By Michael Norton
State House News Service
Noting the national jobless rate has dipped below the state's unemployment rate, Republican candidate for lieutenant governor Karyn Polito on Monday night said she has talked with running mate Charlie Baker about easing the state's regulatory burden and pledged a full review of all state agencies if elected.
During an interview on the South Shore radio station WATD-FM, Polito also said the public is fed up with "negative politics," asserting the open race for governor afforded the GOP team an opportunity to discuss their vision rather than focusing on the record of an incumbent seeking re-election.
"Certainly, if we were in office today, we would immediately do a top-to-bottom review of all of the agencies," Polito said. "I think we'd have a better system of perhaps allowing our agencies to talk and communicate and work in a manner more cohesively to deliver services to the Commonwealth."
She continued: "I believe it's really about our future and setting a tone that our state government is accountable, is open for business in a transparent manner and people need to really believe that. I think a lot of people feel about government that it's just not there working at its full potential for them as a taxpayer and we need to get beyond that."
Baker and Polito have discussed an annual review of state regulations with the goal of removing unnecessary rules that impede job growth and permitting. "We have so many regulations on our books in Massachusetts not because they make sense, but just because they're there," she said, touching on a topic that Gov. Deval Patrick's administration has made a periodic focus during his tenure.
Massachusetts ranks near the top among states for high business costs, Polito said, generally identifying taxes, health care, and unemployment insurance as areas where costs could be reduced.
The Democrat-controlled Legislature this year raised taxes to invest in public transportation and passed a major law in 2012 aimed at slowing the growth in health care costs. House leaders are exploring unemployment insurance system changes as part of the ongoing debate over raising the minimum wage.
When he launched his campaign in September, Baker supported the repeal of a sales tax on tech services and the repeal of a new law indexing the gas tax to inflation, but declined to take a no-new-taxes pledge that he agreed to during his 2010 campaign for governor. Baker in September also said he would not reprise his "5-5-5 plan" to lower tax rates on corporations, income and sales to 5 percent across the board.
"I'm a reform before revenue guy and I'm going to be the taxpayers' best friend on that whole question, but one of the things that I learned with respect to the pledge is that if you take the pledge you're basically signing up for the status quo," Baker said in September. He continued, "I would hate to put myself in a position where if we actually came up with a way to simplify and make the tax code more sensible and more business and consumer and people-friendly that somehow I would have a pledge in place that would make it impossible for me to go ahead and execute on that."
State officials last week said economic triggers had been met to force a reduction in the income tax from 5.25 percent to 5.2 percent in January. The lower rate is within striking distance of the 5 percent income tax rate voters approved during the 2000 election, a tax cut that was curtailed during the 2002 recession.
Since losing her race for state treasurer to Democrat Steven Grossman in 2010, Polito said she's been focused on keeping her family business running during "tough years in our economy" and said that work, after 10 years in the House, had helped convince her that "we can do a whole lot better on many levels."
Polito has been president of Polito Development since 2011 and has worked there since 2000. According to her campaign, her work there encompasses property management, permitting and building construction, commercial and industrial leasing and financing. She holds a construction supervisor license, a real estate broker license and has been licensed as an attorney since 1991.
Her great-grandfather, Francesco Polito, immigrated to the U.S. from Sicily in 1909 and settled in the North End of Boston where he started another family business that continues to operate today. According to the campaign, Polito's brother runs that construction business, Joseph A. Polito and Sons.
Reflecting Baker's goals of adding jobs and improving education, Polito said some school districts in Massachusetts are "really struggling" while unemployment in some Massachusetts cities exceeds the state average of 7.2 percent - the U.S. jobless rate fell to 7 percent last week.
"We have so much potential here. We brag about how smart we are and how skilled we are as a population," she said. "Yet . . . look at the city of Lawrence: 15 percent; Worcester and the area that I live is close to 9 percent. Those are staggering numbers in the state like Massachusetts and it just tells me that we've got some work to do," she said.
Without getting into specifics, Polito said "cleaning up the waste" in government programs was another goal. "There's just a lot of things that we're really excited to dig into and to begin developing our plans about and sharing with our voters over the course of the campaign," she said.
Asked about the Department of Transitional Assistance, which has come under fire for abuses, undergone leadership changes and next year could be forced to implement a welfare system reform law, Polito raised what she called an ongoing "crisis" among homeless families forced to stay in motels with their children at a cost to taxpayers of as much as $3,000 per month. She said mothers and their children had been separated from education, job and family connections in urban areas to places like her hometown of Shrewsbury where she said families are staying at the Days Inn.
"I've always held the belief that the best social program is a job," Polito said. "There are many people that are in these tough circumstances that don't want to be in them. And it's our job to help them get to a better place and that's what we'll be working on."
In the 2010 campaign, Baker banked on voters being fed up with conditions in the state and Gov. Patrick's administration, a strategy that proved unsuccessful. With Patrick exiting the Corner Office, Polito said, the campaign will attempt to keep the focus on its goals.
"People are really tired of that blame game, the negative politics," said Polito, whose race with Grossman in 2010 was often heated. "They have a distaste for a lot of their elected leaders who are not standing up and doing what they should be doing like everyone's doing in their own lives, tightening the belts, making ends meet, trying to work really hard for their families. We should raise the bar. And I think Charlie and I together will raise that standard and raise that bar and also raise people's aspirations about what they expect in the leadership of this state and we can do better."
Improving education and creating jobs are common goals shared by the five Democrats running for governor, and while strategies for accomplishing those objectives will play a role in the campaign candidates will also be seeking to distinguish themselves from their opponents on various issues.
Tea Party Republican Mark Fisher, who lives in Polito's hometown of Shrewsbury, plans to challenge Baker for the Republican nomination next year. While Fisher has attracted some media attention, Polito suggested Monday night she was not familiar with him.
"I don't know if there will be others on the Republican side that will step up to really challenge what Charlie and I are teaming up to do," Polito said, noting the process allows for multiple candidates but that Republicans over the past 20 years have a "tradition" of rallying around a single ticket.