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Republican candidate for governor Charlie Baker is backing an increase in the state's minimum wage to $10.50 per hour, and said Monday it should be coupled with tax breaks for low-income individuals and small businesses.
The former head of Harvard Pilgrim Health Care, who was the 2010 Republican nominee for governor, announced a series of economic proposals as he and his running mate, former state Rep. Karyn Polito, began a statewide campaign tour.
Baker endorsed a House-passed bill that would raise the minimum wage to $10.50 per hour over three years. The Senate version calls for a hike to $11 per hour over three years and, unlike the House bill, would automatically tie future increases to inflation.
Meanwhile, a Suffolk University/Boston Herald poll released Monday showed Baker trailing by seven points in a hypothetical general election matchup with Democratic Attorney General Martha Coakley. Nearly 27 percent of respondents said they were undecided. The survey of 800 likely voters was conducted from June 4-7 and had a margin of error of plus or minus 3.5 percent.
A similar poll in February showed Baker trailing Coakley by 13 points.
The most recent poll puts Baker in a virtual dead heat with state Treasurer Steven Grossman and well ahead in hypothetical matchups with the three other Democrats — Joseph Avellone, Don Berwick and Juliette Kayyem — who are vying for their party's gubernatorial nomination.
A poll of more than 600 likely voters conducted for The Boston Globe from May 29 to June 3 showed Coakley with a five-point lead over Baker in a hypothetical matchup, while Baker notched a six-point lead over Grossman. That poll had a margin of error of plus or minus 4 percent.
Hiking the minimum wage is an "important first step" in helping more than 400,000 workers in Massachusetts, from students working their way through college to parents holding multiple jobs to support their families, Baker said. But he added it would not alone do enough to help low-income workers and also called for a doubling of the state's earned income tax credit from 15 to 30 percent.
"I care deeply about expanding the opportunity experienced in some parts of Massachusetts to the whole state for those families left behind by the last eight years of one-party rule," Baker said in a statement.
To offset the cost to small businesses with 50 or fewer workers, Baker's plan would offer tax credits of $1,000 per minimum wage employee for each $1 increase in the wage.
Baker's Republican primary opponent, tea party member Mark Fisher, opposes a change in the mandatory minimum wage, saying it should be left to individual employers to decide.
All five Democrats running to succeed Democratic Gov. Deval Patrick support a higher minimum wage.
Baker's economic plan also calls for tax credits for businesses that hire welfare recipients, phasing out the state's inventory tax, reducing fees for starting and maintaining a business, and reviewing the state's regulatory structure with an eye toward streamlining demands on businesses.