Baker needs a bolder plan

On transportation, education he tinkers on edges

GOV. CHARLIE BAKER’S DECISION to greet Vice President Mike Pence on Nantucket last weekend drew the deserved ridicule and scorn expected. But if Democrats want to win the corner office in 2022, our focus should be on Baker’s growing list of shortcomings, not on trying to turn him into the Trump/Pence clone he is not. I wish Baker was a more vocal and forceful opponent of the Trump administration, but, more importantly, I wish he had a record over the last five years of reducing inequality, leading on climate change, funding education, reforming criminal justice, and more.

In the five years since Baker was elected, he has faced few to no obstacles in enacting his agenda. The problem has not been gridlock or opposition. The problem has been Baker lacking a forward-thinking plan to solve the major issues confronting Massachusetts. Just as importantly, when he has a plan, it lacks the urgency and scale to meet the problem.

His administration’s proposal to address transportation congestion admits we are at a tipping point, but proposes tinkering around the edges and dismisses proven tools used in other regions to address the problem. His education funding proposal takes nearly a decade to implement, meaning a student entering middle school this fall will have graduated high school before it is fully implemented. His climate change agenda has seen thousands of clean energy jobs leave the state.

The result of all of this is a Massachusetts working for fewer and fewer, falling further behind in areas where we traditionally lag, and watching others pass us by in areas where we recently led.

This is not a theoretical debate; it has a real impact on residents across Massachusetts. Whether you live in a Gateway City, rural community, or booming Greater Boston, the last five years have seen our economy work for the wealthy and well-connected, leaving everyone else behind. While more and more residents chase opportunity concentrated in a handful of communities, Baker shows no willingness to leverage his much-vaunted popularity into policies to alleviate the worst impacts of an uneven economy.

The result is first-in-the-nation congestion, crumbling transit infrastructure, skyrocketing housing prices, underfunded education, and so many other areas crying out for leadership. As someone born and raised in the Berkshires who’s now raising a family in East Boston, I’ve had a front row seat to these impacts.

My new friends and neighbors live in the shadow of arguably the biggest construction boom in America, yet can’t rely on the Blue Line to get them to work on time, and worry the same boom will price them out of their community. Meanwhile, many of my former constituents in the 52 western Massachusetts communities I represented in the state Senate see population decline combined with a shrinking economy and wonder what their community will look like for their kids and future generations.

Baker has had every opportunity to meet these challenges and apply his reputation as a manager. He has more control over the state’s transportation system, the MBTA in particular, than any governor in modern history. The result has been higher fares for worse service and studies recommending that we double down on the failed policies of the past. He has chosen to throw millions at General Electric, while the company was shrinking and fighting their responsibility to clean up the Housatonic River in the Berkshires. He could have excelled as an administrator and taken on the controversies at the State Police or the Registry of Motor Vehicles before they reached the public, but he did not.

Meet the Author

Ben Downing

Vice president of new market develpment, Nexamp
It is tempting to see Baker side by side with Trump’s vice president and want him to pay a political price for cozying up to an administration that cages children, denies climate change, and uses working people as pawns. I am disappointed Baker feels the need to play political footsie with Trump. Far more concerning is that five years into his time as the state’s chief executive, he has no plan to solve the problems we face today and no agenda to make Massachusetts stronger for the future.

Ben Downing is vice president of new market development at Nexamp. He represented western Massachusetts in the state Senate from 2007 to 2016.