Voter Guide: State Rep. Candidate L. Scott Laugenour
Lee Scott Laugenour
Q1: Right to Repair: Yes.
Q2: Assisted Suicide: Yes
Q3: Medical Marijuana: Yes
That piece of advice was given to Laugenour years ago from the owner of the Marriott Hotels, where Laugenour worked for 25 years, moving up from the front desk to a regional vice president. The California native found his way to the Berkshires in 1993, when he was attracted by the cultural scene. He started as part-time resident and later moved to Lenox full time.
Now, he is mounting his second attempt to represent the 4th Berkshire District in the state House of Representatives as a "fresh voice" for a government he feels is no longer working. On Beacon Hill, he is hoping to push out "corporate interest" that is keeping the government from fully serving the people.
"I don't believe our government is working," Laugenour said on Friday, just days before the election. "I think a number of people want to see some change."
Laugenour says he is going to be the "one voice" in the State House for that change for those who want things to run differently. Particularly, Laugenour wants to revamp the tax system, have the state to take over health care, increase green energy use and bring more money into cities, towns and the education system.
"We have an unfair tax system right now," the Green-Rainbow candidate said. "We are losing money."
Laugenour says he'd create a "fair tax" system by increasing the exemption for income tax to $46,000 — thus creating a more progressive tax. By taxing income more than $46,000 at about 8 percent, Laugenour says it will increase revenue for the state as well as create more of a "net" fairness because lower incomes would be paying less.
Increasing the exemption avoids going through a constitutional amendment, which would otherwise would be required to create a progressive tax, he said. Additionally, Laugenour says there are too many tax exemptions and the state should close some of those to increase revenue.
While opponents could argue that it would drive business away, Laugenour said he'd incentive businesses to move to the state by removing health-care costs. Laugenour advocated for the state to put aside 5 percent of gross incomes to pay for all of the state's health care needs.
"Universal health care is as important as roads and bridges," Laugenour said, adding that other countries he has lived in have been successful in creating universal systems. But in the United States, he says lobbyists have derailed that conversation.
The increased revenue gained from a new tax system would allow the state to provide investments in education, cities and towns, and public transportation, he said. He recalled when he was going to school, his music teachers had a closet full of instruments that he could borrow, which triggered his interest in music and eventually led him to the Berkshires.
Now, he said, many students don't have those options and those type of extracurricular classes require parents to pay a fee, which does not provide equality across economic levels. As a former English teacher in Japan, Laugenour said he highly regards public education and wants to raise the level here.
Another service role the government could play would be to allow municipalities to own their own utilities, he said, and would encourage undoing a law that outlaws that type of ownership. In the 20 or so communities that do still own their electrical services, the storm response has been stronger and the rates are lower, he said.
With ownership of energy, Laugenour hopes that it would increase the use of solar, wind, hydro and conservation to decrease the state's carbon footprint. He believes that all of those options need to be utilized but it'll be up to the towns to decide which projects they want.
While some argued that the recently spiked wind-siting bill would streamline and encourage wind power, Laugenour says he does not support that bill because it opens the door for more corruption.
Instead of a three-member appointed panel to make the decision for a town, Laugenour said those projects should go to town meeting. That will create more openness in the process because any "secretive" deals could be voted down, he said.
"There are some projects at town meeting that will be supported," Laugenour said. "There are projects I'd vote for and there are projects I'd vote against here... every project is different."
To increase conservation, Laugenour also says public transportation needs to be expanded across the state.
Voter Guide: State Rep. Candidate William 'Smitty' Pignatelli
William 'Smitty' Pignatelli
Q1: Right to Repair: Yes.
Q2: Assisted Suicide: No
Q3: Medical Marijuana: No
"I still love my job. I still have a lot of passion for this job and we're doing great things," the incumbent Democrat said on Thursday. "I think Massachusetts is on the right track for fiscal stability."
Pignatelli will be back on the ballot on Nov. 6 against challenger Lee Scott Langenour for the state House of Representatives seat for the 4th Berkshire District.
Coming out of a recession, the state is getting stronger and now Pignatelli is hoping to increase funding for cities and towns, increase fairness in transportation funding, close tax exemptions and further support education.
Being the incumbent, the Lenox native, who began his elected career in 1986 as a member of the Lenox Planning Board, points to the accomplishments the Legislature has already made and said he hopes to continue building on that progress. The state is one of three with a $1 billion or more in surplus funds, he said, but the other two are dependent on oil.
That surplus, along with the highest bond rating the state's ever had, positions Massachusetts to make more investments in roads, bridges and dams, he said. With a lower interest rate on bonds, Pignatelli said there will be a serious discussion about rebuilding the state "for the long term."
Transportation, however, is expected to be a major debate soon as Beacon Hill looks at the Massachusetts Bay Transit Authority. The MBTA receives about $27.4 million of sales taxes generated from the Berkshires but only $1.8 million comes back to the Berkshire Regional Transit Authority. Pignatelli said he will be fighting to let the county keep the money it generates to fund and expand the BRTA.
For cities and town, Pignatelli said there is growing investment from the state in local aid but the Legislature has also given municipalities tools to raise their own revenue with the optional hotel-motels and meals taxes as well as the Community Preservation Act.
"The state can't be the answer to all of a community's problems," Pignatelli said. "They have to be somewhat self-reliant."
The state could also have tools to raise additional revenue by re-examining the tax code and making sure the exemptions are going to the "right" people. While Pignatelli said he'd like a progressive tax, he doesn't see a constitutional amendment to make it happen passing. Instead, 2013 should be the year the Legislature picks through the tax code and adjusts it, he said..
"The idea of taxes in any shape or form is always an uphill fight with the Legislature," Pignatelli said.
Municipalities and businesses will see an economic benefit from the health-care cost reform the Legislature passed this year. The reforms emphasize preventive care and limits cost increases to 3 percent, he said.
"Health care was bankrupting our state," Pignatelli said. "We have to start stressing healthier living."
That change will be monitored but Pignatelli said he believes the bill will limit the rising costs.
Education has also seen an increase in state funding, he said, in both infrastructure as well as aiding cities and towns. Regional school transportation is still underfunded, he said, and to help the district's schools that "promise" needs to be reached.
"I think we to recognize and embrace the importance of education," Pignatelli said.
While there has been a push in the state for regionalization in schools and municipalities to lower costs. Pignatelli said he doesn't support a "full-blown" regionalization but would like to see great collaboration.
However, the threat to the district's growth is an "epidemic" of drug use, Pignatelli said. He said he will be voting against the state ballot initiative to allow medical marijuana the same way he voted against the ballot initiative to decriminalize possession of small amounts of the drug a few years ago.
"Since then, we've had an increase in South County teens using marijuana," Pignatelli. "We have an epidemic and I don't want to introduce another drug that we don't have control of."
Pignatelli said the state has made strides toward reducing drug use by implementing the prescription monitoring program, which monitors which pills doctors prescribe to patients. Pignatelli said he'd like to see an increase in rehabilitation centers along with strong controls to keep addicts in them. He'd like to see more beds in the already existing detoxification clinics like the McGee Unit at Berkshire Medical Center.
As for the environment, Pignatelli says he supports solar the most and would like to see more Berkshire buildings with solar panels because those are "out of sight, out of mind" but reap a benefit to the owners.
"I am a huge champion of solar. I think we can do more on solar. I think we need to incentivize individuals and communities to tap into that solar market. Currently, the money goes to the wrong people. The incentives go to the corporations and developers and I'd rather see those dollars go to the consumer," Pignatelli said.
The Berkshires draw tourism dollar because of its "natural beauty" and Pignatelli said he wants to preserve it. Wind could be unsightly, though he isn't against the use of wind in all occasions. He said he voted against the wind siting bill because it lacked local control and thinks such projects should go through local planning boards.
Pignatelli Urges No Vote on Physician-Assisted Suicide
The Lenox Democrat is joining a list of elected officials, medical community organizations, religious leaders, clergy and other groups who say Question 2 is deeply flawed and lacks critical safeguards for protecting patients.
"Question 2 would allow patients to receive a fatal prescription of 100 secanol pills at their local pharmacy without any family notification, and without the benefit of receiving a qualified psychiatric evaluation or consultation from a palliative care expert. This poses grave risks for the commonwealth and how we approach end-of-life care," said Pignatelli. "On Nov. 6, I urge the people of the 4th Berkshire district to vote NO on Question 2."
Among Pignatelli's concerns with Question 2:
• The lethal prescription would be dispensed at a local pharmacy and public health official would have no system for tracking the lethal dose.
• A physician would not be required to be present when a patient takes the pill, leaving him or her vulnerable to complications and injury not resulting in death.
• There is no required psychiatric evaluation despite multiple studies indicating 30 to 50 percent of patients with a terminal diagnosis develop — treatable — depression
• Patients with a prognosis of six months or fewer to live could choose to end their lives, even though most doctors admit they cannot accurately predict life expectancy.
• Patients could choose to end their lives without ever talking to a spouse or family member.
• Patients could obtain a lethal prescription without talking to hospice and palliative care professionals, who are trained to help people with ongoing diseases (some terminal, some not) to manage their symptoms and minimize pain.
Pignatelli cited the recent statement by the Massachusetts Academy of Family Physicians which criticized using the ballot question for such a nuanced and complex area of medicine as a "disservice to the citizens of the commonwealth."
Previously, the Massachusetts Medical Society, Massachusetts Academy of Family Physicians and the Massachusetts Osteopathic Society have each announced their opposition to Question 2.
Pignatelli Receives Number of Endorsements
The Lenox Democrat has received the official endorsement of his colleagues — all Democrats — in the Berkshire delegation. He also received the endorsement of the Berkshire Brigades, the county's Democratic Party organization. Now the longest-serving member of the delegation, Pignatelli serves on the Ways & Means committee and the Higher Education and Arts, Tourism & Cultural Development Committees.
"The Berkshire Delegation endorses Rep. Smitty Pignatelli because we have seen firsthand what his leadership has meant to the entire Berkshires. He has worked tirelessly to meet the needs of his constituents and this region and we are all better of for it. We hope the voters of the 4th Berkshire district will come to the same conclusion when they go to the polls on November 6th," said the delegation of state Sen. Benjamin B. Downing and Reps. Gailanne Cariddi, Paul Mark and Tricia Farley-Bouvier in a joint statement.
The three first-term representatives lauded Pignatelli's leadership and mentoring, and Downing described him as an effective advocate for the region's small communities. "There is no one with which I would rather stand up and fight for the Berkshires than Smitty," said Downing.
The Massachusetts Teachers Association and the Berkshire County Fire Chiefs Association have also endorsed Pignatelli.
"The residents of this district are fortunate to have a candidate with his qualifications and experience running for this seat," said MTA Director of Governmental Services, Joanne Blum. "His commitment to supporting and strengthening public education at all levels as evidenced in his voting record is extremely important to MTA members."
The MTA represents 110,000 teachers, faculty, professional staff and education support professionals working at public schools, colleges and universities across Massachusetts.
"Smitty is always there and willing to assist Berkshire County fire departments and emergency personnel with any issue that may arise," said Lanesborough Fire Chief Charles Durfee, president of Berkshire County Fire Chiefs Association. "Recently, Smitty worked extremely hard to assist Berkshire County emergency officials in resolving a complex issue which hampered dispatching emergency responders in Southern Berkshire."
During the past legislative session, Pignatelli was involved in the coalition that helped to pass a bill that protects call and volunteer firefighters from being dismissed from their primary job if they arrive late for work because they were responding to a call. The legislation broadened the responsibilities of call and volunteer firefighters that may be excused by primary employers to include natural disasters, emergency medical response, and hazardous material incidents.
The Berkshire County Fire Chiefs Association, based in Lanesborough, was formed in 1998 and represents all the fire departments and emergency personnel of Berkshire County.
Laugenour Calling for Promotion of Energy Conservation
Laugenour is the Green-Rainbow Party candidate for state representative in the 4th Berkshire District.
"I have long believed that conservation is an alternative energy that should be encouraged through incentives just like wind, solar and hydro," Laugenour said.
Laugenour and his husband, Mark Woodward, released their household's annual energy consumption, using the most recent readings available. Their consumption is well below available averages for similar households. They reside in a 1,724 square-foot, two-story colonial home in Lenox built in 1900. They share a 2007 Prius, which averages 46 miles per gallon. They have had two MassSave energy audits in the last three years.
Annual consumption of the Laugenour/Woodward household:
- Electricity 2656 kw/h
- Natural Gas 52 therms
- Heating Oil 380 gallons
- Water 31,000 gallons
- Gasoline 252 gallons
The Lenox Environment Committee, on which Laugenour served, began discussions last year on ways that the town could offer conservation incentives via the property tax. Energy committees in other communities in the 4th Berkshire District have had similar conversations.
"I will take the lead in promoting legislation on Beacon Hill that empowers municipalities to use local tax mechanisms in order to be more innovative in measurably decreasing climate-warming emissions," Laugenour said. "I envision a system that would reward year over year reductions as much if not more than it would reward actual levels of low consumption. I look forward to working with municipalities and members of the public to help them make meaningful progress in conservation."
Laugenour is in a two-way race against incumbent Democrat William "Smitty' Pignatelli, which will be decided Nov. 6.