By: Tom Duggan – July, 2012
The race to fill the 2d Essex House District being left vacant by Harriet Stanley has three Republicans vying for the nomination in the September state primary election.
The three Republicans are Bob Cronin of Boxford, Gary Fowler from Georgetown and Lenny Mirra from West Newbury. Here is where each candidate says they stand on some of the key issues brought up at a recent debate in Georgetown:
Audience question: What would you do to prevent unfunded mandates by the state on local cities and towns?
CRONIN: Well if we got it to a roll call vote we’d be able to vote against them. Unfortunately, that may not happen. But if a Republican wins the seat it could happen. You know they say all roads lead to Rome, in this state all roads lead to the legislature. We need to have enough Republican representation to force roll calls (where all legislators must record their votes for the record) to force Democrats to actually pass the vote so they can’t say they are against something. Right now, there’s no way to prove what they are for or against. If you look at the vote totals across the Commonwealth in the last election … in 2012 Republicans did very, very well. If people saw the votes of their legislator’s people would be inclined to vote against them.
FOWLER: Two weeks ago I was at a seminar where Susan Bump was the speaker. She is the State Auditor. She said she is the one who decides what an unfunded mandate is. I would like to work with the towns and step back and look at this. One of the things hitting the towns is homeless children in schools. This has hit the towns really hard. The state has said the child can go to school wherever they want. If someone took a child from Haverhill and the child doesn’t want to go to school in Haverhill … look at Georgetown, the town has to pay $700,000 in transportation to pay for this.
MIRRA: The answer to this question is similar to that of 40B. Once again it’s an example [that] the people on Beacon Hill really think they know more than the cities and towns. These unfunded mandates are hurting cities and towns. If you go to town meeting you see how tight the budgets are. In Newbury last week they had an override that came very close. It could have gone either way. But they shot it down. They have to make tough decisions every year, they cut costs, they cut firemen and keep their taxes low enough so that seniors living in town can still afford to live there.
That’s the balancing act cities and towns have to do every single year. One of the reasons is because of these unfunded mandates. The next state rep. from this area has to put their foot down. The property taxes in this state are exceedingly high. The taxes in my house are at least $8-9K a year. And when you go into cities like Boston, or even Haverhill they have a broader tax base so they can kind-of get away with having unfunded mandates coming down from Beacon Hill. But, these small towns like West Newbury and Georgetown, it’s a much higher burden, it’s a much harder thing to do. We don’t have as many commercial properties to pay for those things, so the next state rep. from this area has to do something about unfunded mandates. It’s been going on for far too long, and as Mr. Cronin said, it’s not going to end unless we get a good two party system.
Audience question: What is the first piece of legislation you would introduce if elected?
FOWLER: I think my first would be what we are talking about now. The unfunded mandates, the EBT cards, I’d look at waste that would be my biggest issue not what we could cut but what’s wasteful and what we have. Prevailing wage is another issue they say doesn’t ‘bring it up.’ Beacon Hill doesn’t want to talk about it. When I was out getting signatures I was talking to the financial director in Boxford. We talked about prevailing wage they’ve got highway workers in the town that are in a union and for certain jobs they have to raise their wage because the state says they have to pay the a prevailing wage. Yet they are in a union and they are getting their union rate. A lot of towns are crying out for health care they are looking for a $50 or $100.00 limit where they can save money. To me that’s just another form of waste. We have to work together, we have to work with the unions, the EBT cards, prevailing wage, many of the unfunded mandates, let’s look at them, let’s step back, we have to look at them so that it’s not costing you the local tax payers so much.
MIRRA: Mr. Fowler has it right. Go after the obvious waste. In my opinion that’s the first thing I would do if we could pick up those five seats [for Republicans]. In my opinion one of the first is the Perry Amendment. Apparently it came up twice for a vote. Twice it was shot down without Democrats having to cast a vote, they just tabled it (indefinitely postponed).
What that bill would do is [require] proof of citizenship before you can get any kind of government assistance. Right now, any illegal immigrant can waltz into the state and get and EBT card, section 8, food stamps, Medicaid, free housing, cell phones, clothes, transportation, education, you name it. You should have to show proof of citizenship. That’s the obvious one, and it’s pretty obvious why Democrats are doing that [services to illegals). We need [The Perry Amendment] not just because we are losing hundreds of millions of dollars, but also because when you allow immigrants to come in and do that, it allows them to take jobs and opportunities away from the small businessman in this state.
When I run a help wanted ad for my company, quite often the first question I get asked is if we pay cash. Well, we don’t pay cash. But the people here know because you are smiling, you know why people ask that question, because they are currently receiving some kind of government assistance. If you are already collecting section 8, or food stamps, or Medicaid, you can then work for cash and keep the extra money.
What that does is, it allows illegals to takes away job opportunities from a painter, a carpenter or a sheet rock guy. So, right now when the state subsidizes illegals, these illegals can go to a small business and paint your house, mow your lawn, wash your car… it takes away from the legitimate businessman who pays his taxes, pays insurance.
CRONIN: The most important thing though is finally to have budget debate. That’s when you can finally open it up and find out where the money is being spent. We have to force the other team to have to defend it right now with voice votes. No one has to own up to [their votes]. We need to make them accountable. The more Republicans we elect the more Republicans in the house, the more we can make them accountable.
Mr. Fowler, when you take a vote [as a selectman] you are accountable. But at the state house they are not accountable. They just say ‘no, no, I would not have voted that way’. But it was a voice vote, and we never know how they voted. We need to mobilize in this district. Hopefully one of us will be elected, so we can let the public know how they [the legislature] are voting.
Valley Patriot Question: Pumping more money into Lawrence hasn’t’ worked for thirty years, if elected will you vote to pump even more money into Lawrence?
FOWLER: I started working in Lawrence in 1970 so I spent a lot of time in the City of Lawrence and I worked for a lot of fine people there, a lot of immigrants, a lot of French Canadians, Spanish, Russians, a lot of characters. Lawrence is corrupt. And you know you have to put them to work. I say most of the ones I worked with were hard workers and fine families. I heard a lot of other people always complaining about the people in Lawrence, but those are not the people I saw. I say you don’t give them money, the trouble with the state creating jobs, the state [eventually] backs out with the money and turns it over to the city. That’s a problem with a lot of the grants cities get. Typically these grants only last two or three years. The cities have to lay [people] off when the money dries up. You just can’t pump money into Lawrence without a plan. I say put them to work, and as I talked earlier about training.
Valley Patriot Question: There’s no accountability for all the state money being spent in Lawrence what would you do to ensure more accountability?
CRONIN: I think at a certain point if you are going to keep pumping money into a city like that you have to put it into receivership. That’s what they did in Chelsea. When I was a city councilor from 79-87, during that same time period 3 mayors in a row went to jail and then ultimately [the city] was put into receivership. The city right now has bounced back as well. I think it really worked in Chelsea so all the state money went in but the state put in someone there to spend it, not a local elected official.
MIRRA: You can’t just keep throwing money at a problem. I don’t think we even know how much money we are wasting in Lawrence. When that happens, when Beacon Hill gives money to Lawrence, it’s our money. As I said earlier in regards to property taxes, when you look at the typical property taxes in Lawrence, they have to learn to start paying for their own expenses. I have no problem with the state going into there and making some improvements to infrastructure. But Lawrence’s property taxes are not as high as they are in these small towns. We can go in, make structural improvement fix the lights and the roads and then get out of the way.
FOWLER: I think Mr. Cronin said it best the city needs to go into receivership.
Audience Question about the corruption in Lawrence:
MIRRA: But like I said, this is a one party state. The state is dominated by Democrats and the city probably is too. I think that creates a bit of hesitancy on the part of the Attorney General and other law enforcement officials to go into Lawrence and do the right thing. It needs to be cleaned up. I don’t know if the feds have to come in or what. But, you can’t fix any of these problems in cities like Lawrence unless you clean up the corruption first. We can fix schools and infrastructure but it’s not going to make any difference if we don’t fix the corruption first.
FOWLER: If you look at Lawrence, it’s an old mill town. The problem is there are no jobs. If you want to have more police presence, I guess I’d say you have to make sure it’s state police. If we (the legislature) help with [funding for] the police it’s only going to be temporary and at some point you have to lay them off and someone is stuck paying for it. And I go back to receivership and holding people accountable.
CRONIN: It’s not about the people of Lawrence it’s the way Lawrence is run administratively by the city. If the state is going to keep pumping money in, the state has to develop their own control, that’s what they did in Chelsea in the 80’s. They had receivership for a number of years, then they turned it over to a town manager with city council form of government and they haven’t had their hand out of for a long time. If they come to me as a member of the legislature and they want my vote I say you can’t keep shoving money to shovel down the Merrimack River. We have to take control of how they are going to spend it.
Valley Patriot Question: Republicans voted for last year’s state budget that increased taxes and spending. Will you vote for budgets that increase spending and taxes?
MIRRA: The short answer is no. We have been talking all night about the waste in this state. I don’t know how you can even look at a budget until we can get the obvious things done like stop the EBT card abuse, having a Perry Amendment, and ending all this fraud and pension waste. I don’t know how you can even look at a budget without addressing all these things first. You have to understand, when Beacon Hill passes a budget it also affects what cities and towns get and they reduce local aid. … Beacon Hill has to cut first, they really do. We’ve got to get people off the [state] payroll and put people back to work in private sector jobs not government jobs. There are plenty of places to cut and I know as a freshman state rep. there is only so much you can do. I probably won’t be chairman of ways and means my first year there, I understand that. But still it’s an opportunity to get our voices heard. So, absolutely I would not vote for that budget unless waste and fraud was dealt with first.
CRONIN: I feel the same way. I believe that we need to have more Republicans elected to force debate. And if we force debate we will have more than a hand full of people voting against the budget because things in the budget will be exposed to the general public, which right now they are not exposed. Two weeks ago there was a vote to roll back state tax from 5 to 3% and it went along party lines. I think four Democrats joined in, at least there was a vote, when you have a vote people have to defend it. The answer should be no, hopefully we will have much more lively debate if we can get more Republicans elected and have a two party system.
FOWLER: Without seeing the budget in front of me I wouldn’t want to answer that. But, I can tell you that if you look at my history and how I voted as a board of selectmen there probably wouldn’t be just one vote against the budget. I have a track record. I tend to be very conservative. I vote no many times, but I do wait for answers before I vote
Asked if he would have voted for the last state budget Fowler said he would not.