NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — Entering his first full session in the House of Representative, John Barrett III is doubling down on the priorities he held when he was first elected.
"One of the areas I'm obviously concerned about is transportation in the county. We need it, especially in the Northern Berkshire area," Barrett said.
"Obviously we have to do some things to revamp it statewide but one of my bills is that under Massachusetts General Law is that 16 percent of your sales tax goes to running the MBTA so I am including a piece in there that may not go anywhere but it will get people maybe thinking about the way we can start directing some funding to our regional transit authorities."
Barrett has been pushing the state to provide more regional transit authority funding and also prodding the Berkshire Regional Transit Authority to rethink how to transport people.
"I think they've got to start thinking outside the box in how we use it and how to change our transportation system. Why can't we use vans that are available in other areas? Why can't they be used to go pick up kids going to school? It would provide additional ridership and save communities a lot of money," he said.
Barrett said the issue is of particular importance to the North Berkshire area in providing ways to get people to jobs. He cited the 300 news jobs Wayfair is bringing to Pittsfield as an example of why more routes and times need to be made available so those in his district have a shot at those jobs.
Workforce training had also been a priority. Last term he got $25,000 in the budget to pilot a program to provide training programs through MassHire and McCann Technical School. The model is to have employers take on students, provide the training, and the state will pay the majority of the salary. He plans to again push on that front.
"I always felt the best training came from the employer. The employer takes these individuals and does actual on-the-job training and for the portion of the time that they are there, the employer would pay for health insurance and these funds would be used to pay 90 percent of the employee's salary," Barrett said.
Overall for workforce development, he is looking for a "slug" of money to create more job training programs. He said he'd like to work out a partnership with MassHire, McCann, and Berkshire Community College to create the pipeline to higher paying jobs, jobs many in the area aren't currently qualified to take.
Education is the third piece of Barrett's agenda. He said he is particularly hoping to push for the implementation of the Foundation Review Commission's recommendations. He said terms were never met on that last session and he is hoping the House and the Senate can reach some agreement to do so.
"With this additional education money it would provide property taxpayer relief," Barrett said. "The loss of that education money at the state level has hurt the poorer communities and they had to ponies up with higher taxes."
The three topics tend to be high priorities among legislators but Barrett said these changes will make a bigger difference in the towns he represents.
"My district will benefit the most of it. I have nine communities. Some are wealthy communities, some are not, and the most important thing in each one of them is education," Barrett said.
Education funding has risen to the top as a priority not just for Barrett but also for local and legislative leaders. He expects the foundation formula to become one of the key centerpieces of debate during this next session.
That will be coupled with health care financing, which got stuck at the committee level last year, and an environmental bill. Barrett is particularly pushing for a raising of the net metering cap to be included in the environmental bill.
"I think that cap has to be lifted at some point in time because it is holding back projects," Barrett said.
Last session, the North Adams Democrat wasn't in office when bills were filed -- though there is the possibility of late filing. This time he's re-filed a few.
One of those bills calls for a ban on "spoofing," which is the act of a telemarketer or scammer using somebody's else number to make solicitation calls.
"Many states have already addressed this issue. What is happening is spoofing is basically a term in which I am taking and using other people's phone numbers so you will pick up the phone. There is no law against that. They can steal your number and chances are I will answer the phone if a see 413. Right now there is no law against it and I'm saying that is really stealing my identity," Barrett said.
The Berkshires has an aging demographic so that bill has become particularly important for Barrett. He added that he will be co-sponsoring a number of bills relating to protecting senior citizens.
He's filing a bill to limit train idling times to 30 minutes. He said there are trains idling for hours in residential areas of the Berkshires and he'd like to limit that to cut down on emissions.
"Those emissions are going into the air and I've seen times when it has been so bad that it looks like fog," Barrett said.
That is one of the more local bills that Barrett said he is particularly mindful of. He highlighted bills to increase the Cheshire Board of Selectmen from three to five (recently signed by the governor), expanding the Williamstown Fire District's Prudential Committee, and removing multiple community's police departments from Civil Service as examples of the local bills he particularly likes to take on.
"I'm hoping I will get the right committee assignments that will benefit the area I represent. I'm not a Boston pol. I made that clear when I sought the office. I'm a district pol. I care about this area. I got back into the business so I could work with communities and help them with projects they have going," Barrett said.
Barrett had been on the Health Care Finance Committee but said that role didn't really relate directly to the Berkshires. He hopes his committee assignment this time will be more directly related to issues in the Berkshires, such as Arts, Culture, and Tourism.
Meanwhile, Barrett said another push for him this term will be to get Gov. Charlie Baker to release funds for the Greylock Glen. He said he received a commitment from the governor to do so but says there will likely need to be private sector buy-in before that happens. He hopes to bring the administration to the site early in the term.
"That project is moving well. I want to make sure it continues to stay on track," Barrett said.
He is also prepping to take a larger role in what could be a similarly complicated project with the Berkshire Mall. He expects that at some point the mall will fall into the hands of the Baker Hill Road District and he hopes to work with the community to develop the best reuse of the property for when that happens.
In the more rural hilltowns, Barrett said he's increasingly frustrated with the lack of broadband. He plans to keep that on the front burner as well.
"My patience has really run out as with those people who live in those communities that don't have it and there is no reason," Barrett said.
Barrett is the newest of the Berkshire delegation and had a short time to get acclimated to the role.
"I think I've established a good relationship with many of the chairmen of the various committees as well as the speaker and the leader," he said.