By: Tom Duggan – September, 2010
State Representative Barry Finegold is a candidate for State Senate. Valley Patriot editor Tom Duggan interviewed him last month on the Paying Attention! Radio Program on WCAP in Lowell. Duggan asked Finegold about his vote in favor of a $35 million loan for Lawrence with no financial oversight. To see where the other candidates in this race stand on the Lawrence situation see page 11.
BF: I have been the State Rep for the last 6 terms. I’ve been running for State Senate to bring a common sense approach. I’ve been an independent voice in my time as a State Rep. I’ve been a relentless advocate for people that I represent. I’m married, wife, 2 kids, own a law firm, and my wife owns a small business as well. I do believe I understand the issues that matter for people of the district. How was that, Tom, was that all right?
TD: There’s this $35 million… You, not only voted for the $35 million dollar bailout loan for Lawrence…
BF: I don’t call it a bailout, though.
TD: You don’t? What would you call it?
BF: I think it was deficit borrowing. Other communities have done it throughout the state. Haverhill has done it. Methuen has done it. Southbridge has done it.
Unfortunately, we just got to a situation where the city was going to run out of cash and they needed to make this a loan to provide for services. I think what gets disappointing is that people compare this to what happened with the Auto Dealers and manufacturers. This is something that has happened many times before and Lawrence wasn’t the first to use deficit borrowing. Methuen used deficit borrowing just recently, Haverhill did deficit borrowing.
TD: So, having said all of that, we’ve got this situation where the legislators were told that this $35 million loan for Lawrence was needed or there would be layoffs in Lawrence. Cops and firefighters were going to get laid off. We were going to have mayhem in the city of Lawrence. But, since that time Willie Lantigua has taken receipt of at least $24 million of that loan money. He then spent $24 million in 3 weeks…then he laid off 25 cops and 24 firefighters anyway. Can you address any of that?
BF: I think, first of all, it’s fair to say that this also had a vote of 8 to 1 on the city counsel.
TD: When they come in here I will beat them up. But you’re here and you voted for this.
BF: Understand, that if we did not do that, you talk about chaos, literally there would be no city, no city functions, there would be nobody getting paid. This was years and years of mismanagement and bad decisions being made, when other communities were making cutbacks. The city was not doing that. I am not here to point fingers, that’s not what I am here to do. The bottom line is that when this new administration came in, they were faced with an incredible deficit. It’s almost like having a credit card bill that had to be paid. We had to balance the books. For the first time in 8 years, the city of Lawrence has a balanced budget and it’s very difficult, very tough. Believe me, I don’t like the layoffs that have happened, but it is a very difficult situation and Lawrence does have to have a balanced budget and now they do.
TD: I have documents signed by the Department of Revenue. They certified Mike Sullivan’s budgets as “balanced” for seven of his eight years he was mayor. So, you say there was 8 years of budgets not being balanced. But, Bob Nunez and Jay Gonzalez at the Department of Revenue certified Lawrence’s budget as balanced for the 7 years prior including the 2007 & 2008 budgets. So that’s just wrong.
BF: Well, I mean, there were things that just weren’t done, as I mentioned before, there were 9C cuts, they weren’t starting to pull back…
TD: 9C cuts are cuts by the government for local aid.
BF: Basically, a lot of communities had to pull back. So there were things over the years that the city should have been doing that they weren’t doing, The bottom line is that the city was in a hole, a major hole and they were literally going to run out of cash. That’s why we had to do that (give Lawrence a $35 million loan).
TD: How do you feel? Having been told … and by the way, having testified, Mr. Barry Finegold for the $35 million dollar loan for Lawrence, that this was needed to protect public safety. And then after you take your vote, firefighters and cops get laid off. That money didn’t go to protecting those jobs as the legislature was told when the vote was coming up. How do you feel about that, now?
BF: There really isn’t an alternative. I mean the alternative is, we’ll just let the city go bankrupt and that just doesn’t happen and then, we’ll basically have to lay off everyone. That is something we couldn’t let happen. Honestly, the city is in a difficult shape, there is no question. No one feels great about the people that have been laid off, but I’m still bullish on the city…
(EDITORS NOTE: The alternative before the legislature was to allow Lawrence to borrow the $35 million with a state appointed finance control board to manage how the money was spent. Rep., Barry Finegold voted against those fiscal controls )
TD: If the mayor had decided to take a furlough, closed City Hall one day a week, cut, the $150,000 in raises that went to the city counsel under Patrick Blanchette instead of laying off cops and firefighters… he could have gotten that $35 million and NOT laid off cops and firefighters. How do you feel about the fact that there was outright lying going on? People were being told that we needed this money to stop layoffs for cops and firefighters.
BF: See, one thing Tom, is that you know numbers. You know that if all of those things you mentioned happened, it still wouldn’t have made that much of a difference. I believe it’s 72 million dollars that goes to non schools and the whole was great and they had to make some very difficult decisions and that’s what happened.
TD: Do you agree with the spending that the current mayor has done with the $24 million he has already received? He gave raises to people in city hall. Hired people in other departments and laid off cops right out of the gate?
BF: No, I don’t think the way you are categorizing it is correct. I think that the overseer, with the city counsel and mayor, had to make very difficult decisions and they made those decisions. And I think that anybody, including the mayor and the city council, is open to any other suggestions right now. Money is not going to come out of thin air. It’s just very difficult and..
TD: Are you just not hearing what I am saying? There were other ways for the mayor to spend that money there were other places to cut, and he was telling people ‘we need the money for public safety.’ When he got it, he didn’t spend it on public safety. Why is that ok?
BF: Your premise is wrong. That money went to pay old bills. They used some of the money, I think it was like $3 or $4 million for this year’s budget. But, basically this was to pay off the ongoing deficit and it wasn’t going to be allowed to be put off.
TD: Do you feel lied to because what was told to us was, ‘we need the money to stop cuts in public safety,’ NOT ‘we need this money to lay off public safety officers and use the $35 million for prior debt.”
BF: I mean, if that money didn’t come, this would be ten times worse than what they are now.
Paul: Well, I’m just not crystal clear, Tom, with Barry Finegold’s answer on the Lawrence situation. Let me just ask it this way, A). You don’t regret your vote to give Lawrence the $35 million and B). You don’t feel lied to even though what they said was “We are going to use this $35 million loan money for police and fire and then they didn’t. You don’t feel lied to?
BF: No, but that’s not true, because if that money didn’t come down, we would not even have our fire department or our police department. I mean, literally, the city did not have the money to pay its bills. So, there would have been no money to pay for any police officers or any firefighters and that’s why it was a situation where there really was no other solution for the city.
(EDITORS NOTE: There were three other solutions before the legislature, including a finance control board, a financial receiver, and a state takeover of the city of Lawrence’s finances. Mr. Finegold NEVER once mentioned the other alternatives, in fact he repeated, over and over that there was “no other alternative” to giving Lawrence $35 million with no restrictions.)
TD: But you don’t disagree or you won’t say you agree with Willie’s decisions to take that money and to fully staff other stuff first, before public safety? I mean, every candidate who runs for office says “public safety is #1” and to Willie Lantigua it’s number: last. Yet I can’t get any Democrat who voted for this $35 million bill to say they disagree with that except for Senator Pangiotokos.
BF: The point is, I have fought hard for community policing dollars. I’ve been a strong supporter of fire fighters. But the bottom line is that a budget had to get balanced and that’s what they had to do.
TD: But, we know that. I wanted you to address how he spent the money.
BF: This is for a mayor and a city counsel…. They make these decisions.
TD: It’s the state taxpayer’s money they ought to have a say don’t you think?
BF: no answer.