By Gintautas Dumcius
STATE HOUSE NEWS SERVICE
BOSTON -- While they agreed on considering bringing the Olympics to the Boston area and in worrying about the impact of casinos, Shrewsbury businessman Mark Fisher and former health insurance executive Charlie Baker differed on increases in the minimum wage and whether health care is a basic right, during a forum featuring the two Republican candidates for governor.
Baker said health care is already a basic right under state and federal law. "No one knows when they're going to fall off a ladder or break their leg or God forbid something else, or discover they have cancer," Baker said. "And I think the most important thing we can do to make sure everybody's, quote, covered, with respect to that is to have a system like the one we had here in Massachusetts, where 98 percent of our population was covered."
Fisher, a Tea Party candidate, disagreed. "We have the right to pursue happiness," Fisher said. "And I know people who...feel that happiness for them does not include health insurance. And yet the state forces it upon them or else they have to pay the penalty. I'm not for government-imposed happiness. We decided what happiness is."
The two appeared together at a forum in South Boston's District Hall, answering questions put together by A Better City, the Massachusetts Competitive Partnership and CommonWealth Magazine.
The pair found common ground in opposition to casinos as an economic development vehicle and a bottle bill update.
Asked about an update to the bottle bill, which lawmakers are considering as an update proposal inches closer to the November ballot, Baker said, "I'm with the Speaker [Robert DeLeo] on that one. I think the expansion of the bottle bill is a tax. Let's face it, it is." Baker added that the update would be "nothing more than a revenue grab."
Baker said he would not raise taxes if he's elected governor, though he added he has concerns about a "no new tax" pledge because he said it would imply that he supports the current tax code as written. He said he supports reforming the tax code and would like flexibility to pursue changes.
Fisher said he agreed with Baker on the bottle bill update, and backed allowing the voters decide it as a ballot question.
A repeal of the casino law could also make the ballot, pending the outcome of a ruling on the question's eligibility.
"One of the reasons why the liberal leaders in this state are for casinos is they did not bring real jobs, manufacturing or otherwise, to this state," Fisher said. "So they go with casinos."
Taxpayers who spend money on the state lottery will transfer their spending to casinos, he said.
Baker reiterated his concern about the impact of casinos on retail businesses and restaurants, and his preference for only one casino in the state - the law allows up to three casinos.
"I've never thought of it as a full-blown economic development strategy," Baker said. "I agree completely with Mark. We're not thinking the right way about things that really do create sustainable lasting job creation if we think casinos are really our answer to that."
Both agreed that a question on whether to repeal the casino law should be put on the ballot, but only Fisher staked out a position on the question itself: He said he would support repealing the law.
Baker told reporters after the forum, "I haven't made my decision on that one yet, I'm still chewing on that, but I do think it belongs before the voters."
Asked what he would do about casinos if he becomes governor, Baker said, "To use a casino analogy, a whole bunch of cards here are going to turn over," including whether are not the question gets on the ballot and then whether voters will vote to repeal. "Until those issues get resolved, I think it's pretty hard to hypothesize about what happens next," he added.
During the forum, they also differed on raising the minimum wage: Fisher said it's an issue between an employer and an employee, while Baker said he supports tax credits for small businesses and the House proposal raising the minimum wage gradually to $10.50 an hour from $8.
Bruce Mohl, the editor of CommonWealth magazine, asked for their stances on proposed South Coast commuter rail, a "very expensive" project. Both candidates said the state should focus on developing jobs in the area.
"If the people on the South Coast shore want that - and I want to see some evidence that they want it - that's the first thing, then we'll consider it," Fisher said. "And also, it can't be a free ride. If it pays for itself like the Mass. Turnpike does, and it's self-sustaining, then by all means let's do it."
Baker said the state should be focused on a strategy for developing New Bedford and other cities, to make them successful "on their own terms." "It has a very active port with respect to the fishing industry down there, but it also has a ton of frontage on the harbor down there," Baker said.
Around half of the people in the New Bedford area commute to Rhode Island, Baker added.
Asked for their opinions on Cape Wind, Baker said he opposed the controversial 130-turbine project during his first gubernatorial run in 2010 for a number of "good" reasons, and the no-bid contract aspect of it was one of them. "At this point, I think every major decision that could be made by the Commonwealth of Mass. has been made," he said.
Fisher said he would place a moratorium on the project, set for Nantucket Sound and first proposed over 10 years ago, until he found how many taxpayer dollars were spent on it.
The two Republicans disagreed on climate change. "The science is not there," Fisher said, adding that he had been warned in high school of a coming ice age.
Baker took the opposite view. "I think the climate is obviously changing and there's data out there to support that, and I certainly think the rise in carbon dioxide is a man-made, generated, activity that plays a role in all of this," Baker said. "But I think the right response to dealing with that is to do the things that are most economically efficient to reduce our carbon footprint."
They were also asked about bringing the Olympics to Boston. "It's a great idea, if it brings prosperity to Massachusetts, let's take a look at this," Fisher said.
Baker said he likes the exercise of considering the Olympics, because it forces the state to think about "planning for the future" of eastern Massachusetts.
"Even if in the end it's not economical, it would still be an exercise that would be worth pursuing because people would think about things and learn things about how to think about the future of the Commonwealth," Baker said.