Mayor Warren took a swing through the Berkshires last week.
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — Setti Warren wants to bring his brand of management — budgets based on outcomes and consensus building — to Beacon Hill to fix the state's economic woes.
During his eight years as mayor of Newton, he righted that city of 88,000 by eliminating a $40 million structural deficit, raising $20 million in reserves and putting it on the path to building five new schools. And he did one of the hardest things in Massachusetts: Get a Proposition 2 1/2 override passed for not one, but three ballot initiatives for education, public safety and infrastructure.
"We were open and honest and transparent about where we were spending, about how we were spending it," Warren told a crowd of more than 50 at Bright Ideas Brewing last week. "All of my budgets were based on outcomes for people ... for programs that helped our people and our workforce. ...
"We have to be open and honest and transparent about these budgets on Beacon Hill and those budgets need to be based on outcomes for people."
Warren is one of three running for the Democratic nomination for governor; the others are Jay Gonzalez of Needham, former Gov. Deval Patrick's administration and finance secretary and now CEO of CeltiCare, and Bob Massie of Somerville, an activist who co-founded Global Reporting Initiative and ran sustainable investing group Ceres.
The winner will take on popular Republican Gov. Charlie Baker next year.
Warren said he and his Democratic challengers probably have a lot in common when it comes to support for single-payer health care, environmental protection, education and community resources. What sets him apart, he said, was his track record in getting things done as a chief executive — listening to his constituents, working with his 24-person city council, and reaching out to stakeholders across the spectrum.
"Ultimately, it's not just about winning votes, it's about bringing the state together and making sure we get single payer, making sure we re-invent public education, making sure we get a transporation and housing system that's real in this region and other places and jobs where we should," Warren said.
"We have to go directly at Charlie Baker for the decisions he's making ... someone's got to go after this guy and tell the truth about what's happening."
Warren pointed to proposed budget cuts over the last few cycles that targeted the state's most vulnerable, such as slashing Mass Health and opioid prevention monies.
"There is a moral question attached to this ... what kind of commonwealth do we want to be?" he asked, adding that residents shouldn't be chosing between food and health care, or being unable to complete college and still stuck with overwhelming debt.
He sees that answer in how the state funds its needs — looking at how much it costs to run the state first, and how much revenue can be expected to come in.
"We can't get there unless we're honest about what's going on on Beacon Hill," Warren said, adding deliberations can't be behind closed doors and that "gimmicks and tricks" shouldn't be used to keep the budget afloat.
Raising revenue was critical, he said, but had to be done so it didn't hurt the people who need help the most. He pointed to some 400 tax exemptions expected to cost the state $12 million over the next decade that should be reviewed for measurable outcomes — and if they aren't working, to eliminate them.
"What we've got to do is look at every single dollar we're spending up on Beacon Hill, we've got to make sure we close the tax exemptions and loopholes that give away money to special interests and have nothing to do with addressing economic inequality and we have to raise revenue," Warren said. "I support the fair share tax ... asking people who make a million dollars to pay a little more to invest in transportation and education ... I believe people making $20,000 a week can pay a little more in taxes."
Warren spent about an hour at the brewery on Wednesday speaking with people and taking questions from a supportive crowd that applauded several times as he spoke about reinventing education to include free public college; changing the outdated Chapter 70 education formula; investing in transportation and workforce initiatives; and developing regional hubs to address economic development.
"This state does not have a regional strategy at all," he said. "Everyone's on their own ... every region is different."
A number of local officials attended including Mayor Richard Alcombright and City Council President Benjamin Lamb, who introduced him, and several council candidates. Three of the candidates for state representative were also on hand: John Barrett III, Lisa Blackmer and Kevin Towle.
North Adams was his last stop on a swing through the Berkshires that began in the morning in Great Barrington and included stops in Pittsfield and Williamstown. Warren said the trip had left him energized and inspired as he learned about the distinct needs of this far western end of the state.
"This such a great area, the innovation, the intellect, the energy, the sort of hard work that goes on here," he said. "From my perspective, there's such great opportunity for growth here in this region ... I've had so many conversations with people."
His takeaway is that it's a great region, but underresourced and without the tools for business to grow and communities to thrive. Transportation was a top issue, along with the lack of broadband that he felt should be addressed with the same priority as water or sewer.
Warren was aware of the closure of North Adams Regional Hospital but not all the details. However, if a health system is built in regard to needs, it should follow that there would be enough beds and services, he said.
"If we continue to have the system the way it's constructed now," he said. "We're going to have these gaps of services that are critical to meet health needs."
He pledged that if elected, he would listen to the Berkshires, pointing as an example to the 70 town halls he did during his first year as mayor of Newton.
"I will be here on the ground, just as I was as mayor, to build regional economic plans on the ground with my secretariats and ensure we deliver that with the resources that are needed to grow this region appropriately," Warren said. "So this region will reach its growth potential."
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