Senate President Therese Murray said she will hold the state's record of reform against any other state in the country.
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — State Senate President Therese Murray will put the Massachusetts' record of reform against any other state in the country.
Murray and state Sen. Benjamin Downing, D-Pittsfield, fielded questions on an array of topics from local leaders Wednesday morning at a Berkshire Chamber of Commerce'ss "Eggs & Issues" forum.
For most issues, Murray believes the Senate is at the forefront. However, there is still "work to be done," particularly in reforming health care and energy policies.
"It's been a very busy year in Massachusetts and I'm very proud of the work accomplished by all of the branches," Murray said. "We have built a secure foundation for which our economic recovery will continue and which will produce future growth and prosperity. But our work is not done and never will be done and we can always do better."
Murray cited legislation that reformed pensions, created strict human-trafficking laws, regionalized economic development and marketing groups and tackled health-care costs for both small businesses and municipalities as important steps. The state was also able to end the year with a $710 million surplus that it used to build up the stabilization account, which earned the highest bond rating the state has ever had, she said.
However, health-care premiums are still too high, Murray said, but senators think they know how to fix it.
"On Jan. 1, premium rates will increase by an average of 4.8 percent and not the double digits we have seen in the past and that is good news. It's not good enough but it is good news. It is a complex issue but we will be addressing payment reform as our next step," Murray said. "Health care is the No. 1 economic engine in the commonwealth."
Democrats have been proposing to move away from the fee-for-service model and give health-care providers incentives for preventive care. Murray is not convinced that a single-payer system would work because citizens would still seek out private providers. However, the state's Commonwealth Care, which provides coverage for eligible uninsured, has been massively successful, she said.
"I don't know why the former governor doesn’t take credit for 'Romney-care' because it was a huge success here: 99.1 percent of the children in the commonwealth have health care and no other state can say that," Murray said. "The cost is the issue. How do you control the cost? That's why we're going to payment reform."
Murray said the state is consulting with Finland, Northern Ireland and Catalonia on possible payment models. All three governments offer extensive public health coverage.
Another hot-button issue is wind energy. Multiple residents and organizational leaders advocated Murray to abandoned wind siting reform legislation, which critics have said removes local control by streamlining the permitting process. One person even callled for a moratorium on all wind turbines.
Sen. Benjamin Downing served more as a moderator and allowed Therese Murray to do most of the talking.
Murray, who represents the Plymouth and Barnstable district, said her area has seen "bad" wind projects and does not support the bill. Her viewpoint is contrary to Downing, a wind-power advocate who is the chairman of the Joint Committee on Telecommunications, Utilities and Energy. While he has not formally endorsed the current draft of the bill, Downing has led the committee in multiple public hearings and believes the bill can be written in a way that allows some local control.
While Murray does not support the bill, she does believe there is a place for wind power in the state's future energy plan.
"We're looking at all kings of energy, not just one. We have to move away from fossil fuel," Murray said.
The two legislators also fielded questions on funding for cities and towns, human services, Veterans Affairs and education.
Funding for cities and town will be increased if revenues continue on an upward pace and human service organizations, such as Berkshire County Arc, are priorities of the Senate, Murray said. As for education, the two senators said the formula that determines the amount of Chapter 70 funds each school receives needs to be reworked.
"I'd like to see us revisit the formula to make it more fair. The bigger cities don't want it to happen but it has to happen," Murray said.
With the expected increase in veterans returning from war, the state has already put aside money to support the troops, Murray said. Downing added that last year the Senate increased funding toward helping solve homelessness among veterans.
One question that the two had no answer for was where the funding to complete the state's broadband expansion would come from. The state has invested $40 million in expanding broadband to all corners but the effort will go only to "community anchors" and not into every household. The funding for that last step is still up in the air, Downing said. State leaders are hoping private-sector companies will step in and help finish off the job.
"Yes, we are aware of the problem. No, we don't know the solution yet but it is something we are committed to," Downing said.
Broadband is of particular concern for the sponsor of the event, AT&T. Vice President David Mancuso, who introduced the two speakers, said the expansion is important for the company to roll out 4G and LTE across the state.
"We understand how critical broadband is to Western Massachusetts," Mancuso said. "We're working hard to expand across the state."
After the forum, Murray toured General Dynamics Advanced Information Systems with local officials. The event was closed to the press. Murray visited Berkshire County Kids Place on Tuesday evening.
Updated at 5:42 p.m. to clarify Downing's position on the wind siting bill.
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BCC to Hold 'Experience BCC'
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — Berkshire Community College (BCC) will hold Experience BCC on Wednesday, April 19 from 9 am-12 pm.
Designed to introduce potential BCC students to a typical day on campus, the event is held during Berkshire County high schools' spring break, making it easy for high school students to attend.
Potential BCC students have the opportunity to sit in on a classroom experience and discover how BCC offers the same high-quality education as other colleges, but for a fraction
of the cost. Participants will:
Meet faculty, staff and students
Enjoy a free breakfast and lunch
Learn about paying for college
Hear about more than 50 programs of study offered at BCC
Get the scoop on transferring
Take a tour of the campus
Participants start the day with a free breakfast, followed by breakout sessions featuring faculty-led, hands-on experiences from 9:30-10 am and 10:10-10:40 am. Sessions include:
Nursing with Dean of Nursing Lori Moon in the SIM Lab
STEM with Assistant Professor of Engineering José Colmenares
Allied Health with Physical Therapist Assistant Program Director Michele Darroch
Writing workshop with Writing Across the Curriculum Coordinator Liesl Schwabe
And on Saturday, dozens more from Berkshire, Hampden and Hampshire counties were at Lenox Town Hall for state Sen. Paul Mark's "Beacon Hill in the Berkshires" featuring chairs of Senate committees and State Auditor Diana DiZoglio. click for more
The Hall, which was started in 2013, inducted one other coach on Saturday, Wahconah's Jim Duquette, along with players Stephanie Young Kerr (Lee), Nicole LaFave Patella (Lenox) and Sara Hamilton (Wahconah). click for more