Gov. candidates speak on housing, health care
Pledge support for single-payer, more affordable housing during GBIO forum
The two Democratic gubernatorial candidates appearing on the Sept. 4 ballot had two questions to answer at the Greater Boston Interfaith Organization’s recent forum at the Boston Teachers Union hall in Dorchester.
Organizers with GBIO asked the candidates whether they would commit to increasing funding for home ownership assistance by at least $10 million a year for at least five years and whether they would direct the state’s Public Health commissioner to opposed or stop hospital mergers determined to increase costs for consumers.
Former state Administration and Finance Secretary Jay Gonzalez and activist and author Bob Massie both answered in the affirmative to the questions. Their answers, limited to one minute each, gave some insights into the differences between the two candidates seeking to unseat incumbent Republican Gov. Charlie Baker in the Nov. 6 election.
Responding to the affordable housing question, Massie said, “My answer is, of course, yes. This is only a drop in the bucket.”
Massie used the rest of his minute to talk about how the state’s housing affordability crisis is one outcome of what he says is an “underlying structural failure” in the state’s economy.
“I’m from Somerville,” he said. “I’ve seen what the damage can be and I think there are many things we can do. Land trusts, new forms of ownership, new forms of capital. Putting a tax on the super-wealthy piggy banks in the sky that stand empty.”
Gonzalez initially said he would not say yes or no to a specific dollar amount for a specific program.
“What I can say ‘yes’ to is, we desperately need to invest more in affordable housing programs, and as governor I will significantly increase investment in those programs,” Gonzalez said. “As you mentioned, we have a crisis all across this state and we need to address it.”
Later pressed for a yes or no answer, Gonzalez said “yes,” adding that he would likely spend more.
Gonzalez said he would increase the state’s matching funds under the Community Preservation Act, through which municipalities levy a surcharge on property taxes to pay for affordable housing, open space and historical preservation. Gonzalez said the state should pay for 50 percent of projects funded under the program.
“We’ve got a huge homeownership gap between people of color and white people in this state,” he said. “And we need to be intentional about that as well.”
Asked about blocking costly hospital mergers, both said they would, but the pair sparred over their records on health care issues.
“This is an area where I’ve had some experience,” Gonzalez said. “When I worked for Governor Patrick, I was his point person for negotiating health care cost control legislation in 2012 that created the Health Policy Commission among other things, and it’s shined a spotlight on this and other mergers and it’s stopped some that would have increased costs.”
He said the rising cost of health care in Massachusetts is a symptom of a broken health care system, adding that as governor he would “move toward a single-payer health care system.”
“This is a former health insurance CEO telling you we need to get rid of health insurance companies, and I’m comfortable doing it,” he said.
To draw a contrast with Gonzalez, Massie cited his childhood experience suffering through hemophilia, watching his parents struggle to pay for health care costs.
“I have been committed to single payer health care for 40 years,” he said. “I just want to say, because you need to know this, I appreciate that Jay is for it. Three years before now he ran a health care company that supported a different model. And just at the beginning of the race he said, ‘I’ll explore it.’ My commitment is rock solid. I have been a movement leader. I know how to bring it to fruition.”
The forum, which drew 537 congregants from churches, synagogues and mosques in the Greater Boston area, gave GBIO an opportunity to weigh in on policy issues before elections are held. A third question GBIO members posed to the candidates was, “If elected the Democratic candidate for Governor, will you commit to attending a large action similar to this one for the general election in October?” Both candidates answered in the affirmative.