"Will the election of Charlie Baker as governor improve Massachusetts?"
During his campaign, Governor-elect Charlie Baker promised to smartly reform government spending, reduce the supposed culture of dependency and abuse in the welfare system, and never, ever raise taxes. He argued that his experiences in the Weld and Cellucci administrations and private sector made him uniquely qualified to deliver on those promises and tackle the state’s most pressing, complex issues. But tackling these issues takes much more than flimsy campaign rhetoric, and his track record as a policymaker suggests that he won’t be up to the task.
Perhaps the state’s most pressing, complex issue is its rising homelessness and lack of affordable housing. Presently, the state’s Emergency Assistance program is overwhelmed, and it shelters over 1,600 families in hotels at high cost.
On his campaign website, Baker described himself as a homelessness advocate in the Weld and Cellucci administrations. He lauded their austerity reforms that favored short-term support assistance as a blueprint for addressing the issue, noting they reduced the number of families sheltered in hotels to zero.
But housing advocates in the state say those administrations’ steep cuts to long-term housing assistance, like the Massachusetts Rental Voucher Program, largely caused the sharp increases in both homelessness and spending on the EA program since. Instead of thereforms Baker proposes, what’s needed is increased funding to long-term support programs (like MRVP) that keep families in their homes.
Therein lies the rub: when a government’s funding is constrained by a no-new-taxes pledge, it’s often rendered ineffective. This is a lesson Baker should have learned--but apparently did not--during his tenure as Secretary of Administration and Finance in the tax-averse Cellucci administration, when he borrowed heavily to cover the Big Dig’s cost overruns. As a result, Massachusetts taxpayers will pay for those costs for decades--until 2038.
I suspect that Baker failed to learn many valuable lessons from his tenure as CEO at Harvard Pilgrim Health Care. Though he touts its profitability during his leadership as a success, Baker often neglects to mention how he slashed and outsourced hundreds of jobs and significantly increased premiums, while tripling his own salary. Tackling the state’s high healthcare costs and recent bureaucratic messiness will surely require a very different sort of executive leadership.
And so, I don’t think Baker’s election will improve Massachusetts. But nonetheless, as he prepares to take office, the Governor-elect deserves our good will. And for the sake of the Commonwealth, I hope he proves doubters like me wrong.