Gubernatorial candidate Evan Falchuk on Monday called for an overhaul of the state’s tax code, saying the current system is stifling innovation and hurting lower-income families.
Massachusetts is one of seven states with a flat income tax – a system the Newton resident said is inherently regressive, with a greater impact on the disposable income of people who earn less money.
"It restricts the state’s ability to be creative and flexible and thoughtful about how our tax code ought to work," Falchuk said during a roundtable discussion at the Rappaport Center for Law and Public Service at Suffolk University.
If elected, the United Independent candidate said he would create a tax modernization commission made up of independent tax policy experts tasked with reaching a consensus about the best tax policies going forward. A repeal of the flat tax would require a change to the Massachusetts Constitution.
Falchuk said he would prefer a progressive tax code and a move away from giving large tax breaks to large corporations. But when asked about the formation of his tax commission, he said he wouldn’t dictate the outcome or require that the final recommendations serve as a specific response to his position.
Falchuk, 44, a lawyer and former head of Best Doctors Inc., a Boston-based global health company, is also the founder of the United Independent Party.
He said he founded the party because he was "tired of voting for the lesser of two evils" and the right-versus-left debate.
When asked which party he sees himself taking the most votes away from, Falchuk noted that the majority of registered voters in Massachusetts are unenrolled. He said residents bristle at the notion that their vote belongs to any one party and he pointed to the low turnout at some recent elections as a sign of voter apathy toward Democrats and Republicans.
"One of the problems we’ve had is you’re only given those two choices. You’ve got to vote for one or the other or not vote, and most people are just deciding not to vote," said Falchuk. "The opportunity is to engage those people."
He also discussed what he called a corrupt campaign finance system and said that candidates from the two major parties have a 15 to 1 advantage over independent candidates in terms of the funds they can solicit from individuals.
"That has to be changed," said Falchuk. "The rules should apply equal to everybody and I think there should be a lot less money involved in our politics."
He called for legislative change on both the state and federal level, adding that if the Legislature doesn’t act than the voters should push for a ballot initiative to enact reform.
Falchuk wants to stop mergers of larger hospital systems. He said 72 percent of the market is controlled by these larger groups, which use their leverage to raise prices.
"We have to take a stand against the health care monopolies in our state that are driving so much of our health care costs," said Falchuk.
Stopping mergers – including the current proposal by Partners HealthCare to acquire South Shore Hospital – and moving to a fee schedule that would take out excess costs in hospital budgets could save consumers billions of dollars, Falchuk said.
Other issues Falchuk touched on during his opening remarks included reducing waste in state government; a "re-imagining" of the education system that relies less on standardized testing; increased investment in community college and tech schools; a greater push toward transit-oriented, multi-family affordable housing units; a commitment to move forward with the South Coast commuter rail project and the establishment of commuter rail services in the Pioneer Valley.
In response to audience questions, Falchuk said he wants to see more investment in renewable energy and a greater emphasis on meeting unfunded liabilities for retired public employees’ pension and health care costs. He called for the creation of an independent budget office to review the costs of proposed legislation much in the same way that the Congressional Budget Office operates on the federal level.
In response to the a question about the pending casino referendum vote in Revere, Falchuk said he couldn’t speak for the residents there, but that he would oppose one in his hometown of Newton. He said it’s time to move on from the debate about whether to overturn the casino legislation and let each community make its own decision on housing these gaming centers.
Falchuk was the seventh of nine gubernatorial candidates to speak at Suffolk as part of its roundtable series. The two remaining candidates scheduled are Republican Mark Fisher on March 3 and Democrat Juliette Kayyem on March 19.
The sessions are free to the public.