Thursday, May 18, 2006

Notes From Tonight's Debate

Here are my notes from tonight's gubernatorial debate. I had thought about liveblogging, but perhaps my blog-foo is not quite up to that level yet. Here's the next best thing, looking at my notes!

Before that, though, here are some of my general impressions. Chris Gabrieli came off pretty well, he mostly answered the questions asked instead of the questions he wished were asked, and he got in a couple good shots at Healey in absentia. Deval Patrick also did well, though it's harder for me to judge how he did because I've heard a lot of what he had to say before. I understand he's still introducing himself to the state, so what I think is less important than what people who don't follow him obsessively think. Tom Reilly started off weak but finished stronger. I thought he dodged some of the questions he was asked, which is a pet peeve of mine. He would not say what he would cut, but kept insisting that the money was there already for everything, and implied that it would be forever. Still, he talked about his public sector experience, which is what sets him apart from the other candidates on the stage. Christy Mihos did the worst, I thought, though he did stick pretty well to his talking point about taxes being too high yet cities and towns need more money. He may yet appeal to people who don't see the inherent contradiction in that and who like their politicians a little unpolished, but I wasn't impressed. Also, he seemed to think that Massachusetts has the power to break up oil companies, which I found perplexing.

Anyhow, here are the notes I wrote while watching. They're pretty raw, but I tried to be as comprehensive as I could. Also, check out the Harvard Dems liveblog of the debate for more reactions.

UPDATE: On second thought, who needs my notes when the Globe has the transcript? Here's Part I and Part II. My stuff is still below the fold.

Full Debate Notes Inside...

RD Sahl: There are 800 people in the live audience. There will be two rounds: 1st journalists, then moderated discussion.

Alison King: 1st question to Chris Gabrieli. Mass ranked 45th in job growth, what do you know about creating jobs? What specific proposals do you have?

CG: I started my own company from scratch. Those companies have created jobs. I feel pretty confident. We have to invest in jobs. I propose we put money into stem cell research, renewable energy, jobs of the future.

Q: Do you believe the gov has control over job creation?

CG: There is an opp. for state govt to invest.

Ken Cooper to Christy Mihos: State cannot meet transportation budget w/out raising tolls. What would you do?

CM: I'm going to take the tolls on the pike down. The money is there on Beacon Hill. We've had a budget surplus for three years. The rainy day fund is great. The state has all the money it needs. What it doesn't need is all the special interests to rally around that pot of money. The money needs to go to cities and towns. I don't believe them.

Q: You would use the entire surplus for transportation?

CM: No, the surplus has to go back into local aid. The Rom/Heal admin has starved cities and towns. At the same time they've raised fees, fines and taxes. That's why people are leaving the state.

Robert Keough to Deval Patrick. Smart growth. No cities and towns have adopted it.

DP: Issue of real urgency. We've lost population. High cost of housing is the #1 reason they're leaving. Developers find it hard to get going, to make it through the approval process. The lege just took steps to streamline. We need to increase local aid to help cities/towns with burden of extra families. #2 need public transportation -- reach out to cheaper housing markets.

Q: Should additional aid be conditioned on housing?

DP: Should be conditioned on planning. In terms of housing, transportation, etc. We don't do a good enough job on planning.

Bob Oakes to Tom Reilly: You've switched position on the tax rollback. It'll cost us. Can you tell us what you're willing to short-fund for that $4 a week savings?

TR: First of all, it's terrible that Kerry Healey is not here. I believe that taxes are too high. I'm not just talking about property taxes. People are hurting. We don't have a deficit. We have extra revenues. I believe there are savings to be had in government. But the best way and most solid way.

Q: You've said voters made it clear they want their taxes rolled back. This was in 2000, but you only recently changed your position?

TR: We were in a period with terrible deficits. We're not in that period now. This is the right time.

Scot Hellman to Gabreili: Population loss would be greater if not for immigrants. What would you do to prepare them for the workforce?

CG: We have a large legal immigrant population. We've been the most dependent state in the nation on legal immigration. Why is there a waiting list for ESL classes? It's cheap and easy and pays off. Anything we do in creating jobs is what we do to make those people succeed.

Q: Is it worth the investment?

CG: Absolutely. It's short dollars. When a person has high skills but poor english, they get a job at their English level.

Alison King to Mihos: "call me Christy" Do you favor waiving the gas tax over the summer. You sell gas. Do you support the propsal?

CM: I talked about this last year. I get a worm's eye view of what is happening. People are hurting because they're buying just enough gas to get to work and get home. We're in tough shame. Gas at $3 a gallon is anathema. I would favor relief in the short term.

Q: But are we encouraging people to use more gas?

CM: People have to get to work and they have to get home. What would I do? Carter proposed an energy czar. Nothing has happened to energy policy since them. It's time to break up the oil companies.

Ken Cooper to Patrick: You talked about the permitting approval process. The state also has a rep for protecting open space & environment. How would you balance?

DP: We have wonderful open spaces. We have cultivated a village-like approach. Smart growth is a good idea without good execution. Adequate investment in clustered housing or environmental stewardship is a false choice. We can balance.

Q: What about businesses?

DP: When we were at Coke, we dealt with reg approval all over the world. In many places we were taken by the hand and walked through it. We can do that here and we can do it without sacrificing the enviroment.

Robert Keough to Reilly: Job growth needs to be priority. Everyone else has private sector exp. What about you?

TR: I saved a lot of jobs when I saved Harvard Pilgram. Not one person was denied care. I made a difference. In terms of job growth, we have to do something about the cost of business. We have to cut down the red tape, which is driving businesses out. I'll be a cheerleader. We haven't had that. I'll be fighting to keep businesses here.

Q: How do we keep down health care costs?

TR: I've taken on the tough fights throughout my career. We have to deal with admin costs. 1/3 of costs are paperwork. There are billions of dollars to be saved.

Bob Oakes to Gabrieli: Stem cell plan. You're floating $1 billion bond. Some say it's always a waste of money, throwing it at yesterday's technologies by the time it's implemented.

CG: Stem cell research holds out the highest hope for diabetes cure. Romney was going to make it a felony in MA. It's the wrong thing to do to block it. We create jobs in the process of doing it, building facilities. There's a gap in funding. This is the cutting edge. State gov't needs to step in, because the feds won't.

Q: How do you make sure the money's not wasted? How do you avoid CA problems? The CA plan has been held up in court, there's no oversight, etc.

CG: We have a history of peer review. This is a state that is filled with people who know about the science. I'd have an oversight board. If by the time it comes around, they don't think it's the right thing to do, change it.

Scott Hellman to Mihos: You plan to freeze property taxes at the rate when they bought the house. Wouldn't it reduce the revenue for cities and towns? Isn't it unfair to those who are buying now?

CM: No.

Q: Why not?

CM: I'd increase local aid. Cities and towns can't wait. They can stop firing teachers. No pub. school child should have to pay for extra-curricular activities.

Q: A new resident will be paying very different rates than their neighbor, even if they live in a similar house though? Isn't that unfair?

CM: But it's fair to the elderly. They've chosen to stay. No it isn't unfair.

Alison King to Patrick: You said you have no intention of raising taxes, but you've said you'd consider raising taxes. Which is it?

DP: I won't raise the income tax. 5.3% is what we need to live in to restore local aid. My issue is how we get past gimmicks as a way to govern, and how we pay for the challenges we face. People don't have trust in the government. Look at the big dig, it's small wonder that people are not trusting us with their money. But we need money for the services people want,

Q: Isn't that disingenuous?

DP: I have no plans to raise taxes. I was interested in the cigarette taxes when that was part of the health plan, but that's off the table now.

Ken Cooper to Reilly: You haven an energy plan with a goal to reduce costs of energy. it's hard to see that happening without add. supplies. LNG terminals run in to trouble. Producers have no incentive to build more. How do you meet energy needs?

TR: Wind Farm is a huge ripoff. Sound is going to be given to private developer for nothing. We do need to increase LNG. You don't do it in Fall River. You site it in appropriate places.

Q: Do you have a proper place for an LNG place in mind?

TR: Someplace not in close proximity. Doesn't have to be in Massachusetts, could be anywhere in New England. *Audience laughter*

ROUND 2 -- R. D. Sahl moderating

The flood: We're still cleaning up. No one believes in the federal dollars. What is the proper role of the state?

TR: This is where experience kicks in. I've had experience. First thing is to go there and do an assessment, then access fed. funds. These are our citizens. The state has to help people. Whatever it's going to take to get them back on their feet. We want as much help as we can get from the feds.

Would you tap the rainy day fund?

TR: We have $500 million.

Would you give up the tax rollback to help Haverhill?

TR: There is money to do it already.

DP: Part of it is showing up. I managed the response to attacks on black churches in the south. I understand how to get the most out of govt. There seems to be a responsibility to investigate root causes. There are dams failing that ought not fail. We've been starving cities and towns & infrastructure.

Would you tap the rainy day fund?

DP: If necessary, yes. Must respond to the emergency.

CG: 1st thing I wouldn't do is showboat for national cameras saying they would prevent looting. I agree with Deval. Last year we saw dams weren't being inspected. What happened? there's been knoweldge for a while that we've got a problem in Peabody. There's been a lack of leadership. The admin is proud when they fight the lege.

Where does the money come from?

CG: State money, there's plenty of money for emergency situations. They do it through sup. budget. It doesn't have the scale to be a budget buster. This is a prevention issue -- a lack of leadership issue.

CM: I would do exactly what Romney is doing. He's looking to FEMA, MEMA. I take the Gov. at his word. He's going to work to get fed funds. I'd work to do the same thing.

DP: I think it's a good think the gov has sheltered Katrina victims. But it's a shame he doesn't help out people here.

Job creation is currently focused on Boston. What will you do day one to show that you're gov. of the entire state when it comes to job creation.

TR: I'm going to bring Springfield together, come up with a business plan that makes sure that Springfield makes it. Bankruptcy is not an option. There's tremendous potential in these areas. There's an entrepreneurial spirit.

We know people want to go to work, but we know that the life science industry is not building things in Springfield.

CG: Gov. has created regional boards, they haven't done anything. Proposed to do research at UMass Med in Worcester. Need to stretch the benefits to Worcester. Need to connect up these places better by train, by commuting or by putting things there. We need to increase the use of the old mills in Lawrence.

How do we broaden it? Research isn't beind done in Pittsfield.

DP: Life science is important, but not enough. If you believe in MA you can sell the state. In Springfield, which is crying out for jobs, there is a biomass opportunity, because of its proximity to forest. The next thing is cultivating industry around renewable energy. The whole world becomes our customer. It's one of the reasons to support the wind farm.

CM: Nothing changes until the burden on the homeowners is relieved. CEOs won't move here if workers can't afford to live here. In ME, they can put three cars on the road for the price of one in MA. That's just one example of fees. The state is unaffordable. Beacon Hill is burying the middle class.

Part of that is to pay people more money? Should we raise the minimum wage?

CM: I would rather not have people tell me what wages I have to pay. I'm not going to hold down anyone's wage. The next increase should be an affordable heath care plan that we can give our people.

How do we get people's incomes up?

CG: What drives econ. growth and jobs? The #1 driver is the rate of innovation. The #2 is human capital. The south coast has the lowest college graduate rate. How do we get people to raise their skills? We need to change schools. We need to

DP: I support the increase in the wage, but most people can't live on $8.25 an hour. How do we make the economy better? It's never one thing. We need to fix housing. We do have to be about an innovation economy. Cultivating an energy economy. Consistently excellent public ed system, pre-K through higher ed. Stem cell should be done in Public Universities.

TR: I support min. wage & keying it to inflation. Key to economy is skilled workforce. Support math and science in schools. We have to do it in pub. Universities. We are not going to create jobs until we get rid of red tape that is stopping growth & development. It can take 5 years to get a project approved. More supportive to business economy.

MCAS -- New Bedford opted to give general diplomas.

CG: No. The right thing to do is get those kids those skills. We're not graduating enough kids with those skills. I support the MCAS. Why aren't we getting kids in our poorest communities to proficiency? Why do we live with a school system that's 100 years old? It doesn't work.

DP: The MCAS is not the issue, it's that we take the MCAS and slap it on a school system that's already overstrained. All day kindergarden, typical class size is 11 children. Mandatory after-school. Their MCAS scores are off the charts, but it's not as important because they pay attention to the whole child.

TR: No. These kids need extra help and then they'll pass that bar. Give them help. A lot of kids struggle. One test for everybody. Give them a diploma that means something.

CM: Nothing's sacrosanct. We put billions in ed reform since 1995. At this point, it's coming along, but as long as we don't fund the cities and towns properly, stealing local aid, nothings going to change.


TR: Thanks to everyone! We're going in the wrong direction, it's time for a change. Previous governors have not gotten the job done. Visit my web site. Ideas are just ideas until they become reality. That's where experience comes it. I've been making change my whole career.

DP: Thanks to everyone! I came to MA in 1970 when I was 14 from a poor community. What we had was a sense of community. The adults treated us like they had a stake in us. When I came to MA, I was prepared for the extraordinary opportunities I've had. I see the potential in the commonwealth. They saw it in me.

CG: Thanks to everyone! Jobs & growth, etc. It's no surprise that Healey is not here. They haven't been here for four years. I want to step forward. Give me the opportunity to invest in our state, grow our economy, etc. MA deserves leadership.

CM: Thanks to everyone! We all love MA! It is time for real change. Taxes are just too high and that's why people are leaving. The prop. tax burden is killing the middle class. My prop 1 will rectify this. The tolls must come down. Beacon Hill is not funding education properly.