The two men running to represent Ashland and parts of Framingham in the state House of Representatives have differing views of how to get things done on Beacon Hill, disagreeing on state aid for education in particular.
Incumbent Democratic Representative Tom Sannicandro said his work to change the aid formula has given his district a dramatic boost in funding during his tenure, while Republican challenger Jon Fetherston said he sees the formula as unfair and skewed toward Boston and other areas.
And while Sannicandro said the district needs an advocate at the State House to make sure the aid formula remains beneficial to the district, Fetherston said what is needed is “someone to fight to get changes.”
Fetherston, a 47-year-old former Ashland selectman, said the one-party dominance on Beacon Hill means there’s never any reason to change anything.
He’s not going to ask the House speaker “if I can do something, I’m going to tell the speaker what Ashland and Framingham need,” Fetherston said.
He said the school-aid formula is one of the first fights he will take on, adding that while funding has improved, it is not nearly at a fair level.
“Franklin gets much more money than we do,” he said.
Fetherston, who works at Sovereign Bank, said he will not vote for any new revenue, including tax increases.
“Clean, efficient, well-run government is not as expensive as it’s costing the taxpayers of Massachusetts,” he said. “Quite candidly, if we get corruption out of government, we’ll have a lot more money.”
He said tough decisions need to be made, and that the state has to stop borrowing money to pay its bills.
“We need to look at every item,” he said.
Fetherston, who is chairman of the MetroWest Regional Collaborative and has served on the MetroWest Regional Transportation Authority, sees transportation as a key local issue.
He said actual bus stops are needed with easily readable schedules, as well as more services for people with disabilities and others who cannot drive.
“MetroWest needs better transportation options,” he said. “Getting to your job is a huge, uphill battle for someone who can not drive.”
To do this, Fetherston said, excess needs to be cut from the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority budget, and a change in leadership at the authority is needed.
Fetherston said he would call for tax incentives for small businesses who hire people over 50, and would work to eliminate barriers now in place that make it difficult for small businesses to operate here.
“I want to take a look at everything,” he said. “I have my ideas, but I want to listen to small-business owners and let them tell us what they need, and then respond to that.”
Sannicandro, a lawyer who was born in Framingham and has lived in Ashland for 26 years, pointed to his eight-year record on Beacon Hill of passing bills that brought more education funds to his district.
He said he wants to help create more jobs, and hold community colleges more accountable.
The 56-year-old said the work he did as a legislator to change the state education funding formula to benefit his district increased funding in both communities at a much higher rate than in other cities and towns across the state. Aid to his district went up 148 percent during his term, compared with 28 percent statewide, according to figures on his website.
“It brought a lot more money to this district,” he said. “And now you need advocates on Beacon Hill to make sure what we did remains in place.”
He also points to a provision he authored in the recently passed jobs bill that created a funding source through bonds to help companies, the federal government, or venture capitalists create research and technology jobs in the state.
“It doesn’t cost the state anything, and has the potential to generate up to a billion dollars in economic activity by bringing new jobs into the state,” he said.
Sannicandro said he is also pushing measures that would allow notarized signatures to be done electronically, and to allow companies to file electronic incorporation papers rather than having to meet with officials in person and then file on paper.
“It would send the message that we are on the cutting edge, we’re a place where innovation is happening,” he said.
As chairman of the Legislature’s Higher Education Committee, Sannicandro said, he got significant legislation passed that will hold community colleges accountable by tying funding to academic performance and graduation rates. The policy change also gives the state Board of Higher Education more say over hiring and evaluating college presidents.
He said major issues facing the state include funding for kindergarten though Grade 12 and higher education, he said.
He added that he will remain committed to making sure the elderly, veterans, and people with disabilities “are being supported and protected.”
Sannicandro also pointed to his work with Republicans to “get some things done,” in particular, passage of the Valor Act, which increases educational and job opportunities for veterans.