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State Rep. Candidates' Question: Solving the Most Heard Local Concerns

Part of a series of weekly questions to the candidates for the 24th Middlesex District race.

Each week for the remainder of the campaign, Arlington Patch will be providing a "Question of the Week" to the candidates for the House of Representative's 24th Middlesex DistrictJim Gammill, Tomi Olson and Dave Rogers – that will run on Thursday mornings.

Below is the question and the candidates' answers.

Question: Each of the candidates have done a great deal of retail politics – going to door-to-door, hosting coffees, holding signs, being around the district – meeting voters in the most personal settings. What has been the two most often heard LOCAL issues voters are concentrated on and how would you, as state representative, help resolve these concerns?

Dave Rogers, Democrat

As I've walked across the district, listening to neighbors and hearing their concerns, I've enjoyed discussions covering a diverse range of topics. While countless issues come up, two issues surface more than any others: education and transportation. 

Education is any advanced society's most critical investment, particularly now in an ever more competitive and inter-connected world. Belmont draws residents in with its stellar public education system, but Chapter 70 funding (state aid to education) is down substantially over the last decade. I will work closely with other elected state and local officials to ensure that our District receives the resources necessary to sustain vibrant schools.

Funding is important for traditional K-12 education, but also for other educational pursuits. Minuteman Tech is teaching and training kids valuable skills, but without significant modifications to the current funding formula, both Belmont and Arlington will be on the hook for millions of dollars due to the upcoming rebuild of Minuteman High. I will fight to ensure that the state pays its fair share of the rebuild. I also will resist the increasing tendency to pass "unfunded mandates," laws that impose new requirements on our schools without providing the funds to pay for them.

Finally, we must renew our commitment to higher education. Our state spends more on its prison system than we do on higher education – not a path to long term success. Graduates of our state university system tend to stay in the state and help create a dynamic economy, but we must provide the necessary resources.

Nearly everyone with whom I've spoken also has some concern regarding transportation: the 74 bus and the Red Line don't run on time or often enough; fares are rising; the Minuteman bike path isn't safe enough; traffic around Alewife is too heavy; and roads and bridges are falling into disrepair. We simply must do better. The good news is that I think we can.

I will work toward solving the Commonwealth's public transportation issue as a whole, including the MBTA and the Regional Transit Authorities (RTAs). Options include a public and private partnership similar to the plan announced in Chicago, or allowing local authorities to develop a separate funding base for the Regional Transit Authorities, thereby freeing up resources for the MBTA. To get the necessary votes in the legislature, the solution to our transportation problems must be comprehensive.  As a Democrat working inside the majority party,  drawing on skills such as my many years experience negotiating complex business transactions, I will be in a position to have an impact on this pressing issue.

The twenty first century calls for a twenty first century transportation network and an education system as good as those found in the new economic centers around the world. I will fight for these goals, and I hope you will join me.

Jim Gammill, Independent

All politics is local, isn't it?  Talking one-to-one to voters is the best way to connect any issue back to the district, and two issues that come up repeatedly in conversations are support for our schools and support for the MBTA.  

There is wide agreement that public education is a top priority for our community. The strength and reputation of our schools drives economic growth and fosters community spirit in our towns. No one wants to jeopardize that.

The MBTA is similarly an important economic driver for our community.  Maintaining or enhancing the current level of service is a top priority for most residents.

But there is much less consensus among the voters about how the state should make room in the budget for these two items.  

The poles of the spectrum are clearly defined. At one end, additional revenues raised through taxes are ruled out, and at the other, re-opening the compensation and benefit packages for public employees are ruled out. The Republican party and Democratic party each has a core block of supporters firmly attached to different opposing ends.

If both hardcore positions hold, we'll never find a workable long-term solution.  Fiscal reality demands that we push back now on both ends, and start a process of dialog and discussion that has everything on the table and brings everyone to the table.  It's going to take time and it's not going to be pleasant all the time, but it's not impossible.  

The unpleasant but necessary topics include changes to our state employee pension systems and changes to our tax code and levels.  I'm willing to let an open process determine the end result, but I intend to be in the discussion from the start.  I'll point out that the federal government's retirement system is a better model for the long-term health of the state than the current state system.  I'll also point out that of the seven states in our region (New England plus New York), only New Hampshire has a lower gas tax than us.  Those two observations are just a start of the topics we have to discuss, even if we don't change a thing next year.

An important early step is to agree to what is a fair process and to assure everyone that it will be followed. Open communication is essential. Open minds are needed, too. We need to discover the facts and to discern the deep concerns of all those connected to these issues before we start negotiating a final resolution.  

I am better prepared than my two rivals to make this process work, based on my substance and on my political position. I have a deeper demonstrated understanding of budgeting, finance, and capital markets than either opponent. In addition, as the Independent, I can work to keep options on the table in the early stages through collaboration inside the State House and by keeping the key facts and constituent concerns in the public eye.  We can't assume that either party leadership will not prefer to short-circuit the process, or take it behind closed doors. Having at least one Independent inside the State House is a healthy start towards healing what's wrong with state politics.

Tomi Olson, Republican

In my two decades of public service in Belmont, I’ve found the only way to truly represent people is to listen to them in order to know their needs. I’m proud of my record of meeting with residents to both develop policy and address specific issues relating to delivery of municipal services, whether it be traffic issues, the needs of the elderly or the needs of the business community. As State Representative, I will continue to be accessible to the people I represent and rely on constituent input before deciding any issue, including education, open space and transportation. I will bring to the Office of State Representative the same type of accountability and the exacting requirements that are expected of me as financial services professional and as an approved FINRA Broker Dealer.

Everyone I speak with is concerned with their financial future. Too many are out of work. Students laden with college debt are unemployed or underemployed. Many homes are worth less than their mortgages. Folks on fixed incomes face rising prices at the gas pump and supermarket.

The engine of economic growth that will fix this financial crisis and the bulwark of economic security that has always been, is a thriving private sector. We need to stop treating job-creators as the enemy. Regulations need to be reasonable.  Legislation needs to address issues not lofty goals, at least not until we have a reasonable way to enforce those goals. As your State Representative I will always do a cost-benefit analysis for my constituents on any piece of legislation. Our tax structure should entice investors to remain in Massachusetts and attract new investors into the state. The best public service the Commonwealth can provide is an economy where jobs are growing.

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