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.
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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.
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Cariddi Warns of Lost Revenue, Backs Measures to Preserve Local Aid and Vital Services
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — First Berkshire District candidate Gail Cariddi is warning that passage of two statewide ballot questions coupled with the loss of federal stimulus funds and a vastly depleted rainy day account could force massive cuts to local aid and other state programs with a $5 billion hole in the next state budget.
“According to projections by the Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation (MTF), cutting the sales tax from 6.25 to 3 percent will result in an annual loss of $2.4 billion and if voters repeal the sales tax on alcoholic beverages, we are looking at another $100 million per year in lost revenue,” Cariddi noted. “Even if both referendum questions are defeated, MTF estimates that we will still have a structural deficit for the FY 2012 state budget of $2.5 billion.”
“As a city councilor, and a financial manager in my family’s business, I know how to balance a budget and as a state representative, I will push hard to enact some needed budget cuts and close tax loopholes so we can minimize the fiscal pain soon to be faced by our seniors, students and communities,” Cariddi said.
According to Cariddi, two areas in need of budgetary belt-tightening are the Legislature and the Probation Department. “The Legislature maintains a $32 million, little-publicized ‘reserve fund’ which is the product of surpluses in legislative accounts accumulated in recent years. This can be trimmed. I would also cut $4.5 million from the Probation Department for bloated positions. Between 1998 and 2008, spending for this agency grew eight times faster than any other public safety agency. Probation now comprises nearly a third of the judiciary’s 7,000 employees.”
Cariddi said that tough fiscal times demand a re-examination of certain state tax breaks. “Corporate income taxes account for just four percent of state tax revenue today compared with about 16 percent in 1970. Adopting a tax accounting method called “combined reporting”, currently used in 16 states, including California, Maine and New Hampshire, would more accurately assess a corporation’s economic activity in a particular state, and make it more difficult to shift income from a high-tax state to a low-or no-tax state. Such a system could increase tax revenues in Massachusetts by as much as $200 million a year.”
Cariddi said she is also in favor of expanding the 1981 ‘Bottle Bill’ law to include waters, teas and sports drinks which would bring in about $58 million annually with the redemption of an additional 1.5 million containers a year, or $20 million more than under current law. Municipalities would save as much as $7 million in disposal and solid waste costs.
The state’s generous film tax credit is another place for savings, Cariddi said. “I am all for supporting the ‘creative economy’ but new data from the Tax Foundation indicates that we are rolling out the red carpet to enrich Hollywood filmmakers at the expense of state taxpayers.”
Cariddi pointed to numbers compiled by state Rep. Steven D’Amico (D-Seekonk), a critic of the film subsidies, which show that last year, the state spent $113 million in subsidies but created only 1,076 full-time equivalent (FTE) jobs and brought in only $17.5 million in new tax revenue.
Telecom tax fairness is yet another area that should be considered next year, Cariddi said. “I would end the property tax exemption for machinery owned by telecommunications companies. Ending this special tax break would generate an estimated $25 million for cities and towns, and that is money we could put to better use building the infrastructure for ‘last-mile’ broadband for the rural communities of western Franklin and northern Berkshire counties.”
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Cariddi Urges Caution on School Regionalization
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — First Berkshire District candidate Gail Cariddi is advocating a go-slow approach to state plans to consolidate small public school districts. The Patrick administration and some in the Legislature are pushing for rural school systems to merge as a way to become more cost-efficient.
"I think we need to be very careful that we don't sacrifice local control and small-town identity for savings which may or may not be there down the road," Cariddi said. Cariddi, who serves as the North Adams City Council's liaison to the School Committee, noted that promises by the state to fully reimburse regional school districts for their transportation costs have never been fully funded even in good economic times.
"There is a pervasive mindset of 'metro-think' among state bureaucrats in Boston who always seem to think that bigger is better," Cariddi said. "The recent experience in the Mohawk Trail Regional District is that voters did not want expansion to include elementary students from Rowe and Hawlemont."
Cariddi, who has pledged to join the Legislature's Regional School Caucus if elected, said there are other ways to cut costs before embarking on a new wave of regionalization. "Many schools are lowering their fixed costs for energy by converting their heating systems over from oil and gas to biomass and some are using wind energy to generate electricity. These initiatives help create clean energy jobs while also shrinking a school's carbon footprint."
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Cariddi Calls for Greater Transparency in State Government
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — A March 2010 poll conducted by the nonpartisan Clarus Research Group found that 92 percent of voters believe that "government agencies should make better use of new technologies to cut costs and improve efficiency."
With the goal of using technology to open up the legislative process to voters, 1st Berkshire District candidate Gailanne Cariddi has proposed a number of reforms aimed at providing more transparency and increased accountability in state government.
"It was President Thomas Jefferson who said 'an informed populace makes wise decisions,' but today, all too often, people have a hard time finding out exactly what is happening on Beacon Hill. That has to change. We need to do a much better job of providing online tools to give citizens access to state government data with ease, speed and at no cost," she said.
Cariddi's proposals for greater oversight include:
• Creation of a searchable website detailing costs, recipients and purposes for all appropriations, providing the public with access to a checkbook-level of detail regarding state spending, investments, tax reductions, tax credits, subsidies and direct grants;
• Upgrading the Legislature's website to provide more information in a timely manner;
• Requiring committee votes cast by legislators to be posted online;
• Banning committee votes by e-mail, telephone or wireless devices such as Blackberry;
• Opening the Legislature's budget accounts to annual review by the state auditor and repealing the Legislature's exemption from the state Freedom of Information Act, allowing citizens to inspect government records; and
• Improving television coverage of House floor sessions and committee hearings to Western Massachusetts local access cable stations.
"It is unacceptable that it can take days for House journals to be posted online so the public can view the roll-call votes of their elected representatives," Cariddi said, adding that she would push for a system by which residents can view each legislator's votes by bill number or subject matter. "Judge Louis Brandeis' famous statement that 'sunlight is said to be the best of disinfectants' certainly applies more than ever today."
As a leader in the effort to create Northern Berkshire Community Television Corp., Cariddi pledged to continue to push for the airing of legislative committee hearings and House floor debates on "Gavel to Gavel" in order to reach the far northwest corner of the commonwealth.“
"Given that we are located in the Albany (N.Y.) media market, North County folks often know more about what is going on with the elected officials in the Empire State than in our own capital in Boston. I want to shorten the disconnect between the State House and the 11 communities of the 1st Berkshire District," Cariddi said.
Cariddi's views on technology and access to government are available on her website.
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