Governor Charlie Baker defended the scale of his vision for the state and its transportation network on Friday and knocked calls to infuse it with more tax-created revenue, offering a likely preview of the rhetoric awaiting his reelection bid this fall.
Speaking in an hourlong interview on WBUR, Baker pushed back on questions that he hasn’t looked beyond the nuts-and-bolts of the beleaguered MBTA and the state’s transportation systems in ways his Democratic rivals say is sorely needed in the Corner Office.
“Big vision does not equal tax increase, OK?” Baker, a Republican, said. “I would argue that for a very long time, we mouthed all the words about a big vision but didn’t actually take care of business at home.
“You know what my vision is?” he later added. “Making the thing work. Making it reliable and dependable enough so somebody would get out of their car and take it because they believe it’s going to get them where they need to go. And I would argue that when we took office [in 2015], that was the biggest problem with the public transportation system, not that it didn’t go to enough places.”
Baker’s comments came amid a wide-ranging interview conducted as part of a joint effort between WBUR, the Globe, and the McCormack Graduate School at the University of Massachusetts Boston. He bounced among a litany of topics, from President Trump to opioids to problems inside the State Police.
Much of the discussion is likely to loom large on the campaign trail, though transportation could be one of the biggest topics of debate. The two Democrats running for governor — Jay Gonzalez, a former state budget chief, and Robert K. Massie, an environmental activist — both have focused on the issue, claiming they will bring bigger ideas and different experiences, as well as calls for more revenue.
Baker said it starts with ensuring the T is reliable. “I am building for the future,” he said.
And in a direct shot at the work of then-Governor Deval Patrick, under whom Gonzalez served, he added: “We’re probably doing more transit-orientated development in the last three years than they did in the previous eight, OK?”
Baker is also facing a primary challenger in Scott Lively, a conservative, antigay pastor. But he repeatedly would not commit to debating Lively, saying he does not want to get “distracted” amid the final weeks of the legislative session, which wraps at the end of July.
“Look, I think my job as governor of the Commonwealth is to do my job,” Baker said, adding that his administration is focused more on the “work and a little less on the partisanship and the point-scoring that a lot of other people are focused on.”
As he seeks a second term, Baker also is laying out how his 3½ years have made a difference.
Baker called his administration’s work on the addiction crisis, and moving it to the “front burner,” one of his proudest achievements. Asked where he think he’s fallen short, he cited a cost-cutting plan the Group Insurance Commission proposed to limit coverage options for hundreds of thousands of public employees, retirees, and their families but abruptly abandoned earlier this year amid fierce blow-back.
“Clearly in that particular case, we did a terrible job of knowing our customer and communicating with them,” Baker said.
He also said he still has full confidence in University of Massachusetts President Martin T. Meehan, who has faced withering criticism from its Boston campus after the controversial purchase of the Mount Ida College campus in Newton.
“There’s clearly a big disconnect between the president’s office and between UMass Boston, and he needs to work on that one,” Baker said.Matt Stout can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @mattpstout