1st District Candidates Discuss Jobs, Experience
Anne Skinner, left, moderated the League of Women Voters debate between the candidates for 1st Berkshire District.
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — The three candidates for the 1st Berkshire District fielded questions on jobs, school funding and environmental concerns for an hour on Tuesday night in the muggy confines of the Church Street Center.
David Bissaillon of Adams, Gailanne Cariddi of North Adams and Edward MacDonald of Adams, all Democrats, are seeking to replace outgoing Rep. Daniel E. Bosley in the State House. Each stressed his or her background in government and business and how that would translate into the best representative for the 12-town district in the far northwest corner of the state.
The forum was sponsored by the Williamstown League of Women Voters and moderated by league President Anne Skinner, who posed questions from the league. This was the second time the three candidates have met in a public forum and comes just a month before the Sept. 14 primary that will essentially determine the winner.
The main focus was on jobs, not surprising considering the current economy. Bissaillon, a former president of the Berkshire Chamber of Commerce, said the main thing he'd been hearing over the months has been concerns about employment.
"Business owners want a state government that supports small business, both new and existing, and a government that allows all businesses an opportunity to provide jobs for others," he said, suggesting the Berkshires had to do it the "old-fashioned way" by helping many small businesses grow a little rather than expecting another GE or Sprague to boost the economy. "If we can help 25 companies grow two jobs, that's like creating a mid-sized company."
Bissaillon was president of the Chamber of Commerce.
Bissaillon said he would champion ways to increase energy efficiencies, develop green jobs and other new industries, and collaborations between Berkshire Community College and Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts to prepare a better-educated work force for the needs of the area's more technology-driven companies.
Cariddi, a North Adams city councilor who runs a family business, said she's already been working on such matchups between educational institutions and business as a member of the Berkshire Regional Employment Board. She would work on legislation to support innovation and entrepreneurs and would lobby for seats on committees important to the area.
"I've been saying for months that we need to need to have a seat on the Tourism, Arts and Cultural Development Committee," said Cariddi, so that the Berkshires will have a voice in one of its more important economic drivers. She would also try for the seat on the Natural Resources and Agricultural Committee currently held by outgoing Rep. Denis E. Guyer of Dalton, to ensure Berkshire farmers were represented. "We need to bring our collective wisdom back to Boston."
MacDonald, the town administrator for Chester and a former Adams selectman, said, "Our priorities right now is small industry, [small-business] jobs because that generates 40 percent of the gross revenue in Massachusetts."
Cariddi is a longtime city councilor recognized for her environmental advocacy.
He said he would support a state bank that would back higher-risk loans to help business move forward, incubator programs, and allow small business to spread their losses over three years according to the federal model. MacDonald said representatives have to be more aware of how legislation affects all sectors of the economy, for example the recently passed measure that allows small businesses to team up for better health insurance rates. While good for them, it's being paid for by mid-sized and larger companies.
He pointed to his experience working on legislative issues in both Boston and Albany, N.Y. "I know who's there; I know how to get things done."
In how the area's natural resources play into development, Cariddi, long a supporter of green and environmental initiatives, said "commonsense standards are needed."
MacDonald said town boards working together under the state's permitting laws can aid in development while protecting resources.
"I think there always remains a healthy tension between the economic concerns and development concerns," said Bissaillon. "It wouldn't be the Berkshires if we didn't have those ongoing discussions."
With gaming on the horizon, all three said they would fight for the interests of the county should a casino be built in Palmer. Cariddi said she would prefer it not be a self-contained facility such as in Connecticut but a gaming center that wouldn't compete with local venues.
"I don't think it will be a big moneymaker for the state but I think the community should be allowed to vote because it is going to tremendously impact them," she said, adding surrounding communities should also have a voice.
MacDonald said the expected $300 million to $400 million in revenue would help reduce next year's $1.2 billion deficit in the state budget. "It enhances the state to be competitive; what casino gambling does is give us money for education, to take care of seniors." A third of that money should go to back to the cities and towns, and another third to education, he said.
Bissaillon said he'd heard for years that $500 million to $1 billion in revenue was leaving the state for Connecticut casinos. "Casino gambling is coming to Massachusetts," he said. "What I will do is make sure we protect our interests as much as possible as it relates to the 1st District."
All three also agreed that the state needed to step up its commitment to regional school transportation and, in response to questions from Skinner, said they supported abortion rights and the Transgender Civil Rights bill in the Legislatures. Bissaillon and Cariddi said they were against the death penalty; MacDonald said that while he did not believe it prevented crime, he would support in cases of murder of a public servant or particularly heinous crime.
MacDonald has worked in state and local government.
The candidates expressed their hopes for votes on Sept. 14 and each stated their preparation for the job.
"They need to hear people with real-life experience because small business is the economic driver of our economy," said Cariddi. She noted her 20 years as councilor, and participation on numerous boards and commission. "I have been a responsible and trusted voice for over 20 years and I will be that voice in Boston."
"When necessary, I will get up my Irish dander, that I inherited from my mother and fight like hell for what we need. Fight to make sure those in Boston do not ignore us here in the 1st Berkshire District," said Bissaillon, a vice president of Coakley, Pierpan, Dolan & Collins Insurance Agency with a long history of community volunteerism. "I am the right choice at the right time."
MacDonald, whose loss against Bosley in 1988 for the post spurred him on to college and graduate school, said he had the experience for the Legislature.
"I know how government works because I do it every day. I will be your voice," he said. "And I will work hard every day. No one will work harder than me."
The debate was shown on Northern Berkshire Community Television; it will be repeated later this week and on WilliNet. We'll update with times when we get them.
|Tags: Cariddi, Bissaillon, MacDonald, League of Women Voters|
Decreased School Aid Unacceptable to Bissaillon
ADAMS, Mass. — While recognizing the difficult financial times the state is working through, 1st Berkshire District state representative candidate Dave Bissaillon said it is not acceptable to him that cities and towns were forced to deal with a 4 percent decrease in Chapter 70 aid for district schools.
Bissaillon also said he would not support a budget that decreases aid to schools until the formula used to determine aid amounts is reevaluated.
"Ensuring that every child in Massachusetts is entitled to a challenging and invigorating public education should not have to be a rallying point for political action," Bissaillon said. "Through funding and various requirements it sets, the state has taken on a role in the education of our
children, and needs to live up to that responsibility."
Bissaillon pointed out that in the First Berkshire District, where employment opportunities are fewer, it is even more critical that all children obtain an education that fully prepares them for career options, today and for the future, in which change is constant.
"Shortchanging education, even in difficult times, cannot be an option in a state that has always prided itself on providing the best public education for its residents," he said. "I will not support a state budget that does not provide the necessary education dollars for our region."
Insufficient funding forces communities to lay off teachers and cut programs, or increase taxes and decrease municipal services. This should not be the choice that voters, school districts and municipalities face, Bissaillon said. The state has imposed a number of new requirements on schools in recent years and is obligated to provide schools the resources to meet and exceed those obligations.
Even without the 4 percent across-the-board cut, school funding is problematic. The formula used to calculate Chapter 70 aid from the state has not been adequately adjusted to reflect the actual costs of education today, Bissaillon said. Chapter 70 is the law intended to assure fair and adequate minimum per student funding for public schools. With the exception of inflation adjustments, the factors used to determine what the state calls the foundation budget have remained stagnant since 1993.
"As your state representative, I would support a formal re-evaluation of the foundation budget levels," Bissaillon pledged. "Until that review is completed, I will never support a budget that decreases aid to any of our public schools. It is time for elected officials to start making tough decisions so that our local communities don't have to. Our children deserve that, at the very least."
For more information about Bissaillon, visit www.bissaillon.com, call 413-672-2460 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
MacDonald Proposes Changes to Seniors' Tax Exemptions
ADAMS, Mass. — With increasing costs in everything from health care to real estate taxes, Ed MacDonald, candidate for state representative in the 1st Berkshire District, has proposed increasing the dollar amount granted for qualifying senior citizens' exemptions and adjusting the monetary guidelines they must meet.
Currently, each city and town adopts an elderly exemption for property owners. There are key criteria that need to be met before an exemption is granted. In many communities, these requirements have not changed in years. The basic requirements are that an individual must own and occupy the property on July 1 of the tax year, must live in Massachusetts for the past 10 years, and own and occupy their residence for five years.
In addition to residency requirements, there are income and asset amounts that need to be met. Depending on which clause the city or town voted to accept, the income can range from $6,000 to $15,000. Assets can range from $7,000 to $30,000. These amounts are incredibly low, MacDonald said, and need to be adjusted to meet today’s cost of living standards. Once the income and asset guidelines are increased, MacDonald proposes that the exemption amount be raised from $500 to $1,000 in every community. Currently, each city and town has the authority to pass Clause 41, 41B, or 41C. Each clause has its own set of guidelines.
“I will propose a review of the exemptions that are available to senior citizens. I will recommend that income and asset guidelines increase as well as the exemption amount. Several years ago, the veterans’ exemptions increased but not the elderly exemptions. It’s time we bring the standards up and assist those who want to stay in their own homes,” MacDonald said.
For more information on tax exemptions for seniors, click here.
|Tags: MacDonald, property tax, senior citizens|
Sheriff, 1st Berkshire Debates This Week
Voters in Pittsfield and North County will have several chances to hear from candidates for sheriff and representative over the next few days.
Both races will essentially be decided in the September primary just a month away because all the candidates for the two offices are Democrats.
The debates begin tonight, Monday, at Conte Community School in Pittsfield as Thomas N. Bowler and Daniel E. Bosley face off for a second time in their pursuit to become Berkshire County sheriff. The candidates met in June in a forum hosted by the Williamstown Democratic Committee at Town Hall.
Monday's debate is being hosted by the West Side and Morningside neighborhood initiatives in collaboration with The Berkshire Eagle and broadcast on Pittsfield Community Television. The debate runs from 6:30 to 8 p.m.
Bosley, currently the state representative for the 1st Berkshire District, and Bowler, a 20-year detective with the Pittsfield Police Department, will be questioned about countywide issues as well as those of interest to residents of the city's West Side and Morningside neighborhoods. They will also be posed questions selected from the audience.
(The sheriff candidates will meet once more in early September for a "Last Word" debate on WNAW/WUPE in which iBerkshires will be participating.)
On Tuesday, the sheriff's candidates will meet again at the Church Street Center at Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts. They will be joined by the three candidates for the 1st Berkshire District seat being vacated by Bosley.
The representative candidates are Gailanne Cariddi, a local businesswoman and North Adams city councilor; David Bissaillon, vice president of a local insurance agency and former president of the Berkshire Chamber of Commerce; and Edward MacDonald, town administrator for Chester and a former Adams selectman. This is also the second time the representatives will meet, having participated in a forum in Florida in June.
The event is being hosted by the Williamstown League of Women Voters and its president, Anne Skinner, will moderate. The event begins at 7 p.m. and is expected to last two hours. The audience will be allowed to ask questions.
The representative candidates will also speak to the Berkshire Chamber of Commerce on Wednesday morning beginning at 7:45 at the Williams Inn in Williamstown. The candidates have been invited to address issues relevant to the local business community.
The cost for nonmembers to attend the Good News Business Salute breakfast is $35; members' price is $25. Those planning to attend should contact the chamber at 413-499-4000, Ext. 26, at email@example.com, or at www.berkshirechamber.com.
Cariddi Calls for Boost to Creative Economy
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — During the last decade, the creative economy has become a critical sector of Northern Berkshire County and western Franklin County. Today, the creative sector accounts for more than 6,000 jobs in the region and has proved to be a major driver in the revitalization of older cities and towns.
The reinvigoration of cities such as North Adams has facilitated new neighborhood investments and generated new employment opportunities. In 1993, 20 percent of North Adams' downtown storefronts were occupied while today nearly 80 percent are being utilized.
As Berkshire County continues to lose population, a significant challenge is to lure young artists, entrepreneurs and "hidden tech" startup enterprises to the area. Gail Cariddi, candidate for the 1st Berkshire District in the Sept. 14 primary, said Massachusetts is falling behind other states such as Rhode Island in offering housing and other relocation incentives to those in this sector of the work force who seek affordable and supportive places in which to live and work. She points out that the 1st Berkshire District contains many former mills and vacant or underutilized buildings which can be converted for artistic, cultural and entrepreneurial purposes.
"To help foster the continued growth of the creative economy, I pledge to seek appointment to the Committee on Tourism, Arts and Cultural Development," said Cariddi. "I also support the creation of a venture capital fund to assist developers with financing for the purchase and rehabilitation of buildings for studio, retail and housing space for the creative and entrepreneurial community."
Cariddi elaborates on her plans for the growth of the region on her website, www.electgailcariddi.com.