Metro

Evan Horowitz

Plenty to discuss from last night’s gubernatorial debate

Massachusetts gubernatorial candidates Democrat Martha Coakley, left, and Republican Charlie Baker, right.

AP/Boston Globe, Barry Chin, Pool

Massachusetts gubernatorial candidates Democrat Martha Coakley, left, and Republican Charlie Baker, right.

Throughout last night’s gubernatorial debate, Charlie Baker and Martha Coakley managed to give direct, detailed, and meaty answers on a wide variety of subjects, from jobs to taxes, immigration to child welfare, super PACs to casino gambling.

With the election less than two weeks away, and many voters still weighing the candidates, the free-flowing debate — sponsored by WGBH and The Boston Globe — gave the candidates a chance to talk directly to each other and to share their visions for Massachusetts. Here are some of the highlights.

Job creation

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The opening question was a challenge to Martha Coakley. “You’ve been working in the public sector for 28 years, obviously not creating private-sector jobs there, so how do you convince people that you can do this for them and the private sector?”

It was a strange way to begin, not least because the premise is just wrong. The public sector does help create private sector jobs. Well-designed tax breaks can stimulate hiring, as can workforce training initiatives. In fact, changing the law to allow casino gambling is not just going to create jobs, it’s going to create a whole new industry.

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“The public sector doesn’t necessarily create jobs, but the public sector plays a big role in how jobs are created and how they’re filled.” That’s how Coakley put it, and she followed up by emphaszing her commitment to education and job training.

When the question came around to Baker, he also seemed to defend the public sector. Rather than tout his experience as a CEO, he opened with an anecdote about the value of public-private partnerships.

So, two cheers for the job-creating power of the public sector.

Taxes

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Tax is a dirty word in politics. Nobody supports taxes, or at least nobody will admit it. But everyone supports spending, whether on education, public health, or otherwise. And if you support spending, somewhere deep down you have to support taxes. It’s the only way to pay for that spending.

At various points in the debate, Baker called for additional spending — on tax breaks and also to support the Department of Children and Families — but he stood firmly against taxes. And he held firm even when pressed about how he could categorically reject all future tax increases when he has no idea what challenges he’s going to face in the future.

Coakley also wants more spending, including investments in education and workforce training. And while she would also like to accomplish that without taxes, she isn’t quite as adamant. Her preference would be to limit any tax increases to “people who are in the top 2 percent” — but the moderator correctly pointed out that this would actually be quite difficult without changing the state Constitution.

Corporate tax breaks

Both candidates agreed that all tax breaks should be reviewed on an annual basis. Which sounds great, until you dig deeper: Currently, there is no process for reviewing the efficacy of our tax breaks, whether annually or otherwise.

DCF

While the scandal at the Department of Children and Families may be fading from memory, much work remains before DCF is fully able to protect the most vulnerable children in Massachusetts.

When the two candidates were asked about whether the department needs more money to effectively do its job, they seemed to switch positions. Coakley became the fiscal conservative, pressing for reforms rather than new funding, among them a more cohesive mission and better accountability.

Baker, by contrast, expressed his support for Deval Patrick’s plan to invest $30 million to help reduce caseloads and introduce new technology.

Earned sick time

Coakley supports Question 4 — the initiative that would guarantee paid sick leave for all employees at businesses with more than 10 workers. Baker would only support a law that exempted all businesses with fewer than 50 workers.

Somehow, no one had a handle on the number of employees who would be affected. The moderater suggested that Baker’s proposal would exclude nearly 1 million workers, and Coakley mentioned 1.2 million. More likely, Question 4 would provide paid sick leave to about 500,000 workers, while Baker’s alternative would cover roughly 150,000 fewer workers.

Pay-to-play?

Baker is under growing scrutiny about a possible connection between money he gave to the Republican Party in New Jersey and money the New Jersey pension fund invested in a firm to which he has some ties.

During the debate, he was asked if he would “urge” the State of New Jersey to release all relevant information. He declined.

Baker’s best moment

Admittedly, this is pretty subjective, but about 23 minutes into the debate, Charlie Baker got doe-eyed talking about how people underestimate his compassion. “My entire professional career has been about people,” he said. It was really effective political theater.

Coakley’s best moment

Asked whether raising the minimum wage and requiring employers to provide earned sick time would harm small businesses, Coakley didn’t dance around the issue. She just said “no.”

Your favorite moment?

Send me an e-mail or leave it in the comments.

Evan Horowitz digs through data to find information that illuminates the policy issues facing Massachusetts and the United States. He can be reached at evan.horowitz@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @GlobeHorowitz
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