Friday, October 29, 2004
Candidates for state senator
Democrat Susan Fargo, Incumbent
As a former Massachusetts public schoolteacher, editor of the Lincoln Journal, and Lincoln Selectman, I know the importance of listening to and learning about the people and communities that I serve. Each week I have the privilege of meeting people who strive to improve their own lives, the lives of family members, their businesses, and the community. My work, as your state senator, has been to listen, understand, and take effective action on your behalf. I am proud of my accomplishments, but I am eager to take on the challenges that lie ahead.
One of these challenges is the reform of our affordable housing laws. As a vocal critic of Chapter 40B in its present form, I strongly support legislation to offer a one-year reprieve to towns adding 0.5% of affordable units to their stock per year. I also believe that the reform of 40B must be coupled with strong incentives for communities to create affordable housing and zoning reforms that give a community's master plan real authority. These reforms are underway.
Chapter 40B changes?
This year, we created Chapter 40R, a series of affordable housing incentives that will go into effect in July 2005. Under 40R, communities are offered financial incentives to develop affordable housing using "smart growth" principles.
In the next session, as the Senate Chair of the Local Affairs Committee, I will complete work on another major piece of legislation targeting our antiquated zoning laws. Collectively the reforms will increase the authority of a town's long-range master plan and allow communities to require affordable units in each and every new development.
When this work is completed, communities will have the incentives and tools needed to meet the 10% threshold — without sprawl and without altering the character of the community. Within this context of reform, Chapter 40B can and must be strictly limited to allow communities the opportunity and the time to avail themselves of these new incentives and planning tools.
Aid for Special Education?
State support for special education (SPED) costs is another challenge. Each year, mandated SPED spending eats up a high percentage of the total increase in the education budget leaving spending on regular education almost flat.
To ease the burden on communities, I fought to broaden the categories of reimbursement under the special education finance law known as the "circuit breaker," so that any type (in district, collaborative, residential) of expensive special education spending would be covered. In addition, I worked to increase the state's target obligation from 50% to 75% of the special education costs above four times the foundation rate. I am proud that these changes were implemented in the FY03 budget.
To accommodate these changes, we were aware that we would need to dramatically increase appropriations for this program. The legislature increased funding to the program by 72% in FY04, and again by 67% in FY05. Through several key Senate reforms, we were able to provide this increase in SPED funding while holding the line on taxes. Communities should enjoy an actual reimbursement rate of 65% this year. I will continue to fight for the full 75% reimbursement, and to seek additional ways to contain SPED costs to the community.
Tax relief for elderly?
Easing the property tax burden on our seniors has been another concern of mine. We must do all that we can to avoid forcing seniors out of town with high property taxes. The community is woven with the contributions of these seniors.
I was the co-author of the senior "Circuit Breaker" tax credit that currently gives senior property owners and renters a maximum $810 credit from the state. This spring the Senate passed my amendment to increase eligibility to allow homeowners with assessed values of up to $600,000 to qualify. In addition, I have fought for, and the Senate has passed:
• Enhanced Property Tax Deferral (a local option to lower interest rate on seniors that defer property taxes and to increase the income eligibility limit for deferrals)
• Increase Work-Off Limit (gives senior community volunteers a credit up to $1,000)
• Property Tax Exemption (a local option to create a local exemption for seniors up to 20% of the average assessed value in the community).
I will continue to fight for these policies until they are the law. In addition, I will continue to fight for state aid to our communities to avoid property tax increases generally.
Serving the community of Carlisle has been an honor. I hope you will entrust me with another two-year term to fight for your interests in the Senate.
Republican John Thibault, Challenger
I grew up in Fitchburg, the son of a mill worker. After graduating from technical school, I started at Wang Labs as a software engineer and became the youngest vice president in company history. When I left Wang, I led several successful high-tech companies. In 1997, I was named "CEO of the Year" by the Massachusetts Telecom Council.
I left high-tech two years ago and have since focused on community service. Along with my wife, Elaine, and daughters, Cindy and Susan, we established the Thibault Family Foundation, which focuses on helping homeless shelters, food pantries, homes for battered women, and children's support organizations. In addition, I serve other local charities and am a member of the Chelmsford Finance Committee. Through this experience, I saw how the state was cutting aid and creating obstacles for towns, cities and local organizations. I felt the district wasn't being properly represented and this led me to public service and my campaign for State Senate.
Chapter 40B changes?
Affordable housing in Massachusetts is a serious issue. The rising costs of real estate, especially in the greater Boston area, has placed an unfair tax burden on seniors and deterred families from buying homes. Unfortunately, special interests have kept Beacon Hill from fixing known problems with affordable housing laws for years now. With a common-sense approach to this issue, we can address the needs of our seniors and families, while maintaining the character of our towns and cities.
Since 1970, over 35,000 units of housing have been created through Chapter 40B. However, the legislation's wording has allowed developers to erect developments that can be out of character with our towns and cities. For the past two years, Beacon Hill has tried to reform 40B, which culminated this past spring, as the House considered H 4715. The bill passed the House in May of 2004, with an emergency preamble, by a nearly-unanimous vote of 153-1. The compromise legislation was then referred to the Senate Ways and Means Committee, of which Senator Susan Fargo is a member. Her committee failed to act on this legislation and the reforms were, in effect, killed.
As your Senator, I would support several proposals to improve Chapter 40B, including a one-year reprieve to towns adding 0.5% of affordable housing per year. I would also support two key changes to Chapter 40B. First, all affordable housing units should be permanently designated as affordable housing. Second, I would increase the affordable housing cap from 25% to 50%. These changes would help provide more affordable housing for our families and seniors.
Aid for Special Education?
Last year, Senator Fargo voted to cut more than $10 million in local aid to the city and towns of the Third Middlesex District. The Concord-Carlisle School District had its funding cut by $205,221. We must reform state government to free up funding for priorities like special education.
Special education has long been underfunded by the state. Beacon Hill must prioritize this program, so the towns and cities aren't forced into difficult funding decisions on our critical programs. The funding is certainly available and we can secure it be eliminating waste and patronage. For example, merging the Mass. Pike with MassHighway would save $200 million. That single reform could have eliminated half of last year's local aid cuts. Real efforts to eliminate patronage and waste, like pension reform and reforms to the Boston Municipal Court System, would help us direct dollars to programs that are most beneficial to our citizens, like special education.
Tax relief for elderly?
By cutting local aid, towns and cities must find alternative methods to raise revenue for their schools and other programs. If the state funds local aid and education, our communities do not have to raise property taxes on seniors and other residents. I also support returning all Lottery revenue to cities and towns. As your next state senator, I will fight local aid cuts on Beacon Hill, not only benefiting local programs, but also preventing government from taking yet more money from your pockets.
© 2004 The