Health costs

The Mass. Taxpayers Foundation recently recommended that local officials be given the power to design their own health plans without having to negotiate with the unions, and that state retirees use Medicare for their primary health care coverage. Do you support these proposals?

Democrat

First, the health plan issue:

I do not support having the state Legislature bypass collective bargaining agreements that were made in good faith between local unions and the cities.

As for using Medicare for primary health care coverage, this should already be happening.

You must be 65 to qualify for Medicare. State law requires pensioners to switch to Medicare when they reach age 65, so the opportunity to shift costs is already being taken advantage of.

Independent

Local aid has been cut by $850 million to cities and towns over the past 2 years.

Municipal leaders and the Massachusetts Municipal Association have asked the Legislature to allow cities and towns to have the same authority that the state has in providing health care coverage for its employees. Municipal leaders estimated that this could save $100 million this year alone by being able to follow the same rules that the state does for providing health care coverage.

Every sector - state, federal, and private - has seen changes in its health care coverage. It seems reasonable that municipal plans must change as well. Basic equity dictates that municipal employees at a minimum have the same coverage that state employees enjoy.

Cities and towns are facing financial crisis. I would support allowing municipal leaders to have the option to be able to change their own health plans if they thought it would benefit their city, constituents, and employees.

The $100 million yearly savings could be used to keep teachers in the classrooms, to keep fire stations open, to keep police on the streets, to keep property taxes stable so that young people, unemployed homeowners, and the elderly on fixed incomes can afford to keep and stay in their homes.

Republican

Recently, the city of Quincy was able reduce its health care costs significantly when city leaders worked with municipal employees to gain their support for joining the state's Group Insurance Commission. The mayor exercised leadership and worked with the unions to provide excellent health care coverage without overburdening taxpayers. I believe that collective bargaining can work and this is a good example.

I support the use of Medicare for primary health care coverage of retirees, provided that the state will make up for any coverage gaps. Seniors on fixed incomes are struggling with increased health care costs and we must support them as much as possible.

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State pensions

The foundation also proposed changes in state and municipal pensions, such as increasing the retirement age and capping annual pensions at $100,000. Do you agree?

Democrat

The average state employee pension is $19,500 annually. The average teacher pension is $26,000 annually. And there is no annual automatic cost of living adjustment each year.

Furthermore, the state pensions fund is paid for 100 percent by the employee; there is no state matching contribution, nor Social Security.

This cap proposal would address only the very small number of persons who have a high pension.

One potential side effect of a pension cap like this is it could affect high-quality professors in the University of Massachusetts system. If we lower their pensions, this gives them an incentive to leave the University of Massachusetts system for better offers elsewhere.

One of the reasons our state universities are so desirable is the high quality of the faculty. Not everyone can afford to send their child to a private university with limitless faculty salaries.

Independent

The vast majority of public employees works hard and receives a pension that fairly represents their contributions to the system. Where the public's frustration lies is with the few public employees who game the system, take advantage of loopholes, and unfairly fatten their pensions.

For example: If a legislator made $60,000 a year for 10 years and then was appointed as an executive director with a salary of $125,000 for 3 years, what is the fair amount that the pension should be based on? I don't think basing the pension solely on those highest 3 years is fair. A better formula is needed.

I support further tightening the loopholes and eliminating the gaming of the system. This will allow us to better protect and provide retirement to the vast majority of pensioners who have consistently contributed to the system and earned their retirements.

Republican

I do not think it is fair to change a system people have bought into and planned their lives around. I do think that the system as designed is unsustainable and must be changed for those entering into it.

I believe that contributions must match benefits. When you contribute for years based upon an average salary and receive an annual pension based upon only the highest three earning years, the math simply doesn't add up.

Ultimately, the system must support itself. It is unfair to ask taxpayers to pay for public pensions when they are worried about paying for their own retirements.

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MCAS

Do you believe in keeping the requirement that a student must pass the MCAS or an MCAS-like test in order to graduate from high school?

Democrat

Graduating from high school should not depend on a single exam, because a good education means more than the ability to pass a test.

Certainly, high school students should meet certain standards in reading and math to graduate. However, the MCAS ignores the many different factors that can affect a student's ability to pass a standardized test like the MCAS.

A teacher's assessment should be part of each student's graduation requirement. By including teacher assessments, we leave room for teachers to teach students to be well-rounded and not narrowly focused on test material.

Independent

Yes, I do support the requirement.

It is important that we hold our students to a certain level of proficiency in core subject matters. We need to be able to measure how well our students are doing and how effective our schools are at helping our students reach those levels.

I prefer a local approach to identifying and setting those educational standards rather than a national approach. I believe we are better suited at a local level to realize what the needed standard of performance should be for our students and schools. I think that it was unwise to relinquish that control to a national standard in order to receive greater federal revenues.

Massachusetts public education is rated No. 1 because we made the difficult choices years ago, committed higher taxes to the effort, and led the way for the rest of the nation to follow with higher standards and testing.

MCAS is far from perfect, but it has made remarkable improvements for the majority of students in our state. I fear that we may have jeopardized our leadership through short-sighted expediency.

Republican

Yes. Education is one of our state's greatest strengths and something we should continue to make a top priority.

My wife is an elementary teacher in the Quincy public schools, and I know how hard teachers work and how much they care about their students.

A highly educated workforce will enable us to compete in a global economy. To maintain this edge, I believe we must keep our standards high by setting measurable expectations for our students and our school systems.

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Public records

Should the state Legislature be exempt from the state's public records law?

Democrat

I agree with making government as transparent as possible. My concern with this question is that it is vague about what is and isn't a public record.

People often seek help from their state representative, and when they do, they entrust the representative with personal information. Sometimes this information includes detailed personal history, like Social Security numbers, insurance, and medical information.

For example, a family with a child who has a drug problem may call in to ask about substance abuse services. They may tell me their private life story in detail. If a public records law were too broad, an insurance provider could ask for that information under public records law and then change that family's insurance policy. In that case, we haven't done those people any good at all.

Any changes to the public records law must carefully protect the privacy rights of our constituents.

Independent

No - more transparency and easier access to public information will make for a better and more trusted government.

In the digital age, there should be easy ways to track legislation and have access to public records. The days of backroom dealings and undue influence need to end. We cannot afford to continue those ways.

Sunshine is a wonderful disinfectant.

Republican

Absolutely not. Public business should always be open to the public. Better-informed citizens make for better government.

Talking to citizens, I get the sense that there is a general lack of trust.

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Party leadership

Cite any votes (if an incumbent) or positions (if a challenger or newcomer) you have taken that disagree with the stance taken by your party's legislative leadership.

Democrat

I would be in favor of repealing the state's sales tax on alcohol that the Legislature recently passed.

The current sales tax applies to the entire price of alcohol. But the state excise tax already makes up about 40% of the price of alcohol. It is fundamentally unfair to apply a sales tax to the existing state excise tax: that's essentially a sales tax on taxes paid.

Independent

I am an independent so I would not be obligated to act under the direct control of party leadership. I would be free to act in the best interest of the people who I would represent and put their needs before the political needs of the parties.

The majority of Massachusetts voters register as independents and choose not to align with any party. This trend will continue, and I hope to vote on behalf of my constituents for whatever proposal makes the most sense and not because of partisan obligations.

One recent position that I disagreed with was the failure of our elected leaders to pass a casino gambling bill. I am disappointed that the House speaker, Senate president, and governor could not come to terms on the bill. Egos, special interests, and authorship got in the way of progress.

At a minimum, three much-needed privately funded construction projects would be underway, providing jobs for the building and service trades, along with desperately needed revenue from the sale of the licenses to the state.

Republican

In contrast to Republican Party leadership and also my two opponents, I am not in favor of repealing the sales tax on alcohol.

While I support smarter spending and lower taxes in general, this tax makes sense. There are only 5 states in the entire country that do not have a sales tax on alcohol.

The money from this discretionary spending tax is dedicated to substance abuse prevention and treatment programs. In Quincy, I have seen many families devastated by substance abuse. I have also seen many people turn their lives around thanks to effective treatment programs.

In a time of economic peril, we cannot afford to further burden our families, our schools, and our public safety departments by the scourge of drugs and alcohol. While they might not be perfect, the overall data shows these programs work and we need every tool available.

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Endorsements

Will you make public any questionnaires you fill out in pursuit of the endorsement of unions or other groups?

Democrat

The questionnaires are the private property of the entities that provide them. I would support releasing questionnaires with the consent of the entity that provided them. But I would not be in favor of revealing any campaign strategy or related information that is in the questionnaire.

Independent

Yes - absolutely and I call on my Democratic and Republican opponents to do the same.

It is important for the voters to understand where the money and support for a candidate is coming from and the promises and commitments that were made in conjunction with receiving the money, help, mailings, advertisements, and phone banks from special interest groups.

The voters need to clearly understand what the candidates have committed to in order to receive the support and money of the special interest groups.

I want to maintain my independence, so I have not sought or accepted money from any special interest group or lobbyist. I don't want to be bought and paid for and have made it a tenet of my campaign. My opponent, Mr. Chan, has accepted thousands of dollars from special interest groups and lobbyists. That is not the type of representative I want to be.

Republican

Yes, and I will say that I have not filled out any questionnaires in pursuit of endorsements.

I do not mean any disrespect to these groups, but the only endorsement I am seeking is from the citizens in the district and I'm happy to answer any of their questions.

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Legislative audit

Should the Legislature be subject to a full audit?

Democrat

The House of Representatives is already required to use an outside, independent auditor for its accounts at the end of every fiscal year under the House Rule 85A.

The Senate is also already required to use an outside, independent auditor for its financial accounts at the end of the fiscal year (Rule 13C). These audit results are publicly available.

Additionally, every dollar the House and Senate spends goes through the state comptroller's office, whose records are available for public inspection.

Independent

Yes - accountability and transparency are important in restoring confidence in government.

Republican

Yes, the public deserves transparency from its elected officials. After all, they work for us.

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Formal sessions

Is the Legislature holding enough full formal sessions?

Democrat

The Legislature should have as many formal sessions as possible. Legislators should have every opportunity to debate and vote on every piece of legislation.

Independent

The legislative schedule is set to favor incumbency. Five months off during an election year to allow members to campaign really challenges the definition of what is a full-time Legislature.

Republican

Not based on its track record.

From talking to voters, there is a sense that the Legislature is slow to get things done. Then, once legislation is finally about to pass, a bunch of last-minute changes get attached and it grinds to a halt.

The casino legislation is a perfect example. By holding more full formal sessions, more can be discussed out in the open and compromises can be reached sooner rather than later.

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Term limits

Should there be term limits for the jobs of House Speaker and Senate President?

Democrat

Yes -- and these limits are already in place. The House of Representatives currently limits the Speaker to 8 consecutive years under the House Rule 14A. The Senate also limits the President to 8 consecutive years under the Senate Rule 11B.

Independent

Legislators should view their role as temporary. I believe in the vision of our founders who preferred citizen legislators, not career politicians.

Term limits for the House speaker and Senate president are needed so that change can occur and fresh approaches can be explored. This is where I, as an independent legislator, can play an important role.

Partisan politics plays too great a role in our current system. The actions of the legislative leadership provide cover for members who lack moral courage. This type of legislative behavior is not well received by the people, and the present system needs to be voted out.

Republican

Yes. As an active member of the community, I have held various leadership positions on boards. I believe it's important to know when to serve and when to step down.

Allowing for new leadership brings new ideas and encourages people to take on more responsibility in order to prove they can lead.

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Responses gathered through e.thePeople