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How the candidates would face the state’s biggest challenges

We asked the candidates for governor what they consider the biggest challenge facing Massachusetts and how they would address it. Here’s what we heard.

THE DEMOCRATS

Don Berwick: Fight inequality in all its forms

Gubernatorial candidate Don Berwick.

Justin Saglio for The Boston Globe

Don Berwick (center).

Social and economic inequality threatens to tear apart the fabric of our Commonwealth and our nation. By some accounts, the incomes of the upper 1 percent of earners have increased by 275 percent since 1970, while middle-class incomes have stayed about the same and the incomes of the poor have declined.

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Just as frighteningly, I believe that this nation has fallen victim to lies. Lies that wealth marks merit and justifies greater influence over our political process, that corporations are people, and that real people lack the wisdom to govern themselves. It doesn’t have to be that way. I’m running for governor to fight these lies. To do so, we must fight inequality in all its forms, and bring justice and fairness back to the core of every decision we make.

To do so, I will take the following steps.

1. I will fight for good jobs, and I will work to ensure that all Massachusetts workers earn a truly livable wage. That includes equal pay for equal work; Massachusetts women earn approximately 79 cents for every dollar men in equivalent positions earn. That’s morally and economically wrong, and we can take real steps to fix it.

2. Major inequities exist among schools, especially between those in wealthy and disadvantaged communities, and I am committed to closing those gaps. Beyond supporting our elementary and secondary education, I will pursue policies and investments that make it possible for underprivileged students to afford to go to state colleges and universities.

3. Massachusetts taxpayers spend millions of dollars subsidizing lobbyists’ special interests. It’s time to hit the reset button on special interest loopholes and deductions. If a tax break creates jobs or supports the social safety net, it can stay; all others need to be immediately ended.

Martha Coakley: Invest in education, workforce training

Martha Coakley.

Lane Turner/Globe Staff

Martha Coakley.

Income equality in Massachusetts remains a stubborn obstacle. It’s harder for those in the middle class to make sure their kids have a bright future. It’s harder for those at the bottom to make it into the middle class. And although we took a big step in raising the minimum wage here in Massachusetts, it’s still very difficult for people making the minimum wage to keep up, or get ahead. I believe we can create an economy on our terms — one that builds a more fair and prosperous Commonwealth for everyone.

The best way to do that, one that we know is proven to create opportunities for all, to eliminate racial and income inequalities, is to invest in education and workforce training. We have some of the best public schools, research universities, and innovation economies in the world.

My plan will develop regional economic development and job creation strategies that target our different strengths, because the industries that thrive and create jobs on the South Coast are different than the ones that work in the Berkshires or Merrimack Valley.

We will connect our businesses and community colleges so that we are training our young people for the jobs that are open — the jobs of a 21st-century innovation economy, and will provide universal pre-K — so that all our children have an equal chance at success.

State government must serve as a partner to our business community. That’s why we will cut red tape and streamline our regulations, and roll out the red carpet so new and established companies see Massachusetts as a place to stay and grow.

And finally, we will also ensure we continue to fight for the rights of all workers, including women, by providing earned sick time for all workers and closing the gender wage gap, to create true economic fairness for our families.

Steve Grossman: Educational innovation is critical

Matt Stone/Pool

Steve Grossman.

Even during a strong economic recovery, hard-working Massachusetts families are still struggling to make ends meet. Faced with the skyrocketing cost of rent, higher education that has become increasingly unaffordable, and not enough jobs that pay a living wage with full benefits, hundreds of thousands of our fellow citizens wake up every day fearful that they are one paycheck away from losing their place in the middle class.

Our biggest opportunity and challenge is to invest in high quality public education at every level to close the skills gap and to enable all our people, no matter where they live, to have the jobs and economic security they want, need, and deserve. That’s my definition of economic justice. I believe in a fundamental principle: The ZIP code in which you were born or in which you live must never determine the quality of education you receive or the economic opportunity to which you can aspire.

The critical building block of a strong innovation economy in which everyone prospers is educational innovation.

As the only progressive jobs creator in the Democratic primary, I have an ambitious plan to build One Commonwealth that levels the playing field and leaves no one behind. It requires partnering with developers to build more affordable and middle-income multifamily housing, freezing tuition and fees at our public colleges and universities for the next four years, providing universal pre-K education, and investing in our vocational-technical schools and community colleges to close the skills gap.

Traditionally, our Commonwealth has seen surges of economic growth and innovation in some areas, while too many of our fellow citizens are left behind and forced to fend for themselves. That’s why as treasurer, I revolutionized hiring practices to reflect the diversity of the society in which we live. I’m proud that 35 percent of all hires at Treasury and the Lottery have been people from diverse communities.

And that’s why I created the Small Business Banking Partnership, which has moved nearly $360 million into 53 community banks. Those banks have in turn made more than 9,000 loans with a value of more than $1.4 billion, with an emphasis on job creation in our gateway communities. We have asked those banks to focus on loans to business owned by women, minorities, immigrants, and veterans.

As governor, I’ll build on my proven track record of success and continue delivering results for Massachusetts families.

THE REPUBLICANS

Charlie Baker: I’ll close the ‘opportunity gap’

Charlie Baker.

Pat Greenhouse/Globe Staff

Charlie Baker.

Massachusetts is a great place, home to some of the brightest and hardest working people, but there is real opportunity inequality in the Commonwealth. I care deeply about making sure every corner of the Commonwealth is economically successful, so everyone who wants to work can, so every child can receive a great education and so every community is a safe, strong one where the people believe tomorrow will be better than today.

There is no doubt that some are recovering from the recession, but far too many families continue to struggle to get ahead as a result of the sluggish growth experienced over the last eight years.

While serving Governors Bill Weld and Paul Cellucci, I helped guide Massachusetts toward a fiscally responsible future, led efforts to cut taxes 27 times, and reformed welfare so that folks could get back on their feet and off public assistance. The result was a boon for Massachusetts with the creation of half a million new jobs and lower taxes for families.

Balance on Beacon Hill worked to bring out the best of Massachusetts before, and I know that by holding the line of spending, getting smarter about how we invest tax dollars, we can do it again.

As governor I will set a new direction for Massachusetts and close the opportunity gap for the families who go to work every day hoping tomorrow will be better than today.

Mark Fisher: Stop all benefits to illegal immigrants

Mark Fisher

Stephan Savoia/Associated Press

Mark Fisher.

There are a number of big challenges facing Massachusetts: the scandals at the Department of Children and Families, the drug lab, the compounding pharmacy; EBT reform, job creation, and more. I believe that the biggest challenge is illegal immigration.

From Day One of my campaign I have said that illegal immigration is illegal! The over 220,000 illegal immigrants who are here now in Massachusetts are making our cities and towns dysfunctional. Taxpayers spend $2 billion each year rewarding illegals who break the law.

I have advocated stopping all benefits to illegals so that they will self-deport to the next sanctuary state. Just recently, Maine Governor Paul LePage has implemented my proposal, and it is working. This is a common-sense solution that I will make happen here in Massachusetts. It is long overdue!

All of the Democratic candidates along with Republican Charlie Baker have agreed with Governor Deval Patrick in allowing additional illegal immigrants to come to Massachusetts. They are not providing solutions; they are compounding the problem.

Please visit markfisher2014.com to see my common-sense stance on this and all the issues.

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