On Mar. 14, Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney sat down in his statehouse office with BusinessWeek Boston Bureau Chief William C. Symonds to discuss business taxes, stem-cell research, evangelical voters, and more. Here are edited excerpts from that conversation:
Q: Your Democratic opponents contend you've accomplished almost nothing as governor.
A: We've made great progress. No. 1, we balanced budgets -- that were massively out of whack -- without raising taxes and without extending borrowing. Second, we made some very bold changes in the way we organize state government. A culture of waste, inefficiency, and patronage has long existed in Massachusetts. So I set up a judicial nominating council to evaluate judicial candidates on a name-blind basis to remove politics from that process. And we reformed housing in a dramatic way, by changing a whole series of policies to encourage more supply. We have doubled the number of multifamily housing starts over the past two years.
Q: Some of your friends in the business community argue that your effort to close "tax loopholes" amounts to a major tax increase on business.
A: A loophole is different from a tax increase. I don't want to give a special break to the lawyered-up companies that find some innovative approach that has never been anticipated...to save money. When we see that, we close it.
Q: The legislature will soon pass a bill to allow therapeutic cloning for stem-cell research. What is your position?
A: I support using surplus embryos from in-vitro fertilization for stem-cell research, as long as the parents [of the embryo] have the final say as to what's done with it. But I believe that therapeutic cloning -- where you use a clone for therapeutic purposes and then kill it -- crosses an ethical boundary. The U.N. just took a vote on [such cloning] and said it should not be allowed.
Q: So will you veto the legislature's bill?
A: I will not support or sign a bill that crosses that moral boundary.
Q: The Massachusetts biotech industry argues that if such cloning is not allowed, Massachusetts would lose ground to California.
A: You don't draw moral boundaries on the basis of how much money you can make. But I also believe there will be a federal standard set -- and that the President's bill to outlaw cloning has good prospects. That would level the playing field among all the states.
Q: How would you address the problem of the millions of Americans without health insurance?
A: What I am proposing here in Massachusetts is that all of our citizens should receive health insurance, but entirely on a private, market-based system. So this isn't Clinton care, and it isn't universal care. This is market-based insurance for all our citizens.
Q: How would it work?
A: My plan has three major dimensions. In our state, we have 460,000 people who don't have health insurance. No. 1 is to sign up people on Medicaid who don't know they qualify. No. 2 is new, low-cost insurance for small business and individuals that would cost about $200 a month in premiums. This is designed for households earning three times the poverty level -- about $53,000 year. This has preventive care and catastrophic coverage, but higher deductibles and higher co-pays.
Q: What about No. 3? What would you do for the low-income person who doesn't qualify for Medicaid?
A: For that group, we want to create a product called Safety Net Care. This is an insurance product that transforms the money we're already paying to care for these folks into a product that tells them where to go when they need help.
Q: Can this be applied nationally?
A: Yes, this is the only way we can provide the quality of health care Americans expect with the choice we demand. And it is based entirely on free-market products offered by our insurance companies.
Q: Your term expires in 2006. When do you expect to make a decision on whether to run for reelection?
A: A gubernatorial campaign should probably begin in the late fall. That's when I'll have my official announcement.
Q: How do you respond to the growing speculation that you'll run for President?
A: I'm not getting into that. I have a huge agenda that I want to focus on this year, including my health-care reform, education reform, and getting smart about economic development. Discussion on anything beyond my job as governor detracts from my ability to focus on those three major objectives.
Q: How much similarity do you see between yourself as a Mormon and evangelical Christians?
A: My guess is that when it comes to values and aspirations, Mormons and evangelicals are very close. You're going to see a very strong family orientation and an exceptional work ethic. And you're going to see people who are pro-life, who want traditional marriage to be preserved, and who are not in favor of cloning.
Q: So why haven't you fought abortion laws as governor?
A: I made it very clear that if elected, I would not impose my pro-life views on this state, which is strongly a pro-choice state. I said that we would keep the laws exactly as they are, and that is what I have done.
Q: On gay marriage, the legislature may give voters the chance to approve a constitutional amendment that would ban same-sex marriage but allow civil unions. Where do you stand?
A: I do not favor same-sex marriage, and I do not favor civil unions, which are identical to marriage except in name. My preference is to provide certain benefits to same-sex couples, such as hospital visitation rights.
Q: Do you believe tax increases will be needed to help close the huge federal budget deficits?
A: There is so much waste and mismanagement in government that the best way to balance the books is by economizing, streamlining, and cutting out the waste and spending the money you have more wisely. Raising taxes costs us jobs and is not the way to go.
Q: Where do you stand on Social Security reform?
A: I applaud the President for bringing forward [a plan to address] a critical issue, but now the Democrats appear to be retreating to partisan grandstanding. I find it hard to believe someone can argue with a President who says, "This is a problem, so let's come together and find a solution we can all agree with."
Q: Do you support private accounts?
A: I would love to see more of our citizens have personal retirement accounts. How they are structured is open to discussion, but in principle, it is a very good idea. The more our citizens are able to invest in the economy, the more we will have a unity of interests between employers and employees.