Greg Bunn calls himself a “plain speaker” who knows the ins and outs of state government because he’s spent 15 years working there between the departments of mental health and workforce development, and he wants to help people.
Bunn, who is 41 and running for State Representative in Peabody, admits his background is a bit unusual for a Republican, but at the same time, his campaign platform is about creating jobs to bolster the economy, lowering taxes (he opposes the governor’s tax plan) and removing red tape for businesses.
“Really, the reason I’m running is to help create a much more business-friendly environment so businesses have the opportunity to create jobs,” Bunn said, and that’s his mission for Peabody, the North Shore and Massachusetts.
“It’s always been my belief that it’s business that creates jobs, not government,” he said.
Currently Bunn works in the Office of Workforce Development as an operations manager for the North Shore Career Centers in Salem, Lynn and Gloucester.
A lifelong North Shore guy, he graduated from Hamilton-Wenham Regional High School, has psychology degrees from Salem State and a public administration degree from Suffolk, lived in Beverly for many years and moved over to Trask Road in Peabody six years ago.
This is Bunn’s first bid for elected office, but he does have some prior campaigning experience with fellow Republicans – on Charlie Baker’s gubernatorial bid in 2010 and Richard Tisei’s run for Congress last year.
Taxpayers 'ground down' by flat incomes, rising living costs and taxes
Bunn said his working knowledge of state government is a positive for his candidacy.
“I’m really on the frontlines dealing with how legislative policy and laws are carried out. I see how they work, I see what doesn’t work,” he said.
And one thing he sees that won’t work is imposing higher taxes on residents still struggling to make ends meet.
Bunn said hundreds of people he’s talked to on the campaign trail share a common denominator -- most of them have experienced flat wages over the past several years or are on fixed incomes, but have had to deal with rising prices on food, gas, utilities and increased local, state and federal taxes.
“People are really getting ground down by that. They’re having trouble paying their bills, the cost of oil and food… To me, those are the things that put the biggest amount of pressure on families,” he said. “We really need to draw a line in the sand about taxes.”
Reform where possible and spend less
Bunn argues significant revenues can come from serious reform and encouraging private sector growth.
“I think we need to make a dedicated effort to reform where we can and spend less,” he said, indicating the Department of Transitional Assistance is a good place to start.
He said continuing to increase revenue and spend without addressing the problems is not a good solution, ala public transportation and the MBTA. He said focus now should be on improving existing transportation infrastructure, rather than just creating new railways and other projects.
He said road and bridge repair are important, but he doesn’t “want to see Peabody citizens taxed just for road and rail projects halfway across the state that aren’t necessarily going to benefit them.”
“Just about every state agency could be reformed and work better. I’d like to see our government work smarter, not necessarily harder,” Bunn said, adding that quasi-state agencies in Massachusetts should also be reviewed to see if they merely duplicating existing state services in cases.
As a former caseworker and clinician, he does believe more resources need to be devoted to assisting the mentally ill, both with peer support and in regard to job assistance.
Bunn said that along with savings from reforms, additional revenues can be generated by lifting a “yoke” of oppressive red tape and “punitive” taxation off local businesses, and together that will allow the state to “hold the line on taxes” for residents.
Part of the answer, he said, is giving all businesses an equal opportunity. “I think too many times we try to pick the winners and losers in business by subsidizing them.”
Bunn said if local businesses do grow there will be a natural need to hire more workers and thus create jobs.
Comprehensive approach to job creation needed
In terms of creating jobs, Bunn says the state needs to craft a comprehensive approach that not only includes removing some red tape, but builds up a skilled workforce and helps businesses access existing tax incentives.
“I haven’t really seen a comprehensive jobs bill come out of Beacon Hill. Usually what you’ll see is a public works spending bill with a jobs label attached to it,” he said.
Bunn said education is the “cornerstone” of an economic engine.
It’s important the new Higgins Middle School project is properly funded by the state, he said, but instead of pushing students and adults toward a four-year degree, the public focus should be more on technical and trade skills.
Bunn said the state needs to do more to promote and make alternative education options accessible, such as vocational schools or the state’s trade apprentice program.
“A lot of hiring we do is based on skill, not necessarily where [someone] went to college,” he said, referring to the career centers.
Bunn said he also wants to control spending at the state level in order to give more aid to cities and towns and more flexibility on local spending and education.
He explained that one example of an existing incentive is a workforce training fund, which employers can access to receive up to $2,000 per employee they hire and train who has been unemployed for six months or more.
The problem, he said, is that not enough smaller employers either know about the program or can spend the time wading through all the paperwork. The program also gives priority to veterans because the unemployment portion is waived.
On the same token, he’s glad Peabody has hired a local business liaison to work on these sorts of efforts within the city – he’d like to serve as an ambassador with the liaison to show business owners Peabody is serious about wanting them to set up shop in town.
He said he’d seek to work with the local economic development council as well, try to help grow Centennial Industrial Park, quantify the workforce talent Peabody has to prospective businesses and make a concerted pitch for state and federal aid on flood mitigation.
He agrees flooding is a big deterrent for new local shops to consider opening downtown and says what needs to happen is a greater, concerted effort to demonstrate the “return on investment” from state and federal dollars being poured into the massive mitigation project.
Bunn said there are also taxes that are anti-business, such as an existing inventory tax, which should be eliminated, and the whole permitting process should be streamlined statewide, he said, to try and guarantee permits to a new business within 90 days in most cases.
Transparency and 'people should complain more'
Just as important to Bunn is making government as transparent as possible. He is pledging to explain every vote he would take in office, utilizing the media and social media outlets, and remain as available and accessible to constituents as possible.
“I think people should complain more. Good government is really based on citizen participation, so I want to remove as many barriers as I can,” he said.
“People are tired of government doing things to them, they want a government that will do things for them,” he said, adding that constituent service has always been good among North Shore lawmakers – certainly in Peabody – and he wants to continue and build on that tradition.
“At the end of the day, I’m really independent and I’m going to represent what’s best for Peabody. My focus is on jobs and cutting taxes so families aren’t pushed to the brink, and really to work on reform and spending,” said Bunn.
He said any elected official ultimately just wants to make his or her community and Massachusetts a better place to live and work, and that should be enough common ground to build on together.