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Voters in 36 states will be choosing governors this November. Over the next several months, the Tax Justice Digest will be highlighting 2014 gubernatorial races where taxes are proving to be a key issue. Today’s post is about the race for Governor in Massachusetts.

mass.jpgMassachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley (D) will face former cabinet official Charlie Baker (R) in November, after both candidates won their respective primaries last Tuesday. This being so-called “Taxachussetts” (a nickname we do not quite agree with), tax policy is a hot item on most voters’ agendas – though not necessarily the issue candidates want to focus on.

Both Coakley and Baker have avoided any big proposals on taxes, hoping to prevent any unforced campaign errors. Coakley has called for new services, like an extended school day and universal prekindergarten, but has so far failed to say how she would pay for them. Baker wants modest, targeted tax cuts, like an increase in the state’s EITC and a small reduction in the state’s income tax rate – from 5.2 percent to 5 percent (Massachusetts is one of seven states with a flat person income tax.) Both candidates have so far refused to rule out a tax increase.

Baker’s positions are a huge departure from his previous run for governor, when he promised to cut corporate, income and sales tax rates to 5 percent while slashing 5,000 government jobs and eliminating some of the state’s health and human services agencies. He also signed an anti-tax pledge during that campaign, and has caught heat from fellow Republicans for not signing again this go around.

Baker has sought to keep the focus (and pressure) on Coakley, whom he alleges will raise taxes by billions of dollars to pay for her proposals. He cited a study by the Massachusetts Budget and Policy Center that found expanding full-day prekindergarten in public schools would cost $1.48 billion every year and  Coakley’s universal prekindergarten pledge has been slammed as an “empty promise” without a funding plan. Coakley’s campaign has fired back, arguing that she wants to provide vouchers for children on the prekindergarten waiting list, and that this would cost only $150 million over four years.

Baker saw an opportunity to pounce when Coakley fumbled a question about the state’s gas tax; she was asked what the current per-gallon rate was, and said 10 cents. The actual rate is 24 cents. Baker has used the gaffe to portray Coakley as out of touch with voter’s concerns, and to tout his support of a ballot initiative that would repeal a law passed last year that indexes the gas tax to inflation. Coakley supports the indexing provision, which lawmakers enacted as a much needed reform to help fund transportation projects in the state.