Speaker Robert DeLeo was touring parts of the Berkshires and neighboring counties on Thursday.
DALTON, Mass. — The speaker of the House was impressed by the natural beauty of Berkshire County in his visit this week but Rep. Paul Mark was planning to show him nature's wrath as well.
"I'm taking him through Savoy, Charlemont, Colrain and Shelburne Falls ... and show him firsthand what happened," said Mark on Thursday of the hilltowns in his district damaged by last fall's Hurricane Irene. "Show him this is how far we've come in just six-seven months and this is what we still need from you."
House Speaker Robert DeLeo said the state has a system in place for supplemental funding for declared federal disaster areas but wanted to see for himself the pounding the region had taken. The federal goverment is reimbursing at 75 percent for the costs incurred and the state is looking to cover half the balance.
"We've set aside $10 million to cover the state's portion of the 12.5 percent that they definitely have to pick up," said Mark, but added the Berkshire delegation is fighting for the state to cover the other 12.5 percent so "small towns with no property tax base aren't stuck with this gigantic bill they can't possibly afford."
DeLeo attended Mark's birthday party on Wednesday night and was the featured speaker at the Berkshire Chamber of Commerce's Eggs & Issues Breakfast at the Wahconah Country Club on Thursday morning.
"You have more trees here than I have in my entire district," the Winthrop Democrat told an audience of about 65 that included students from Wahconah Regional High School, local leaders and state Reps. William "Smitty" Pignatelli and Tricia Farley-Bouvier. The event was sponsored by AT&T and David Mancuso, AT&T regional vice president of external affairs, spoke briefly.
Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts' Denise Richardello thanks the speaker for supporting the college's under-construction science center.
"I'm proud of the fact I have a pretty good understanding of the Berkshires," DeLeo said, adding that when he had become chairman of the Ways and Means Committee, "that I had better learn in terms of what are the driving economic forces throughout the whole state."
Not surprisingly, DeLeo touched on the just released budget from the House Ways and Means Committee and spoke more broadly about the state's financial health.
"We've had a fairly successful year last year," he said, pointing to the state's healthy stabilization account and government leaders working together that placed Massachusetts at the top among states rated by Standard & Poor's. It was one of only two states that saw its bond rating increase and one of only four with at least $1 billion in stabilization. "The Senate president and the governor and myself may have disagreements at times but at the end of the day we all leave our egos at the door and we get things done in what we consider to be in the interests of the commonwealth."
He pointed pension system reform, municipal health insurance changes that have so far saved $90 million for cities and town, and an employment rate of 6.9 percent. "In terms of our economy, we are, I think, in better shape and I think once we really get ourselves out of this economic morass we found ourselves in, I think Massachusetts is going to be better positioned than many states."
DeLeo said the House budget draft for 2013 closes a budget gap of $790 million without any increased taxes or fees, including the $260 million in cigarette, candy and soda taxes proposed in the governor's budget.
"It was my feeling and the feeling shared by the chairman of Ways and Means, now is not the time to be talking about putting any increased burdens on people in particular by increasing their taxes," he said.
The budget draft includes $65 million in local aid that had been dependent in the governor's budget on any surplus and $164 million in school funds. Afterward, the speaker said cuts, efficiencies and use of stabilization funds were enough to offset new taxes.
A proposal to centralize the community college structure by the governor is not in it; rather, DeLeo said the budget measure will keep local control of community colleges but allow for better collaboration and more input from the executive office.
"If you're a Berkshire Community College, God knows, I think you know this area probably a little bit better than some bureaucrat in Boston," he said to chuckles.
Mark, who introduced the speaker, joked that he had gone to Beacon Hill with visions of political bosses in smoky backrooms and found instead a "great coach" in DeLeo.
"He listens to what we have to say, he asks our opinions, he solicits input," said the Peru Democrat. "He wants to know what's going on in the whole state."
Speaker DeLeo poses with AT&T's David Mancuso, left, and Reps. Tricia Farley-Bouvier, Paul Mark and William 'Smitty' Pignatelli.
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"He listens to what we have to say, he asks our opinions, he solicits input," said the Peru Democrat. And he should of added �then I vote the way the speaker tells me to.�
Unlike his predecessor Denis Guyer, Rep. Mark is turning into a total lapdog for the House leadership. Of the 58 roll call votes between January and June 2011, (excluding quorum calls and pro-forma land takings), Rep. Mark voted the same as Speaker DeLeo on 57 votes. Talk about adherence to leadership. Contrast this with ex-Rep. Guyer who had the guts and backbone to often stand up against the arm-twisting of the speaker and his minions when the public interest and the well-being of the 2nd Berkshire District demanded it. Certain votes require a conscientious legislator to buck their party and demonstrate common sense and independence. Rep. Mark is showing that he is a lemming.
In late March 2011, during debate on a supplemental budget for fiscal year 2011, Rep. Mark voted for an amendment indefinitely delaying another amendment that proposed providing an additional $25 million directly to cities and towns for snow and ice removal.
What it means
Despite a $700 million revenue surplus in the state treasury and a brutal �snowmaggedon�winter that saw extraordinary snowfall amounts, Rep. Mark voted to deny municipalities and school districts needed funds to pay for snow plowing. The amendment Rep. Mark voted for killed the extra funds by mandating that �the provisions of this section shall not take effect until such time as the Executive Office of Administration and Finance and the Department of Revenue have furnished a study of its impact on the state�s economy and the revenue cost to the commonwealth and its cities and towns, including, but not limited to, a distributional analysis showing the impact on taxpayers of varying income levels, the current practice of other states, any anticipated change in employment and ancillary economic activity, to the Joint Committee on Revenue and until legislation has been filed and passed pursuant to Part 2, Chap. 1, Sec. 1, Art. II of
the Constitution.� Rep. Mark voted to have the state waste money on a study of snowplowing! No we are not making this up. So when rural towns like Peru and Plainfield with little or no commercial tax base looked east to Boston for a helping hand to keep their roads open and safe, Rep. Mark said no.
That is not a good example of anything. Every Democrat voted to send that amendment to a study because it was a procedural vote. Procedural votes always go strictly by party lines. Then the House actually sent $50 million to help pay for the excessive snow plowing. Somehow the towns managed to survive.
And Rep. Gail Cariddi, Rep. Chris Speranzo, and Rep. Smitty Pignatelli voted the same as Speaker DeLeo on 58 of the first 58 roll call votes in 2011. Let me think, why would that be? Oh yeah, because they are Democrats, so of course they vote the same way as their party on most issues. Wow, must have taken a brain surgeon to figure that one out. I'm betting the average republican voted 58 out 58 times with the minority leader too.
Seriously, give it a rest, your post is barron of anything resembling a point.