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State Senate candidates discuss jobs, casinos, healthcare reform

Posted by Jaclyn Reiss  November 30, 2011 11:54 AM

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Nearly 100 people gathered at the Church of the Good Shepherd in Watertown last night as the four candidates vying for former state Sen. Steven Tolman’s empty seat went head-to-head on job creation, casino development, healthcare reform, and why they are the best candidate.

With the Dec. 13 Democratic primary looming closer in the district, which includes Watertown, Belmont and parts of Cambridge, Allston-Brighton, the Fenway and the Back Bay, William Brownsberger, Jonathan Hecht, Robert McCarthy, and Timothy Schofield all agreed on one thing last night: the state Legislature should be focusing on generating more revenue by raising the gas tax and creating jobs in Massachusetts.

“Jobs is why we’re here – it’s why I’m a candidate,” said McCarthy, who served 23 years as president of the Professional Fire Fighters of Massachusetts and 10 as the vice-president of the Massachusetts AFL-CIO, earning Tolman's endorsement yesterday. “It’s our duty, our responsibility. We can create jobs – good jobs, jobs that have benefits, jobs that have a pension, jobs that have health insurance.”

Schofield said that as a small business owner – he helps run a Brighton- and Boston-based law firm – he understands tough budget decisions, including how to forecast funds for job creation.

“We have to be investing in schools, infrastructure, and public transportation,” Schofield said, adding that the private sector looks to the public sphere to gauge the current economic vitality. “When the state is cutting, cutting, cutting, the local towns and cities are laying people off. We need to instill confidence in businesses to move forward and invest in our future.”

Brownsberger said he agreed with Schofield in that the key part of the state’s role is to stimulate an environment to help job creation, but also pointed out that investing in education would pay dividends in the future with an efficient workforce.

As Hecht began to address job creation, he segued into a larger issue: legalized casinos in the state.

Hecht said he opposed the casino law, which passed recently this month, because it was a poor economic development strategy.

“We should be investing in infrastructure would build jobs more quickly,” Hecht said. “This is going to generate so many social costs and community impacts.”

Schofield agreed, pointing out that the 25 percent tax Massachusetts is imposing on casinos was not high enough, since other states have it as high as around 40 percent.

“If it’s going to be revenue generator, then let’s make it a revenue generator,” Schofield said.

Brownsberger also opposed the casino legislation.

McCarthy, however, swung to the opposite side of the casinos pendulum, pronouncing his support for the law legalizing gaming.

“I support casinos 100 percent because it’s jobs, jobs, jobs,” McCarthy said. “We need to give districts and schools the tools they need to bring us into the 21st century. That doesn’t just happen, it comes from revenue.

McCarthy also said that, if done right,a casino at Suffolk Downs would turn Boston into an international hotspot and tourist attraction, which would bring in more revenue.

McCarthy also stood apart from the other candidates on pension reform and healthcare benefits for public employees.

McCarthy said that although sometimes the climbing health care costs had to be contained, public employees deserved the benefits.

“For years, municipal employees… took lesser raises, to get valuable health insurance,” McCarthy said.

Hecht said that he supported the municipal healthcare reform legislation, and that it proved as a tough decision legislators had to make.

“What we now face at the state level is seeing costs – particularly health care costs – squeeze out funds for critical things we’ve been talking about here. At the Legislature, we faced that hard choice, and came to reasonable conclusion.”

Brownsberger said he also supported the legislation, and that the new laws streamlined healthcare bargaining and helped contain costs. He said that higher cost health programs for local workers hurt government and the economy.

“It’s not acceptable – it destroys jobs. It means lost jobs for other municipal workers,” Brownsberger said.

Hecht and Brownsberger also both supported legislation earlier this month that closed abusive loopholes in public employee pension law and raised the retirement age from 55 years old to 60 years old in the majority of public sectors.

Schofield pointed out that he thought the outcry against premium pension and healthcare systems was due to businesses not doling out enough for their own employees’ benefits.

McCarthy has said that he disagreed with raising the pension age for a benefit that people have earned throughout their careers.

As candidates talked about why they were best for the job, Brownsberger pointed out that while one could drive through the entirety of the area in 10 minutes, he learned through door-knocking the differences in the neighborhoods, from suburban residences to urban enclaves.

Schofield also noted that there are certain ideals that glue the whole area together, despite its diversity.

“I was door-knocking in Cambridge with beautiful homes, and I went up to a multimillion dollar house to do my pitch. I said we need to raise taxes on the wealthy, and I’m waiting… and she was like, ‘Yes, that is exactly what we need to do’ – God bless Cambridge,” he joked. “But I can say the same thing to a bohemian in Allston, and they get it. We need to be investing in our future. It’s a shared sacrifice.”

Brownsberger said his corporate and technology background on Wall Street in the 1980s, coupled with his criminal justice and legislative experience, makes him a progressive candidate for the Senate seat.

“I saw how great the pressure is on businesses to change to keep improving, and to face the market,” Brownsberger said. “I could bring to the public sector that same orientation – I want to change education, and look at all services and do them better.”

Schofield, the youngest of eight children, said he learned the art of compromising from his older brothers and knew the value of working hard, as he joined the military as a cook at 17 and later went on as the first in his family to graduate college.

“It’s intoxicating to feel like you’re making a difference in peoples’ lives,” he said. “I like to think I’m doing my part from the outside, and now I want to do it from the inside.”

Hecht, who has served as a state representative for three years, said he has never missed one roll call, and that his global and human rights experience make him a well-rounded candidate.

“We should be aspiring to be proud of our government – the right kind of government gets good outcomes,” Hecht said. “We should invest in education and infrastructure, the community, and human services.”

McCarthy cited his humble beginnings, growing up as one of six children in a modest income home, as proof that he could relate to the average working person in the district.

“My father never owned his own home, or his own car. Our dream was to go to Hampton Beach for two weeks with our cousins,” he said. “I think I can make a difference. I can shake up the system. I want to help people – that’s what I’ve done my entire life.”

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