PITTSFIELD, Mass. — U.S. Rep. Richard Neal is gearing up for what he believes will be "strong negotiations" on the extension of various federal tax programs.
One of those is investment tax credits specifically for renewable energy. Neal held a "prelude" meeting with Berkshire Gas on Monday and is expected to see the company's parent organization Avangrid's wind farm in Florida.
"Part of the incentive on the renewable front has two issues that I've been very interested in for a long time. The wind production credit is what generates a lot of activity in the renewable space and the investment tax credit is critical. No matter what we say when we talk about the use of wind, it still is 5 to 8 percent of America's capacity," Neal said.
He also said, "we are going to have a package of tax extenders in the fall and many of those tax extenders are going to include the incentives for green energy and I think that is a really important consideration."
"Tax extenders" refers to the practice of extending temporary tax breaks that may have a sunset, or have ended. These tax cuts are made temporary for a variety of reasons, including forcing a review of their effectiveness before extending them.
Without those tax credits, Neal believes many of the wind projects would never take place. He expects to be involved in a series of "strong negotiations" in the fall on many tax credits.
"Using the federal tax code to promote renewables is good sense," Neal said. "If we can make it more robust, I would be in favor of that, too."
The conversation also focused on the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program, which provides families assistance with heating costs during the winter. Christopher Farrell, spokesman for Berkshire Gas, said the program is "so critical" to service this area.
"They literally wouldn't be able to get through the winter without it and he has been a champion of that. If there was one topic that rose to the top, that was important to us," Farrell said.
Berkshire Gas officials met with Neal privately so exactly what was discussed isn't known. But Farrell said the conversation took a broad scope.
"We talked about the importance of energy overall. It certainly is critical and he has a keen interest. We talked about the importance of a wide portfolio of energy interests. We talked about his leadership on the investment tax credit issue. That certainly is critical for both energy infrastructure and to make energy easily available to larger audiences," Farrell said.
Neal then was given a tour around the office, meeting the workers, and seeing everything the company does. On Wednesday, he is expected to visit the wind turbines in Florida for some more discussion.
The visit for Neal was the first to Berkshire County since the emergence of a challenger to his re-election next year. Holyoke Mayor Alex Morse announced his intentions to run for the 1st Mass congressional district and quickly went on the attack. The chairman of the powerful House Ways and Means Committee didn't hold back when asked about the challenger.
"I noticed he didn't mention that the Holyoke schools are in receivership [since 2015] and that in the three years before it fell into receivership, during his tenure as mayor, he didn't bother to go to 28 out of 60 School Committee meetings," Neal said. "I think there is room in the campaign for all sorts of opinions and ideas but this is going to be as much about him as it is going to be about critique that he's offered."
Morse particularly took aim at Neal accepting political action committee money but Neal believes his contributions have come from important organizations and people.
"I think the campaign contributions I've received over the years are reflective of teachers, tradesmen, tradeswomen. I think that many of the unions have supported me and will continue to support me. I think having campaign contributions that come from the Teamsters and others is fine. I'm happy to have it," Neal said, also turning his attention to the competition.
"[Morse] had a series of problems with campaign contributions, they've been reported on different occasions. At the same time, he also met a billionaire to talk about financing his campaign. That's the broader issue. I haven't done that," Neal said.
Later, the Springfield Democrat pointed out that his fundraising supported other Democratic candidates that helped put put the party in the majority in the House and create "the most diverse Congress in the history of America."
"I think, after the Speaker of the House, I raised more money for Democratic candidates across the country," Neal said. "And not just the fundraising. I recruited those candidates. I helped them learn how to talk about issues. And I helped to make sure that the campaigns were amply financed."
Meanwhile, in Washington, Neal said he's been keeping plenty busy. He highlighted the recent passing of the Butch Lewis Act, which creates a loan program to prevent some 1.3 million workers from facing cuts to their pensions.
"We had a banner seven months. We did a IRS reform bill. We did the Secure Act, the most important advance in retirement savings in 15 years. We did the Pride Act, which is really important. And last week we did the Butch Lewis Act," Neal said.
"We've held hearings on Medicare for All. We've held hearings on women's health care, minority women's health care. It's actually been an event every single week. The Butch Lewis Act that passed the House the other night was pretty remarkable. We picked up 29 Republicans."
He is also continuing his efforts to get President Donald Trump's tax returns released. Neal described the approach he is taking as "very methodical" and said it will take time before the courts work out the issue. But, in the end, Neal believes those returns will be released.
"This is a very methodical approach that I've embraced along the way understanding that this is a federal case that is likely to make it to the Supreme Court. We were able to establish, based on policy, that 6103 was used to secure President Nixon's tax returns," Neal said.
After an hour or so with Berkshire Gas, Neal then met with Berkshire Health Systems President and CEO David Phelps and then with District Attorney Andrea Harrington.
Neal said his discussion with Phelps had touched on Medicaid/Medicare reimbursements, consolidations and opioids.
"I did point out about the budget agreement that we reached last week that there was going to be considerably more money for opiate treatment," he said. "So I encourages them to start seeking that out."
Opioids was also on the agenda with his meeting with Harrington, done behind closed doors.
The budget accord will provide considerably more money for treatment, he said, adding that it will take an integrated effort to address the opioid crisis -- rehabilitation and treatment can't be done only by prisons or isolated aspects of government. The solution will also have to tackle housing and treatment, as well as zoning, because communities are often resistant to treatment centers and halfway houses even as they realize the need.
"You have to recognize that there are 2 million people in America that used to go to work every day. They're now sitting on the sidelines," the congressman said. "Across the Berkshires, the number of what help wanted signs, they're everywhere. Part of it is this national epidemic of addiction."
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Dalton on Search for New Fire Chief
By Sabrina DammsiBerkshires Staff
DALTON, Mass. — Chris Cachat will continue as acting fire chief as the Board of Water Commissioners determines its next steps.
Cachat, the assistant chief, stepped in three weeks ago when James Peltier was placed on administrative leave. Peltier was fired last week for what the commissioners said were personnel complaints and for overspending his budget.
Commission Chair James Driscoll said at Tuesday's meeting it could take the department a couple of weeks to a couple of months to find a replacement.
Hiring from outside the department search could take longer.
These kits include outlet covers, a rubber duck that ensure that bath water is at the right temperature, and pamphlets with tips for new mothers after being discharged from the hospital.
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