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Mass. Governor candidates air views in labor forum

Martin Desmarais | 3/19/2014, 10:36 a.m.
Democrats running for governor took part in a Service Employees International Union forum on Saturday. (l-r) Joe Avellone III, Don Berwick, Martha Coakley, Steve Grossman and Juliette Kayyem.

The five Democrats gunning for the governor’s office were in Dorchester on Saturday for a forum held by the Service Employees International Union at the organization’s headquarters and all candidates pledged to be labor friendly and offered different ways to pay for the state’s needs from increased taxes to boosts from growing the economy to savings from health care reform. The candidates also addressed the hot topic of immigration reform.

The candidates wasted little time as the forum kicked off and jumped right into one of the main issues facing any new governor and the one on the mind of many voters — taxes and the state’s revenue.

Gubernatorial candidate Steve Grossman, the current Massachusetts’ treasurer, said that the state’s revenue, which is tied to the taxes it brings in, can see a big boost with an emphasis on improving the economy.

“The best way of course is to grow the economy,” Grossman said. “As you grow jobs and grow the economy you grow revenue and invest. So growing the economy is the best way to do it.”

He also suggested that the state rely more on public-private partnerships and the state’s business community to help fund some of the crucial priorities Massachusetts has, such as education and infrastructure, as well as looking for ways to save money in the current budget and repurpose the savings to pay for other areas. However, he did not rule out raising taxes.

“I certainly will not take revenue off the table, but if we go the route of revenue, and there is a strong case that can be made for that, we have to make sure that low- and moderate-income families are protected from any increase,” Grossman said. “That means increasing exemptions or changing the circuit breaker for property taxes or increasing the earned income tax credit.”

Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley agreed with Grossman that the economy is the main priority that would increase the state’s ability to fund its priorities and she also said taxes are a viable avenue for increasing state revenue.

“I think that this is a state where people are willing to pitch in and invest in things they care about,” Coakley said.

In her pitch to be the state’s new governor, she also acknowledged that some of the blame for current funding issues lies with the state’s political leaders and the inability to push through the necessary money for important priorities.

“When we haven’t got the funding to deal with things we care about, it is because we haven’t made a good case,” she said.

She pledged to work with legislators, nonprofit organizations and private business to ensure the funding for the state’s needs are met. “We will invest the money we need to and we will get everybody behind it,” she said.

Candidate Don Berwick, a former administrator of the federal Medicare and Medicaid programs, said he would push for a progressive income tax.

“I favor a tax system in this Commonwealth in which people at lower levels of income have lower rates and people at higher levels of income have higher rates. I will fight for that,” Berwick said. “It is simply fair. If we fail to invest in our schools, in our roads, in our energy economy, if we fail to offer entrepreneurs innovation funds so they can get going to create jobs in this state, if we leave people behind we will not have the Commonwealth, the community, that we want to create.”