Massachusetts is at a crossroads, and in dire need of change.
People and businesses are dealing with round after round of tax hikes. Services once were covered by those taxes now require "fees." And residents of Gloucester, towns around Cape Ann, and communities across the state are all being told their communities cannot afford adequate fire and other safety protection anymore — even as their tax bills rise.
Government is growing ever more costly and we're getting less and less for our money. State budget shortfalls have topped a billion dollars and our unfunded pension liability is $22 billion.
This has to change. And change starts with overturning a political class that is all-too-happy with the status quo.
That change should start with electing a governor who's not satisfied with doing things the way they've always been done, who knows that minor reforms are not enough. Changing the entrenched political culture of Massachusetts must start with electing Charlie Baker as governor when you go to the polls next Tuesday.
Baker is a leader who can get things done. As chief executive at Harvard Pilgrim Health Care, he turned around a struggling insurer and put the company back on a sound financial footing. Under his leadership, Harvard Pilgrim Health Care was ranked the highest in the nation among health insurers for customer satisfaction.
Baker was a force for reform in the Weld-Cellucci administration, and served as Secretary for Administration and Finance from 1994 to 1998. There, he streamlined the state's purchasing system and updated regulations.
Democrats have tried to blame Baker for the huge cost overruns of Boston's Central Artery Project, the infamous "Big Dig." But remember that Baker was involved with the project for all of four years of its 26-year history, and struggled to balance the rising cost of the project with declining federal support. Blaming Baker for the entirety of the Big Dig's costs makes little sense — even if it does produce a politically useful sound byte.
Baker's avowed focus as governor will be to get state spending under control. He proposes capping state pensions at $90,000 a year, and eliminating the practice of determining pension levels by the three highest-paid years of state employment. Baker would calculate pensions by the average over the employee's entire career.
Baker vows to promote business growth by lowering taxes, encouraging the expansion that will put people back to work. He wants to lower both the state income and sales taxes to 5 percent, granting taxpayers some much needed relief.
Let's face it, if choosing a governor were a matter of selecting the more likeable personality, Gov. Deval Patrick would likely win hands-down. Patrick is intelligent and amiable; no one questions that.
There is also a case to be made that many of the state's problems — fiscal and otherwise — are rooted in the Legislature. And many city and town officials tout Patrick's quiet support for pulling them through hard times locally — including Gloucester Mayor Carolyn Kirk, who, while endorsing Patrick last week, especially cited the governor's support for the city's acquisition of the long-dormant I-4, C-2 site this summer, a potential linchpin of the city waterfront's future.
Yet, when Gloucester needed true leadership facing down its most divisive issue in years — the launch of a new charter school — Patrick has come up short.
Yes, he has twice urged the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education to revisit its approval, and they have refused. But remember that it was Patrick's Education Secretary, who pushed for the bogus approval to simply advance the governor's education "agenda."
Did Reville do that with the governor's backing? Did he do it on his own? Which is worse: that Patrick viewed his education agenda with a higher priority than what's best for Gloucester kids — or that his leadership paths aren't even followed by his appointees?
Patrick, to his credit, has stood up for Gloucester's and New England's fishermen. But Baker has vowed to do the same, and there is no reason to believe he won't continue that fight.
But fishing regulations, after all, need the kind of reform on the federal level that Massachusetts needs across so many realms.
That requires a strong, committed leader and reformer.
It requires a governor like Charlie Baker.