State Representative Cory Atkins, a Concord Democrat who believes the state is doing a lot of things right, is seeking a seventh term in a race against Republican challenger Michael J. Benn, who says the one-party control on Beacon Hill has government “out of balance.”
Atkins, 65, and Benn, 47, are vying to represent the 14th Middlesex District, which covers all of Concord and Carlisle, and parts of Acton and Chelmsford.
Benn, who grew up in Concord, has served on the town’s Public Ceremonies and Celebrations Committee, is active in the Knights of Columbus and in his church, where he taught Catholic religious education, and spent time coaching his children’s youth soccer teams.
After graduating from Northeastern University and earning a master’s degree in business administration from Boston University, he spent his career working in health care finance, Benn said.
“I’m a total product of the private sector,” he said.
Benn said he views government from the perspectives of a parent, student, taxpayer, and someone who has worked in business for 24 years.
“These are the customers of government, and the customer should always be right,” he said, adding that state government has lost sight of this.
Benn said the primary reason he’s running is to get those who are “stuck in the unemployment cycle” back to work and to boost the economy. “These are real people with real needs who need good food on their plate and a good roof over their head,” he said.
Bringing the state income tax rate and sales tax back down to 5 percent is a good starting point in restoring a thriving state economy, he said.
He emphasized that he does not advocate for a lower tax rate to simply “put a few more dollars in my pocket,” but to provide the economic stimulus necessary for small businesses to thrive and create jobs.
Many people who live near the New Hampshire border, and many from the 14th Middlesex District, drive over the state line to avoid the 6¼ percent sales tax in Massachusetts.
“When that happens, the state loses revenue from the whole sale,” he said. “Businesses lose sales and unemployment goes up.”
The second thing on Benn’s economic agenda is to get spending under control.
Legislators should take the same approach to creating a budget as people in the private sector, which is to start at zero and require those requesting funds to justify each dollar being asked for, Benn said.
“We all maybe do more than we would have liked to do with less money than we would have liked to do it with,” he said. “But the job gets done.”
Benn said if legislators worked together on Beacon Hill as well as individuals do in the private sector, things in government would get done more efficiently. “But some people are doing things for their own political gain,” he said.
Atkins, who was first elected to Beacon Hill in a special election in 1999, said the state’s economy is a lot better than in many parts of the country.
“Our bond rating is double A plus, one of only three states with that rating, we are ranked first in education . . . and our rainy day fund is over $1 billion,” she said. “That gives us a real advantage in attracting business and creating jobs.”
Atkins said that while the state has an innovative economy, it also has a cold climate, which can be a turnoff for companies looking for a place to locate.
“But what attracts businesses here is our quality of life and our education system,” she said.
She said legislation passed during the last session, including health care cost containment, a jobs bill, and a move to streamline the permitting process for companies to build here, will help spur growth.
But another key issue, Atkins said, is public transportation.
She said the approximately $20 billion deficit in that department is something that can no longer be pushed aside, and balancing the budget “is going to take a large, dedicated revenue stream.”
She said her first priority will be to make sure the concerns of the people in her district are represented, but that she is not ruling out voting in favor of a tax increase or new revenue stream that would specifically be used to balance the transportation budget.
“I’m a grown-up,” she said. “Santa Claus is not going to appear and fix this. I wish he were, but we are going to have to fix this and we are going to have to pay for it.”
Another thing Atkins says needs fixing is campaign finance laws that allow companies to pour unlimited amounts of money directly into political advertisements.
Atkins sponsored legislation calling for lawmakers in Washington to respond to a US Supreme Court ruling that allows for the unfettered corporate contributions.
“This decision made corporations super citizens. It’s a real crisis,” she said.
Another piece of legislation she is particularly proud of sponsoring is one that allows restraining orders to be filed against an individual regardless of his or her relationship with the person feeling threatened. Previously, Atkins said, a restraining order could not be filed against a neighbor, co-worker or a casual acquaintance, and could only be obtained against relatives or people with whom the victim had a close relationship.
“It took a lot of work to get passed,” she said, “but it was finally passed and it’s something I’m very proud of.”