DRISCOLL: GONZALEZ SAYING RIGHT THINGS, BUT BAKER’S STRONG PARTNER
By Michael P. Norton
STATE HOUSE NEWS SERVICE
BOSTON -- Salem Mayor Kim Driscoll wants to see a greater sense of urgency at the state level about fixing transportation problems.
“How are we going to really attack this problem?” Driscoll, a Democrat beginning her fourth term as mayor, told host Jon Keller of WBZ during a TV interview that aired Sunday morning. “It is difficult to go from Salem, only 14 miles north of Boston, into Boston for work and we want to have a public transit system that works. We want people to be able to rely on that and I think we’re going to need resources to do it.”
And in Jay Gonzalez, a Democrat running for governor who supports raising new revenues, Driscoll sees a strong, smart and capable candidate. But with the election four months away, she isn’t ready to back Gonzalez, former Gov. Deval Patrick’s budget chief who hopes to unseat Republican Gov. Charlie Baker.
“We’ve had a really strong relationship with Charlie Baker as governor,” Driscoll said. “He’s been a municipal official. Many of the folks in his Cabinet have been. I really value some of the work that we’re doing with his team.”
Gonzalez and Democrat Bob Massie are struggling in this year’s race, trailing Baker by big margins in public opinion polls, challenged to raise the kind of money to mount a concerted statewide campaign, and facing name recognition gaps among the electorate.
Help from elected Democrats like Driscoll could give either candidate a lift, but Driscoll isn’t ready to back Gonzalez, saying whether she will is a “good question” and adding municipal government colleagues she speaks with recognize that in Baker “we’ve got somebody who’s really working with us.”
“I’m not sure at this point,” she said, predicting Gonzalez is likely to outpoll Massie in the Sept. 4 primary. “I have a lot of respect for Jay. I think he’s doing and saying all the right things with respect to the issues that are on people’s minds.”
Gonzalez on July 3 picked up the endorsement of Framingham Mayor Yvonne Spicer, who said her constituents “deserve real leadership from their governor.”
“I’m enthusiastically supporting Jay Gonzalez because I know he’s committed to investing in a public education system that serves every child in the state regardless of what neighborhood they live in,” Spicer said in her endorsement. “Jay’s commitment to make universal Pre-K affordable and accessible to everyone in our state is desperately needed. Massachusetts currently has the highest childcare costs in the nation, leaving too many families behind.”
Driscoll, often rumored as a candidate for higher office herself, doubled down on her satisfaction with her current job, saying “I hope people think I’m in it for the long haul.”
“Right now being a member of Congress feels like you’re banging your head up against the wall oftentimes,” she said. “I get to work on things I like doing in a community that I love with people that I really care about and we actually get stuff done. So I think local government’s where it’s at.”
Driscoll flagged the challenge of educating a diverse student body in Salem as among the biggest issues facing the city, as well as having the capacity to update infrastructure in a city that will turn 400 in 2026.
The state needs to discuss the fairest way to raise new transportation revenues, she said, mentioning as options the gas tax and “congestion pricing,” a reform aimed at influencing travel patterns and charging drivers more for traveling during peak traffic periods.
The Supreme Judicial Court in June knocked off the ballot a constitutional amendment raising taxes on households with incomes above $1 million and requiring an estimated $2 billion in revenue to be spend on education and transportation. The court said the question impermissibly conflated too many topics. Some legislators have discussed regrouping and trying to get a redrafted “millionaire’s tax” on the ballot, but that can’t occur until 2022 at the earliest.
“I think we’re going to have to see what happens,” said Driscoll. “So far the Legislature has been a little resistant to new taxes. I do think we need resources to solve transportation.
“We know that resources do matter, particularly when you think about infrastructure, transportation and public education,” she said. “Wanting to have kids able to start school at four years old, have additional programs and opportunities within our schools, and actually provide the resources and close those opportunity and achivement gaps. It does take money. I don’t think it’s impossible without the millionaire’s tax. I think we do have a committed state working to try and resolve those issues but more money would have certainly put a big push forward with both education and transportation.”
Salem is exploring increases in its garage and parking lot rates - “we call it rate restructuring,” the mayor said - but plans to continue investing half of its “visitor taxes” into marketing and promoting Salem in order to keep tourism flourishing, Driscoll said. “I think we’ve been smart about it,” she said.