Answers From Candidates for South Chelmsford's House Seat
Highlights from Tuesday's League of Women Voters debate in Concord.
For those who weren't able to make it down to Concord for Tuesday night's League of Women Voters 14th Middlesex House of Representatives debate between Rep. Corey Atkins (D-Concord) and Michael Benn (R-Concord), here are the key points from both candidates answers on the evening's questions.
Thoughts on Chelmsford and House Redistricting
Atkins: Chelmsford town officials were consulted during redistricting process, but getting a state rep specifically for Chelmsford will be very difficult due to the fact that border towns have to come first and towns with multiple precincts are often split up.
Chelmsford is very different than the rest of the district.
Chelmsford often feels overlooked, richer communities can pass Prop 2 ½ overrides, poorer communities get more state aid. Addressing this is key. Also, if reps work together, Chelmsford gets a bigger voice due to having four reps rather than one.
Did not support split in 2002.
Benn: Chelmsford does not have four reps, Chelmsford has zero reps. Chelmsford sees current reps as representing hometowns before interests of Chelmsford.
Return to 2002 district (All of Chelmsford plus Carlisle) is needed.
What Laws Should Be Enacted To Help Job Creation?
Atkins: The state already done many things, such as freezing the unemployment insurance rate and streamlining permitting. Massachusetts hasn't raised taxes in three years, and it has lowered taxes more in the past ten years than any other state.
Things like spending on infrastructure and emerging technology funds are also important.
Benn: The key is to unshackle the business community and lower taxes further. Lower taxes have come due to increased numbers of Republicans in the legislature. In economics, when things are more expensive, they decrease, and making taxes more expensive will decrease revenue.
How Much Regulation is Too Much And Where Is It Needed?
Benn: Regulation can be good and bad. Government should regulate in things that can only be regulated by the government like making sure rules of commerce are applied fairly.
Many others, like preventing ocean pollution are important, but it's important to have a look at all of them for a cost/benefit analysis and remove regulations that cause more harm than benefit to citizens.
Atkins: The Patrick Adminstration has already begun to remove many unneeded regulations, including all regulations enacted before 1912. Unfortunately, the legislature can only provide statute, the executive branch enforces and oversees regulations.
Thoughts on Bottle Deposits
Atkins: It's a top priority, prominent Republicans in the legislature have said it is not a tax since residents get their money back when they recycle, making it a good tool to promote recycling.
Benn: Recycling bins with trash pickup are more effective to help promote recycling and more convenient. Residents that use recycling through trash pickup are cheated out of returns on deposits. It's a matter of semantics on whether this is a tax, since the government gets revenue from this due to the fact that not everyone returns their bottles.
Thoughts on Public Campaign Financing and Campaign Financing in General
Benn: Not a good idea, if even feasible. Tax money should go to people who cannot help themselves, not politicians. Private citizens can support candidates they respect and should not be forced to fund candidates they disagree with.
If money is an issue in politics, onus should be on candidates rather than citizens and outside groups. Increased transparency is a good idea.
Atkins: It's a complex issue, but the Citizens' United ruling was the worst Supreme Court decision since Dred Scott due to the increased amount of unfettered and unaccountable money. Disclosure is necessary, corporations should not be considered as people.
Matching funds could potentially work to help challengers have a chance against perennial candidates.
Thoughts on Budget Priorities
Atkins: Chapter 70, Local Aid, more money for special education and regional transportation for schools, environmental initiatives like bottle deposits.
Benn: Chapter 70 in particular. Making sure every part of the budget is looked at and assessed on its own merits.
Thoughts on Using Anaerobic Digesters to Turn Food Waste to Energy
Benn: No position
Atkins: More research needed, unsure on how it would impact livestock.
Thoughts on Improving Transportation, Particularly Regarding Revenue Sources
Atkins: Replacing current infrastructure will cost $20 billion. That and more needs to be addressed, including trains, local buses, river transportation.
Benn: MBTA restructuring will be key.
Should Healthcare Be Tied To Employment?
Benn: Yes, healthcare is expensive. Individual packages give plans that are less comprehensive.
Atkins: No, the entire state should be used as a bargaining unit. The young and unemployed should be helped, and taxpayers should not have to pay for uninsured people using emergency rooms for care that could be done more effectively in other areas.
Thoughts on the Ballot Questions
Atkins: An accord has been reached on #1 (Right to Repair), so that will likely fail. Co-sponsor on #2, it is not assisted suicide, it provides a prescription for barbituates after two requests to doctors for those who are of sound mind, and even then many do not use it. On #3 (Medical Marijuana), would support if it would ease suffering.
Benn: #1 came from the legislature not listening to citizens. #2 is assisted suicide, although well intentioned. #3 can potentially work, but there is no medical benefit to smoking of any kind.
Thoughts On A Local Income Tax
Benn: Strongly oppose, would violate state constitution and would be difficult to implement even if it did not, particularly under Prop 2 1/2.
Atkins: Filing legislation for this on behalf of residents, it will not pass without constitutional amendment, which is highly unlikely. Unsure if majority of district supports this.
Thoughts on Cutting Sales Tax to Five Percent
Atkins: All state agencies are looking into cuts. Painful decisions will have to be made. State is constitutionally required to balance the budget, and further sales tax cuts will make that more difficult.
Benn: Five percent is a good idea, towns near New Hampshire are hurt by increases in sales taxes and towns near Rhode Island lose customers and the state loses revenue when Massachusetts sales taxes are not significantly lower than Rhode Island's.
Thoughts on the new Concord-Carlisle High School and the MSBA
Benn: Dislikes tearing down old schools unless needed, but Concord voted for new school and MSBA has withheld funding due to cost overruns.
Atkins: The project lacks confidence, the key is communication and making sure the town gets the school they thought they voted for.
Thoughts on State Funded Initiatives for Start Ups
Benn: Best thing to do is lower taxes and get out of the way of business. Massachusetts is unique, unemployment here should be judged on past history, not other states.
Atkins: Increased funding for infrastructure, bringing broadband to Western Mass., streamlining permitting processes.