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

There is no doubt that health care costs are becoming a significant burden for many cities and towns throughout the Commonwealth.

It must be noted, however, that most cities and towns agreed to their current arrangements through the collective bargaining process. A collective bargaining agreement is a contract, and I do not believe that any entity, including our government, should be allowed to unilaterally alter a contract.

The collective bargaining process already allows municipalities to make changes to their current arrangements. Many local leaders have already done this, including my home city of Taunton. In a plan architected by former mayor Robert Nunes, the city and its workers ultimately moved to a new system, generating savings for the city without outside intervention.

Working men and women bargain in good faith in public and private workplaces, and in many instances, they forgo pay increases in lieu of other benefits. The agreements that are reached not only apply to workers while they are employed, but when they are retired as well.

Many people make important life decisions based on the reasonable expectation that their agreements will not be altered after retirement. Therefore, I am opposed to allowing any entity to change any aspects of a collective bargaining agreement unless it is done through the collective bargaining process, especially when the health care of elderly citizens is at stake.

Another infrequently mentioned aspect of this issue is the cost increases that are likely to result in the state budget should a new population of people be transferred into the GIC.

Adding a large new group of people, many of whom are older, would significantly skew the mix and potentially result in a substantial cost increase to the Commonwealth.

Republican

I support the municipal health insurance proposal provided it utilizes the state's GIC, or similar organization, to assure the plan offers quality and cost-effective coverage.

I've seen firsthand the savings possible. I first got into politics in 2003 when I saw that municipal health insurance costs were crippling Taunton's budget, as they were then self-insured through Blue Cross Blue Shield. I proposed moving the city's coverage to the Mass Interlocal Insurance Association, an organization similar to the GIC.

While I wasn't successful in that election, I was appointed to a special task force by Mayor Bob Nunes to implement the plan.

After months of meetings, we were ultimately successful in getting 14 out of 15 unions to agree with the move, and we subsequently saved the city tens of millions of dollars while still providing quality health care coverage to our employees.

Health insurance increases continue to take up larger and larger percentages of municipalities' budgets. This squeezes out resources that could otherwise go towards public safety or education or even towards property tax decreases.

This points to a central challenge facing all our cities and towns. Simply put, they are limited by Prop 2 1/2 to increase property tax levies up to that cap.

However, health insurance and pension costs grow at a much faster rate. In response to this funding gap, municipalities have been cutting staffs, increasing and imposing new fees and/or proposing overrides. The current model is unsustainable.

While my opponent has been consistent in supporting new taxes and fees to finance these exploding expenses, I'll work to bring these costs under control.

I also support the proposal to have state retirees use Medicare as do the vast majority of non-state retirees in the Commonwealth.

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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

I have long believed that there was significant room for improvement to the Commonwealth's pension system.

That is why I was proud to support comprehensive legislation that aimed to end abuses in the pension system and save taxpayer money. While many have talked about pension reform over the years, the state Senate passed this legislation unanimously in 2009.

The average pension for a Massachusetts employee is $24,000 a year; however, prior to the Legislature's pension reform, a small number of people could exploit obscure loopholes in the system at taxpayer expense.

The bill I supported closed many of those loopholes, including the 'one day, one year' provision that allowed some employees to claim a year of credible service for working one day in a calendar year, and the 'termination allowance' that allowed elected officials to increase their pensions based on failure to be nominated or re-elected.

In addition to the major improvements this bill made to the pension system, I also would consider a cap on annual pension amounts similar to the one proposed by the MTF.

I would support a formula-based cap, which would account for eventual cost-of-living increases and adjustments for base wages, rather than a specific dollar value cap that would require regular legislative adjustments for inflation.

Republican

I think that would be a good start.

I think a better option would be to base the pension payout calculation over what was earned in salary and contributed over the lifetime of employment in the plan rather than only the top three years, which currently allows for manipulation.

A teacher or police officer or DPW employee who spends 30-odd years in the plan currently receives, at retirement, a pension that is largely self-funded.

However, today's process allows someone to apply years earned in appointed or volunteer part-time positions, or in much lower paying positions, toward a calculation based on only the top three years of earnings. In this case, the municipality or government entity, and ultimately we taxpayers, pick up a far greater percentage of the pension outlay.

We're looking at unfunded pension liabilities in the Commonwealth in the billions and if we don't act now, this cost will be irresponsibly passed along to our kids and our grandkids.

But again, our current leaders on Beacon Hill refuse to act to implement meaningful reform, and we taxpayers suffer as a result.

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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

One of my top priorities in the Legislature and as a public servant has been to ensure that a high-quality public education is available to students throughout the Commonwealth. Education is the key to making sure we will be competitive in the 21st century global economy.

I believe that the MCAS test, or one like it, is an important part of an effective educational strategy. These tests help ensure that students leave school with a strong grasp of the core skills that are necessary for success in the real world.

I also believe, however, that there are many bright and talented students who may not be able to articulate their knowledge on a standardized test. That is why, in addition to standardized testing, I support a portfolio-style apparatus for evaluating students.

I think we need to focus on the entire skill set of a student, as opposed to focusing on only the skills measured on a standardized test. I want to make sure students absorb knowledge and develop critical thinking skills and do not just acquire the memorization skills needed to pass a standardized test.

Republican

I do. I remember attending a meeting over 10 years ago where a well-known university president stressed how poorly incoming freshmen were prepared for the rigors of college. Both class time and tuition dollars were needed to be spent on math and English classes to get these kids up to a base level required to accomplish their regular coursework.

Fast forward to today. One of the few yet significant successes in state government has been the achievement scores of our kids compared with the rest of the country. So we as a community (parents, educators, government leaders and our school kids) have made great strides in creating an positive learning environment which increases the chances that our kids will be successful adults.

I am somewhat concerned with the Patrick administration's plan to gut the current system that's working for a watered-down federal plan. I see how this benefits both the Obama and Patrick administrations, but don't see how this helps our kids. I feel Gov. Patrick is putting simple party politics ahead of what's in the best long-term interest of our children and our future workforce.

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Public records

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

Democrat

I believe openness and transparency are the crucial traits that allow a democracy to function properly.

I have consistently supported efforts to increase transparency and accountability in the Legislature in the past, and I would certainly continue to support any such efforts in the future.

Legislative transparency must be balanced with our commitment to preserving the confidentiality of the constituents who contact their legislators.

I am very frequently contacted by constituents requesting assistance, and it is often necessary that they provide medical records, financial information, and other sensitive data.

This information is entrusted to me, and to make it publicly available would violate constituent privacy.

Republican

Absolutely not. Despite House Speaker DeLeo's and Senate President Murray's recent election-year posturing that they are in favor of increasing transparency, recent actions suggest that Beacon Hill prefers to meet and act behind closed doors.

Think back only to July when selected members of the House and Senate met to try and cobble together a casino bill that would be palatable to the House, Senate and governor. It is outrageous that these meetings were neither open to the public nor available for broadcast.

We live in a technological age where videos are on demand on YouTube and where records and documents are readily available at the click of a mouse.

But try to find online how your current senator or state representative voted on any number of issues of the day. You can't, as this information isn't readily available.

I suspect this is for a reason. Our current corrupt culture on Beacon Hill prefers to operate in the shadows and is loath to think they should be accountable for their prior votes.

One of my first priorities once elected will be to establish an open, accessible database of roll call votes so that constituents can easily see how their elected officials vote on issues.

As a member of Taunton's city council, our votes are recorded in our weekly meeting minutes, which are posted on the Internet and our meetings are broadcast locally. And similar policies are in place in cities and towns throughout the Commonwealth.

It's simply outrageous that Beacon Hill feels they are above these simple measures of transparency and accountability.

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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

Since my first day in the State House, I have prided myself on being an independent voice. I have always done what I felt was in the best interest of my district, whether it was in agreement with leadership or not.

Last year, the leaders on Beacon Hill asked me to vote for the FY 2010 budget that cut local aid, raised taxes on sales and alcohol, established local-option taxes on meals and hotels, and made no attempt to save the jobs at the Raynham-Taunton Park. I voted 'no'.

This year, when the FY2011 budget made further cuts to local aid and still failed to address the then-imminent closure of the Raynham-Taunton Park, I refused to give in and voted 'no' again.

In addition to voting against the last two budgets, I have also supported the idea of authorizing slot machines at the state's race tracks. Many leaders of my party have not been in favor of this position. I support it so strongly because I believe it would save and create hundreds of jobs and generate revenue that could be used to fund local aid.

I also broke from party leadership by voting to repeal the alcohol tax. I believe in reality this is a 'double-tax' and it is not a major revenue generator. I believe it should be repealed, and I am in favor of the ballot question seeking to do so in the upcoming election.

Republican

I disagreed with the bilateral support received by the Massachusetts health care insurance reform law enacted in 2006.

Governor candidate Tim Cahill is correct in saying it's bankrupting the state and the cost increases we're bearing in the state budget are totally unsustainable.

But, to go beyond your question, I think both Beacon Hill and Washington have to get beyond simple party bickering.

Yes, I'm an enrolled Republican and am running as such. And there are some who I am sure won't vote for me for that one reason.

But I'm also a husband and father. I hold an MBA. I have various work and life experiences that I think are underrepresented in politics, etc.

I am someone who votes the person rather than their party, and I absolutely appreciate there is good legislation proposed, and issues put forth, by Democrats, Republicans, and independents. Too often, it seems professional politicians are primarily concerned with who "wins" or "loses" on various issues rather than in concentrating on whether if it's good policy.

I've successfully worked with folks from different political beliefs and from different backgrounds in my 5 years as city councilor to arrive at what's in the best interest of the citizens of Taunton. I pledge to bring that pragmatism with me to Beacon Hill.

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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

I will authorize any of the organizations to whom I submit a questionnaire to release my responses if any of them choose to do so.

Republican

I will absolutely make public any questionnaires or surveys I've submitted and would sign any releases needed to make them public.

I think voters today have a healthy skepticism of professional politicians who simply tailor their message depending on their audience, and I believe I've been consistent in my responses and what I believe needs to be done to turn this state around.

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Legislative audit

Should the Legislature be subject to a full audit?

Democrat

Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis said that sunshine is the best disinfectant, and letting more light into government can only help us serve you better.

That's why I support extensive analysis and review of state programs by the state auditor, independent third parties, and the Post Audit and Oversight committee, which I chair.

The Commonwealth was built on providing all citizens with access to an open government. Legislators annually file thousands of bills, many directly from constituents through their right of free petition, and manage the $29 billion budget. With this responsibility, I believe the Legislature should continue to be subject to regular audits at the hand of a neutral third party.

Senate Rule 13C requires periodic audits of Senate financial accounts to be conducted by a certified public accountant experienced in auditing governmental entities. This audit is publicly available from the Senate clerk's office.

By utilizing an independent auditor for Senate audits, we protect against conflicts of interest arising from partisanship or the legislative funding of the state auditor's office.

Republican

Absolutely. Accountability and transparency should be paramount.

And, as senator I will gladly work with our state auditor, other state officials, and/or a professional audit firm on such a project.

Again, the fact that we currently do not have regularly scheduled audits of the Legislature speaks volumes as to the culture on Beacon Hill and the priorities of leadership.

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Formal sessions

Is the Legislature holding enough full formal sessions?

Democrat

While I do believe the Legislature was successful in addressing many important issues during the current two-year session, some crucial matters have been overlooked.

For example, I believe the Legislature should have gone back into session to finish work on the gaming bill. Holding more formal sessions would help facilitate action on this issue and others, and I am in favor of increasing the number of sessions for that reason.

I must stress, however, that a legislator's important responsibilities consist of much more than participating in formal sessions. The most crucial job a legislator does is spend time in his or her district listening to the thoughts and concerns of constituents.

A legislator must dedicate significant amounts of time to meeting with local officials and constituent advocacy groups, attending events and meetings in the district, and ensuring that he or she understands the issues and critical needs of the cities and towns he or she represents.

Republican

It's not only that they do not hold enough formal sessions, it's that they so rarely accomplish anything of importance when they do meet.

Again, look at the session that recently ended and how they dealt with the topic of casino gambling. After 15 months, both chambers were in a frenzy to throw something together and ultimately even then couldn't arrive at something acceptable to Gov. Patrick.

Think back four years ago. Then-candidate Patrick and Democrats in the Legislature promised that by controlling both the governor's office and the Legislature, there would be no stopping them.

Well, from talking to voters this past year, that's what many of us are afraid of ... that there is no stopping them.

We really have to achieve some kind of checks and balances and bring sanity back to Beacon Hill.

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Term limits

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

Democrat

Under Senate rules, the Senate President is already subject to an 8-year (4-term) limit. I believe this limit is fair, and I fully support it.

Republican

In general, I'm not for term limits per se, but rather for open and contested elections.

In my race, my opponent has been on Beacon Hill for over 20 years. But it's not his fault that during many of those years, he ran uncontested.

I do think spending on elections is getting out of control and that money contributed can't help but influence members of the House and Senate in future votes.

I think Massachusetts could try to mimic the election process in Minnesota, where Senate and House candidates are prevented from raising and spending more than $15,000 on any single campaign.

This year, we are fortunate to have many seats being contested, but that hasn't always been the case in Massachusetts.

In the case of House Speaker and Senate President, I feel that perhaps 8 years would be a sufficient time period in that role. If such a limit is good enough for the President of the United States, I would think it would be good enough for these two positions.

They say absolute power corrupts absolutely and you only have to look at our last three former Speakers of the House to see that played out.

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Responses gathered through e.thePeople