Saturday, October 22, 2011
Smitty PIGnatelli's undemocratic proposal
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 | firstname.lastname@example.org – 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. email@example.com @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 firstname.lastname@example.org
“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.
- 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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