By Bonnie Adams, Managing Editor
Westborough – Over 200 members of the business community attended the annual Corridor Nine Area Chamber of Commerce Legislative Breakfast held Jan. 26 at the Doubletree Hotel, which featured a panel of local state senators and representatives discussing the pressing issues facing the state.
Mark Donahue, of Fletcher Tilton PC, moderated a discussion that included state senators Harriette Chandler, D-Worcester, 1st District, and Jaime Eldridge, D-Acton, and state representatives Carolyn Dykema, D-Holliston, David Muradian, R-Grafton, Hannah Kane, R-Shrewsbury, Danielle Gregoire, D-Marlborough, and Harold Naughton, D-Clinton.
Before the discussion started, Donahue noted that although the political climate on a federal level had been fraught with tension recently, this particular forum was different.
“It has been historically focused not on political rhetoric and hyperbole,” he said, “but rather on the implementation of the basic principle that people who expect to govern themselves need to establish the ability to communicate, to listen, to disagree respectfully and to move forward on problems that actually exist.”
Quoting the late Speaker of the United States House of Representatives Tip O’Neill, he added, “All politics are local.”
The first question presented to the panel was in regards to Gov. Charlie Baker’s proposed budget which would assess a $2,000 per employee tax on employers who do not provide adequate health insurance for their employees.
Chandler noted that throughout her career as a legislator, she had made “quality good health care a priority for all residents.”
Noting that potentially 20 million people across the country could lose their health insurance if the Affordable Care Act is repealed on the federal level, it was critical, she said, that a “backup plan” be implemented.
“Those people would go without any preventive care,” she added. “That’s dangerous. We are going to lose lives.”
Eldridge noted that while he was a supporter of single-payer health care, the consensus seemed to be moving toward employer-based health insurance.
“Is that the most cost-effective approach,” he asked, “given the possible changes at the federal level?”
Single-payer, he added, provides the most cost-effective and comprehensive health care.
Kane said that currently 40 percent of the state’s budget is for Mass. Health, the program that includes Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program. When all of the costs associated with other programs in the Department of Health and Human Services were added in, that number rose to 55 percent, she said.
“Our biggest challenge is to control expenses there,” she added.
Naughton said that the biggest perception is that Mass. Health is only “for the poor.”
“It’s important to remember that many seniors also take advantage of it, too,” he said.
Another question Donahue presented to the panel was whether they believed that any potential tax revenue from the sale of recreational marijuana should be targeted to specific programs as well as those communities who either hosted businesses that cultivated or sold marijuana. (The state’s voters approved Question 4, the legalization of recreational marijuana, in the November 2016 election.)
Kane, who had been a staunch opponent of Question 4, said the concern was whether or not any potential tax on the sale of the product would be enough to cover all regulatory costs as well as indirect public health costs.
“Or will this be an opportunity to create more revenue?” she asked.
Eldridge said that he had been a strong supporter for the measure as he felt it “would create more jobs and more revenue.”
He added that any tax should not be so high as to “encourage the black market and crime associated with that.”
It was critical, he said, that part of the tax revenues should go toward addiction programs as well as communities that had businesses that grew or sold the products.
Naughton said he had been strongly against legalizing recreational marijuana. It would not be communities such as Northborough or Westborough that would be growing or selling marijuana, he added, but rather places like Clinton, Lowell, Fitchburg and Fall River.
“Income should go to those towns,” he said.
He said that monies should go to addiction programs as well.
“It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy. Should we use the money to fund programs for addiction? Of course we should. We are creating more addicts.”
The panel also discussed the proposed salary increases for legislators, the potential of legalized online gambling and the role of the media in reporting truthful versus sensationalized facts.
To watch the entire panel discussion, visit www.westboroughtv.org.