As state Sen. Steven Tolman resigned last month to head up the Massachusetts AFL-CIO, four Democratic candidates will vie for his seat representing the Second Suffolk and Middlesex Senate District, which includes Watertown, Belmont and parts of Cambridge, Allston-Brighton, the Fenway and the Back Bay. The primary election will take place Dec. 13, while the general election is slated for Jan. 10.
Meet one candidate, Jonathan Hecht:
Current occupation: State Representative, 29th Middlesex District
Q. What two major issues are facing state legislators? What would you do as a state Senator to help resolve them?
A. The Commonwealth has a job crisis and people are suffering. This is the first major issue we must address. While Massachusetts is faring better than some states, a 7.3 percent unemployment rate is far too high and doesn’t count those who are underemployed or have given up looking for work. The state should help by investing in our infrastructure. This would create jobs quickly, address years of deferred maintenance, and lay the foundation for long-term business growth. We must also expand opportunities for people to get the skills they need to get hired. This is why I support job-training programs to equip adult, non-traditional students with the skills and credentials needed for employment in the economic sectors where Massachusetts is growing.
The second critical issue facing the Commonwealth is the out-of-control cost of health care. This is a major burden on families, businesses, and government and is also hampering job growth. I support comprehensive reforms to promote integrated care and payments based on outcomes, not just the number of tests, procedures, etc. We also need to use all available tools to prevent avoidable health problems related to tobacco, diet, and substance abuse. I am fighting to discourage the use by youth of new flavored tobacco products, including dissolvable tobacco “mints”, that the tobacco industry is targeting at them.
Q. Did you support the proposed casino bill?
A. No. I do not believe that casinos are a good way to strengthen the economy and they inflict too high a cost on our most vulnerable citizens. While some jobs will be created, the Commonwealth will also lose jobs — in small businesses, in restaurants, bars, concert halls — as money shifts from a broad economic base over to the casinos. Other states have learned this lesson the hard way. I am also concerned about the new costs to the state and local governments associated with increased crime, addiction and other negative impacts of gambling.
Q. Would you support a casino in or near your district?
A. No. I believe a casino will hurt nearby businesses and be a net negative in terms of job creation. In addition, the communities closest to a casino will bear a disproportional burden of the social cost associated with gambling.
Q. What would you do to increase state revenue?
A. To rebuild trust in government, we need to make sure we get more results from our limited resources. To do this, we need to look at our taxes from top to bottom. I was one of the key House members behind budget legislation adopted in July mandating a comprehensive review of the current $24 billion in state tax breaks and elimination of those the Commonwealth does not benefit from. Most of these tax breaks have never been examined to see if they are achieving their stated goals. Cutting them by just 2% would generate an additional $500 million in revenue without the need for broad-based tax increases. I am also continuing to fight for elimination of the telecom property tax loophole, which deprives cities and towns of revenue and gives certain telecom companies an unfair advantage. More generally, I support a progressive income tax and believe we should be less reliant on property taxes to fund local services.
Q. If necessary, what programs would you cut first and foremost?
A. There are two areas where I am currently working to save the state money while actually achieving better results. First, we can improve services to seniors by shifting to more home and community-based care. This would improve seniors’ quality of life while saving money that would otherwise go to unnecessary and more expensive care in nursing homes. The second is our corrections system, where by expanding community-based supervision of low-level offenders as well as jail diversion, mental health and substance abuse programs, we could reduce costs while improving public safety by ending the “revolving door” of repeat offenders.
Q. Did you support legislation that raises the age required before full pensions kick in?
A. This requirement was included in the pension reform bill that I supported and which passed in November. It makes common sense to bring this aspect of public pensions in line with the private sector. Reforming our pension system was essential to create a financially stable future for our Commonwealth, which is important for public employees and everyone else, too.
Q. How would you seek to make improvements to public schools, both elementary/secondary and higher education?
A. Public education is extremely important to me. I am a product of Belmont public schools and send my children to public schools in Watertown. I support the state's application for a waiver from some “No Child Left Behind” provisions, but I continue to support school accountability for the academic success for all students. Implementation of the comprehensive new teacher evaluation standards will require state funding and resources to ensure that its goals of providing educators with feedback for improvement, enhanced opportunities for professional growth, and clear structures for accountability are achieved. Otherwise, it will become another unfunded mandate with little chance of success in this critical area of improving academic instruction. I also support legislation calling for an “adequacy study” to determine if we are providing our schools with the level of resources necessary to achieve good educational outcomes for all our children.
Our community college system is of the utmost importance and we need to strengthen their programs and link them more closely to job training. We must ensure the affordability of our four-year public colleges and universities by supporting scholarship and financial aid programs and providing adequate state funding. It is in the interest of the private sector to partner with our educational institutions to make sure that our current and future workforce has the skills that our businesses need.
Q. What professional experience do you have that you feel would be helpful if you are elected?
A. In my time as a state legislator I have been able to work collaboratively with people from all parts of the Commonwealth to get things done. I understand the challenges facing municipalities from my service on the Watertown Town Council. My experience living and working on human rights in China has taught me valuable skills of how to communicate and work with people who start from very different assumptions and even in other languages. It has also given me a keen awareness of how fast the rest of the world is moving to catch up with us economically and the challenges that Massachusetts faces in the global economy. I am currently the only Mandarin Chinese speaker in the state Legislature. These experiences have prepared me to represent effectively the diverse population in the district I’m currently representing as well as the broader district I hope to represent in the State Senate.
To read more on Jonathan Hecht, click here.
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