Republican Massachusetts gubernatorial candidate Charles Baker is defending a 1998 memo he wrote warning that spending on the Big Dig construction project could force "draconian" cuts to other transportation projects and recommending they be considered only after his boss was re-elected.
The memo was written to then-Gov. Paul Cellucci during Baker's tenure as state budget chief. Baker said Monday during the last televised debate in the race for governor the memo was meant to highlight his concern about overall state spending.
"The memo that I wrote was about my concern about state spending overall and the growth in spending on the state side which had been growing at a significant rate," Baker said when asked about the memo. "We were continuing to grow the level of spending that we were seeing on the statewide side at the same time we had a fixed set of expenses associated with the Dig."
Pressed by moderator and former ABC News anchor Charles Gibson about why he told lawmakers publicly in 1998 that he couldn't see how anyone could argue that spending on the massive highway project was drawing money away from other road and bridge projects while privately appearing to hold a different view.
Baker said "you write a memo like that to your boss to raise issues and concerns."
Democratic incumbent Gov. Deval Patrick criticized Baker for sticking the memo "in a drawer" instead of making it public at the time.
Patrick said everyone knew the Dig financing was flawed from the start. "It turned out that Charlie knew it was flawed from the start and for political reasons didn't make that public," Patrick said.
Independent candidate Timothy Cahill, trailing in polls behind Patrick and Baker, also criticized Baker for not making the memo public at the time.
"I think that what people are looking for is for us to be straight when we are running for office, not to lie to them or not to misrepresent or to say something quietly when it should be said publicly," Cahill said.
In the memo, Baker writes that "the financing plan for transportation spending between FY 1999 and FY 2003 is starting to seem surreal," and warns that there is at least a $100 million deficit in the road and bridge construction budget during the first year alone, yet it "is more like" $350 million annually.
Baker blames peak construction at the Big Dig writing, "Its rate of spending is simply amazing," and adding that instead of preparing for federal highway spending cuts, the state deferred much of its spending on road and bridge projects outside the Big Dig to three years' worth of future budgets, between 1999 and 2001.
Under a section labeled "Remedies," Baker writes, "At some point, someone is going to have to take draconian measures to deal with the transportation spending plan," listing remedial steps for Cellucci to propose "after Nov. 5th" - Election Day in 1998.
The Big Dig, which buried an elevated highway in a series of tunnels beneath downtown Boston, ended up costing about $15 billion and was plagued by delays and cost overruns.
The hourlong debate also touched on jobs and the best way to revive the state's economy.
Baker faulted Patrick for failing to do enough to rein in government spending and jump-start the economy, pointing to the loss of more than 20,000 jobs in September.
Baker promised to push lower taxes and reduce red tape for businesses and said he'd put a moratorium on new regulations for businesses and push a series of "reforms" that he said would address a looming $2 billion budget gap.
Patrick said that the state is already moving in the right direction, and conceded more work needs to be done.
Green-Rainbow candidate Jill Stein also participated in the debate, portraying herself as the true outsider
"Things are great for the fortunate few," she said, "but ordinary people are really struggling."
The televised meeting was the final debate in a long campaign season in which the candidates clashed in 16 other forums.
Election day is Nov. 2.
This program aired on October 25, 2010. The audio for this program is not available.