By: Rep. Linda Dean Campbell – Jan. 2017
Before I list several very challenging issues that we will likely face in this Session – some good news: Massachusetts was recently ranked the number one state in the country for quality of life by a fre quented website, 24/7 Wall St. This ranking was based upon comparative measures of poverty rates, educational attainment, and life expectancy. We are also consistently ranked tops in the nation for education, Veterans services, and balancing our budget on time while maintaining a healthy reserve.
Here are just a few of the weighty issues that the citizens of the Commonwealth will likely bring to the forefront in this session:
The Budget: Although our unemployment rate is low, there is no doubt that we have many serious budget challenges before us. Most analysts tell us that we need to figure out how to improve our transportation infrastructure and reduce healthcare inflation if we want our economy to grow. Meanwhile, Wall Street wants us to continue with our pension reforms and reduced spending.
The Opioid Crisis: While budget appropriations continue to escalate exponentially for short term and long term treatment, deaths continue to increase in spite of the gains made in treatment and by law enforcement. While we cannot spend our way out of this crisis, we will be challenged to increase interdiction efforts directed at fentanyl and other synthetic opioids, and for more and innovative treatment measures for long term recovery.
Reducing Recidivism for Those Incarcerated: Approximately 40% of people incarcerated in Massachusetts prisons have follow-on encounters with the judicial system. All agree that addressing this problem would yield significant savings and be more humane. The difficulty, of course, is the cost associated with implementing reforms in prison and being able to coalesce around a central plan of action.
The Politics of Marijuana: As Joan Vennochi of the Globe stated, the ballot question was drafted by the pot industry for the benefit of the pot industry. Lessons learned from Colorado caution us to take the time necessary to come up with a tax rate that will at least pay for regulation and is not so high as to promote a black market. We also need to incorporate protections for our youth and give law enforcement tools with which to measure pot impaired driving.
Education Reform: Even though the expansion of Charter schools was soundly defeated by ballot, proponents will continue to put forth initiatives. Reformers will also focus on the growing and unsustainable costs increases for special education and the desire for more funding for early childhood education.
Revitalizing the Lottery: As we await revenue from casinos and marijuana sales to kick in, there will be serious discussion of how to improve lottery revenues. Recommended innovations include on-line lottery gaming. This will generate intense arguments on both sides of this proposal.
Energy: Having passed significant and promising alternative energy legislation last session, we now have to fill in the gap before this energy goes on line. Many will propose lifting solar caps immediately.
Income Inequality: Given that income inequality was a big issue during the Presidential campaign, I expect to see more calls for a $15.00 minimum wage, and a tax on millionaires. MA is currently rated 6th nationally in income inequality.
I am counting on many more challenging issues being brought before us this session that have not yet emerged or percolated to the top of the current buzz. Regardless, I am ready for another intense and productive session.