GOP's Baker backing away from 'no new tax' pledge
SWAMPSCOTT, Mass. (AP) -- Republican Charles Baker is vowing he'll be the taxpayer's "best friend" if elected governor, even as he backed away from the "no new taxes" pledge he took during his first gubernatorial campaign.
Baker spoke to reporters Thursday outside his Swampscott home, one day after formally announcing his candidacy in the 2014 race.
The former head of Harvard Pilgrim Health Care said Massachusetts should ditch a new sales tax on computer and software services and repeal a law automatically linking future gas tax hikes to increases in inflation.
But Baker said a strict no-new-taxes pledge only serves the status quo and would tie the hands of anyone trying to overhaul the state's tax system.
"There's a lot of things about the tax code that are extremely messy. It's got nooks and crannies and loopholes and oddities all over it and I would hate to put myself in a position where if we actually came up with a way to simplify and make the tax code more sensitive and more business and consumer and people friendly, somehow I would have a pledge in place that would make it impossible for me to go ahead and execute on that," he said.
He said the state's new 6.25 percent sales tax on computer and software services targets what he called the "sweet spot" of the Massachusetts' innovation economy.
Baker also promised to show a sunnier side on the campaign trail, acknowledging the difficulty he had connecting with voters in 2010.
He said after his defeat to Gov. Deval Patrick, many of his friends and neighbors came up and said: "Gee that sunny, let's go get `em, let's take the hill, let's climb the mountain Charlie Baker that we all know so well -- we didn't see much of him in the campaign."
Massachusetts Democratic Party officials are trying to tie Baker to the massive Big Dig and the soaring overruns that drove up the cost of the construction project. Baker served eight years in state government including as budget chief for former Republican Govs. Paul Cellucci and William Weld during the height of construction.
Baker said if Democrats want to blame him for everything that went wrong with the project, they should give him credit for everything that went right.
During the past three years, Baker has helped the venture capital firm General Catalyst Partners make investments in the health care sector.
"They went looking for someone who was a mile deep in health care and an inch wide," Baker said. "That would be me."
Baker is the first Republican to enter the 2014 race.
Several Democrats have already declared, including state Treasurer Steven Grossman, former Obama administration health care official Don Berwick, former federal and state homeland security official Juliette Kayyem and former Wellesley selectman Joseph Avellone.
The candidacy of another Democratic gubernatorial hopeful, state Sen. Dan Wolf, is pending the outcome of discussions with the state Ethics Commission over his ownership stake in Cape Air.
Democrats also are awaiting the decisions of Attorney General Martha Coakley, U.S. Rep. Michael Capuano and Somerville Mayor Joseph Curtatone.
Patrick is not seeking re-election.