaders wrote to Baker’s policy director, Elizabeth Mahoney, in a letter dated Dec. 19.

“We look forward to working with the new administration, and we think we would be most effective if we were involved from the outset,” said the letter, signed by more than two dozen community leaders.

“We were just concerned that there wasn’t really representation from this part of the state,” Elton Ogden, president of the Berkshire Housing Development Corporation and a cosigner, said in a telephone interview. “I understand the realities of our geography, and the fact that folks in the Boston area have a lot more access and are more involved in a day-to-day basis. That said, we have a lot of really talented people out here who would be helpful. We would just love to get some representation on that transition crew.”

Asked if he thought Baker’s lack of political traction in those counties played a role in their omission, Ogden replied: “It’s certainly possible. It could be a combination of things, and you have to wonder if that didn’t play into it.”

Not all of Western Massachusetts was neglected as Baker went about shaping his administration. A Globe review found that seven residents of Hampden County — home to Springfield, Holyoke, and Chicopee — had been picked for the team.

But that tally pales in comparison to the rest of the state. Forty-four members of the team are from Boston, according to a list provided by Baker aides. Even Rhode Island and New Hampshire got in on the action, each sending one contributor to the Baker cause.

That Western Massachusetts was Coakley country did not factor into the assembly of the team, a Baker spokesman said.

“On the campaign trail, and as Governor-elect Charlie Baker has frequented [w]estern Massachusetts to weigh the needs, concerns and input of the region and [its] leaders on issues of local and statewide importance,” Baker spokesman Tim Buckley said in an email. “The people of [w]estern Massachusetts should expect nothing less once Governor-elect Baker takes office.”

But Baker scored no better than 35 percent in any of those three westernmost counties, his worst region of the state. In Berkshire, he managed no more than 28.3 percent.

He fared better in Hampden County, winning with more than 48 percent of the vote. The county has seven people on the Baker transition team.

Some Republican activists from that part of the state said they do not feel disrespected by Baker.

“I don’t feel slighted in the least by that,” said John Andrulis, a state GOP committee member from Leeds and economics professor retired from Western New England University in Springfield. “To a large extent, the whole Baker campaign wasn’t active in those three counties.”

Isaac Mass, a Republican attorney and Greenfield city councilman, said much of the campaigning in that part of the state had been left to Lieutenant Governor-elect Karyn Polito, a former state representative from Shrewsbury. Mass said he spoke with Baker before the election about what he called the “opiate epidemic” in Franklin County, which he called particularly acute in Greenfield.

“I do know that he’s in communication with people in Western Massachusetts,” Mass said.

But the region’s political expectations have grown in recent years, as Governor Deval Patrick has brought more attention with frequent trips to his vacation home in Richmond, and with the likely next president of the Senate, Stanley C. Rosenberg, hailing from Amherst, in Hampshire County.

Still, there remains the lingering sense that Western Massachusetts is too often forgotten by the eastern-centric political establishment.

“The western part of the state, by both parties and by state government, is largely ignored,” Andrulis said.

Jim O’Sullivan can be reached at jim.osullivan@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter at @JOSreports.

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"Remind Baker that state has western end"
The Berkshire Eagle, Editorial, 12/24/2014

Republican Governor-elect Charlie Baker has a hefty 175-member transition team that doesn't include a single person from the state's three Western counties. Innocent oversight? Revealing snub? Bad omen?

Berkshire, Hampshire and Franklin counties consistently vote Democratic, and there may not be a deeper blue region anywhere than the Berkshires. All three counties backed Democratic gubernatorial challenger Martha Coakley and the absence of anyone from the region on the transition platoon invites speculation that Mr. Baker has written off the sparsely populated west. About two dozen community leaders have sent Mr. Baker a letter noting the situation and asking to be closely involved with the administration when it takes office next month. (Eagle, Dec. 23).

The concerns out west are not unreasonable. Outgoing Democratic Governor Deval Patrick has a home in Richmond and is a regular presence in the Berkshires. He knows first-hand the issues confronting the Berkshires and has addressed them, with the improved broadband connections a good example.

That is a tough act for Mr. Baker to follow, and while it is unrealistic to expect that he will given that he does not own a home here, the fear is that the new governor will follow the act of Mitt Romney, the state's last Republican governor. Mr. Romney was rarely seen here in his one term (actually half a term, as the last two years were largely spent running for president), and he referred to Pittsfield as Springfield twice in a revealing speech before the Berkshire Chamber of Commerce.

In an opinion piece just before the election, former North Adams Mayor John Barrett III, a Democrat and supporter of the Baker candidacy, wrote that he had come to admire Mr. Baker while working with him in his capacity as secretary of administration and finance under Republican Governor William Weld. Mr. Barrett was particularly impressed with Mr. Baker's work in helping to get Mass MoCA established in the city. That history is encouraging.

Mr. Barrett wrote that Mr. Baker would reach across party lines, and the governor-elect has done so by appointing Democrats to prominent positions in his administration. He now needs to reach out to the Berkshires and neighboring counties in terms of policies and appointees.

Ideally his transition team is nothing more than a poor start. Berkshire residents and officials should not be reluctant to remind the new governor that the state extends beyond Route 495, and even past Worcester.

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"In managing economy, Baker needs a long view"
By Megan Woolhouse, Boston Globe Staff, December 28, 2014

Governor-elect Charlie Baker inherits a state economy that is riding high as more workers land jobs, unemployment falls, and consumer optimism soars.

Baker’s challenge will be to build on those strengths, undertaking efforts to help businesses expand, make Massachusetts attractive to new employers, and spread the benefits of an improving economy, analysts said. He must nurture the state’s key high-tech sector while making sure that workers struggling to fit into a new economy get the skills and training they need.

But most important, he will need to take the long view.

Economists and policy experts said the best governors have committed to improving the state’s competitiveness over time, recognizing that the biggest gains are won over decades, not in a single political term, or even two.

That’s because many of the economic forces at work are broad, complex, and ultimately outside a governor’s control — such as a recession, said Michael Widmer, president of the nonpartisan Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation.

“A governor is largely, in the short term, the prisoner of the national economy,” Widmer said. “When it’s going up they get credit, and down they get blame.”

Widmer, who has watched governors come and go in 22 years studying Massachusetts budgets, added: “And neither is deserved.”

As Baker prepares to take office nearly six years after the end of the last recession, here are some of the economic challenges he faces.

A diverse economy

The governor-elect must ensure that Greater Boston’s thriving technology sector, including the state’s key health care, medical device, and biopharmaceutical industries, remains competitive. With regions across the country and around the world seeking to lure Massachusetts firms, that means addressing issues such as the state’s high energy and housing costs.

“Nothing can really happen, nothing else is really possible, unless that [tech] sector thrives,” said Robert Nakosteen, an economics professor at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. “And if you want the kind of public services that the state does want, that sector needs to stay healthy.”

Massachusetts already offers one the nation's best-educated labor forces. Approximately 43 percent of adults over 25 hold at least a bachelor’s degree, ranking Greater Boston third among the nation’s 30 largest metropolitan areas (after Washington and San Francisco).

But the state also has some of the nation’s highest energy and housing costs and corporate taxes have risen under both Governor Deval Patrick and his predecessor, Mitt Romney. In addition, companies in technology and other leading industries increasingly complain that they can’t find enough of the workers they need to compete in a global economy.

Those complaints come, ironically, when unemployment is still at high levels and manufacturing, construction, and other workers who lost jobs in the last recession can’t find new ones paying comparable wages. The problem: their skills don’t match job openings.

In an economy largely built on the know-how of its workers, one of the greatest challenges the Baker administration will face is supporting the training and education that workers and cutting-edge industries need to thrive, analysts said.

“The skills gap needs to be front and center going forward,” said Susan Houston, executive director at MassEcon, an economic development group. “It’s really important to have a diverse economy.”

Promoting economic diversity includes supporting traditional industries such as manufacturing, which employs about 250,000 in Massachusetts, said Barry Bluestone, director of the Kitty and Michael Dukakis Center for Urban and Regional Policy at Northeastern University.

The majority of the state’s 7,000 manufacturing firms employ fewer than 25 people,and many do not have the resources to expand or market products internationally. Bluestone said the state needs to help these companies apply for federal export credits and break into international markets.

“That’s really the key, and the most important thing we could do,” Bluestone said. “Many don’t know how to find wholesalers in other countries, understand tariff laws, currency exchanges.”

An economic divide

The divide between the economic fortunes of Eastern and Western Massachusetts is only growing. But it didn’t happen overnight, and it has vexed various governors who have tried to fix it.

For example, in the 1980s, the computer maker Wang Laboratories opened an assembly plant in Holyoke, sparking hopes of a renaissance in the struggling mill town. But the plant closed a few years later, in 1987, as demand for Wang computers plunged. Wang later went bankrupt.

Holyoke’s situation remains obstinately bleak; in November, more than five years after the recession ended, unemployment there was above 8 percent, about 3 percentage points greater than the state average.

“It stumps and bedevils,” Nakosteen said of the inability to close the state’s east-west gap. “It’s intractable in some ways.”

Earlier this year, the state completed a $45 million project that installed a 1,200-mile fiber optic network to provide high speed Internet across Western Massachusetts and make the region more attractive to technology and other firms. In addition, the state gambling commission recently granted a casino license to MGM Resorts to build a casino and entertainment complex in Springfield.

Those efforts are at best a start, analysts said. Baker needs to convince technology, biotechnology, and other companies bringing new products to market that manufacturing them in Western Massachusetts is a cost effective option. And to help them compete with firms in states such as South Carolina and Texas, he should pursue policies to lower energy costs and corporate taxes, he said.

In addition, he needs to use state assets, such as the University of Massachusetts Amherst, as catalysts to economic growth.

Transportation and housing

The state’s roadways are clogged with commuters, but the state’s voters rejected a measure that would have indexed the gas tax to inflation to finance transportation projects. Efforts to extend commuter rail service and stabilize the finances of the state’s biggest transit agency, the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority, also have progressed slowly.

If Baker can find the money and will to improve transportation systems, he could help address both economic disparities and the lack of affordable housing by opening new areas to development and making it easier to commute to employment centers from communities with lower housing costs, analysts said.

But better transportation alone won’t solve an emerging affordable housing crisis. Despite the recent surge in luxury condominium and apartment construction, the rate of new housing production in Massachusetts remains among the lowest in the country. The state’s shortage of homes on the market has frustrated buyers, hampered sales, and boosted prices. It has also pushed people to move farther from the Boston area, adding traffic woes.

Traffic congestion “certainly costs people and businesses time they could be spending doing productive things,” said Michael Goodman, a public policy professor at the University of Massachusetts at Dartmouth. “It’s just an added cost, economically and in our quality of life.”

Business (cycle) as usual

As Baker’s predecessors have learned, timing is everything. Even governors undertake long-term measures to improve the economy, forces beyond state government’s can derail their efforts in the short term.

Baker takes office nearly six years into the economic expansion that followed the last national recession, and chances appear reasonable that another downturn could occur before his first term ends. Since the end of World War II, US expansions have averaged about five years; the longest on record lasted 10, from 1991 to 2001.

There are no magic wands for managing the state’s economy, Goodman said. “But if you make strategic public investments in the capacity of the region to grow, and you’re patient and take advantage of opportunities if and when they come, at least you’re in the game.”

Megan Woolhouse can be reached at megan.woolhouse@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @megwoolhouse.

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"Tax cuts mean a revenue shortfall for Massachusetts"
While taxpayers will likely welcome the income tax cut that takes effect Jan. 1, the state government is scrambling to make up a revenue shortfall.
The personal income tax is dropping from 5.2 percent to 5.15 percent, saving the average taxpayer approximately $19 and costing the state an estimated $70 million in lost revenue in fiscal 2015.
By Gerry Tuoti and Charles Winokoor, Taunton Daily Gazette, December 23, 2014

While taxpayers will likely welcome the income tax cut that takes effect Jan. 1, the state government is scrambling to make up a revenue shortfall.

The personal income tax is dropping from 5.2 percent to 5.15 percent, saving the average taxpayer approximately $19 and costing the state an estimated $70 million in lost revenue in fiscal 2015.

The Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation projects a total state budget deficit of more than $1 billion.

A state law aimed at incrementally decreasing the income tax to 5 percent is the reason behind the tax cut. When the state hits certain economic benchmarks, the income tax is automatically reduced by 0.05 percent. One benchmark, for example, was reached when state tax revenue for the previous fiscal year grew 2.5 percent faster than inflation. The automatic trigger also resulted in decreases in fiscal 2012 and 2014.

Barbara Anderson, executive director of Citizens for Limited Taxation, said the tax cut is about holding lawmakers responsible. She referenced a 1989 tax hike that was pitched as a temporary measure to overcome a budget deficit.

While $19 is unlikely to make a major difference to most taxpayers, she welcomes it.

“We’ll take what we can get,” she said.

In 2000, voters approved a ballot question calling for the state to drop the income tax from 5.85 percent to 5 percent over a three-year span.

“Then the Legislature was in another fiscal crisis and froze it at 5.3 percent, and it wasn’t going to take its final drop,” Anderson said. “But they said again that when the economy picks up and we can afford it, we will drop by half of one percent until get to 5 percent. We objected to that. And here we wait for the promise of 1989 that it would be brought back to 5 percent.”

Noah Berger, executive director of the Massachusetts Budget and Policy Center, said tax cuts from the late 1990s and early 2000s are costing the state an estimated $3 billion in annual revenue today.

“Since then, we’ve seen deep cuts in funding for higher education, making it harder for students to afford college,” he said. “We’ve seen cuts in Early Education and Care and in public health, and we’ve seen cuts of over 40 percent of local aid.”

He favors a progressive tax code that would shift more of the tax burden to wealthier residents. When combining all taxes, not just the income tax, wealthier residents typically end up spending a lower percentage of their income on total taxes, he said.

State Sen. Marc Pacheco, D-Taunton, also favors a more progressive tax code that would require higher-income earners to “pay slightly more.”

“There’s still a significant inequity in the (tax) system,” he said.

Pacheco, however, said it falls upon the electorate to submit a ballot measure to reform the current state, income-tax code.

“The taxpayers have to deal with it as a ballot issue,” Pacheco said. “The Legislature can’t do much — constitutionally we’re not able to put a more progressive tax code in place.”

And although Pacheco said paying $19 less in a year might not sound like much money, the fact is it “remains good news for a lot of folks out there.”

Pacheco says the projection of a $1 billion-plus state budget deficit by the state’s Taxpayers Foundation is for now “an estimate” that could change after tax numbers are calculated and finalized for the month of December.

State Sen. Shaunna O’Connell, R-Taunton, said the income tax rate should have been reduced to its five-percent target a long time ago.

She blames previous administrations for “irresponsible spending and gross mismanagement.”

O’Connell said elected officials and not taxpayers should be able to handle tax revenues without having to wait for an electorate-driven ballot measure.

“When we rely on the taxpayers it takes away our responsibility as legislators,” she said.

O’Connell also pointed to the necessity for $500 million to be diverted in 2013 by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to the Internal Revenue Service in order to implement the first four years of President Barack Obama’s Affordable Care Act, as an example of governmental ineptitude.

O’Connell also criticized former Bay State governors and lawmakers for disregarding annual reports provided by the Inspector General, the state auditor and the Pioneer Institute warning of ongoing “waste and fraud” including welfare-card abuse and MBTA overspending.

“Year after year, those reports go unheeded,” she said.

O’Connell called incoming governor Charlie Baker “a good manager” who has the ability to “clean up the mess he’s been left with.”

Since Massachusetts has a flat tax rate for its personal income tax, the wealthiest residents will see the most benefit.

The middle 20 percent, earning an average income of $58,000, will get an average tax cut of $19. People earning $168,000 will save an average of $66. The top 1 percent of earners, making an average of $2.4 million in annual income, will see an average savings of $936, according to the Massachusetts Budget and Policy Center.

The economic trigger that automatically lowers the income tax rate, Berger said, can make the state budget process unpredictable.

Berger argues that strategic public investment is the way to achieve economic growth.

“Because the state needs a balanced budget, the most effective way to strengthen the economy is to invest in things that improve productivity, like education and infrastructure,” he said. “Direct spending in the economy helps because construction workers and teachers can spend their salaries on goods and services. These types of investments, particularly in the short term, but also in the long term, have a more positive impact on the economy than tax cuts on high-income people.”

Anderson favors the flat tax, saying it spurs job creation. She said better fiscal management and policy reform is the way to balance the budget without raising taxes.

See more at: www.tauntongazette.com/article/20141223/News/141228442/?Start=3#sthash.MA2p3cC1.dpuf

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War on Poverty: 'Massachusetts has a homelessness crisis,' says incoming governor Charlie Baker
The (Springfield) Republican Newsroom, By Charlie Baker, December 29, 2014

Massachusetts is a great place, and this holiday season we have much to celebrate as a commonwealth. But the start of a new year also offers us an opportunity to renew our efforts to help those who are impoverished, those left behind and those working but unable to get ahead.

Too many individuals went into this season unemployed or underemployed. The minimum wage so many depend on will be lifted, but that alone won't lift up the unacceptable number of families spending the season housed in shelters or hotels and individuals on the streets.

Massachusetts has a homelessness crisis. While homelessness rates are falling in virtually every other state in the country, they continue to rise here. Previous administrations I was honored to be a part of solved this problem before - getting every family out of the motels and into stable living situations, and I am committed to doing it again. But it will take time and coordination across every level of government.

The opportunity to do better is real. The state is on track to spend almost $200 million to house thousands of families in emergency shelters, including in hotels and motels, and in too many cases for an extended period of time. This is not a solution, but a poor fix straining resources and uprooting families from their support systems. We can use our resources more efficiently and effectively to provide support and intervention, increasing assistance to allow family members to take in their relatives until they can get back on their feet. This is much better for families, for children, and for taxpayers.

We can also explore short term assistance models to invest in leases, rather than hotel rooms, with the ultimate goal of transferring the lease to the family once they are back on their feet. This is more cost effective, and reduces the hardship and disruption for children. We plan to work more closely with our local officials and communities, using approaches that can be jointly funded and tailored that build on local solutions to address homelessness through regional networks. When a mom or dad can stop worrying about where they will lay their head each night they can start climbing back on their feet and out of poverty.

In the end, we must do more to create an environment where economic independence is within reach for everyone. Increasing the minimum wage is a step in the right direction, but we must also look toward creating more family-sustaining careers and boosting take home pay for low-income workers by increasing the earned income tax credit, by supporting job training programs that result in real jobs, and by making sure our education system works for everyone, no matter where they live.

As a commonwealth, we can encourage businesses to train and hire those receiving transitional assistance, provide on the job training at the mutual benefit of employers in need of skilled workers, and individuals in need of earning a good living. There are creative ways to create pathways to sufficiency for families in need. To do so, we need to work together to implement good ideas.

These ideas and policies will begin to take shape in the months ahead and continue throughout my administration as we seek to bring the same success seen in some regions to the entire commonwealth. I look forward to working with the legislature and local officials in Western Massachusetts to grow our economy and address poverty, with the belief that Massachusetts can be great everywhere.

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Charlie Baker has invited his high-dollar donors to a private dinner reception at Alden Castle in Brookline on Jan. 7, the night before he is sworn in at the State House. Associated Press/File

"Baker inauguration gala to cost $1.6 million: Big businesses help to pay for events"
By Michael Levenson, Boston Globe Staff, December 31, 2014

Governor-elect Charlie Baker has tapped developers, insurers, and utilities that do business with the state to foot the ballooning bill for his inaugural bash, which is now estimated to cost $1.6 million and includes a private candlelight dinner for high-dollar donors.

A preliminary donor list released by Baker aides shows the governor-elect has raised more than $780,000 from two political action committees, 32 individuals, and 43 corporations to bankroll his inauguration on Jan. 8, which was initially estimated to cost $1 million.

Among the 17 top donors giving $25,000 each are Blue Cross Blue Shield; MassMutual; Hanover Insurance; Northeast Utilities; Boston University; and Brait Builders, a Marshfield construction company.

Verizon donated $20,000, and 12 corporations gave $10,000 each, including Diesel Direct, Astellas Pharma, Staples, and Atlantic Charter Insurance Co.

Baker has invited his biggest donors to a candlelight dinner at Alden Castle in Brookline on Jan. 7, the night before he is sworn in at the State House.

The inaugural schedule also includes parties in South Boston and Worcester and a concert for supporters on Jan. 9 in Dorchester.

Pamela H. Wilmot, executive director of the government watchdog group Common Cause Massachusetts, said special interests should not be funding inaugural celebrations or be granted exclusive access to the governor-elect at a private dinner the night before his swearing-in.

“These are people who are actually looking for something from government and getting special access and influence, or at least creating the appearance of it,” Wilmot said. “That’s a problem for public trust in government and can be an actual problem.”

Jim Conroy, a top Baker aide, defended the Baker inaugural committee accepting large sums from companies that either do business with or are heavily regulated by the state.

“We are pleased to have received such strong support for the inaugural celebration from across Massachusetts and have chosen to self-impose contribution limits as well as publicly disclose these contributions in the interest of full transparency,” he said in a statement.

At the estimated $1.6 million, Baker’s inauguration is more expensive than Mayor Martin J. Walsh’s $1.4 million ceremony last January but less than Governor Deval Patrick’s $1.9 million celebration in 2007, which was the costliest in state history.

Baker has set a limit of $25,000 for donations from corporations and individuals and $200 from lobbyists. Despite the cap on lobbyists’ donations, the Baker camp still enlisted lobbyists to raise money for the inauguration.

Robert F. White, a veteran Beacon Hill lobbyist, said he was asked by Baker aides for fund-raising help and solicited checks on the governor-elect’s behalf from Blue Cross Blue Shield; Arbella Insurance; Boston Medical Center; and Cumberland Farms, which gave $25,000.

“I took my client list and worked with them to raise money,” White said.

Boston University, which also donated $25,000 to Walsh’s inauguration, said through a spokesman: “We frequently support important civic events, and we are pleased to support this one, too.”

Patrick had a self-imposed limit of $50,000 for corporations and individuals, and his donor list, like Baker’s, was replete with banks, law firms, and drug companies regulated by the state.

Patrick, who had vowed to shun the culture of insider dealing on Beacon Hill, also banned contributions from Big Dig contractors, tobacco companies, gambling firms, and firearms companies. Governor Mitt Romney, who also promised to clean up Beacon Hill, refused donations from tobacco and gambling interests.

Baker, a former health insurance executive, did not rule out contributions from any category of special interest. But Conroy said the governor-elect still rejected some donations. He refused to say which donations Baker rejected or why.

Baker’s donor list, in addition to large checks from corporations, includes hefty donations from wealthy business executives.

Among those donating the maximum amount of $25,000 were Roger Marino, cofounder of EMC Corp.; Kevin Rollins, former chief executive of Dell, and his wife, Debra; Thomas DeSimone, executive vice president of WS Development; and Wayne Capolupo, chief executive of SPS New England.

Those donating $10,000 included Steve DiFillippo, chief executive of Davio’s restaurant group; John Brock, chief executive of Coca-Cola; John McDonnell, managing director of Tito’s Handmade Vodka; and Seth Klarman, chief executive of The Baupost Group.

The two political action committees that donated to Baker were the State Police Association of Massachusetts, which gave $25,000, and the Massachusetts Society of Certified Public Accountants, which gave $2,500.

Baker has also sold about 3,000 tickets, at $50 each, to his “Let’s Be Great, Massachusetts” party at the Boston Convention and Exhibition Center on Jan. 8, several hours after he takes the oath of office in the House chamber.

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Massachusetts House Speaker Robert A. DeLeo. (Jonathan Wiggs/Globe staff)

"No movement yet on pay raises, DeLeo says"
By Joshua Miller, Boston Globe Staff, January 5, 2015

House Speaker Robert A. DeLeo said he doesn’t think there will be an effort to move legislation raising the pay of top state officials including the governor, House speaker, and Senate president before new legislators are sworn in on Wednesday.

A state panel recommended last month that the Legislature, among other shifts in compensation, increase the governor’s salary from $151,800 to $185,000; the House speaker’s and Senate president’s from $102,279 to $175,000; and the attorney general’s from $130,582 to $175,000.

Asked Sunday night at a State House event if he would push for pay raises in the final two days of the current legislative session, DeLeo indicated he was focused instead on connecting with new leaders on Beacon Hill. He said he was thinking about Wednesday, when the new class of state representatives and senators is sworn in, and Thursday, when Governor-elect Charlie Baker takes the oath of office.

“Getting to know my new partners a little bit better and then working on thoughts in terms of agenda items for the next year,” he said.

Asked whether people could expect a push on pay raises right now, he said no.

“Not this session, no,” the speaker said at the unveiling of Governor Deval Patrick’s official portrait.

There is some discomfort among legislators at the prospect of increasing top officials’ pay at a time when the state faces a budget gap that could lead to significant cuts in services.

In December, Patrick said he supported the recommendations of the panel but would not approve salary-boosting legislation until the gap was bridged.

Baker said last month that the time was not right to be considering pay increases.

The commission that made the pay recommendations argued that raises were warranted because of officials’ level of responsibilities, other states’ levels of compensation, Massachusetts’ high cost of living, and a desire to attract talented people, regardless of means, to elected office.

The chairman of the commission, Ira A. Jackson, said the proposed pay raises would require approval in the current legislative session to be in effect when the new crop of Beacon Hill officials take office Wednesday.

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Charlie Baker, right, greets New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and Rhode Island Gov. Gina Raimondo, far left, in the House Chambers at the Statehouse in Boston, Thursday, prior to his inauguration as governor of Massachusetts. (Elise Amendola — The Associated Press)

"Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker sworn in at Statehouse"
Priorities: Fixing budget deficit, expanding charter schools, lowering energy costs
By Steve Leblanc and Bob Salsberg, The Associated Press, 1/9/2015

BOSTON - Placing his hand on the family Bible, Republican Gov. Charlie Baker took his oath of office Thursday and said in his inaugural speech that some of the state's toughest challenges have been pushed aside or ignored.

Baker was sworn in during a noon ceremony in the Massachusetts House of Representatives chamber before members of the state Supreme Judicial Court, House and Senate lawmakers, and other top elected officials.

In his speech, he said Massachusetts was a global leader in many areas and a national leader on issues like health care and marriage equality.

"But we're nowhere near our full potential," he said. "Some of our toughest challenges have been ignored and lost amid the successes or have become the equivalent of kicking a can down the road because they're not politically convenient or easy to fix."

He mentioned the more than 1,500 homeless residents living in hotels and motels, as well as recent management breakdowns including the initial troubles with the state's health connector website during the transition to the federal Affordable Care Act.

"I know we can do better," Baker said.

Baker said one of his first priorities would be fixing a state budget deficit. He said his staff has estimated the shortfall will exceed $500 million, higher than the $329 million deficit projected by former Democratic Gov. Deval Patrick's administration.

"We have to recognize that this is a spending problem," Baker said, adding that he intends to hold the line on taxes.

He received one of his longest and loudest ovations when he pledged to address the state's opiate abuse crisis.

Other priorities mentioned by the new governor included expanding charter schools in underperforming school districts — a proposal that died in the state Senate last year — and working with other New England governors to lower the region's soaring electricity costs.

"We will challenge the status quo, look for and try new approaches and recognize they might not always work," he said. "When that happens, we'll acknowledge it, learn from it, and try again."

The governor also expressed his condolences to the people of France after Wednesday's attack on a Paris newspaper that left 12 people dead.

Within hours of taking office, Baker made good on one campaign promise by ordering the release of $100 million in transportation funds earmarked for cities and towns. Lawmakers authorized $300 million in so-called Chapter 90 funds, but Patrick withheld $100 million, saying the state could not afford the entire amount.

Baker arrived at the Statehouse for his inaugural, accompanied by his wife, Lauren, and their three children. As they walked up the front steps of the Capitol, he shook hands with well-wishers then paused for a 19-gun salute.

Baker was sworn in using a Bible that his mother held for his father nearly a half century ago when the elder Baker was sworn in as an assistant U.S. Secretary of Transportation. Baker's mother, who has Alzheimer's disease, was unable to attend the inaugural ceremonies.

The Republican began his day with a reception for state lawmakers at Suffolk University Law School.

Legislative leaders said after the speech that they were encouraged by Baker's promise of bipartisanship and indicated that they were not offended by critical comments he made in the speech.

"He sounded like a governor ready to go to work with a Democratic legislature," said Senate President Stanley Rosenberg, D-Amherst.

House Speaker Robert DeLeo, D-Winthrop, said Baker set the right tone in his address.

Among those in attendance for Baker's swearing-in were Republican New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and Rhode Island's new Democratic governor, Gina Raimondo, along with former Republican Massachusetts Govs. Mitt Romney and William Weld and former U.S. Sen. Scott Brown.

Christie has been a strong political backer of Baker and last year chaired the Republican Governor's Association, an organization which donated more than $10 million to a pro-Baker Super PAC during the last campaign.

Baker's swearing-in marks the return of a Republican to the corner office for the first time since Romney, who opted not to seek election in 2006. Patrick won that contest and defeated Baker four years later, but decided not to seek re-election last year.

After swearing in his cabinet, Baker left the Statehouse to meet with community leaders in Boston's Roxbury neighborhood, and planned to wrap up the day with an inaugural party at the Boston Convention and Exhibition Center.

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"Governor Baker orders state hiring freeze"
By Frank Phillips, Boston Globe Staff, January 9, 2015

In his first move to deal with a huge state budget gap, Governor Charlie Baker Friday put a freeze on state hiring and ordered his Cabinet secretaries to conduct detailed performance evaluations of all their agencies.

Baker’s action, just over 24 hours after he was sworn in with a vow not to raise taxes, reflects his determination that the state’s problems be addressed by making state government more efficient and eliminating waste.

“Our current deficit proves that Massachusetts is facing a spending problem that must be remedied through smarter spending and a streamlined approach for state government,’’ said Baker in a statement announcing the moves.

The hiring freeze, which will save an estimated $6.5 million, requires all state agencies to withdraw job postings for vacant positions and bans the hiring of new contract workers.

The agency reviews are to be conducted over the next 100 days and would focus on how to improve performance, the administration said in its announcement.

“These reviews will help establish a baseline for performance,’’ the statement said.

The size of the budget deficit is not entirely clear.

The Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation, a fiscal watchdog group which monitors state fiscal issues, has estimated that the state has a $750 million mid-fiscal-year deficit, even after the Patrick administration cut the $36.5 billion budget by $250 million late last year.

Former governor Deval Patrick’s aides argue that their cuts left only a $70 million to $80 million hole. Democrats in the House and Senate have argued that the state fiscal problems are driven by lower revenue, rather than excessive spending.

Frank Phillips can be reached at phillips@globe.com.

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Governor Charlie Baker meets veteran and case worker Sam Bennett at Soldier On in Pittsfield during the governor's 'Spotlight on Excellence' tour of the state. The visit to the Berkshires is Baker's first since being sworn-in to office. January 10, 2014. Stephanie Zollshan The Berkshire Eagle.

"Governor Baker swings through Berkshires, emphasizing affordable housing, small business"
By Phil Demers, The Berkshire Eagle, 1/10/2015

Two days after he took his oath of office, Republican Gov. Charlie Baker pitched hopes to grow affordable housing in the commonwealth, increase the number and health of small businesses and encourage new innovation centers during a tour around Northern and Central Berkshire on Saturday.

Baker, Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito and other key members of the new administration came along for the trip, which included stops at Mass MoCA in North Adams and Soldier On and the Berkshire Museum in Pittsfield.

"Our goal as an administration is to serve 100 percent of the commonwealth," Baker said at Mass MoCA, no doubt mindful of frequent gripes from Western Massachusetts residents that they receive too little attention from Boston.

In a deft pander, Baker reminded the audience one of his sons attends Union College in Schenectady, N.Y., and he would drop in on the Berkshires on the way to visiting the school, "and let you hold me accountable as I'm sure you'd like to do."

The visit comprised part of a statewide, "Spotlight on Excellence" tour, intended to round out the inauguration.

Wherever he went during campaign, Baker said, people wanted to talk of the problems and challenges they faced.

Useful information, of course, but the then-candidate always wanted to know something else: What's working?

After some thought, people would provide answers, and these informed where Baker chose to visit on his tour, and perhaps will define key portions of his economic and social initiatives.

"One of our jobs is to recognize those great things, celebrate them, and figure out how to do more of them," Baker said at Soldier On, where he praised the outfit for its purpose — housing homeless veterans — and rapid growth in recent years.

At Mass MoCA, museum Director Joseph Thompson and former Mayor John Barrett III recounted the story of how the museum went from a handful of abandoned industrial buildings to an eclectic arts campus that attracts more than 150,000 visitors per year.

From the start, the project was a stretch, a curious economic growth project, both conceded, but Baker, then part of the Weld administration, helped make it happen.

"In the dictionary under 'Not Typical Bureaucrat' it says 'see: Charlie Baker,' " Barrett said. "I think that's what we're going to see as governor. We're proud that you're connected to our area, our city, our kids and our people."

To much laughter and applause, Barrett added, "You're going to make it happen, or I'm going to be all over you like a cheap suit."

At Berkshire Museum, Baker fielded questions about small business, tourism, the area's declining population and energy.

About how to grow small businesses, Baker first suggested "handing your business card to the governor or lieutenant governor on our way out."

"A lot of people in small business think [the commonwealth] is a pretty tough place to do business," Baker said. "We can talk all we want about small business this, small business that. Everybody loves small business, right? But it's very clear to me that many of the small businesses that I talked to over the course of the race don't feel particularly supported or appreciated, and we need to fix that. Small business, most of the time, is where most of the job growth comes from."

Polito said a new administration offers an opportunity for a "fresh look" at how business is regulated.

"It's sort of peeling back so we can remove some of the barriers and help reduce the cost of doing business for individuals and owners and create more jobs," Polito said. "Right now there's so much tension with the high cost of health care, rising energy costs — it's nearly impossible to create that full-time job, that really good job."

Small business growth, pushed along by grants and new innovation centers, will help create "the kinds of job opportunities and economic excitement that young people like" to help stanch the flow of residents from the area, a significant problem identified by Berkshire Chamber of Commerce, Berkshire Regional Planning Commission, local school districts and others.

On energy, Baker took the opportunity to voice his support of expanding the commonwealth's natural gas pipeline infrastructure — even though he was actually asked about methods for increasing solar energy development, about which he said very little.

"I don't know why the commonwealth didn't expand some of its existing pipeline capacity three or four years ago," he said. "In 2010, everybody knew that there was going to be a tremendous amount of supply coming out of Pennsylvania, New York and other places. At that point, if you had delivery capacity, it [would] drive down the price of consumption. For whatever reason, they didn't do it."

The new governor's administration very much resembles the look of former Republican governors William Weld and Paul Cellucci's administrations. Jim O'Sullivan, of The Boston Globe, called the administration a "veritable time machine whirring back to the mid-1990s" and said "one half expects them to arrive in their new Statehouse offices sporting slap bracelets and humming the 'Dangerous Minds' soundtrack.

More than 1,500 homeless people in the state, health care and a $500 million budget shortfall comprise major issues Baker has identified early on as key focal points.

Contact Phil Demers at 413-496-6214. pdemers@berkshireeagle.com @BE_PhilD on Twitter

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"Berkshire municipal officials cautiously optimistic about Governor Baker"
By Scott Stafford, The Berkshire Eagle, January 10, 2015

City and town officials are hopeful, but cautious, about what might change and what might remain the same with state aid and other programs that affect local operations.

"I was happy to hear that (Gov. Baker) has a strong commitment to local aid and education," said Richard Alcombright, Mayor of North Adams. "What I'm hoping for at the local level is that he will continue to find a way to fund ongoing capital projects. But time will tell."

He added that he was glad the new governor is visiting the Berkshires Saturday.

"Let's hope he'll maintain a strong connection to the real Western Massachusetts and the North County area," Alcombright said.

Pittsfield Mayor Daniel Bianchi said his hope is that Baker "will be just as responsive as was the case with (former) Gov. (Deval) Patrick. We do have some local initiatives that really need the support of state government."

As an example, Bianchi spotlighted the city's pavement management program.

"He seems pretty savvy about high impact investments," Bianchi said. "And he point-blank said that if state revenues go up, local aid will go up and that local aid is a priority for him."

Bianchi said he is pleased that Baker is planning a Saturday visit to the Berkshires.

"I think that is a good sign," he said.
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Peter Fohlin, town manager in Williamstown, said Baker "has a hard act to follow after Gov. Patrick. The support we received from his administration was the best in my memory. So we're hoping Charlie Baker will meet or exceed that level."

He said he is impressed with the new governor's Cabinet appointments, "and I really like his blend of Democrat and Republican appointments — it seems to be a Cabinet with great promise."

"I'm hopeful, but I haven't formed any opinions prematurely," Fohlin said.

Lanesborough Town Administrator Paul Sieloff said he is taking a wait and see posture.

"I have no expectations," he said. "But we're hoping that he will be behind some of the programs that are supportive of towns like ours, such as Chapter 90 — the rehabilitation and paving of roads — and other programs that allow municipalities to meet our challenges — particularly the fiscal challenges."

Contact Scott Stafford at 413-496-6301. sstafford@berkshireeagle.com @BE_SStafford on Twitter

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"First county visit for Baker as governor"
The Berkshire Eagle, Editorial, January 11, 2015

It was good to see Governor Baker in the Berkshires Saturday two days after his inauguration. Still, there is real concern about how what his election will mean locally.

Mr. Baker has a "hard act to follow after Governor Patrick," as Williamstown Town Manager Peter Fohlin said (Eagle, January 11). The governor had a home in Richmond and was an advocate of the small businesses the governor suggested had been neglected during a visit to the Berkshire Museum. Both North Adams Mayor Richard Alcombright and Pittsfield Mayor Daniel Bianchi plugged the need for local aid, which could be an immediate issue as the state addresses a deficit.

Mr. Baker's appearance at Mass MoCA in North Adams had symbolic value as Mr. Baker worked on the project in its early years as a member of the Bill Weld administration. John Barrett III, a Democrat who backed Mr. Baker, told an appreciative audience at the art museum that he would be on the governor's case if the new chief executive neglected the region, which Boston officials know is not an idle threat coming from the long-time former mayor of North Adams.

It's worrisome that the governor punted an opportunity to trumpet increased clean energy, instead talking unbidden about the need to expand the state's natural gas pipeline infrastructure. While the new Kinder-Morgan plan for a pipeline through the Berkshires is better than the last, concerns remain about its environmental impact.

The governor's promise to drop in on the Berkshires while visiting his son in college in Schenectady recalled Mr. Weld's Berkshire stops while on his way to his hunting camp in the Adirondacks. For that reason, Mr. Weld was a regular visitor, and ideally, Mr. Baker will be as well.

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"What does Western Mass. want?"
By Akilah Johnson, Boston Globe Staff, January 15, 2015

NORTH ADAMS — They stood in the lobby of the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art waiting to hear what Governor Charlie Baker had to say — but already impressed that only two days after his inauguration he was in the westernmost region of the state.

“It’s great recognition for us that so early in his tenure he’s here,” said Kate Heekin, an adviser at the Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts. “It’s a wide state, and people have heard of Worcester, people have heard of Springfield, but there’s more beyond Springfield.”

Western Massachusetts doesn’t often get much attention from statewide politicians, except perhaps during campaign season, according to residents and local leaders. And Beacon Hill’s lack of awareness about the nuances of life in the expansive area frustrates some. They say one-size-fits-all solutions driven by the needs of Boston are often applied to statewide problems such as economic development, transportation, education, and housing.

In the weeks since the November election, Western Massachusetts has had reason to both cheer and worry about what the new administration in Boston will mean. On one hand, Baker’s transition team included no one from the state’s three most-western counties. On the other hand, longtime state Senator Stanley Rosenberg of Amherst ascended to the Senate presidency — giving his neighbors hope that their voices will be amplified in Boston.

“The scope and scale of the challenges out here are the biggest part that you can’t get your head around unless you’re from here,” said state Senator Benjamin Downing, whose district includes the state’s four most-western counties. “There’s always a concern that an administration is going to hear ‘Western Massachusetts,’ and that means Worcester and Springfield and maybe UMass, too.”

In fact, Western Massachusetts is a sprawling area that encompasses tiny rural communities and midsized urban cities. School districts range from regional systems nearly the size of Rhode Island to individual districts. Public transportation does not run at night or on Sundays.

Housing costs in the state’s most-western counties are about 25 to 40 percent lower than in Suffolk County, where about 12,416 people live per square mile, according to census figures. There are about 102 people per square mile in Franklin County, about 142 in Berkshire County, 300 in Hampshire County, and 751 in Hampden County, census figures show.

Having Rosenberg as Senate president will be invaluable, Downing said, as the Amherst Democrat has the shared experience of trying to think through some of these same issues.

In many ways, he and others said, people out this way became a bit spoiled after eight years with a governor who had a better understanding of their needs than most, since Deval Patrick owned property in Western Massachusetts — and sometimes ran into neighbors at the grocery story or out doing errands.

“And that’s not anything anyone out here was ever used to,” Downing said.

But here were Baker and Lieutenant Governor Karyn Polito, last weekend, assuring about 150 people at Mass MoCa that the 413 area code will not be overlooked during their administration.

“We look forward to continuing and developing every community across the Commonwealth, including the ones out here in Western Massachusetts,” Baker said Saturday at the museum that he helped establish more than 20 years ago as a member of the Weld administration.

He told the crowd that his son is a student at Union College in Schenectady, N.Y., “so I’ll be spending a lot of time driving right by you on my way there and will be happy to stop by and make sure we spend time out here and continue to follow the progress and give you an opportunity to hold us all as accountable.”

And if that doesn’t happen, North Adams’s former mayor John Barrett told the governor: “I’m going to be all over you like a cheap suit.”

Still, that’s not to say there haven’t been bumps in the very short road since Election Day.

The fact that Baker’s transition team had no representation from three of four westernmost counties was not lost on community leaders and elected officials, 26 of whom wrote a letter to the transition team’s policy director calling out the omission.

“It appears that there was an oversight in including representatives from our communities on your team,” the Dec. 19 letter read. “We think we would be most effective if we were involved from the outset.”

But Ellen Kennedy, president of Berkshire Community College and one of the letter’s signatories said it was not intended to embarrass or chastise the new governor. The point, she said, was to acknowledge the lapse and offer assistance.

And, she said, “it sends a very powerful message that Governor Baker on day two or three of his governorship has chosen to come to Berkshire County, to Pittsfield.”

Western Massachusetts faces challenges distinct from the eastern part of the state, where both the centers of power and population reside, local leaders say. Infrastructure is a big issue, considering a city like Pittsfield with just 44,000 residents has more than 200 miles of roads to maintain. Transportation, distance, and Internet connectivity — some areas still have dial-up — and population stabilization are all the things Western Massachusetts contends with, officials said.

Often, as officials on Beacon Hill begin to think about the allocation of resources, Kennedy said the natural inclination is to think “this dollar will affect more people and have more impact in a large population centers.”

But, she said, the opposite is true.

Money goes further in smaller communities, she said, calling $10,000 to $100,000 a “game changer” in Berkshire County and pointing to the $9.7 million received from the Massachusetts Life Sciences Center to build the Berkshire Innovation Center in Pittsfield. The center will offer research and development equipment, clean rooms, wet labs, training, and conference rooms to some 24 life science manufacturing companies and research institutions.

“We need advance manufacturers in rural communities to keep people here and keep people employed,” she said.

Pittsfield is undergoing “the exodus of our younger residents,” Mayor Dan Bianchi wrote in a November letter to Baker.

“I know every community in Massachusetts probably struggles with the loss of population, but some of the projections from the western part of the state are pretty dramatic,” he later said during a telephone interview.

As Mayor Richard Alcombright of North Adams put it: “We need to figure out how to keep some of our kids here.”

“We need to find ways to help stimulate some growth here,” he said. “How do we market to call centers? How do we market to businesses that could be totally digital? How do we appeal to technology? How do we find small companies and small businesses that want to feed on the bright young minds that are going to come through here?”

Public higher education is a big driver in the region, which holds the Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts, the University of Massachusetts flagship campus at Amherst, and community colleges. And Hampshire County, said Suzanne Beck, the executive director of the Greater Northampton Chamber of Commerce, is a “leader in the local food movement and our creative sector is populated by a lot of very small businesses.”

Of course, if you’re not an elected official or community leader, this east-vs.-west divide might not be as meaningful to your day-to-day life.

Sam Harbey, who owns Sam’s Pizzeria and Cafe on Main Street in Northampton, said he was more worried about the cost of doing business — cheese prices have jumped 30 percent in three months — than what people in Eastern Massachusetts think.

“You tell me, because all the people I know are in Western Mass.,” he said.

“When people talk about not getting enough attention from Eastern Mass., it’s politically based,” Laura Hoffman, owner of Owl’s Nest boutique and gift shop also in Northampton, said referring to complaints about a lack of funding for things like bridges and roads. “I get a lot of people from Boston and New York who shop here because it’s cheaper.”

Northampton, the Berkshires, and other parts of Western Massachusetts have become destinations for people looking for a brief respite from the hustle and bustle of city life, she and customer Shannon McCarthy of Hampden said.

Still, Hoffman joked, “I’m sure there are people who have no idea. They think Massachusetts stops at 495.”

“Sturbridge,” quipped McCarthy, having a bit more faith in fellow Bay Staters — but not much.

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"Charlie Baker vows thorough review 
of Connector, state agencies"
By Marie Szaniszlo, Matt Stout, The Boston Herald, January 14, 2015

Gov. Charlie Baker yesterday said his administration will be doing a “significant review” of every state agency, including the state’s troubled and costly Obama­care website.

“We’re obviously going to take very seriously the whole question about what’s going on at the Health Connector, what it means with respect to coverage for people in the private sector, coverage for people on MassHealth, and that’s going to be a big thing that we’re going to have to worry about for the next five or six months,” Baker said. “Because the botched rollout of that program not only created hardship for people here in Massachusetts who didn’t ask for it, but in addition to that, it represents a significant financial issue for the state and for the state’s taxpayers.”

The governor stopped short of calling the review an audit “per se” but said his administration “will certainly be doing a pretty significant,” 100-day review of every state agency.

“The Health Connector will certainly be one of those,” he said.

Baker’s remarks came a day after the Herald reported that the governor believes the massive Health Connector mess he inherited from the Patrick administration could be responsible for “more than half” of the looming state budget gap.

More than 300,000 Bay Staters were placed on temporary, free Medicaid plans last year because the Connector’s glitch-infested Web portal blocked them from signing up for their normal health plans.

Confidential documents obtained by the Herald in October revealed that the Patrick administration predicted it could spend as much as $560 million in taxpayer money last year on the temporary Medicaid plans.

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"Tough tactics backfire on new governor"
The Berkshire Eagle, Editorial, January 16, 2015

Deval Patrick's rookie mistake as newly elected governor was over-spending on office decorations. Charlie Baker's was potentially far more serious.

As part of an ill-considered decision January 2 to cancel all of Governor Patrick's late appointments, the governor rescinded the appointment of Thomas Quinn, the acting Bristol County District Attorney who is prosecuting the high-profile murder trial of former New England Patriots star Aaron Hernandez. Thursday, the governor made Mr. Quinn the permanent DA and asserted his status in limbo would not impact the trial. That may be decided by a judge should the Hernandez defense appeal at some point.

The blanket recisions of all of Governor Patrick's appointments made within the last two weeks of 2014 is apparently without precedent in the state. Mr. Quinn got caught up in it because he was appointed to fill the term of District Attorney Sam Sutter, who resigned in December after being elected mayor of Fall River.

Mr. Baker's explanation for the blanket recisions, done in a one-line note, only makes the action more perplexing. He said his administration faced a tough deadline, could not locate the "names and positions" of all the appointees, and decided the best approach would be to rescind everyone.

In sum, the governor fired people, including Mr. Quinn, without knowing who he was firing or what their jobs were. He has not explained why he felt it necessary to rescind all the appointments. The point may have been to look like a tough guy and a budget-cutter but he came across as someone who acts too quickly and without adequate thought.

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Governor Baker will argue that the shortfall is primarily the result of the state spending too much. (Dina Rudick/Globe Staff)

"Massachusetts facing $765 million budget deficit, Baker says"
By Joshua Miller, Boston Globe Staff, January 20, 2015

Before Deval Patrick left office earlier this month, he gave Charlie Baker, his gubernatorial successor, traditional gifts, including a pewter key, a gavel, and a 19th-century Bible.

But Patrick also left Baker something more pernicious: a mid-year budget gap the administration says is about the size of the gross domestic product of the country of Samoa.

On Tuesday morning, Baker told his Cabinet and was set to tell the news media that deficit is $765 million — a significant sum — and argue that the shortfall is primarily the result of the state spending too much.

The announcement will confirm a gap estimated last month by an outside group, the Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation, raise the specter of painful cuts to services, and begin in earnest the first true challenge of the Republican’s tenure: how to quickly bridge the fiscal chasm.

On Monday, the state’s top finance official, Kristen Lepore, previewed the administration’s take on the state’s finances, did not specifically address whether there will be cuts, but offered hints about parts of a solution.

She said that the tax money coming into state coffers so far this fiscal year, which runs from July 2014 through June, has met or exceeded expectations.

And while the administration’s analysis finds part of the current gap results from overly optimistic predictions for some types of money coming in — fees, for example — Lepore said the main driver of the deficit is greater than expected spending.

“This is definitely a spending problem and not a revenue problem,” Lepore, the secretary of administration and finance, said in a State House interview with the Globe.

Medicaid costs, including fallout from Massachusetts’ bungled health insurance website, are a significant part of the spending side of the deficit, the administration found.

Higher than anticipated state and municipal employee health care costs; more cases at the Department of Children and Families, a greater need for public defenders, and more homeless families needing shelter than were budgeted for, are among the other pieces of the budget gap, according to the administration.

Lepore underscored the urgency of bridging the hole soon, saying it needed to happen in “not months. And when I say weeks: A couple of weeks, at the most.”

Since the state’s fiscal year ends in June, each day that goes by means that any potential cuts will have to be spread over a shorter period of time, which could increase how painful they are for the agency impacted and the people it serves.

Asked whether the state will have to make cuts as a result of the deficit, Lepore said, “It’s going to be a combination of a lot of things, but we haven’t worked out any details yet.”

But she did offer hints of how the administration is — and is not — thinking about balancing the budget.

Baker has repeatedly pledged that he will not hike taxes or fees. He has also said he will not cut aid to cities and towns, nor take money out of the state’s “rainy day” fund, the account designed for fiscal emergencies, to bridge this gap.

Lepore reiterated those pledges and, echoing earlier remarks from Baker, said state aid to homeless families and funding for the state’s troubled Department of Children and Families will be held sacrosanct.

While governors have some unilateral authority to chop budgets and wrangle savings, she indicated that the scope of the problem will require action from the Legislature.

“I think it will be a partnership” between the governor and the Legislature, she said.

One potential area of cooperation with the Legislative branch she spoke about is a state law that directs a certain stream of tax money. After Massachusetts has collected more than about a billion dollars in tax revenues from capital gains income in a fiscal year, the statute steers subsequent collections of that type to the “rainy day” fund.

Although Lepore did not say so directly, changing the law so that those revenues go to the general fund instead of the “rainy day” fund could help bridge the current gap.

Doing so would carefully adhere to Baker’s pledge not to take money out of the “rainy day” fund to deal with the shortfall; it would just mean not putting a certain chunk of money in it.

According to the administration, one of the largest single drivers of the budget deficit is higher than anticipated spending on Medicaid, the state-federal health program for poor and disabled people.

That spending includes paying for health care of people newly enrolled in Medicaid, who had previously been in a temporary Medicaid program, the administration said.

The temporary program was instituted to make sure people would not lose coverage after the state’s health insurance website — for people who do not get insurance through their employer — failed. It was never able to determine whether people were eligible for assistance and more than 300,000 people were placed in the temporary program.

The failure came after the site was changed in 2013 to comply with the federal health care overhaul known as the Affordable Care Act.

Lepore repeatedly declined to assign blame for the deficit in the more than $36 billion state budget.

“This is our problem to solve right now,” she said. “I’m the person in charge of the budget, it’s my problem to solve right now with the governor.”

Will they be able to do it?

Lepore did not hesitate: “Yes.”

Baker, a Republican, beat Democratic Attorney General Martha Coakley and three independent candidates in the November gubernatorial race.

After the election, the Patrick administration announced a shortfall it pegged at $329 million. It pressed for legislative action, which did not occur, and put some unilateral cuts and savings into place.

According to the Baker administration, those solved $252 million of the gap, leaving a $765 million problem left to figure out.

In December, the business-backed Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation estimated a budget gap of $750 million, almost identical in size to the one outlined by the Baker administration this week.

The Patrick Administration vociferously disputed the Taxpayers Foundation estimate both in December and on Patrick’s last full day in office.

“In November, Governor Patrick assembled and executed a thoughtful and responsible plan to close a [fiscal year 2015] budget gap, based on reliable information and expert insight,” Alex Zaroulis, then a spokeswoman for the secretary of administration and finance, said in a Jan. 7 statement.

“The governor has never shied from making tough choices when needed, but he also understands that there are people behind every line item — so budget management must be done with care,” she continued. “The Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation report is incomplete and inaccurate, and not a basis for good budget decisions.”

Joshua Miller can be reached at joshua.miller@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @jm_bos.

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"The other Deflategate: our state budget"
By Evan Horowitz, Boston Globe Staff, January 23, 2015

Footballs aren’t the only things that need to be filled up in Massachusetts. Our state budget does too. Not only is there a surprise $765 million hole this year, new estimates suggest that the deficit next year may exceed $1 billion.

This shouldn’t be happening. When the economy is growing — as it has in recent months — the state should be taking in enough money to cover expenses and also fill up the “rainy day” fund. Instead we’re falling further behind. You can blame growing health care costs or the long-term effect of old tax cuts, but more fundamentally there seems to be a real imbalance between what we’ve decided to do through state government and what we can afford with current tax rates.

What’s going on this year?

Soon after taking office, Governor Baker initiated a thorough review of state spending, and he found a $765 million gap in this year’s budget, caused chiefly by two things:

• We spent more on health care than expected. This includes the money used to finally fix the website for the state’s Health Connector (our portal to Obamacare), and another big chunk to cover health care coverage for state employees.

• There weren’t as many large tax settlements. In recent years, the state had been taking in hundreds of millions of dollars from audits and tax settlements, so state officials assumed the same would happen this year, but it didn’t. A change in the corporate tax code has started to make those kinds of settlements less common.

Despite comments from the governor, there’s little reason to think that the problem is purely about spending. The increase in state spending from last year to this year was 5-6 percent (once you take out federal money). That’s enough to explain about half of the current shortfall.

Will this problem continue next year?

Unfortunately yes. Deficits, like diseases, can be inherited. And the Massachusetts Budget and Policy Center released a report this week suggesting that next year the state will face a shortfall of around $1.1 billion.

Unlike the federal government, the state has to balance its budget every year (it’s in the state Constitution.) So one way or another, we are going to have to fill that gap.

How long has this been going on?

Massachusetts has been living with deficits since before the Great Recession even began. The 2008 budget (approved five months before the recession struck) included an $800 million deficit, and since then the deficit has reached into the billions and never fallen below $500 million.

Why has the state faced persistent deficits?

Simply put, Massachusetts keeps running up deficits because our spending priorities don’t match up with our current tax policy. The state just doesn’t take in enough money to pay for all the things we do through state government — whether it’s schools, roads, subways, police, or elder care.

For years now, state spending has been growing at about the same rate as the state economy, which is more or less what you’d expect over the long term.

But it’s also true that some spending has grown much faster than others. In particular, health care costs have been going up, while everything else has been going down.

State taxes dropped substantially after the tax cuts of 1998-2003, and they haven’t recovered since.

What can be done?

Because the governor has ruled out any tax increases, this year’s deficit will most likely be addressed with cuts and limited withdrawals from the rainy day fund.

To forge a more lasting solution, it would help to get health care costs under control — and there are signs that this is already happening all across the country. There are efforts, too, to step up the fight against waste, fraud, and abuse.

Alternatively, if residents and legislators want to maintain existing programs, or make new investments in things like universal pre-K, they may need to consider tax increases.

Otherwise, if we can’t reconcile our spending commitments with our willingness to pay taxes, we may be fighting deficits for years to come.
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link: http://www.bostonglobe.com/metro/2015/01/23/the-other-deflategate-our-state-budget/P0OCzqbUxhokQMOyjM4ZPN/story.html#
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related: http://massbudget.org/report_window.php?loc=FY_2016_Budget_Preview.html
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"Pittsfield mayor encouraged by Baker efforts for cities and towns"
By Jim Therrien, The Berkshire Eagle, January 29, 2015

PITTSFIELD - Mayor Daniel L. Bianchi said he's encouraged by Gov. Charlie Baker's creation of a Community Compact Cabinet to work with leaders of Massachusetts cities and towns.

Baker announced last week that he wants "to elevate the administration's partnerships with cities and towns."

Chaired by Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito, he said the new Community Compact Cabinet "will allow the governor's office to work more closely with leaders" from Massachusetts communities.

"I think the lieutenant governor is going to be very active in this administration," Bianchi said.

Noting that both he and Polito have served in their towns as select board members, Baker said the initiative "gives cites and towns a real seat at the table in our administration."

The governor also pledged "to protect local aid, funding for the homeless and the Department of Children and Families."

Bianchi, who met briefly with Polito during the annual Massachusetts Municipal Association meeting in Boston over the weekend, said he was pleased Baker seems determined "not to balance the [state] budget on the back of local aid" and "understands what we are up against."

Polito, in her role as liaison to communities and in leading the Community Compact Cabinet, is expected to begin a statewide tour to meet with local leaders.

Also included in the announcement, Baker said his executive order "empowers [Polito] to be a champion for municipal issues across state government;" restructures the Department of Revenue "to include a new senior commissioner for the Division of Local Services;" creates the Compact Cabinet that will "work to reduce red tape, promote best practices, and develop specific 'community compacts' with local governments," and create "clear, mutual standards, expectations and accountability for both the state and municipalities as we seek to create better government for our citizens."

Bianchi said he and other officials also met Saturday in Boston with U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., and U.S. Rep. Michael Capuano, D-Mass., during a mayors' breakfast. He said Warren feels confident that, despite efforts from some conservatives in Congress to cut Community Development Block Grant funding to cities, the current level of allocation "won't be eroded" in the next federal budget.

Contact Jim Therrien at 413-496-6247. jtherrien@ berkshireeagle.com @BE_therrien on Twitter

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Lieutenant Governor Karyn Polito says she will focus on homelessness, domestic violence, and empowering women.
Wendy Maeda/Boston Globe Staff


"Karyn Polito sees active role as lieutenant governor"
By Akilah Johnson, Boston Globe Staff, January 30, 2015

In the early days of his administration, Republican Governor Charlie Baker has consulted his second-in-command, Karyn Polito, on state spending priorities and hiring decisions. She’s been by his side when he addressed the media on the budget deficit and the blizzard. And in private conversations, if he gets too fixated on a particular problem, he relies on her to refocus the conversation.

“I tend to get kind of wrapped around the axle about stuff because that’s just the way I’m built,” Baker said recently during an interview. “I can tell you, point blank, there were a number of times during the campaign . . . Karyn would just say, ‘Charlie you’re making way more out of this then you should. You should just stop.’ And she was right.”

“Charlie and I have known each other for a long time. I bring a different perspective than he brings to the office,” said Polito, a lifelong Shrewsbury resident and former state representative.

Polito, who was sworn in with Baker this month, is the first lieutenant governor Massachusetts has had in nearly two years, after Tim Murray’s abrupt resignation in 2013. What she’ll do with the job is largely dependent on what Baker decides, considering the office has little statutory power, save for two constitutionally required duties. The first is filling in for the governor when he or she leaves Massachusetts or is unable to function; the other is presiding over the Governor’s Council, an obscure body that weighs gubernatorial appointments, state Treasury warrants, and criminal pardons.

But already Polito and Baker have begun to carve out a job description that relies heavily on her base of support in Central Massachusetts, experience in municipal and legislative affairs, and background in development. She also plans to focus on homelessness, domestic violence, and empowering women.

“I’m not here for the ceremonial part of the experience. I’m here for real-life outcomes,” she said during a recent interview.

Polito says she made that clear to Baker when he first approached her about joining the ticket. Returning to government was something she only wanted to do if it would be to work in partnership with Baker, she said. “And I have a good partner in Charlie.”

(Of course, into every lieutenant governor’s life a little ceremonial work must fall. Consider Polito’s schedule last Wednesday, when she appeared at three swearing-in ceremonies — for the state auditor, treasurer, and attorney general — and never spoke a word.)

The Baker/Polito administration say they will model their working relationship after two others — one Republican, the other Democratic and both examples of how the open-ended nature of the lieutenant governor’s job allowed them to respond to the state’s needs and draw on the particular strengths of the number two.

Behind Polito’s desk is the official portrait of Paul Cellucci, another former state representative turned lieutenant governor whom she called a friend and mentor. Cellucci helped Governor William F. Weld advance his agenda in the House and Senate. Cellucci also became acting governor in 1997, when Weld left to pursue an ambassadorship. A year later, Cellucci was elected governor.

Asked if she plans to eventually run for higher office, Polito demurs. She says she wants to emulate Cellucci and run — again — as Baker’s copilot in four years.

Baker served in Cabinet level positions for both Weld and Cellucci and considers Weld a mentor. The former governor was a common sight on the campaign trail last fall, praising his protégé on the stump.

“I had a chance to watch that administration divide the work load for lack of a better way to put it,” Baker said. “Weld used to say, ‘You get two for the price of one.’ He was kidding but he sort of wasn’t. There was some real benefit to the idea that you have the ability to spread the work across more than one person’s desk.”

How the work will be divided between Baker and Polito will largely depend on professional skills and experience, he said.

“Health care is probably going to land in my lap,” said Baker, the former CEO of Harvard Pilgrim. “A lot of development stuff will probably land in hers. And that’s just going to be the way it’s going to work.”

Polito is a former member of the Shrewsbury Board of Selectmen whose family owns and operates a commercial real estate development firm, and she served in the state House of Representatives for more than a decade.

The governor’s first executive order was to create a “Community Compact Cabinet,” which Polito will lead, to strengthen Beacon Hill’s cooperation with cities and towns. The entity is aimed at reducing red tape, promoting best practices, and developing compacts between the state and communities with standards and expectations for both, the governor announced last week before the 900 members of the Massachusetts Municipal Association last week.

Baker’s Democratic predecessor, Deval Patrick, also had a Municipal Affairs Coordinating Cabinet, which was chaired by Murray, his lieutenant governor, who had previously served as both mayor and city councilor in Worcester. His key assets were his base of support in Central and Western Massachusetts and experience in municipal affairs. So, working with the state’s 351 cities and towns fell within his purview, serving as a link between the Patrick administration and demanding mayors and local officials across the state.

Murray’s departure created a vacuum of service, the governor’s office said.

“With the transition in the executive branch, we have an opportunity to turn the page and start a new chapter in our working relationship,” Polito told crowd at the MMA’s Women Elected Municipal Officials luncheon. “We view this relationship as two sides. It’s a true partnership. State government can’t succeed on its own.”

Partner. Partners. Partnership.

Polito uses some variation of the word regularly in speeches and conversations about the work that she and Baker plan to do, be it during her inaugural address, a ribbon-cutting ceremony in Peabody, a dinner for Brockton students and their mentors, or when addressing elected officials from across the state.

It is how she describes their working relationship. It is how she describes the relationship she and Baker want to create with the rest of the state. It is how, she said, they will make good on their campaign promises.

Whether such teamwork is enough to overcome the inevitable bumps in the road remains to be seen. There have been moments when the relationship between the number one and number two fractures as it did 1964 when Lieutenant Governor Francis X. Bellotti ran against — and defeated — Governor Endicott Peabody in the Democratic primary. He lost to Republican John Volpe in the general election.

And Lieutenant Governor Evelyn Murphy, who made an unsuccessful run at the governor’s office in 1990, proposed a budget-slashing scheme while Governor Michael Dukakis was out of state and she was in charge.

Murphy has recently acknowledged that it was a “messy disagreement,” and she offered this advice: Never air disputes publicly.


Karyn Polito in her State House office, where a portrait of former governor Paul Cellucci hangs behind her desk. (Wendy Maeda/Boston Globe Staff)

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"Famous friends rally around ex-Big Dig boss"
By Laurel J. Sweet, The Boston Herald, February 2, 2015

Titans of business and specters of politics past are standing up for ex-Turnpike Authority chairman James J. Kerasiotes on the eve of his sentencing for filing false tax returns, claiming that being the “scapegoat” of the Big Dig was punishment enough for any man.

Kerasiotes’ attorney, former Gov. William F. Weld, will plead before U.S. District Court Judge William G. Young this afternoon — weather permitting — for probation and community service for the Wrentham father of three, declaring in his sentencing memorandum his client is resolved “never to stray again.” As of last night the sentencing had not been postponed.

“Mr. Kerasiotes is ashamed, humbled, remorseful and distraught by his actions in this case ... The message to the general public is an unmistakable one: the failure to pay even a relatively small tax due will destroy your reputation, collapse your business and cause you personal and professional humiliation,” Weld wrote.

Kerasiotes, 61, pleaded guilty Sept. 11 to filing false tax returns for 2010 and 2011 while self-employed as a transportation and construction consultant. Young later determined he shortchanged the IRS by more than $30,000. Kerasiotes faces up to three years in federal prison. Yesterday, he referred questions to Weld, who declined comment.

But Kerasiotes’ friends and former coworkers have plenty to say in 72 pages of letters submitted for Young’s consideration.

Former attorney general and Lt. Gov. Francis X. Bellotti said Kerasiotes, whose role in the multi-billion-dollar Big Dig cost overruns cost him his career in state government, “has been treated particularly harshly” by critics of the largest public works project in the country’s history, which Bellotti noted was completed “virtually free of public corruption of any kind.”

Peter Zuk, who was Big Dig project director, said that “rather than being accorded the hero’s treatment Jim justly earned for his public management as Commissioner of Public Works, Secretary of Transportation and Chairman of the Massachusetts Turnpike Authority, he has been publicly treated as a scapegoat for any failures, large or small, of the project.”

David F. D’Alessandro, retired chairman of John Hancock Financial Services, said Kerasiotes rose above “the most challenging and thankless job in the commonwealth“ to transform Boston “into a 21st century jewel. In my view, it was Jim’s leadership in those darkest years that made that transformation a reality.”

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"Ex-Big Dig boss gets six months in tax flap"
Owes IRS $36,000
By Laurel J. Sweet, The Boston Herald, February 6, 2015

Former Massachusetts Turnpike Authority chairman James J. Kerasiotes was sentenced yesterday to six months in federal prison for cheating the IRS out of more than $30,000 on his 2010 and 2011 tax returns.

The 61-year-old Wrentham resident, best known for running the Big Dig, the largest public works project in U.S. history, was ordered by U.S. District Court Judge William G. Young to self-report to a penitentiary to be named March 20.

Upon his release, Kerasiotes, who was represented by former Gov. William F. Weld, will be on supervised probation for one year, the first four months of which he will be under house arrest.

Weld had sought straight probation and community service.

Young further ordered Kerasiotes to come up with $31,448 in restitution to the federal government and hit him with a $5,000 fine.

Weld wrote in his sentencing memorandum, “Mr. Kerasiotes is ashamed, humbled, remorseful and distraught by his actions in this case. ... The message to the general public is an unmistakable one: The failure to pay even a relatively small tax due will destroy your reputation, collapse your business and cause you personal and professional humiliation.”

Kerasiotes pleaded guilty Sept. 11 to filing the false tax returns while self-employed as a transportation and construction consultant. Prosecutors faulted him for not maintaining even a basic record of business expenses.

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"Number of high earners on state payroll continues to rise"
By Peter Schworm and Todd Wallack, Boston Globe Staff, February 3, 2015

More than 10,500 state employees were paid over $100,000 last year, up significantly from the year before, and in a couple of cases the earnings hovered around $1 million.

Derek Kellogg, in his seventh season as the UMass men’s basketball coach, brought in more than $1.1 million in total compensation in 2014.

Kellogg was followed by Charley Molnar, the former UMass football coach, who received $963,000, more than half of which was a one-time lump sum payment to buy him out of his contract, university officials said. Molnar was fired in December 2013, after posting back-to-back 1-11 seasons, but still had three years left on his contract.

Michael Collins, chancellor of UMass Medical School, earned close to $900,000.

All 50 of the highest-earning state employees worked for the University of Massachusetts, a trend in keeping with previous years. Over the past two years, the number of state workers overall earning more than $100,000 has jumped by more than one-third.

A spokesman for the UMass athletics department defended the coaching salaries, saying the contracts are market-driven and based on what coaches earn at comparable schools.

“The revenue and money that can be brought in through their respective programs balances out that salary level,’’ said the spokesman, John Sinnett. “We’re competitive and we pay a competitive rate for our coaches.”

The current head football coach, Mark Whipple, made $379,000.

The final 2014 payroll figures were posted recently on the state’s “Open Checkbook” website, which debuted in 2011 to make government spending more transparent.

With the state facing a budget shortfall, fiscal watchdogs said the increase in higher-paid employees was concerning.

“State government proves to be like a high-speed locomotive, very hard to slow down and get your arms around,” said Paul Craney, executive director of the Massachusetts Fiscal Alliance. “With a new administration, it’s a good time for state leaders to reexamine our state’s hiring practices and payroll levels.”

Overall, the number of employees collecting more than $100,000 jumped 16 percent between last year and this. More than 127,000 people were on the state payroll in 2014.

The median pay was $50,000. About 8 percent of all state employees earned at least $100,000.

For the first time, the state posted salaries for employees at more than a dozen independent state agencies, from the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority to Massport.

At the MBTA, the highest-paid employee was Transit Police Chief Paul MacMillan, who made $265,000, while Massport director of aviation Edward Freni earned $233,000.

Mary Connaughton, director of government transparency at the Pioneer Institute, said the increase in high salaries puts an increasing strain on the state’s pension system, where retired workers can receive up to 80 percent of their pay.

“In the past, administrations had been cautious when salaries inched over the $100,000 mark because of the public scrutiny that would follow,” Connaughton said. “That threshold seems to have lost its relevance.”

Governor Charlie Baker, whose state salary is $151,800, has said overspending is the primary cause of the budget woes, and he has pledged not to raise taxes, making budget cuts seemingly inevitable.

The administration has instituted a hiring freeze and ordered reviews of agencies to rein in spending, a spokeswoman said.

“Governor Baker has vowed not to cut local aid, funding for the homeless, and the Department of Children and Families, but will keep all budgetary items on the table for discussion to chip away at the deficit without raising taxes,” said Elizabeth Guyton.

Health care costs for state workers and retirees have also contributed to the deficit, budget specialists say.

After the coaches, the list of people collecting over $100,000 was dominated by UMass administrators. Derek Lovley, an associate dean and professor at UMass Amherst, earned $723,000. Robert Caret, the outgoing president at UMass, made $558,000; Kumble Subbaswamy, chancellor at UMass Amherst, made $432,000.

Martin Meehan, chancellor at UMass Lowell, made $333,000.

Some of the highest-paid employees are from the medical school, which says that just 5 percent of its budget comes from a state appropriation.

Most of the revenue comes from contracts, federal research grants, and licensing revenues, a spokesman said.

Ann Scales, a UMass spokeswoman, said salaries are established to meet market conditions. “It’s necessary that the salaries be competitive to attract and retain top faculty and staff,” she said.

Globe correspondent Matt Rocheleau contributed to this report. Peter Schworm can be reached at schworm @globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @globepete.

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"Massachusetts budget shortfall could hit $1.5 billion: Taxpayers group warns; budget chief cites heavy spending"
By Joshua Miller, Boston Globe Staff, February 25, 2015

Massachusetts could be facing a $1.5 billion shortfall in the coming fiscal year, forcing difficult choices on the new administration of Governor Charlie Baker and the Legislature.

The estimate comes from a leading Beacon Hill watchdog, and Baker’s budget chief agreed that it is in line with the administration’s own projections.

Kristen Lepore insisted Baker’s budget proposal will try to “minimize the impact,” but she declined to say if painful cuts are coming.

She instead said state spending is growing at almost twice the rate of tax revenue, which Lepore emphasized is “unsustainable.”

And she underscored that Baker’s proposed state budget, set to be filed March 4, will not raise taxes or fees, nor tap the state’s rainy day fund, meant for fiscal emergencies.

The president of the business-backed Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation offered a warning to organizations that rely on state funding: “Brace yourselves for a new reality,” Eileen McAnneny said.

The expected hole in the budget is for the fiscal year that begins in July. It is driven by two sets of fiscal troubles, the Taxpayers Foundation found.

The first is significant increases in costs for items and programs considered nondiscretionary — such as Medicaid, the state-federal health program for poor and disabled people, and pensions — just to keep the same level of service next year.

The projected price tag is $1.4 billion. And those cost increases are poised to grow at a faster rate than the expected uptick in tax revenue.

In all, the Taxpayers Foundation estimated the state will have about $872 million in additional tax money available for its operating budget in the new fiscal year.

The second fiscal trouble, the foundation said, is the state’s heavy reliance on one-time sources of money — pots of cash that are tough or impossible to tap again — this fiscal year.

Those sources of money total about $1 billion and include tax settlements with corporations, a temporary diversion of tax revenue intended for the state’s rainy day fund, and casino licensing fees.

Massachusetts budgets often depend on unreliable revenue streams, even though some budget specialists frown on the practice. But a significant chunk of the one-time money was used in recent weeks by Baker and the Legislature to close a $768 million deficit in this year’s budget. Those fixes have a cascading effect on the next year’s budget.

The group’s projected $1.5 billion shortfall assumes funding for programs considered discretionary, from public safety to aid to cities and towns, stays the same. But to close the gap, it predicts there will be reductions in funding for everything from higher education to services for the needy.

“There will be no sacred cows,” said McAnneny, the Taxpayers Foundation president. “Everyone will have to come in and justify their existence in a way they probably haven’t had to before, simply because the problem is so sizable.”

The group says the gap could be smaller if the Baker administration is able to reduce the skyrocketing costs of Medicaid, a major driver of budget increases.

Whatever the administration of Baker, a Republican, decides to propose in its budget next week, the Democratic Legislature will have the final say. Each chamber will vote on its own budget plan and has the Democratic heft to override any vetoes from the governor.

The Foundation’s projection is anchored in the prevailing wisdom on Beacon Hill: There will be no tax or fee hikes this year. Baker opposes them and Speaker Robert A. DeLeo has said the budget plan that will come out of the House Committee on Ways and Means will contain no new taxes and no new fees.

Noah Berger, president of the liberal-leaning Massachusetts Budget and Policy Center, said the estimated gap is not that different from years past. He attributed the continued shortfalls to tax cuts put in place by voters and the Legislature in previous decades.

“We do continue to face long-term budget problems that we have had since cutting the income tax by $3 billion,” he said, “and there are no easy solutions.”

Berger added that if the upcoming fiscal year’s budget is balanced simply by cuts, “that could hurt a lot of people and the strength of our economy.”

He said cuts to transportation and education, in particular, could damage long-term economic prospects.

Baker took office on Jan. 8, succeeding Democrat Deval Patrick, and was instantly faced with the $768 million gap in the current budget. Through cuts and savings, Baker and the Legislature appear to have closed that gap and balanced the budget.

But Lepore, secretary of the Executive Office for Administration and Finance, said that a lot of work remains.

Despite relatively good economic times and tax revenue that is poised to grow almost 5 percent in the next fiscal year, she said the state nonetheless faces a shortfall.

“Spending growth has been exceeding revenue growth, and there has been a reliance on one-time sources. Those two things have collided,” said Lepore. “So we’ve reached a point where we really need to right-size the budget.”

Joshua Miller can be reached at joshua.miller@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @jm_bos.

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"Berkshire tourism funds would be slashed under Gov. Charlie Baker's budget plan"
By Dick Lindsay, The Berkshire Eagle, March 6, 2015

Gov. Charlie Baker wants to nearly eliminate direct state funding for the Berkshire Visitors Bureau and other regional tourism centers, starting this summer.

Baker's proposed fiscal 2016 budget, which he released Wednesday, looks to slash $4.5 million from the remaining $5 million being spent on tourism agencies across Massachusetts. Originally, the state Legislature appropriated $7.5 million, but a series of spending cuts to close the current fiscal 2015 deficit reduced the figure to $5 million.

With the state facing a projected $1.5 billion deficit when the new fiscal year begins July 1, Berkshire legislators and local tourism leaders expected spending cuts across the board, but not so severe for tourism promotion.

"That's not one that will fly out this way," said state Sen. Benjamin B. Downing of Pittsfield.

"It's not a hair cut; more like a buzz cut," added state Rep. William "Smitty" Pignatelli.

Berkshire Visitors Bureau President/CEO Lori Klefos was stunned by the move, particularly given that lodging tax revenue is on the rise.

"I'm extremely disappointed; we at least expected to stay at $5 million," added Lori Klefos, President/CEO of the Berkshire Visitors Bureau. "[The governor's] budget would change how we promote the state."

The Berkshire Visitors Bureau is already trying to absorb its share of the recent state budget cuts that reduced its fiscal 2015 funding from $275,000 to $200,000. Since the money comes from a matching grant program, the bureau's loss is double — $75,000 from the state and $75,000 from private donations, according to Klefos. The tourism agency's overall budget is $1.2 million.

Nevertheless, Klefos is confident state lawmakers and the new governor can reach a compromise on tourism spending.

"Every year, the Legislature steps up and puts money back into the fund," she said.

Pignatelli said he learned early in his Statehouse career that a governor's budget is a political document, and now it's a matter of convincing Baker, a Republican, the importance of tourism promotion.

"Whether it's a Democratic or Republican governor, the administration needs to understand the economic impact of these dollars," Pignatelli said. "We went through the same thing with Gov. [Deval] Patrick (a Democrat); just not as severe."

State Rep. Paul Mark, of Peru, expects plenty of legislative debate on tourism spending and the rest of the budget over the next several weeks.

"I think support for regional tourism councils has proven to be a wise investment time after time," Mark said. "Every dollar that gets invested quickly shows a significant return that benefits our local economy."

The Berkshire Theatre Group, parent of the Colonial Theatre and Berkshire Theatre Festival, is among the county's cultural organizations urging state lawmakers to support tourism — the third-largest segment of the commonwealth's economy.

"In the Berkshires, we know that tourism is an economic generator, and we need all the support we can find," said BTG Artistic Director/CEO Kate McGuire. "I trust the state will find the way to continue their support of the tourism engine that provides so much for our residents and visitors."

Shrinking tourism dollars

• The Massachusetts Legislature originally appropriated $7.5 million for the Berkshire Visitors Bureau and the state's other regional tourism centers for fiscal 2015 that began July 1.

• The amount was cut to $5 million due to a mounting deficit in the current spending plan; reducing the Berkshire Visitors Bureau state funding from $275, 000 to 200,000.

• For fiscal 2016, Gov. Baker wants to further reduce money for tourism councils across the commonwealth to a total of $500,000.

Contact Dick Lindsay at 413-496-6233. rlindsay@berkshireeagle.com @BE_DLindsay on Twitter

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"Funding cuts for tourism are shortsighted"
The Berkshire Eagle, Editorial, 3/6/2015

Addressing a substantial budget deficit requires making difficult, unpopular choices. However, Governor Baker's proposed hacking of tourism funding is counterproductive, and would if enacted have disproportionate impact on the Berkshires.

The projected deficit for fiscal 2016, which seems to progress incrementally on a daily basis, is now up to $1.8 billion. Spending cuts are inevitable, and the governor has managed to avoid making them in several critical areas, such as higher education.

Tourism funding, however, took a massive hit, with funding for regional tourism centers like the Berkshire Visitors Center going from $5 million to $500,000, which would all but put them out of business. This after the $7.5 million originally appropriated by the Legislature was cut to $5 million to help the state address the deficit in the current fiscal year.

It is shortsighted to cut areas of the budget that actually generate revenue. Tourist promotion brings people into the state and Berkshires, where they spend money on restaurants, lodging, recreation and in the Berkshires' case in particular, cultural attractions, All of this produces tax money that is returned to communities and to state coffers. Public money on tourism promotion more than pays for itself, and reductions in tourist promotion funding are felt deeply all the way down the line.

It seems apparent that Governor Baker and his administration don't see the value of tourism. That value is real, and it increases exponentially in the Berkshires, a region that relies on it more heavily than does the eastern end of the state because it doesn't have nearly as many major job-producers.

This isn't to say that the Baker administration has a lot of good options in addressing the deficit. Most of the options are poor and many cost increases are impossible to avoid. The cost of the state-federal Medicaid program, for example, continues to skyrocket, The state expects to find some savings by requiring the estimated 1.2 million residents receiving Medicaid to reapply so it can be determined how many are no longer eligible. This is actually a yearly requirement but it lapsed in 2014 as the state dealt with the troubled rollout of its health care website.

Legislators across the state, including in the Berkshires, can be expected to fight the gutting of the tourism funding, and the Legislature as a whole tends to be an advocate of this kind of wise spending. The governor has ruled out any tax increases and the Democratic leadership on Beacon Hill, which shot down some tax hikes proposed by Governor Patrick in his second term, is unlikely to introduce any. That means something — more accurately some things — have to give, but tourism promotion, which translates to a net gain for the state, should be level-funded for another fiscal year.

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March 7, 2015

Re: Berkshire Eagle Editors should advocate for state funds

The Berkshire Eagle’s Editors do not understand how badly the Boston-centric state government has hurt the Berkshires over the decades. Over the past 15 years, state aid to local governments has been cut by about 40 percent. Moreover, municipal and regional costs have increased above the rate of inflation. The Eagle notes that the Berkshires do not have the kind of businesses that offer full time, living wage employment that the Boston area offers. But what the Eagle doesn’t understand is that this reality makes the Berkshires heavily reliant on the state government for its funding of public and non-profit operations. When the Baker administration level funds state aid and proposes budget cuts to local Berkshire area programs, it really negatively impacts the local Berkshire region economy.

Thousands of have moved away from Pittsfield and the Berkshire region over the past couple of decades. On a small business and local government level, the customers and the people are the biggest economic resource to the local economy. Thousands of people have fled the Berkshires due to the lack of living wage, full time jobs, plus the rising expenses of the Berkshire region, which, in part, has been caused by the state government cutting its funding to local governments and non-profits.

When I started to run for Berkshire State Senator in early-2004, I spoke out about all of these issues 11 years ago. Over the past decade, these issues have become more problematic in Berkshire County. The Berkshires need state and local leaders who will work together to advocate to the state government to increase its funding to the local Berkshire area economy, even if that means raising state government taxes, which would offset the yearly increases in local taxes.

Governor Baker is disingenuous to say he is not going to raise taxes on the state level, when he knows that local governments will have to absorb the shock of rising costs in the form of higher local taxes. Governor Baker is offering the same pattern of failed financial management that has negatively impacted Berkshire County since the “Big Dig” doubled in cost during the 6.5 years in the early to mid 1990s under his former boss, Bill Weld.

I wish the Berkshire Eagle editorials understood my arguments in favor of my native Berkshire County that I have been making for over a decade now!

- Jonathan Melle

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"Baker held aloft managerial record during campaign, but hiring practices fall short"
By The Boston Globe Editorial Board, MARCH 9, 2015

TRUST BUT verify. Governor Charlie Baker is learning that lesson the hard way, after another high-level volunteer advisor had to resign following a failure to disclose personal financial problems.

Paul L. Barrett, who was chosen by Baker to head a critical review of the troubled MBTA, resigned after questions were raised by the Globe about the troubled state of his own financial affairs, which included unpaid federal income taxes of nearly $200,000. Public records examined by the Globe showed multiple state and federal tax liens, several foreclosures on Barrett’s home, and a $1 million legal judgment stemming from a Cape Cod real estate development deal.


Barrett, a onetime director of the Boston Redevelopment Authority, told the Globe that most of the matters were settled “a while ago.” But Baker knew nothing about them, because Barrett didn’t tell him and the Baker administration didn’t do the kind of background check that would have swiftly revealed them. Barrett’s fiscal baggage created a serious credibility problem, given that he would be in charge of assessing the T’s fiscal baggage. Barrett’s problem was compounded by a decision to go ahead with a family trip to Jamaica after Baker picked him to head a panel that was given only 30 days to confront the Bay State’s public transit crisis.

It’s the second time Baker was burned by faith in people who did not warrant it. In November, right after Baker’s election, he chose Richard L. Taylor, a onetime transportation secretary, to play a prominent role on his transition team. But Taylor also had to resign after the Globe raised questions about unpaid tax and business judgments of more than $1 million.

Both of these personnel choices were made when Baker was working quickly to assemble a group. In Taylor’s case, Baker had just won election. In Barrett’s case, Baker was grappling with consecutive snowstorms that brought T service to a halt. The new governor was rushing to address the public’s howls for accountability. But the urgency of the situation is no excuse for failing to do an adequate background check on Barrett, or on future candidates for volunteer or staff positions.

The Baker administration needs to apply a high level of scrutiny to all personnel decisions. After all, Baker ran for governor on his record as a public and private sector manager. He set a high standard for competence and sound judgment, and voters deserve nothing less.

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"Report: Outside groups spent more than candidates for governor in 2014 Massachusetts election"
Associated Press, March 27, 2015

BOSTON – Outside political action committees raised and spent more on last year's race for governor than the candidates themselves, according to a new report from the Massachusetts Office of Campaign and Political Finance.

The report released Friday found that outside groups — mostly so-called super PACs — dumped $20.4 million into the election, about double the amount they spent during the last statewide elections in 2010.

More than half of the 2014 money — $11 million — went to help elect Republican Charlie Baker governor. That's almost twice the $5.6 million Baker reported spending on his election from his campaign account.

Democratic candidate Martha Coakley benefited from just under $7 million in outside group spending. The former attorney general spent $3.9 million from her campaign account.

Both candidates also benefited from so-called in-kind donations — $1.2 million for Baker and $2 million for Coakley — almost all of it from the state parties for each candidate.

Last year's statewide election was the first in Massachusetts in which super PACs played a role.

Independent expenditure super PACs and other groups can support or oppose candidates but are barred from coordinating with candidates' campaign committee. The groups also can accept unlimited donations.

Super PACs accounted for nearly all spending by independent groups in 2014 — $19.2 million.

Just two super PACs — the Commonwealth Future Independent Expenditure Political Action Committee and the Mass Independent Expenditure Political Action Committee — accounted for most of the spending.

The Commonwealth Future super PAC reported spending $10.4 million to benefit Baker. The super PAC was bankrolled by the Republican Governors Association, which contribute all but $20,000 of the total.

The Mass super PAC reported spending $6.2 million. It collected the money from a range of Democratic-leaning groups including the Democratic Governors Association, Emily's List — a national organization that promotes Democratic women in politics — and labor unions including the Massachusetts Teachers Association.

Coakley narrowly lost the race to Baker.

The governor's race in 2010 pitted Baker against Democratic incumbent Deval Patrick. The outside group that spent the most that year again was again the Republican Governors Association, which doled out $4.6 million to support Baker.

Bay State Future, a group backed by the Democratic Governors Association, spent nearly $3.2 million to support Patrick. Another big spender was the Massachusetts Teachers Association, which spent $2.9 million supporting Patrick's successful re-election bid.

Super PACs originated in 2010 after two court decisions.

In the U.S. Supreme Court's Citizens United vs. FEC decision, the court — citing First Amendment free speech rights — ruled independent expenditures by corporations made to influence candidate elections cannot be limited. A second U.S. Appeals Court decision found that individuals, corporations and other groups can provide unlimited funds to super PACs.

Online: www.ocpf.us/Reports/IndependentExpenditurePacReports

Link: www.foxbusiness.com/markets/2015/03/27/report-outside-groups-spent-more-than-candidates-for-governor-in-2014/

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Governor Charlie Baker. (Jessica Rinaldi/Boston Globe Staff)

"Baker attends N.H. GOP fundraiser"
By James Pindell, Boston Globe Staff, March 27, 2015

Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker slipped into New Hampshire Friday to address the Greater Nashua Chamber of Commerce and attend a high-dollar fundraiser for the New Hampshire Republican Party.

The state Republican Party said that about 15 people attended the fundraiser Friday morning held at the Crowne Plaza hotel.

The hotel is the same site where 17 Republican White House hopefuls will speak at a conference in a few weeks.

James Pindell can be reached at James.Pindell@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @jamespindell.

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"New revenue commissioner to work without pay"
By Beth Healy, Boston Globe Staff, March 30, 2015

Mark Nunnelly, the newly named Massachusetts revenue commissioner and former Bain Capital executive, will take his new role without pay, a spokesman for the governor said.

The new commissioner’s predecessor, Amy Pitter, earned $151,840 last year, according to state records.

Nunnelly, 56, retired from the Boston private equity firm Bain Capital last year. He has continued to serve on several corporate boards related to Bain investments.

The governor’s spokesman, Dominick M. Ianno, said Nunnelly “has reviewed his board positions, both corporate and non-profit, with the State Ethics Commission prior to accepting the job and has left some boards, will leave others in the near future, and will remain on several others.”

Nunnelly earned $155,014 in fees and stock awards last year as a director of Dunkin’ Brands Group Inc., according to routine company documents filed with regulators Monday.

In 2013, Nunnelly earned $189,098 as a director at Genpact Ltd. The public company has not yet reported its board compensation for 2014. Genpact is an IT outsourcing company headquartered in New York.

Nunnelly served on the compensation committee of both companies, helping set pay for top executives.

In new his role with the state, Nunnelly will follow a 25-year career making multibillion-dollar deals for Bain Capital with a job running a 2,000-person department collecting over $23 billion in taxes annually.

Beth Healy can be reached at beth.healy@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @HealyBeth.

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“Public workers lobbying to block Baker's push on premiums”
By Andy Metzger, State House News Service, April 4, 2015

BOSTON - State employees hoping for legislative support to block state health insurance savings proposed by Gov. Charlie Baker visited the Statehouse on Thursday where one top union official compared the governor's plan to a tax.

Baker's plan, part of a $38.1 billion budget proposal under review by lawmakers, would adjust upward the percentage of health insurance premiums paid by state workers hired before July 1, 2003. Those workers pay 20 percent of their monthly health insurance premium, while workers hired later pay 25 percent, according to Baker's budget, which would make all employees contribute 25 percent of the premium cost.

"He didn't want to raise taxes," Massachusetts AFL-CIO President Steven Tolman told the News Service. "Well what do you think this is?"

Tolman said "state employees have taken it on the chin in several different ways," and said state workers have not shared in the state's "prosperity."

Baker has highlighted over-spending as a driver of what he has projected as a $1.8 billion deficit in the fiscal 2016 budget.

The Group Insurance Commission, which provides insurance for state and municipal employees, ran a shortfall this year and received a $190 million influx to balance its books. GIC Executive Director Dolores Mitchell has said lawmakers regularly underfund the state agency, which released guidance on upcoming increases to co-payments for hospital visits and prescriptions.

"These were not easy decisions and they will affect all of us who work for the state and local communities," the insurance commission wrote on its website.

Baker spokesman Tim Buckley said the governor's budget would bring state workers' health premium payments in line with the private sector.

"The administration is pleased to propose a budget that invests in priorities like public education without raising taxes despite the $1.8 billion deficit and feels leveling the playing field for GIC contributions to bring the system in line with the private sector is fiscally responsible," Buckley said in a statement.

Senate Majority Whip Anthony Petruccelli, an East Boston Democrat, said he is unlikely to support the governor's proposal and Sen. Jennifer Flanagan, a Leominster Democrat, said she is also inclined to oppose the idea.

"This has been an issue that has been taken up almost year after year," Flanagan told the News Service. "Certainly health care is an important part of everyone's budget and something that I think is a basic necessity for people and their families."

The Group Insurance Commission would receive a total of about $1.9 billion under Baker's budget. According to the AFL-CIO, the cost-shift proposed by Baker combined with increases to co-pays and deductibles will cost employees $160 million collectively and many families will see health costs go up $1,500 next year.

A Republican working with two chambers of the Legislature dominated by Democrats, Baker has so far proven effective at pushing through legislation. Lawmakers passed his proposals to fix a midyear budget gap and shore up depleted state accounts, and a Baker initiative to offer early retirement to executive branch employees cleared the House unanimously.

The AFL-CIO recommends bringing all employee contribution down to 20 percent of the premium, which Tolman said would cost about $40 million.

"We've done reforms in our retirement. We have done reforms in our health care. We've done reforms in transportation and all different agencies, and most importantly we have not shared in the prosperity," Tolman said. He said teachers, scientists and machinists were among the employees lobbying Thursday.

Professional Firefighters of Massachusetts President Ed Kelly said unlike state employees, municipal unions negotiate their health care plans.

In a statement, National Association of Government Employees National President David Holway said, "I am heartened by the large crowd of public employees that rallied at the State House this morning."

He added, "Today is the first day of a 90-day fight to get some equity and respect for state employees."

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“Massachusetts homeless seek budget boost for individuals, not just families”
By Colleen Quinn, State House News Service, April 8, 2015

BOSTON - Homeless individuals visited Beacon Hill Wednesday hoping to make lawmakers more aware that while funding for families without shelter has increased, budgets have not grown enough to help those who live alone.

Aimee Coolidge, director of community and government relations at Pine Street Inn, said funding for services to homeless individuals has not seen a "wholesale" increase since 2001. In Massachusetts, individuals are helped through a different support system than homeless families, according to Coolidge.

Coolidge said lawmakers "thought as they were adding resources to the family system, they're adding to the individual system, but they're not."

In fiscal 2015, homeless services for individuals received approximately $43 million, about $2 million more than the previous year. Gov. Charlie Baker proposed cutting the budget back to $41 million in fiscal 2016, according to advocates. The Coalition for Homeless Individuals, a network of emergency shelters, medical and support service providers, is seeking a $5.5 million increase over this year's state budget to help people transition into permanent housing.

"Those programs that aid the individual homeless have been shortchanged for the last several years. It sounds odd to say $43 million is shortchanged, but there are more homeless people on the streets now than there were years ago," said Paul Sullivan, who was homeless for eight months in 2008.

Sullivan credits workers at the Pine Street Inn with saving his life. He now lives in an apartment in Boston.

"I often tell people that I am the luckiest formerly homeless person in the United States," Sullivan said.

Barbara Padilla, who currently lives at the Pine Street Inn, said she wanted lawmakers to see that homeless people are more than a line item. Homeless individuals and advocates spent Wednesday visiting lawmakers in their State House offices to share their stories and make a case for more funding in the budget. House leaders are expected to release its version of the fiscal 2016 budget next Wednesday.

"We need people to understand and have ears to listen and a heart to give," Padilla said.

Advocates said homeless shelters struggled to provide room for people during the worst months of the record-setting winter, and prolonged underfunding has made it difficult to keep pace with the number of people who need help.

The Boston Public Health Commission sheltered an average of 700 people per night at multiple sites. Father Bill's & MainSpring, which operates shelters in Brockton and Quincy, sheltered an average of 283 people per night, more than double the 126 beds for which it received funding. Friends of the Homeless in Springfield averaged 170 guests each night during February, more than the 133 beds it was receiving funding for, according to the Coalition. Pine Street Inn housed on average 514 people per night, well above the 427 beds funded.

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“Similarities, and key differences between House, Baker budgets”
By Matt Murphy, State House News Service, April 15, 2015

BOSTON - The $38 billion state budget put forward by House Democratic leaders on Wednesday is even more austere than the one proposed by Republican Gov. Charlie Baker, even though it makes modestly larger investments than the governor in areas like local aid and early education.

While the bottom line is sure to grow when debate begins in the House in less than two weeks, House budget chief Rep. Brian Dempsey said the 2.8 percent growth in proposed spending, despite an estimated 4.8 percent increase in tax revenues, reflects the desire to be "cautious" just months removed from having to trim more than $760 million in spending to keep the current fiscal year budget in balance.

Dempsey, a Haverhill Democrat, said the House was able to increase local aid by $16 million more than Baker and boost other accounts higher than the governor recommended in part by allocating less to public defenders, sheriffs and higher education and by funding non-pension retiree benefits such as health care with debt service reversions, rather than through the operating budget.

While steering clear of using state reserve funds, the House budget (H 3400) defers nearly $457 million in Medicaid payments until fiscal 2017. That move appears to free up money for spending now and postpone choices about spending reductions until at least this time next year.

The House is also counting on slot machines at the new Plainridge Park Casino, due to open this summer, to produce $104 million for local aid, about $20 million more than budgeted by Baker.

The budget for higher education in the Ways and Means proposal would increase by $26.3 million over fiscal 2015, but falls about $7.8 million shy of what Baker proposed in his first state spending blueprint.

Public state universities warned early this month that without an additional $9 million for collective bargaining contracts, students on the nine campuses would likely face higher fees or the reduction the academic programs.

"I think that's unfortunate to hear that from state universities," Dempsey said. "I'd like to hear them say occasionally they'd look at their expenses and maybe before they jump to raise fees they'd look at maybe some kind of consolidation. I think that's really their responsibility."

Dempsey said the Legislature has increased funding for state universities by $34 million over that last two years, and House leaders proposed another $5 million increase for fiscal 2016.

"I don't believe that we ought to be taking the default position that because we're not able to increase it that automatically means that fees are going to go up. I think we all have a responsibility to look at the expense side of the equation. I'm hoping that they do that," Dempsey said.

Vincent Pedone, a former state representative who is now the executive officer of the State University Council of Presidents, said he recognized the pressure to produce a balanced budget and credited the House with doing "yeoman's work" to move close to a 50 percent split in funding between the universities and the state.

"There is, however, a looming $9 million collective bargaining obligation that if left unfunded does not continue the trend of moving us closer to that equitable split between the students and the state," Pedone said, adding that the campuses want to work with lawmakers and feel confident their concerns are being heard.

Dempsey also explained the decision to scrap Baker's proposal to require all state employees hired before July 1, 2003 to chip in 25 percent of their health care premiums, a spike from 20 percent that would put all 45,000 state employees on an even playing field.

The Group Insurance Commission recently made changes to its plans, increasing the cost of co-pays and deductibles for state employees by $160 million. "We did not think that given that recent change by the GIC that it made sense to now add another cost," Dempsey said.

Dempsey, along with House Speaker Robert DeLeo and Majority Leader Ronald Mariano, recently made an ethics filing disclosing that he receives state health insurance and therefore has a financial interest in Baker's proposal to increase cost sharing.

Geoff Beckwith, executive director of the Massachusetts Municipal Association, cheered the $34 million in increase in unrestricted local aid, the 10 percent increase for regional school transportation funds and the full funding of special education aid for local schools.

"This is a good budget for cities and towns," Beckwith said. "This budget makes progress on a number of major local aid and education aid accounts, including restoring $18.6 million for kindergarten development grants. In total, this budget builds on what the governor proposed and makes more progress on local aid and for that we're very appreciative and we hope to continue that progress during the budget debate."

Noah Berger, president of the Massachusetts Budget and Policy Center, said he was similarly pleased to see increases in education funding, especially to help move over 800 children off the waiting list for early education programs.

Berger, however, said the bill provides only "short-term solutions to long-term problems" by diverting some capital gains taxes away from reserves to support spending and by pushing off major MassHealth expenses into fiscal 2017.

MassHealth amounts to about 40 percent of the overall state budget, a $15.3 billion program requiring $400 million in additional spending in fiscal 2016 even after factoring in more $665 million in savings and deferred expenses within the program.

George Bachrach, president of the Environmental League of Massachusetts, was also dismayed by the budget proposal from House leaders, saying it takes a step backward from his group's effort to increase funding for environmental programs and parks to at least 1 percent of the state budget.

"While we all agree budgeting in the post-recession economy continues to be a challenge, there's frugal and then there's harmful - and, on the issues of environmental protection, this budget goes in the wrong direction," Bachrach said.

Al Norman, executive director of Mass Home Care, said the Ways and Means budget cut four key elder home care accounts to $4.7 million below Baker's recommendations, including a 30 percent cut for congregate housing and a 12 percent cut to Meals on Wheels.

"It's a smart investment to expand funding for community care, and it attracts extra federal matching money. We need to focus on some of the most complex care clients who need a robust system of supports in order to avoid institutional care. This is what the Governor's funding level would have allowed us to do," Norman said.

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“Massachusetts House releases $38 billion budget similar to Governor Charlie Baker's”
By Matt Murphy, State House News Service, April 15, 2015

BOSTON - With new revenues materializing for the first time from slot machine gambling, House Democratic leaders on Wednesday proposed a $38 billion budget for fiscal 2016 that Speaker Robert DeLeo said makes targeted new investments in early education, substance abuse prevention and behavioral health.

The spending plan developed by the House Ways and Means Committee and its chairman Rep. Brian Dempsey hews closely to the blueprint outlined in March by Gov. Charlie Baker, squeezing more than $700 million in savings from MassHealth in large part by pushing off expenses into the future.

The House Ways and Means Committee budget also calls for two new audits of the MBTA's finances and state-of-good repair program, and would suspend for five years the so-called Pacheco Law application at the MBTA — the law puts conditions on the ability of state agencies to contract with private vendors to provide government services.

Though the budget totals about $100 million less than the Republican governor's first state budget proposal, increasing spending from fiscal 2015 by just over $1 billion, or 2.8 percent, that bottom line is sure to grow as the bill moves through the House.

House leaders said they would not dispute Baker's characterization of the budget requiring solutions to a $1.8 billion shortfall, and Dempsey's budget proposal, like Baker's, for the first time since 2007 does not draw from the state's rainy day, or stabilization fund.

The plan would also accelerate payments toward the state's underfunded pension liability by $228 million, including the roughly $50 million need to cover added pension costs resulting from an early retirement program that is still being debated.

"This budget makes some targeted investments, but we still stay within our means," DeLeo said.

The budget produced by House leaders does not address Baker's proposal to expand an income tax credit for low-income families by eliminating the $80 million film tax credit. Baker filed that proposal separate from his budget, and Dempsey said that even though there is strong support for doubling the earned-income tax credit, it would require finding an additional $65 million in the budget to pay for the expansion, which is expected to cost $145 million annually. Those proposals are pending before the Legislature's Revenue Committee.

"We see broad support for the film tax credit, and we'll let the committee do its thing," Dempsey said.

House leaders also opted against adopting Baker's recommendations to increase certain state employees' contribution to their health care through the Group Insurance Commission to 25 percent, up from 20 percent. The governor's plan would apply to employees hired before July 1, 2003.

The House Ways and Means Committee released the bill Wednesday, and lawmakers have until Friday to review it and propose amendments in advance of the House's annual budget debate scheduled to begin April 27. The Senate plans to unveil and process its own budget proposal in May.

Dempsey, in a briefing, said the Ways and Means budget goes beyond the governor's recommendations for increases in local aid, boosting unrestricted aid to $980 million, as proposed by Baker, and increasing Chapter 70 aid for schools to $4.5 billion, a $108 million increase from this year and $2.9 million more than sought by Baker.

The local school aid would increase per pupil spending by $25 across the state. The budget proposal also adds $5 million for regional school transportation and $8.3 million for special education, totaling a $16.2 million increase in local aid accounts over the governor's budget.

The increased local aid, according to Dempsey, relied in part on $105 million in anticipated slot revenue from a new gaming parlor in Plainville due to open later this summer.

"I think there's some reasonable areas there. Increase to regional school transportation is good. Local aid numbers look reasonable. Obviously, we'll pick it apart over the next week before we go in to debate and we'll and get to the nitty gritty of what it's all about. We always want to do more with local aid, but there are limitations," said Rep. Todd Smola, the ranking Republican on Ways and Means.

The budget is balanced, in part, on savings within the $15.3 billion Medicaid budget, including $209.5 million saved through an eligibility redetermination process and $456.8 million in "cash management" solutions, which defer payments until fiscal 2017.

Dempsey said pushing the payment of bills into the next fiscal year is "not ideal," but a solution House leaders were "comfortable with" until the Baker administration has more time to evaluate the program. The Ways and Means budget would continue to fund chiropractic services through MassHealth at $600,000, a benefit Baker had proposed to eliminate.

With so much of the focus over the first four months of the year on the MBTA's poor winter performance and management, Dempsey's budget increases state support for the MBTA and MassDOT by $70 million.

The budget also funds independent audits of the MBTA's asset maintenance strategy and its finances, and calls for an annual report on projected and real savings from the new procurement rules.

Emphasizing his commitment to early education, DeLeo highlighted his decision to include $5 million in additional funding for child care vouchers that would help move an estimated 833 children off the waiting list for early education programs.

The budget proposal also includes $18.6 million for kindergarten expansion grants, though Dempsey said House leaders are interested in phasing out the program as kindergarten classrooms are gradually incorporated into the Chapter 70 funding formula.

Describing the issue of substance abuse as one that's personal to him, DeLeo also said he heard Wednesday morning from a friend on the South Shore who lost her 30-year-old brother to substance abuse.

"I seem to hear more of these stories on a daily basis," he said.

The Ways and Means budget would add 75 new short-term beds for substance abuse patients transitioning from acute care to residential recovery, 75 new residential recovery beds, $2.5 million to expand access to Vivitrol and a $500,000 pilot for support services for newborns exposed to drugs.

The budget also provides new funding for adult community mental health services, would restore funding for 700 families for child and adolescent mental health services cut in Baker's budget, and maintains financial support for 671 inpatient mental health beds, including 45 at Taunton State Hospital. Rep. James Miceli said the House bill also increases funding for Tewksbury Hospital above levels proposed by Gov. Baker.

Responding to sharp criticism from top court officials directed at Baker's budget, the Ways and Means proposal provides $17.3 million more for the Trial Court than the governor in an attempt to avoid layoffs.

"If we did not do that, you would see over 500 layoffs in the trial courts across the Commonwealth and we looked very carefully at that. Staffing levels, compared to 2003, are down by about 2,200 employees. There are some staffing challenges and we thought it important to restore that," Dempsey said.

Dempsey said he also found Secretary of State William Galvin's feedback on Baker's budget "compelling," and boosted the budget for elections by a couple million dollars without which Galvin said he would not be able to hold a presidential primary election in Massachusetts next March.

The budget bill also recommends an additional $4.5 million for salary increases for assistant district attorneys and public defenders to improve retention of staff lawyers.

A new class of State Police cadets would be funded through the committee's proposed budget, which would also double funding for witness protection.

The Ways and Means Committee adopted Baker's recommendations for a $20 million homelessness prevention fund for services that intervene before a family requires shelter, and allocates an additional $8 million for 737 new rental assistance vouchers.

The University of Massachusetts would see its budget restored to pre-emergency budget cut levels with an additional $7.8 million, while the state universities would receive a modest $5.6 million increase and community colleges would get a 3 percent budget boost of $9 million.

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"Baker, state GOP’s use of federal funds questioned"
By Frank Phillips, Boston Globe Staff, June 08, 2015

Governor Charlie Baker’s political operation and the state Republican Party are relying on the party’s federally raised donations to rebuild his campaign account, despite a 1998 Massachusetts law banning the use of federal funds for state political activities.

Since Baker took office in January, his campaign committee has used the state GOP staff and its headquarters to solicit, collect, and organize donations at events to bulk up his depleted political account, according to several party officials and others involved in the fund-raising for the governor.

The staff and office rent are paid with money from the party’s federal account, according to the GOP’s federal campaign finance reports. That staff has helped to collect $550,000 for Baker since January, records show.

Campaign finance watchdogs say Baker’s decision to use the GOP staff is an end-run around state rules. The 1998 law seeks to ensure that Massachusetts’ campaign finance regulations, which impose more restrictive caps on donations and require more frequent disclosures than federal rules, are applied to fund-raising activities of state political figures. They say the practice of using federal funds is contrary to the statute’s purpose of ensuring only money raised and disclosed according to state laws is used to influence state elections.

“It is a cutting-edge campaign practice that exploits a provision of federal campaign finance law in order to evade more restrictive state campaign laws,’’ said Paul S. Ryan, senior counsel at the Washington, D.C.-based Campaign Legal Center, a nonpartisan election finance reform organization.

The conflicting Massachusetts and federal laws have created a muddle of legal issues that have never been litigated, according to Ryan.

“The state has a contrary interest, but no court has weighed in on this issue and the FEC has not explicitly opined on it,’’ he said.

Three GOP officials confirmed the use of federal resources in interviews and e-mails.

GOP leaders, who declined to be quoted by name during interviews about the matter, say that they are not breaking any laws. They cite a Federal Election Commission ruling that mandates the party use its federal account to pay for any staff member who spends time in any given month on “activities in connection with a federal election,” even if they are working at times on state politics.

Party leaders insist that the entire nine-member staff is involved monthly in some form of federal election activity that justifies paying 100 percent of their salaries from federal funds.

The state Republican Party, using its federal account, is providing the same fund-raising support for Baker’s political ally, Lieutenant Governor Karyn Polito, party officials confirmed. She has raised close to $271,000 for her state campaign committee since January, so far avoiding, as Baker is, most of the costs for staff, rent, and office expenditures.

In recent weeks the Globe asked the state GOP about the Baker and Polito committees’ publicly filed finance reports through May 15 that showed no overhead, office expenses, or staff salaries. Subsequently finance director David J. Drummond submitted a bill to the Baker and Polito committees.

In finance reports filed last week, Baker’s committee reported its first payment — $2,000 — to Drummond while Polito’s committee paid the party finance director $1,000 on the same day, May 18. No other details were revealed. But a person with knowledge of the transaction said the fees covered Drummond’s work for the month of April.

The GOP said it would not release the bill or any contractual documents that may exist between Drummond and the committees.

The party chairwoman issued a statement asserting that the activities of Drummond are legal because he recently collected those fees from the governor’s and lieutenant governor’s political committees. Drummond, who was paid $2,393 in salary from the federal account in April, has been working for the state party since at least January.

“Finance director Dave Drummond is compensated in accordance with the law by the Baker and Polito Committees. The party is happy to support that fund-raising activity,” said Kirsten Hughes, MassGOP chairwoman, speaking for the two committees. Her statement did not address the work of the rest of federally funded staff or the cost of office rent and supplies that went into the fund-raising work.

Baker, Polito, and the Republican State Committee’s staff would not respond to questions about the legality of the fund-raising activities.

Both the Massachusetts Democratic and Republican parties have a state political account, which is governed by the state’s campaign finance law, and a federal account, which must follow federal law and be used for federal elections. The biggest difference: The individual donation limit per year to a party’s federal account is $10,000, twice the amount allowed to a state party committee’s account and 10 times what a donor can give annually to Baker’s state committee.

Pam Wilmot, executive director of Common Cause Massachusetts, said that while the party believes federal law mandates that its staff be paid out of the federal account, Baker is under no obligation to use those staffers for his own fund-raising.

His decision to do so, she said, allows the heavy influx of federal money, raised through individual donations of up to $43,400, that comes into the GOP’s coffers to support state political work. That undermines the state’s more restrictive contribution limits and gives him a strong financial advantage over potential opponents.

“Outsourcing the governor’s fund-raising to the federal account of the state party is concerning for two reasons: First, the governor doesn’t have to pay the salary costs of his fund-raisers, and second, because it allows federal money, raised with higher contribution limits to support state work,’’ she said. “This gives him an advantage over any other candidate.”

The reliance by Baker and Polito on the GOP’s federal account is in contrast to former governor Deval Patrick, whose state political committee paid for a staff and an office to raise his political funds.

Besides staffing Baker’s fund-raising team, the state Republican Party is also using federal funds for state politics in other areas.

The Republican Party has spent $12,423 from the federal account for rent for its Boston headquarters — where the finance staff works to raise money for Baker and Polito, as well as the state party itself — since Jan. 1, a period during which there has been very little federal election activity.

The party also used the federal account to pay $6,800 worth of rent this past winter for a party office in Shrewsbury used by a candidate for state representative, Hannah Kane, as a campaign headquarters in a special election. The party’s political director, Chris Lane, who is paid about $2,400 a month, helped coordinate her campaign while getting paid with federal funds. Charlyce Bozzello, who was drawing a salary from the party’s federal funds, served as a field director.

Brian Wynne, the party’s executive director, said in a statement that the Shrewsbury office is used “for party administration, as well as Republican candidate activity at all levels. It is paid for and reported in compliance with the law.”

Martha Coakley ran into problems over federal and state bans on the crossover of funds when the Globe reported in late 2013 that she used her federal funds left over from the 2010 US Senate race to pay thousands of dollars of bills owed by her state committee and for some of her state political activities. Coakley, who was the state’s attorney general and running for governor at the time, was forced several months later by the state Office of Campaign and Political Finance to pay a $23,813 fine.

Shortly afterward, the state GOP, reacting to further media reports of other potential violations by Coakley, called on the office to appoint a third-party investigator to review the charges. Nothing came of that request.

“Campaign finance laws are in place to uphold the integrity of the political system and an immediate investigation is required to stop Martha Coakley from trampling these laws all over again,” Hughes, the state chairwoman, said at the time.

Frank Phillips can be reached at phillips@globe.com.

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"Time to tweak Mass. school funding formula"
By The Editorial Board, The Boston Globe, June 8, 2015

It’s been called the “gold standard” of education funding: Thanks to the 1993 Massachusetts Education Reform Act, the state kicks in money to school districts based, in part, on their needs. In exchange, school districts step up their game in ways that are measurable by MCAS scores.

It’s worked pretty well. Dropout rates are down. Student achievement is up. But the funding formula behind that grand bargain, known as Chapter 70, hasn’t been updated since 2007. It has not kept pace with what education truly costs.

Health insurance costs have risen steadily, eating up a far greater share of school budgets than anyone imagined back in 1993. As a result, districts are forced to make deep cuts in teaching supplies for the classroom in order to cover a cost that has been ignored by the state. According to a study prepared for the Massachusetts Business Alliance for Education, schools can afford fewer than half the books than they did a decade ago. The cost of special education, which has always been given short shrift in the formula, has also risen sharply.

Wealthy districts are able to weather the storm by raising additional revenue or cutting back on nonessential services. They aren’t as reliant on funding from the state. Wellesley, for instance, spends 133 percent more than required. But Lynn doesn’t spend a penny more. State funding covers up 80 percent of its budget, so the city struggles when the formula doesn’t reflect the real costs of educating a child.

The good news is that state lawmakers have appointed a Foundation Budget Review Commission to recommend changes to the formula. The commission, which is scheduled to issue its report later this month, appears poised to tweak it to reflect the rising costs of health insurance and special education.

But the commission should not stop there. There’s a third item that ought to be better reflected: English-language learners. School districts with large numbers of them tend to be in poorer cities that can least afford the extra expense. That’s going to be a battle that pits poor cities against wealthy towns, but it’s a battle worth fighting. The recent threat of an education equity lawsuit by Brockton should be a reminder that courts might jump in if politicians are unwilling to do so.

It’s true that Massachusetts already spends a great deal on education — Chapter 70 aid amounts to $4.5 billion out of $10 billion spent on public education in the state. But that’s an investment in our future and our economy.

And not all tweaks to the formula will cost money. Brockton has asked the commission to change the deadline for reporting the number of students from Oct. 1 to Feb. 1, in order to better reflect the more than 400 children who are estimated to be absorbed by the school district after the deadline. It’s a reasonable request from a district whose population of homeless students has increased by 50 percent — to 658 kids — in the past five years. The responsibility for ensuring that they get a decent education should not fall on Brockton alone.

Link to "Funding Formula": www.massbudget.org/report_window.php?loc=Facts_10_22_10.html

Link to "Chapter 70": www.doe.mass.edu/finance/chapter70/chapter_10.html

Link to "Study": https://www.tbf.org/~/media/TBFOrg/Files/Reports/MBAE%20SchoolFinanceReport.pdf

Link to "Foundation Budget Review Commission": www.mma.org/foundation

Link to "Asked the Commission": http://c.ymcdn.com/sites/www.masbo.org/resource/resmgr/Initiatives_FoundBudgReview/PublicHearing_04WrittenTesti.pdf

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June 8, 2015

Re: Boston Globe Editorial Idiots on funding public education in Massachusetts

The Boston Globe Editorial Idiot's editorial about changing the ineffective Chapter 70 funding formula for public education in Massachusetts leaves out the fact that over one decade ago then Massachusetts Governor Willard Mitt Romney made deep cuts to public education which were never made whole again by then Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick and Governor Charles Baker. When I wanted to run for Berkshire State Senator in early-2004, I was upset with Governor Romney for cutting state government funding to local governments and public education, while the state Legislature on Beacon Hill's State House refused to raise revenues to stop Romney's deep cuts. I dropped out of the race in the Spring of 2004 to move to Southern New Hampshire to live with my family. The same powerbrokers still run the show in Boston, which means public education funding in Massachusetts is both inadequate and inequitable.

I believe the only answer is for the state government to fully fund public education in Massachusetts. Do away with the Chapter 70 formula all together and have to state government provide an adequate and equitable financing of public education for poor, middle class, and rich communities throughout the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. To ask low income taxpayers to pay for public education is wrong on so many levels!

- Jonathan Melle

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"Bill Weld is new lord 
of Canton manor"
By Gayle Fee, The Boston Herald, June 15, 2015

At the ripe age of almost 70, former Gov. Bill Weld has finally got his dream home.

Weld and his wife, Leslie, are the new owners of the sprawling Laurel Hill Estate in Canton, a 6,000-square-foot English manor built in 1900 for a shipping magnate.

“We wanted to live in the country, and the property is in the Blue Hills Reservation (7,000 acres),” Weld told the Track. “Five tom turkeys begin gobbling at 5 every morning from the hill behind us, and the hens answer from the valley below us. Lots of does, and last night a buck. Love the house, too, and 20 minutes to South Station on the Fairmount line from Readville.”

So there you have it. Weld, the man who replaced Gov. Mike Dukakis, who was famous for riding the T, is now doing the commuter rail thing himself. Maybe he can give his protege Charlie Baker some tips on how to fix it!

Anyway, the new Weld estate is a lot like how we pictured Big Red’s hunting cabin in the Adirondacks: lots of manly dark wood, multiple fireplaces and a rather sweet in-ground pool. But let’s let Zillow give you the rundown:

“A picturesque setting with sprawling grounds, 4.78 acres, a large gracious veranda, custom pool, deck provide beautiful vistas and wonderful sunsets. Magnificent details throughout including Slate Roof, Leaded Glass Windows, Crown Wood Moldings, Custom Woodworking, Doors make this an Elegant, One of a Kind Home. 16 rooms, 6 bedrooms, 5 baths, Carriage house with 3 rooms, 1 bedroom, 1 bath above heated 3 car garage. Simply Amazing!!”

Weld, as you may know, has relocated back to Massachusetts after a long stint in the Big Apple. He currently works in the ML Strategies arm at the law firm Mintz Levin.

A pal told us Weld liked the house because it reminded him of his childhood home in Long Island, which was taken by the state for a highway.

“When he originally moved to Massachusetts he wanted to live in the country, but (first wife) Susan wanted to be in Cambridge,” said our snitch. “So this goes back to some early-life dreams.”

File Under: Fits the Bill.

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Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito meets Thursday with Pittsfield Mayor Daniel Bianchi, state representatives and other dignitaries in the mayor's office. The meeting was part of her tour promoting Gov. Charlie Baker's Community Compact program to encourage best practices in local government. (Ben Garver — The Berkshire Eagle)

“Lieutenant Governor Polito meets with Pittsfield, North Adams mayors”
By Jim Therrien, The Berkshire Eagle, June 18, 2015

PITTSFIELD - When Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito arrived at City Hall to learn what sort of help local government needs from the state, Mayor Daniel L. Bianchi was ready.

Bianchi had prepared a list of important projects and initiatives the city is struggling to complete, or in some cases, get off the ground.

Replacement of the deteriorated Columbus Avenue parking garage, restoration of the historic Springside House, continued remediation of PCB pollution stemming from former GE operations, and the quest for a new city police station, were among the mayor's priorities.

As part of her tour promoting the Baker administration's Community Compact program to encourage best practices in local government, Polito met on Thursday with the county's two mayors, local state lawmakers and other officials.

Gov. Charlie Baker created the program by executive order in January. It brings together a group of Cabinet officials, headed by the lieutenant governor, which can enter into agreements with municipalities "to accomplish mutually agreed upon goals."

The broad goals include implementing innovative proposals to promote more efficient government, with the state providing technical assistance as needed and incentives through various grant or other programs.

Municipal leaders can complete an application for the program online, offering to pledge the community to adopt one or more best practices as part of a joint commitment process.

After meeting privately with a number of officials in Bianchi's office before meeting in North Adams with officials there, Polito said the Community Compact "is up and running," and the program is seeking applications from municipalities to enter into agreements.

Several communities across the state have already shown an interest, Polito said.

"There are over a dozen communities that are trying to achieve best practices," she said. "A lot of ideas around IT — using technology to better serve communities, about planning and forecasting."

She said she sees opportunities, particularly in smaller towns in north and south Berkshire, for communities to pursue with the state's assistance best practices for their municipal governments.

Pittsfield is on a different level in that it has "a very sophisticated leadership team," she said, which is capable of taking state planning or similar incentive funds and creating plans to leverage other grant funding for projects.

"We want to be a strong resource to help them," Polito said of communities pitching ideas to the Community Compact program.

After Polito's private meeting with local officials, the group met with the media at City Hall. Polito briefly described the compact program and the process for communities to submit applications.

Bianchi said the group also had talked about larger projects, which the city hopes also will attract state assistance, including the parking garage and the need for a new police station.

"This gives me a snapshot," Polito said, and it comes from those working "on the front lines."

She added, "What I come away from this meeting with is, you have a team; you have a vision, and you have the energy that I can feel in this room."

In moving forward with initiatives, Polito said, "you will have a strong partnership with the state. We know you can't do it alone."

Bianchi said afterward that the city has yet to develop an idea for a Community Compact proposal. But he said a good example might revolve around the concept of the planned Berkshire Innovation Center at the William Stanley Business Park, which will bring together small manufacturing firms and educational and other institutions in a shared innovation and research and development center that provides access to expensive and sophisticated equipment.

The BIC is an economic development initiative and also "a compact type initiative," Bianchi said.

He also cited public education as another area that might be considered. There are 18,000 to 19,000 students in Berkshire County and 16 school systems, he said, adding that an examination of shared education services and possible district consolidations is "almost a natural fit for a Compact initiative and planning."

Among those meeting with Polito in Pittsfield were school Superintendent Jason "Jake" McCandless, Berkshire County Sheriff Thomas Bowler, state Reps. Tricia Farley-Bouvier, D-Pittsfield, and Paul Mark, D-Peru, and several local business and city government officials.

Contact Jim Therrien at 413-496-6247. jtherrien@berkshireeagle.com @BE_therrien on Twitter

On the Web ...


Lt. Governor Karyn Polito

More information is available on the Community Compact website, www.mass.gov/governor/administration/groups/communitycompactcabinet.

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Governor Charlie Baker said Thursday that states should be entitled to decide whether to fly the Confederate flag at their capitols. He later apologized for his remarks. Jessica Rinaldi/Boston Globe Staff/File

"Baker apologizes for remarks on Confederate flag"
By Jim O’Sullivan, Boston Globe Staff, June 18, 2015

Governor Charlie Baker apologized on Thursday for remarks he made earlier in the day defending the rights of state capitols to fly the Confederate flag, initially calling it a matter of “tradition.”

Baker said in an early-afternoon radio interview that states should be entitled to decide whether to fly the Confederate flag at their capitols, laying out a brief argument for local government. But he later backtracked and said he believed the controversial symbol should be removed.

In a telephone interview on Thursday evening, Baker said he had “heard from some friends of mine.” Their message, he said: “Basically: What were you thinking?”

“I take my job as governor of 100 percent of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts very seriously, and as I said, I’m sorry if I didn’t do a particularly good job representing that today,” Baker told the Globe on the Thursday evening call arranged hastily by aides.

Baker, after an unsuccessful challenge to then-governor Deval Patrick in 2010, cultivated a significantly more moderate and upbeat profile during last year’s campaign, and won plaudits for his outreach to diverse communities of voters.

The Confederate flag question has long tripped up politicians. As presidential candidates, both US Senator John McCain, Republican of Arizona, and former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney angered Southern voters by criticizing the continued use of the flag.

During the radio appearance on WGBH, Baker said, “My view on stuff like this is that South Carolinians can make their own call.”

The comment came at the end of a discussion about Wednesday night’s killing of nine black people inside a historic African American church in Charleston, S.C. A white suspect was apprehended on Thursday.

WGBH host Jim Braude, after complimenting Baker for his sensitivity on racial issues, asked the governor’s view of the Confederate flag that flies at the capitol in Columbia.

Many people view the “stars and bars” as an emblem of racism and reminder of slavery and Jim Crow practices. Some defenders call it a symbol of Southern heritage.

“As a citizen of this country and what’s happened, particularly to African Americans in that state, what’s your reaction to that, in 2015?” Braude asked.

Baker replied, “I like local government more than I like — the farther government gets away from the people the more nervous I get about the way it behaves, and my view on stuff like this is that South Carolinians can make their own call. I do believe that the reason that flag still hangs there is, you know, what I would call sort of ‘tradition’ or something like that. And there’s certainly a heated debate that’s gone on over the years down there about that.”

In Massachusetts, Baker, a Republican from Swampscott, has courted African American voters far more aggressively than previous statewide GOP politicians.

In the telephone interview, Baker said he hoped those relationships would be unharmed.

“I think I’ve put the time and the effort in to develop a sense of familiarity with a lot of folks in those communities,” he said.

“I just want to be clear. I abhor the symbolism and the history of that flag as much as anybody, and I am more than cognizant of the fact that literally millions of Americans died over what it represents in the Civil War,” Baker said.

Baker declined to say who had called him to take issue with his earlier remarks.

“I think they should take the flag down,” Baker said, adding, “The symbolism of this one is important and I should have done a better job of appreciating that.”

Baker has largely avoided national politics since the start of his campaign. He has attended some national Republican events, but he’s made clear that he wants to steer clear of the 2016 presidential primary and rarely seeks to comment on political issues outside the commonwealth.

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"Baker’s damaging remarks on Confederate flag"
The Boston Globe, By the Editorial Board, June 19, 2015

Governor Baker’s initial failure to condemn the Confederate flag on Thursday, as the nation reeled from a horrendous racist attack in South Carolina, qualifies as a stunning lapse of judgment. Baker quickly apologized, but the damage is done.

The question, posed by interviewer Jim Braude on WGBH, was not difficult: did Baker think that Southern states should still fly the Confederate flag at their capitols? Braude might as well have asked Baker if he thought the Salem Witch Trials got a bad rap. The only appropriate answer was no. Yet Baker dodged, saying “South Carolinians can make their own call,” and that flying the flag was matter of “tradition, or something like that.”

Within a few hours, the governor issued a strong apology. “I abhor the symbolism and the history of that flag as much as anybody,” he told the Globe. But to have uttered those words to Braude in the first place shows either an incredible lack of historical understanding, or that the Republican governor is more prone to accepting his party’s worst impulses on state’s rights and racial politics than he’s let on previously.

There is no legitimate defense of flying the Confederate banner. While obviously every American has a free-speech right to fly whatever flag they want, there should be no obfuscation about what flying that one symbolizes. The central purpose of the Confederate cause was to keep millions of Americans in chains. Flying that flag today has nothing to do with honoring the sacrifice of Confederate soldiers, no matter how many times apologists say so. Does anyone imagine that the accused shooter, Dylann Roof, chose to put a Confederate flag on his car because of an interest in laying wreaths at Civil War cemeteries?

The particular way Baker chose to duck the question was also troubling. Citing “tradition” and state’s rights evokes the Republican Party’s worst tendencies on race. There can be legitimate debates about the limits of federal power. But mouthing the state’s rights argument in the context of the Confederate flag question echoes the way some GOP politicians used “states rights” and “heritage” as coded appeals to white voters. It also ignores history: gains in civil rights have been achieved in this country through federal action that often ran counter to the wishes of individual states.

Baker does not speak for Massachusetts; the 10,000 Massachusetts soldiers who died in the Civil War already have that covered. And while he and all politicians deserve to be judged first on their actions, some words cross lines.

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"Baker unveils long-term financial plan"
By Joshua Miller, Boston Globe Staff, June 19, 2015

Governor Charlie Baker is scaling back some planned spending on big-ticket information technology and higher education projects in a long-term financial plan released Friday afternoon.

Baker budget chief Kristen Lepore said trimming more than $100 million in planned capital spending is necessary for the state to be fiscally responsible and the change puts Massachusetts on a better financial trajectory. She expressed concern about the state taking on too much debt.

Administration budget officials used Bristol Community College as an example of scaled back spending in the new fiscal year, which begins July 1. They said a $300,000 study for a new building at the college’s New Bedford campus, for example, was not included in the plan, but emphasized the college was getting almost $16 million for ongoing construction at its Fall River campus.

State Senator Harriette L. Chandler, a Worcester Democrat and the Senate majority leader, said she worried Baker’s plan would mean community colleges won’t get the resources they need to fix buildings and build the facilities to “stay competitive.”

“We’re talking about labs, we’re talking about classroom space, we’re talking about the bread and butter of community colleges, we’re not talking about fancy stuff,” she said in a telephone interview.

The Baker administration on Friday released its $4.1 billion capital budget for the upcoming fiscal year, outlining its spending plan for long-term projects and maintenance funded primarily by borrowing and federal dollars.

Officials focused on investments in the state rather than the trims. In a news release, the administration underscored ongoing spending on transportation infrastructure: from fixing roads and bridges to the expansion of the Green Line. It also highlighted new spending on economic development, dams and seawalls, infrastructure around UMass Boston and dredging the Boston Harbor to enable bigger ships to reach the port.

The capital budget is analogous to a household’s plan for buying a house, a car or making big home repairs — big-ticket items mostly financed through borrowing and paid off over time. The state’s operating budget is similar to a household’s everyday budget for items such as groceries, paper towels, and doctor’s bills.

One way the two budgets connect: the more the state borrows for its capital budget, the higher the debt payments are in its operating budget, constraining spending on other areas such as aid to cities and towns. Lepore, the secretary of the Executive Office for Administration and Finance, repeatedly underscored that point.

The Legislature approves a detailed operating budget, but it only sets broad parameters for capital spending, authorizing a ceiling on how much the state can borrow.

Then the governor, within that limit, decides how much Massachusetts can afford to borrow each year and what capital projects to spend on. The governor makes that clear to the treasurer, who issues bonds so there is enough cash to cover the expenses.

Borrowing often increases year to year, but the Baker administration, in a break from recent practice, set its borrowing cap at the same amount as last year. Administration officials said that was meant to ensure the state isn’t spending beyond its means.

Since the projects in a capital budget are by definition long term, much of the spending carries over from previous years and — given Baker took office in January — a previous administration, that of Democrat Deval Patrick.

The Baker administration said Friday the vast majority of its capital spending is devoted to projects already under way and committments under the law.

Baker ran for governor pledging a state government as thrifty as the people of the state.

The operating budget for the new fiscal year, which begins on July 1, is still being negotiated by the House and Senate. The governor has ten days to take action on the operating budget once he gets it. Among his options: signing it into law or vetoing all or part of it.

Beacon Hill insiders increasingly believe the Legislature is on track to miss its budget deadline and will pass a short budget — perhaps two weeks — to keep state government funded until its larger spending plan is complete.

Joshua Miller can be reached at joshua.miller@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @jm_bos.

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Paul Dakin, superintendent of Revere public schools, said the new formula could overlook poor immigrant families who are not tapping welfare programs.

"State revises count of impoverished students: Altered method of counting has fewer deemed in poverty"
By James Vaznis, Boston Globe Staff, June 22, 2015

Massachusetts has scrapped a decades-old method for defining low-income students in public schools, resulting in a dramatic decline in the number considered to be living in poverty, according to a Globe review of state data.

Now, less than half of Boston school students are regarded as being from impoverished homes, compared with the previous figure of about three-quarters. Chelsea, Lawrence, and other cities also saw big drops. Statewide rates dropped, but less dramatically.

The new approach deems students “economically disadvantaged” if their families receive food stamps or other welfare benefits. Previously, the state used income reported by families on applications for free school lunches to identify “low-income” students.

The new calculations are expected to lead to major changes by the Legislature in the way state aid for needy students is distributed to local schools and could even affect how much school systems receive in state reimbursements for construction projects.

More broadly, the data raise questions about whether some schools should be performing at higher levels if indeed they have fewer poor students than previously thought.

But some educators question whether the state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education has come up with the best methodology to identify poor students.

Paul Dakin, superintendent of Revere public schools, said he worries that relying only on data from welfare programs could overlook the large number of poor immigrant families who are not tapping those programs, either out of pride or because they are here illegally and fear deportation.

“These folks live under the radar, but we are still legally responsible to educate them,” Dakin said.

Only 37.4 percent of students in Revere have been designated economically disadvantaged, down from 77.8 percent of students who were deemed low income.

Across the state, 26.3 percent of the 400,000 students enrolled in public schools are considered economically disadvantaged, compared with 38.3 percent who had been previously deemed low income. The education department will present the new findings to its board Tuesday.

For decades, Massachusetts and other states considered families who qualified for free or reduced-price lunches as the standard for measuring poverty. But many school systems, such as Boston and more than a dozen others in Massachusetts, no longer ask families to fill out applications to receive the perk because they are participating in a special federal program that allows them to offer free meals to all students, regardless of income.

The intention of the universal free meal program is to increase participation and eliminate the stigma, but it has caused Massachusetts and other states to grapple with finding a new way to measure student poverty.

Jeff Wulfson, Massachusetts deputy education commissioner, said there is no perfect data set.

“There is no single definition of what it means to be poor,” Wulfson said. “These are all surrogate measures.”

He emphasized that the challenges any school faces in educating students remains the same; it’s just the way students are being counted that has changed.

The new methodology is based mostly on families receiving food stamps, but also considers participation in other programs, such as foster care, Medicaid, or transitional assistance for families with dependent children.

The state cautions against comparing MCAS scores, graduation rates, and other performance measures generated for “economically disadvantaged” students against previous data for “low-income” students because the two student groups are significantly different. That will make it hard for the state to judge whether schools are making progress with impoverished students as it rolls out the new methodology.

Massachusetts is at the forefront in changing its methodology, said Mike Griffith, a school finance consultant with the Education Commission of the States, a Denver-based nonprofit that tracks education policy trends. He said many states are looking to develop a methodology similar to the one Massachusetts adopted, but are getting legal opinions on whether their state education departments have the right to use data from their welfare systems.

“There are a lot of family privacy issues,” said Griffith, while other states are weighing whether the approach is too stringent. “Many states err on the side of identifying too many rather than too few students.”

Privacy concerns deterred Massachusetts education officials from tapping state Department of Revenue data.

Whatever individual states decide, Griffith said, will probably have far-reaching consequences on research into the performance of low-income students. Gone will be a fairly consistent definition of low-income students among all the states, making it more difficult to conduct long-term national studies.

But relying on welfare participation might more accurately identify schools that have the highest concentration of students in greatest need and may more accurately reflect child poverty data collected by the US Census Bureau, some education policy experts said.

There have been wide gulfs between the census numbers and free-lunch participation numbers. In Boston, for instance, the US Census Bureau considers 27 percent of all children living in the city to be in poverty. Yet about three-quarters of students in the city’s school system had qualified for free or reduced-price lunches before switching to universal free meals.

Wulfson said he doubts families were providing false information on the lunch applications, noting that the state periodically audits the forms and that in some cases families living above the poverty line qualified for the perk.

State education officials said they will be recalibrating the threshold for what it considers a high-poverty district based on the new data. The high-poverty standard used to be districts with about 70 percent or more of students classified as low-income, but now it could be as low as 40 percent of students deemed economically disadvantaged.

Officials in many school systems worry about the financial implications of the change.

“We certainly don’t want to undercount the population and lose money because of it,” said Gerry McCue, executive director for administration and finance for the Chelsea schools.

Interim Superintendent John McDonough said Boston’s school system also raised concerns about losing state aid.

“We have been assured by the state that this will not happen,” McDonough said in a statement.

James Vaznis can be reached at jvaznis@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @globevaznis.



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June 22, 2015

Re: Poverty numbers in public education in Massachusetts have magically changed

The Boston Globe had a news story in its newspaper today (Monday, June 22nd, 2015) concerning the state government using a new and different measurement to count the number of poor students in local public schools throughout the commonwealth. Of course, the new metric lowers the number of poor students in each and every public school district. I wonder what this will mean when it comes to state aid for public education? There are rich, middle class, and many poor communities and public school district throughout Massachusetts. Public education in Massachusetts is unequal! Rich communities like Wellesley [Wellesley is an affluent town in Norfolk County, Massachusetts....It has one of the highest median household and family incomes in Massachusetts], have one of the top performing public school districts in the commonwealth. While poor communities like Lawrence, Massachusetts, have one of the worst performing public school districts in the commonwealth. Ever since then Governor Willard Mitt Romney cut state funds for public education in 2003, which have never been made whole over the past dozen years, public education funding in Massachusetts has been inadequate for most constrained or poor communities in Massachusetts. I believe Massachusetts public policies towards public education are both classist and elitist.

- Jonathan Melle

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"Wanted: an accurate measure of student poverty"
By The Boston Globe Editorial Board, June 23, 2015

A change in how Massachusetts counts low-income students in public school districts has resulted in sharply lower reported rates of poor kids, according to a Globe report Monday. That decrease could have dire consequences for the funding that school districts receive from the state and federal government, which is based in part on the number of poor students. That’s why state education authorities need to get this measure right, and comb through different sources of data to come up with the most meaningful and accurate figures. An inadequate metric will translate into less urgency and fewer funds to address critical needs of the low-income population.

Massachusetts had previously relied on the number of families who applied for free school lunches to determine the number of students in poverty. Based on that longstanding metric, 77 percent of students in the Boston schools were designated as low-income in 2013. But when the federal government introduced a free-meal program for all kids, regardless of income, a couple of years ago — thus eliminating the need for families to apply for free lunches — the state had to come up with an alternative way to calculate the number of low-income students. The new metric — called “economically disadvantaged” students — is based on the number of kids in families who receive public benefits: food stamps, foster care, or certain MassHealth programs, including Medicaid. With the new measure, only 49 percent of Boston students were classified as economically disadvantaged.

But, for many complicated reasons, not every family that is eligible for public benefits applies for them, and it’s reasonable to question the accuracy of the new figures. That’s why education officials should go beyond participation in welfare programs to identify poor students. They can tap into self-reported data by asking families to fill out forms like those that were used for free lunches. And they should also use data from the state’s Department of Revenue, provided they can address privacy concerns. Aggregate data on income levels, by community, should be readily available, and would not compromise individual privacy.

An inaccurate calculation of student poverty will eventually leave financially strained schools vulnerable to funding cuts. It ought to be a priority for state education authorities to strengthen their methodology for finding and counting the poor. In an age of ubiquitous data, it’s critical for the Commonwealth to pinpoint our neediest populations.

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"Politics get in the way of aid to poor"
By Shirley Leung, Boston Globe Columnist, June 24, 2015

They say they want to help working families, but will they?

I’m talking about the Big Three: Governor Charlie Baker, House Speaker Bob DeLeo, and Senate President Stan Rosenberg. All of them want to cut tax bills for low-income families, but as the Legislature’s budget deadline looms, they can’t agree on how to pay for it.

People of Massachusetts, please don’t stand for this. There’s no gold star for trying. If this is something the Big Three want, then they should make it happen.

But a lot of politics is getting in the way of helping more than 400,000 Massachusetts households who struggle to make ends meet. There’s no debate on the power of the earned income tax credit, which is available to working families who make less than about $50,000 a year. From liberal to conservative, from advocates of the poor to Warren Buffett, this tax credit — both the federal and state versions — has been hailed as one of the most effective antipoverty policies out there.

How to foot the bill is where the Big Three stop being on the same page.

Baker wants to double the earned income tax credit by phasing out the controversial state tax break to movie studios. Rosenberg, who championed the legislation that created the state’s tax break for the working poor in 1997, wants to pay for the program’s expansion by freezing the income tax rate.

Baker doesn’t like the Senate plan because he considers it a tax hike, something that would anger his Republican base. Meanwhile, DeLeo is giving the thumbs down — and that’s putting it politely — to both plans.

Not only is the House staunchly standing by tax breaks to Hollywood, but it vigorously fought the Senate’s plan, even asking the Supreme Judicial Court to weigh in. The high court sided with the Senate last week, saying its plan did not violate the House’s sole power to originate so-called money bills.

Don’t count on DeLeo being in a compromising mood. He also doesn’t like the Senate plan because it mimics a tax increase by preventing next year’s scheduled reduction in the state income tax rate to 5.10 percent from 5.15 percent.

It wasn’t that long ago when the Big Three, smiles and all, were singing kumbaya when Baker took office in January. Now look at them, tussling over an MBTA overhaul plan and the earned income tax credit.

But it’s not like they don’t talk
to each other. In fact, the Big Three meet every Monday for an hour or so at the State House to hash out issues.

When I caught up with them after this week’s meeting, Baker acknowledged that the earned income tax credit wasn’t on the agenda this time, but he reiterated it’s still a priority for his administration.

The governor gave props to the Senate for putting out a proposal to increase the tax credit, though he still likes his funding model better.

But Baker made clear he’s willing to strike a deal.

“I’ve said from the very beginning of this whole process that budgets are a combo platter,” he said, flanked by DeLeo and Rosenberg. “We’ll see what happens coming out at the other end.”

Rosenberg, who talked about increasing the earned income tax credit in his inaugural address in January, also seemed eager for some give and take.

“I’m glad that he put the subject on the table through the campaign,” said the Senate president, “and I’m glad we’re continuing the conversation through the budget process and beyond.”

Which leaves us with DeLeo.

There’s no proposal from the House, just pooh-poohing of other people’s plans. In other words, doing nothing about giving more tax breaks to the working poor. Is he with the program or not?

“I am in favor of the earned income tax credit,” insisted DeLeo.

Now, neither the governor’s nor the Senate’s plan is perfect. Baker’s idea of phasing out the film tax break doesn’t fully pay for doubling the earned income tax credit. The Senate plan calls for a 50 percent increase in the tax credit, and while it would be fully funded by freezing the income tax rate, it represents a tax increase for the wealthy.

Both Baker and DeLeo have a problem with raising taxes, and so the Senate idea seems like a nonstarter.

As for the film tax credit — universally vilified for the costs outweighing the benefits — the Senate is looking at reforming the program rather than getting rid of it. Could the House get behind a scaled-down film tax program?

Clearly, the Big Three have a lot to work through before they can step up tax breaks for the working poor. Unlike fixing the T, they won’t have powerful unions and business groups trying to get their way.

Those at the bottom don’t have advocates like those at the top. Only the Big Three can make working families a priority.

We’ll find out soon just how committed they are.

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"Making good on a promise to help the poor"
By Shirley Leung, Boston Globe Staff, July 10, 2015

In the waning weeks of the legislative session, it wasn’t looking good for working families.

Despite pledges to expand the earned income tax credit, considered one of the most effective antipoverty policies out there, our leaders couldn’t agree on how to pay for it. Governor Charlie Baker wanted to ax the film tax credit, Senate President Stan Rosenberg wanted to freeze the income tax rate. House Speaker Bob DeLeo wanted nothing to do with either plan.

But then a tussle over a little-known accounting rule opened the door to a compromise.

Neither the House nor the Senate was particularly fond of the rule, known as FAS 109, which includes hefty tax deductions for some companies it affects. In fact, since it was created in 2008, the deduction has never been implemented. Instead, lawmakers have postponed it every year so the state could collect an extra $76 million to help balance a tight budget.

This year, after both chambers in their budgets again proposed putting off the FAS 109 tax break, newly elected Senate leader Rosenberg decided to try something new. He argued that the delay by the House amounted to revenue-raising legislation, giving the Senate the right to propose its own tax changes in response.

House leaders, seeking to protect the chamber’s sole power to initiate so-called money bills, asked the Supreme Judicial Court to weigh in on the matter. On June 15, the high court sided with the Senate, ruling that suspension of the FAS 109 break for companies gave the chamber the right to tinker with taxes.

Senate leaders quickly realized that the SJC had not only handed them a legal victory, but critical leverage in their top legislative priority: expanding the earned income tax credit.

House leaders will tell you now that the repeal of the accounting rule had always been in their back pocket as an option to pay for tax breaks for the working poor.

“It became an obvious place to go,” said Brian Dempsey, the House chair of the Ways and Means Committee, who led budget negotiations with Senator Karen Spilka. “The SJC piece was certainly another factor to it.”

The House formally proposed repealing the FAS 109 deduction as an option, and it didn’t take long for an agreement to be reached.

The earned income tax credit program gives refunds to working families who make less than about $50,000 a year. The compromise budget allows for a 50 percent increase in the state’s earned income tax credit — putting as much as an extra $500 into the wallets of low-income households. More than 480,000 families file for the benefit.

Baker in his budget had proposed doubling the size of the earned income tax credit by phasing out the film tax credit. While the current proposal is not as generous and will be funded with a tax increase to businesses, Baker has signaled that he generally likes the idea. (Note to governor: Take the deal and run.)

So who stands to lose? Big business, but even they know it’s hard to win on this one. A Department of Revenue survey found that about 128 companies would benefit from the deduction, but half of the tax savings would go to just three companies. (The department didn’t name them.)

The major business groups — from the Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation to Associated Industries of Massachusetts — have sent a letter to Baker, urging him to veto that part of the budget. Their argument: Companies like certainty, and changing the tax law mid-stream cements Massachusetts’ reputation as a bad place to do business.

I wrote a column last month calling out the Big Three — Baker, DeLeo, and Rosenberg — to do something for working families. They all said they wanted to, but it didn’t seem like they were trying hard enough.

Now the Big Three appear close to doing what politicians aren’t known for: making good on a promise.

Shirley Leung is a Boston Globe columnist. She can be reached at shirley.leung@globe.com

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"Baker turns to failed GOP candidates for state posts"
By Jim O’Sullivan, Boston Globe Staff, June 25, 2015

Governor Charlie Baker’s administration has hired at least seven failed Republican political candidates, largely concentrated in a business development agency charged with implementing one of Baker’s top campaign promises.

Baker, who campaigned against Beacon Hill patronage and touted the Democrats he has brought into high-level positions, has named three former Republican political candidates as regional directors in the Massachusetts Office of Business Development, the agency responsible for broadening regional economic opportunity statewide.

In addition, he named an unsuccessful congressional hopeful to be his undersecretary for consumer affairs, a failed candidate for secretary of state to head the state Office on Disability, and a losing candidate for state Senate to a leadership job in the Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs.

Since winning election last November, Baker has touted his overtures across the aisle to hire Democrats – including his chief of staff and economic development chief. Less has been made of the Republican appointments he’s made — following the path of past governors, who have selected members of their own parties to staff their administrations.

Housing and Economic Development Secretary Jay Ash, the former Democratic city manager of Chelsea who now oversees Baker’s business development office, said in March that five of the six regional directors held over from the Patrick administration had been fired because the administration was “looking for a different skill set.”

To fill some of those vacancies, Baker turned to three failed Republican political candidates.

Debra Boronski, new director of the western region, ran for an open state Senate seat last year. Boronski has helped lead a number of the area’s chambers of commerce.

Her advocacy work became an issue in the campaign when state officials investigated whether she had broken lobbying laws by not reporting campaign contributions. A spokesman for Secretary of State William F. Galvin said Boronski had paid a $350 fine last December due to inaccurate reports filed between 2009 and 2014.

Boronski also had to amend filings with the state Ethics Commission to reflect her business ties.

Central region director Jon Golnik challenged Democratic US Representative Niki Tsongas in both 2010 and 2012, running largely against the federal health care expansion.

In the 2010 race, Golnik’s spotty voting record became an issue when the Lawrence Eagle-Tribune reported that he had not voted in a local or statewide election for more than eight years.

In the southeast region, former Republican state committeewoman Maria Marasco challenged sitting Democrats for the Senate and for the House, respectively, in 2002 and 2004.

In an email, Baker communications director Timothy Buckley said, “The MOBD regional directors have decades of experience in the private and public sectors that are invaluable to their work providing businesses with the support necessary to expand here in Massachusetts, creating jobs for residents across the commonwealth. The administration has made clear that political affiliations play no part in the hiring process as Governor Baker has assembled one of the most bipartisan teams in recent history.”

Baker has brought on board other former Republican candidates who came up short.

John Chapman, who ran unsuccessfully for Congress last year, is Baker’s undersecretary for consumer affairs and business regulation. Chapman had previously worked as senior counsel at the Securities and Exchange Commission, for the state economic development agency, and in the private sector.

Baker hired another failed 2014 candidate to head the state’s Office on Disability, David D’Arcangelo, who ran unsuccessfully for secretary of state. D’Arcangelo is legally blind.

Michael Valanzola, who also waged a losing campaign for a state Senate seat last year, is now chief operating officer of the Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs. That agency’s legislative affairs director, C. Stolle Singleton, ran unsuccessfully for a state House seat in 2012.

Among the regional directors for the Office of Business Development, both Boronski and Golnik donated to Baker during last year’s campaign. Marasco contributed in his 2010 race, and to a variety of GOP causes last cycle.

The regional director job pays $75,000 per year, Baker aides said.

It is not unusual for new administrations to tap political supporters for jobs. For instance, Baker’s predecessor Deval Patrick came under criticism early in his term for hiring a top political backer to work as an aide to his wife.

Baker during last year’s campaign said voters were worried that “there’s one set of rules for people on Beacon Hill and a different set of rules about everybody else.”

He has also said he would prioritize economic development in the so-called gateway cities, whose economies lag greater Boston. The administration has called the regional director posts key facets of that approach.

In March, Ash said agency shakeup owed to the administration’s desire for a different strategy.

“We had a different direction that we wanted to take with our regional directors,” Ash told the State House News Service. “The regional directors we see as an important point of entry for businesses throughout the Commonwealth as well as municipal officials in their communities.”

Boronski, who was also appointed by Patrick to his private development task force, has held leadership roles at a number of western Massachusetts business groups. She succeeded Michael Vedovelli, who had held the post since 2008 after working as Westfield’s account and grants compliance coordinator in that city’s community development and planning office. Vedovelli is now director of community and economic development in Chicopee.

Golnik took over the central region from Rosemary Scrivens, a Patrick appointee who had been for eight years a regional planner at the Central Massachusetts Regional Planning Commission, according to an online biography.

Golnik, Baker aides said, worked for 10 years as an emerging markets foreign exchange and interest rate trader and started three businesses. He holds an MBA from the Wharton School of Business.

Marasco worked in the Barnstable County sheriff’s office, owned a small business, and has held several state government positions, Baker aides said.

Jim O’Sullivan can be reached at jim.osullivan@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter at @JOSreports.

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“Things to know Massachusetts' state budget delay”
By Bob Salsberg, The Associated Press, July 4, 2015

BOSTON - Meet the state's new fiscal year. Same as the old fiscal year.

For now at least.

July 1 came and went without a final agreement between the House and Senate on how Massachusetts should spend roughly $38 billion over the next 12 months. Top legislators insist a budget deal is close and no one on Beacon Hill has used words like "impasse" or "breakdown" to describe negotiations.

It's not an unusual occurrence for the state to begin a fiscal year without a budget in place, but in each of the last six years, a spending plan had at least been delivered to the governor's desk for review by July 1.

Here's what you need to know about the state budget delay:

BUSINESS AS USUAL

There is no government shutdown and state operations are continuing as usual thanks to a $5.5 billion stopgap budget signed by Gov. Charlie Baker. The governor wanted a two-week interim budget, but the Legislature gave him one that would cover the entire month of July if necessary, which was seen as a possible sign that talks were progressing slowly. The stopgap budget keeps agencies funded at last year's levels, but the longer it's in place, the longer it will take for new budget initiatives, or targeted spending increases, to take hold.

DEALMAKERS

It's up to a six-member conference committee — three from the House, three from the Senate — to resolve budget differences between the chambers. The House members are Reps. Brian Dempsey, D-Haverhill; Stephen Kulik, D-Worthington; and Todd Smola, R-Warren. Sens. Karen Spilka, D-Ashland; Sal DiDomenico, D-Everett; and Vinny deMacedo, R-Plymouth, comprise the Senate contingent. But the heavy lifting is almost certainly being done by Dempsey and Spilka, the chairs of their chambers' Ways and Means panels. Legislative rules allow the conference committee to negotiate under a virtual cloak of secrecy, with meetings closed to public view.

TAX TROUBLES?

The secretive nature of the budget negotiations make it difficult to pinpoint what any sticking points might be, but one possible hang-up could be over a tax amendment that was added during Senate debate. The proposal calls for freezing the state's income tax rate at its present 5.15 percent, while also increasing the earned income tax credit by 50 percent over three years. House leaders — and Baker — are supportive of boosting the EITC, but much less so of freezing the income tax rate, which critics say amounts to a tax hike since under current law the rate would be allowed to gradually fall to 5 percent.

MBTA REFORMS

The specter of last winter's disastrous public transit failures has loomed over the budget process and both chambers included proposals aimed at strengthening MBTA management. But it now appears more likely that any major reforms will be dealt with in a separate bill later this summer. Disagreements remain among lawmakers over proposed changes in arbitration rights for MBTA unions and whether the T should be exempted from the state's anti-privatization law. Regardless, the agency should be somewhat better off financially as both the House and Senate backed a $65 million hike in state subsidies over the previous fiscal year.

BAKER'S BUDGET

When Baker does finally sign the budget, it will signal a transitional moment in his administration. For his first six months in office, Massachusetts has been operating under a budget formulated before he took office, and the Republican has repeatedly complained that state government has a "spending problem" that needs to be controlled. Once the new budget is in place, with his signature on it, the management skills and pledges of fiscal austerity that Baker campaigned on will be put squarely to the test. We already know the executive branch will be a bit leaner in the new year, as nearly 3,000 state workers opted for an early retirement program offered by Baker and approved by lawmakers.

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"Democrats now cast wary eye on Baker: Hurdles arise as policies take hold"
By Frank Phillips Globe Staff July 04, 2015

Union workers are frustrated by Charlie Baker’s bid to privatize services at the MBTA.

Environmentalists worry that he plans to gut the state’s clean air and water regulations.

Advocates for criminal sentencing reform say he appears to have cooled to their agenda, despite campaign promises.

Baker, a Republican who was elected governor by appealing to Democrats as well as his more natural constituencies, has, in the course of governing, demonstrated how difficult it is to please everyone on every issue.

Consider his fumble last week over the question of removing the Confederate flag from the South Carolina State House, after the massacre at an African-American church in Charleston. His initial answer: Leave it to the state to decide. But an immediate backlash forced him to back down and call for the flag’s removal. Friends, Baker said, had asked him, “What were you thinking?”

“Charlie Baker is a conservative, it will continue to emerge, and there will be some people who will be surprised by it,’’ said Peter Ubertaccio, an associate political science professor at Stonehill College.

In his first few months in office, Baker was mostly managing broken agencies, trying to make the MBTA’s trains run on time, getting the highways plowed, and closing a budget deficit, applying the managerial skills that were his strong suit in his race for governor.

But analysts say Baker is now crafting policies and spending decisions that sometimes go against the liberal grain of Massachusetts politics.

To be sure, the governor enjoys sky-high popularity ratings from the public. And he has made several decisions — raising pay for home health care workers, funding urban programs, increasing budgets for environmental programs — that are likely to be popular among liberals and moderates.

For its part, the Baker administration points with pride to his progress on attacking the state budget deficit, while spending on public education and other critical areas without raising taxes.

“Additionally, the administration, one of the most bipartisan in recent history, has won praise from leading Democrats for the governor’s crossing the aisle on issues such as battling the opioid epidemic, aiding low-income families, and offering state government opportunities to minorities,” said Tim Buckley, a Baker spokesman.

At this point, none of the criticisms of Baker has jelled into full-throated opposition from Democratic leaders. In fact, the first-year governor appears to have good relations with the Democrats who run the House and Senate.

Still, Baker’s unusually warm honeymoon is showing its first signs of fraying. It’s not a political crisis, but small cracks in the eclectic coalition that put him in the governor’s office are appearing.

It is particularly evident among some of the Democrats — liberals and moderates — who comfortably crossed party lines and chose Baker over Democrat Martha Coakley in last November’s election. Despite his conservative leanings, they found him to be sensible, approachable, and compassionate.

“Constituencies and interest groups can read into a candidate anything they want,’’ Ubertaccio said “With Baker, you could watch the campaign last fall and say, ‘He’s not a threat to my interests.’ But in the end he is a conservative.’’

The most high-profile example of such tension involves Baker’s push to privatize some services at the beleaguered MBTA, against the wishes not only of the T’s unionized workers (whose radio advertisements warn of “shark privatizers”), but also Democrats in the state Senate.

But there are less heralded skirmishes as well.

Just last month, Baker’s education secretary, James Peyser, dismayed the higher education community when, as a member of the University of Massachusetts board of trustees, he tried to cut the business PhD program at the system’s Dartmouth campus. He couldn’t get one trustee to back him.

Those hoping for criminal justice reform, meanwhile, were bolstered by Baker’s campaign promise to back repeal of mandatory minimum sentences for drug offenses and his talk of overhauling the state’s anemic prison reentry programs. Today they worry that he is cooling to their agenda.

“I think a lot of people in the criminal justice community who support reform are wondering where the administration stands right now,’’ said Gregory Torres, a former Dukakis administration official who is now president of MassInc., a nonpartisan think tank.

Torres, a Democratic leader in the criminal justice reform movement, supported Baker’s campaign over the last year.

Staffers describe Baker’s style as a go-slow approach. They say the governor is committed to changing policies in such areas as inmate reentry, bail reform, and prison educational programs. But they say Baker first wants to see sound evidence that can show which programs and policies work best.

“We’re very early in the process, making sure the steps we take are right,’’ said one top administration official who talked on background about Baker’s plans for criminal justice reform. “We are trying to make intelligent decisions.”

On the environment, advocates who were heartened during Baker’s 2014 campaign that he might seriously tackle global warming and promote alternative energy initiatives (issues in which he showed little interest in his unsuccessful 2010 race) were shaken when he moved in March to rewrite state regulations in a way that could gut many of the state’s tough standards.

What bothered them most was Baker’s requirement that state regulations not exceed federal regulations, a goal shared by the state’s leading business lobby, Associated Industries of Massachusetts.

“This was just ridiculous,’’ said Seth D. Jaffe, a partner at the Boston law firm Foley Hoag who specializes in environmental compliance issues and wrote a critical article about the rules on his firm’s “Law and the Environment” blog. “But the sense I get [is] they are not serious, that this is nothing but a political statement.’’

In its defense, the Baker administration points to its series of budget increases for environmental programs to conserve land, protect water quality, reduce greenhouse gases, deal with coastal erosion, and confront the impact of global warming.

Jaffe, a frequent donor to Democrats who made a small contribution to Baker in 2010, said that so far, the administration’s environmental policies have been mixed.

“I don’t think, so far, the administration is a disaster for the environment,’’ he said.

Frank Phillips can be reached at phillips@globe.com.

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WORKPLACE - "Mass. businesses get break on worker comp costs"
The Associated Press via The Boston Globe, July 6, 2015

Massachusetts businesses are getting a break on worker compensation costs for the new fiscal year. Governor Charlie Baker has announced his administration will reduce the assessment that employers pay to the state on compensation insurance policies by .05 percentage point. Baker said the change will help give companies a bit of tax relief. For the 2016 fiscal year — which began July 1 — employers will pay an assessment on their total insurance premium of 5.75 percent, which is paid to the state. The previous rate was 5.8 percent. The Massachusetts Workers’ Compensation system helps ensure workers are protected by insurance if they are injured on the job or develop a work-related illness.

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“Mass. budget deal shifts tax burden, cuts spending hike”
By Andy Metzger. State House News Service, July 8, 2015

BOSTON - The annual state budget compromise agreed to Tuesday by a six-member conference committee would eliminate a corporate tax break that has been suspended every year since its inception to pay for increased tax credits to low-income workers.

The $38.1 billion bill would also suspend for three years a law requiring a vetting process before privatization of services at the MBTA, giving Gov. Charlie Baker a partial win on a key reform he proposed for the transit agency.

At a briefing in her office Tuesday night, Senate Ways and Means Chairwoman Karen Spilka said the budget increases spending by 3.5 percent, less than the predicted 4.8 percent consensus on revenue growth. Spending growth in last year's budget required mid-year cuts and a budget-balancing bill. Spilka also said she did not anticipate layoffs would be required to accommodate slower spending growth.

The Ashland Democrat said the budget increases funding for rental vouchers by about $20 million and also provides additional funds to emergency shelter including $2 million in new funding for housing and services for unaccompanied homeless youth.

Increasing unrestricted local aid by $34 million and local education aid by $111.2 million, the budget also establishes a bulk purchasing program for Narcan, an emergency medication to treat drug overdoses.

The bill, which was brought to the clerk's office about two minutes before an 8 p.m. deadline, has 213 outside sections. The House and Senate are both meeting in formal sessions Wednesday when the compromise budget is expected to shipped to Gov. Baker's desk.

The bill emerged from secret talks a week into fiscal 2016, and Baker will have 10 days to review it before signing it and announcing amendments and vetoes. The jacket of the conference report was signed by all six members of the House and Senate negotiating team, including the two Republicans.

"This bill includes a very promising start to the overall effort of fixing the MBTA. I want to thank Speaker [Robert] DeLeo and the House for their early adoption of the reforms necessary to increase the system's efficiency as well as the House and Senate conferees for including these reforms in this legislation," Baker said in a statement. Baker's spokesman Tim Buckley said, "The governor was pleased to offer a solution to the $1.8 billion inherited deficit that invested in critical areas like public education, transportation and the department of children and families without raising taxes on the people of Massachusetts and he looks forward to reviewing the Legislature's proposal soon."

The three-year suspension of the privatization law at the T deals a blow to Senate President Pro Tem Marc Pacheco, whose championing of the 1993 legislation led to it being called the Pacheco law.

The budget bill also gives the secretary of transportation the authority to hire an MBTA general manager, increases the size of the state Transportation Board and creates a temporary fiscal and management control board for the T.

At the budget briefing, Senate President Stanley Rosenberg said he had not yet talked to Pacheco about the final version of the budget suspending his signature law.

Under the Pacheco law, the auditor must first sign off on whether privatization will result in savings without reducing service. Spilka said under the compromise budget, the inspector general would review outsourcing contracts after they are complete.

The repeal of a corporate tax break known as FAS-109 would wipe from the books legislation that has never gone into effect. That repeal is linked to an increase of the earned income tax credit from 15 percent of the federal tax credit to 23 percent. Both Baker and Rosenberg have pushed for the credit's expansion.

The $76 million in annual revenue that would be gained by permanently removing the corporate tax break is "almost exactly" the same amount as the cost of increasing the earned income tax credit, Rosenberg's counsel David Sullivan told reporters.

Suspension of the tax break led the Supreme Judicial Court to deem the budget passed by the House a "money bill," which means that actions the Senate later took around tax policy in its version were constitutional.

The final budget did not include either the Senate's freezing of the income tax rate at 5.15 percent or an increase in taxes on flavored tobacco. The Senate had initially envisioned that an increase in the earned income tax credit could be funded by a freeze on the income tax, which is expected to ratchet down to 5 percent in future years because of economic triggers.

Funding the benefit for low-income workers to the repeal of a tax credit benefiting large multinational corporations is somewhat similar in style to Baker's own proposed financing of an earned income tax credit increase. Baker, who disfavored freezing the income tax rate, had proposed paying for the earned income tax credit by repealing the film tax credit — a move opposed by House leaders.

The budget also requires passage of a special act of the Legislature before any public funds can be spent to benefit the proposed 2024 Boston Olympics.

The final budget did not include language directing MassHealth to contract with a provider organization for a Medicaid accountable care organization, an amendment that sparked a war of words between Steward Health Care and the Massachusetts Association of Health Plans.

Spilka said the budget "unfortunately" did not increase income eligibility requirements for home care assistance, which advocates said would avoid the need for costly nursing home service.

A House provision to increase the conservation land tax credit — which Rosenberg initially seized on to argue that the House budget was a "money bill" — was also not included in the final version, according to Spilka. Challenging the constitutionality of tax amendments adopted by the Senate, the House this year sought guidance from the Supreme Judicial Court. The court opined that the House's suspension of FAS-109, which had been a regular feature of budget bills, made it a money bill where tax policy could be changed. The state's constitution requires money bills to originate in the House. The full repeal would mean that next year the House would not have to send the Senate a money bill if it wanted to once again postpone the tax break.

The FAS-109 repeal and the earned income tax credit would both have a somewhat delayed effect.

"People would be filing in 2017," Spilka said.

House Ways and Means Chairman Brian Dempsey issued a joint statement with Spilka, and did not attend the press briefing held in her office or hold his own budgetary press conference on Tuesday.

Spilka told reporters they should not read anything into Dempsey's absence, and said that the conference process had been beneficial in allowing her to learn more about the House's priorities. Without specifying any sticking points, Spilka praised the final product and said neither side got everything it wanted.

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"Gov. Baker Enjoys Brisk Fundraising Pace In First 6 Months"
By Steve LeBlanc, Associated Press, July 12, 2015

BOSTON (AP) — Gov. Charlie Baker won’t face re-election for another three years, but he’s already stockpiled more in campaign donations than his two recent predecessors in the governor’s office.

During the first six months of the year, Baker raised nearly $940,000 for his campaign account, according to an Associated Press review of state campaign finance reports.

That’s nearly three times the $352,000 raised by former Democratic Gov. Deval Patrick during the same period in his first year.

Baker has even eclipsed the $663,000 fellow Republican Gov. Mitt Romney raised through the end of June during his first year in office.

As of June 30, Baker had a balance of more than $896,000 in his account, a sizable down-payment on a potential campaign that won’t happen until 2018, if he seeks a second term. During the same six months, he reported nearly $324,000 in expenditures.

Baker is being helped in part by a new law that kicked in this year that allows supporters of state candidates to donate up to $1,000 a year — double the previous $500 annual cap.

According to the AP’s review, close to half of Baker’s haul for the first half of the year came from 410 donors maxing out with $1,000 individual contributions.

All told, Baker has collected about 2,500 donations since the start of the year — almost double Patrick’s nearly 1,400 contributions during his first six months in office, but slightly less than the more than 2,800 contributions Romney received during his first six months.

Who’s donating to Baker?

About 300 of the donors — or more than one in 10 of all contributors — identified themselves as an attorney or lawyer. And 200 more listed their profession as CEO, president or chairman.

They include those whose businesses could be touched by state policy, such as the heads of health insurance and medical firms, construction and real estate developers, transportation executives, higher education officials, public workers, and utility and power company executives.

Baker Finance Director David Drummond said the contributions to the governor reflect the broader public support for his policies.

“Gov. Baker’s results-oriented, commonsense approach is resonating with people across the commonwealth,” Drummond said in a statement. “We’re grateful for the strong support as the governor continues to work hard for the people of Massachusetts.”

Baker has enjoyed significant public backing during his first months in office as the state grappled with record snowfall and worked to close a projected $1.8 billion gap in the 2016 fiscal year state budget.

Pam Wilmot, executive director of Massachusetts Common Cause, said incumbents have an advantage over potential challengers because they can begin putting away money well ahead of the next campaign.

“Our concern with money that comes in at the beginning of an administration is that it is even more heavily weighted to interests seeking to influence public policy than the money that comes in during the heat of the campaign,” she said.

The contributions to Baker include donations from multiple individuals working for the same company, including some of the more politically-connected law firms and lobbying firms in the state.

The change in the campaign donation limit was part of a larger bill passed by lawmakers and signed by Patrick last year designed to tighten reporting requirements for independent political expenditures, including spending by political action committees known as super PACs. The $500 limit had been in place for 20 years.

The higher donation limits and the readiness of supporters to open up their checkbooks could make it easier for Baker and other statewide candidates to more quickly amass larger campaign war chests well ahead of any re-election campaign.

Baker raised more than $5.8 million for last year’s campaign for governor under the old $500 contribution limit, according to the state Office of Campaign and Political Finance. His Democratic challenger, Martha Coakley, raised more than $3.7 million.

Those totals didn’t include the $16.9 million in political spending by outside groups. In 2014, most independent spending was from super PACs, much of it to support Baker and Coakley.

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"Baker signs $38.1 billion state budget"
Governor Baker is set to fully take the credit and blame for what happens in state government for the rest of his time in office.
By Joshua Miller and David Scharfenberg, Boston Globe Staff, July 17, 2015

Governor Charlie Baker, who took office six months ago amid budget disarray, on Friday signed a $38.1 billion state budget that works to reform the beleaguered MBTA, rein in spending on health care for the poor, and hold the line on taxes and fees.

The moment marked a victory for Baker who won a modified version of the changes to T management structure he said were key to reforming the troubled agency. He also got a budget from the Legislature that largely hewed to the proposal he put out in March to address a projected $1.8 billion gap between revenue and spending.

The signing of the budget also marked something of political shift, with Baker set to fully take the credit and blame for what happens in state government for the rest of his time in office.

When discussing the budget shortfall, the Republican often said it’s something “we inherited,” making reference to the administration of his predecessor Democrat Deval Patrick, though not by name. Now the budget, its embedded policies, and its impact will be his.

Friday, Baker is also set to swear in a fiscal and management control board designed to right the troubled T, which suffered major service disruptions during the snowstorms this year.

While he signed the overall budget into law, officials said he would also veto some items added to the budget by legislators. But what he strikes will make up only a tiny part of the massive spending plan, which work to reduce the growth of state costs related to Medicaid, the massive state-federal health care program for the poor and disabled.

Legislators in the Senate and House, both controlled by Democrats, will have a chance to override his vetoes with a two-thirds vote.

Baker can also send back parts of the budget with suggested changes.

One change he is making, that the Legislature is set to go along with, is a shift in how to pay for the expansion of the earned income tax credit for low-income working people.

Instead of repealing a big corporate tax deduction, which prompted an outcry from business groups, Baker will propose delaying the implementation of the deduction — which has never been implemented — for five more years.

After the five years, the companies affected can take the same-size deduction in small increments over 30 years instead of larger chunks over seven, as the law currently calls for. That will allow the hit to the state budget to be much smaller each year — projected to be less than $20 million a year for 30 years instead of $76 million a year for seven, officials said.

In a news release, Baker’s office said House Speaker Robert A. DeLeo and Senate President Stanley C. Rosenberg had agreeded to the funding shift.

In a joint letter to Baker, DeLeo, and Rosenberg, the president of the business-backed Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation, a budget watchdog, and leaders of three business groups including the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce praised Beacon Hill’s “Big Three” for keeping the tax break on the books.

The governor will also file a supplemental budget to close the books on the fiscal year that ended June 30. It will include additional funding to address the opioid addiction crisis that has torn through the state.

Legislators are expected to take up the supplemental budget later this summer.

Joshua Miller can be reached at joshua.miller@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @jm_bos.

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Editorial: "Budget win for taxpayers"
By The Boston Herald editorial staff, July 21, 2015

Gov. Charlie Baker scored a big win in the state budget when Democratic lawmakers agreed to crucial reforms at the MBTA, some of which have made them enemies among their own friends in organized labor. So we wouldn’t have been shocked if in reviewing the rest of the budget Baker had kept his red pen in his pocket.

But Baker trimmed proposed spending by $162 million, and while that represents less than one half of 1 percent of the $38.1 billion approved for fiscal 2016 some Democrats are still unhappy.

Senate President Stan Rosenberg called Baker’s reductions to early childhood and higher education programs, for example, “short-sighted at best.” And the state Democratic party attacked him for “slashing” $5 million from UMass.

But UMass is still getting more money this year than last. Memo to MassDems: That’s not a cut.

The university system also scored a reform it has been seeking for decades — the ability to retain all tuition payments within the five-campus system, rather than turning that revenue over to the state.

Despite the Senate’s best efforts, there are no new taxes in the final budget. It holds year-over-year spending to a 3 percent increase. For the first time in ages there is no draw on the rainy-day fund.

And it was quite frankly a thrill to see so much red ink running through the line item for tourism spending, which is where lawmakers tend to salt away extra helpings of pork. In all, Baker vetoed 189 of the entire budget’s 487 earmarks.

There are exceptions, though, none more disappointing than Baker’s signature on a $10,000 pay hike for members of the Governor’s Council.

And voters may be wondering how Beacon Hill dramatically expanded a tax credit program for low-income workers while keeping intact two other tax incentives that had been considered for elimination to pay for it.

Such are the mysteries of Beacon Hill, where revenue materializes depending on who needs it and when — and what it might secure in return.

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"A Band-Aid from Beacon Hill"
By Shirley Leung, Boston Globe columnist, July 21, 2015

It wasn’t pretty, not even close, and it could have ended badly when Beacon Hill had to choose between helping working families or pleasing big business.

As soon as the Big Three had reached a deal to expand the earned income tax credit by repealing an obscure corporate tax break, the business community went to work to unravel it.

The message: We’re not against helping low-income families, but don’t do it our expense.

Well that must have been a new one. Corporate America crying poor when Beacon Hill is trying to help the actual poor.

It would take another week for the Big Three -- Governor Charlie Baker, House Speaker Bob DeLeo, and Senate President Stan Rosenberg -- to come up with a compromise. Talks went down to the wire, with a new pact hammered out only the night before Baker was to sign his first budget at the State House.

Like many late-night fixes, it only postponed the need to make hard choices.

On July 8, the day the Legislature passed the budget, the four major business groups in town -- Associated Industries of Massachusetts, the Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation, the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce, and the Massachusetts Business Roundtable -- joined forces to urge Baker to veto the measure that would eliminate FAS 109, an accounting rule that includes hefty tax deductions for some companies.

Legislators had put FAS 109 on the books in 2008 as a compromise to reduce the impact of a tax change known as “combined reporting,” which increases the total amount of state taxes collected from multistate companies. A 2009 survey found that 128 companies would benefit from the FAS 109 deduction, but half of the tax savings would go to a handful of firms.

Four companies in particular -- Verizon, Eversource, National Grid, and BNY Mellon -- pressed the administration to preserve FAS 109. Executives from a couple of these firms even met with Administration and Finance Secretary Kristen Lepore and Economic Secretary Jay Ash to make their case.

Their arguments: Keep the law a little longer so they can make adjustments. Not doing so would cement Massachusetts’s reputation as an unpredictable place to do business.

Executives focused on getting Baker on their side. He had the power to veto that part of the budget, but in doing so, the governor would not be able to make good on a campaign pledge to reduce tax bills for low-income families. The House and Senate shrewdly tied the two measures together.

Soon after the Legislature approved the budget, Rick Lord, who runs AIM, button-holed Baker at an event to bend the governor’s ear on FAS 109.

Baker publicly had described repealing the law to pay for the earned income tax credit as “a good thing ... Net-net, with those two measures, the people of Massachusetts are going to be better off.”

Baker, DeLeo, and Rosenberg all wanted to expand the earned income tax credit but couldn’t agree on how to fund it. Baker proposed eliminating the film tax credit; Rosenberg proposed freezing the income tax rate. DeLeo didn’t like either plan.

Legislators focused on FAS 109 in part because the deduction portion had never been implemented. Instead, lawmakers postponed that section every year so the state could collect an extra $76 million to help balance the budget.

Last week business leaders began floating the idea of another delay in FAS 109. Don’t ask me to explain why a postponement seemingly matters as much as taking the deduction, but the upshot is that the accounting works in their favor. If the deduction were repealed, then publicly traded companies would need to recognize immediately the tax obligations created by out-of-state assets without any offsetting expenses. That, in turn, could hurt their bottom lines.

In Baker, business leaders found a governor who had walked in their shoes. Before taking office, he was the CEO of Harvard Pilgrim Health Care and then did a stint as a venture capitalist. Baker agreed to another delay -- one or two years, but only if DeLeo and Rosenberg were also on board.

DeLeo was fine with it, but Rosenberg was not. The Senate president had championed the original legislation in 1997 that created the state’s earned income tax credit program and held out for more. The tax credit -- available to nearly a half-million working families who make less than about $50,000 a year -- is widely hailed as one of the most effective anti-poverty programs out there.

Business leaders and Rosenberg’s office were going back and forth up until Thursday afternoon when an agreement was reached for a five-year delay of the FAS 109 deduction, followed by a phasing in of the deduction over a 30-year period instead of seven years.

“They heard, they listened, they reacted, and they met all their goals,” said JD Chesloff, executive director of the Massachusetts Business Roundtable, of Beacon Hill leaders.

But while everyone got what they wanted, we shouldn’t forget what didn’t get done: an even bigger expansion of the earned income tax credit program. Baker’s original plan called for a 100 percent increase of the benefit; the compromise only funds a 50 percent boost.

So this is a Band-Aid of sorts. If the Big Three want a more ambitious fix, they should start thinking about it now instead of waiting until the last minute.

Shirley Leung is a Boston Globe columnist. She can be reached at shirley.leung@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @leung.

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“Legislature should override harmful Baker vetoes”
The Berkshire Eagle, Editorial, July 27, 2015

Governor Baker and the Legislature agreed to some tough cuts in closing a projected budget gap for fiscal 2016, but a few of the governor's vetoes of traditional Republican targets are unnecessary if not harmful.

That does not include the $38 million in earmarks for individual projects and programs that usually benefit the towns and districts of influential lawmakers. Earmarks are always troubling but are particularly difficult to justify in a continuing tough economy.

Other vetoes are clearly destructive. Cutting $2 million from the budget of the Massachusetts Cultural Council is counterproductive. The MCC has been enduring cuts and fighting off more cuts for at least a decade, even though the agency benefits an arts community, particularly the smaller members struggling to survive, that is of great importance to the Berkshires and the state. Grants and other forms of assistance by the MCC benefit local economies by helping these arts organizations, so funding lost from the MCC budget translates to a loss in economic stimulus to communities.

Regional transit authorities, like the one in the Berkshires, must expand to assist residents without cars to get down to school and jobs, and Mr. Baker's veto of $2 million for the authorities will make that job harder. Similarly, $3 million in cuts for the Massachusetts Transportation Trust Fund comes at a time when the state must move forward not backward on bettering our transportation infrastructure.

Cutting $3 million from the Rent Voucher Program which enables families to stay in their homes, and taking another $2 million from a housing program for homeless young people, targets the state's most vulnerable residents. Gubernatorial vetoes like those mentioned about that strike at programs personifying what government should be doing for its residents must be overridden by the state Legislature.

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"State is falling short on child poverty issue"
The Berkshire Eagle, Letters, July 28, 2015

To the editor:

The data provided by the Annie E. Casey Foundation report is yet another wakeup call that we need to do better when it comes to giving our children a chance to get ahead. The July 21 report indicates that U.S. children left behind in the economic recovery.

The report tells us that two of the most damaging symptoms of child poverty are child hunger and lack of access to education. In Massachusetts, since 2001, state funding for early education and care has seen a significant decline, resulting in a reduction of more than $100 million, a 50 percent decrease in the state's commitment to its youngest scholars. Meanwhile, nearly one out of every five children in Massachusetts faces hunger every day.

As we continue to build our economy, we should work to fully fund and strengthen programs we know work. We should support programs that address child hunger, and expand high-quality early learning programs. We owe it to our children and our future as a state.

Emily Wisniewski, Boston
The writer is a summer associate for Massachusetts Fair Share

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"Downing: House, Senate restore local funding eliminated by governor's vetoes"
Berkshire Eagle staff report, July 31, 2015

BOSTON - Sen. Benjamin B. Downing says the House and Senate have restored $453,000 to fund local education programs and regional emergency medical services.

The Legislature overrode 87 of Gov. Charlie Baker's fiscal 2016 budget vetoes and restored $97 million in spending statewide.

Downing said the Legislature restored spending for local programs, including $100,000 for the Barrington Stage Company's Playwright Mentoring Program; $100,000 for the Berkshire Youth Development Project; $100,000 for Regional EMS services; $75,000 for the Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts' Gallery 51; $55,000 to support regional libraries; and $23,000 for Berkshire Community College.

The Legislature also overrode a cut to full-day kindergarten expansion grants in the amount of $18.6 million and restored $5.25 million for the University of Massachusetts, state universities and community colleges, according to Downing.

Also, overrides restored spending to a STEM career program at the Commonwealth's community colleges, a computer science curriculum for public schools, programs for entrepreneurs, and to the Office of Travel and Tourism and Massachusetts Cultural Council.

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"Top Baker fund-raisers rewarded with golf, wine, food: Receive weekend retreat on Cape"
By Jim O’Sullivan, Boston Globe Staff, August 3, 2015

Governor Charlie Baker and Lieutenant Governor Karyn Polito are planning to treat their top political fund-raisers to a golf retreat at an exclusive Cape Cod resort this weekend, a two-day “thank you” replete with a wine tasting, cocktail hour, and clambake.

The invite-only getaway this weekend will take guests from Willowbend Country Club in Mashpee to the $6 million Osterville home of a Boston-based investment executive. Baker aides said between 75 and 100 guests are expected to attend, but declined to identify any of them.

The “summer retreat” itinerary, a copy of which was obtained by the Globe, begins with a 10:30 a.m. golf check-in and light breakfast on Saturday. Foursomes will be assigned in advance.

The governor, though, will not be swinging the clubs.

“He doesn’t play,” said senior adviser Jim Conroy.

After golf, guests are instructed to gather at the Osterville vacation home of Bill Carey, chief executive of FFCM LLC and a former longtime Fidelity Investments executive. There is valet parking promised at the Carey home, which was also the site of a 2012 fund-raiser for Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney.

After checking in with Baker/Polito staff members at the veranda in the backyard’s “sunken garden,” guests are invited to a wine tasting kicked off by a champagne toast led by Massachusetts first lady Lauren Baker.

That will be followed by a presentation from Spencer Knowles, a veteran wine specialist who began working at Massport four months into the Baker administration as a “maritime project manager,” according to an online biography.

“All of the wine will be perfectly paired with light fare for a perfect match of flavors,” according to the itinerary. “The tasting will conclude at 5 p.m. and flow into our cocktail hour for the evening reception.”

Baker and Polito headline the cocktail reception, which in turn will flow into dinner, in “relaxed clambake style in the backyard of the Carey residence.”

On Sunday morning, back at Willowbend, the breakfast buffet will begin at 9 a.m., with briefings from Baker’s and Polito’s political staff to “begin promptly” at 9:30 a.m. with an introduction from the officeholders themselves. Baker advisers Conroy, Will Keyser, and John Cook are expected to appear.

“Guests are free to mingle with the political staff upon departure,” according to the itinerary.

Jim O’Sullivan can be reached at jim.osullivan@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter at @JOSreports.

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Former Governor Michael Dukakis. Stephan Savoia/Associated Press.

Former Governor William F. Weld in 2012. Suzanne Kreiter/Globe Staff/file.

"Dukakis, Weld agree on need for rail link"
By Shirley Leung, Boston Globe Columnist, August 19, 2015

They’re the ultimate political odd couple. One is a Democrat, the other a Republican, and while they fought bitterly back in their day, these former governors have set aside their differences to go on a quixotic quest.

Neither Michael Dukakis nor Bill Weld could get a rail link between North Station and South Station built during his administration, and now they want Charlie Baker to pick up where they left off and back another multibillion-dollar tunnel under Boston.

It is, literally, the Big Dig II. And that just might take all the political capital these ex-governors have left because the Baker administration instead favors a project that would only expand South Station to improve the transit system.

“When you have Weld and Dukakis pushing something together, at least you want to pause and think about it,” Dukakis said.

Especially after what they did to each other a quarter-century earlier. Weld beat up Dukakis like a pinata during the Republican’s 1990 successful run for governor, painting him as a classic tax-and-spend liberal and blaming him for the state’s economic crisis.

Dukakis, who did not seek a fourth term, refused to go quietly, and during the transition kept telling the governor-elect what he should and shouldn’t do.

If there are any hard feelings left, they don’t show them today.

“I am very fond of Michael,” said Weld, 70, who thinks the two have more in common than most people think.

“Every time I tacked left when I was governor on some issue, Governor Dukakis would say, ‘Bill Weld and I don’t agree on much but . . . ’ he would go along with whatever it was,” recalled Weld.

Well, Dukakis, now 81, doesn’t remember it quite like that. He thinks the two still don’t agree on much, except for their passion for the Harbor Islands and the project to connect Boston’s two main train terminals, known as the North-South Rail Link.

“The thing makes a certain amount of sense,” Weld said. “Why would a train go from Washington, D.C., to South Station and then not be able to get to North Station?”

But then he catches himself, chuckling: “I hate to sound so much like Governor Dukakis. I can just hear him saying that.”

Their politics aside, it’s a Massachusetts miracle these two can find anything to bond over. Dukakis, the son of Greek immigrants, is serious and prone to lectures. It’s a good thing he has been teaching at Northeastern University and the University of California, Los Angeles, all these years.

Weld, the patrician Yankee, is laid back and irreverent. He returned to the private sector after politics and has been a high-priced lobbyist at ML Strategies, the consulting and lobbying arm of the Boston law firm Mintz Levin. (Weld isn’t representing anyone on the North-South Rail Link.)

But these bedfellows are hardly strangers. Long before the lawyers crested Beacon Hill, they worked together at the Boston firm Hill and Barlow. Actually, Dukakis was Weld’s boss.

“I can still hear his supervisory voice when he addresses me,” Weld said.

Dukakis doesn’t forget those days either. “I used to say to him when he became governor, ‘Where did I go wrong? What happened to you?’”

Weld professes that he has wanted to connect the city’s two main terminals since he was an 11-year-old boarder at the Middlesex School in Concord. He still remembers riding the train up from New York and having to get off at South Station and lug his trunk to catch a train at North Station.

As governor, Weld made sure during the construction of the Big Dig that crews carved out enough space to preserve the option of another tunnel for trains. The time to do the rail link was when the city was already torn up for the Central Artery. Dukakis, who was planning the project when he was in office, couldn’t get federal funding for the link.

“I’m still convinced it’s a good idea,” said Weld. “The question is the price tag.”

Weld leaves the number-crunching up to Dukakis, who loves being in the weeds, especially on transportation issues. He regularly rode the Green Line while in office and later served on the board of Amtrak.

Dukakis argues that tunnel technology has vastly improved since the Big Dig, potentially driving down the cost for the link to about $2.7 billion. A study under Governor Mitt Romney pegged the project’s price at $8 billion, which is why that governor killed it in 2003.

The rail link isn’t on the new administration’s agenda, but that hasn’t stopped Dukakis from making the rounds — including a recent call to Baker’s chief of staff, Steve Kadish.

“The critical issue here — which I don’t think Charlie understands at this point and it’s one of things Weld and I want to talk to him about — is if you do the link, there is absolutely no reason at all to expand South Station,” Dukakis said.

Baker, a Weld protégé who served in his administration, is evaluating how the state can move forward on a $1.6 billion expansion of that MBTA-Amtrak terminal. The proposal to add seven tracks could reduce train delays and expand commuter rail service, as well as ease traffic congestion in the Seaport District and create real estate development opportunities.

Dukakis contends the North-South Rail Link can also curb congestion because fewer trains will have to stop at South Station and can instead pass through.

“In my opinion, it is the single most important transportation project we can do,” said Dukakis.

While Dukakis and Weld work over Baker, they also have to win over his transportation secretary, Stephanie Pollack. She used to work down the hall from Dukakis at Northeastern, where she oversaw transportation research at the Kitty and Michael Dukakis Center for Urban and Regional Policy.

Over the years, Pollack has gotten an earful from her former colleague about the need for a new train tunnel. So far, she is not swayed.

“While we are happy to talk to people about reopening the question of the North-South Rail Link, it is not instead of the South Station expansion project,” Pollack told me. “We need to expand South Station.”

Talk to transit advocates, such as Rafael Mares of the Conservation Law Foundation, and they’ll tell you we need to do both projects to create a world-class transit network.

The reality is that we can’t afford to do both now, and Baker will need to pick one.

If a deal can be struck to relocate the big Postal Service facility next door, the South Station expansion will be cheaper and easier to get in the ground.

That’s probably something only a sitting governor can explain to his predecessors.

Shirley Leung is a Globe columnist. She can be reached at shirley.leung@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @leung.

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"Can Beacon Hill handle three governors?"
By Shirley Leung, Boston Globe Staff, August 24, 2015

If you feel the ground trembling on Beacon Hill right after Labor Day, that’s because the State House is not used to having three governors under one roof.

Former governors Michael Dukakis and Bill Weld are set to meet Charlie Baker on Sept. 9 to discuss building a multibillion-dollar tunnel to connect North and South Stations. Neither Dukakis nor Weld were able to get the so-called North-South Rail Link done under his administration, but now they’re hoping to live vicariously through Baker.

It’ll be a tough sell. Baker has set his sights on the $1.6 billion expansion of South Station that would increase commuter rail service and open up real estate development opportunities in the area. It’s unlikely the state can afford to do both projects.

But Dukakis and Weld -- who bitterly fought each other back in their day -- have set aside their differences to campaign for a tunnel they believe can improve the region’s transit system. They co-wrote an opinion piece in the Boston Globe last week, and Dukakis has been reaching out to key politicians including Boston Mayor Marty Walsh and US Representatives Stephen Lynch and Mike Capuano.

No matter what happens at least Dukakis and Weld can see what Baker has done to the place. The three of them are set to meet in one of the offices in the governor’s third-floor executive suite.

Shirley Leung is a Globe columnist. She can be reached at shirley.leung@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @leung.

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There is an approximately one-mile gap between South Station (pictured) and North Station. (David L. Ryan, Boston Globe Staff, File 2006).

"Build the North-South Rail Link"
By Michael S. Dukakis and William F. Weld, Op-Ed, The Boston Globe, August 18, 2015

We all know that last winter was not a good one for the MBTA. Just when the T should have been performing at its best, it was at its worst — and a lot of people suffered for it. They couldn’t get to work; businesses couldn’t open; hundreds of millions of dollars and thousands of work days were lost.

We will continue to debate the reasons for the system’s failures, but what we can’t do is permit the T’s abysmal performance to halt further progress on expanding and strengthening our public transportation and regional rail passenger system. If the Massachusetts economy is going to continue to grow and create good jobs for our people, making that system better must be our top priority.

One of the most important and cost-effective investments we can make is to connect North and South stations by rail. Permitting this one-mile gap to continue — more than 100 years after a legislative commission first proposed that the two stations be connected — isn’t worthy of a state whose rail and transit system should be the best in the nation.

Connecting the two stations will bring enormous benefits to Boston and the region. It will take thousands of cars off the road every day. It will earn millions of dollars in new passenger revenues and millions more in maintenance savings — money that can be used to pay for all or most of the project. And it will save the nearly $2 billion that we are now told will be needed to expand South and North Stations and the millions more for layover facilities in South Boston and Allston because of the growing congestion both stations face — congestion that will disappear if we connect the two stations. Investing large amounts of money in the expansion of inefficient and disconnected terminal stations is not just wasteful and shortsighted; it signals a commitment to a future without a truly integrated regional rail system and could make a North-South Rail Link virtually impossible.

Imagine how the T would function today if we stopped the Red Line at South Station and started it up again at Kendall. People would think we had lost our minds, and yet that is essentially how our commuter and regional rail system operates.

Cities all over the world, including London, Barcelona, Zurich, and Hong Kong, are pressing ahead with similar rail links, using automated tunnel-boring machines at a much lower cost than our Big Dig. In fact, we have used this technology successfully here in Massachusetts for decades, starting with the Red Line extension to Alewife, a project that has unlocked sustainable growth that has more than paid for itself. Look at Philadelphia. It completed its link in 1984, and now high speed rail, commuter rail, and public transit connect seamlessly at the 30th Street Station.

Our transportation system needs many things — more reliable and frequent service and modernized and better maintained equipment, to name just a few. But more than anything else, we need a true network where the pieces connect to each other and commuters and visitors can get to their destination easily and quickly without multiple transfers. We need the North-South Rail Link.

Michael S. Dukakis was the governor of Massachusetts from 1975 to 1979 and from 1983 to 1991. William F. Weld was the governor from 1991 to 1997.

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“Baker immigration policy draws fire: Activists rally at State House, Governor's office”
By Andy Metzger, State House News Service, August 20, 2015

BOSTON - Immigrant activists secured a future sit-down with Gov. Charlie Baker on Wednesday after holding a rally on the State House steps and a stand-in within the governor's office lobby.

Baker's opposition to bills that would provide some legal cover for unauthorized immigrants has touched a nerve, leading a woman who fled from El Salvador this summer to call on the governor to change his position.

A lawyer in El Salvador, Marylyn Granados said she walked into Texas with her husband and two daughters, ages 14 and 3, after a gang slipped a note with a bullet attached to it under the door of their home. Granados had not planned to turn herself into the authorities, but after she was detained in Texas she is now seeking political asylum.

Standing on the steps in front of the State House, Granados criticized Baker for his recent veto threat toward legislation providing legal protections for unauthorized immigrants. Through an interpreter, Granados said if legislation preventing local police from reporting low-level offenders to federal immigration officials arrives on his desk "he should not veto it."

Baker has said local authorities should make decisions about local police policies, and during his monthly appearance on Boston Public Radio last week, he said he would veto legislation that runs contrary to that if it reached his desk.

"The people who are elected locally are most accountable to local communities and to local residents and they ought to make the call on this. We shouldn't be — this is exactly the sort of thing we should not be doing at a statewide level," Baker said.

Following the rally, Centro Presente Executive Director Patricia Montes led a group of supporters to the governor's constituent services office where she demanded the governor's staff schedule a meeting between her and Baker.

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Governor Charlie Baker and Lieutenant Governor Karyn Polito have a light moment during a State House staff meeting earlier this year. Wendy Maeda/Globe Staff

"Prominent Democrats attend Baker fund-raiser"
By Frank Phillips, Boston Globe Staff, September 11, 2015

Several well-known Democrats — including the party’s elder statesman and icon Francis X. Bellotti — played big roles at a Quincy fund-raiser for Governor Charlie Baker and Lieutenant Governor Karyn Polito that drew a huge crowd and raised thousands of dollars for the two Republicans.

The Wednesday-night event was put together by a group headed by Boston public relations maestro George Regan, a Democrat, and drew some 225 people to his Marina Bay home.

Neither Regan nor Baker’s political operation would say how much money was raised. “Enough to buy a couple of TV ads,’’ was Regan’s only comment when pressed for the number.

He was not featured on the billing, but Bellotti, who said he intended merely to make an informal appearance, was coaxed to the podium where he proceeded to heap praise on Baker for his bipartisanship.

“I just happen to like Charlie Baker,’’ said Bellotti, a Quincy resident who backed Baker’s Democratic opponent Martha Coakley in last year’s gubernatorial race. “I think he is a guy who doesn’t go down the line; he reaches across the aisle.”

Asked why he not only made an appearance but took a speaking role praising the GOP governor, the 92-year-old Bellotti — who served as lieutenant governor in the early 1960s and attorney general in the 1970s and ’80s — said his old political instincts kicked in.

“Put a microphone in front of me, and I get tempted,’’ he quipped. He said he did not make a political donation.

Other Democrats who spoke were Bellotti’s son, Norfolk Sheriff Michael Bellotti and Boston City Council President Bill Linehan, who, according to those present, praised Baker as “the best man for the job.”

The display of big-name Democratic faces at the fund-raiser was a boost for Baker whose appeal to moderate independents and Democrats was critical to the political coalition that elected him last year and on which he must depend if he seeks reelection in 2018.

Linehan did not respond to calls seeking comment. His council colleague Steve Murphy, a Democrat who ran in 2010 for the Democratic nomination for state treasurer, also attended the event.

The younger Bellotti said he is not shy about praising Baker for his support of law enforcement.

“I think he approaches his job very seriously,’’ said Bellotti, who, like his father, backed Coakley for governor in 2014. “We know he is going to listen to us; we may not like the answers, but we know we will get a fair hearing.”

Regan, who served as former mayor Kevin White’s press secretary in his final days and now operates a major Boston public relations firm, said the tickets for the event ran up to $1,000, but he insisted he did not know how much he and several other sponsors raised for Baker’s state political account.

“Math was not my best course in high school,’’ he said.

Regan said he surprised Baker on Wednesday evening with a performance by musician James Montgomery, whose band had played at Baker’s senior prom at Needham High School.

Frank Phillips can be reached at phillips@globe.com.

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"Gov. Baker gives in to fear, ignorance"
The Berkshire Eagle, Letters, November 28, 2015

To the editor:

This letter was submitted to the Mass.gov on Nov. 19, 2015.

I am writing to express my profound disappointment with the governor's recent statement regarding the acceptance of Syrian refugees. At a time of crisis, America cannot govern based on fear, hatred and ignorance, yet this seems to be exactly the course that Governor Baker has chosen.

Let me be blunt, no one cares if the governor is "interested in accepting refugees" or not. His office does not give him the power to decide such a matter. Therefore, his statement seems to be nothing more than part of a coordinated attempt to create a partisan wedge issue for the 2016 elections.

While this type of pathetic game can usually be tolerated, this is an instance in which people's lives are literally hanging in the balance. I have to wonder if the governor thinks that not accepting refugees that will otherwise be left to wander around Europe will somehow make our allies safer or if he believes that refusing to help children at their time of need will somehow make them less likely to fall under the sway of al-Qaeda or Daesh as they get older.

No, this is a burden we cannot allow our allies to bear alone and if we want to stop the cancer of militant Islamic extremism we must not betray our values and refuse to extend our hand to those who face desperation.

One only needs look to the French, who have responded to Daesh's horrific attack on Paris by agreeing to take in even more Syrian refugees, despite the fact that they don't have the same opportunity to vet every last one the way our country does, to see how hollow and clearly political the anti-refugee statements by Gov. Baker and other public officials have been.

I must remind the governor that he leads Massachusetts, and while in some parts of the country, such behavior may be accepted, here he will be held to a higher standard. I can only hope that he keeps that in mind before he carries on with such unpatriotic sentiments.

Do better.

Adam Orazio, Pittsfield

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"Watchdog says state may face $1 billion budget gap"
By Joshua Miller, Boston Globe Staff, December 23, 2015

State officials are warning of tough spending decisions ahead, as a top Beacon Hill watchdog cautioned Tuesday that Massachusetts could face a $1 billion budget gap in the upcoming fiscal year.

Though the economy and tax revenue continue to grow at a steady clip, the state faces a twofold challenge: ballooning costs for health care and other needs that are colliding with years of one-time fiscal gimmicks, the business-backed Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation said.

In a separate interview, Governor Charlie Baker’s budget chief cautioned that the state has “gotten to the point where we have to make really hard choices.” Kristen Lepore, administration and finance secretary, said Massachusetts must wean itself from one-time sources of money and align spending with recurring revenue brought in by taxes, fees, and other sources. She indicated that legislators and residents should gird themselves for belt-tightening across state government.

She declined to endorse the $1 billion figure, but said, “Mass. Taxpayers Foundation has a lot of credibility in this area.”

The projections are likely to mean that leaner times are coming in the fiscal year that begins in July, with many government agencies seeing small or no increases in their budgets. And given that Baker has pledged not to raise taxes or fees, it could mean there is no large pool of money available to substantially increase spending on big-ticket programs prized by some legislators, such as early education.

Lawmakers are already anticipating a hard balancing act between longer-term fiscal considerations and funding state services that range from aid to cities and towns to addiction prevention to law enforcement.

“It’s going to be a very tight year,” said Senator Karen E. Spilka, chairwoman of the Senate Committee on Ways and Means. “I think it will be tough for everybody.”

Although the state has not arrived at an official number yet, outside analysts predict Massachusetts will bring in just over $1 billion more in tax revenue next fiscal year than this one.

But much of that money is already spoken for by increases in mandatory costs, from paying interest on the state’s debt to local education aid.

Representative Brian S. Dempsey, chairman of the House Committee on Ways and Means, underscored another outlay that is large and getting larger next year, adding $200 million for public employee pension obligations.

Adding that money plus other mandatory costs, he said, “the billion gets spoken for fairly quickly.”

Health care spending, particularly on the state’s Medicaid program, which serves the poor and disabled, is expected to increase at a pace far exceeding inflation.

“MassHealth is obviously one of the biggest challenges that we continue to face and that continues to be a major pressure point for us,” Dempsey said.

The Taxpayers Foundation estimated that the state relied on $619 million this year in “one-time” funds, money that doesn’t come back year after year. In all, the foundation estimates a budget gap — the difference between estimated revenue and obligatory spending — at between $800 million and $1 billion.

To be sure, such warnings have become a frequent part of the yearly Beacon Hill ritual of figuring out how to spend about $40 billion of taxpayer money. And the reality does not always turn out to be so dire.

In recent years, lawmakers have been able to fill budget holes by using one-time cash from the federal government, by draining or diverting money from the state’s rainy day fund, by pushing off bills until the next year, and by selling state assets, like a local courthouse.

But many of those options are no longer available or are increasingly tenuous.

“It’s safe to say there’s a sizable gap for fiscal year 2017, and the problem is there are limited options to address it,” said Eileen McAnneny, president of the Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation.

In particular, there is growing pressure for Massachusetts to beef up its rainy day fund, meant to be an emergency bulwark against extreme cuts to state services if the economy turns south. In the fiscal years that ended in June 2013, 2014, and 2015, the state withdrew or diverted an ever-increasing amount of money, totaling $2.2 billion, from the fund, according to a recent report from the foundation.

Analysts outside Massachusetts have taken notice. Three Wall Street credit rating agencies this year reaffirmed the state’s bond rating, second from the highest, a ranking that means the state can borrow money at a lower cost. Fear of losing the silver-plated rating can provoke swift action from Beacon Hill.

One of the rating agencies sent up a warning flare in late November. Standard & Poor’s Ratings Services changed its outlook for Massachusetts from stable to negative. That means the rating may be lowered over the next two years, which could make it more expensive for the state to borrow money — with millions more in debt payments every year.

S&P based the change on “a decline in financial reserves over the past several years despite a prolonged period of economic expansion and generally positive revenue trends.”

But, it said, the state’s outlook could be upgraded if Massachusetts reverses its trend of rainy day fund reductions.

David Hitchcock, senior director with Standard & Poor’s and a top analyst of Massachusetts finances, said several other states have seen a “softening” in revenue in the last six months.

“But I don’t think this is really a revenue problem for Massachusetts so much,” he said. “There seems to be some unexpected spending issues.”

Joshua Miller can be reached at joshua.miller@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @jm_bos.

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"With A Possible $1 Billion Deficit Looming, Gov. Charlie Baker Faces An Interesting 2016"
By Mike Deehan, WGBH News, December 23, 2015

Gov. Charlie Baker will have to tangle with tough fiscal realities as he prepares his state budget for next year. For the second consecutive year, Baker will face yet another huge budget deficit.

The Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation estimates Baker and his budget writers will have to fix a structural deficit of between $800 million and $1 billion dollars when Fiscal Year 2017 starts in July.

"Next year is going to be a tough budget, but whatever the number is, last year's budget was 1.8 billion in the hole when we began the process. This one is going to be in the hole by a number that's significantly less than that," Baker told WGBH News Wednesday.

Much of last year's deficit was corrected with one-time options that won't be available this time, leaving few choices beyond cuts to personnel and services.

"We're facing a sizable budget gap and some of the ways we've used to close the budget in the recent past aren't on the table," Eileen McAnneny, the Taxpayer Foundation's president told WGBH News.

This is not good news for reformers who are looking for improvements to the MBTA and Department of Children and Families.

One of those stopgap measures entailed tapping into the state's "rainy day fund". That fund is intended to cushion vital state programs during recessions. At the moment, the rainy day fund hovers around $1.25 billion, that well below the generally accepted $2.5- to $3.0- billion level.

"We really do need to replenish that" McAnneny said of the fund. "It's really critical that we build that up" as some of the state's credit agencies are beginning to take notice of our dwindling reserves.

McAnneny said Baker and Democratic budget writers in the Legislature would have to look at line items to see if there are opportunities to cut costs or find efficiencies.

"I fully expect that we will find our way through to a balanced budget by the end of this session and it'll be one that protects the taxpayers and continues to deliver for the people of Massachusetts," Baker said.

Baker's set to file his budget recommendations for the next fiscal year next month.

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“Bill to preserve insurance discounts sent to Governor Baker”
By Michael P. Norton, State House News Service via The Berkshire Eagle, December 29, 2015

BOSTON - With insurance discounts at risk in the new year, the House and Senate whisked legislation through all of its readings Monday and onto Gov. Charlie Baker's desk.

"Obviously we want people to be able to take advantage of discounts and rebates that would be prohibited by law if we don't suspend the operation of the current statute," Senate Minority Leader Bruce Tarr told the News Service after the Senate adjourned on Monday.

The News Service reported Dec. 15 that lawmakers were hearing calls from the insurance industry to take action to safeguard discounts applied to 322,000 vehicles and 142,000 homes in Massachusetts.

At issue is a law, which has been suspended 12 times over the years, that requires 35 percent of employees eligible for a group marketing discount, or credit, to participate in that plan within two years of the plan being organized by an employer, union or other organization and approved by state insurance regulators.

Among states with similar requirements, the 35 percent threshold in Massachusetts is the highest in the nation, according to John Murphy, executive director of the Massachusetts Insurance Federation. Only 5.4 percent of homeowner groups and 11 percent of auto groups would likely meet the requirement, based on state estimates.

According to Murphy, group marketing discounts became popular in the 1990s when rates were set by the insurance commissioner because insurers viewed the discounts as a means of competing for customers. Such discounts have remained a competitive tool since 2008, when the state transitioned to a managed competition model.

Tarr questioned the need for the law.

"I'm re-examining this statute to see why we have it in the first place," he said. "We've suspended it over the last several years, and that to me calls into question the necessity of having it, but for right now we want to make sure people don't become disadvantaged by our failure to act."

In a December 2014 report, the Division of Insurance said the original 1973 law "was enacted to bring about lower insurance premiums for personal automobile and homeowners insurance policies."

In the report, regulators wrote that "the primary purpose of group marketing credits is to attract and retain customers that have predictably lower servicing costs, while the primary function of standard rating factors is to ensure fairness as regards all policyholders based on their risk of a claim under the policy." The report said the primary purpose of the 35 percent threshold "is to ensure that the premium credits are reasonably supported by marketing expense savings, and are not being used to arbitrarily reduce premiums for 'preferred' members of the general insurance buying public."

The bill cleared the House and Senate during sessions attended by less than a dozen lawmakers.

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"State's debt ceiling bears watching in '16"
The Lowell Sun, Opinion: Editorial, 1/1/2016

The Baker administration and legislative leaders have plenty to talk about in 2016, and one issue that should take precedence is the state's self-imposed debt limit.

Heavy borrowing for infrastructure improvements in recent years, including the $1.86 billion Rail Enhancement Program, have left little room for the bonding of major projects in the future -- unless the debt ceiling is increased.

The other alternative is to scale back existing projects or to delay some that are in the pipeline.

Raising the debt ceiling in the short term, now fixed at $20.7 billion for the current fiscal year that ends June 30, should be the last resort for state officials. From every indication, state leaders won't have to do anything this year, since outstanding direct debt that is counted against the cap is $20.3 billion.

The problem, however, is long term. Projects in the pipeline that still need full funding, including the Green Line Extension, Knowledge Corridor rail extension, South Station improvements, and South Coast commuter rail extension, will ultimately push borrowing to the debt ceiling limit or exceed it.

State officials consider the rail projects to be vital to Massachusetts' future economic strength. Bonding them, however, might mean that other capital projects in communities throughout the state might not get funded or will be delayed.

Some might question the fairness of this approach, especially when municipalities have waited years to get their projects to the top of the bonding list.
Is the $200 million new Lowell Judicial Center at risk?

Gov. Charlie Baker told The Sun in a recent interview that it is not. "My administration is committed to funding this project and completing it. It holds great economic value for the (Hamilton Canal) district and the region."

While that's great news, Baker said he and state officials must review spending priorities and determine what is in Massachusetts' best interest going forward. The debt limit is an important measure, he said, and "we must pay attention to it." The state should only borrow what it can afford to borrow, Baker said.

Baker's philosophy is sound. House Speaker Robert DeLeo and Senate President Stanley Rosenberg appear to be of the same mindset in recent comments they've made to the State House News Service.

Under state law set during the Patrick administration, the debt ceiling automatically increases 5 percent each year. In the 2016-17 fiscal year, the debt limit will rise to $21.735 billion -- an amount that may not be sufficient to cover all the state's borrowing costs.

So while the debt ceiling doesn't need immediate action right now, it will be a major topic of discussion in 2016. Stay tuned.

Read more: http://www.lowellsun.com/opinion/ci_29333443/states-debt-ceiling#ixzz3w38avSPp

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"Baker sets fundraising record for a first-year governor"
By Frank Phillips, Boston Globe Staff, January 4, 2016

Governor Charlie Baker has smashed fundraising records for a first-year governor, hauling in $2.56 million for his campaign committee since his inauguration a year ago.

His committee’s filing this week with Office of Campaign and Political Finance show it has a balance of $2.39 million after the aggressive fundraising in 2015 by Baker and the GOP state committee he controls.

His reports all year show that Baker has used the full leverage of his office to hit up contributors who depend on state government contracts, have interests in legislation on Beacon Hill, or are heavily regulated by state agencies controlled the Baker administration.

His total take easily outpaced his former boss, Governor Paul Cellucci, who broke all records in 1999, his first full year in office, when he raised about $1.75 million. That record held until Baker came to office. Deval Patrick raised only $1.23 million in his first year as governor 2007.

The governor’s skills at aggressive fundraising were evident for the last two weeks of December, the holiday period when most political finance operations usually grind to a halt. The Baker committee collected $233,401 between Dec. 15 and the end of the month. It was his second largest two-week haul since January.

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“Baker lauds BART's approach to education”
By Jenn Smith, The Berkshire Eagle, January 4, 2016

For the first time since his election, Gov. Charlie Baker visited the Berkshires to take a broad but closer look at the county's schools and educational needs.

His Dec. 22 visit included a stop at Berkshire Arts and Technology (BART) Charter Public School in Adams and to Great Barrington to participate in a ceremonial signing of a 17-town, six-school district agreement to share and consolidate services. He also visited The Eagle editorial board in Pittsfield to talk matters of education, workforce development and other issues.

The governor — the product of public K-12 schools, father of three, and state education reform advocate — is most vocal on supporting charter schools and lifting the state's cap on the number of charter schools it has, as a means, he says, of closing the state's still glaring students achievement gaps.

Baker lauded BART's approach to college and career readiness and said, "What's going on at BART is terrific and they've been sustaining that over a course of a fairly long period of time now."

He said "the kids are performing at an exceptionally high level," noting how 100 percent of BART's 10th-grade students, a class of 20 sophomores, scored proficient or advanced on the Spring 2015 English language arts and mathematics exams; only seven schools in the state achieved this result. That school year, just over half the school's population was considered "high needs," with about 40 percent of students classified as "economically disadvantaged."

Baker said, "In a state that's supposed to care so much about the opportunity gap here, we have 20 years [of charter schools], tons of independent research, and tons of families and personal experience that all basically say the same thing — which is in underperforming school districts and low-income districts, charter schools have proven to be enormously effective because of many of the ways they think about what they do in succeeding and educating low-income kids."

In terms of state testing guided by the national Common Core standards, Baker said he's for less assessment and more state control of curriculum. He also said he supported the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education's decision to create a hybrid state exam that combines state and national standards.

"I'm kind of happy where they landed," said Baker. "There's a ton of work to do, obviously, but I'd rather have Massachusetts drive the train on this than somebody else."

The governor said his administration will file a bill this month to help the state to better align the education sector with other sectors, like workforce and economic development.

He described the need to "create a demand side approach, where if you're in part of Massachusetts where the primary interest is in allied health or advanced manufacturing or plastics or whatever it happens to be, the programming that we're funding, either through community colleges or in conjunction with career centers or workforce investment boards is consistent with what people are looking to hire people for."

The governor added, "In terms of creating the strategic and collaborative investment plan that people can sign up for, it doesn't happen, and that's where you're going to create the kind of momentum that's tailored to what we should be doing. We want to build a much more interdisciplinary approach to regional economic investment, because what's going to work out here is going to be much different from what's going to work on the Cape or the Merrimack Valley or Worcester County."

jsmith@berkshireeagle.com @JennSmith_Ink on Twitter.

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“Baker orders $50M in state budget cuts to help close deficit”
By The Associated Press, January 8, 2016

BOSTON - Gov. Charlie Baker has ordered nearly $50 million in spending cuts as part of a plan to erase a state budget shortfall.

In a letter late Friday to state lawmakers, the Republican said his administration is projecting a $320 million deficit in the budget for the fiscal year that ends July 1. The projected shortfall is based on current revenue forecasts.

Baker said officials also have identified $55 million in additional non-tax revenues, mostly federal reimbursements.

The governor told lawmakers the administration expects to make an upward revision in estimated tax collections for the remainder of the year, which — if proven accurate — would eliminate the need for further cuts.

The cuts outlined Friday include $10 million in Medicaid fee-for-service payments and more than $15.3 million in funds that appear tied to last year's early retirement program for state employees.

The emergency cuts, which trim spending from 63 individual line items in the state budget, can be made without the approval of state lawmakers.

By law, Massachusetts governors are empowered to make mid-year budget cuts if anticipated revenues won't be enough to cover expenditures.

Such cuts are limited to executive branch agencies. Other areas — like state education spending and state aid to local cities and towns — are off limits.

State Secretary of Administration and Finance Kristen Lepore, Baker's budget chief, said Friday's cuts are needed to ensure the state stays on target for a balanced budget in the current fiscal year.

"Today's corrections do not raise taxes or fees and will not affect the state's ability to deliver core services," Lepore said in a statement.

Massachusetts Democratic Party spokesman Pat Beaudry criticized Baker for the timing of the announcement.

"By slashing $50 million and hiding behind a Friday news dump, Gov. Baker is proving that he lacks vision for the future," Beaudry said in a release.

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“Baker: State budget growth not sustainable over time”
By Colin A. Young, State House News Service via The Lowell Sun, January 11, 2016

BOSTON - A few days after carving just $50 million from the state budget to partially close what his administration identified as a $320 million gap between projected spending and revenues this fiscal year, Gov. Charlie Baker said the state needs to keep a close eye on its spending growth rate.

"The budget at the end of last year came in somewhere between 6 and 7 percent year-over-year increase in spending. That's basically not going to be sustainable over time," Baker said. "Tax revenue is probably going to grow somewhere between 4 and 5 percent. In good times, state spending needs to grow at about four or five percent as well."

On Friday, Baker announced he had used his 9C power to trim roughly $50 million from the current year's budget, including a $10 million cut at MassHealth and a $3.6 million reduction in the State Police's budget.

To close the remainder of the budget gap, Administration and Finance Secretary Kristen Lepore said last week that the administration plans to rely on additional non-tax revenues and the projected strength of the tax revenue collections over the next six months.

Critical in the decision-making process that led to the cuts, Baker said, was his administration's work with both the House and Senate.

"Our work with them on dealing with the gap that we felt existed in fiscal '16, the year we're in now, had a lot to do with why we ended up with what, in the end, I think most people would agree was a relatively small set of adjustments to the fiscal '16 spending," he said after meeting with the Senate president and House speaker.

Senate President Stanley Rosenberg said he does not think the state has a spending problem and noted the House, Senate and administration all proposed budgets with "roughly the same total dollar amount as the bottom line" as what the governor eventually signed.

"Revenues are up about $114 million year-to-date and so I'm not one of those people who sees this as a spending problem," the Senate president said. "I see this as perhaps a pre-emptive move based on a bit of nervousness in the administration that they didn't want to face something worse a few months from now."

Were he the one to make the decision, Rosenberg said he would not have exercised his budget-cutting powers.

"I would not have done any if I had had a choice, but it's the governor's job to make sure that the budget is balanced," Rosenberg said when asked about Baker's 9C cuts, adding that revenues in the second half of the year tend to trend higher than the first half. "He felt the need to do it and I'm glad it was only $50 million."

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"Average homeowner in Mass. to see taxes rise 4%"
By Matt Rocheleau, Boston Globe Staff, January 18, 2016

Property taxes are on the rise in Massachusetts, with the average bill on a single-family home increasing by about $206 this year, as home assessments and the cost of services by cities and towns continue to go up.

The average property tax bill for a single-family home this year is $5,438, or 3.9 percent higher than last year’s average of $5,232, according to a Globe analysis of 328 of the state’s 351 communities for which comparable data were available.

The average assessed value of a single-family home in those communities has risen a similar amount, about 3.8 percent, to $383,606.

Forty-six of the 328 communities can expect bills to increase on average by 6 percent or more, the Globe review found.

Statewide, increases range from less than 1 percent in more than a dozen communities to as much as 17 percent in the city of Chelsea; or from as little as $3 in Bridgewater to as much as $825 in Brookline.

Boston homeowners will see a $15 increase in their bills on average. Among other nearby communities, bills in Lexington will rise, on average, by $764; in Newton by $637; in Somerville by $166; and in Cambridge by $29.

The average bill is decreasing in just 16 municipalities. Ten other communities have not set their tax rates.

The widespread increases are part of a long-running trend.

Years of declining state aid coupled with rising costs have squeezed the budgets of communities across the state, said Geoff Beckwith, executive director of the Massachusetts Municipal Association, which represents cities and towns.

“How do they make up the difference? On the property tax,” said Beckwith. He said communities have done their best to lessen the impact, but “without more local aid and a more robust economy, the pressure on the property tax will continue to grow.”

Others offer a different prescription: cut spending.

How much is your property tax bill going up?

A look at changes in average single family tax bills between 2015 and 2016. Most municipalities are seeing increases. Statewide, the bills are rising by roughly $200, on average.

“Our state government and local government doesn’t have a revenue problem. It has a spending problem,” said Paul D. Craney, executive director of the conservative advocacy group Massachusetts Fiscal Alliance. “I’m not surprised that the taxes are going up, and they’re going to continue to increase until spending is reined in.”

Since 2006, the increase in property taxes has far outpaced the increase in property values, with average bills rising 42 percent while property values have dropped 0.7 percent, according to the Globe’s analysis of 328 towns and cities.

“Most communities raise taxes . . . despite the fact that property values may have gone down or inflation may have been nonexistent,” said Eileen McAnneny, president of the business-backed Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation.

The Globe’s analysis excluded the 10 municipalities that have not set their tax rates and 13 other communities that aren’t required to submit detailed figures to the state because they offer a special discount, known as a residential exemption, to people who live in homes they own.

Those 13 municipalities include Boston, Cambridge, Somerville, Waltham, Malden, Brookline, Everett, Chelsea, and Watertown.

However, the Globe collected figures for the average bill for residents who receive the exemption in each of those 13 communities. In all of them, property owners are seeing their bills rise, though the magnitude of the increases varied.

Mary-Lou Ireland, director of assessing in Chelsea, attributed the city’s increase in tax bills to a rise in home values and new development in the city, which gives municipalities more leeway to increase property taxes. Single-family home assessments there rose by 16.8 percent this year after a 14.4 percent jump last year, according to figures provided by the city.

“The market in Chelsea went up last year and is continuing along that same path this year,” she said. And, “there is a lot of development taking place here.”

Recent projects include construction of several new hotels and large apartment complexes, she said.

In Bridgewater, the average bill increased by only $3, or by less than 1/10th of 1 percent. Town manager Michael Dutton said the town recently paid off a large chunk of debt, leftover primarily from school projects, and has taken a conservative approach to spending. Those factors have offset a rise in new construction and property values, at least for now.

“We’re certainly seeing a little bit of a bump in housing prices and I expect that to continue, so residents will see a little bit of a bump [in their bills] next year or maybe not until the year after, but it won’t be major,” said Dutton.

“Overall, I think nobody likes to pay taxes, but we try to keep residents up to speed on what their tax bills are going to look like, and we try to make sure people understand the service that the taxes are paying for in return,” he added.

Beckwith, the municipal association president, said that “while property tax isn’t increasing as fast as it was before the recession, communities’ reliance on the property tax is still growing.”

Cities and towns “are more reliant on the property tax than at any point since 1980,” he said.

The state boosted local aid by $34 million for the current budget year, which began in July.

“Governor Baker does not support tax increases on hard-working families and was pleased to sign a balanced budget last year with the largest local aid increase in nearly a decade,” the governor’s spokeswoman, Elizabeth Guyton, said in a statement.

Still, local aid is more than $300 million lower than it was in 2008, Beckwith said.

Meanwhile, he said, municipal costs, particularly for health care and education, have risen.

Beckwith said the high costs of clearing snow during the winter of 2015 strained municipal budgets, but, under a new state rule, communities are allowed to spread those snow and ice removal overruns into future fiscal years. And local governments are also using stabilization funds and other one-time revenues to pay off their snow-removal debt.

“My sense is that the winter of 2015 was a negative event fiscally, but is not driving property tax increases,” he said.

Property tax increases are limited under the Proposition 2½ tax-limiting law, which passed in a statewide referendum in 1980. The law features a limit on property tax increases to 2½ percent of the total property taxes collected in a given community, with some exceptions, including for new construction. Voters can also override the limit.

The town of Wayland is one of the rare communities that will buck the trend and is seeing its property tax bills drop this year.

Even though property values rose, the average single-family tax bill there is decreasing by $319, or 2.7 percent, to $11,730.

Wayland’s finance director, Brian Keveny, said that at the end of the last fiscal year, the town found itself with several million dollars more than it expected and was thus able to lower the town’s tax rate and homeowners’ bills.

Marblehead homeowner and antitax activist Barbara Anderson, who led the fight for Proposition 2½, said the law has taken on a personal meaning as she has gotten older.

“We were thinking a lot about senior citizens because they’re on a fixed income and they were having a hard time keeping up with affording the taxes,” she explained.

Now that she and other architects of the law are “senior citizens on a fixed income, we’re laughing because we’re sure glad we did this,” said Anderson. “It really does help.”

Matt Rocheleau can be reached at matthew.rocheleau@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @mrochele.

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“Baker education aid increase falls short of campaign trail pledge”
By Colin A. Young, State House News Service, January 22, 2016

BOSTON - Gov. Charlie Baker proposed increases in local aid Friday and drew praise from municipal officials eager to share in the state's growing revenues, but the governor's education aid increase fell well short of the level he pledged as a candidate.

In keeping with one campaign promise, unrestricted local aid funding will increase by more than 4 percent in the budget he plans to unveil next week, Baker told a Boston ballroom packed with municipal officials on Friday morning.

"Tax revenue is going up by 4.3 percent, so unrestricted local aid is going to go up by the equivalent calculation of 4.3 percent," Baker said to cheers from the Massachusetts Municipal Association annual meeting audience. The aid account, which is shared by the state's 351 cities and towns, will rise by about $42 million.

But during his 2014 campaign, Baker promised that he would increase "total local aid," including "education funding and unrestricted aid" to cities and towns, at the same rate state revenues grow by his second year in office, according to his printed campaign materials.

Chapter 70 education aid will see a $72.1 million increase in the fiscal 2017 budget he'll fully unveil next week, Baker's office said.

School aid through the Chapter 70 program - one of the largest accounts in the state budget - totaled over $4.5 billion in fiscal 2016, and a 4.3 percent increase in that account would require a $194 million investment and Baker is proposing only a 1.6 percent increase in fiscal 2017.

"The commitment we made to the cities and towns, which we talked about quite a bit, was that unrestricted local aid would go up by whatever the rate of the growth in tax revenue was, and it is going up by that," Baker told reporters after an event later Friday at the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston. "And Chapter 70 goes up according to a formula that we fully funded in our budget."

Geoff Beckwith, executive director of the MMA, said that Baker's local aid increase will be the largest in recent memory and is "critically important" for cities and towns.

"It's really good news for communities because cities and towns have eliminated 15,000 positions in local government, they're facing very tight fiscal times," he said after Baker's remarks. "For the state to make that kind of a commitment, it will return communities to a position where they'll be able to do planning, they'll be able to predict how much money year after year will be returned in the form of municipal aid."

MMA President David Dunford said the Baker administration's release of $100 million in Chapter 90 transportation funding that had previously been withheld, and a roughly $30 million account Baker created to make pothole and road repair funds available to municipalities after last winter are evidence of his commitment to local governments.

"During the past year, it has become crystal clear that cities and towns have no better partner and ally," Dunford, who also serves as a selectman in Orleans, said. "His entire administration and team, including Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito and all their cabinet members, have reached out to local officials on every topic, initiative and decision that affects our communities."

On that note, Baker touted his administration's Community Compact Cabinet, which Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito has spearheaded. Since the compact program was announced at the MMA annual meeting a year ago, the governor's office said, Polito has visited 114 communities to enter into compacts representing "community-crafted, mutual best practices aimed at improving local fiscal policies, sustainable energy practices and advancing economic development and affordable housing."

"That is just a treasure trove of opportunity for us to learn about best practices and most significant and positive improvements and ways in which we can all work together to enhance and improve the work that you do every day," Baker said, "and to provide you and us with what I would refer to as an agreement that can help us decide the ways that we can invest in your communities and you can invest in your communities as well."

And in a call to action, Baker urged the local officials to make their voices heard on Beacon Hill as the Legislature considers his municipal government modernization bill, which would give municipalities more control over local liquor licenses and update contract procurement policies.

"We think you have done a lot of important work to help us craft a bill that can make life far better, less complicated, more effective and more efficient," he said. "Now we need to make the sale to the folks in the Legislature so they can see the value and power and importance of this."

Baker recounted the State House press conference he and Polito held to announce the details of the reform bill, at which local officials filled the Grand Staircase and cheered for what he has called "like 200 sections of the most boring weed-whacking stuff you ever saw in your life."

"Literally, it was like watching someone -- no offense -- Karyn is sitting there reading something that sounds like it's coming out of the Farmer's Almanac, okay, and the people behind her sound like they're at a Springsteen concert," the governor said Friday. "Which just speaks to how frustrating and annoying and unhelpful a lot of this stuff is."

Baker also announced that his administration will file an economic development bill "shortly" - Housing and Economic Development Secretary Jay Ash at a separate event said it's coming next Thursday - which will include a reauthorization and expansion of the $85 million MassWorks infrastructure program.

The governor said his budget, which is due to be filed on Wednesday, will include "significant funding" for state and local police, district attorneys and the attorney general to expand efforts to disrupt drug trafficking, particularly of heroin, in the state's medium-sized cities.

"I think targeted investments in that can yield some big benefits for all of those communities," Baker told reporters after his speech. "If you talk to most of the folks who have told us that, for them, this is a real issue right now, it's typically those kinds of communities, so that's probably where we'll make the investment."

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“A good 2015 over, Baker may be tested in 2016”
The Berkshire Eagle, Editorial, January 22, 2016

Charlie Baker has never sold himself as a "big vision" governor and his nose-to-the-grindstone approach served him well in a harmonious first year. Events, however, may push him from his comfort zone in 2016.

The Republican cited his administration's accomplishments in 2015 in Thursday's State of the Commonwealth address and praised the heavily Democratic House and Senate for working with him. Governor Baker has enjoyed perhaps the longest honeymoon of any newly elected governor in Massachusetts history and the polls attest to his popularity with residents.

Outside analysts, however, are projecting a budget shortfall as large as $1 billion for the fiscal year beginning in July, and if true that would disrupt the harmonious atmosphere on Beacon Hill. Deficit figures often depend on who it is doing the books, as was seen when the deficit essentially expanded the day Democratic Governor Deval Patrick departed the Statehouse last year in favor of his successor. And a number of factors could affect those deficit projections in the months ahead.

If those projections are accurate, or close to being accurate, however, the governor may find it impossible to fund his modest program increases while maintaining his pledge not to raise taxes or fees. Liberal state Senate President Stanley Rosenberg will surely chafe under any major proposed budget cuts by the governor in the absence of some tax hikes. Massachusetts may once have been "Taxachusetts," but by a variety of measurements that has not been the case for some time.

Among his modest proposals offered Thursday, the governor called for an additional $75 million for vocational schools, which emphasizes Pittsfield's wisdom in approving a vocational-oriented new Taconic High School. He repeated his call for lifting caps on charter schools, and the Legislature would be wise to craft a law doing so incrementally while assuring that funding for charters, which answer to the state, don't result in harm to public schools funded by local districts.

The governor seeks a cap on film tax credits after failing to persuade the Legislature to end them. The credits aren't paying projected dividends to the state, and while their advocates have powerful supporters among legislative leadership, they are too costly and must be tightened. Mr. Baker, who has been passionate about addressing opioid abuse, lobbied again for his measures, which must be reconciled as soon as possible with similar efforts in the House and Senate.

Speaking in the House chamber, Governor Baker thanked Democrats "for putting partisanship aside," and indeed Beacon Hill has offered a refreshing contrast to the partisan paralysis on display in Washington, D.C. The rapport on Beacon Hill is sure to be tested in 2016, but it doesn't have to end and won't, as long as all parties remain determined to work together while minimizing gamesmanship.

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"As Baker readies budget plan, groups warn of shortfalls"
By Bob Salsberg, The Associated Press, 1/27/2016

BOSTON - Republican Gov. Charlie Baker and the Democrat-controlled Legislature have their work cut out for them as they seek to balance the state's budget while holding taxes in line and making targeted increases in spending, according to a pair of independent budget monitors.

Baker is slated to file his budget blueprint for the July 1 fiscal year with lawmakers on Wednesday.

The Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation said in a briefing paper this week that the state faces a fiscal 2017 structural deficit of between $700 million and $900 million.

The Massachusetts Budget and Policy Center, in a separate analysis, projected the gap to be $684 million.

The pessimism comes despite a forecast of 4.3 percent growth in tax revenues, and an overall healthy state economy with relatively low unemployment. But the analysts say revenues are failing to keep pace with the state's ever-growing financial obligations.

"The state appears to have entered a new fiscal pattern since the 2008 fiscal crisis marked by slow to modest revenue growth that has not kept pace with increased state spending," the foundation, a business-backed organization, said in its report.

The state relied on several one-time solutions to balance the $38 billion budget in the current fiscal year, including early retirement for state workers, a tax amnesty program, and the shifting of some Medicaid expenses to the next fiscal year. Such solutions "are either unavailable this year or come with substantial fiscal risk," the group said.

Baker recently ordered $50 million cut from the current budget due in part to lower than expected non-tax revenue sources.

The center, which advocates for more investment in such areas as education, health care and transportation, argued in its report that the state's chronic budget gaps can be traced back to $3 billion in tax cuts between 1998 and 2002, and said the trend was unlikely to change.

"It is even more unlikely that we will see a budget that will raise new revenue to investments in the future of our Commonwealth: like making higher education affordable again and modernizing our roads and bridges and public transportation systems," the group said.

Baker and House leaders, including Democratic Speaker Robert DeLeo, have ruled out increases in broad-based taxes.

The governor, meanwhile, has pledged modest hikes in local aid to cities and towns and school districts, and to replenish some of the funds withdrawn in recent years from the state's reserve, or "rainy day" fund.

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“Beacon Hill lawmakers reject rainy day fund, redistricting amendments”
By Michael P. Norton, State House News Service, February 3, 2016

BOSTON - Recessing until April without voting on a surtax on millionaires, Massachusetts lawmakers on Wednesday rejected constitutional amendments that would make it more difficult to withdraw money from the state's reserve account and turn redistricting duties over to an independent commission.

After the convention recessed, the House returned to session and voted 117-34 to approve a resolution (H 3985) urging Congress to pass a constitutional amendment limiting private and superPAC campaign contributions.

The convention met for less than two hours, recessing at about 2:45 p.m. until April 6 without taking action on a constitutional amendment that citizens want to bring to the 2018 ballot and which would tack a 4 percent tax on incomes above $1 million in order to generate about $1.9 billion in new revenue.

On a vote of 49-140, lawmakers rejected the amendment (S 61) that would have required roll call votes of two-thirds in the House and Senate to make withdrawals from the rainy day fund.

Senate Minority Leader Bruce Tarr said achieving two thirds support for rainy day fund withdrawals should not be difficult if funds are needed for "extraordinary" purposes. The Gloucester Republican noted land takings require a recorded two-thirds vote.

Sen. Vinny deMacedo said the amendment's passage would send a strong message to Wall Street and rating analysts who alerted the state in November that they are concerned that statutorily required rainy day fund deposits are not being made. The fund had a $2.3 billion balance when the state budget weighed in at $27 billion, deMacedo said, compared to the current $1.2 billion balance with a budget approaching $40 billion.

Senate Ways and Means Chair Karen Spilka said decisions to withdraw rainy day funds have not been made "lightly" and said rebuilding the fund is a priority and is "critically important." She said she hopes to see the fund's balance eventually reach $3 billion and opposed the amendment, noting it could impede the ability to withdraw from the fund in emergencies.

Reps. Paul Frost, David Vieira and Geoff Diehl along with House Minority Leader Brad Jones also spoke in favor of the amendment, while Reps. Benjamin Swan, Peter Kocot and Angelo Scaccia, along with Sens. Joan Lovely and John Keenan spoke in opposition.

The independent redistricting commission amendment was defeated 43-145.

Jones said it was the "perfect time" to pass the amendment since an independent commission could be in place for the next decennial redistricting effort. Jones also noted President Barack Obama endorsed the idea in his State of the Union address and said passing the amendment would represent a "fitting farewell" to the president.

Election Laws Committee Chair Rep. John Mahoney opposed the amendment, saying "no one else" understands the districts of the House better than the lawmakers who represent those districts. Mahoney said the argument that an independent commission would create district maps that would not be challenged in court is "misleading" and not true.

Also opposing the amendment, Rep. Michael Moran said Massachusetts is not among the 42 states that have been sued since the last round of redistricting in the states in 2010, and is the largest and most ethnically diverse of the eight states not sued.

Moran and Senate President Stanley Rosenberg led the most recent effort to redraw House, Senate and Congressional district boundaries.

The convention adopted Sen. Ken Donnelly's motion to postpone action on an amendment (S 53) favored by opponents of the Supreme Court's Citizens United ruling and stating in part that "money is not free speech and may be regulated."

The Constitutional Convention will return from recess at 1 p.m. on Wednesday, April 6, 2016.

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Our view: "Governor denying small hospitals critical help"
Gloucester Times, Opinion: Editorial, February 23, 2016

We’ve generally agreed with Gov. Charlie Baker’s efforts to trim state spending and get Massachusetts into better fiscal shape, but one of his cost-cutting measures is placing an unfair burden on small community hospitals throughout this region and the rest of the state. He should rethink his position on it.

Baker recently sent the Legislature a $170 million supplemental budget to plug shortfalls expected in the state’s current spending plan, which ends June 30. However there was one glaring omission -- Baker continues to refuse to spend any state money to help hospitals that care for patients who have poor healthcare coverage. These are generally low-income people who depend on Medicare or Medicaid for their health insurance. Often, these government-subsidized healthcare programs don’t cover the full cost of care.

In the past, the state’s “safety net” fund has reimbursed those hospitals. Insurers and the state’s hospitals pay a combined $165 million a year into the fund, with the state chipping in $30 million.

But last year Baker eliminated the state’s $30 million share, and this year he continues to stand by that decision.

In effect, local hospitals are being forced by the government to swallow the costs incurred by patients whom the government has agreed in principle to pay for. It’s an unfair situation -- hospitals will always accept patients who need treatment, but the “safety net” that is supposed to be there to help pay for their medical costs is being shortchanged.

This decision affects many frontline community hospitals in the region.

“The consequences of continued government underfunding are clear and have negative implications on our healthcare system and the commonwealth’s goal to reform care delivery and control healthcare costs,” wrote Lynn Nicholas, president of the Massachusetts Hospital Association, in a letter to legislative leaders.

Details on how the cuts will affect each hospital were unavailable because reimbursements are calculated based on the number of patients using the system, health officials told our Statehouse reporter Christian Wade.

But the impact is palpable. Most hospitals hope to see slim profit margins, but in reality red ink is often more prevalent. The results over time can be seen all across the region -- small community hospitals are forced to close down, and the pressure to provide care is pushed onto a shrinking pool of hospitals.

We agree with state Rep. Paul Tucker, D-Salem, who said state funding for the safety-net hospitals should be restored when lawmakers vote on Baker’s supplemental budget plan. Baker has called for its passage before the end of March.

“I’m worried that this will affect the level of care at these hospitals, which a lot of people depend on,” Tucker said.

Other lawmakers, including Rep. Linda Campbell, D-Methuen, a member of the House Ways and Means Committee, have said they are concerned about the Baker cuts.

“Everyone shares the goal of containing costs,” she said. “But these hospitals play a vital role in the community, and we need to continue to support them.”

It’s not right for state government to push its problems onto hospitals that are caring for the neediest of our population. We hope that state legislators will step up on the side of community hospitals and find a way to make them whole.

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"Ethics complaint eyed as bid to thwart Baker"
By Bob McGovern, The Boston Herald, February 27, 2016

The war between Gov. Charlie Baker and conservative members of the Republican State Committee took a nasty turn yesterday when one committeeman said he filed an ethics complaint over cash for campaigning.

Tony Ventresca, a committee member from Billerica who is not up for election Tuesday, said he submitted the complaint to the state Ethics Commission to “see if everyone is playing by the rules.”

Ventresca argued that the money from a fund — which has been tied to Baker — is being used on behalf of state employees who are running for spots on the Republican State Committee.

“The source of these funds is unknown, but if one or more of the individuals contributing to this fund comes under the purview of any of these employees, this would appear to be a direct violation of the conflict of interest laws,” the complaint, provided to the Herald by Ventresca, reads.

One Republican strategist said the complaint has no merit and is simply a publicity grab on the heels of the hotly contested races on Super Tuesday.

“These funds aren’t going to any state employee personally. It’s not like it’s going to a particular campaign to spend as it would like. It doesn’t run afoul of the rule,” said Brad Marston, a Republican campaign consultant not involved in any race. “It seems like whoever filed this complaint is trying to create a story a few days before the election. I don’t see any validity to the complaint.”

The complaint references a Boston Globe article that indicated the fund — dubbed the Fund for a New Majority — has raised $300,000 to support candidates for the Republican State Committee.

As the Herald reported this week, Baker and Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito have endorsed 74 candidates, 52 of whom are in a contested fight for a spot on the 80-member Republican State Committee, which, among other responsibilities, votes on the party’s platform and helps recruit candidates for public office.

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“Baker amasses record-setting campaign war chest”
By Jim O’Sullivan, Boston Globe Staff, March 14, 2016

Governor Charlie Baker is quietly constructing a massive and historically expensive re-election machine, relying on unique fundraising methods to shatter records and asserting increased control of the state Republican apparatus.

Enjoying towering poll numbers and little pushback from the state’s clearly spooked Democratic Party, Baker — who won in 2014 by an extremely narrow margin— has raised $3.3 million since the beginning of last year, including nearly $500,000 in the first two months of 2016. Those hefty sums could serve to intimidate Democrats considering trying to unseat him.

That haul, secured largely by capitalizing on newly elevated campaign finance limits, constitutes more than both of Baker’s immediate predecessors raised – combined – during comparable periods of their governorships. Former governor Deval Patrick raised just over $1.2 million in his first 14 months in office, while former governor Mitt Romney collected $1.7 million.

“The governor has not said he is running for re-election but is raising money to sustain an ongoing political operation and to be in a position to seek re-election should he decide to,” said a senior Baker adviser, Jim Conroy.

Meanwhile, Baker has taken unprecedented measures to tighten his grip on the party, successfully running his own slate of candidates for a majority of state committee seats. His chosen candidate for the state’s national committeewoman’s post, state Representative Keiko Orrall, claimed this week that she had secured enough endorsements to oust the current occupant, Chanel Prunier, a Baker critic.

Baker’s total state campaign finance account stood at $2.7 million at the end of February, with much of the money he has taken in so far going toward direct mail specialists and outside consultants.

Bouncing back from a lackluster showing against Patrick in the 2010 governor’s race, Baker barely edged Democratic attorney general Martha Coakley in 2014, winning by the narrowest margin of any Massachusetts governor in 50 years. Since then, he has polished a bipartisan image, earning national attention as the nation’s most popular governor. One recent poll found him with higher favorability ratings than Democratic US Senator Edward J. Markey – among likely voters in the state’s Democratic presidential primary.

Baker is set to claim a legislative win on Monday by signing legislation designed to curb the opioid abuse crisis, which he prioritized on his agenda before taking office.

At the same time, Democrats in political circles have been buzzing quietly over their party’s next best choice to challenge Baker in 2018. The general consensus, so far, has been that there isn’t one, though Somerville Mayor Joseph Curtatone, Newton Mayor Setti Warren and state Senator Dan Wolf, the owner of Cape Air, are mentioned frequently.

“I don’t have the answer to how the Democrats beat him in two years,” said Juliette Kayyem, an unsuccessful candidate in the 2014 Democratic gubernatorial primary and former Globe columnist. “All I know is that remaining quiet and saying he’s a great guy is not a strategy.”

Kayyem, one of only a handful of prominent Democrats who have criticized Baker publicly, said the governor should use his high approval ratings to be more proactive on the policy front.

“What he has is in some ways also a luxury, so let’s do something with it other than ‘getting to no’ on everything from raising revenue to investments in infrastructure to competing with 49 other states,” she said.

Baker has continued to court Democratic elected officials. His relationship with Boston Mayor Martin J. Walsh is the closest between Beacon Hill and City Hall that many longtime political observers can recall.

Last week, he met quietly at an East Boston restaurant for an off-the-record lunch with Democratic powerbrokers, including House Speaker Robert DeLeo, Majority Leader Ronald Mariano, and longtime Boston businessman Jack Connors. To a crowd of firefighters and mostly Democratic lawmakers at Dorchester’s Florian Hall on Monday, Baker extolled the lunch as a paragon of bipartisan bonhomie, according to two people who were present.

In October, Baker headlined a fundraiser for Boston City Councilor Michael F. Flaherty, weeks after being feted at his own fundraiser by another councilor, Bill Linehan, and former attorney general Francis X. Bellotti – Democrats all.

Baker’s financial success — and that of Lieutenant Governor Karyn Polito, who has collected over $1.4 million since the beginning of last year, and sits on another $1.2 million — represents a sizable escalation of gubernatorial fundraising. Both have benefited largely from a doubling last year of the cap on annual individual contributions, from $500 to $1,000.

They also use a first-of-its-kind arrangement with the state committee, which uses a federal account subject to twice the state contribution limits, to bankroll most of Baker’s fundraising operation, meaning neither Baker nor Polito has to spend much to collect checks.

Conroy said Baker maintains an “aggressive” fundraising schedule, centered around breakfast receptions and evening cocktail events. Conroy, who managed Baker’s campaign before joining the administration, last week left the State House to focus on consulting, but will remain close to Baker and is expected to play a prominent role in a re-election bid.

Due to his focus on fundraising and the higher donation caps, the governor has scooped up more so far in his still-young first term than Patrick did during his first three years.

Nor are Baker’s fundraising efforts limited to his own account. To pay for his effort to seize greater control of the state Republican committee by ousting more conservative members, he raised more than $300,000 in “dark money.” State campaign finance officials say he faced no requirement to make public the identity of his donors because the candidates he supported weren’t running for public office.

Baker has defended it as standard practice.

Less commonplace has been Baker’s ability to score contributions from Democrats. At a September fundraiser in the backyard of former Democratic Worcester city manager Mike O’Brien, who now works for Winn Companies, Baker played to a crowd that included several other former Democratic elected officials, along with some of the lower-profile supporters who are driving Baker’s poll numbers into the stratosphere.

“I really don’t have anybody statewide that I’ve really contributed to, but I think that Governor Baker has really reached out to the average working guy,” said Arthur Mooradian, a real estate investor and infrequent campaign donor who has traditionally given to Democrats running for local office.

“I’m not in these circles that people like the governor are in, but I think he’s good for business,” Mooradian added. “And I think his message is resonating.”

Jim O’Sullivan can be reached at jim.osullivan@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter at @JOSreports.

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“Baker needs to be transparent on shadowy dollars”
The Boston Globe, Editorial, March 26, 2016

During his days as a health insurance executive, Charles D. Baker Jr. was a big advocate of transparency. Consumers deserved as many details as possible about cost and quality, and, armed with them, would make smart, informed, cost-conscious decisions, he said.

As governor, he has continued along the same line. For example, last year, when Boston 2024 was working on its ill-fated bid to bring the Olympics here, Baker said the group should be transparent about its budget and operations.

“I’m a big believer in transparency,” he declared.

When it serves his purposes, yes, but other times, not so much. As the Globe’s Frank Phillips has reported, Baker and his team have recently undertaken two fund-raising operations that hardly seem transparent at all.

In the first, Team Baker raised more than $300,000 to fund efforts to consolidate his grip on the Massachusetts Republican State Committee. He used that money to field or bolster candidates battling the right-wingers who controlled many of the state committee seats. But Baker refuses to say whom that money was raised from or to detail how it was spent. If the governor tapped his usual donor list, however, he and his group were soliciting contributions from some people with business before his administration.

In the second instance, the Baker operation has been part of an elaborate scheme that shuffles money between federal and state committees in a way that sidesteps contribution limits and muddies the money trail.

The arrangement works this way: Individual donors give money in chunks of up to $43,400 (the federal limit) to the Massachusetts Victory Fund, a joint fund-raising project of the Massachusetts Republican State Committee and the Republican National Committee. The victory fund, a federal committee, then sends $10,000 (again, a federal limit) of each contribution to the state GOP. The rest of the money goes to the national party, which then makes regular disbursements to the state party. Since Baker became governor, those disbursements have totalled $525,000.

With Baker controlling the state committee, those funds are effectively paying for a significant part of his political operations and activities.

Why is that a problem? First, the arrangement disguises the amount to which the state committee has benefitted from one individual’s contributions. Second, this system arguably skirts the $10,000 federal limit on individual donations to state parties by washing the money through the national committee. (In addition, the dollars above the $10,000 limit could be construed as running afoul of a state law saying that federal contributions aren’t to be used to fund state candidates.)

The Baker camp insists they are complying with all relevant laws. “The governor religiously follows all public reporting requirements,” says political adviser Jim Conroy.

So what can be done? Pam Wilmot, executive director of Common Cause Massachusetts, says that the matter of dark money raised by a governor for a state committee could be addressed by a state law requiring disclosure of those contributions. Her organization will push for such a law, Wilmot says.

Would Baker back such an effort? His camp is noncommittal. “The governor would entertain any and all proposals to add transparency to the process,” Conroy said.

The fund-raising and funneling arrangement between the national and state Republican committees is much more complicated, and thus harder to address. Apparently beyond the reach of state law, it hasn’t triggered concerns at the Federal Elections Commission.

Still, Baker should stick with intent of the federal law and its $10,000 individual-donation limit and not use this tricky arrangement to nearly triple the amount the state GOP gets from wealthy special-interest donors.

That would be in keeping with the spirit of the law — and with the true spirit of transparency.

Unfortunately, in these instances, the only way Baker’s behavior can be called transparent is this: It is transparently self-serving.

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General Electric last week announced plans to buy a roughly 2.5 acre piece of land along Fort Point Channel for its new headquarters. David L Ryan/Boston Globe Staff/File.

"GE’s warm welcome to Boston shouldn’t include free rent"
By Joan Vennochi, Boston Globe Columnist, March 29, 2016

GENERAL ELECTRIC’S warm welcome to Boston is getting warmer.

The deal to lure the company from Fairfield, Conn., to Boston already included $25 million in property tax relief. Now the city also plans to acquire some of the property GE desires for its headquarters — and future rent is very much up in the air.

Last week, GE announced plans to buy a roughly 2.5 acre piece of land along Fort Point Channel, where it plans to rehab two empty brick warehouses and construct a new building on a portion of a nearby parking lot. To “facilitate the development,” said John Barros, the city’s economic development chief, the Boston Redevelopment Authority stands ready to “take ownership” of the two existing buildings on the site through some yet to be determined urban renewal tool.

Once that happens, a provision tucked into the city and state’s agreement with General Electric clicks in. It states that if GE “occupies any properties owned or leased by the Boston Redevelopment Authority, for a lease term up to 20 years, the Company shall be responsible for only annual operating expenses, property taxes not abated . . . and interior renovations costs.”

Note: The word “rent” is not part of the language of this provision. But Barros insists that doesn’t mean GE won’t be paying any. “Those are things you would find in a rent agreement,” he said of what is listed in the provision. “This is not free rent.” He acknowledges, however, that Boston and GE “absolutely have to negotiate” what those payments will be.

Let’s hope the city starts to drive a hard bargain.

At GE’s request, Boston has already committed to spend up to $100 million to replace the Northern Avenue Bridge. The state, meanwhile, has committed $120 million in assorted grants, plus $25 million in “Commonwealth-financed improvements to streets, transit, bikeways, and water transportation service.”

Even as some critics question cuts to the Boston schools, Mayor Martin J. Walsh has defended the incentives, saying GE’s move is another step forward for Boston on the world stage, one that will ultimately pay financial dividends to the city. “These agreements are not expenditures, but net positives that unlock new taxable developments,” Walsh said in a speech to the Boston Municipal Research Bureau.

Walsh and Governor Charlie Baker both hailed GE’s move as a tremendous coup. The corporate welfare that made it happen is rationalized as the cost of competition. The total price tag is still unknown — and so is what we get in return.

GE’s new headquarters will employ 800 mostly white-collar workers and, beyond that, even more dazzling economic spinoff is projected. As GE CEO Jeffrey Immelt promised in a recent address to the Boston College Chief Executives Club: “Just take my word for this. We’re going to give back, for any dollar that you think was invested in GE being here — and there are a lot of places we could have gone other than here — and you will get back a thousand fold.”

The operative phrase: “Just take my word for this.”

GE has a history of doing everything it can to reduce its corporate tax burden. It is also one of the largest recipients of corporate incentives in the country, according to Richard Florida of the University of Toronto. And, remember, its move to Boston is not the first time it has abandoned one place for another. Some 40 years ago, GE left Schenectady, N.Y., for Connecticut.

As Immelt said in his recent address, “This move for GE is all about the next 40 years.” For that commitment, Boston’s welcome seems more than warm enough.

Joan Vennochi can be reached at vennochi@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @Joan_Vennochi.

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Letter: “Baker's proposed budget harms seniors”
Wicked Local Somerset, Letters, April 1, 2016

Seniors across the commonwealth are rightfully up in arms over Gov. Charlie Baker’s proposal to expand Medicaid estate recovery in Outside Section 11 of the fiscal year 2017 budget. The proposal would harm seniors, their spouses and families, and the sanctity of the family home.

Under current law, the commonwealth can be reimbursed for MassHealth coverage from property in a MassHealth recipient’s probate estate. The proposal would dramatically expand estate recovery beyond a decedent’s probate estate to include property in which the decedent had any ownership interest immediately prior to death. This would include jointly-owned homes, life estate interests, and possibly even trusts established by parents for children with special needs.

Far from targeting the rich, the proposal targets our Commonwealth’s most vulnerable citizens: those with Alzheimer’s, dementia and Parkinson’s who ultimately secure MassHealth benefits. They would now suffer the indignity of exposing their family homes to expanded estate recovery. The estate recovery claim will make it impossible for a surviving owner to sell or mortgage the property without first addressing the claim. This places an enormous financial burden on surviving spouses, who are often women of modest means whose ability to pay for their own care and support will be threatened.

Consider the impact on seniors who have done estate planning in the past based upon then-existing law. Baker’s proposal totally upends that planning and renders their homes subject to expanded estate recovery. Put simply, if you or a loved one owns your home jointly with rights of survivorship or by life estate deed, you are negatively impacted by this proposal.

For all the harms this proposal promises to impose, one might think that expanded estate recovery would yield enormous additional revenue. Think again. The commonwealth already tried a virtually identical expanded estate recovery law under Gov. Mitt Romney in 2003- it was an unmitigated disaster, extraordinarily costly to the state, and repealed in 2004. New York, too, passed a similar law in 2011 and repealed it in 2012, after a year of turmoil.

Massachusetts’ current estate recovery law, which like most states limits recovery to the probate estate, is not broken and should not be “fixed” with a previously tried and failed law that imposes such burdens on our most vulnerable populations. The legislature should entirely reject Governor Baker’s proposal and maintain the sanctity of the family homestead.

The Massachusetts Chapter of the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys (MassNAELA) advocates on legislation affecting the elderly and those with special needs. We encourage concerned citizens to contact their legislators as soon as possible to voice their opposition to Baker’s proposal to expand Medicaid estate recovery in Outside Section 11 of the fiscal year 2017 budget.

Margot G. Birke
President of the Massachusetts Chapter of the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys

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Letter: “MassHealth rule would harm disabled elderly”
The Berkshire Eagle, January 29, 2017

To the editor:

Disabled seniors in the commonwealth may soon lose the option to fund special needs pooled trusts to help pay for expenses not covered by the Medicaid health insurance program (MassHealth). Proposed regulations could go into effect as early Feb. 1.

Federal law allows residents age 65 and older with disabilities to establish these trusts for expenses which are not otherwise covered by MassHealth, such as dental work, pharmacy costs, health aides, companion services, transportation, clothing, personal items, non-medical therapies, rent, real estate taxes and assisted living costs (with the goal of delaying placement in nursing homes). Assets can be transferred into these trusts without the penalty of a delay in MassHealth eligibility.

However, with current proposed changes to the MassHealth eligibility requirements, disabled seniors would no longer be able to establish and fund these trusts, and instead would be required to spend all but $2,000 of their assets before qualifying for MassHealth. This would make it difficult for these individuals to remain in a community setting. The proposed state regulation also would discriminate against disabled seniors based on age, as disabled people under 65 would still be allowed to transfer assets to a special needs pooled trust.

Since MassHealth is seeking to ease its budget constraints, this regulation makes little sense, because any money remaining in pooled trust accounts is paid as reimbursement to MassHealth when the individual dies (less minor trust fees). Based on recent testimony by various non-profit pooled trust organizations, at least $6 million was reimbursed to the commonwealth last year.

Without the ability to set aside funds in a pooled trust, low-income disabled seniors will be at risk for earlier nursing home placement and reduced quality of life. Some will no longer be able to pay their rent at assisted living facilities, while others will not be able to pay for care providers and real estate taxes to remain home. More disabled seniors will be forced to move to a nursing home at greater cost to the commonwealth.

The Massachusetts Chapter of the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys (MassNAELA) advocates on legislation supporting the elderly and those with special needs. MassNAELA is filing legislation to permit disabled seniors to continue to fund special needs pooled trusts. We encourage concerned citizens to contact their legislators to support our legislation.

Laura Silver Traiger,
Boston
The writer is president of the Massachusetts Chapter of the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys.

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Demonstrators participated in a protest against General Electric's move to the city of Boston on Monday. Keith Bedford/Boston Globe Staff

"Dozens protest GE event downtown"
By Tim Logan and Jon Chesto, Boston Globe Staff, April 4, 2016

Despite heavy snow, several dozen protesters marched Monday afternoon outside the downtown tower where GE executives were set to meet with Boston’s business and civic leaders.

The demonstrators — ranging from advocates for housing and transit to Boston Public Schools supporters to environmentalists — voiced their objections to the $120 million in state grants and $25 million in city property tax relief that have been pledged to the company in return for its decision to relocate to Boston.

“I think it’s outrageous that we would give millions of dollars of tax cuts to an extremely abusive transnational corporation while our MBTA, our schools and our public services are vastly underfunded,” said Ari Rubenstein, a Boston resident at the protest on behalf of Boston-based Corporate Accountability International.

The group urged GE to do more in the community, and city and state leaders to force them to do so.

The $50 million in corporate donations GE announced Monday didn’t satisfy Eli Gerzon of the Jewish Voice for Peace, which helped organize the rally.

“Philanthropy is not a substitute for fulfilling your civic duties, for paying your fair share in taxes,” who noted that GE often works it’s tax bill down to zero. “I pay more than they do. That’s not right.”

Despite heavy snow on State Street, building security kept ordering protestors out from under the overhang in front of the tower’s front door, while police and GE handlers watched from inside the building’s lobby.

Tim Logan can be reached at timothy.logan@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter at @bytimlogan.Jon Chesto can be reached at jon.chesto@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @jonchesto.

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"General Electric Pledges to Spend $50M on Boston Initiatives"
By Steve LeBlanc, Associated Press, April 4, 2016

BOSTON — General Electric CEO Jeff Immelt is pledging to spend $50 million on a series of initiatives in Boston, including $25 million in the public schools, as his company prepares to move its headquarters to the city.

The announcement came as Immelt joined with Republican Gov. Charlie Baker and Democratic Mayor Marty Walsh on Monday to unveil more details about the company's decision to move its headquarters from Fairfield, Connecticut.

General Electric Co. will occupy two buildings and build a third in Boston's Fort Point neighborhood. Immelt said the move will create about 4,000 temporary and permanent jobs.

Immelt said the company plans to move into temporary offices in August and ultimately will bring 800 new workers to the area. He predicted the move will inject more than $1 billion into the local economy.

Immelt said the company was drawn to Boston because of its determination not to lose out to Silicon Valley on the growth of the "industrial Internet."

"The other thing I like about Boston is that you have a chip on your shoulder," he said. "I love that."

Baker said GE and Massachusetts are a good match. He said that 40 percent of workers in the state are part of the "innovation economy."

Baker predicted that other companies will relocate to the Boston area in part because General Electric is doing so.

As part of the $50 million package unveiled Monday, Immelt said GE will fund a career lab to help prepare students for jobs in advanced manufacturing technology.

The company also will spend $15 million on community health centers and $10 million to expand diversity in the health care, science and technology fields.

Protesters gathered outside the press conference to highlight the millions of dollars in tax breaks and public incentives, including the prospect of free rent on city-owned land, used to lure the company to Boston.

Susan Strelec, a 70-year-old protester from the city's Jamaica Plain neighborhood, braved the snow, wind and icy sidewalks in front of the high-rise office building where the press conference was being held to voice her concerns.

Strelec said the city and state should be more focused on improving schools and homeless shelters and fixing public transportation than offering sweet deals to corporations.

"I hate injustice. I hate corporate greed. I hate stupidity," said Strelec, a member of the Massachusetts Alliance of HUD Tenants, one of the groups protesting the agreement.

Walsh defended the deal, saying it will end up generating more tax revenues by renovating the two warehouses on city-owned land, rather than letting them remain as they are for the next 10 to 15 years.

Walsh also pointed to the $25 million pledge to the Boston schools by GE, which he said was a direct result of the deal.

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"Mass. Democrats target Charlie Baker’s fund-raising"
By Jim O’Sullivan, Boston Globe Staff, May 2, 2016

Massachusetts Democrats pounced Monday on Governor Charlie Baker’s fund-raising methods, including offers of direct access to special-interest groups, by sending a donations appeal of their own that labeled the governor’s techniques “a brazen strategy to trade donations for influence.”

The state Democratic Party ripped Baker for “flip-flopping,” referring to his assertion days after winning the 2014 gubernatorial election that he would file campaign finance reform legislation designed to curb the fund-raising advantages enjoyed by incumbent. The governor has not filed such a proposal.

The Globe reported late Sunday that the state GOP had solicited donations from political action committees (PACs) and offered “meetings, one-on-one calls, and fund-raising events” with Baker and Lieutenant Governor Karyn Polito.

Campaign finance specialists called the fund-raising effort legal, but unusual in that it was explicitly labeled a “PAC Program” and overt in its promises for access to top officeholders in exchange for political contributions. They said the arrangement raises concerns about influence the special interests could wield over policy.

Attached to the inaugural “PAC Program” email solicitation was a contribution form also encouraging individual donors to give up to $43,400 per person to the Republican Party’s joint state-federal fund-raising committee, the maximum allowable under federal law.

Baker aides and advisers defended the fund-raising methods as routine. His spokesman, Timothy S. Buckley, said in an email that Baker had been busy attending to other governing matters, citing that as a reason the governor had not filed his campaign finance reform plan.

The government watchdog group Common Cause Massachusetts also weighed in Monday, criticizing Baker and the state GOP for “[appearing] to be overtly selling access to and influence with” Baker and Lieutenant Governor Karyn Polito.

“That is unacceptable,” executive director Pamela H. Wilmot said in a press release. “Officeholders should not be making special deals for special interests. Fund-raising schemes like the one highlighted in the Globe inappropriately tilt government away from average citizens and should be stopped.”

Jim O’Sullivan can be reached at jim.osullivan@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter at @JOSreports.

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Stephen Mandile protests outside the State House to call for easier access to medical marijuana for veterans. (Michael P. Norton — State House News Service)

"Veteran demands meeting with Baker to discuss marijuana policy"
By Katie Lannan, State House News Service, 5/13/2016

BOSTON — For the second day in a row, Stephen Mandile stood across from the State House Tuesday with a handmade sign, one side bearing the words "Opiates kill" and the other saying "Vets die as we wait Gov. Baker."

Mandile, who served in the U.S. Army and Army National Guard, said he will camp out on Beacon Hill until Gov. Charlie Baker meets with him to discuss veterans' access to medical marijuana.

Tim Buckley, a Baker spokesman, said Tuesday afternoon that members of the governor's constituent services staff had spoken with Mandile.

"I'm out here until he talks," Mandile said. "I'm going homeless until he speaks, until he at least makes an appointment or lets me make an appointment to come in and see him with all my information and everything. I mean, I'm wearing the same clothes I wore yesterday. That hasn't happened since I was in Iraq."

Mandile said he spent 10 years taking prescribed opiates, including fentanyl and oxycontin, after he was hurt serving in Iraq in 2005 and has since switched to medical marijuana. He said he wants to meet with the governor to discuss marijuana as an alternative to opioids and the obstacles veterans face in accessing medical marijuana.

Attacking the climbing rates of opioid misuse and addiction in the state has been a focus of Baker's since taking office last year. The governor has signed four opioid-related laws and made frequent, emotional calls to action against drug abuse and addiction. The most recent law, signed in March, includes a provision introduced by Baker limiting a first-time adult opiate prescription to a seven-day supply.

Calling for addiction prevention measures that "disrupt the status quo," Baker has criticized the frequency with which opioid medications are prescribed and worked with medical and dental schools to standardize the teaching of pain management practices.

Baker also opposes a ballot question legalizing marijuana use in general for those 21 and over in Massachusetts.

Mandile said he'd like to see the state help veterans get off opioid medications by making it easier for them to access medical marijuana.

With marijuana illegal at the federal level, the Department of Veterans Affairs prohibits VA doctors from recommending it to patients in states like Massachusetts that have medical marijuana programs.

"While the illnesses treatable with medical marijuana are limited by state law, the Baker-Polito Administration was pleased to have fixed the broken medical marijuana system allowing first time access for patients in Massachusetts," Baker press secretary Elizabeth Guyton said in a statement. "Through the Department of Veterans Services, the Commonwealth offers numerous programs and benefits, including access to the S.A.V.E. Program, and will continue to work with our federal partners to provide quality health care and services for our veterans and their families."

Massachusetts voters legalized medical marijuana in 2012 by approving a ballot question, and six dispensaries are open for sales throughout the state.

As of April 30, there were 24,196 active medical marijuana patients in the state and 149 certifying physicians in the state, according to Department for Public Health data.

The law allows registered patients to possess up to a 60-day supply of marijuana for medical use if they are diagnosed with "cancer, glaucoma, positive status for human immunodeficiency virus, acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS), hepatitis C, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), Crohn's disease, Parkinson's disease, multiple sclerosis and other conditions as determined in writing by a qualifying patient's physician."

Nichole Snow, executive director of the Massachusetts Patient Advocacy Alliance, said marijuana from a dispensary can cost $350 to $400 per ounce and veterans often pay out-of-pocket because the VA does not cover medical marijuana.

"They should be the last people who face this kind of obstruction," Snow said. "If those doctors at the VA had the option to talk about an alternative method of coping with pain or facing PTSD, at least the veterans would feel safer talking about it and feeling better."

Mandile founded an organization called Veterans Alternative Healing to help his peers access treatment like acupuncture, yoga and cannabis therapy. He said he would like to see medical marijuana made available to disabled veterans the same way other prescription drugs are, so that it is free to those classified by the VA as 100 percent disabled and available to others at a discount.

He said action taken at the state level could prompt the federal government to follow suit. "What are they going to do, kick Massachusetts out of America because they take care of their veterans?" he said. "The United States of 49 States and the Commonwealth of Massachusetts? I just think we can force the hand and make the change now instead of waiting."

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“Rosenberg sees $200 million gap in Massachusetts budget”
By Michael P. Norton, State House News Service, 5/14/2016

BOSTON - Unlike Gov. Charlie Baker and House leaders, Massachusetts Senate leaders preparing their annual fiscal 2017 spending bill have the benefit of updated tax collection data, and the latest numbers are not promising.

The Department of Revenue last week reported that tax collections in April, the biggest month of the year for receipts, were down by $92 million or 3 percent compared to April 2015. The decline left tax receipts $261 million below fiscal 2016 budget benchmarks that were raised by Gov. Baker's team in January. The April tax haul alone missed the monthly benchmark by $172 million.

"I would say crisis is a strong word," Senate President Stanley Rosenberg told 980 AM WCAP Tuesday morning, when pressed about budget woes. "I would say that we definitely are concerned. And we do under the constitution have to balance our budget. This is a national trend at the moment as best we can tell. Connecticut's having a revenue collection problem as is California and some other states."

State revenue department officials are analyzing the numbers.

"We're off on capital gains I believe," said Rosenberg, a former chairman of the Senate Ways and Means Committee. "We're still strong on sales. We're weak on collections for certain taxes that relate to employment, so there's some cyclical problems that occur. There's some weakness. We've built an extremely strong and resilient economy here in Massachusetts. We used to be the first into recession and among the last out. Now we're among the last into recession and among the first out of recession. We have a pretty strong economy, but it doesn't mean that every month every year is going to be smooth sailing."

Baker's budget chief, Administration and Finance Secretary Kristen Lepore, declined last week to quantify a budget gap with two months left in fiscal 2016, but Rosenberg did put a number on it.

"Right now the gap is a little over $200 million .... " Rosenberg said. "Not easy to close any deficit when you're in the fourth quarter of any fiscal year, whether you're a business or a government. But that is not a huge number from the point of view of a budget that's about $39 billion. So the governor will have to take some measures. They will have to squeeze agencies. But I'm feeling pretty confident based on everything I've heard in the last few days that we will be able to do it and we may in fact see revenue rebound because May and June are two of the highest revenue months."

Rosenberg identified rising health care costs, which account for the largest area of state spending, as the "biggest problem" in the state budget. "We're going to keep working on that and trying to get that under control," he said.

Faced with the tax revenue numbers, Baker has asked state managers not to spend their total appropriations in the coming weeks. The governor has ruled out using the rainy day fund to plug any budget gap and Lepore says layoffs and unilateral budget cuts are off the table.

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“State ranks 49th in fiscal solvency study”
But economy strong, says Baker
By Jordan Graham, The Boston Herald, June 2, 2016

Debt-laden Massachusetts is “walking on the same road as Puerto Rico,” said the author of a George Mason University study on the fiscal condition of states that ranks the Bay State a dismal 49th for fiscal solvency — ahead of only Connecticut and the Caribbean territory.

“It’s the ongoing habit of issuing lots of debt and unfunded liabilities and having a poor cash position and taking on more spending than you can finance­, and that, if it’s done over a significant period of time, does lead to a crisis,” said Eileen Norcross, a senior research fellow at GMU’s Mercatus Center. “Massachusetts’ economy is far stronger than Puerto Rico, their debt loads are nowhere near Puerto Rico, but it’s that habit they’ve got to look out for. If it’s an ongoing habit, you might be early on that road, but you’re walking on the same road as Puerto Rico.”

The report, released yesterday, described a smorgasbord of poor financial management by Beacon Hill pols and bureaucrats, including:

• Spending more than the state receives in taxes and fees.

• Insufficient cash reserves to withstand a recession.

• Large unfunded liabilities, including pensions and health care spending obligations.

• A habit of borrowing to fund new projects.

“This report is a wake-up call to elected officials in Massachusetts,” said former state Inspector General Greg Sullivan, now a government watchdog at the Pioneer Institute. “Looming beyond the horizon is billions of dollars of unfunded obligations. ... We’ve got to confront these problems.”

The report is based on fiscal 2014, the most recent complete data available. Still, these are not issues that can be addressed with the flick of a switch, Norcross said, stressing the need to dramatically boost the rainy day fund.

The Baker administration yesterday said the rainy day fund has $1.25 billion, but said for the first time in years the state budget does not call for tapping emergency funds to cover routine spending, and plans to deposit more then $200 million in the fund.

Gov. Charlie Baker pushed back on the report, citing a new stable credit rating and Massachusetts’ strong economy.

Shortly after taking office, Baker told an audience of state bond buyers his goal is to get the commonwealth to a AAA rating. Late last year, Standard & Poors changed its outlook from “stable” to “negative.” Yesterday, Fitch rated Massachusetts bonds as AA+, with a stable outlook.

“Fitch actually came out and affirmed their rating today and said that among other things we have a diversified and very successful economy,” Baker said, referring to New York-based Fitch Ratings. “They also said we have a very strong working relationship with the Legislature. When we see problems, we articulate them and we solve them, and that’s going to continue to be the way we handle our fiscal situation here in Massachusetts.”

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Our Opinion: “Block Baker's attempt to gut Cultural Council budget”
The Berkshire Eagle, 7/15/2016

The Massachusetts Cultural Council is accustomed to fighting annual budget battles but the governor's proposed cut shows a lack of respect for an important body.

Governor Baker's budget calls for a $7.7 million cut from the MCC budget for coming fiscal year, which constitutes a 55 percent gutting of funds. MCC funding is of critical importance to the many cultural institutions, and the communities they are located in, throughout Massachusetts in general and the Berkshires in particular.

As co-chair of the House Cultural Council, state Representative William "Smitty" Pignatelli, a Lenox Democrat, is at the forefront of an effort in the Legislature to collect the two-thirds vote necessary to override the governor's vetoes and restore the funding approved by the Legislature. With the assistance of state Senator Ben Downing, a Pittsfield Democrat, and all of Mr. Pignatelli's colleagues in the House Berkshire delegation, there is reason to hope that goal will be reached.

Few state organizations have as wide and as beneficial a reach as does the MCC, which provides grants to nonprofit arts, humanities and science groups, as well as communities, schools and individual artists. This is money that generates money, as the organizations the MCC contributes to spend $1.2 billion annually and provide 32,889 jobs, according to a letter send by Representative Pignatelli and three other legislative chairmen to their constituents.

Senator Downing said in the July 18 Eagle that an "indiscriminate cut" of this level "was done without much thought," and indeed a cursory look at what the Massachusetts Cultural Council actually does should have precluded proposing such a devastating cut. We urge the Legislature to veto the cuts and at least level-fund the MCC, and we hope the governor will acquaint himself with the role and accomplishments of this valuable organization.

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Our Opinion: "MCC veto override is a major victory"
The Berkshire Eagle, Editorial, 8/3/2016

The Beacon Hill sausage-making process is painfully slow and not pretty, but some worthy measures made it through.

In a vote that is of particular importance to the Berkshires, the Legislature easily overrode Governor Baker's veto of more than half of the Massachusetts Cultural Council's $14 million budget. With state Representative "Smitty" Pignatelli of Lenox in the lead and the rest of the Berkshire delegation offering strong support. advocates made an overwhelming case for full funding of the MCC.

Given the emphasis the governor places on results it is difficult to comprehend his lack of respect for the MCC and the cultural community. In the Berkshires and across the state, cultural tourism creates jobs, and relatively modest MCC funding helps leverage grant funding and other revenue sources. We urge the governor to take note of the strong support for MCC funding from often divided legislators and the constituents who lobbied them to restore funds.

The pay equity bill signed Monday by Governor Baker actually got through the Legislature in late July before the last weekend rush and shouldn't go unnoticed. Among other provisions, the law allows employees to openly discuss and compare salaries without employer retribution. The law, thought to be the first of its kind in the nation, casts light on a system that has led to women being paid 82 percent of what male counterparts make for comparable work.

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“Officials mark GE move-in with private celebration”
Private celebration held for move-in, 1st official day of work
By Colin A. Young, State House News Service via The Berkshire Eagle, 8/22/2016

BOSTON - South Boston became the official home of global corporate giant General Electric on Monday morning, as the company opened its interim global headquarters in the city's thriving seaport district.

Gov. Charlie Baker, Boston Mayor Martin Walsh, Housing and Economic Development Secretary Jay Ash and Boston Chief of Economic Development John Barros were on hand for a private celebration.

"Today GE's Global Headquarters officially moved to Boston. We're happy to be here!," GE tweeted Monday morning. It later added, "GE and Boston: A heritage rooted in history. A future driven by digital. GE is excited to call Boston its new home."

Between 150 and 200 employees began working Monday out of an interim headquarters on Farnsworth Street, GE spokeswoman Susan Bishop said, and the full transition will be completed in stages by 2018 when GE's permanent headquarters on Necco Court is completed.

The employees working from the interim space are primarily from the legal, finance, marketing, communications and investor relations divisions, Bishop said. GE plans to move employees from its energy services arm, Current by GE, to Boston later this year.

"We're excited to be here and to get to work and get it up and running," Bishop said. "Our people are starting to move into their homes and apartments and are ready to play an active role in community."

Baker, Walsh and GE CEO Jeffrey Immelt spoke to employees Monday morning, Bishop said.

Walsh tweeted a photo of the group posing in front of a building with the GE logo by its entrance Monday morning, but the event was private, the mayor's office said. It was not included on either Walsh's or Baker's public schedules.

"Governor Baker was pleased to welcome GE employees to Boston for their first official day of business, and looks forward to continuing to work with GE and Mayor Walsh throughout their transition to Massachusetts' innovation economy," Baker press secretary Billy Pitman said in an email.

Working under the code name "Project Plum," Baker, Walsh, Ash, Barros and others earlier this year lured GE from its sprawling suburban campus in Fairfield, Conn. after the company became unhappy with that state's corporate tax policies.

GE cited Boston's "business ecosystem" as well as access to talent, long-term costs, quality of life for employees and easy connections with other company assets and the world as reasons it chose Boston over other locations for its global headquarters.

When its transition to Boston is completed, in 2018, GE expects to have 800 employees in the Seaport, including 200 corporate staff and 600 digital industrial product managers, designers and developers.

In June, Baker administration officials said GE will buy two buildings on Necco Court from Proctor and Gamble and then sell them to MassDevelopment, a quasi-public state agency. MassDevelopment is expected to make structural improvements and then offer the space to GE for a price. Ash told the News Service in June that some of the up to $120 million in state subsidies set aside for GE will go toward the real estate purchase.

GE has a long history in Pittsfield that began when the company purchased William Stanley's transformer plant in Pittsfield in 1903. The company still owns several buildings here. The city's largest employer for many years, GE announced in 1986 that it planned to close its power transformer division in Pittsfield, a decision that sent shockwaves throughout the city and altered the county's economic future.

GE also maintained the world headquarters for its plastics division in Pittsfield before selling it to Sabic Basic Industries for $11.6 million in 2007. Sabic, which rented most of its campus from GE, announced last October that it was planning to close its Pittsfield facility and move those operations to Houston.

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“Mass. economy rated as best among the states by Governing magazine”
Governing magazine ranks state's economy as nation's strongest
By Colin A. Young, State House News Service via The Berkshire Eagle, 8/22/2016

BOSTON - After failing to crack the top 10 the last time rankings were compiled, the Massachusetts economy is the strongest in the country this time around, according to rankings compiled by Governing magazine.

The Bay State took the top spot in the rankings, which were based on six factors including the current unemployment rate, per capita state GDP, personal income per capita, and the change in those categories over the last year. Rounding out the top five were Oregon, Delaware, Colorado and California, respectively.

Louis Jacobson, a Governing columnist who ranked the state economies, wrote that he found a connection between a state's economic performance and its governor's approval rating.

"The approval ratings for governors of the top 10 states averaged 62.1 percent, while the gubernatorial approval ratings for those in the bottom 10 averaged 50.8 percent," Jacobson wrote. "No governor in the top 10 states had an approval rating lower than 54 percent, while six of the governors in the bottom 10 states had approval ratings below 50 percent."

Gov. Charlie Baker, with his 72 percent approval rating, is the most popular governor in America, according to a survey conducted from January until early May by Morning Consult.

"Baker has been in office less than two years and is seen as a positive for the state's economy moving forward," Tufts University political scientist Jeffrey Berry said in Jacobson's column. But, he added, "No one sees him as primarily responsible for the high growth rate or low unemployment that we currently enjoy."

When Jacobson and Governing last ranked state economies, in 2013, Massachusetts fell somewhere between 11 and 35 on the list. The magazine only published the top 10 and bottom 15 states on its website.

Massachusetts' unemployment rate dropped to 4.1 percent in July as estimates showed 7,300 Bay State jobs added last month, the Office of Labor and Workforce Development reported last week. The state's jobless rate remains well below the national average of 4.9 percent.

In the last year of Gov. Deval Patrick's final term, 2014, the state's unemployment rate improved from 6.1 percent to 5.2 percent. The jobless rate dropped to 4.9 percent during Baker's first year in office.

Associated Industries of Massachusetts earlier this month reported that "optimism dimmed across the board on employment, the Massachusetts economy and employers' outlook on their own companies" during July, but its Business Confidence Index rating remains in the range of an "overall positive economic outlook."

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“Mass. budget gap has no easy fixes”
By Joshua Miller, Boston Globe Staff, August 28, 2016

Beacon Hill is bracing for a round of state budget cuts from Governor Charlie Baker. Again.

Just weeks after the Republican signed a $39 billion state budget into law, Democratic legislators say they expect him to use his executive authority — as he did this year — to chop programs they support, but he says the state can’t afford.

The fiscal tug of war comes amid relatively good economic times, raising a confounding question: Why does Massachusetts, which has been in an economic recovery for seven years, constantly careen from one budget gap to another, with officials announcing, again and again, that money coming in won’t cover expenses?

Conservatives insist spending is out of control. Liberals blame a series of tax cuts instituted around 2000. And Baker and the House of Representatives, which is controlled by Democrats, have effectively blocked any increase in taxes.

But several budget analysts and a Globe review of state data paint a more complicated picture, with three notable root causes of the enduring budget crisis: ballooning health care costs, weaker tax revenue increases than in every other economic recovery in the modern era, and policy makers’ addiction to fiscal gimmicks that allow them to avoid hard choices.

Specifically:

■ State spending on Medicaid, the health program for the poor and disabled, has skyrocketed — generally outpacing inflation, personal income, and tax revenue growth. The program eats up an increasingly large portion of the budget pie, constraining the cash available for everything else, from education to support for cities and towns. Medicaid now makes up more than a third of state spending, up from less than a fifth in 2000.

■ Tax revenue growth since the Great Recession has been slower than in every other economic recovery going back to the 1970s, crimping available money for expanding programs. Beacon Hill budget makers, who could count on 7 percent growth in tax revenue in the mid-’00s, now must make do with more modest annual boosts — just 2 percent for the most recent fiscal year.

■ And policy makers have, budget after budget, used quick fixes instead of making tough choices. They’ve diverted and drained billions meant for the state’s emergency savings account. They’ve put off until next year bills that were meant to be paid this year. They’ve used money meant for pensions and retiree health care to plug short-term budget holes. And they’ve repeatedly made unrealistically optimistic projections that allow them to balance budgets at the cost of burdening future lawmakers.

“Now, we’re running out of gimmicks,” said Eileen McAnneny, president of the business-backed Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation.

In the fiscal year that ended last summer, policy makers used $1.2 billion in one-time revenues and savings to balance the budget, according to the state’s independent financial report. They used $621 million in tax revenue meant for the state’s emergency rainy day fund, pension fund, and retiree benefits fund. They put off payment of $170 million in Medicaid bills until the next year. They relied on hundreds of millions of dollars from one-time maneuvers, such as selling a state office building.

Policy makers also engaged in another frequent Beacon Hill gimmick: projecting unrealistically low costs for services such as housing homeless families, funding sheriffs, and lawyers who defend indigent defendants. (They had to supplement those areas with more money later in the year.)

In total, the various budget maneuvers are the equivalent of a family balancing its budget by draining the savings account, racking up credit card debt, diverting money meant for retirement, selling a car, and expecting there will be unrealistically low medical costs for a sick child in the year ahead.

Such strategies can get the state through a few years and allow policy makers to avoid cutting programs that residents care about. But the strategies are increasingly difficult to sustain and could mean that cuts avoided in the past are inevitable in the future when the economy takes a turn for the worse.

One budget-pinching trend that is out of policy makers’ hands is how much tax revenue increases. In the late 1970s and early ’80s, Massachusetts could count on an average of 11 percent annual revenue growth, outpacing even the high inflation of that era, according to the Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation. In the ’90s, annual growth averaged 6.5 percent. And between fiscal 2004 and 2008, tax revenue grew, on average, 7 percent every year, the foundation found.

But Massachusetts, like many other states, is seeing slower growth now, which constrains how much new money is available to spend. Current Baker administration projections anticipate just under 4 percent growth this year, but that number could drop as new information comes in.

Economists are split on why this recovery — across the country — has been so anemic.

Perhaps the easiest problem to diagnose and the hardest one to solve is rising health care costs. Massachusetts — and the federal government — have tried to slow that growth. But health care costs have, year after year, outpaced inflation and tax revenue growth.

Spending on Medicaid, called MassHealth in Massachusetts, rose almost 15 percent from the fiscal year that ended in June 2014 to the one that ended last summer. But over the same period tax revenue grew just over 6 percent.

“The biggest difficulty the state faces in closing the circle on the state budget is health care costs,” said Jim Stergios, who directs the conservative-leaning Pioneer Institute.

Stergios points to the climb in the number of people enrolled in Medicaid as part of the reason for rapidly rising costs for the state. In the fiscal year that ended in 2001, there were 998,000 people enrolled in the program. Last fiscal year, officials estimate there were 1.85 million members.

Part of the expansion of Medicaid, for which the state receives federal reimbursement, has been intentional and has helped make Massachusetts the state with lowest percentage of uninsured residents. The 2006 Massachusetts health care law and the president’s 2010 health care overhaul both aimed to insure more people, including through expansions of Medicaid.

Some budget analysts say having more than a quarter of the state’s population enrolled in Medicaid is not sustainable, given that providing them health care costs more and more each year.

One underlying cause, said Jonathan Gruber, an MIT economist who helped craft the state and federal health care laws, is the cost of taking care of older people. Nationally, he said, the disabled and elderly are 30 percent of the Medicaid program population, but account for two-thirds of its spending.

Ultimately, the state’s decision to spend so much on health care for the poor and disabled is a moral choice, said Dr. Stuart Altman, chairman of the state’s independent Health Policy Commission, which monitors costs.

Altman said Massachusetts has made several decisions that are expensive: to cover the health care of the state’s “most vulnerable” residents and have a wider definition for who those people are than most other states; to cover a broader array of services for them; and to allow Medicaid recipients to go to any institution that will take them, including highly ranked facilities like Massachusetts General Hospital.

To tackle Medicaid costs, he said, would probably require lowering the already-below-market rates the state pays providers, limiting eligibility, reducing benefits, or narrowing access to doctors and facilities for almost 2 million poor and disabled adults and children.

Asked if the current trajectory for Medicaid spending is sustainable in Massachusetts, Altman was quick to answer.

“Sure, it’s sustainable — as a state, we can afford it,” he said, noting that taxes could be raised, money shifted from other programs, priorities rearranged. “It’s just a question of whether we want to or not.”

Joshua Miller can be reached at joshua.miller@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @jm_bos.Click here to subscribe to his weekday e-mail update on politics.

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“DCR scandal: Guest list for party full of recognizable names”
Attorney General Healey says Baker administration has responded appropriately to misuse of funds
By Colin A. Young, State House News Service via The Berkshire Eagle, 9/2/2016

BOSTON - The list of guests invited to the July 3 bash thrown by two top Department of Conservation and Recreation officials using state resources is a veritable who's who of the executive branch and the state Republican Party — including cabinet secretaries, department heads, senior advisors and political big wigs.

It is unclear who on the invite list — which the Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs provided to the News Service on Friday — actually attended the party, which has landed DCR Commissioner Leo Roy and Deputy Commissioner Matthew Sisk in hot water and suspended from their jobs for a week without pay.

Roy and Sisk have paid the state back more than $800 for the state resources they used to plan and host the party, which coincided with the Boston Pops Independence Day dress rehearsal concert at the Esplanade's Hatch Shell, a DCR property. The party was held at a condo owned by Ron Kaufman, the state's Republican national committeeman.

Among those invited to the party were: Secretary of Energy and Environmental Affairs Matthew Beaton, Administration and Finance Secretary Kristen Lepore, Revenue Commissioner Michael Heffernan, state GOP chairwoman Kirsten Hughes, Baker Deputy Chief of Staff Michael Vallarelli, Baker Senior Advisor Tim Buckley, Legislative Affairs Director Ryan Coleman, Deputy Chief of Community Relations and Constituent Affairs Mindy d'Arbeloff, Commissioner of the Department of Energy Resources Judith Judson, Department of Environmental Protection Commissioner Martin Suuberg and 173 others.

The list provided contains a number of misspellings of people's names, and does not identify invitees by job title.

Roy and Sisk used DCR-rented golf carts driven by DCR employees working at the Esplanade to ferry guests from the party to the Hatch Shell for a Boston Pops Independence Day dress rehearsal concert, according to a DCR memo.

Earlier this week, Gov. Charlie Baker said he was not invited to the party, and said he did not learn of the bash until Beaton reported the misuse of state resources to him, according to an interview transcript provided by the governor's office.

"Let's face it, the most important thing we need to do as an Administration, is to retain and manage public trust. And a big part of public trust is ensuring that we're playing by the same rules everyone else plays by," Baker said, according to the transcript. "I think the fact they self-referred to the ethics commission, they've paid back any taxpayer funds sends a good message. But I also think the fact that the Secretary suspended them for a week without pay sends exactly the right type of message, which is that this is not the kind of behavior we support and we don't condone it."

Groups representing both Democrats and Republicans have called on Baker to go beyond the one week unpaid suspension handed out to Roy and Sisk and fire both employees.

But Democratic Attorney General Maura Healey said she thinks Baker has done enough to discipline Roy and Sisk, saying she does not "think this was an issue of crimes."

"I think the administration took the right action. You've got to take swift immediate action. That is intolerable, unacceptable and I'm glad the administration took the action that it took," Healey told reporters Thursday at an event in Roxbury. "The administration took the appropriate action, it appears. I don't know all the specifics of the matter."

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"Baker’s campaign fund: $4 million"
By Frank Phillips, Boston Globe Staff, September 8, 2016

Governor Charlie Baker, taking advantage of a campaign finance loophole that reformers want to close, is a few dollars short of a $4 million political account — a record that dwarfs all other governors at this point in the first term.

Former governor Deval Patrick had built a $324,832 political account in his first 20 months in office. But then again, he was not ripping up the donor world and shaking down special interests with the same zeal Baker has shown.

And, perhaps just important, Patrick interpreted the 1998 state law — the one banning federal funds from being used to support state campaign committees — differently from Baker.

For example, Baker’s political team pays no rent, while Patrick was paying $5,670 a month for his campaign office, not to mention carrying a heavy payroll and other expenses.

Those expenses for Baker are being paid with the state party’s federally raised funds — contributions of up $43,300 — which he and his GOP operatives are raising for the Republican State Committee.

Campaign regulators last April said he is not violating the law because of a complicated legal loophole. A Senate bill to end the practice was quashed in the House.

Frank Phillips can be reached at phillips@globe.com.

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"Massachusetts pension officials weigh impacts of Trump"
By Andy Metzger, State House News Service, November 16, 2016

BOSTON - The election of Donald Trump underscored the futility of making predictions about world events and about market reactions to those events, the head of the state's pension fund and investment professionals said Tuesday.

Trump's victory and the market rally that accompanied it followed British voters' collective decision to exit the European Union, known as Brexit, which ran contrary to pre-vote prognostications.

"The Trump victory was certainly a surprise. We all know that. But what was also surprising was that the equity markets rallied even after his victory," said Michael Trotsky, the executive director and chief investment officer of the Pension Reserves Investment Management.

At a meeting of the investment advisory committee, Trotsky said, "What we've learned over the past several months beginning with the Brexit vote in June and confirmed last week was, number one: nobody can predict what's going to happen. And number two: Nobody can really predict exactly how the markets will react. We have to keep this in mind."

Trotsky said "on the flip side" bonds, which provide financing for governments and institutions, have been sold off "significantly."

Peter Monaco, managing director of Raptor Group, said despite the rallying market, uncertainty and risk lie ahead with Trump in the White House.

"The equity markets in particular... have been so starved for growth that it will grab on to anything that is suggestive of the potential for greater growth ahead," Monaco said. He said, "I think that as the equity market sometimes does over the short-term, it's being a little myopic and ignoring firstly the enormous uncertainty ahead. And it's also ignoring the very real potential negatives. He wants to spend a lot more, but it's unclear how we pay for it."

Trotsky said markets appear to be focused on the potential for tax reform, stimulus spending, infrastructure and deregulation for boosting growth while paying less attention to the potential for trade restrictions, tariffs and new immigration policies.

Constance Everson, managing director of Capital Markets Outlook Group, said there appears to be a shift toward "something else as a long-term duration asset" instead of bonds, which will mean "a long-term headwind for bonds, and a tailwind for whatever asset class is going to receive those funds."

Everson described the equity rally as "narrower" than before the election, with gains by banks, the pharmaceutical industry and construction material companies. At the advisory committee meeting, consensus was apparent on the invetable - the future is unpredictable.

"You need eyes on all sides of your head, and also some positioning for an outcome that might not have seemed apparent in the early days," Everson said.

The pension fund, which now stands at about $63 billion, has outperformed peer funds recently. Eric Convey, a spokesman for the fund, said staff has been unable to find any public fund of the same size or larger that outperformed the Massachusetts pension fund in the fiscal year that ended June 30. In the quarter that ended Sept. 30 the fund was up 4.3 percent, the pension fund reported Tuesday.

Pension fund staff attributed the relative success to investments in long-term Treasury bonds and private equity. The fund has been slowly shifting its asset allocation away from global equity.

A candidate who never held elected office and was written off early on by the commentariat, Trump's broad vision for the country includes greater border security, expulsion of people in the country illegally, an "America first" stance on international trade and treaties, and infrastructure spending at home.

Monaco said he is "very worried" about trade under a Trump administration.

"Part of me wants to believe that at the end of the day he'll act a little more pragmatically than he talked, but the thing that really seemed to appeal to a lot of those that voted for him is immigration and trade-related," Monaco said. He said, "I hope someone will tell him over the last 30 years, global trade has driven something like 50 percent of cumulative global [gross domestic product] growth."

Railing against alleged currency manipulation by China and the lack of respect Russia has shown for the United States under its current leadership, Trump repeatedly made a big border security promise during the campaign that the nation would build a wall on its southern border and Mexico would pay for it.

"Hopefully he won't kind of tip it toward an atmosphere of U.S. protectionism that begets a negative response from others," Monaco said.

"Except that that's been his position," Treasurer Deborah Goldberg interjected.

A Democrat who supported Democrat Hillary Clinton in the election, Goldberg pointed to Trump's selection of Steve Bannon - a hero of the alt-right - for a top White House advisory post as an indication of where Trump is headed. Goldberg also discounted the selection of Reince Preibus, the Republican National Committee chairman, as Trump's chief of staff.

"I think the appointment of Bannon sends a very strong signal. I think Reince Preibus is merely the scheduler and the guy at the door," Goldberg said at the meeting.

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Our Opinion: “Baker's hasty cuts will do real harm”
The Berkshire Eagle, Editorial, December 7, 2016

Governor Charlie Baker's unseemly haste in making $98 million in painful cuts from the state budget is a strong indication of an ulterior motive.

The Republican governor said Tuesday that his unilateral cuts were a response to a gap between projected revenue and authorized spending. Noting that revenue was only 0.2 percent below projections in November, Democratic House Speaker Robert DeLeo described the governor's actions as "premature."

Many of the cuts the governor made Tuesday were to programs that he had unsuccessfully vetoed during the summer, suggesting he is trying to make an end run around the Legislature. Mr. Baker vetoed $265 million when he signed the budget in July, but the Legislature restored $231 million of those vetoes.

All too typically, the cuts are to programs that primarily benefit the poor and disadvantaged. Literacy programs would take a hit, and for a primer on the importance of those programs read the column by Judy Waters on this page. Funding for state parks is being reduced even though those parks, including Berkshire parks, are already grievously underfunded. Suicide prevention programs are taking a hit along with health care for the poor and affordable housing projects and programs designed to reduce homelessness.

The nearly $2 million in cuts made to substance abuse prevention programs are particularly disappointing given the governor's previously aggressive stance toward the opioid epidemic ravaging the state and the Berkshires. The good work of the Pittsfield-based Brien Center for Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services, for example, is hampered by inadequate funding to meet the demand for services. Further cuts will obviously worsen the problem.

Governor Baker should have waited until December revenue figures were in, and they smack of payback against lawmakers for overriding his vetoes. The cuts also reveal the box the governor has put himself in with his insistence that he will not raise taxes under any circumstances. Taxes can actually save money in the long run if they prevent problems from growing more costly. Failing to help addicts beat their addiction early, allowing state parks to deteriorate further, cutting literacy programs that help people get better jobs and improve their lives, are examples of penny wise, pound foolish government. Beacon Hill must break out of the box.

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Our Opinion: “Boston politics beats alternative”
The Berkshire Eagle, Editorial, January 6, 2017

Massachusetts voters are happy to elect Republican governors, and to the frustration of those governors, they are pleased to elect Democratic legislators. Governor Baker is the latest to try to figure out what if anything his party can do about it.

After swearing in the new Legislature Wednesday, the governor pointed out to the State House News Service that the Republican Party gained a seat in November's elections and did not lose a seat in a presidential election year for the first time since 1984 (Eagle, January 5.) The governor had to stretch to produce that positive spin, but with Democrats enjoying a 125 to 35 advantage in the House and controlling the Senate 34 to six, that is realistically the best he could do.

Republican chief executives William Weld, Paul Cellucci, Jane Swift and Mitt Romney preceded Democrat Deval Patrick, who after two terms, was succeeded by Mr. Baker. Voters appear to like their individual Democratic legislators better than Democrats as a whole, and routinely elect Republican governors to provide a check and balance. By the same token, Democrats' overwhelming numbers on Beacon Hill enable them to veto any gubernatorial initiative, serving as yet another check.

But even during the Patrick era, Democrats didn't run roughshod as a one-party government might have been expected to do. The liberal Governor Patrick battled regularly with the conservative House, which appears to have a better relationship with Governor Baker than it did with his predecessor.

Like his Republican predecessors, Governor Baker has a tough task in building his party in the state because of the unpopularity of Washington Republicans. Massachusetts' entire congressional delegation is Democratic and Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton took the state. Secretary of State Clinton overwhelming won the Berkshires, and only one Republican, Christine Canning, who ran for state Senate, emerged as a candidate in the five Berkshire or partially Berkshire legislative races.

The Republican governor-Democratic Legislature relationship obviously has its ups and downs, but it generally ends up working because, as Governor Baker often says, he and Democratic lawmakers can "disagree without being disagreeable." This skill is all but lost in Washington, where Congress is routinely paralyzed by spiteful partisan ugliness that goes far beyond issues to the personal and ideological. In Boston, the sausage factory process isn't attractive but the state's business gets done eventually and largely without Washington-style rancor.

Officials from neither party can be entirely happy with the Boston status quo and will try to shake it up in 2018, but with the U.S. Congress back in session we are reminded that Beacon Hill could be so much worse, and are grateful it isn't.

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“Lawmakers need to slow down their pay hike push”
The Boston Globe, Editorial, January 19, 2017

AN UNACCUSTOMED urgency crackles in the air on Beacon Hill, where little of legislative substance normally takes place in January. The reason? That cause so dear to the legislative heart: a pay hike. With all other eyes fixed on Washington, legislative leaders hope to rush through a large pay increase for the speaker and senate president, with a vote likely next week.

Mind you, the raise is moving forward under the broader guise of an increase that also includes the state’s six constitutional officers. Still, it’s no secret that its driving force is House Speaker Robert DeLeo.

At its fullest, the raise — recommended by a friendly commission that compared salaries and responsibilities with similar public jobs in other states as well as with private sector posts — would boost pay for the speaker and senate president from $102,233 to $175,000. The package would also include a modest bump for rank-and-file members, through an increase for their office expenses. If the pay package passes, hikes for committee chairmen and other legislative leadership posts would likely follow on its heels.

Thus Thursday found the House and Senate Ways and Means committees assembled in a rare joint hearing to listen to testimony about the many justifications for higher pay. Pay commission chairman Ira Jackson, a vice provost at the University of Massachusetts Boston, said that increasing the governor’s pay to the recommended $185,000 would still leave the state ranking just 10th in gubernatorial compensation when the cost of living is factored in. (It would be third otherwise.)

What he neglected to say: The proposed increase for the speaker and senate president would make them the nation’s highest-paid state legislative leaders.

A case can certainly be made for solid pay hikes on Beacon Hill. But they shouldn’t be slipped through at a time of huge national distraction. The proper process is clear: When lawmakers vote for a raise, the increase shouldn’t take effect until the next legislative session, which gives voters a chance to judge their lawmakers based on their vote. Indeed, if this were a stand-alone bill, state conflict-of-interest law would prevent lawmakers from taking the raise this session. But as the Globe’s Frank Phillips has reported, legislative leaders are scheming to sidestep that restriction by attaching the pay increase to another piece of legislation.

No matter what size pay hike they settle on, lawmakers need to slow down, allow ample time for the public to voice its sentiments, and stipulate that any pay hike won’t take effect until two years hence. If lawmakers don’t abide by the appropriate process, Governor Charlie Baker should cast a veto to stop any ill-considered rush for a raise.

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Governor Baker spoke from the State House Friday. (Photo credit: David L. Ryan/Boston Globe Staff.)

“Baker vetoes ‘fiscally irresponsible’ pay raises”
By Frank Phillips, Boston Globe Staff, January 27, 2017

Governor Charlie Baker vetoed a pay raise package for legislative leaders, judges and others on Friday, calling the proposal “fiscally irresponsible” and “enacted without sufficient debate.”

In his letter to the Legislature vetoing the bill, Baker also said that by mandating the raises go into effect immediately, the legislation places an “unplanned, additional burden” on the current fiscal year’s state budget.

Baker’s veto follows lopsided votes in the Legislature in favor of the pay raises: The Senate approved the package 31-9, and the House voted 116-44 in favor earlier in the week.

The veto-proof majorities all but guarantee the lawmakers will be able to override Baker’s veto and force the raises to become law. And because the package includes raises for judges, it is protected from an initiative petition repeal effort, since the state Constitution excludes judicial compensation as a subject for ballot questions.

The package, estimated to cost $18 million when fully implemented, was first proposed by a commission in 2014.

Massachusetts legislators are barred by a 1998 constitutional amendment from raising their base salary, now set at $62,500; those salaries are instead tied to the state’s median household income and are reviewed every two years. Just this month, lawmakers received a 4.19 percent increase in their base pay, which increased to $62,547.

The legislative raises in the package Baker vetoed on Friday are actually increases in “leadership stipends” that have not changed since they were put in place 33 years ago.

For example, Senate President Stan Rosenberg and House Speaker Robert DeLeo would see their stipends jump from $45,000 to $80,000 above their base salaries.

Frank Phillips can be reached at frank.phillips@globe.com.

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"Some questions, answers about the Beacon Hill pay raise plan"
By Bob Salsberg, The Associated Press, January 28, 2017

BOSTON — Massachusetts lawmakers this week approved nearly $18 million in annual pay raises for top legislators, statewide elected officials and judges. Republican Gov. Charlie Baker vetoed the bill on Friday, calling it "fiscally irresponsible." The Senate voted 31-9 in favor of the legislation Thursday, a day after the House approved it by a 115-44 vote. That's a large-enough margin in both chambers, controlled by Democrats, to override Baker's veto.

Some questions and answers about the pay raise plan:

Who gets raises?

Statewide elected officials including the governor, lieutenant governor and attorney general, judges and clerks, and many members of the state Legislature will get bigger paychecks if the measure becomes law. Republican Gov. Charlie Baker's annual salary, for example, would climb from $151,800 to $185,000; Supreme Judicial Court Chief Justice Ralph Gants would go from $181,000 to $206,000; Democratic House Speaker Robert DeLeo from $97,547 to $142,547.

Who doesn't get raises?

Rank-and-file lawmakers who do not hold leadership positions within their parties or committee chairmanships would not get raises beyond their current $62,547 base pay, though some might be in line for more compensation for expenses. The bill also would not affect mayors or other municipal officials and members of the state's congressional delegation, whose salaries are dictated by federal law.

Aren't legislative salaries dictated by the state constitution?

A 1998 constitutional amendment ties biennial changes in base pay for legislators to changes in the state's median household income, and lawmakers just received a 4.1 percent hike in their base pay. But here's where it gets complicated. Lawmakers have discretion over additional compensation, like bonuses, for party leaders and committee chairs. And that's where the bill makes dramatic changes. For example, the added compensation for the Senate president and House speaker goes from $35,000 to $80,000. For the chairs of the House and Senate Ways and Means Committees, the annual bonuses jump from $25,000 to $60,000.

What about expenses?

Legislators currently receive $7,200 for annual expenses related to their jobs along with a per diem travel allowance tied to how far their district is from the Statehouse. The bill would simplify the system by handing legislators a single lump sum payment for all expenses: $15,000 for those who live within 50 miles of the capitol, $20,000 for those who live beyond 50 miles.

What's up with the governor's housing allowance?

The bill proposes a $60,000 housing allowance for the governor on top of the salary increase — something that has never in recent times been offered or even requested. Massachusetts, after all, is among the U.S. states with no official governor's residence, and no plans to establish one. Baker, like other governors before him, commutes to work from his Swampscott home.

How does Massachusetts compare to other states?

According to the Council of State Governments, the average salary for all U.S. governors in 2016 was $137,415 (not including housing, travel and staff allowances). Ten governors earned higher salaries than in Massachusetts. Base pay for Beacon Hill legislators was the seventh highest in the nation in 2016, according to a survey by the National Conference of State Legislatures. Supporters of pay hikes note Massachusetts is a high cost-of-living state and salaries for top executives in the private sector often dwarf elected officials' pay. They also note the state's legislative session is one of the longest in the country, making it essentially a full-time job for representatives and senators.

Why is all this happening now?

Legislative leaders said it was important to pass the bill at the beginning of the 2017-2018 session to provide clarity on salaries before leadership and committee assignments were officially made. But some have also suggested that lawmakers wanted to put as much distance as possible between this vote and the next state election in 2018, while others noted the votes were taken at a time the public's attention was diverted by the start of Donald Trump's presidency and the New England Patriots return to the Super Bowl.

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“Baker seeks 4.3% spending boost”
By Katie Lannan and Colin A. Young, State House News Service via The Berkshire Eagle, January 25, 2017

BOSTON — Gov. Charlie Baker on Wednesday filed a $40.5 billion budget for fiscal year 2018, boosting state spending by around $1.655 billion while also calling for reforms to the health insurance market and tax policy changes aimed at responding to modern commerce.

Baker's third annual budget represents 4.3 percent gross spending growth over projected spending for the current fiscal year, including a $997 million increase for MassHealth, a $117 million increase in education spending, a $29 million increase in debt service and a $40 million increase in unrestricted local aid, according to administration officials.

The spending plan, the first in state history to exceed the $40 billion mark, relies on a forecast of $27 billion in tax collections next year.

It emerged as the Massachusetts House voted 115-44 to approve an $18 million package of proposals hiking the pay of legislators, state officials and judges, increasing the expense accounts of legislators, and eliminating the per diem pay that was available to lawmakers for days spent at the State House. A Senate vote on the bill is scheduled for Thursday.

Baker wrote in a message to lawmakers that his proposal "responsibly budgets for a $98 million deposit to the stabilization fund, accounts for a scheduled income rate tax reduction, provides a tax credit for businesses with 100 or fewer employees who hire veterans, and invests in important priorities such as addressing substance misuse, the Department of Children and Families (DCF), local aid, education, workforce skills and job training, and homelessness."

State Rep. Gailanne Cariddi, D-North Adams, was pleased with what she saw in the governor's plan.

"He did good things for the municipalities in general," she said, including an increase in school aid and unrestricted government aid.

She also was encouraged that the budget included a 2 percent increase in funding for the Massachusetts Cultural Council, which provides funding to arts and cultural institutions large and small.

"Those types of budget issues are important to our constituents in the Berkshires," she told The Eagle.

She stressed she was looking forward to working with the governor and her fellow lawmakers to "move Massachusetts forward."

The governor's budget is a political document, State Rep. William "Smitty" Pignatelli, D-Lenox, told The Eagle on Wednesday.

"It's a template for what he envisions," Pignatelli said. "We'll have to see about revenue."

In addition to the $1.016 billion in expected tax revenue growth, the administration is also anticipating that it will collect an additional $187 million in taxes via a series of what it's calling tax modernization proposals.

Among those proposals is a plan to begin to collect sales tax from online retailers who do not have a physical location in Massachusetts but do more than $500,000 in sales in the Bay State annually.

The change, which administration officials said will not require legislation and would be done via a Department of Revenue regulatory change, is expected to yield $30 million in sales tax revenue next fiscal year, according to the administration.

The budget also includes a plan to tax short-term rentals offered through online portals like Airbnb and VRBO at the same rate as rooms rented by traditional hotels and motels. Hosts who rent rooms 150 days or more per year would have to begin collecting the room occupancy tax the following year, according to the administration. The new application of the occupancy tax is expected to pull in $12 million in fiscal 2018.

Another $20 million in revenue is expected from a DOR change that will require credit card companies to provide a 1099-K form to individuals who earn more than $600 from credit or debit card transactions in a calendar year. The current threshold for a 1099-K form is $20,000 in income from 200 or more transactions in a year.

Because anyone earning income from such transactions is already required to pay taxes on that income, the administration said the proposal does not constitute a new tax. The proposal would change only who receives a 1099-K form, not to whom the tax would apply.

A fourth tax-related proposal would require third party credit card processors to remit sales, room occupancy and meals taxes to the state on a daily basis, instead of holding it in a trust for up to 50 days as is the current practice. The change would shift the timing of tax collections, resulting in a one-time lump sum of $125 million in fiscal 2018.

Of that $125 million, $95 million would go to the General Fund, representing the only use of one-time revenues in the governor's budget. The remaining $30 million would be split between the MBTA and Massachusetts School Building Authority.

In each budget he's filed since taking office, Baker's administration has curtailed the use of one-time revenues. The last budget under Gov. Deval Patrick utilized about $1.2 billion in temporary revenues and the $95 million in one-time revenues in the FY18 budget plan represents a 90 percent reduction in their use, according to data provided by the administration.

MassHealth, the state's Medicaid program, accounts for nearly 40 percent of the state budget, and the administration projects its spending would grow by $1.228 billion if left unchecked. Baker is proposing a series of reforms intended to control spending growth, including an assessment on employers with 11 or more workers who do not offer health insurance.

The budget would set growth caps on rates negotiated between health care providers and insurers, dividing providers into three tiers based on their relative costs. The lowest-cost providers would face no cap, while growth in the middle tier would be limited to 1 percent and no growth would be allowed for the highest tier. The caps would not apply to primary care or behavioral health providers.

In education, Baker proposed an increase of $91 million or $20 per pupil in Chapter 70 state aid to school districts, along with $2 million for new programs for training teachers and principals, $7 million for a 2 percent rate increase for center-based child care providers, and a $10.3 million increase in higher education spending.

"Increasing Chapter 70 workforce funding is a positive step," said Senator Adam Hinds, D-Pittsfield.

The governor's budget includes $500 million for housing and homelessness prevention services, including $1 million for a housing court expansion.

"Education, substance abuse, social services: these are all areas of critical importance," said Pignatelli.

Baker's proposal, known as House 1, is the first step in the budget process. The House and Senate will develop their own budgets, adopting some of Baker's plans and rejecting others while boosting planned spending in some account and cutting others.

"There will be differences and there may be things we'll want to give more to, less to, et cetera," Rep. Patricia Haddad, who last session served as speaker pro tempore, told the News Service on Tuesday night. "But basically we're all going in the same direction, we just aren't necessarily on the same mode of transportation, I guess is the best way to say it."

A big unanswered question is whether the House will try to raise taxes. House leaders have so far said they haven't made a decision on that matter.

Pignatelli said he is hopeful about the process going forward.

"Clearly the governor wants to work with us," he said.

Berkshire Eagle staff writer Eoin Higgins contributed to this story.

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Our Opinion: “State of state, and of Berkshires”
The Berkshire Eagle, Editorial, January 25, 2017

Governor Charlie Baker's upbeat State of the State speech Tuesday night portrayed a Massachusetts that is generally in solid shape as we roll further into 2017. It's not an unfair assessment, but some sections of the state are in better shape than others, and those that are lagging economically will be looking for more hands-on assistance this year.

The governor trumpeted the addition of 120,000 jobs over the two years he has been in office, noting that "The job gains have benefited every corner of the state." As specific examples of communities that have benefited from new jobs, the governor cited Boston, Marlborough and New Bedford, which moves past the Route 128 belt around Boston but doesn't reach the western corners in Berkshire County. The reality is that Berkshire County continues to experience economic challenges unique from other areas of the state.

Governor Baker noted with justifiable pride that for the second consecutive year, the Bloomberg Innovation Index ranked Massachusetts the top state in the nation for innovation. This innovation, largely through research and development, occurs primarily in Boston, Cambridge and other communities within the Route 128 belt. Obviously, those communities have certain advantages, such as proximity to major universities, but Pittsfield has the William Stanley Business Park available, and the county in general boasts many small manufacturers linked largely to the plastics industry, low costs and a high quality of living. With a boost from the state, that should be a recipe for Berkshire success in the innovation field.

The governor referred to Western Massachusetts specifically only in observing that while progress has been made in providing high-speed internet service across the state, "...too many communities in Western Mass. still don't have access to this essential service." Mr. Baker didn't mention that when the Massachusetts Broadband Institute (MBI) followed his advice a year ago and froze funding for a rural broadband build-out it stopped progress on completing the "last mile" to homes and businesses in its tracks. The freeze, which seemed to arise out of MBI's feud with WiredWest, began to thaw last May when the governor named a new management team to MBI, but time and momentum were lost.

Mr. Baker was correct in observing that high-speed internet "has become central to the ways we communicate, learn and do business." That access can potentially bring all manner of jobs, including manufacturing and those in the innovation sector, to the small Berkshire towns whose appeal has long attracted newcomers from outside the region. The year ahead has to be one of major progress in completing the last mile in these rural communities.

The governor's wide-ranging address didn't include any mention of tourism, which was disappointing. However, we are surprised and pleased by his proposal Wednesday to increase the budget for the Massachusetts Cultural Council. We nevertheless again extend an invitation to the governor to come to the Berkshires and visit the county's many cultural venues, both large and small. He will be able to see firsthand how they serve as an economic engine for the Berkshires.

Massachusetts has been at the forefront of the green energy movement, with the Berkshires particularly strong in encouraging solar. In his address, the governor applauded the passage of legislation reducing the state's carbon footprint and cited his Executive Order on Climate Change directing state government to work with businesses to protect the environment and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. If Massachusetts' progressive programs on environmental protection are challenged by Washington in the year ahead, Beacon Hill, businesses and residents must be vigilant in defending those efforts and the progress made.

The governor concluded his address by decrying the poisonous political atmosphere in the nation. observing, "Too much of what passes for political dialogue these days isn't dialogue at all. It's talking points. Character assassination. And deliberate misrepresentation." He added that state officials were obligated to put progress and results before politics and partisanship, and for the most part this has been the case in Massachusetts, even in the many years when the strongly Democratic Legislature has been paired with a Republican governor, as is currently the case.

That doesn't mean there aren't disagreements and there will be plenty now that the budget process for the coming fiscal year has gotten underway. But as Governor Baker observed, if both sides listen to and learn from each other and regard compromise as "a sign of strength," not of weakness, the state's officials will continue to move Massachusetts forward.

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“Report examines family homelessness in Massachusetts”
By Katie Lannan, State House News Service, February 25, 2017

BOSTON — Massachusetts experienced one of the largest increases in family homelessness in the nation since the 2008 fiscal year, according to a new report that found the number of Bay State families receiving emergency housing assistance has more than doubled.

The Boston Foundation report, released Thursday said families and children make up the largest group of people who are homeless or on the brink of homelessness in Massachusetts, with children under age 18 accounting for 60 percent of the 13,000 people experiencing family homelessness on any given day.

In the 2016 fiscal year, 4,794 families entered the emergency assistance system, in addition to 3,560 whose enrollment continued from a previous year, according to data in the report.

The number of homeless families nationwide has been decreasing steadily since 2012 and fallen a total of 22 percent since 2007, while the number in both Boston and Massachusetts as a whole has risen 43 percent since 2007, the report said.

Families who entered a shelter in the 2008 fiscal year stayed an average of 247 days, while those entering in fiscal 2013 stayed 360 days, according to the analysis, which found that families with longer stays are more likely to have a head of household who is younger, black, Hispanic and female. Of the families who entered the "homeless assistance system" in 2008, 18 percent returned within three years, while 13 percent who entered in 2013 came back.

The report also found that the number of new entrants into the system has dropped in the past two years, a decline that coincides with both eligibility changes and the use of other homeless assistance programs that offer prevention and stabilization supports.

To help families leave shelter more quickly and be more likely to connect with stable housing, the report recommended an emphasis on "understanding the resources a family has and how to build upon those (such as helping working families save money while in shelter); assessing job skills and how a family might benefit from job training; and more concentrated resources to help families locate housing in tight housing markets."

The report was prepared by the research firm Westat with data from the Massachusetts Department of Housing and Community Development.

DHCD Undersecretary Chrystal Kornegay said in a statement that the report's data can help guide future policy and practice decisions, and that the department "is proud of the progress made in reducing family homelessness under the current administration."

Gov. Charlie Baker, in his State of the Commonwealth address last month, said the number of homeless families sheltered in hotels and motels has fallen from more than 1,500 to fewer than 100 in the past two years. He said his administration is working with housing authorities and other providers to help families avoid homelessness in the first place.

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About Me

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Amherst, NH, United States
I am a citizen defending the people against corrupt Pols who only serve their Corporate Elite masters, not the people! / My 2 political enemies are Andrea F. Nuciforo, Jr., nicknamed "Luciforo" and former Berkshire County Sheriff Carmen C. Massimiano, Jr. / I have also pasted many of my political essays on "The Berkshire Blog": berkshireeagle.blogspot.com / I AM THE ANTI-FRANK GUINTA! / Please contact me at jonathan_a_melle@yahoo.com

50th Anniversary - 2009

50th Anniversary - 2009
The Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame on Columbus Avenue in Springfield, Massachusetts.

Pittsfield Politics: Capitanio, Mazzeo agree on budget cuts, public safety

Pittsfield Politics: Capitanio, Mazzeo agree on budget cuts, public safety
Paul Capitanio, left, speaks during Monday night's Ward 3 City Council debate with fellow candidate Melissa Mazzeo at Pittsfield Community Television's studio. The special election (3/31/2009) will be held a week from today (3/24/2009). The local issues ranged from economic development and cleaning up blighted areas in Ward 3 to public education and the continued remediation of PCB's.

Red Sox v Yankees

Red Sox v Yankees
Go Red Sox!

Outrage swells in Congress!

Outrage swells in Congress!
Senate Banking Committee Chairman Sen. Christopher Dodd, D-Conn., left, and the committee's ranking Republican Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Ala., listen during a hearing on modernizing insurance regulations, Tuesday, March 17, 2009, on Capitol Hill in Washington. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh). - http://news.yahoo.com/s/politico/20090318/pl_politico/30833

Beacon Hill's $pecial Interest Tax Raisers & $PENDERS!

Beacon Hill's $pecial Interest Tax Raisers & $PENDERS!
Photo Gallery: www.boston.com/news/local/massachusetts/articles/2009/03/15/St_Patricks_Day_Boston/

The path away from Wall Street ...

The path away from Wall Street ...
...Employers in the finance sector - traditionally a prime landing spot for college seniors, particularly in the Northeast - expect to have 71 percent fewer jobs to offer this year's (2009) graduates.

Economic collapse puts graduates on unforeseen paths: Enrollment in public service jobs rising...

Economic collapse puts graduates on unforeseen paths: Enrollment in public service jobs rising...
www.boston.com/news/local/massachusetts/articles/2009/03/14/economic_collapse_puts_graduates_on_unforeseen_paths/

Bank of America CEO Ken Lewis

Bank of America CEO Ken Lewis
Should he be fired? As Bank of America's Stock Plummets, CEO Resists Some Calls That He Step Down.

Hookers for Jesus

Hookers for Jesus
Annie Lobert is the founder of "Hookers for Jesus" - www.hookersforjesus.net/home.cfm - Saving Sin City: Las Vegas, Nevada?

Forever personalized stamped envelope

Forever personalized stamped envelope
The Forever stamp will continue to cover the price of a first-class letter. The USPS will also introduce Forever personalized, stamped envelopes. The envelopes will be preprinted with a Forever stamp, the sender's name and return address, and an optional personal message.

Purple Heart

Purple Heart
First issued in 2003, the Purple heart stamp will continue to honor the men and women wounded while serving in the US military. The Purple Heart stamp covers the cost of 44 cents for first-class, one-ounce mail.

Dolphin

Dolphin
The bottlenose is just one of the new animals set to appear on the price-change stamps. It will serve as a 64-cent stamp for odd shaped envelopes.

2009 price-change stamps

2009 price-change stamps
www.boston.com/business/gallery/2009pircechangestamps/ -&- www.boston.com/news/nation/washington/articles/2009/02/27/new_stamps_set_for_rate_increase_in_may/

Red Sox v Yankees

Red Sox v Yankees
Go Red Sox!

President Barack Obama

President Barack Obama
AP photo v Shepard Fairey

Rush Limbaugh lackeys

Rush Limbaugh lackeys
Posted by Dan Wasserman of the Boston Globe on March 3, 2009.

Honest Abe

Honest Abe
A 2007 US Penny

Dog race

Dog race
Sledding for dogs

The Capital of the Constitution State

The Capital of the Constitution State
Hartford, once the wealthiest city in the United States but now the poorest in Connecticut, is facing an uphill battle.

Brady, Bundchen married

Brady, Bundchen married
Patriots quarterback Tom Brady and model Gisele Bundchen wed Feb. 26, 2009 in a Catholic ceremony in Los Angeles. www.boston.com/ae/celebrity/gallery/tom_gisele/

Mayor Jimmy Ruberto

Mayor Jimmy Ruberto
Tanked Pittsfield's local economy while helping his fellow insider political hacks and business campaign contributors!

Journalist Andrew Manuse

Journalist Andrew Manuse
www.manuse.com

New Hampshire Supreme Court Building

New Hampshire Supreme Court Building
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/New_Hampshire_Supreme_Court

Economic State of the Union

Economic State of the Union
A look at some of the economic conditions the Obama administration faces and what resources have already been pledged to help. 2/24/2009

President Barack Obama

President Barack Obama
The president addresses the nation's governors during a dinner in the State Dinning Room, Sunday, Feb. 22, 2009, at the White House in Washington. (AP Photo/Haraz N. Ghanbari).

The Oscars - 2/22/2009.

The Oscars - 2/22/2009.
Hugh Jackman and Beyoncé Knowles teamed up for a musical medley during the show.

The 81st Academy Awards - Oscars - 2009

The 81st Academy Awards - Oscars - 2009
Hugh Jackman pulled actress Anne Hathaway on stage to accompany him during his opening musical number.

Rachel Maddow

Rachel Maddow
A Progressive News Commentator

$500,000 per year

$500,000 per year
That is chump change for the corporate elite!

THE CORPORATE ELITE...

THE CORPORATE ELITE...
Jeffrey R. Immelt, chairman and chief executive of General Electric

The Presidents' Club

The Presidents' Club
Bush, Obama, Bush Jr, Clinton & Carter.

5 Presidents: Bush, Obama, Bush Jr, Clinton, & Carter!

5 Presidents: Bush, Obama, Bush Jr, Clinton, & Carter!
White House Event: January 7, 2009.

Bank Bailout!

Bank Bailout!
v taxpayer

Actress Elizabeth Banks

Actress Elizabeth Banks
She will present an award to her hometown (Pittsfield) at the Massachusetts State House next month (1/2009). She recently starred in "W" and "Zack and Miri Make a Porno," and just signed a $1 million annual contract to be a spokesmodel for Paris.

Joanna Lipper

Joanna Lipper
Her award-winning 1999 documentary, "Growing Up Fast," about teenaged mothers in Pittsfield, Massachusetts.

Happy Holidays...

Happy Holidays...
...from "Star Wars"

Massachusetts "poor" economy

Massachusetts "poor" economy
Massachusetts is one of the wealthiest states, but it is also very inequitable. For example, it boasts the nation's most lucrative lottery, which is just a system of regressive taxation so that the corporate elite get to pay less in taxes!

Reese Witherspoon

Reese Witherspoon
Hollywood Actress

Peter G. Arlos.

Peter G. Arlos.
Arlos is shown in his Pittsfield office in early 2000.

Turnpike OK's hefty toll hikes

Turnpike OK's hefty toll hikes
Big Dig - East-west commuters take hit; Fees at tunnels would double. 11/15/2008.

The Pink Panther 2

The Pink Panther 2
Starring Steve Martin

Police ABUSE

Police ABUSE
I was a victim of Manchester Police Officer John Cunningham's ILLEGAL USES of FORCE! John Cunningham was reprimanded by the Chief of Police for disrespecting me. John Cunningham yelled at a witness: "I don't care if he (Jonathan Melle) is disabled!"

Barack Obama

Barack Obama
The 44th US President!

Vote

Vote
Elections

The Bailout & the economic stimulus check

The Bailout & the economic stimulus check
A political cartoon by Dan Wasserman

A rainbow over Boston

A rainbow over Boston
"Rainbows galore" 10/2/2008

Our nation's leaders!

Our nation's leaders!
President Bush with both John McCain & Barack Obama - 9/25/2008.

Massachusetts & Big Dig: Big hike in tolls for Pike looming (9/26/2008).

Massachusetts & Big Dig: Big hike in tolls for Pike looming (9/26/2008).
$5 rise at tunnels is one possibility $1 jump posed for elsewhere.

Mary E Carey

Mary E Carey
My FAVORITE Journalist EVER!

9/11/2008 - A Show of Unity!

9/11/2008 - A Show of Unity!
John McCain and Barack Obama appeared together at ground zero in New York City - September 11, 2008.

John McCain...

John McCain...
...has all but abandoned the positions on taxes, torture and immigration. (A cartoon by Dan Wasserman. September 2008).

Dan Wasserman

Dan Wasserman
The deregulated chickens come home to roost... in all our pocketbooks. September 2008.

Sarah Palin's phobia

Sarah Palin's phobia
A scripted candidate! (A cartoon by Dan Wasserman).

Dan Wasserman

Dan Wasserman
Family FInances - September, 2008.

Mark E. Roy

Mark E. Roy
Ward 1 Alderman for Manchester, NH (2008).

Theodore “Ted” L. Gatsas

Theodore “Ted” L. Gatsas
Ward 2 Alderman (& NH State Senator) for Manchester, NH (2008).

Peter M. Sullivan

Peter M. Sullivan
Ward 3 (downtown) Alderman for Manchester, NH (2008).

Jim Roy

Jim Roy
Ward 4 Alderman for Manchester, NH (2008).

Ed Osborne

Ed Osborne
Ward 5 Alderman for Manchester, NH (2008).

Real R. Pinard

Real R. Pinard
Ward 6 Alderman for Manchester, NH (2008).

William P. Shea

William P. Shea
Ward 7 Alderman for Manchester, NH (2008).

Betsi DeVries

Betsi DeVries
Ward 8 Alder-woman (& NH State Senator) for Manchester, NH (2008).

Michael Garrity

Michael Garrity
Ward 9 Alderman for Manchester, NH (2008).

George Smith

George Smith
Ward 10 Alderman for Manchester, NH (2008).

Russ Ouellette

Russ Ouellette
Ward 11 Alderman for Manchester, NH (2008).

Kelleigh (Domaingue) Murphy

Kelleigh (Domaingue) Murphy
Ward 12 Alder-woman for Manchester, NH (2008).

“Mike” Lopez

“Mike” Lopez
At-Large Alderman for Manchester, NH. (2008).

Daniel P. O’Neil

Daniel P. O’Neil
At-Large Alderman for Manchester, NH (2008).

Sarah Palin for Vice President.

Sarah Palin for Vice President.
Republican John McCain made the surprise pick of Alaska's governor Sarah Palin as his running mate today, August 29, 2008.

U.S. Representative John Olver, D-Amherst, Massachusetts.

U.S. Representative John Olver, D-Amherst, Massachusetts.
Congressman Olver said the country has spent well over a half-trillion dollars on the war in Iraq while the situation in Afghanistan continues to deteriorate. 8/25/08.

Ed O'Reilly for US Senate in Massachusetts!

Ed O'Reilly for US Senate in Massachusetts!
John Kerry's 9/2008 challenger in the Democratic Primary.

Shays' Rebellion

Shays' Rebellion
In a tax revolt, Massachusetts farmers fought back during Shays' Rebellion in the mid-1780s after The American Revolutionary War.

Julianne Moore

Julianne Moore
Actress. "The Big Lebowski" is one of my favorite movies. I also like "The Fugitive", too.

Rinaldo Del Gallo III & "Superman"

Rinaldo Del Gallo III & "Superman"
Go to: http://www.berkshirefatherhood.com/index.php?mact=News,cntnt01,detail,0&cntnt01articleid=699&cntnt01returnid=69

"Income chasm widening in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts"

"Income chasm widening in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts"
The gap between rich and poor has widened substantially in Massachusetts over the past two decades. (8/15/2008).

Dan "Bureaucrat" Bosley

Dan "Bureaucrat" Bosley
"The Bosley Amendment": To create tax loopholes for the wealthiest corporate interests in Massachusetts!

John Edwards and...

John Edwards and...
...Rielle Hunter. WHO CARES?!

Rep. Edward J. Markey

Rep. Edward J. Markey
He wants online-privacy legislation. Some Web Firms Say They Track Behavior Without Explicit Consent.

Cindy Sheehan

Cindy Sheehan
She gained fame with her antiwar vigil outside the Bush ranch.

Olympics kick off in Beijing

Olympics kick off in Beijing
Go USA!

Exxon Mobil 2Q profit sets US record, shares fall

Exxon Mobil 2Q profit sets US record, shares fall
In this May 1, 2008, file photo, a customer pumps gas at an Exxon station in Middleton, Mass. Exxon Mobil Corp. reported second-quarter earnings of $11.68 billion Thursday, July 31, the biggest quarterly profit ever by any U.S. corporation, but the results were well short of Wall Street expectations and its shares fell as markets opened. (AP Photo/Lisa Poole, File) 7/31/2008.

Onota Lake 'Sea Serpent'

Onota Lake 'Sea Serpent'
Some kind of monster on Onota Lake. Five-year-old Tyler Smith rides a 'sea serpent' on Onota Lake in Pittsfield, Mass. The 'monster,' fashioned by Smith's grandfather, first appeared over July 4 weekend. (Photo courtesy of Ron Smith). 7/30/2008.

Al Gore, Jr.

Al Gore, Jr.
Al Gore issues challenge on energy

The Norman Rockwell Museum

The Norman Rockwell Museum
Stockbridge, Massachusetts

"Big Dig"

"Big Dig"
Boston's financially wasteful pork barrel project!

"Big Dig"

"Big Dig"
Boston's pork barrel public works project cost 50 times more than the original price!

Mary E Carey

Mary E Carey
My favorite journalist EVER!

U.S. Rep. John Olver, state Sen. Stan Rosenberg and Selectwomen Stephanie O'Keeffe and Alisa Brewer

U.S. Rep. John Olver, state Sen. Stan Rosenberg and Selectwomen Stephanie O'Keeffe and Alisa Brewer
Note: Photo from Mary E Carey's Blog.

Tanglewood

Tanglewood
Boston Symphony Orchestra music director James Levine.

Google

Google
Chagall

Jimmy Ruberto

Jimmy Ruberto
Faces multiple persecutions under the Massachusetts "Ethics" conflict of interest laws.

Barack Obama

Barack Obama
Obama vows $500m in faith-based aid.

John McCain

John McCain
He is with his wife, Cindy, who were both met by Colombian President Alvaro Uribe (right) upon arriving in Cartagena.

Daniel Duquette

Daniel Duquette
Sold Mayor James M. Ruberto of Pittsfield two tickets to the 2004 World Series at face value.

Hillary & Barack in Unity, NH - 6/27/2008

Hillary & Barack in Unity, NH - 6/27/2008
Clinton tells Obama, crowd in Unity, N.H.: 'We are one party'

John Forbes Kerry

John Forbes Kerry
Wanna-be Prez?

WALL-E

WALL-E
"out of this World"

Crisis in the Congo - Ben Affleck

Crisis in the Congo - Ben Affleck
http://abcnews.go.com/Nightline/popup?id=5057139&contentIndex=1&page=1&start=false - http://abcnews.go.com/Nightline/story?id=5234555&page=1

Jeanne Shaheen

Jeanne Shaheen
NH's Democratic returning candidate for U.S. Senate

"Wall-E"

"Wall-E"
a cool robot

Ed O'Reilly

Ed O'Reilly
www.edoreilly.com

Go Celtics!

Go Celtics!
World Champions - 2008

Go Red Sox!

Go Red Sox!
J.D. Drew gets the same welcome whenever he visits the City of Brotherly Love: "Booooooo!"; Drew has been vilified in Philadelphia since refusing to sign with the Phillies after they drafted him in 1997...

Joe Kelly Levasseur & Joe Briggs

Joe Kelly Levasseur & Joe Briggs
www.2joes.org

NH Union Leader

NH Union Leader
Editorial Cartoon

Celtics - World Champions!

Celtics - World Champions!
www.boston.com/sports/basketball/celtics/gallery/06_18_08_front_pages/ - www.boston.com/sports/basketball/celtics/gallery/06_17_08_finals_game_6/ - www.boston.com/sports/basketball/celtics/gallery/06_17_08_celebration/ - www.boston.com/sports/basketball/celtics/gallery/06_15_08_celtics_championships/

"The Nation"

"The Nation"
A "Liberal" weekly political news magazine. Katrina vanden Heuvel.

TV - PBS: NOW

TV - PBS: NOW
http://www.pbs.org/now

The Twilight Zone

The Twilight Zone
List of Twilight Zone episodes - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Twilight_Zone_episodes

Equality for ALL Marriages

Equality for ALL Marriages
I, Jonathan Melle, am a supporter of same sex marriages.

Kobe Bryant leads his time to a Game 5 victory.

Kobe Bryant leads his time to a Game 5 victory.
L.A. Lakers holds on for the win to force Game 6 at Boston

Mohawk Trail

Mohawk Trail
The 'Hail to the Sunrise' statue in Charlemont is a well-known and easily recognized landmark on the Mohawk Trail. The trail once boasted several souvenir shops, some with motels and restaurants. Now only four remain. (Caroline Bonnivier / Berkshire Eagle Staff).

NASA - June 14, 2008

NASA - June 14, 2008
Space Shuttle Discovery returns to Earth.

Go Celtics! Game # 4 of the 2008 NBA Finals.

Go Celtics! Game # 4 of the 2008 NBA Finals.
Boston took a 20-second timeout, and the Celtics ran off four more points (including this incredible Erving-esque layup from Ray Allen) to build the lead to five points with just 2:10 remaining. Reeling, the Lakers took a full timeout to try to regain their momentum.

Sal DiMasi

Sal DiMasi
Speaker of the Massachusetts State House of Representatives

Kelly Ayotte - Attorney General of New Hampshire

Kelly Ayotte - Attorney General of New Hampshire
http://doj.nh.gov/

John Kerry

John Kerry
He does not like grassroots democracy & being challenged in the 2008 Massachusetts Democratic Party Primary for re-election.

Tim Murray

Tim Murray
Corrupt Lt. Gov. of Massachusetts, 2007 - 2013.

North Adams, Massachusetts

North Adams, Massachusetts
downtown

Howie Carr

Howie Carr
Political Satirist on Massachusetts Corruption/Politics

Polar Bear

Polar Bear
Global Warming

Elizabeth Warren - Web-Site Links

Elizabeth Warren - Web-Site Links
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Elizabeth_Warren & http://www.creditslips.org/creditslips/WarrenAuthor.html

Elizabeth Warren

Elizabeth Warren
Consumer Crusader

Leon Powe

Leon Powe
Celtics forward Leon Powe finished a fast break with a dunk.

Kevin Garnett

Kevin Garnett
Kevin Garnett reacted during the game.

Rajon Rondo

Rajon Rondo
Rajon Rondo finished a first half fast break with a dunk.

Teamwork

Teamwork
Los Angeles Lakers teammates help Pau Gasol (16) from the floor in the second quarter.

Kobe Bryant

Kobe Bryant
Kobe Bryant took a shot in the first half of Game 2.

Kendrick Perkins

Kendrick Perkins
Kendrick Perkins (right) backed down Lamar Odom (left) during first half action.

Go Celtics!

Go Celtics!
The Boston Symphony Orchestra performed the national anthem prior to Game 2.

K.G.!

K.G.!
Garnett reacted to a hard dunk in the first quarter.

Paul Pierce

Paul Pierce
Paul Pierce reacted after hitting a three upon his return to the game since leaving with an injury.

Go Celtics!

Go Celtics!
Kobe Bryant (left) and Paul Pierce (right) squared off in the second half of the game.

James Taylor

James Taylor
Sings National Anthem at Celtics Game.

John Forbes Kerry & Deval Patrick

John Forbes Kerry & Deval Patrick
Attended Celtics Game.

Greats of the NBA: Dr. J, Bill Russell, & Kareem!

Greats of the NBA: Dr. J, Bill Russell, & Kareem!
Attend Game 1 of the 2008 NBA Finals.

Bruce Willis

Bruce Willis
The actor (left) and his date were in the crowd before the Celtics game.

John Kerry

John Kerry
Golddigger attends Celtics game

Hillary Clinton

Hillary Clinton
Ends her 2008 bid for Democratic Party nomination

Nonnie Burnes

Nonnie Burnes
Massachusetts Insurance Commish & former Judge

Jones Library

Jones Library
Amherst, Massachusetts

Barack Obama & Hillary Clinton

Barack Obama & Hillary Clinton
2008 Democratic Primary

"US vs Exxon and Halliburton"

"US vs Exxon and Halliburton"
U.S. Senator John Sununu took more than $220,000 from big oil.

Jeanne Shaheen

Jeanne Shaheen
4- U.S. Senate - 2008

William Pignatelli

William Pignatelli
Hack Rep. "Smitty" with Lynne Blake

Ben Bernanke

Ben Bernanke
Federal Reserve Chairman

Gazettenet.com

Gazettenet.com
www.gazettenet.com/beta/

Boys' & Girls' Club

Boys' & Girls' Club
Melville Street, Pittsfield, Massachusetts

Denis Guyer

Denis Guyer
Dalton State Representative

The Berkshire Eagle

The Berkshire Eagle
Pittsfield, Massachusetts

Carmen Massimiano

Carmen Massimiano
Williams College - May 2008

Larry Bird & Magic Johnson

Larry Bird & Magic Johnson
www.boston.com/lifestyle/gallery/when_the_celtics_were_cool/

Regressive Taxation! via State Lotteries

Regressive Taxation! via State Lotteries
New Massachusetts state lottery game hits $600 million in sales!

Andrea Nuciforo

Andrea Nuciforo
"Luciforo"

John Barrett III

John Barrett III
Long-time Mayor of North Adams Massachusetts

Shine On

Shine On

Elmo

Elmo
cool!

Paul Pierce

Paul Pierce
Paul Pierce kissed the Eastern Conference trophy. 5/30/2008. AP Photo.

Kevin Garnett & Richard Hamilton

Kevin Garnett & Richard Hamilton
Kevin Garnett (left) talked to Pistons guard Richard Hamilton (right) after the Celtics' victory in Game 6. 5/30/2008. Reuters Photo.

Paul Pierce

Paul Pierce
Paul Pierce showed his team colors as the Celtics closed out the Pistons in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference finals. 5/30/2008. Globe Staff Photo / Jim Davis.

Joseph Kelly Levasseur

Joseph Kelly Levasseur
One of my favorite politicians!

Mary E Carey

Mary E Carey
In the Big Apple: NYC! She is the coolest!

Guyer & Kerry

Guyer & Kerry
My 2nd least favorite picture EVER!

Mary Carey

Mary Carey
My favorite journalist EVER!

Nuciforo & Ruberto

Nuciforo & Ruberto
My least favorite picture EVER!

Jeanne Shaheen

Jeanne Shaheen
U.S. Senate - 2008

NH Fisher Cats

NH Fisher Cats
AA Baseball - Toronto Blue Jays affiliate

Manchester, NH

Manchester, NH
Police Patch

Michael Briggs

Michael Briggs
#83 - We will never forget

Michael "Stix" Addison

Michael "Stix" Addison
http://unionleader.com/channel.aspx/News?channel=2af17ff4-f73b-4c44-9f51-092e828e1131

Charlie Gibson

Charlie Gibson
ABC News anchor

Scott McClellan

Scott McClellan
http://topics.nytimes.com/top/reference/timestopics/people/m/scott_mcclellan/index.html?inline=nyt-per

Boise, Idaho

Boise, Idaho
Downtown Boise Idaho

John Forbes Kerry

John Forbes Kerry
Legislative Hearing in Pittsfield, Massachusetts, BCC, on Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Thomas Jefferson

Thomas Jefferson
My favorite classical U.S. President!

NH Governor John Lynch

NH Governor John Lynch
Higher Taxes, Higher Tolls

Paul Hodes

Paul Hodes
My favorite Congressman!

Portland Sea Dogs

Portland Sea Dogs
AA Red Sox

New York

New York
Magnet

Massachusetts

Massachusetts
Magnet

New Hampshire

New Hampshire
Magnet

New Hampshire

New Hampshire
Button

Carmen Massimiano

Carmen Massimiano
"Luciforo" tried to send me to Carmen's Jail during the Spring & Summer of 1998.

Kay Khan - Massachusetts State Representative

Kay Khan - Massachusetts State Representative
www.openmass.org/members/show/174

Luciforo

Luciforo
Andrea F Nuciforo II

B-Eagle

B-Eagle
Pittsfield's monopoly/only daily newspaper

Jon Lester - Go Red Sox!

Jon Lester - Go Red Sox!
A Red Sox No Hitter on 5/19/2008!

Go Red Sox!

Go Red Sox!
Dustin Pedroia & Manny Ramirez

U.S. Flag

U.S. Flag
God Bless America!

Jonathan Melle's Blog

Jonathan Melle's Blog
Hello, Everyone!

Molly Bish

Molly Bish
We will never forget!

Go Celtics!

Go Celtics!
Celtics guard Rajon Rondo listens to some advice from Celtics head coach Doc Rivers in the first half.

Go Celtics!

Go Celtics!
Celtics forward Kevin Garnett and Pistons forward Rasheed Wallace embrace at the end of the game.

Go Red Sox!

Go Red Sox!
Red Sox closer Jonathan Papelbon calls for the ball as he charges toward first base. Papelbon made the out en route to picking up his 14th save of the season.

Go Red Sox!

Go Red Sox!
Red Sox starting pitcher Daisuke Matsuzaka throws to Royals David DeJesus during the first inning.

Go Red Sox!

Go Red Sox!
Red Sox pitcher Daisuke Matsuzaka delivers a pitch to Royals second baseman Mark Grudzielanek during the second inning.

Go Red Sox!

Go Red Sox!
Red Sox right fielder J.D. Drew is welcomed to home plate by teammates Mike Lowell (left), Kevin Youkilis (2nd left) and Manny Ramirez after he hit a grand slam in the second inning.

Go Red Sox!

Go Red Sox!
Red Sox third baseman Mike Lowell crosses the plate after hitting a grand slam during the sixth inning. Teammates Manny Ramirez and Jacoby Ellsbury scored on the play. The Red Sox went on to win 11-8 to complete a four-game sweep and perfect homestand.

JD Drew - Go Red Sox

JD Drew - Go Red Sox
www.boston.com/sports/baseball/redsox/gallery/05_22_08_sox_royals/

Thank you for serving; God Bless America!

Thank you for serving; God Bless America!
Master Sgt. Kara B. Stackpole, of Westfield, holds her daughter, Samantha, upon her return today to Westover Air Reserve Base in Chicopee. She is one of the 38 members of the 439th Aeromedical Staging Squadron who returned after a 4-month deployment in Iraq. Photo by Dave Roback / The Republican.

Kathi-Anne Reinstein

Kathi-Anne Reinstein
www.openmass.org/members/show/175

Ted Kennedy

Ted Kennedy
Tragic diagnosis: Get well Senator!

Google doodle - Jonathan Melle Internet search

Google doodle - Jonathan Melle Internet search
http://blogsearch.google.com/blogsearch?hl=en&q=jonathan+melle+blogurl:http://jonathanmelleonpolitics.blogspot.com/&ie=UTF-8

John Forbes Kerry

John Forbes Kerry
Billionaire U.S. Senator gives address to MCLA graduates in North Adams, Massachusetts in mid-May 2008

Andrea Nuciforo

Andrea Nuciforo
"Luciforo"

A Red Sox Fan in Paris, France

A Red Sox Fan in Paris, France
Go Red Sox!

Rinaldo Del Gallo III

Rinaldo Del Gallo III
Interviewed on local TV

Andrea Nuciforo

Andrea Nuciforo
Luciforo!

John Adams

John Adams
#2 U.S. President

Jonathan Melle

Jonathan Melle
I stood under a tree on the afternoon of May 9, 2008, on the foregrounds of the NH State House - www.websitetoolbox.com/tool/post/nhinsider/vpost?id=2967773

Jonathan Melle

Jonathan Melle
Inside the front lobby of the NH State House

Jonathan Melle

Jonathan Melle
Bill Clinton campaign memorabilia

Jonathan Melle

Jonathan Melle
Liberty Bell & NH State House

Jon Keller

Jon Keller
Boston based political analyst

Jon Keller

Jon Keller
Boston based political analyst

Jonathan Melle

Jonathan Melle
Franklin Pierce Statue #14 U.S. President

Jonathan Melle

Jonathan Melle
NH State House

Jonathan Melle

Jonathan Melle
Stop the War NOW!

Jonathan Melle

Jonathan Melle
"Mr. Melle, tear down this Blog!"

Jonathan Melle

Jonathan Melle
I stood next to a JFK photo

Jonathan Levine, Publisher

Jonathan Levine, Publisher
The Pittsfield Gazette Online

Jonathan Melle

Jonathan Melle
I made rabbit ears with John & George

Jonathan Melle

Jonathan Melle
I made antenna ears with John & George

Jonathan Melle

Jonathan Melle
I impersonated Howard Dean

Jonathan Melle

Jonathan Melle
mock-voting

Jonathan Melle

Jonathan Melle
pretty ladies -/- Go to: http://www.wgir.com/cc-common/cc_photopop20.html?eventID=28541&pagecontent=&pagenum=4 - Go to: http://current.com/items/88807921_veterans_should_come_first_not_last# - http://www.mcam23.com/cgi-bin/cutter.cgi?c_function=STREAM?c_feature=EDIT?dir_catagory=10MorningRadio?dir_folder=2JoesClips?dir_file=JonathanMelle-090308? -

Jonathan Melle

Jonathan Melle
Go Red Sox! Me at Fenway Park

Mary E. Carey

Mary E. Carey
My favorite journalist! Her voice sings for the Voiceless. -/- Go to: http://aboutamherst.blogspot.com/search?q=melle -/- Go to: http://ongeicocaveman.blogspot.com/search?q=melle

Velvet Jesus

Velvet Jesus
Mary Carey blogs about my political writings. This is a picture of Jesus from her childhood home in Pittsfield, Massachusetts. -//- "How Can I Keep From Singing" : My life goes on in endless song / Above Earth's lamentations, / I hear the real, though far-off hymn / That hails a new creation. / / Through all the tumult and the strife / I hear its music ringing, / It sounds an echo in my soul. / How can I keep from singing? / / Whey tyrants tremble in their fear / And hear their death knell ringing, / When friends rejoice both far and near / How can I keep from singing? / / In prison cell and dungeon vile / Our thoughts to them are winging / When friends by shame are undefiled / How can I keep from singing?

www.truthdig.com

www.truthdig.com
www.truthdig.com

Jonathan Melle

Jonathan Melle
Concord NH

The Huffington Post

The Huffington Post
http://fundrace.huffingtonpost.com/neighbors.php?type=loc&newest=1&addr=&zip=01201&search=Search

Barack Obama

Barack Obama
smiles & beer

Jonathan Lothrop

Jonathan Lothrop
A Pittsfield City Councilor

Michael L. Ward

Michael L. Ward
A Pittsfield City Councilor

Peter Marchetti - Pittsfield's City Councilor at Large

Peter Marchetti - Pittsfield's City Councilor at Large
Pete always sides with the wealthy's political interests.

Gerald Lee - Pittsfield's City Council Prez

Gerald Lee - Pittsfield's City Council Prez
Gerald Lee told me that I am a Social Problem; Lee executes a top-down system of governance.

Matt Kerwood - Pittsfield's Councilor at Large

Matt Kerwood - Pittsfield's Councilor at Large
Kerwood poured coffee drinks for Jane Swift

Louis Costi

Louis Costi
Pittsfield City Councilor

Lewis Markham

Lewis Markham
Pittsfield City Councilor

Kevin Sherman - Pittsfield City Councilor

Kevin Sherman - Pittsfield City Councilor
Sherman ran for Southern Berkshire State Rep against Smitty Pignatelli; Sherman is a good guy.

Anthony Maffuccio

Anthony Maffuccio
Pittsfield City Councilor

Linda Tyer

Linda Tyer
Pittsfield City Councilor

Daniel Bianchi

Daniel Bianchi
A Pittsfield City Councilor

The Democratic Donkey

The Democratic Donkey
Democratic Party Symbol

Paramount

Paramount
What is Paramount to you?

NH's Congresswoman

NH's Congresswoman
Carol Shea-Porter, Democrat

Sam Adams Beer

Sam Adams Beer
Boston Lager

Ratatouille

Ratatouille
Disney Animation

Ruberto Details Plans for Success - January 07, 2008

Ruberto Details Plans for Success - January 07, 2008
"Luciforo" swears in Mayor Ruberto. Pittsfield Politics at its very worst: 2 INSIDER POWERBROKERS! Where is Carmen Massimiano? He must be off to the side.

Abe

Abe
Lincoln

Optimus Prime

Optimus Prime
Leader of the Autobots

Optimus Prime

Optimus Prime
1984 Autobot Transformer Leader

Cleanup Agreements - GE & Pittsfield's PCBs toxic waste sites

Cleanup Agreements - GE & Pittsfield's PCBs toxic waste sites
www.epa.gov/region1/ge/cleanupagreement.html

GE/Housatonic River Site: Introduction

GE/Housatonic River Site: Introduction
www.epa.gov/region1/ge/

GE/Housatonic River Site - Reports

GE/Housatonic River Site - Reports
www.epa.gov/region1/ge/thesite/opca-reports.html

US EPA - Contact - Pittsfield's PCBs toxic waste sites

US EPA - Contact -  Pittsfield's PCBs toxic waste sites
www.epa.gov/region1/ge/contactinfo.html

GE Corporate Logo - Pittsfield's PCBs toxic waste sites

GE Corporate Logo - Pittsfield's PCBs toxic waste sites
www.epa.gov/region1/ge/index.html

Commonwealth Connector

Commonwealth Connector
Commonwealth Care

Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts

Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts
Healthcare Reform

Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts

Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts
Healthcare Reform

Network Health Forward - A Commonwealth Care Plan

Network Health Forward - A Commonwealth Care Plan
Massachusetts Health Reform

Network Health Together: A MassHealth Plan - Commonwealth Care

Network Health Together: A MassHealth Plan - Commonwealth Care
Massachusetts Health Reform

www.network-health.org

www.network-health.org
Massachusetts Health Reform

Neighborhood Health Plan - Commonwealth Care

Neighborhood Health Plan - Commonwealth Care
Massachusetts Health Reform

Fallon Community Health Plan - Commonwealth Care

Fallon Community Health Plan - Commonwealth Care
Massachusetts Health Reform

BMC HealthNet Plan

BMC HealthNet Plan
Massachusetts Health Reform

Massachusetts Health Reform

Massachusetts Health Reform
Eligibility Chart: 2007

Harvard Pilgrim Healthcare

Harvard Pilgrim Healthcare
Massachusetts Health Reform

Business Peaks

Business Peaks
Voodoo Economics

Laffer Curve - Corporate Elite

Laffer Curve - Corporate Elite
Reagonomics: Supply Side

Corporate Elite Propaganda

Corporate Elite Propaganda
Mock Liberal Democratic Socialism Thinking

Real Estate Blues

Real Estate Blues
www.boston.com/bostonglobe/magazine/2008/0316/

PEACE

PEACE
End ALL Wars!

Freedom of Speech

Freedom of Speech
Norman Rockwell's World War II artwork depicting America's values

Abraham Lincoln

Abraham Lincoln
A young Abe Lincoln

RACHEL KAPRIELIAN

RACHEL KAPRIELIAN
www.openmass.org/members/show/218 - www.rachelkaprielian.com

Jennifer M. Callahan - Massachusetts State Representative

Jennifer M. Callahan - Massachusetts State Representative
www.openmass.org/members/show/164 - www.boston.com/news/local/articles/2008/05/04/legislator_describes_threat_as_unnerving/

Human Rights for ALL Peoples!

Human Rights for ALL Peoples!
My #1 Political Belief!

Anne Frank

Anne Frank
Amsterdam, Netherlands, Europe

A young woman Hillary supporter

A young woman Hillary supporter
This excellent picture captures a youth's excitement

Hillary Clinton with Natalie Portman

Hillary Clinton with Natalie Portman
My favorite Actress!

Alan Chartock

Alan Chartock
WAMC public radio in Albany, NY; Political columnist who writes about Berkshire County area politics; Strong supporter for Human Rights for ALL Peoples

OpenCongress.Org

OpenCongress.Org
This web-site uses some of my Blog postings

OpenMass.org

OpenMass.org
This web-site uses some of my blog postings!

Shannon O'Brien

Shannon O'Brien
One of my favorite politicians! She stands for the People first!

The Massachusetts State House

The Massachusetts State House
"The Almighty Golden Dome" - www.masslegislature.tv -

Sara Hathaway

Sara Hathaway
Former Mayor of Pittsfield, Massachusetts

Andrea F. Nuciforo, Jr.

Andrea F. Nuciforo, Jr.
A corrupt Pol who tried to put me in Jail

Andrea F. Nuciforo, Jr.

Andrea F. Nuciforo, Jr.
Another view of Pittsfield's inbred, multigenerational political prince. Luciforo!

Luciforo

Luciforo
Nuciforo's nickname

"Andy" Nuciforo

"Andy" Nuciforo
Luciforo!

Carmen C. Massimiano, Jr., Berkshire County Sheriff (Jailer)

Carmen C. Massimiano, Jr., Berkshire County Sheriff (Jailer)
Nuciforo's henchman! Nuciforo tried to send me to Carmen's Jail

Andrea Nuciforo Jr

Andrea Nuciforo Jr
Shhh! Luciforo's other job is working as a private attorney defending wealthy Boston-area corporate insurance companies

Berkshire County Sheriff (Jailer) Carmen C. Massimiano, Jr.

Berkshire County Sheriff (Jailer) Carmen C. Massimiano, Jr.
Nuciforo tried to send me to Carmen's Jail! Carmen sits with the Congressman, John Olver

Congressman John Olver

Congressman John Olver
Nuciforo's envy

The Dome of the U.S. Capitol

The Dome of the U.S. Capitol
Our Beacon of American Democracy

Nuciforo's architect

Nuciforo's architect
Mary O'Brien in red with scarf

Sara Hathaway (www.brynmawr.edu)

Sara Hathaway (www.brynmawr.edu)
Former-Mayor of Pittsfield, Massachusetts; Nuciforo intimidated her, along with another woman, from running in a democratic state election in the Spring of 2006!

Andrea F. Nuciforo II

Andrea F. Nuciforo II
Pittsfield Politics

Berkshire County Republican Association

Berkshire County Republican Association
Go to: www.fcgop.blogspot.com

Denis Guyer

Denis Guyer
Dalton State Representative

John Forbes Kerry & Denis Guyer

John Forbes Kerry & Denis Guyer
U.S. Senator & State Representative

John Kerry

John Kerry
Endorses Barack Obama for Prez then visits Berkshire County

Dan Bosley

Dan Bosley
A Bureaucrat impostering as a Legislator!

Ben Downing

Ben Downing
Berkshire State Senator

Christopher N Speranzo

Christopher N Speranzo
Pittsfield's ANOINTED State Representative

Peter J. Larkin

Peter J. Larkin
Corrupt Lobbyist

GE - Peter Larkin's best friend!

GE - Peter Larkin's best friend!
GE's FRAUDULENT Consent Decree with Pittsfield, Massachusetts, will end up KILLING many innocent school children & other local residents!

GE's CEO Jack Welch

GE's CEO Jack Welch
The Corporate System's Corporate Elite's King

Economics: Where Supply meets Demand

Economics: Where Supply meets Demand
Equilibrium

GE & Pittsfield, Massachusetts

GE & Pittsfield, Massachusetts
In 2007, GE sold its Plastics Division to a Saudi company. Now all that is left over by GE are its toxic PCB pollutants that cause cancer in many Pittsfield residents.

Mayor James M Ruberto

Mayor James M Ruberto
A small-time pol chooses to serve the corporate elite & other elites over the people.

Governor Deval Patrick

Governor Deval Patrick
Deval shakes hands with Mayors in Berkshire County

Deval Patrick

Deval Patrick
Governor of Massachusetts

Pittsfield High School

Pittsfield High School
Pittsfield, Massachusetts

Sara Hathaway

Sara Hathaway
Pittsfield's former Mayor

Rinaldo Del Gallo III

Rinaldo Del Gallo III
Pittsfield Attorney focusing on Father's Rights Probate Court Legal Issues, & Local Politician and Political Observer

Rinaldo Del Gallo III

Rinaldo Del Gallo III
Very Intelligent Political Activists in Pittsfield, Massachusetts. Rinaldo Del Gallo, III, Esq. is the spokesperson of the Berkshire Fatherhood Coalition. He has been practicing family law and has been a member of the Massachusetts bar since 1996.

Mayor Ed Reilly

Mayor Ed Reilly
He supports Mayor Ruberto & works as a municipal Attorney. As Mayor, he backed Bill Weld for Governor in 1994, despite being a Democrat. He was joined by Carmen Massimiano & John Barrett III, the long-standing Mayor of North Adams.

Manchester, NH Mayor Frank Guinta

Manchester, NH Mayor Frank Guinta
Cuts Dental Care for Public School Children-in-Need

Manchester, NH City Hall

Manchester, NH City Hall
My new hometown - view from Hanover St. intersection with Elm St.

Manchester NH City Democrats

Manchester NH City Democrats
Go Dems!

2008 Democratic Candidates for U.S. Prez

2008 Democratic Candidates for U.S. Prez
Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, Mike Gravel, Dennis Kucinich, John Edwards

NH State House Dome

NH State House Dome
Concord, NH

Donna Walto

Donna Walto
Pittsfield Politician -- She strongly opposes Mayor Jim Ruberto's elitist tenure.

Elmo

Elmo
Who doesn't LOVE Elmo?

Hillary Clinton for U.S. President!

Hillary Clinton for U.S. President!
Hillary is for Children. She is my choice in 2008.

The White House in 1800

The White House in 1800
Home of our Presidents of the United States

John Adams

John Adams
2nd President of the USA

Hillary Clinton stands with John Edwards and Joe Biden

Hillary Clinton stands with John Edwards and Joe Biden
Hillary is my choice for U.S. President!

Bill Clinton

Bill Clinton
Former President Bill Clinton speaks at the Radisson in Manchester NH 11/16/2007

Barack Obama

Barack Obama
U.S. Senator & Candidate for President

Pittsfield's 3 Women City Councillors - 2004

Pittsfield's 3 Women City Councillors - 2004
Linda Tyer, Pam Malumphy, Tricia Farley-Bouvier

Wahconah Park in Pittsfield, Massachusetts

Wahconah Park in Pittsfield, Massachusetts
My friend Brian Merzbach reviews baseball parks around the nation.

The Corporate Elite: Rational Incentives for only the wealthy

The Corporate Elite: Rational Incentives for only the wealthy
The Elites double their $ every 6 to 8 years, while the "have-nots" double their $ every generation (or 24 years). Good bye Middle Class!

George Will

George Will
The human satellite voice for the Corporate Elite

Elizabeth Warren

Elizabeth Warren
The Anti-George Will; Harvard Law School Professor; The Corporate Elite's Worst Nightmare

The Flag of The Commonwealth of Massachusetts

The Flag of The Commonwealth of Massachusetts
I was born and raised in Pittsfield, Massachusetts

State Senator Stan Rosenberg

State Senator Stan Rosenberg
Democratic State Senator from Amherst, Massachusetts -/- Anti-Stan Rosenberg Blog: rosenbergwatch.blogspot.com

Ellen Story

Ellen Story
Amherst Massachusetts' State Representative

Teen Pregnancy in Pittsfield, Mass.

Teen Pregnancy in Pittsfield, Mass.
Books are being written on Pittsfield's high teen pregancy rates! What some intellectuals do NOT understand about the issue is that TEEN PREGNANCIES in Pittsfield double the statewide average by design - Perverse Incentives!

NH Governor John Lynch

NH Governor John Lynch
Supports $30 Scratch Tickets and other forms of regressive taxation. Another Pol that only serves his Corporate Elite Masters instead of the People!

U.S. Congresswoman Carol Shea Porter

U.S. Congresswoman Carol Shea Porter
The first woman whom the People of New Hampshire have voted in to serve in U.S. Congress

U.S. Congressman Paul Hodes

U.S. Congressman Paul Hodes
A good man who wants to bring progressive changes to Capitol Hill!

Paul Hodes for U.S. Congress

Paul Hodes for U.S. Congress
New Hampshire's finest!

Darth Vader

Darth Vader
Star Wars

Dick Cheney & George W. Bush

Dick Cheney & George W. Bush
The Gruesome Two-some! Stop the Neo-Cons' fascism! End the Iraq War NOW!

WAROPOLY

WAROPOLY
The Inequity of Globalism

Bushopoly!

Bushopoly!
The Corporate Elite have redesigned "The System" to enrich themselves at the expense of the people, masses, have-nots, poor & middle-class families

George W. Bush with Karl Rove

George W. Bush with Karl Rove
Rove was a political strategist with extraordinary influence within the Bush II White House

2008's Republican Prez-field

2008's Republican Prez-field
John McCain, Alan Keyes, Rudy Guiliani, Duncan Hunter, Mike Huckabee, WILLARD Mitt Romney, Fred Thompson, Ron Paul

Fall in New England

Fall in New England
Autumn is my favorite season

Picturing America

Picturing America
picturingamerica.neh.gov

Winter Weather Map

Winter Weather Map
3:45PM EST 3-Dec-07

Norman Rockwell Painting

Norman Rockwell Painting
Thanksgiving

Norman Rockwell Painting

Norman Rockwell Painting
Depiction of American Values in mid-20th Century America

Larry Bird #33

Larry Bird #33
My favorite basketball player of my childhood

Boston Celtics Basketball - 2007-2008

Boston Celtics Basketball - 2007-2008
Kevin Garnett hugs James Posey

Paul Pierce

Paul Pierce
All heart! Awesome basketball star for The Boston Celtics.

Tom Brady

Tom Brady
Go Patriots!

Rupert Murdoch

Rupert Murdoch
Owner of Fox News - CORPORATE ELITE!

George Stephanopolous

George Stephanopolous
A Corporate Elite Political News Analyst

Robert Redford

Robert Redford
Starred in the movie "Lions for Lambs"

Meryl Streep

Meryl Streep
Plays a jaded journalist with integrity in the movie "Lions for Lambs"

Tom Cruise

Tom Cruise
Tom Cruise plays the Neo-Con D.C. Pol purely indoctrinated by the Corporate Elite's political agenda in the Middle East

CHARLIZE THERON

CHARLIZE THERON
"I want to say I've never been surrounded by so many fake breasts, but I went to the Academy Awards."