Here's a question by question recap overview of what State Representative Jim Arciero (D-Westford) and Selectman Val Wormell (R-Westford) said during their debate at Nashoba Valley Technical High School on Wednesday night.
What Would Be Your #1 Priority If Elected?
Wormell – Increasing local aid to towns, particularly in terms of getting funds for special education funding mandates.
Arciero – Fighting to get every last dollar for towns, continuing reforms that have brought savings to towns in the district like municipal healthcare reform, which brought approximately $250,000 in savings to Littleton and Westford and approximately $1 million in savings to Chelmsford.
What Are The Key Priorities When It Comes to Local Environmental Issues
Arciero – Continuing to help preserve open space, housing and historical preservation, which towns in the district have been able to do more of thanks to expansions in Community Preservation Act funding.
Wormell – Preserving water. Right now, local streams are largely protected on a volunteer basis. Water “is the difference between poverty and wealth.”
Should Income Taxes Be Lowered to Five Percent? If So, What Programs Should Be Cut?
Wormell – Yes, this is what the voters asked for. It will roll back 1/100th of a percent on Jan. 1, but not enough. Roll backs aren’t happening fast enough. Can’t identify particular programs, eliminating waste and fraud would make the most headway.
Arciero – Yes, Arciero said he was one of only three Dems to vote to roll back to five percent and has worked across the aisle on pension reform. Initiatives like that along with achieving savings through eliminating waste and fraud and unnecessary spending will be the keys.
How Can Higher Education Become More Affordable in Massachusetts?
Arciero – Was one of the chief architects of the Public Education Reform Act in 2006 during his time with Senator Panagiotakos. Putting a cap on continually increasing fees is important. Also, addressing the skills gap is vital: currently there are 212,000 Massachusetts residents that are unemployed and approximately 90,000 to 120,000 jobs that cannot be filled due to a lack of skilled workers. This can be solved by more funding for community colleges and vocational schools.
Wormell – The state does not have unlimited funds, outside of the box solutions like three-year degrees may be necessary.
When Are Closed Door Sessions of the State Legislature Appropriate
Wormell – Never. The governor should be allowed to have off the record discussions for personnel matters, but everything within the legislature should be taped and written down for minutes to provide for public consumption. This is particularly important for voters to determine how legislators are coming to their conclusions on votes.
Arciero – Was a key architect on the Open Checkbook initiative, which puts information on how much money the state is spending online. Wants to continue pushing for greater transparency, particularly in terms of applying open meeting law to committee meetings.
Stances on the Three Ballot Questions
Arciero – Right to Repair is a moot point due to agreement between both sides. Opposition to medical marijuana and assisted suicide/right to die. On the former, there are challenges in terms of zoning issues faced by towns, dispensaries could open near schools.
On the latter, opinion came after discussion with brother who is surgeon in the U.S. Army as well as concerns from Massachusetts Medical Society and providing this option to patients who might have the chance to recover. Hospice and pain medication options are preferable.
Wormell – No on medical marijuana and assisted suicide/right to die, but would support if the voters voted for either. Deep flaws on zoning with medical marijuana, other states have had to subsidize these initiatives, so it would be a drain on the state budget.
On assisted suicide/right to die, there’s an inherent conflict of interest in terms of the role of heirs that makes the initiative flawed.
Thoughts on How to Help Local Fire and Police Departments
Wormell - -The state allows unrestricted local aid, communities could provide that funding if they chose. Grants are available, but have shortfalls due to conditions that must be met even past the life of a grant.
Arciero – Has fought and gotten $4 million more in local aid for towns in the district. Public/private partnerships are key to improving local aid further, two thirds of the budget is obligatory, legally mandated spending that cannot be shifted.
Thoughts on Gambling Legalization
Arciero – Support, mainly to keep revenue from Massachusetts residents going to Connecticut casinos within Massachusetts. Also will create 10,000 to 15,000 full time jobs and revenues would be earmarked specifically for local aid and public education. However, the bill that went through the legislature was not perfect.
Wormell – Oppose, neighborhoods in Nevada have seen decay due in part to casinos. Increased police, education and infrastructure funding will be necessary to avoid negative impacts of a casino in a community.
How Best to Improve Communication Between Legislators and Residents
Wormell – Going door to door if possible, local committee meetings, using the internet more. Office hours.
Arciero – Door to door is great if possible. Has held office hours in district, responds to calls and e-mails personally. Has worked with local boards and talks with local police and fire chiefs regularly.
Should Legislative Voting Records Be More Transparent?
Arciero – Yes, also all committees should be bound by open meeting law.
Wormell – Yes, particularly in terms of online access. This is particularly significant due to finding out how legislators are working with each other in session.
Thoughts on 40B (Affordable Housing Law)
Wormell – It needs to be looked at. When first introduced in 1969, it was a way to help veterans get housing. Today it is a way for developers to put up housing nearby residents don’t want to be near and can supercede local wetlands protection laws. It’s a stick in a stick and carrot approach, towns should get the carrot instead, receive more aid in exchange for possible revenue lost from 40B projects.
Arciero – Worked with Republicans in 2008 to abolish the law, also worked to eliminate the “10 percent rule” where communities couldn’t refuse 40B projects if they had less than 10 percent of housing designated as affordable. 2010 initiative has made reform difficult, looking at continued enhancement is important.
Addressing Rising Healthcare and Education Mandate Costs, Particularly if Federal Funding is Cut
Arciero – The biggest issue was municipal healthcare reform. Michael Widmer of the Massachusetts Taxpayers Association said this was this the biggest success from the legislature this year.
There are other areas where we’ve helped like creating a state level line item to help communities with implementing the McKinney-Vento Act, which mandates school transportation for homeless children living in hotels.
Has also championed benchmarks for healthcare spending and moving hospitals to focusing on outcome-based care. Electronic medical records would help streamline things, saving money and reducing errors.
Dealing with the uncompensated care rule was also crucial to reigning in costs.
Wormell – Funding has already been cut, towns have had to use funding allocated for other purposes to this end. Changes in the health insurance have helped, but there is a fear that increased reliance on the Group Insurance Commission (GIC) will harm sole practitioners who will be forced to join insurance collectives they don’t agree with, particularly in rural parts of the state.
Caps on payments will just reduce quality of care, wants to allow medical centers to expand more easily to let the free market work.
Also, there’s a need to reduce out-of-state users of the medical system.
Voter ID laws and Unrestricted Access to Same Day Ballot or Absentee Ballots
Arciero – Open minded, but there are fears of residents without licenses being shunned at the polls.
Wormell – One is necessary to have the other. Otherwise, people would go to separate towns and vote more than once.
No problem with not needing a reason to vote absentee, people are very busy.
Thoughts on the Bottle Bill
Arciero – Supports recycling initiatives, but small business owners in the area have expressed fears that increased bottle fees will send consumers to New Hampshire, something other parts of the state may not have to face. Increased discussion is needed, other legislators in other parts of the state strongly support.
Wormell – Support, it is not a tax. Bottles are frequent problems in streams, the bottle bill should be expanded to bottles not being addressed like iced tea and “little nip” juice bottles.