In Massachusetts politics, we demand two ritualistic promises from our gubernatorial challengers every four years: that they will clean up the Beacon Hill culture, and that they have a magic plan to reduce the state budget by whatever the current projected deficit is.
To date, I don't believe that any candidate's answer to the second part has ever hurt, rather than helped, a candidate. In 2006 Deval Patrick claimed to have a plan to save the needed $150-$300 million through restructuring; four years earlier, Mitt Romney claimed to have identified the needed $1 billion in waste and duplication.
It begs the question: is there a breaking point at which a candidate is so preposterous on the subject it actually hurts his candidacy?
That is the question Charlie Baker -- as knowledgeable and credible on state budget matters as anyone who has ever run --seems determined to answer.
Baker had a press availability today in Peabody, where he was vowing to not cut local aid -- as Deval Patrick has done three years in a row, he says.
This will obviously be tough to do, given the notorious $2 billion+ budget gap projected for FY'12 -- the budget Baker would have to submit roughly three months from now, if he gets elected.
The task is even tougher without new revenues, which Baker has taken off the table -- about a month ago, Baker signed the infamous Americans for Tax Reform "No New Taxes" pledge, in which he vowed to “oppose
and veto any and all efforts to increase taxes.”
But there is also the distinct possibility that Question 3 will pass, reducing the sales tax to 3%. That is projected to remove another $2.5 billion from the budget. Baker opposes it, saying it would place too much strain on the budget.
So at the avail, I asked Baker whether he would set aside the 'no new taxes' pledge if Question 3 passes. He replied that Question 3 passage would "make it incumbent on the legislature" to do what is necessary to reform state government. I followed up, asking again whether he would set aside the tax pledge, and he said no. "I mean it when I made the no new taxes pledge," he said firmly.
It's hard to overstate how dramatically the budget would need to be cut in that scenario. With local aid off the table, along with the obligations under federal, constitutional, and other mandates, there's about $15 billion in the budget; cutting $4.5 billion would be 30% of that.