Saturday, October 22, 2011
Smitty PIGnatelli is undermining the will of the people by sponsoring legislation that would gut 2008's Question 2 that removed criminal penalties for possessing an ounce of marijuana. H. 477 filed by Representative Smitty PIGnatelli seeks to re-criminalize possession of an ounce or less of marijuana if captured on school, youth center, or community center grounds. Does "Smitty" PIGnatelli really want teenagers to once again receive a criminal history and possibly go to jail?
I found the news story at the following web link:
The author of the news story concludes: "What I know for sure is that when making such proposals they are not adhering to the fundamental principles of our government founded upon the consent of the governed and those of justice, moderation and frugality, absolutely necessary to preserve the advantages of liberty, and to maintain a free government.”
Smitty PIGnatelli is an undemocratic politician. PIGnatelli voted for top-down Speakers (now convicted felons) Tom Finneran & Sal DiMasi. PIGnatelli has come out in opposition of sunshine laws that would subject the state Legislature to open meeting laws and accountable governance. Now, PIGnatelli is undermining the will of the people who voted to decriminalize possession of an ounce of marijuana. PIGnatelli wants teenagers to have a criminal history and possibly go to jail for possessing an ounce of marijuana.
Guest Opinion: "A regulated marijuana market is better than a black market."
By Steve Epstein - Op-Ed - The Taunton Gazette - October 21, 2011
Two members of the Massachusetts congressional delegation and four members of the Massachusetts legislature endorse ending marijuana prohibition. The rest of our congressional delegation has yet to catch up with Barney Frank and Michael Capuano, and 196 members of the state legislature have yet to catch up with Ellen Story of Amherst, Ruth Balser of Newton, Lori Ehrlich of Marblehead and Anne Gobi of Spencer.
These representatives understand, as did a majority in a recent Gallup Poll, that a regulated market is better than a black market.
There are nine representatives on Beacon Hill who continue to suffer from reefer madness. Although it is difficult to assess who suffers the worst case, here are nine nominees. Is it Democrat James M. Murphy of Weymouth, Republican Todd Smola of Palmer, William “Smitty” Pignatelli of Lenox, George Ross of Attleboro, Gailanne Cariddi of North Adams? They are all sponsoring legislation that would gut 2008’s Question 2 that removed criminal penalties for possessing an ounce or less of marijuana.
A proposition supported statewide by more than 64 percent of the voters.
Alternatively, is it John Binienda and John Fresolo both representing Worcester who suffer more? They are the only sponsors of H. 3138, proposing a doubling and in some cases, quintupling of the penalties on those caught engaging in growing or commerce in marijuana.
Representative Murphy’s H 1836 repeals Question 2, while giving municipalities the option of accepting it. His H 1837 restores the criminal law to offenders encountered just about everywhere police are likely to encounter it. In 2009 and again this session this former Assistant District Attorney has filed these bills without co-sponsors.
Representative Smola’s H 507 seeks to make marijuana possession of any amount the only “possession only” controlled substance offense subject to a mandatory minimum 2-year sentence if possessed within 1000 feet of a school or 100 feet of a park. He files this, while legislation seeking to reduce expense to the taxpayers by reducing the number of non-violent offenders serving mandatory minimum sentences is making headway in the legislature. His H 508 seeks to reinstate criminal penalties for possession upon the operator of a motor vehicle in which police find marijuana in the passenger compartment, even if in a passenger’s pocket.
Alone this year, in 2009 Jeffrey Perry, Elizabeth Poirier and Richard Ross joined him. Jeff Perry has left the state legislature. Richard Ross won the Special Election to fill Scott Brown’s seat and may have recovered. Elizabeth Poirier also may have recovered from her reefer madness.
Perhaps the realization that more than 62 percent of their constituents voted for Question 2 cured them with a booster shot in November 2010 when a similar percentage told Ms. Poirier and other representatives in the area to “vote in favor of legislation that would allow patients, with their doctor’s written recommendation, to possess, grow, and purchase marijuana for medical use.”
Finally, there is H. 477 filed by representatives Pignatelli, Ross and Cariddi. It seeks to re-criminalize possession of an ounce or less of marijuana if captured on school, youth center, or community center grounds. Do they really want teenagers to once again receive a criminal history and possibly go to jail?
I leave it to you to decide which of these nine legislators suffers the worst case of reefer madness. What I know for sure is that when making such proposals they are not adhering to the fundamental principles of our government founded upon the consent of the governed and those of justice, moderation and frugality, “absolutely necessary to preserve the advantages of liberty, and to maintain a free government.”
Steven S. Epstein, Esq. practices law in Georgetown, and is a founder and officer of the Massachusetts Cannabis Reform Coalition.
"Rep. Pignatelli: Track drunken drivers' licenses"
By Trevor Jones, Berkshire Eagle Staff, June 2, 2012
BOSTON -- State Rep. William "Smitty" Pignatelli on Friday introduced legislation intended to curb the potentially deadly impact of repeat drunken drivers getting behind the wheel while intoxicated.
Pignatelli’s bill would require anyone whose license had been revoked or suspended due to a drunken driving conviction to get a new license, when eligible, with a red stripe prominently displayed across its face for a period of two years.
The Lenox Democrat said the idea sprang from a meeting of friends and family of Moira Banks-Dobson that was organized by Castle Street Cafe owner Michael Ballon in March. The gathering was held in the wake of the Feb. 28 multi-car crash in Sheffield that killed the 24-year-old resident and severely injured another driver, Russell Brown of Great Barrington.
That crash was allegedly caused by Frederick Weller, 35, of Sandy Hook, Conn., who was seen swerving in and out of traffic on Route 7 before crashing head-on into Brown’s and Banks-Dobson’s vehicles. Weller is facing multiple felony charges, including motor vehicle homicide while under the influence of alcohol and fifth offense drunken driving.
The drunken driving charge was actually Weller’s seventh in four states since 1994, but the maximum charge in Mas sachusetts is fifth offense.
Pignatelli said the purpose of the red stripe would be to give bars, restaurants and package stores pause before excessively serving someone with a past record.
"I don’t look at it as a scarlet letter," said Pignatelli. "I look at it as raising awareness and making the people selling the alcohol more aware and more in tune with the societal problem we have with drinking and driving."
Because the bill was introduced near the end of the legislative session, it likely won’t pass this year. The reason to introduce the bill now, he said, was to raise awareness heading into the prom and graduation season.
Pignatelli said he will push hard to pass the bill next session if he’s re-elected. There are similar laws in Georgia and other states, he said.
Pignatelli said Massachusetts has some of the toughest drunken driving laws in the nation and he acknowledged his bill won’t stop people from driving while intoxicated if they really want to. But if it ends up saving just one life, he said, it will be a success.
"Pignatelli, Laugenour battle over income taxes, marijuana, nonprofits, leadership"
By Clarence Fanto, Berkshire Eagle, October 23, 2012
GREAT BARRINGTON -- In a fiercely combative public debate, 4th Berkshire District state Rep. William "Smitty" Pignatelli, D-Lenox, and Green-Rainbow Party candidate Scott Laugenour tangled on state income tax rates, a binding ballot question on legalizing medical marijuana, a potential proposal to tax nonprofits, and leadership issues.
The one-hour debate was attended by about 50 citizens at Monument Mountain Regional High School on Monday night.
"The fire in the belly is strong, the passion for this job is as great as it ever was," said Pignatelli, 53, seeking his sixth two-year term in Boston. The 4th Berkshire District, under redistricting, expands to 20 towns in Berkshire and Hampden Counties as of the new year. The House district will be the largest geographically in the state, stretching from Richmond to Russell.
"I'm proud of the tough votes I've taken, and I can defend, if I even need to be defending, every vote," declared Pignatelli.
Laugenour, 55, is re-challenging Pignatelli, who took 83 percent of the ballots in their 2010 matchup. He emphasized his policy of accepting every public discussion opportunity offered and criticized his opponent for setting a limit on the number of debates. There are two more coming up.
Outlining his 25-year management career with Marriott Resorts, Laugenour explained that his goal is to "challenge lobbyists' power and expose corporate influence on legislation" and he stressed openness, transparency and "an innovative approach to democracy" based on his independence from major political parties.
Calling for upending the state's "regressive tax policy," Laugenour proposed eliminating state income taxes on the first $46,000 of income, while raising the rate to 8.3 percent above that threshold. The current Massachusetts income tax rate is 5.3 percent of gross income. According to Laugenour, his plan would produce $1.5 billion in new revenue for the state.
But Pignatelli countered that Laugenour's progressive tax proposal would require changing the state's constitution, which currently requires a flat tax on all personal income. Attempts to amend the constitution for a progressive rate failed in 1976 and 1994, according to the independent Massachusetts Budget and Policy Center.
Laugenour denied that a constitutional amendment would be needed for his income tax proposal, which he claimed would result in lower taxes for income below $90,000.
As an alternative, Pignatelli proposed a review of how state tax dollars are spent, citing a $54 million credit to Evergreen Solar Inc., the clean energy company in Devens that declared bankruptcy six months later, closed its factory, cut 800 jobs and shifted production to China. "That's a waste of $54 million," Pignatelli stated. He described Laugenour's tax plan "as the wrong policy at this stage of the game. Let's not raise taxes and put an additional burden on people's pocketbooks."
Outlining the battle to win a fair share of state aid for regional school districts such as Berkshire Hills, Pignatelli said, "I don't think my opponent has any idea of what happens in the state Legislature on the priorities we have. We've got to fight the fights we can win, we've got to be willing to compromise on the ones we can't, but it's all about the [4th Berkshire] district first."
Pignatelli blasted a proposal endorsed by his opponent to tax nonprofits such as Tanglewood, which pays in lieu of taxes and injects $63 million into the county's economy annually during its summer season, and organizations such as the Railroad Street Youth Program in Great Barrington, which deals with at-risk young people. "We need to be very careful, we'd be putting them out of business," Pignatelli said.
Laugenour called the incumbent's statement "a gross mischaracterization," explaining that he signed a petition circulated by Mount Washington resident Gail Garrett calling for an examination of nonprofits based on a definition of charity "that predominantly helps the poor. The nonprofit sector has morphed into something quite large. There were no proposals there, it was an opportunity to begin discussions."
Asked about support for statewide ballot question 3, which would legalize marijuana for medical purposes as of Jan. 1 if approved, Laugenour voiced his support in a brief statement, while Pignatelli expressed in detail "very serious reservations" about the language of the proposal, which he termed "very open-ended and very loose, there's not even an age restriction."
He called marijuana a "gateway, not for everybody but for some people" to more serious drugs such as heroin. According to Pignatelli, "there's no medical proof that marijuana actually has any healing agents, it may provide some comfort." He predicted the binding referendum would pass on Nov. 6, "but then the Legislature is going to have to fix it."
Laugenour accused Pignatelli of "double-dipping" by "claiming travel deductions on federal tax returns that are already reimbursed by state taxpayers." Pignatelli told The Eagle on Tuesday that the federal tax code allows state lawmakers who must travel more than 50 miles from their districts to claim the deductions, which he compared to deducting interest on home mortgages.
Questions were prepared and presented by student moderators Bridget Monti and Kevin Marzotto, with followups by Meghan St. John, an English and journalism teacher at Monument High and adviser to the student newspaper, the Maroon Tribune. William Fields, a retired social studies teacher, served as emcee. Written queries submitted by audience members were included. Earlier, the candidates discussed the issues in a high school civics class and at a session with reporters, covering many of the same topics.
The candidates debate again at the Lenox Library on Wednesday, Oct. 31, at 7:30 p.m.
December 15, 2014
Re: Smitty Pignatelli's real public record
Lenox State Representative William "Smitty" Pignatelli's real public record includes voting for top-down State House Speakers/Convicted Felons Tom Finneran and Sal DiMasi. Pignatelli opposes sunshine laws for the State House. Pignatelli spoke in favor of behind closed doors meetings to decide important state government policies. In 2008, the voters in Massachusetts endorsed decriminalizing one ounce or less of marijuana possession. Since then, Pignatelli targeted youth who possess one ounce or less of marijuana near a school, youth center, or community center grounds. Pignatelli wants to ruin the future of youth by giving them a criminal record so they won't receive student loans for college or be able to get a good job due to a criminal record. In this year of 2014, Pignatelli ran unopposed for re-election for State Representative. Pignatelli spoke out about how it is a good thing to run unopposed because he believes the people support him. Pignatelli doesn't believe it is due to the high cost of campaigning, insider politics, and voter apathy. After all, Pignatelli is a career politician due to all of these aforementioned civic problems. In the winter of early 2004, I asked Pignatelli to sign my nomination papers for Berkshire State Senator. Pignatelli looked at me and lied, saying to me, "I don't sign nomination papers." I knew right then and there that Pignatelli is not a man of the people. Instead, Pignatelli is a top-down state government politician who supports corrupt, top-down House Speakers, behind closed-door politics, and targets youths who use a small amount of marijuana to ruin their futures by giving them criminal records. Pignatelli represents top-down politics of the banal!
- Jonathan Melle
"More ‘sunshine’ a must: State law needs reboot"
By Colman M. Herman, The Boston Herald, January 16, 2015
There is an adage that goes information is the currency of democracy. The trick is how to pry the information loose.
In Massachusetts we have the Public Records Law at our disposal. Sometimes it can help uncover waste and incompetence in government. But the sad reality is that the law is in need of a major overhaul.
One glaring problem is that the Legislature and the judiciary are not covered by it, and governors back to Paul Cellucci have claimed that they are not covered either, relying on one legal case in which they twist the court’s reasoning to suit their purposes.
Every year many pieces of legislation are introduced that would improve the Public Records Law, but they go nowhere.
In the session just ended, for example, Rep. Peter Kocot (D-Northampton) introduced legislation that would have established a special commission to explore whether the Legislature should be subject to the Public Records Law. It would also have limited the fees that can be charged for public records, mandated the providing of more records in electronic form, and required state agencies to post reports, decisions and votes.
But the bill died a quiet death. I strongly believe that it was deep-sixed because legislators wanted no part of any law that might expose the details of their dealings — heaven forbid!
Kocot says he will refile the bill in this session.
Besides exempting key elected public officials, the law has 70 or so exemptions that officials can, and often do, disingenuously claim in order to shield records from public scrutiny.
One often abused provision is the “deliberative process” exemption, which says that citizens cannot get access to any records related to a policy while it is being developed. The question becomes, why not? Are citizens not entitled to know what their elected and appointed officials are thinking as they formulate policy?
Imposing high fees for records is another way to discourage people from obtaining them.
I had previously reported in CommonWealth magazine that oversight of state leases by the Department of Conservation and Recreation has been lax. Rent from some of the state’s leases was going uncollected, expiration dates on others were being ignored, and deals were being renewed in perpetuity at bargain-basement rents.
As a result, last April, DCR Commissioner Jack Murray hired a consultant, TR Advisors, for over half-a-million dollars to try and straighten things out. I recently asked the agency for copies of any documents that might shed light on the specifics of TR’s findings.
But DCR wanted $716 to turn over the records, which they insisted would take the work of seven people to assemble: an accountant, a systems analyst, a program manager, an administrator, a clerk, an attorney and a paralegal.
There is an appeals process through the public records division of the secretary of state’s office. But despite the fact that there is a staff of four attorneys who handle those appeals, it often takes months for a ruling to be issued — even though most of the cases are cookie-cutter.
Kocot’s legislation would fix a lot that is wrong with the Public Records Law. So legislators need to put on their big-boy pants and pass it this time out. After all, it’s been 235 years since the Massachusetts Constitution established the principle of open government.
Colman M. Herman is a freelance writer and reporter living in Boston.
Massachusetts Public Official Personal Financial Disclosures
State officials are required to submit personal financial disclosures to the State Ethics Commission each year.
The following are state-mandated statements of financial interest made available for public inspection.
January 25, 2016
Re: Down with Smitty Pignatelli; No to him as the next State Senator!
Ben Downing stepping down as Pittsfield State Senator after a decade of public service. I wish him well.
I wonder who the G.O.B.'s are going to place in this important political office? Rumors say it will be William "Smitty" Pignatelli.
I dislike Smitty Pignatelli because he represents top-down government of the banal. Rep. Smitty Pignatelli's first vote as on Beacon Hill's State House was a vote for Speaker Tom Finneran in January 2003. Many new state reps. voted "present", while Smitty Pignatelli fell in line with the rest of the bureaucrats impostering as Legislators. Smitty Pignatelli openly spoke out in support for closed doors legislative sessions where a few legislative leaders decided the agenda, while hundreds were powerless or silenced. Smitty Pignatelli even hosted Speaker Tom Finneran at a Lenox fundraiser at Cranwell.
In early 2004, I was gathering signatures for a would be run for Pittsfield State Senator, and I asked all the insiders like Smitty Pignatelli to sign my nomination papers. They all refused! I wasn't an insider, corrupt Berkshire County Democratic Party political hack so I was refused all of their signatures. I knew Smitty Pignatelli was not a man of the people, and that he represented the worst of state and local politics. I read on the blogs that if you are important or a wealthy campaign supporter, Smitty Pignatelli is a complete brown-noser. But if you are someone like me, he gives you an arrogant attitude like he is someone important.
Smitty Pignatelli went on to vote for Speaker Sal DiMasi, who like Tom Finneran, became a convicted felon.
With all of the issues and problems facing the Berkshires and Massachusetts, Smitty Pignatelli focused on giving youth criminal records if they possessed a small amount of marijuana near a youth center. What a guy! Instead of helping youth achieve successes in their young lives, Smitty Pignatelli wants to give youth criminal records so they will have trouble getting ahead in their young lives.
I hope the G.O.B.'s don't set Smitty Pignatelli up to be the next Berkshire State Senator!
- Jonathan Melle
“State Reps. Smitty Pignatelli, Tricia Farley-Bouvier consider Massachusetts Senate runs”
By Shira Schoenberg | email@example.com – The (Springfield) Republican - January 26, 2016
Two Democratic state representatives are considering running for the state Senate seat that will be vacated by Sen. Ben Downing, D-Pittsfield, when he leaves at the end of this term.
State Rep. William "Smitty" Pignatelli, D-Lenox, and State Rep. Tricia Farley-Bouvier, D-Pittsfield, both told The Republican / MassLive.com that they are seriously considering running.
Pignatelli said he plans to decide in the next couple of days. "I'm working on it with family, friends and key supporters to see what they think," Pignatelli said.
Farley-Bouvier does not have a set time frame, but said she is considering what is best for her family and her constituents. "The compelling issues are around how best to serve the people," Farley-Bouvier said.
While Pignatelli has more political experience than Farley-Bouvier, Farley-Bouvier has a strong base of voters in Pittsfield, the largest city in the 52-community district. She has been a progressive voice on social issues, particularly related to child protection, while he has focused on economic development and education.
The Senate district is geographically the largest in the state, covering parts of all four Western Massachusetts counties.
Pignatelli, who was first elected to the House in 2002, considered running for the Senate a decade ago. He decided not to run then, in order to get more experience in the House, and Downing won the seat.
"Here I am in my seventh term ... saying if I'm going to do it, this will be my next opportunity, and I may never have one again," Pignatelli said. "It's foolish not to look at it."
A decade ago, Pignatelli was raising his children. Now, his son is 26 and his daughter is a college senior. "I'm in a different time in my life. I have a different level of experience that I think could carry over nicely if I do decide to jump into this," Pignatelli said.
Pignatelli is vice chairman of the Joint Committee on Tourism, Arts and Cultural Development, and he serves on the committees on Education, Ways and Means, and Redistricting. But he has not been able to secure a committee chairmanship under House Speaker Robert DeLeo, D-Winthrop.
Pignatelli stresses the work he has done on constituent services and working on issues related to his district in areas such as education, job creation and health care. "I take great pride in being a district representative," Pignatelli said.
Pignatelli's district in the Berkshires is geographically the largest House district in the state, and he said he is not intimidated by jumping into the state's largest Senate district.
Pignatelli grew up in Lenox and worked as a master electrician for 20 years before taking over his family's electrical contracting business. He then worked as business development director for Lee Bank before running for the House. He also has served on the Lenox Planning Board and Board of Selectman and as a Berkshire County Commissioner.
Farley-Bouvier was first elected to the House in a 2011 special election. Before that, she was a special education teacher and had worked with English language learners and immigrants. She has also served on the Pittsfield City Council.
In the House, Farley-Bouvier has been an active member of the progressive caucus. Issues that she has focused on include criminal justice reform, pay equity for women, establishing a survivors' bill of rights for sexual assault victims and pushing for a bill protecting the rights of transgender people in places of public accommodation.
As a member of the Joint Committee on Children, Families and Persons with Disabilities, she has been active on issues related to reforming the troubled Department of Children and Families. Farley-Bouvier said she has tried to give voice to foster families and children and others "who don't get a heard a lot."
She also serves on committees related to mental health and substance abuse and to climate change.
She has three teenagers, the youngest of whom is a junior in high school.
As of the end of 2015, Pignatelli had close to $90,000 in his state campaign account. Farley-Bouvier had just $7,000.
January 27, 2016
Re: Stop Smitty Pignatelli!
"Smitty" Pignatelli is considering a campaign run for Berkshire State Senator. There are many news stories that Smitty Pignatelli and Tricia Farley Bouvier are both in the process of deciding to run for Berkshire State Senator.
Once again, I do not believe Smitty Pignatelli should be elected to State Senator. Smitty Pignatelli is a Democratic Party, Good Old Boy political hack! He voted for now convicted felons, Speakers Tom Finneran and Sal DiMasi. He spoke out against reforming the state Legislature through sunshine and open meeting laws. He spoke in favor of the way business is done on Beacon Hill behind closed doors where hundreds of elected officials are shut out and silenced from setting the political agenda.
He is not a man of the people, and he supports the very corrupt, insider state and local politics that ran Pittsfield and the Berkshires into the proverbial economic ditch.
Smitty Pignatelli even sponsored legislation to give youth criminal records if they possessed a small amount of marijuana near a youth center. His priority is not finding opportunities for local youth, but rather, he wants to make life difficult for them by slapping them with criminal records.
Smitty Pignatelli is a career politician who would die of old age in political office if he could stay in politics long enough. Down with Smitty Pignatelli!
- Jonathan Melle
State Rep. William "Smitty" Pignatelli, D-Lenox, is saying no to a run for the state Senate to replace his longtime friend Sen. Ben Downing of Pittsfield. (Eagle File Photo)
“Rep. Pignatelli won't run for state Senate, will seek new House term”
By Jim Therrien, The Berkshire Eagle, February 2, 2016
PITTSFIELD - State Rep. William "Smitty" Pignatelli is saying no to a run for the Senate to replace his longtime friend Sen. Ben Downing of Pittsfield.
Pignatelli, D-Lenox, had been considered a strong candidate for the Berkshire-Franklin-Hampshire Senate district and said recently he was seriously considering a run. However, he said in an emailed release on Tuesday that he wants to remain in the his 4th Berkshire District House seat.
"The opportunity to serve in the Massachusetts state Senate is, admittedly, very tempting," Pignatelli said. "However, I love the House! I am honored to serve! In that spirit and in the best interests of my family and the district that I call home, it will be an honor to run for re-election to the House."
Pignatelli's decision leaves no declared candidates to replace Downing, who announced Jan. 25 that he wouldn't seek another term after 10 years in the Senate. He will, however, serve out his term through the end of 2016.
State Rep. Tricia Farley-Bouvier, D-Pittsfield, who also had considered a run for the Senate, said Tuesday that her decision to run for another House term instead won't change. She said that decision "was made without regard for who the other candidates would be."
Farley-Bouvier said of the now wide-open Senate race, "I would expect to see some movement over the next few weeks."
"After an extremely successful run as our state Senator, Ben recently announced that he will not run for another term," Pignatelli said in his statement. "With this news, my name has been offered as a likely candidate to run for Ben's seat and so, today, I have an important decision to make. Running for office, for any office, is a deeply personal and intense decision. I have been on an emotional roller coaster ever since Ben's announcement.
"I have spent considerable time reflecting on my 14 years of service as your state representative for the 4th Berkshire District, and what we have achieved together," Pignatelli said.
After noting ups and downs for the county and some recent successes, Pignatelli added, "Ben and I didn't succeed in all of this as solo enterprises, or even as one half of a 'dynamic duo;' we succeeded together, and we succeeded because of our supporters. In terms of legacy, together, I believe that we have achieved something we should all be proud of."
Quoting the late Sen. Edward Kennedy, Pignatelli said, "'The work goes on, the cause endures, the hope still lives, and the dream shall never die.' Those words inspire me each and every day to do good work for the people who have entrusted me to represent them."
Contact Jim Therrien at 413-496-6347. firstname.lastname@example.org @BE_therrien on Twitter.
related link: www.iberkshires.com/story/51127/Pignatelli-Seeking-Return-To-House-Not-Running-For-Senate.html
William "Smitty" Pignatelli: "Reflections on a team, and a decision"
By William "Smitty" Pignatelli, Op-Ed, The Berkshire Eagle, February 3rd, 2016
LENOX - "Politics" wasn't a dirty word in my house growing up. Nor were politicians thought of as "bad people". On the contrary, my parents, leading by example, taught their children that a life spent in service to others — with passion, leadership and vision — was an honorable profession.
My parents expected my siblings and I to do whatever we could to help others and they proved to us, time and again, that doing so helped to raise our own hopes and aspirations.
Ten years ago, Ben Downing, my lifelong family friend, was first elected to the Massachusetts state Senate. Since then, he and I have tackled the tough issues of the region and delivered great results.
After an extremely successful run, Ben recently announced that he will not run for another term. With this news, my name has been offered as a likely candidate to run for Ben's seat and so, I had an important decision to make.
Running for any office is a deeply personal and intense decision. I have been on an emotional roller coaster ever since Ben's announcement. I have spent time reflecting on my 14 years of service as your state representative for the Fourth Berkshire District and what we have achieved, together.
Together, we have seen the ups and downs of our local, state and global economy. We have seen long-established businesses close and we have seen entrepreneurs open the doors to new endeavors. We have seen buildings, long dormant, brought back to life. We have seen restaurants, theaters and world-class companies once again employ hundreds of hard-working people. We have seen roads and bridges and "streetscapes" repaired and replaced. We have seen new and renovated public schools throughout the district as well as much-needed investments in higher education. We have seen 17 communities pull together in an historic initiative to "share services" that will strengthen municipal budgets and save money for the hard-working taxpayers who call our towns "home".
Ben and I didn't succeed as solo enterprises, or even as one half of a "dynamic duo", we succeeded together, and we succeeded because of our supporters, In terms of legacy, together, I believe, that we have achieved something we should all be proud of.
Throughout my career in public service, I take the greatest pride in providing good constituent service. When the parent of a child with disabilities needed assistance in their school, I was there. When someone was having difficulty finding home care for an elderly parent, I was there. When someone needed help getting veterans benefits or health care, I was there. Whatever the issue, whatever the circumstance, I AM there. I have approached each constituent case with personal attention. I love my job and I aspire to help as many of my constituents as I can. I promise always to do this; with the same passion, leadership, and vision that my parents taught me.
To quote our late US Senator Edward Kennedy "The work goes on, the cause endures, the hope still lives, and the dream shall never die".
Those words inspire me to do good work for the people who have entrusted me to represent them. The opportunity to serve in the State Senate is admittedly tempting. However — I love the House! I am honored to serve!
In that spirit and in the best interest of my family and the district that I call home, it will be an honor for me to run for re-election to the House of Representatives. Together with each of you and with the Berkshire delegation, we will continue to make the Berkshires great.
"Smitty" Pignatelli officially announced his decision on Monday, February 1st, 2016.
Clarence Fanto | The Bottom Line: “Pignatelli passes on Senate shot, but Mark weighs bid”
By Clarence Fanto, Op-Ed, The Berkshire Eagle, 2/6/2016
LENOX - There's a job open in the state Senate as top lawmaker representing 51 cities and towns in Western Massachusetts, filling Ben Downing's very big shoes.
But the dean of the Berkshire delegation, state Rep. William "Smitty" Pignatelli, won't be trying them on for size.
Observers and many of his supporters were quite surprised this past week when the Lenox Democrat announced that he would not be a candidate. He was widely considered the most qualified successor to Downing, whose achievements on behalf of his constituents over the last decade cannot be overstated.
With another potentially strong candidate, state Rep. Tricia Farley-Bouvier, D-Pittsfield, also deciding to pass up the Senate contest in order to seek re-election to her current seat in the House, political prognosticators are left scratching their heads.
During a conversation in his district office here on Thursday, Pignatelli emphasized that his decision to run for an eighth two-year term as state rep instead of pursuing Downing's seat was entirely personal, not political.
"I saw no political impediments," he said, noting his three decades of service in local and state government. At the interviewer's suggestion that his election to the state Senate might well have been a slam-dunk, Pignatelli acknowledged that possibility but cautioned, "that's why we have elections, there's a reason they count the votes because nothing's a sure thing."
But he did not quarrel with the notion that he would have been a formidable candidate, given his strong base of supporters and a campaign war chest of nearly $90,000.
He characterized discussions with family and friends as "are you ready to do this, do you want to do this, do you need to do this? And that's what it came down to." Pignatelli had declined to run for state Senate 10 years ago, clearing the way for Downing, then 24, to win the seat.
LETS WINDOW SHUT
At 56, Pignatelli acknowledged, he won't have another shot at a Senate race: "Whoever the next state senator is, unless they're a complete knucklehead, will probably be there for the next 10 years, maybe longer. This was my window of time if I was going to do it."
Instead, he hopes to continue in his current position for the next decade, or even longer, subject to approval of the voters, of course.
Pignatelli evinced no desire for greater power on Beacon Hill, listing his membership on three major committees — Ways and Means, Higher Education, Cultural Development.
Becoming a committee chairman is "totally irrelevant to me," he stressed, because the route to a chairmanship is currying favor and "going lockstep" with the House leadership. "I haven't been able to do that, I vote my conscience, I vote my district and I don't always endear myself to the leadership because of that. So I like that independent streak."
Pignatelli also touted the leading role of the state House in crafting state budgets after the governor offers his template and in playing a key role on other major legislation.
"I like the House, my friends are there and the real work is done in the House, in my opinion, and I like what we're doing. It was very tempting, but I made the right decision I have no regrets and I'm at peace with it."
So, if not Pignatelli, who? As of this writing, only community advocate Adam Hinds has announced his candidacy.
But state Rep. Paul Mark, D-Dalton, is seriously considering a run, according to Pignatelli. Mark's zigzag district in northeastern Berkshire County extends into mostly rural Franklin County, 16 towns in all.
"He would be extremely formidable, one of the hardest-working state reps in the Legislature," Pignatelli said. "Paul was supporting me, but now that I'm out, he's interested."
DECISION TO COME SOON
In a brief phone interview on Friday afternoon, Mark confirmed that he's seriously discussing with family, friends and advisers a potential run for Downing's seat.
He said he expects to announce his decision within the next several days.
Other contenders are likely to emerge, and a competitive Democratic primary in September would be healthy, Pignatelli affirmed, as he prepares to run for re-election himself, whether or not he has a challenger this time.
"I always say, nobody should run unopposed but me," he joked. "Everybody else should have a race."
Turning serious, he explained that "whether I have opposition or not, I run hard, put up my lawn signs, I do my radio ads, I do what it takes to run for re-election and don't take anything for granted."
But Pignatelli does not anticipate a Republican candidate emerging for state Senate. "I think this is a Democratic seat, a Berkshire seat even though the district is very sprawling."
"I've always said that in a presidential election year, Democrats in Massachusetts are unbeatable. I don't see how we could get beaten if we have a legitimate candidate running a legitimate campaign."
He cited a surge of online voter registration, as reported by Secretary of the Commonwealth William Galvin, that could produce an unprecedented turnout of nearly 3 million statewide in November.
The Democrats' favored presidential candidate should become clear after the delegate-rich March 1 "Super Tuesday" Democratic primaries and caucuses in a dozen states, including Massachusetts, Pignatelli predicted. (Republicans choose delegates in 14 states).
If Hillary Clinton emerges as the likely nominee, he said, "I hope she keeps Bernie Sanders engaged in this whole campaign, it's too critically important not to lose this election. I personally think Hillary is the best-suited, she's not the perfect candidate by any stretch of the imagination, but Ted Cruz or Donald Trump? That's kind of frightening."
For Democrats, it comes down to "who's the best candidate to win a 50-state election," he added.
My crystal ball is totally cloudy on the national contest in both parties, but closer to home, there's good reason to feel confident that in the post-Downing era starting next January, the Berkshire delegation to Beacon Hill will remain in steady, capable hands. In this gloomy and stressful campaign year, that's something worth cheering about.
Contact Clarence Fanto at email@example.com
“Group: Massachusetts lawmakers' open meeting exemption unconstitutional”
The Associated Press, 2/26/2016
BOSTON - The Legislature's exemption from the requirements of the state's open meeting law is unconstitutional, a conservative-leaning think tank said Thursday, but Attorney General Maura Healey declined to wade into the dispute.
The Boston-based Pioneer Institute said the self-exemption restricts public access to certain legislative meetings and undermines the constitutional tenet that government be accountable for its actions.
"A public kept in the dark about critical policy decisions cannot hold its elected representatives accountable," the organization said in a statement.
In a letter to Healey, a Democrat, Pioneer asked that she issue an informal advisory opinion agreeing with its contention that the exemption written into the open meeting law was unconstitutional.
Chris Barry-Smith, first assistant attorney general under Healey, responded in a letter that the office lacked the authority to issue such an opinion. While it was empowered to offer opinions on the operation and implementation of the law, it could not conduct the constitutional analysis that the Pioneer Institute was seeking, the letter said.
The group said it disagreed and has asked Healey to reconsider.
In defending the exemption, lawmakers have said the ability to confer in private, set priorities and have frank exchanges of ideas out of public view is vital to the smooth operation of government.
The open meeting law requires that "all meetings of a public body shall be open to the public," with exceptions for meetings that may involve sensitive information about a government employee.
John Sivolella, a senior fellow in law and policy at the institute, said legislative committees often vote to close meetings or poll its members about legislation by email, which he contended could also be construed as running afoul of the open meeting law.
The institute has not decided whether to ask the state's highest court to rule on the constitutionality of the exemption, Sivolella said.
December 9, 2016
I continue to read about Lenox State Representative William "Smitty" Pignatelli asking municipalities to consolidate and share administrative services as a form of sacrifice to the hard hit local taxpayers. I would like to point out the following about Smitty Pignatelli:
* He will serve his 8th 2 year term in the State House over the next 2 years
* He is a career politician who plays into the hands of the Good Old Boys club that has tanked Pittsfield's local economy
* He explains how bad things are for the struggling working class families in Western Massachusetts, while he collects all of his taxpayer funded pay and benefits
* He wants the local government to make sacrifices in the name of the hard hit taxpayers, but he never offered to sacrifice any of his own state government pay and benefits
* He will probably serve decades in public office and is banking on collecting a big state government pension in his future old age
In closing, Smitty Pignatelli is everything that is wrong with Pittsfield politics!
- Jonathan Melle
Letter: “Shared services work, but not in this instance”
The Berkshire Eagle, January 6, 2017
To the editor:
I feel certain that every Stockbridge citizen is in favor of sharing services. I am!
We need to understand that the proposal we will be talking about on Monday (Jan. 9) is about being managed/governed by a shared regional administrator and one regional assistant among three towns. That is it, period! It is not about whether to or not to share services. We do share services and have for many years.
If we were to share a regional town administrator and an assistant with two larger towns we may lose more than we gain. When one enters any agreement there has to be protection. There has to be balance. I believe there is no way to achieve equality with two larger towns. We are the smallest town. We have the potential to be voted down or gobbled up.
I believe that sharing a town administrator would be detrimental to our town. I also believe we may find other areas of sharing that have not been looked at yet. Let's spend our time doing that and get out of this concept where as the smallest town of the three we may not be able to speak for ourselves on important issues or situations.
Consider what the towns of Lee and Lenox found out when they tried to hire a shared school superintendent (Eagle, Jan. 2). After a year, the idea has been abandoned. Lee stated it wanted someone who is vested in its own school district and would be accessible and be the face of Lee schools. They did not move forward with sharing a superintendent, but they did decide to share a food service director.
We have participated in shared services for many years with our neighboring towns and continue to find places where we can share equipment and purchase things together. We already share a highway construction roller and the lake weed-eater. We purchase salt and gravel together. We share "moments of need" among towns, such as in emergency situations. We share the Tri-town Health Department. Let's continue to look for places that make sense, but not at this regionalization of management/governance of our town!
I hope this has helped to clarify what we are talking about and what will be discussed at the Jan. 9 meeting. Please attend Monday at 6:30 p.m. in the gym at the Town Offices.
Mary T. Hart,
Rep. William "Smitty" Pignatelli, D-Lenox, right, takes the oath in the Statehouse joined by his colleagues, from left, Rep. Frank Moran from Lawrence and Rep. Stephen Hay from Fitchburg. Photo provided by Rep. William "Smitty" Pignatelli. January 4, 2017.
"Eleven issues to watch in the 2017-2018 session"
By Michael Norton, Katie Lannan, Andy Metzger, and Matt Murphy, State House News Service via The Berkshire Eagle, January 7, 2017
BOSTON — In addition to the wildcard that is Donald Trump's presidency, here's a look at 11 simmering issues that could escalate to a full boil in the 2017-18 legislative session, which got underway Wednesday on Beacon Hill.
1. CRIMINAL JUSTICE REFORM
Smaller prison populations and lower costs, better re-entry programs and services, and reduced recidivism rates are among the goals of criminal justice reform advocates who have seen their policy proposals wither in past sessions. Legislative leaders told Gov. Deval Patrick in 2012 that they would revisit criminal justice and sentencing reforms in the 2013-14 session, but they didn't. The 2015-16 session was also a wipeout for activists, who watched as policymakers and Gov. Charlie Baker punted the issues to outsiders to see if they could come up with a plan. Heading into 2017, administration officials and lawmakers are waiting to see what a special commission recommends after working with outside consultants from the Council of State Governments' Justice Center. Activists pressing major reforms fear the CSG report — scheduled to be released in mid-January — and subsequent legislation will be narrow in scope, with a focus on probation, parole and other post-release services. Frustrated after years of being told to wait for broad reforms, advocates are gearing up to fight for other measures including bail changes, repeals of mandatory minimum sentencing and greater use of diversion programs. Some initiatives that cleared the Senate in 2016, including expungement of juvenile misdemeanor records and raising the cash value at which larceny becomes a felony offense, are expected to resurface in the new session. A new House chairman of the Judiciary committee, to be appointed in January or February by Speaker Robert DeLeo, will play a role in determining how far those and other criminal justice issues make it through the legislative process.
2. HEALTH CARE
Total health care expenditures have outpaced the state's economic growth rate for two straight years, a significant portion of the state's population remains uninsured despite a mandatory health insurance law, and rising premiums and access to care, including oral care, are issues for many patients. Massachusetts is also on the verge of having a staggering 2 million of its residents enrolled in Medicaid, the taxpayer-funded health insurance program for those who are income eligible and individuals with disabilities. Amid the rollout of health care access and cost control laws, the market itself has undergone dramatic consolidation in recent years and there's continuing concern over the financial health of community hospitals. Medicaid is now experimenting with an accountable care payment model, with results due in 2017 that will determine how those pilots perform on cost and patient care measures. At the same time, there's talk in the Trump administration about converting Medicaid to a block grant program in an attempt to limit the flow of federal funds to the state. And a special commission looking at variations in prices charged by hospitals is closing in on possible recommendations. If it sounds like a lot, it is. Per usual, the health care policy arena in Massachusetts is active, with plenty of uncertainty.
Diversification, costs and reliability remain the legs of the state's three-legged energy policy stool. Heading into 2017, Gov. Charlie Baker and his administration are implementing a major renewable energy law to procure large-scale hydropower and develop offshore wind farms that will eventually help power homes and businesses around the state. A big hitch is that the fruits of that labor are several years from ripening. In the meantime, expect battles to be fought along familiar lines. As the administration works to finalize a new tariff-based solar renewable energy credit program, solar advocates are pressing the Department of Energy Resources to come up with a plan to bridge the gap between January and the summer, when the new program takes effect, to keep the subsidies flowing to the industry. Caps on solar net metering are also being bumped up against in most utility territories, meaning that debate will perk up for another round early in the year. And while hydropower might eventually address some of the demand and reliability concerns in the grid, a Federal Energy Regulatory Commission investigation of the ongoing maintenance issues at the Pilgrim Nuclear Power Station will continue to fire up Pilgrim opponents who are pressing Baker to demand the plant's shutdown before a scheduled refueling in 2017 designed to keep the plant running until 2019. Any adjustments to the state's energy mix — including new gas pipeline capacity — must all be balanced against greenhouse gas emission reduction requirements and targets. Lawmakers like Rep. Jay Kaufman and Sen. Michael Barrett will undoubtedly continue to make the case for a carbon tax, but more likely is a more aggressive effort by the Baker administration to promote the purchase of electric vehicles. A boost in zero-emission vehicle sales would dovetail nicely with the aims of the new court-ordered emission regulations from the Department of Environmental Protection that are up for hearings in February. The Supreme Judicial Court ordered the state to spread its emission reduction efforts across all sectors, including transportation, but some critics would like to see stricter caps on power plants.
4. INSTITUTIONAL RIVALRIES
The battles in the 2015-16 session were largely between the House and the Senate, both controlled by Democrats, rather than between the Legislature and the new Republican governor. In addition to famously disagreeing about rules governing the flow of bills, the more liberal Senate was often at odds with the more moderate House. While Gov. Baker's working relationship with legislative leaders is not likely to entirely fizzle in 2017, 2018 is an election year and Democratic legislative leaders just in December bumped heads pretty hard with the Republican governor over spending cuts they viewed as hurtful to people and unnecessary. Democratic legislative leaders have settled their rules-reform differences and have a new party chairman, Gus Bickford, who is taking an aggressive posture toward Baker out of the gate. There are some Democrats who would probably be fine with Baker in the Corner Office for another four years — they can score points for bipartisanship when things are going well and have a convenient target when things are not. But many other Democrats are hoping a strong candidate will step forward to challenge the governor. Another session featuring divided Democrats in the Legislature would bode well for Baker, who like his mentor Bill Weld has made bipartisanship one of his main political selling points. But if Democrats draw clear lines with Baker on a series of issues — the income surtax for example or privatization or new taxes on marijuana or online rentals — the dynamic could shift back to the traditional Republican-versus-Democrat format. And no one can say at this point whether Donald Trump in the White House will be good politically for Baker, or bad. The conventional wisdom is bad, but we saw what happened to conventional wisdom in 2016.
5. ETHICS REFORM
Eight years after passing a reform package strengthening ethics laws in the wake of the indictment of the former speaker on corruption charges, lawmakers plan to revisit the state's approach to conflict of interest laws. A 13-member task force led by the chairs of the House and Senate Ethics committees and the co-chairs of the Committee on State Administration and Regulatory Oversight has a deadline of March 15 to produce a report reviewing conflict of interest, financial disclosure laws, and the regulations of the State Ethics Commission, which enforces state ethics laws. In February after publicizing the idea of the review of ethics laws, House Speaker Robert DeLeo said it was intended "with the idea that some may be strengthened because they haven't been looked at for a period of time, some may have to be updated, again, because they haven't been looked at in a period of time, and some have to be clarified actually." Before agreeing to the task force, lawmakers removed directives from an earlier version to study campaign finance, lobbying and the feasibility of extending the lobbying law to cities and towns. While the task force's mandate has been honed, its charge also remains open-ended. House Ethics Chairman Chris Markey in November said he hopes the process will make the law "more manageable for municipalities as well as appointed and elected officials." Any moves by lawmakers to alter state ethics laws bears watching.
6. FULL-TIME BUDGETING
Gov. Charlie Baker will propose a fiscal 2018 budget Jan. 25, but budgeting has become a year-round necessity for Baker and the Legislature and the story is far from written yet on fiscal 2017. Legislative leaders fuming about Baker's unilateral budget cuts in December are pondering a supplemental budget to restore spending and directly challenge the governor, but their next move will depend on how revenues perform in the next month or two. Around the same time new lawmakers are getting sworn in on Wednesday (if not before), the Department of Revenue will be preparing its latest revenue report for December after mid-month collections showed positive signs with 4 percent growth. With an expected re-election effort in less than two years, Baker's next budget will be viewed through that prism as well as through the usual spending and policy lenses. Baker and the Legislature are under pressure from Wall Street credit rating agencies to boost the state's rainy day fund balance and not back off its pension-funding schedule. Money saved and invested in future pension liabilities, however, is not the stuff campaigns are built on. Everyone involved in the budget-making on Beacon Hill also has to be concerned about relatively anemic tax revenue growth during an economic recovery and the state's positioning should the next economic downturn come sooner rather than later. One concern for early 2017 that appears to have been alleviated for now is how the state planned to come up with the cash to pay for the new Cannabis Control Commission and the enforcement and regulation of recreational marijuana. By passing a six-month delay, lawmakers not only bought themselves time to consider changes to the law, but ensured that paying for the new bureaucracy would not put additional spending pressures on the fiscal 2017 budget.
7. INCOME INEQUALITY
Many pundits are interpreting President-elect Donald Trump's win this year to the frustration of the American worker, both with their own situation and the availability of good jobs and with the widening gap in America between those who make the least and the super wealthy. Backed by a powerful coalition of interest groups, low-income workers in recent years have racked up big wins in Massachusetts with a ballot law broadening access to earned sick time and a law increasing the minimum wage from $8 to $11 an hour, effective Jan. 1, 2017. Now workers are threatening to place on the 2018 ballot a proposal to boost the wage floor to $15 an hour, which could be coupled with a constitutional amendment adding nearly $2 billion in higher taxes on households with incomes above $1 million. The issues are forcing lawmakers and voters to take sides — with workers and tax raisers or with businesses and other opponents of new taxes. The minimum wage and income surtax loom as potentially huge policy matters on Beacon Hill and political issues in November 2018.
8. POT POLITICS
Sooner or later, Massachusetts lawmakers were going to get around to debating marijuana legalization; 2017 qualifies as later — much later. The Legislature's new Committee on Marijuana next year will jump into the debate after not one, not two, but three marijuana-related laws were placed on the books while legislators stayed on the sidelines, unwilling to intervene on an issue with far-reaching societal impacts. Now that adult use of marijuana is legal, lawmakers say they want to make changes to the 2016 voter law. On Dec. 28 the Legislature rushed a bill to Gov. Baker's desk pushing back retail marijuana implementation dates by six months. Baker signed it. Other potential areas for meddling include tax rates, startup regulatory costs, edible marijuana products, marketing and advertising tactics. The debate will bring marijuana industry lobbying off the campaign trail and onto Beacon Hill, where some of the people rewriting the voter law opposed the ballot question. Legislative leaders hope to tackle this issue over the first six months of 2017.
A riddle that has perplexed lawmakers all year — anemic tax revenue growth amid surging job growth — could receive an answer from the Democrat-led Legislature in the form of new taxes next session. Short-term room rentals, marijuana sales and seven-figure incomes have all emerged as likely candidates for new or increased taxes. Gov. Charlie Baker will not be able to wield his veto pen against a proposed constitutional amendment adding a 4 percent surtax to incomes over $1 million. In a 2016 joint session the House and Senate advanced the measure, which would need one more vote by the branches in constitutional convention — scheduled to begin meeting no later than Wednesday, May 10 under the current joint rules — before potentially advancing to the 2018 ballot. The Democrats who control the flow of business in the House and Senate have raised taxes in 2009 and 2013, and in recent weeks have refused to rule out tax hikes in 2017. Lawmakers are already making time in the first part of the two-year session to grapple with changes to the legalized marijuana sales law passed by voters, with some suggesting the 10 percent combined state sales and excise tax on pot is not high enough. Generally ill-disposed toward tax hikes, Baker initially supported a Senate move last summer to subject vacation rentals to the hotel room tax — a move also backed by Airbnb, the highest-profile online repository of private room rentals. The governor then reversed course arguing the legislation would "impose burdensome taxes and government bureaucracy on folks who utilize short-term vacation rentals." A tax bill, which would need to originate in the House, could open the door to a variety of revenue-raising proposals.
10. EDUCATION FUNDING/REFORM
Lawmakers have identified education funding reform as a priority for the upcoming session, but a combination of overspending (versus budget) and slow revenue growth leaves the question hanging of where any new funding would come from. School aid formula changes wouldn't come cheap — a 2015 report found the current system's starting point underestimates the cost of educating students by at least $1 billion. There's considerable overlap between backers of a funding formula overhaul and the opposition campaign that shut down a 2016 ballot question that would have allowed the up to 12 new charter schools each year. While teachers unions, public school parents, local school committees and others who pushed against the ballot question aren't likely to back down, expansion proponents are rallying supporters for Round 2. "Although we took a punch, we're back at it," KIPP Boston parent Dawn Foye wrote in Dec. 21 email from Great Schools Massachusetts campaign, continuing, "We'll come at it in a different way." A signature issue of Gov. Charlie Baker's in 2016, charter expansion was defeated on two fronts with the loss at the ballot coming after the House and Senate failed to agree on an expansion bill. Baker called for a lift of the charter cap in his State of the State address last year and could use that platform in 2017 to lay out a new plan to ensure there are no gaps in education adequacy or to send a message to forces looking for major new investments. A Senate-backed plan to tie a modest charter cap lift to an big infusion of money across all public schools didn't pique interest in the House, but the distaste voters showed in November for the broader expansion favored by many representatives could change their minds. Baker has also pledged to boost education aid by the projected growth in state revenues, a promise that will be sized up when he releases his fiscal 2018 budget on Jan. 25.
11. ONLINE GAMING, LOTTERY WOES
It's been five years since lawmakers came around to embrace the idea of casino gambling as a panacea for its transportation, local aid and economic development spending desires. But apart from the trickle of slot revenues from Plainridge, that dream is still just that. MGM Springfield isn't expected to open until 2018, and Wynn Resorts won't start dealing cards until a year after that. In the meantime, the lottery —the state's main source of profit for local aid to cities and towns — is showing its age, or maturity. Treasurer Deborah Goldberg testified last month that profits next year would likely fall by $3 million to $965 million. Scratch ticket sales through November were down 3 percent and the Keno market is "virtually saturated," the treasurer said. In other words Lottery revenues are slipping and casinos haven't even opened yet. Though not cataclysmic, Goldberg's forecast for a period of "stagnation" could be the potion needed to get lawmakers to come around to the idea of moving the lottery online to reach a different, and younger, audience. A grab for more gaming revenues could prove enticing because it would not require raising taxes and could be a tact legislative leaders can convince the governor to go for. It wouldn't be easy though. Convenience store owners have never warmed to the idea, and critics will argue safeguards to protect problem gamblers will be difficult to enforce online. Gambling opponents warned casinos would not be the end of expansion and it appears the chase for the eternal gambling dollar is headed into the online world.
February 3, 2017
Did anyone else notice Lenox State Representative William “Smitty” Pignatelli’s hypocritical vote for a second legislative pay raise this year? He has some nerve! It is the same Smitty Pignatelli who wrote Op-Ed’s in the Berkshire Eagle telling municipalities that they have to make “sacrifices” and regionalize or consolidate their public services.
So on the one hand, Smitty Pignatelli is for 2 legislative pay raises in one year, while on the other hand, local governments must find savings by sacrificing, consolidating, and regionalizing.
Smitty Pignatelli gets 2 pay raises this year, while the rest of us can “eat cake”.
Do as I say, not as I do!
This is politics at its worst!
– Jonathan Melle
A true leader, leads by example. When I was in the U.S. Army, I was told to lead from the front lines instead of behind the brave Soldiers who fight for our freedom on our behalf.
If Smitty Pignatelli was a true leader on sacrificing on behalf of the hard hit taxpayers, he would not have voted for 2 legislative pay raises so far this year! Instead, Smitty Pignatelli would have told his legislative leaders that the taxpayers come first and that the Legislature receiving 2 pay raises in one year sends the wrong message.
But no! Smitty Pignatelli voted to override Gov. Charlie Baker’s veto and enriched himself and his fellow politicians, while the taxpayers get poorer.
– Jonathan Melle
When people write that “Smitty’s done a lot of good”, they never name even one example of what he has accomplished during his 13+ years as a State Representative.
Smitty Pignatelli wrote Op-Ed’s on how Berkshire County’s local economy has tanked. Over one dozen factories in his legislative district have closed. Municipal taxes along with a aging and diminishing population is financially constraining local governments and school districts. Major employers like GE and Sprague are long gone. Sabic moved to Houston, Texas. The creative economy that Smitty Pignatelli touts produces low wage jobs in the tourism and hospitality industry. In other words, working class families are hurting more than ever!
Smitty Pignatelli’s first vote was for Speaker Tom Finneran. He then voted for Speaker Sal DiMasi. Both are convicted Felons and disgraced politicians. Smitty Pignatelli voted for the current Speaker for Life, Bob DeLeo, whose first piece of legislation was to give himself a huge pay raise, which Smitty Pignatelli voted for.
What makes Smitty Pignatelli so great in the eyes of voters? My answer is that he is a failure! He is a career politician who is intimidating to people who want political change. He comes from a political family and he is enriching himself at the expense of the hard hit taxpayer!
– Jonathan Melle
February 28, 2017
Smitty Pignatelli recently wrote depressing Op-Ed's in the Berkshire Eagle about how many jobs, companies, and population have been lost in Western Massachusetts over the past couple of decades. Smitty Pignatelli wrote that municipalities must make financial sacrifices by consolidating their public services into regional compacts to spare the hard hit local taxpayers. Yet, Smitty Pignatelli did not offer any personal sacrifices from his own pay and benefits paid for by the same hard hit taxpayers. Then, Smitty Pignatelli voted for his second pay raise this year of 2017! That is the very example of hypocrisy and poor leadership!
- Jonathan Melle
* First pay raise of 2017! The legislators’ base salary was increased from $60,032 to $62,547 beginning in January, 2017.
* Second pay raise of 2017! Stipends for most committee chairs are doubling from $15,000 to $30,000. Even the largely honorary positions of Senate president pro tempore and House speaker pro tempore are getting a hefty raise with their bonuses increasing from $15,000 to $50,000.
* Hypocritical financial management! The same Democratic legislative leaders now getting big bonuses decided last summer to skip the traditional sales tax “holiday” because the state could not afford to forgo the estimated $26 million in revenue that would have been lost. It was only the second year since 2004 that consumers did not benefit from the tax holiday.
* Retirement security for Stan Rosenberg and Bob DeLeo! Stan Rosenberg and Bob DeLeo are among the chief beneficiaries of the pay hikes, with their annual salaries increasing by $45,000, to $142,547 — a 46 percent boost. The pay hikes for legislative leaders take effect immediately. State pensions are based on the three highest-salaried years.
* No public hearings! The hefty raises were passed by the Legislature without a full public airing of the details or justification of increases.
Source: Editorial: “Pay raise windfall for Legislature", The Daily Hampshire Gazette, February 2, 2017.
Letter: “Eversource should help, not hurt, county”
The Berkshire Eagle, April 16, 2017
To the editor:
Berkshire Democratic Brigades wants to thank Attorney General Maura Healey and everyone who gathered last Monday in Pittsfield to oppose Eversource's electric rate hike proposal.
If the Department of Public Utilities approves it — or anything close to it — the decline of the economy of Berkshire County and all of Western Mass. will accelerate, falling even further behind that of Eastern Mass. As state Rep. William "Smitty" Pignatelli told the audience, in Berkshire County "We are smaller, we are older, we are sicker and we are poorer," and an electric rate hike of this magnitude will only exacerbate the situation.
Very simply, our problems with Eversource's rate hike fall into three categories: revenue and shareholder returns; investments in grid modernization; and rate design.
As AG Healey notes in her DPU testimony, "From 2011-2014, WMECO's average return on equity was over 10 percent and NSTAR's was close to 11 percent — very high profits given today's historically low interest rates. In 2015, NSTAR reported a return on equity of over 13 percent. Last year, no state public utility commission in the country allowed a return that high." Additionally, Healey noted, "In 2016 the average allowed return on equity in the country for electric distribution companies was 9.3 percent. In our neighboring states, it was even less, with Connecticut and Maine allowing ROEs of only 9.1 percent and 9 percent, respectively." Each 1 percent reduction will save Mass. customers $28 million per year.
Yet even having been overpaid compared to our New England neighbors, Eversource has not shown that it has met the DPU's 2014 demands to modernize the grid by: a) reducing the effects of outages; b) optimizing demand, including reducing system and customer costs; c) integrating distributed resources; or d) improving workforce and asset management.
Putting this all together, we can see how absolutely blind Eversource is, not only to its Western Mass. customers' needs, but also its own long-term interests. As Healey has said: "This is an important opportunity for the [DPU] to reset the balance between company profits and customer rates." A progressive, forward-looking utility would work with us to build our economy, not destroy it. While Boston surges, Berkshire County teeters on the brink, and higher electricity prices could push us over the edge.
The writers are all members of Berkshire Democratic Brigades.
Letter: “Bond rating wake-up call on corporate loopholes”
The Berkshire Eagle, June 18, 2017
To the editor:
Following Massachusetts' credit downgrade from an AA+ to AA by the S&P Global Ratings for the first time in 30 years, it's time we took a serious look at some of the leaks in our state's tax system — especially on the corporate side.
We know that the downgrade will affect bonds that provide funding to critical services, which has been tight for a long time. So many programs have seen shrinking budgets, from education to housing and other services.
We also know that there are hundreds of millions of dollars given away in corporate tax subsidies with very little accountability for what kind of public impact they may have. We know that some hide profits in offshore tax havens to avoid states and federal taxes.
Is the credit downgrade enough of a signal that we can't let millions upon millions slip through the cracks? Everyone should pay a fair share.
The writer is a member of Massachusetts Fair Share.
Our Opinion: “A key position stays in county with Pignatelli”
The Berkshire Eagle, Editorial, July 23, 2017
The recent death of State Representative Gailanne Cariddi has obvious ramifications for her North Berkshire district but it impacts the Berkshires as a whole. If the county had lost the leadership of an important committee that Representative Cariddi chaired it would have been a blow, but that has been averted.
Last week, Representative "Smitty" Pignatelli was appointed House chairman of the Joint Committee on the Environment, Natural Resources and Agriculture that Ms. Cariddi had led by Speaker Robert DeLeo. This committee is an important one to the rural Berkshires as it has an impact on a wide variety of critical issues, such as the Rest of River cleanup, natural gas pipelines, land use, recreation and farming.
In an interview, Representative Pignatelli said the appointment was "bittersweet" because it resulted from the loss of Representative Cariddi, described by Mr. Pignatelli as a "dear friend." Keeping the chairmanship, however, was important to the Berkshires.
"I've never been hung up on who from the Berkshires had a chairmanship as long as someone from the Berkshires had a chairmanship," said Mr. Pignatelli. "It means that we're in the room."
The Lenox Democrat said his position will enable him to pressure Eversource to address a proposed rate hike that is disproportionately weighted against Western Massachusetts, which could result in Berkshire employers being hit with punishing rate hikes. An advocate of Berkshire farmers participating in what promises to be a thriving market for recreational marijuana, he is particularly bullish on the growing of hemp, which has uses in the production of clothing, rope, construction material and other products that far outweigh its use as a recreational drug. As to the "Environment" in the title of his committee, Mr. Pignatelli says "We are the environment" in reference to the Berkshires.
Over the past decade or so, the Berkshires largely lost its senior leadership on Beacon Hill with the departures of veteran House members like Daniel Bosley of North Adams and Peter Larkin of Pittsfield who chose to pursue opportunities elsewhere. Representative Pignatelli is the senior member of the Berkshire delegation and with Representative Paul Mark and Tricia Farley-Bouvier, the delegation is beginning to get back that seniority and the ability to claim what Mr. Pignatelli calls "first tier" committee assignments and chairmanships. The delegation, of course, lost an experienced veteran in Representative Cariddi, whose seat will be filled in a special election.
Seniority matters on Beacon Hill, and it particularly matters to the sparsely populated Berkshires, which are far from the Boston center. The chairmanship of the Joint Committee on the Environment, Natural Resources and Agriculture was an important leadership post to have and it's a critical one to have kept going forward.
December 22, 2017
Re: Open letter to Alan Chartock
Dear Alan Chartock,
You wrote: “State Rep. William “Smitty” Pignatelli will be signaled out by a statewide organization as THE example of what a state rep should be. A citation will be issued saying, among many other things, that Pignatelli is always there to help.” Source: Alan Chartock/I, Publius: New Year’s predictions offer a fanciful look ahead to 2018”, By Alan Chartock, The Berkshire Eagle, December 22, 2017.
I point out the following facts about Smitty Pignatelli’s public record:
He voted for the pay raise bill earlier this year. It doubled the pay and pensions of the House Speaker and Senate President on Beacon Hill. The pay raise bill was political hack business of the worst order!
He wrote an op-ed in the Eagle pointing out all of the lost population and jobs in Berkshire County in support of shared municipal services. First of all, he is a career politician who has been in state government political office since 2003 through present day. One would think he would take a share of the blame for the economic pain and financial constraints on local governments and taxpayers! Secondly, he is vocally against a return to county or regional government. One would think that Berkshire County would have a county or regional government when a majority of Massachusetts’ 14 counties have such entities.
His first vote in state government office was a vote for Speaker Tom Finneran. While many legislators voted “present”, he fell right in line like a “good” bureaucrat and voted for Finneran. Shortly thereafter, he hosted the then- Speaker [Finneran] for a hometown fundraiser with a big smile on his face published in the Eagle. He then voted for Speaker Sal DiMasi. Like Finneran, DiMasi is a convicted Felon! The current House Speaker, Bob DeLeo, ended the term limit law on the House Speaker to become “Speaker for Life.” Pignatelli votes for these top-down, entrenched so-called “leaders” term after term.
He proposed legislation to give youth a criminal record if they possessed marijuana near a youth center, school, and the like, after the state voted to decriminalize marijuana. Instead of helping youth, he wanted to give them criminal records. His proposal was undemocratic because it went against the will of the people!
He is a career politician who will serve in state government office for as long as he can. He runs in non-competitive “elections” every two years. He followed in his father’s political footsteps like so many Pittsfield area politicians, who are also known as the “Good Old Boys”. His public record is more of a bureaucrat than a legislator. He votes for hack pay raise bills, top-down House Speakers, has job security as a political insider, points out his constituents’ economic pain without taking a share of the blame, wants to give youth criminal records, and gets rewarded for following orders. In closing, Smitty Pignatelli represents top-down politics of the banal!
Letter: “Short-term rental bill contains many flaws”
The Berkshire Eagle, March 25, 2018
To the editor:
The Massachusetts House of Representatives passed legislation to regulate and tax short-term lodging rental. We support their effort even though the bill is flawed and doesn't go far enough in addressing the new realities in today's hospitality industry.
If the legislators are serious about leveling the playing field they need to understand the inequity of the competition in the hospitality industry. Small family-owned bed and breakfasts (defined as less than 30 rooms) have been competing with chains like Marriott and Hilton. They have been required to pay the same tax rates (excise and property) and maintain the same building code standards and inspections. In today's internet-driven economy, they are now competing with platforms like Airbnb ($30 billion) which in revenue generates more than Marriott ($22.9 billion) or Hilton ($9.14 billion) without owning a bed.
Airbnb is only one of several internet platforms that spend millions of dollars advertising. There is also Homeaway, VRBO, Flipkey and Trivago. Even traditional online travel agencies like Booking.com advertise houses for short term rental. The lack of regulation is a public safety hazard and the lost tax revenue is enormous.
House Bill H 4314's first and foremost flaw is in the definition of a unit. The bill states: "Residential unit," a room, group of rooms or other living or sleeping space for the lodging of occupants; a single-family dwelling, multi-family dwelling or residential dwelling unit in a multi-unit structure; or a condominium, cooperative, timeshare or similar joint property ownership arrangement, including vacation rentals.
A single family home is treated as one unit, in the same way as renting one room in a home. Each rental should be defined by the number of occupants that can potentially be housed. A fair definition of a unit must factor in the number of occupants that the unit is advertised to accommodate. If a unit is advertised as accommodating eight people it should be defined as four units.
The second major flaw is in that cities and towns are given the option to impose the excise tax on short-term rentals. If the city or town currently imposes the excise tax on hotels and bed and breakfasts it should be required to impose the same level of tax on all short-term rentals. Local officials frequently have a conflict of interest because they, their family, or friends have been engaged in short-term rental activity. Making this bill fair means making it apply to everyone.
House Bill 4313 does not address the disparity in property tax rates. Many cities and towns in the Commonwealth have chosen to separate the residential from the commercial tax rates. In all cases the commercial rate is higher than the residential. It is not unusual to see rates as much as 20 to 40 percent higher. If residential units, as defined by H 4314, are used to generate income for the owner, they are commercial properties and this should be taken into account when leveling the playing field.
We hope that when the bill is presented to the Senate that these flaws are corrected before the bill is sent to the governor.
“Pignatelli, Barrett seek 10 percent funding hike for regional transportation authorities”
By Adam Shanks, firstname.lastname@example.org – The Berkshire Eagle, April 21, 2018
PITTSFIELD — With the Berkshire Regional Transit Authority facing a budget shortfall, and potential service cuts, local legislators are stepping up to push for more funding.
State Reps. William "Smitty" Pignatelli, D-Lenox, and John Barrett III, D-North Adams, have filed an amendment to the House of Representatives budget that would increase funding for regional transportation authorities by 10 percent.
"That's what they need to just sustain what they now have," Barrett said. "It's not even to increase any service; it's just to get to a level of sustainability."
The three-paragraph amendment would see state funding for transit authorities rise from $80.4 million to $88.81 million — an amount "equivalent to 1 percent of the penny of the sales tax revenue" set aside for the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority.
"It frustrates the heck out of me and the delegation," Pignatelli said.
This month, the Berkshire Regional Transit Authority announced looming reductions in service because of a budget gap of $378,400.
Over the past three years, during which the Berkshire Regional Transit Authority was level-funded, Berkshire County has contributed more than $150 million to the MBTA via the sales tax, according to Barrett.
"The MBTA is important, but there's also the rest of the state that's not served by it," Barrett said.
Gov. Charlie Baker's budget called for $80.4 million in funding for transportation authorities, as did the House Ways and Means Committee budget. Of that, the BRTA would receive $2.5 million.
Pignatelli noted the role public transportation plays locally in providing access to health care and education.
"I think we need to recognize public transportation is just as important to the Berkshires as it is to Boston," Pignatelli said.
Rep. Tricia Farley-Bouvier, D-Pittsfield, and Rep. Paul Mark, D-Peru, have also signed onto the Pignatelli-Barrett amendment.
Transportation officials have said the state continues to fail to meet its funding obligations, forcing local authorities to raise fares or reduce services.
The BRTA is not alone in its belt tightening — transportation authorities in Worcester, the Pioneer Valley and Franklin County also are facing deficits.
If the governor's funding level is adopted, the BRTA is considering increasing fixed-route fares when using the Charlie Card electronic ticketing system.
The BRTA also would consider discontinuing paratransit service on Saturdays and/or Sundays.
Routes potentially cut or reduced include the 3 Shuttle between Williamstown and North Adams, Route 1 between North Adams and Pittsfield, Route 2 between Pittsfield and Lee, and Route 21 between Great Barrington and Lee.
Rep. Sarah Peake has filed a nearly identical amendment to Barrett's, the only difference being that it calls for an increase of $8 million in funding, instead of $8.4 million. Barrett, Pignatelli and Farley-Bouvier also have signed on to Peake's proposed amendment.
"I believe that one or the other will receive [support]," Barrett said.
The House is set to begin debate on the budget and proposed amendments Monday, after which it will head to the Senate before being finalized in conference committee and heading to the governor's desk for approval.
Adam Shanks can be reached at email@example.com, at @EagleAdamShanks on Twitter, or 413-629-4517.
State Rep. William "Smitty" Pignatelli, D-Lenox, goes over budget planning documents with his legislative director, Vasundhra Sangar, center, and Serafina Zeringo. Larry Parnass - The Berkshire Eagle
This was budget week at the Statehouse in Boston, as members of the House routinely worked 12-hour days on their version of a budget for the fiscal year that starts July 1. Larry Parnass - The Berkshire Eagle
State Rep. John Barrett III, D-North Adams, sits outside the House Chamber last week in the Statehouse in Boston. While Barrett had often come to press lawmakers for funding in his 26 years as the mayor of North Adams, this was his first go at budget-making from the inside. Larry Parnass - The Berkshire Eagle
State Rep. William "Smitty" Pignatelli, D-Lenox, looks over a list of budget amendments while leaving the House Chamber at the Statehouse in Boston. Larry Parnass - The Berkshire Eagle
“House budget week: Looking out for constituents amid the 'chaos'”
By Larry Parnass, The Berkshire Eagle, April 28, 2018
BOSTON — "God of justice," the priest intoned, "we ask your blessing upon the women and men of this House as they begin in earnest to create a budget for our commonwealth."
It was minutes after 10 a.m. last Monday. Nearly 160 members of the House of Representatives stood in their mahogany-paneled chamber in the Statehouse, fortified by mugs of coffee and communal candy bowls, to face one of their longest and most chaotic weeks.
"Grant representatives a spirit of collaboration," the Rev. Rick Walsh added, "and share your spirit of hope."
Lawmakers had put their hopes in writing: 1,400 proposed amendments to the nearly $40 billion budget already crafted by the body's Ways and Means Committee, under new leadership by Rep. Jeffrey Sanchez, D-Boston.
Until 7:33 p.m. Thursday, when the House passed a budget that was $81 million fatter, lawmakers engaged in long days of persuasion and maneuvering, trying to put their marks on the spending plan.
Four Berkshire County representatives joined their colleagues — at times as allies, but also as rivals for limited funding — in this yearly quest to push projects that, if they survive later tests, would bring benefits to their home districts.
"If you don't file any amendments to help out your district, then what the heck are you doing here?" asked State Rep. William "Smitty" Pignatelli, a Lenox Democrat.
This was Pignatelli's 16th budget week, but a first time for state Rep. John Barrett III, the North Adams Democrat who joined the House after winning an election to replace the late Gailanne Cariddi.
Joined by two fellow Democratic representatives from Berkshire County, Tricia Farley-Bouvier of Pittsfield and Paul Mark of Peru, they all had a long list of amendments to track.
By week's end, all could point to victories.
Though the House chamber buzzed with activity through the week, with occasional floor speeches and skirmishes, the most important conversations took place in Room 348, a members-only lounge, or in other places, including the echoing third-floor lobby outside the chamber.
Through the week, the chamber itself was mostly inactive, as squads of student-athletes on spring break cruised through to take bows for winning seasons.
It was to Room 348 that representatives were summoned to pitch, elevator style, the merits of proposed spending tweaks to Sanchez and members of his team.
As it all got underway Monday morning, Sanchez had walked to the rostrum. The committee's budget, he announced, helps real people, including the state's most vulnerable.
"This budget is all about meeting people where they're at," Sanchez said, taking a few minutes to tick off examples of spending.
Then it was time for levity. "I guess we don't need any amendments. Right?" Sanchez asked. "I thought I'd try."
It's the economy
Barrett got his first taste of those discussions after trouping off to Room 348 later Monday morning.
By early afternoon, he was back in his newly assigned seat in the back row of the chamber, with the visitors' gallery behind him and five historical Massachusetts murals looking down from above the well and rostrum.
While Barrett had often come to press lawmakers for funding in his 26 years as the mayor of North Adams, this was his first go at budget-making from the inside. He was taking advice from colleagues and working to build the relationships all lawmakers need to pass legislation.
All quite different, he said, from being at the top of the municipal ladder.
"Now I'm one of 160," Barrett said. "In that way, I'm starting on the ground floor."
For this legislative newcomer, the economy is the name of the game. Barrett's amendments sought to expand workforce training, aid startup companies, direct more money to underfunded schools and examine remaining gaps in high-speed internet service, particularly in areas already wired for cable.
Small manufacturers need help getting workers, he said. "That's a challenge we have in Berkshire County. We have an available workforce, but we need a trained workforce."
As Sanchez's team went through budget categories, representatives were told privately whether their amendments had made the cut, even in reduced amounts. That's when unsuccessful measures usually are withdrawn. On Monday, more than 60 amendments were pulled by their sponsors; others were consolidated with other proposals.
"We could keep it in there and fight for it on the floor, which would be a futile effort," Barrett said. "In the end, it's like anything else, whether you are a mayor or a president. You have to make that decision."
As the days passed, Barrett said he was hoping to get to know his colleagues. He rose for his first-ever speech in the chamber Tuesday, introducing his amendment to rename the Mount Greylock visitors center for Cariddi.
After Speaker Robert A. DeLeo banged a gavel and asked members to sit, Barrett told of his long friendship with Cariddi.
"She epitomizes all that was good, how we should be as leaders, no matter what position we held," he said. "She taught us all persistence. Her walk through life was a short one, but she accomplished so much."
When Barrett was done, members came forward into the well to congratulate him on his first remarks in the chamber. A roll call vote on the amendment to honor Cariddi passed 153-0.
On defense, too
For Farley-Bouvier, this year's gamesmanship over amendments wasn't quite as intense.
As a member of the Progressive Caucus, she had seen many of her priorities, including higher pay for people who work in early education, make it into the Ways and Means budget.
"Which was pretty exciting," she said in the lobby outside the chamber, as visitors and lobbyists churned through.
"Our success came because of our ongoing advocacy. The House Ways and Means chair has similar priorities," Farley-Bouvier said.
One of her amendments, though, sought to benefit Pittsfield specifically. The measure asked for funding that could be directed to help developer David Carver redevelop the former St. Mary of the Morning Star Church into 29 market-rate apartments.
Farley-Bouvier says the Tyler Street project is a "linchpin" in the wider revival of the Morningside area, long one of her legislative projects.
"There's a little bit of a funding gap there, which is typical in Gateway cities," she said, referring to a designation used for municipalities with economic challenges.
While construction costs can be the same across the state, developers in areas like Pittsfield are not able to command the rents fetched in more affluent places.
The money would help preserve the former church property's bell tower, aid an environmental cleanup and perhaps underwrite sidewalk construction, she said.
"I've asked for $200,000; we'll see what we get," Farley-Bouvier said with a laugh.
Since Farley-Bouvier didn't need to monitor as many pending amendments, she also was poised to fend off efforts by House Republicans to cut revenue — efforts that came Monday and were all defeated.
One of Pignatelli's main concerns came up Monday afternoon, when the House came back into order at 3:58 p.m.
Lawmakers backed his call to increase the tax credit available to state dairy farmers.
Shortly before winning the increase in the dairy tax credit, Pignatelli, in an interview, was reeling off dismal numbers on the collapse of the dairy industry in Massachusetts, which has fallen to about150 farms from the 3,000 that operated not long ago.
Farms still hanging on face production costs that are higher than the wholesale prices allowed. The tax credit offers a measure of aid to try to preserve the industry, he said.
As chairman of the Committee on Environment, Natural Resources and Agriculture, Pignatelli no longer serves on other committees, including Ways and Means.
His amendments this year addressed his long advocacy for youth projects, better transportation options for elders and a plan to study the availability of ambulance services in rural towns.
Of the 20 towns in his district, representatives of a dozen of them had asked for help in determining how such service can be provided.
Of those district towns, only Lenox, Pignatelli said, provides round-the-clock paid police, fire and ambulance services, leaving volunteers to shoulder those duties in other towns.
"Some of the smaller towns are feeling the pinch of a smaller population, an aging demographic and volunteerism isn't what it used to be," he said. "How do we still deliver services?"
Pignatelli also had worked to build support for an amendment to add $2 million in spending to expand staffing in state parks and forests.
In remarks on the floor just before noon Tuesday, Pignatelli said he felt the budget was dealing with inadequate spending, including on the Department of Environmental Protection.
The chamber buzzed with conversation. Speaker DeLeo banged his gavel and asked people to listen "to the gentleman at the microphone."
While the Berkshires has two park rangers, Pignatelli noted privately that 35 rangers are assigned to duty in the Statehouse, where their work includes security checks for visitors.
"It doesn't make sense. We have the highest elevation in Massachusetts, in Mount Greylock, we have October Mountain in my district," he said before the measure passed. "There are beautiful and pristine areas, and yet we're not very welcoming. I think we need to have them professionally staffed, and that's what the DCR budget amendment is all about."
Budget week at the Statehouse, Pignatelli said, calls to lawmakers to think about those who sent to them to Boston.
Even as they work to back statewide concerns, such as the viability of regional transit authorities, representatives must think parochially, he said.
"I think that's got to be your No. 1 priority," he said. "The people who hire and fire you are the ones who live in the district. And that's why I want youth development. That's why I want elderly transportation. That's why I want to do an ambulance analysis. All politics is local. I think that's what budget week is all about for me."
After 16 years of helping to fashion the state budget, Pignatelli knew he'd lose on some amendments. He planned to bring some up again, another year.
"I've seen a lot of colleagues come and go here, very quickly. We just have to keep chipping away at it and build relationships," he said. "It's almost my favorite week of the year. We'll put in some long hours, but I don't know of a better time than this week to build those relationships. I love this week. It's tiresome, but I love it."
Mark, whose 16-town district runs northeast from one Pittsfield precinct into Franklin County, monitored some of the week's action from his office, following a TV feed and text messages.
After shaping proposed amendments on behalf of his district, Mark joined others in waiting to see how Sanchez's team would run the winnowing process.
"This week it's all chaos, organized chaos," he said.
That included weighing the best ways to make a case to the committee. "We're all trying to figure out what are his priorities, and how can we advocate most effectively to him," Mark said of Sanchez.
One of Mark's wins came when budget-makers agreed to fund a new effort in Berkshire County to combat opioid abuse.
Arguments in its favor were clearly persuasive. Since 2013, a task force based in Greenfield overseen by the Franklin County sheriff, the local district attorney and the register of probate has won notice and secured millions in federal funding.
In 2016, as fatal opioid overdoses rose 15 percent across the state compared with the year before, they fell 26 percent in Franklin County.
Along with renewing support for that task force, Mark put a request in to re-create a version of it in Berkshire County, after consulting with Sheriff Thomas Bowler and the Berkshire County District Attorney's Office.
The idea was proposed, he said, by the Berkshire Opioid Abuse Prevention Collaborative.
"For the whole region it's a problem, and it's now considered a public health epidemic across the country," Mark said. "I think this is a good opportunity to get a new set of eyes on this."
In two other amendments related to Berkshire County, Mark hoped to sustain funding for the Massachusetts Office for Employee Involvement and Ownership. That effort was zeroed out when the last recession hit in 2008 but was rekindled with a $150,000 allocation for this year.
The office works to help people create new cooperative businesses with employee ownership, or transition to them.
It took seven tries to bring the office back for this year, and Mark hopes not to have to begin from scratch again.
He also was pushing as lead sponsor of an amendment for programs statewide that provide services to children who have faced sexual abuse. In Berkshire County, that work is done by the Kids' Place program.
While that amendment addresses a problem across Massachusetts, the lion's share of the measures either embraced of batted away by Sanchez's team are local.
For Mark, as for others, budget week is a kind of homecoming week.
"When you look at this state, every region has its own unique flavor and its own unique needs," he said. "Possibly nowhere more so than Berkshire and Franklin counties, the most rural counties in the state."
Larry Parnass can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, at @larryparnass on Twitter and 413-496-6214.
“How area lawmakers fared with budget amendments”
BOSTON — Here is a recap of how the four lawmakers sent by Berkshire County communities to the state House fared on budget amendments they submitted.
The funding is part of the $41.065 billion budget passed Thursday by the House for the fiscal year that starts July 1. The plan must be reconciled with the budget the Senate will approve in May, then pass muster with Gov. Charlie Baker.
— Larry Parnass, The Berkshire Eagle, [Saturday] April 28, 2018
State Rep. John Barrett III, D-North Adams
WHAT HE WANTED: New line item for $100,000 for advanced manufacturing.
WHAT HE GOT: Received $25,000 that will be split between McCann Technical School in North Adams and BerkshireWorks in Pittsfield.
WHAT HE WANTED: Language change and earmark worth $5 million in education and local aid to create a category for economically distressed communities in Chapter 70 appropriation.
WHAT HE GOT: Not accepted, but Barrett said he is pleased to have built support for funding from other communities.
WHAT HE WANTED: Earmark of $200,000 in the Office of Travel and Tourism line item for the Bay State Games.
WHAT HE GOT: Accepted. "That's a big boost," Barrett said.
WHAT HE WANTED: Adding $8.4 million to regional transit authorities, and language change dedicating sales tax revenue for regional transit authorities.
WHAT HE GOT: House added $2 million. The Senate budget might increase funding.
WHAT HE WANTED: Adding $100,000 in the school-based health programs line item for the Massachusetts Model of Community Coalitions.
WHAT HE GOT: Accepted. Money will be split between the Northern Berkshire Community Coalition in North Adams and a group in the Athol-Orange area.
WHAT HE WANTED: Adding $50,000 for establishment of a Susan B. Anthony memorial in Adams.
WHAT HE GOT: Not accepted. But a local group will be able to apply for a share of $175,000 allocated for women's suffrage celebrations.
WHAT HE WANTED: Renaming the Mount Greylock Visitor Center as the "Representative Gailanne M. Cariddi Visitor Center."
WHAT HE GOT: Accepted.
WHAT HE WANTED: Adding $150,000 for feasibility study on broadband internet in Western Massachusetts for municipalities that are not considered unserved.
WHAT HE GOT: Not approved. Barrett hopes to find partial funding from the lieutenant governor's Community Compact grant program.
WHAT HE WANTED: Adding budget line item for the Innovation Commercialization Seed Fund to support economic development in Western Massachusetts. Was seeking $25,000 for Lever Inc. program in North Adams.
WHAT HE GOT: Not accepted.
State Rep. Tricia Farley-Bouvier, D-Pittsfield
WHAT SHE WANTED: Adding economic development funding for the Morningstar Residences in Pittsfield.
WHAT SHE GOT: Received $125,000. "This is such an amazing project," Farley-Bouvier said.
In addition, Farley-Bouvier filed for amendments in support of increased human services funding, particularly for at-risk youths, on behalf of agencies. And as co-chair of the Progressive Caucus, Farley-Bouvier and other representatives reported these gains through the overall House budget:
- Increase in amount of state aid that children in low-income families receive under the Transitional Aid to Families with Dependent Children program.
- $5 million increase for the early educator rate reserve, a fund that enables schools to recruit high-quality teachers and pay them a competitive salary.
- $200,000 increase in funding for the Department of Ecological Restoration over the governor's budget.
- $750,000 increase for the Massachusetts Legal Assistance Corp.
- $500,000 increase in funding for YouthWorks. The program subsidizes jobs for at-risk and low-income youths.
State Rep. Paul Mark, D-Peru
In addition to amendments related to district communities in Franklin County, Mark submitted this one for Berkshire County, along with others:
WHAT HE WANTED: Adding $250,000 to the Berkshire Sheriff's Office appropriation for creation of a Berkshire County opioid education and awareness task force.
WHAT HE GOT: Funding approved.
State Rep. William "Smitty" Pignatelli, D-Lenox
WHAT HE WANTED: Name a section of Route 7 in Sheffield the "Elizabeth Mumbet Freeman Highway to Freedom," in honor of a former slave who sued for her freedom and won in the late 18th century.
WHAT HE GOT: Received. DOT will put up signs.
WHAT HE WANTED: Increase the Division of Marine Fisheries appropriation by $30,000 and earmark same amount for the Atlantic White Shark Conservancy.
WHAT HE GOT: Not accepted.
WHAT HE WANTED: Increase the state park and recreation appropriation by up to $2 million and earmark the same amount for visitor centers and parks.
WHAT HE GOT: Through financial juggling in other accounts, the House budget freed up that amount to increase staffing.
WHAT HE WANTED: Increase Energy and Environmental Affairs appropriation by $171,000.
WHAT HE GOT: Not accepted.
WHAT HE WANTED: Increase the Department of Transportation line item by $200,000 and earmark same amount for renovations to the Park Street Bridge in Lee.
WHAT HE GOT: Approved $100,000 for emergency bridge repairs on a span that needs to be replaced.
WHAT HE WANTED: Increase grants to councils on aging appropriation by $50,000 and earmark the same amount for the Claire Teague Senior Center in Great Barrington.
WHAT HE GOT: Accepted.
WHAT HE WANTED: Increase the state dairy farm tax credit from $4 million to $8 million.
WHAT HE GOT: Won approval for $6 million.
WHAT HE WANTED: Increase the Energy and Environmental Affairs Information Technology appropriation by $1.5 million.
WHAT HE GOT: Not accepted.
WHAT HE WANTED: Increase the Office of Environmental Law Enforcement appropriation by $670,000.
WHAT HE GOT: Not accepted. "That's a disappointment," Pignatelli said.
WHAT HE WANTED: Increase the health care quality and improvement line item by $50,000 and earmark the same amount for an EMS feasibility study in Berkshire County.
WHAT HE GOT: Accepted.
WHAT HE WANTED: Increase the Bureau of Substance Addiction Services appropriation by $200,000 and earmark the same amount for the Berkshire County Youth Development Project.
WHAT HE GOT: Accepted. "I had a great week," Pignatelli said. "Our staff did a great job."
Our Opinion: “Legislature's inexcusable July bottleneck of laws”
The Berkshire Eagle, Editorial, July 10, 2018
Bay State residents treat their legislators well. Each one of them pulls down an average of approximately $64,000 per year, which can be augmented by up to $35,000 for those in leadership positions. Since the Senate has only 40 members, almost all of them manage to hold leadership positions of one kind or another. They get $600 per month in expenses that don't need to be accounted for, as well as full benefits like health insurance and a retirement plan. Even though Massachusetts is a state with a full-time Legislature, a majority of the commonwealth's lawmakers report outside income. It's a nice gig if you can get it, which is why our solons work so hard to keep it.
For all this outlay, it would be reasonable for taxpayers to expect their representatives to deliberate, compromise, horse-trade and do whatever is necessary to produce quality legislative work on deadline. The most important item on that list of legislative duties is to craft a state budget, and the denizens of Beacon Hill have had months to work on one. Yet, as of last Thursday, when the governor of South Carolina signed his state's budget, Massachusetts became the last state in the union with no permanent budget in place for fiscal year 2019. Since that year began on July 1, the commonwealth is currently surviving on a one-month stopgap budget that will keep the lights on until legislators do their jobs.
It isn't as though there are too many hands out for too little money; recent state revenue has exceeded expectations, leaving about $200 million to add to a $41-billion total for legislators to spend after other obligations have been taken care of. The Legislature is controlled by a single party, and while intra-party factions have been slowing down the process, there is no "opposition" to speak of.
One way to speed up the process — both now and in the future — would be for both houses to pass "clean" budgets, meaning that they only deal with spending items. Governor Charlie Baker favors such a budget as opposed to the current House and Senate versions. Both are heavily larded with non-spending "policy" riders, to the tune of 109 in the House version and 185 in the Senate's, according to the Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation. Fingers of blame are also pointing at Representative Jeffrey Sanchez, chairman of the all-important House Ways and Means Committee, who is in his first year in the position and still learning the budgetary ropes.
These are weak excuses, and do not constitute sufficient reason for the the Legislature's dilatory and irresponsible behavior, particularly in light of time already spent. A large share of the blame goes to House Speaker Robert DeLeo, who appears to be running out the clock on policy proposals advocated for by the more liberal Senate. The Legislature's penchant for secrecy is best demonstrated by Mr. DeLeo and his leadership group, and that secrecy makes it difficult for the press and public to determine why important issues are stalled on an annual basis.
Among those issues stuck in one committee or another are affordable housing, state police reform, short-term rental regulation, data breach protection, civic education enhancement and the opioid crisis. A bill addressing the latter with new reform measures made its way out of a House committee on Tuesday, but if it and similar measures aren't passed and sent to the governor by the end of the session this month they could be relegated to the back burner in the fall.
This is not the efficient, effective Legislature that Massachusetts residents expect, nor is it one they should settle for. Factional allegiances and power plays are to be expected in any lawmaking body, and Beacon Hill has its fair share. Nevertheless, when internal squabbling — or even worse, bureaucratic inertia — reaches the point where it delays the most basic of functions, the full-time Legislature has failed its constituents.
“Berkshire Hills joins Pittsfield push to fix state's 'archaic' school funding formula”
By Heather Bellow, The Berkshire Eagle, September 9, 2018
Great Barrington — It is "archaic." It straps taxpayers. It threatens the quality of education.
This is how, so far, two Berkshire County school districts say they see the state's formula for calculating the minimum amount a community has to pay for its schools.
And the districts say that by not fixing it this last budget season, the state Legislature violated the public trust.
Encouraged by the Pittsfield Public Schools, the Berkshire Hills Regional School Committee voted unanimously last week in favor of signing a resolution asking the county's legislative delegation to revise that formula, known as the "foundation budget," and make this its "top priority for [fiscal] 2020."
The resolution uses some hard language as it points to the Legislature's failure in July to pass a bill that would have changed the formula for 2019, saying lawmakers have "violated the public trust."
"This inaction constitutes a failure to recognize the ever greater financial pressure on all communities such as our member towns of Great Barrington, Stockbridge and West Stockbridge, which jeopardizes the quality and comprehensiveness of the district's educational programming, through the continuation of an outdated and underfunded foundation budget formula and inadequate Chapter 70 funding," the resolution reads, referring to the state's program for disbursing education and school transportation money.
The foundation budget is increasingly coming under attack statewide — especially in poor communities — for its 25-year-old formula that no longer accounts for a number of factors that include rising insurance costs and the true price of educating certain types of students.
The formula calculates a school district's demographics and a town's tax revenue, for instance, to come up with a minimum legal amount that town must pay for its schools.
But this does not always adjust to reality, school officials argue.
"Great Barrington, like other communities, is funny because we don't fit into an obvious box," said Berkshire Hills Superintendent Peter Dillon. "There are the wealthy, those that are struggling and those in the middle."
The bill to revise the foundation budget failed when the state House of Representatives and Senate could not come to an agreement about measures that might have increased insurance and special education spending, as well as spending on low-income and English-language learners.
The bill's derailment has frustrated, even angered, local school officials, who are trying to keep up with costs within a rural economy and diminishing student populations.
"The [school] committee deplores the failure of the General Court ... to revise the foundation budget," reads the Pittsfield Public Schools' resolution, also unanimously approved by its School Committee.
Pittsfield School Committee Chairwoman Katherine Yon wrote to her counterpart at Berkshire Hills, Stephen Bannon, as well as every school committee chairperson in the county, that is is time to wage a countywide campaign for reform.
"We believe that a united outcry from the Berkshires can be very powerful," Yon wrote, also suggesting that Pittsfield's resolution could be used as a template.
Yon, who with Pittsfield Schools Superintendent Jason "Jake" McCandless gave testimony at the Statehouse in support of the bill, told The Eagle that she isn't sure if other school committees had also voted on resolutions.
She said that so far, she had received a positive response from Sen. Adam Hinds D-Pittsfield regarding the Aug. 21 letter.
"It's all about equity," she said. "To educate students whether in a rich community or a poor community."
But school officials aren't the only ones trying to solve money shortages.
"There was a commitment with the House and the Senate to try to reach an accord and we couldn't do it," state Rep. William "Smitty" Pignatelli told The Eagle.
The Lenox Democrat said there was a hang-up over health insurance, among other things, that squashed the bill. But Pignatelli cautioned against pointing fingers only at lawmakers. Pignatelli said local officials are also responsible.
"There's a lot of local control in school budgets," he said.
But he also agrees that the foundation budget could use an overhaul.
"There's no question about it," he said. "The formula is seriously flawed."
Pignatelli said that with "legitimate reform" comes winners and losers, and he asked where the money to increase the necessary school spending would come from, especially since a hoped-for source of new revenue, dangled before the state, fell apart in a court ruling.
Thinking it would be flush with another roughly $2 billion annually from an expected "millionaire's tax," state lawmakers had thought these education increases would be covered, Pignatelli said. But the Supreme Judicial Court ruled in June that a surtax on the wealthy couldn't go on the November ballot.
"It threw everybody's financial planning out of whack," said Glenn Koocher, executive director of the Massachusetts Association of School Committees, of the SJC ruling.
The problems schools have with the foundation budget appear to be the same sticking points that hung the bill up in the Legislature.
"It does not accurately count the real number of students that are economically disadvantaged, and it does not accurately reimburse districts for the fair cost of dealing with students who are English-language learners, and it doesn't include the cost of retiree health insurance," Koocher said. "These were not issues in 1993."
Dillon hinted that the state might be shortsighted by not tackling the formula more aggressively.
"Money invested early in education increases economic development, but also saves a lot of money investing [from] remediating, correcting or punishing," he said, noting that there is plenty of research out there on this point.
And Dillon further said that money has been found to make other things happen — it all depends on priorities.
"When Boston was trying to get GE to come to Boston from Fairfield County, [Connecticut], a whole set of things were done to make that attractive," he said, referring to incentives by the city to woo General Electric, so it would relocate its headquarters there.
Koocher said all is not lost — that for a host of reasons and timing, the matter got punted to next year. But the fight will continue.
"It's not a disaster; it's just a delay," he said. "[But] it would be a long-term disaster if this doesn't get resolved."
Heather Bellow can be reached at email@example.com and on Twitter @BE_hbellow and 413-329-6871.
Our Opinion: “It's time for a lesson in school funding”
The Berkshire Eagle, Editorial, October 8, 2018
All right, class ... Stop yelling, settle down and listen to today's lesson, which is deceptively simple: If you're upset with the state of your schools, don't blame your local school committees. They have to make do with the resources they're given, and they're just trying to hold everything together with chewing gum and baling wire.
Massachusetts residents like to point with pride to their state public school system, which repeatedly ranks as best among the 50 states. There's always room for improvement, however, as local school officials, teachers, parents and students are quick to point out.
Certainly, the will for excellence is present in the Bay State, but as with so many other state services, it boils down to how much residents are willing to tax themselves and divide the proceeds equitably among the people and localities in the commonwealth. Such policy — proportional distribution of revenue according to need — is the heart of progressivism.
At a forum on Monday sponsored by the Massachusetts Association of School Committees at Lee Middle and High Schools (Eagle, Thursday), local school officials and members of the state legislative delegation met to discuss the woeful inadequacy of the infamous state Foundation Budget, based upon a 25-year-old formula that was designed to smooth out some of the funding disparities between prosperous school districts with robust tax bases and schools like those in the Berkshires, where relatively poor, sparsely populated rural districts find themselves falling ever further behind.
At the forum, a common villain emerged — the state Legislature. Even members of the Berkshires legislative delegation expressed frustration with the state's governing body, which hamstrung itself last summer while attempting to update the Foundation Budget and make it more realistic for the modern era. Such issues as increased health care insurance, special education and instruction for low-income students stymied a deal that would have brought relief, and while state Sen. Adam Hinds was able to get his colleagues to cough up extra money for rural schools, it was a temporary fix rather than a systemic change.
Ultimately, the solution lies in two areas: revenue and allocation — both of which take political courage, and that tends to be in short supply on Beacon Hill. State Rep. William "Smitty" Pignatelli begged for revenue-raising ideas, particularly in light of the failure of the so-called "millionaire's tax," a referendum that was shot down by the Supreme Judicial Court, and that could have brought in an estimated $2 billion for education.
As for allocation, as Mr. Pignatelli ruefully observed, there are 200 members of the Legislature, many of whom need to be convinced that adequate funding means allowing poorer segments of the commonwealth to offer and maintain complete educational opportunities for all students.
So here's a homework assignment for all you malcontents: If you want to complain to someone about the state of your schools, complain to state legislators.
They control the purse strings, and you pay them to tackle tough jobs like properly revamping the Foundation Budget and raising the revenue (from somewhere) to make it effective. But don't complain to the Berkshires delegation — they're already on your side and need your help. Pick a legislator from, say, Newton or Woburn, where the living is easy. Make their life miserable.
December 27, 2018
Re: Massachusetts State Legislators getting a nearly 6% pay raise in 2019!
Massachusetts State Legislators are receiving a nearly 6% pay raise in 2019! It must be nice to be Smitty Pignatelli, who will be serving his 9th two-year term on Beacon Hill in 2019. It pay$ to be a career politician! The politically connected are well taken care of, while the common people get to pound sand.
- Jonathan Melle
“Legislative leaders to collect 3 pay bumps in 2019”
By Matt Stout, Boston Globe Staff, December 28, 2018
State legislative leaders stand to collect not one, not two, but three different pay raises in January thanks to a humming economy and a controversial state law, promising to swell some lawmakers’ paychecks by nearly $12,000 just two years after they awarded themselves a pay hike.
All of the state’s 200 senators and representatives are in line for a $3,700 increase to their base salary and a separate 8.3 percent hike to their office expense accounts, which currently range between $15,000 and $20,000, depending on how far they live from the State House.
When they’re sworn in Wednesday, House Speaker Robert A. DeLeo, Senate President Karen E. Spilka — both already among the highest-paid legislative leaders in the country — and dozens of their top deputies will also get a third increase — an 8.3 percent raise to their legislative stipends, the lucrative add-ons the Legislature affords to its highest-ranking officials and committee leaders.
And the good economic tidings don’t stop with the Legislature. Governor Charlie Baker is entitled to take home an additional $21,000 on top of his $250,000 pay package, though aides say the Republican doesn’t intend to take the extra pay. Other constitutional officers could score increases of up to nearly $15,000.
The windfall for elected officials is, in part, a confluence of two different pay adjustments — one guaranteed by the Massachusetts Constitution, the other newly baked into state law — each designed to tether the pay of the state’s most powerful leaders to changes in the state’s wage levels every two years.
The first, a constitutional amendment, ties lawmakers’ base pay to household median income, but gives the governor leeway to set the exact amount of the change. In a letter to state Treasurer Deborah B. Goldberg on Thursday, Baker ordered a 5.9 percent increase for legislators, pushing their base salary from $62,550 to $66,250.
The second trigger is more complicated. In ramming an $18 million pay raise package into law in early 2017, lawmakers boosted their own compensation by increasing the stipends they could receive, while also hiking the pay of an array of state officials.
The Legislature also established a separate process, similar to the mechanism in the constitutional amendment, that ties the salaries of the six constitutional officers and lawmakers’ additional pay to changes in state wages over the previous two years.
That first biennial change under the legislation comes due next week. But while the pay raise package specified what type of federal data on which to base the adjustment, its vague wording did not task a certain office or official with actually determining it.
Goldberg’s office, which handles legislative pay, said Thursday that “by default” it would take on the duty, and determined those pay scales would rise by 8.3 percent in 2019. Chandra Allard, Goldberg’s deputy chief of staff, said the office would apply it to both legislative stipends and expenses, as well as Goldberg’s own salary, which will jump to nearly $190,000.
Allard said the treasurer’s office would share the recommended increase with the other constitutional officers as well, though it will ultimately be up to them whether to accept it.
For the Legislature, the move promises an array of increases.
DeLeo, for example, made $157,500 last year, thanks to his base salary, an $80,000 stipend, and $15,000 in office expenses. After the hikes go into effect, his total compensation will balloon to $169,100 — a jump of $11,600. That same pay package will also welcome Spilka when she starts her first full term as the Senate leader.
Other lawmakers will see smaller increases, depending on which leadership positions they’re appointed to in the new legislative session.
Spilka on Thursday defended the increases, noting that the process for meting them out has been in place since early 2017.
“This law, passed two years ago, created a transparent and standardized method to adjust pay and stipends for constitutional officers and legislators,” Spilka said. “We expect these adjustments to be made, in accordance with the law, through normal payroll mechanisms beginning in the new year.”
A spokeswoman for DeLeo did not respond to questions Thursday about the pay increases.
Baker — whose veto of the pay raise bill was overridden in 2017 — has said he intends to take the full $250,000 pay package afforded to him under the law in his second term, which includes a $65,000 housing stipend. His salary is currently $151,000. Lieutenant Governor Karyn Polito, who makes $122,000 now, also plans to take her statutorily set $165,000 salary.
But both said Thursday that they would not take any additional pay generated by the biennial adjustment tied to state wage levels. For Baker, that could have meant another $20,800, and Polito, an additional $13,700 in annual pay.
“Governor Baker and Lieutenant Governor Polito will not accept any additional adjustments to their compensation beyond what was originally provided by the 2017 statute,” spokesman Brendan Moss said.
The state auditor and secretary of state, who under the law can make up to $165,000, would also be in line for $13,700 more through the 8.3 percent increase. Similar to the treasurer, the $175,000 salary afforded to the attorney general would also rise to more than $190,000 — a $14,560 difference.
When lawmakers passed the pay raise package in 2017, only Auditor Suzanne M. Bump took the full pay raise among the state’s six constitutional officers, and each would have to decide whether to accept the new pay as well.
Goldberg, for example, declined the initial raise to $175,000 in 2017, but Allard said she would take that salary, and the additional adjustment, when she begins her second term in January.
A spokeswoman for Attorney General Maura T. Healey said the Charlestown Democrat will also accept the increase to $190,000 given she “declined to take the midterm raise two years ago.”
Efforts to reach aides to Bump and Secretary of State William F. Galvin were not successful Thursday night.
The 2017 pay raise legislation also increased the salaries for the state’s judges and a slew of other officials, from court clerks and assistant clerks to the Suffolk County register of deeds. But it did not bake in biennial adjustments for them as it did for the constitutional officers and legislators.
Matt Stout can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
“Lawmakers hit taxpayers for new raises”
By Boston Herald Editorial Staff, December 29, 2018
Our elected leaders in Massachusetts must be doing something right because they are about to get a near 6 percent raise. The new year will see state lawmaker salaries bump up from $62,547 to $66,256.
If it seems like the legislature just recently got a pay raise that’s because they did. In fact they get one every two years — it’s written into the Massachusetts Constitution that their pay correlate with the state’s median household income.
Many in the legislature also received a fattened paycheck when they voted themselves another hike in 2017. That gave the President of the Senate and the Speaker of the House a 40 percent pay raise, each. Many others in “leadership roles” also benefited — and there are a lot of leadership roles on Beacon Hill. Leadership positions and committee chairmanships will also see a bigger payday in 2019.
Some lawmakers have historically defended their pay raises by contending that if their compensation is not commensurate with that in the private sector, only the very rich will have the financial resources to enter politics.
First, plenty of politicians working on Beacon Hill also hold jobs elsewhere and the schedule of a legislator is far from rigorous. Second, there is no need for Massachusetts to have a full-time legislature, only a small number of states do. Ideally our representatives would primarily be working in the real world and would only convene a handful of times — at most — every year.
It’s not just the legislature. As the Herald’s Joe Battenfeld reported, Gov. Baker will also accept a pay raise taking a 67 percent boost in compensation — including a $68,854 “housing allowance” even though he lives in a $1.1 million manse in Swampscott. Baker’s total compensation will skyrocket from $151,800 to $253,854 — starting Jan. 1.
Elected officials should not be in politics for its lucrativeness. Public servants are held in high esteem because in theory they are making a sacrifice for the benefit of the greater good. The fact that so many on Beacon Hill are living lavishly, with built-in raises and stipends galore, is a testament to the reputation they’ve earned as backroom dealmakers and opportunists.
Our Opinion: “Beacon Hill secrecy invites voter cynicism”
The Berkshire Eagle, January 11, 2019
While Beacon Hill should be commended for the ability of its various members to regularly work together on key issues before the state, the unity in Boston on maintaining secrecy in government is not to be praised. That a special commission created two years ago to expand the state's public records law has packed it in without making any recommendations represents an embarrassing failure to end this institutional secrecy. Taxpayers often have reason for their cynicism about government, and this is one of them.
In late December, the two-year mandate of the Special Legislative Commission on Public Records ended when the group missed its deadline to file a final report making recommendations going forward. Massachusetts, a cradle of democracy which is also the only state in the union whose executive, legislative and judicial branches all claim total exemption from the state's own public records laws, will continue with a government that doesn't believe it is obligated to be transparent with its own citizenry.
"The Legislature has kicked the can down the road again, and with it it the public trust," assessed Mary Connaughton, the director of government transparency for the Pioneer Institute, in the Boston Globe.
Two years ago, to its credit, the Legislature overhauled the public records laws to ensure greater transparency in municipalities and state agencies. When the state police overtime pay scandal broke last month, it was easier to get at the nature of the abuses because of this reform. The Legislature, however, could not bring itself to introduce greater transparency into its own dealings, and no one in the judiciary or in the governor's office was lobbying lawmakers to make their fiefdoms more open to public view.
So the special commission made up largely of lawmakers and open-records advocates was created to expand the law to the legislative, executive and judicial branches of government. With the end of its tenure, the commission succeeded in kicking the can another two-years down the road but at nothing else. Worse, without the filing of a final report, residents don't even know what the points of disagreement were or if there were points of agreement upon which to build. At this point, no members of the commission have come forward individually to over insight into what the group was doing or not doing for two years before throwing its collective hands up and walking away.
This cannot be where the process ends, even if all parties would prefer that it did. Surely there are enough legislators of integrity in the House and Senate to put together a bill, based on the 2016 reform efforts and applying to the three branches of government, to bring before a committee. Spare residents any more studies or the formation of do-nothing commissions. The template for reform was created two years ago. The will to follow through must now be found. Until it does, taxpayers left in the dark can be forgiven for clinging to their cynicism.
Letter: “Attend Thursday forum on school funding reform”
The Berkshire Eagle, March 5, 2019
To the editor:
Amidst declining enrollment and rising taxation, gridlock on underfunded education mandates has led to inequitable taxation and aberrations in school district expenditure allocations. This hinders rural education reform and smart growth alternatives for our region.
In response to these challenges, I support Neil Clarke's call (letter, Feb. 28) for Berkshire County to double down on efforts for legislative action on education reform. Our state auditor, Suzanne Bump, a former resident of Berkshire County, brought attention to these issues in a related report a little over a year ago. She analyzed specific problems in rural regional school districts and offered foresighted recommendations.
Clearly we need to protest to our state legislators the unfunded local mandates, the outdated legislation and the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) policies enacted in 1993. The inflexible school choice reimbursement rates (not updated for more than 25 years) along with limited out-of-district tuition fees are huge disincentives standing in the way of school district reorganization.
To tackle these issues effectively, we have a valuable resource in the comprehensive analysis provided by Bump's report, "Supporting Student and Community Success: Updating the Structure and Finance of Massachusetts Regional School Districts." The report is online.
The state auditor's report offers key recommendations:
— Providing regionalization incentives;
— Addressing enrollment-based annual assessments that cause conflict, inequities and budget delays among communities;
— Simplifying the budget-adoption process to allow regional school districts to approve their budgets based on population, rather than the nominal number of member towns;
— And empowering the DESE to work with a willing district to provide necessary funding alternatives and to fashion a pilot program.
The state auditor was concerned that some state policies were not "sensitive to local physical realities," noting that the Division of Local Mandate (DLM) was created to oversee these mandates. We should cry out to have the DLM review these convoluted and disjointed mandates and address reform.
We need to urge our legislators to address all these well researched, critical recommendations by the state auditor. One opportunity to learn more and share our views will be the Berkshire County Fund Our Future Forum on Thursday, from 5 to 7 p.m., at The Berkshire Athenaeum.
In our democracy, we must speak out, whether through meetings, letters or calls to legislators. The future of our children and of our communities depends on what we do now.
Sharon Gregory, Great Barrington
Letter: “Legislature should pass 'Death with Dignity' bill”
The Berkshire Eagle, March 28, 2019
To the editor:
The Massachusetts Legislature once again has before it a bill that would make it possible for terminally ill patients to receive assistance in dying from their physicians to avoid unnecessary pain and suffering. Sixty-six legislators are co-sponsors of "The End of Life Options Act," including Berkshire County's Sen. Adam Hinds and Reps. John Barrett, Paul Mark and William "Smitty" Pignatelli. I hope Rep. Tricia Farley-Bouvier will become a co-sponsor as well; I attended an illuminating meeting on this subject with her last November.
Seven states and Washington, D.C. already have "death with dignity" laws, with no indication that the laws' provisions have been in any way abused. And I have read that New Jersey and Maryland are close to passing ones, too. Massachusetts would be true to its tradition of being a leader in humane reforms if it extends this right to desperately ill patients seeking help from their physicians.
To learn more about this issue, I encourage Berkshirites to attend a public forum at the First Congregational Church in Great Barrington at 7 p.m. on April 15 called "Death with Dignity: Should Mass. Pass The End of Life Options Act?" Speakers will include Larry Pellish, a retired Pittsfield gastroenterologist, and John Berkowitz, the director of the Northampton-based group Western Mass. Death with Dignity.
Donald MacGillis, Pittsfield
March 30, 2019
According to Alan Chartock, "Smitty" Pignatelli is wonderful. What about the facts? Rep. Pignatelli's first vote on Beacon Hill's State House was a vote for the dictatorial and corrupt Speaker Tom Finneran. Smitty Pignatelli spoke out against "Sunshine" laws, while he supported closed door legislative business. Smitty Pignatelli also supported Speaker Sal DiMasi before DiMasi went to federal prison. Smitty Pignatelli now supports Speaker for life Bob DeLeo, who has more unanimous votes on his legislative bills than Communist countries! Smitty Pignatelli went against the will of the people on marijuana by proposing to give youth criminal records if they possessed a small amount of marijuana at or near a youth center. Smitty Pignatelli is a nearly 2-decades long career politician in state politics who voted for and supported his own legislative pay raises. Smitty Pignatelli published an op-ed in the Berkshire Eagle about all of the losses in population and jobs over the last couple of decades in Berkshire County without looking at himself in the proverbial mirror. In 2004, when I asked Smitty Pignatelli to sign my nomination papers for Berkshire State Senator, he declined by saying to me, "I don't sign nomination papers". When I tried to email Smitty Pignatelli, he blocked my emails to him. I don't understand Alan Chartock's glowing words for Smitty Pignatelli! It seems to me that Alan Chartock supports the political establishment instead of the truth and the common people.
- Jonathan Melle
April 27, 2019
Re: Bob DeLeo is a dictator worse the Communist countries!
Massachusetts politics is worse than Communist countries! It happened again! A near unanimous vote (one lone no vote out of 160 House Legislators) this past week on the state House budget with over 1,300 pork barrel amendments with no debates and behind closed doors and with no transparency!
It amazes me how Alan Chartock always praises state Rep. Smitty Pignatelli with glowing terms like “wonderful” when Smitty Pignatelli is part of a “charade”, a “joke”, and a “scam” that is the dictatorship of Speaker for Life Bob DeLeo! How can this go on? Why doesn’t anyone stop Speaker DeLeo from suppressing democracy? Why is he so powerful?
- Jonathan Melle
News article –
“Critics blast closed-door Massachusetts state budget deliberations”
By Mary Markos | email@example.com | Boston Herald, April 26, 2019
Government watchdogs and political figures are calling the House budget process a “charade,” a “joke” and a “scam” after the legislative body finished up four days of deliberations, conducted mostly behind closed doors.
“That’s how it’s worked since the day I walked in the Legislature,” Massachusetts Republican Party Chairman Jim Lyons told the Herald. “It continues to be the joke that it is. The budget process is done behind closed doors with no transparency and it’s been that way for at least the last eight to 10 years.”
As a former state representative who has sat in that back room, Lyons said those discussions are just as much a farce as they are on the House floor.
“That continues the charade to allow legislators to think that they’re having any impact,” Lyons said. “It’s the power brokers — the leadership, the speaker and several of his folks that have been in there for a long time — those are the ones that make the decisions.”
State Rep. Russell Holmes (D-Boston) estimated that 99% of those deliberations are done in a back room: Room 348, away from the press and the public eye.
“Most of that is already figured out before they come into the room. It’s a scam,” Russell said. “The 348 process is just a way to placate us.”
Holmes argues that pay disparity fuels a power imbalance in the House and filed one of the few publicly debated amendments to cut “additional” pay for Speaker Robert DeLeo and leadership, which overwhelmingly failed.
The offices of the speaker and the House Ways and Means Committee, as well as numerous state representatives, did not return requests for comment.
The $42.7 billion budget passed nearly unanimously in the House Thursday, with one dissenting vote — from Holmes. The House consolidated over 1,300 amendments and ended up with a final budget that added almost $71 million in spending. The Senate must still vote on the budget.
Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation president Eileen McAnneny said using consolidated amendments “runs counter to achieving greater transparency,” and that more can be done to improve the budget process. Common Cause executive director Pam Wilmot said there is “no question” that the budget process could be more transparent.
Massachusetts Fiscal Alliance spokesman Paul Craney said this budget process made him realize why DeLeo chose Rep. Aaron Michlewitz (D-Boston) to chair the powerful Ways and Means committee amid speculation that he might pick a representative with a more diverse background.
“Now it’s really clear,” Craney said. “He has continued the tradition of keeping important debate behind closed doors.”
“Speaker DeLeo defends back-door budget process”
By Mary Markos | firstname.lastname@example.org | Boston Herald, April 29, 2019
Speaker Robert DeLeo defended the covert nature of the House budget process amid criticism that the back-door deliberations lack transparency.
“People have the ability to debate whatever they want,” DeLeo said yesterday. “When I had the ability to talk to the members during the whole week, everyone that I spoke to was pleased with the process and felt it was one of the best budgets they were involved with.”
As the Herald reported last week, government watchdogs and political observers called the House budget process a “charade,” a “joke” and a “scam” after the legislative body finished up four days of deliberations, mostly done privately in Room 348.
“Well, that’s the discussion,” DeLeo told reporters, “That discussion that goes on in my office every day, I’m sure it goes on in your office every day.”
The $42.7 billion budget passed nearly unanimously in the House Thursday, as the body consolidated over 1,300 amendments and ended up with a final budget that added almost $71 million in spending. The practice of using consolidated amendments “runs counter to achieving greater transparency,” Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation president Eileen McAnneny said.
“Every member has the ability to take that amendment outside of the so-called consolidated amendment and debate it if they are displeased with decision of the chair,” DeLeo countered, “So it’s up to the members- whatever they wish to do.”
The budget now goes to the Senate for deliberation and a vote.
- Jonathan Melle
- Amherst, NH, United States
- I am a citizen defending the people against corrupt Pols who only serve their Corporate Elite masters, not the people! / My 2 political enemies are Andrea F. Nuciforo, Jr., nicknamed "Luciforo" and former Berkshire County Sheriff Carmen C. Massimiano, Jr. / I have also pasted many of my political essays on "The Berkshire Blog": berkshireeagle.blogspot.com / I AM THE ANTI-FRANK GUINTA! / Please contact me at email@example.com
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