By Bonnie Adams, Government Editor
(This is an expanded version of the article that appeared in the Feb. 3, 2012 issue of the Community Advocate.)
Westborough – Casinos and the pressing need for more public transportation were two of the issues touched upon by local legislators at the Corridor Nine Area Chamber of Commerce Legislative Breakfast Jan. 26. Over 250 members of the chamber attended the breakfast, which featured a panel of local state senators and representatives.
Mark Donahue, of Fletcher Tilton PC and the chamber's chair, moderated a discussion that included state senators Harriette Chandler, D – Worcester, 1st District, James Eldridge, D-Acton, Michael Moore, D-Millbury, and state representatives Carolyn Dykema, D-Holliston, George Peterson Jr., R-Grafton, Matthew Beaton, R-Shrewsbury, and Steven Levy, R – Marlborough.
One local legislator, Harold Naughton, D- Clinton, was noticeably absent. That was because, Donahue explained, Naughton is currently deployed with his U.S. Army Reserve unit in Afghanistan.
“We thank him for his service,” Donahue added, as the crowd applauded.
Although none of the legislators have towns in their districts that are slated to get casinos, all said it is still very much an issue being discussed at length. Dykema noted that three of the towns in her district border Milford, which has been mentioned as possibly being chosen to get a casino. Therefore, she said, it was of concern if Milford did actually get a casino, what the impact would be on neighboring towns.
Eldridge noted that he and other officials on Beacon Hill had been “working hard to get mitigation to offset traffic and crime” for the communities that would end up being contiguous to a town with a casino.
“My biggest opposition has been the impact on small businesses,” he said, adding that money would be spent in casinos and not local restaurants and shops.
Chandler said while she understands concerns about the negative impact of casinos, “on a positive note, revenues will be put in local aid.”
Beaton added that it was important for the state to choose contractors and developers who would be vetted thoroughly and not need to be “bailed out,” as has been the case in other states.
The legislators also lamented the lack of public transportation between the Metrowest/central Mass. region and Boston.
Contributing to that problem, Chandler said, was the $168 million deficit the MBTA was currently carrying.
“We need to think about this for the long haul and not just use a band-aid approach like we have done before,” she said.
The legislators also discussed the rising cost of health care. They all noted that they hope that Gov. Deval Patrick's bill for payment reform will be passed.
“We need to look at standardizing services,” Peterson said. “Billing is a huge problem. We need to have some openness about what a service actually costs. What costs one price in Worcester could be a much different one in Boston.”
Beaton added that it was important to “look at the history of healthcare in Massachusetts – we have more users than providers.”
“We have more subsidized users, too,” he added.
Peterson noted that during a series of meetings he and several other GOP representatives held with constituents over the past few months, the topic of unemployment insurance came up many times. As a result, he said, they would be filing fives pieces of legislature incorporating over 70 new ideas. Those ideas included: changing the definition of a contractor; what is a “fair share” for companies to pay for health coverage; the issue of full-time employees versus full-time equivalents; and changing the Massachusetts unemployment compensation to more closely mirror the federal standards.
Eldridge said the commonwealth needs to find ways to train workers in response to the changing job landscape.
“What can community colleges and job training centers do to help reform the work force development?” he asked. “We need better job training.”