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Setti Warren appeals to JP voters

Gov. candidate gears up for Dem. caucuses

Yawu Miller
Yawu Miller
Yawu Miller is the Banner’s senior editor. VIEW BIO
Setti Warren appeals to JP voters
Former Newton Mayor Setti Warren addresses a gathering of JP Progressives.

Former Newton Mayor and 2018 gubernatorial candidate Setti Warren thinks Massachusetts isn’t investing enough in its education system, and he’s not afraid to raise the revenue he says the state will need to fully fund its schools.

Speaking at a forum organized by the group JP Progressives Sunday, the candidate slammed incumbent Gov. Charlie Baker for failing to halt the rising tide of economic inequality in the state.

“There’s no effort by this administration to even the unequal playing field, now or in the future,” Warren said, in remarks before he began his address to the left-leaning Jamaica Plain group. “I don’t believe that they’re committed to educating every single child in every single district.”

He told the audience that he supports a single-payer health care system in Massachusetts and free public colleges as ways to level the playing field. He noted that Standard & Poor’s downgraded the state’s bond rating in response to growing inequality here. The Baker administration’s cuts to education funding, funds to combat opioid addiction and the MassHealth program illustrate the current administration’s lack of regard for the needs of working people, he said.

“Are we OK with a booming economy and people making choices between buying prescription drugs and putting food on the table for their families?” he said.

The crux of the problem, Warren says, is that the Baker administration is not transparent in its approach to the state budget, raising too little revenue and cutting programs.

“Right now, we are not generating enough revenue to do what we’re doing right now,” he said. “We have to be honest about the fact that we need additional revenue to make investments not just in education, but in other areas as well.”

During his hour-long discourse with the Jamaica Plain group, Warren advocated for greater state support of housing, funding for rail expansion to the South Coast, a north-south rail link and other infrastructure projects. He also expressed support for the Legislature’s push to reform the cash bail system and eliminate mandatory-minimum sentences for nonviolent offenders.

Democratic contenders

Warren, who announced his candidacy in 2015, will face off against at least two other Democrats in the primary: former state Secretary of Administration and Finance Jay Gonzalez and activist and author Bob Massie.

In November, the winner of the Democratic primary will face off against Baker, who is widely seen as the most popular governor in the country and sits on a $7 million campaign war chest. And, as Warren pointed out Sunday, Massachusetts is not as solidly liberal as Democrats would like to believe.

“Donald Trump won 93 communities in this state,” Warren noted. “Donald Trump won more votes than Charlie Baker.”

Warren says a successful Democratic campaign will have to reach out not just to the solid Democratic strongholds, but also reach out to those communities that backed Trump last year with a message of unity.

“We have to be one state,” he said.

Record on revenue

In his two terms as mayor of Newton, Warren says he eliminated a $40 million structural deficit and added $20 million to the city’s rainy day fund — a fund each town in the commonwealth is required to maintain to offset revenue shortfalls and other fiscal emergencies. He says he also reduced the city’s carbon footprint, investing in solar and energy conservation projects.

Warren also spearheaded an $11.4 million Proposition 2½ override initiative, raising property taxes in the town above the statutory limit of 2.5 percent, to fund repairs to aging school buildings, fund road repairs and hire additional police officers.

He told JP Progressives activists he is willing to take the same political risks at the state level to invest in the state’s infrastructure, citing the $2 billion shortfall in the state’s Chapter 70 school funding formula that he says is shortchanging schools across the state.

“I wasn’t afraid to raise revenue at the city level,” he said. “We won’t be afraid to raise revenue at the state level.”

For starters, Warren supports the Fair Share Amendment, widely known as the millionaire’s tax, which would add an estimated $2 billion to the state’s coffers by adding a 4 percent tax surcharge to all income in excess of $1 million. Under the amendment, which goes before voters in November, the funds generated by the surtax would be dedicated to transportation and K-12 and public higher education.

Warren noted that the Fair Share Amendment by itself would not provide the funding needed to fill the $2 billion gap in K-12 education.

“We need to be honest about what it’s going to take to give our kids a fair shake, and we’re not,” he said.

Beyond fully funding public education, Warren said he would push for universal pre-kindergarten education and afterschool programming.

“The idea that we can’t invest and ask people who are doing in well in this economy to contribute is wrong,” he said.

Next steps

Warren and the other Democrats are preparing for the first hurdle in their race for the governor’s office: the contest for the Democratic nomination.

To secure the nomination, each candidate must obtain commitments from delegates who will cast votes at the party’s June convention. In the coming weeks, as Democratic ward committees and city committees across the state gear up for their caucuses — commonly held in February — the candidates often make appeals for support from the party grassroots, hoping to secure commitments for votes in the convention.

Before the JP Progressives forum, which also featured an appearance by City Councilor Josh Zakim, who is running for secretary of state, Warren campaign operatives handed out flyers seeking support in turning out loyal delegates to the Jamaica-Plain/Roxbury area Ward 10, 11 and 19 caucuses.

Should he win the primary, Warren may benefit from a surge of progressive Democrats expected to turn out in support of the millionaires’ tax. He might also benefit from another candidate with whom he shares a surname. U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren will face off against a Republican challenger in November.

“We’re going to have bumper stickers that say “Warren and Warren,” he joked.