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Berkshire Lawmakers Head Into 2015 With New Governor

Jim Levulis

As 2015 approaches, Democratic lawmakers from the Berkshires are eying a new legislative session — and for the first time in eight years, a Republican governor.Although the Berkshire delegation remains unchanged from the previous legislative session, there will be some shifts and new faces in the Statehouse in 2015. Republican Charlie Baker replaces Democratic Governor Deval Patrick, who did not seek a third term. Democratic Senate President Therese Murray is retiring after more than two decades on Beacon Hill and is expected to be replaced by Stan Rosenberg of Amherst. Running unopposed, State Representative Smitty Pignatelli was elected to a seventh term. The Democrat’s reelection comes at time when Governor Patrick is proposing cuts to close what his administration says is a $329 million budget gap, which the Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation claims is closer to $750 million.

“I think its somewhere in the middle,” Pignatelli said. “I think the new governor-elect and the legislature has to get really working on that. I’ve had meetings and discussions with the House Ways and Means chairman about this and where things are going to go. We’ve seen mid-December revenues exceeding expectations, which is a good trend to try to close that gap.”

Governor-elect Baker has not said how he might address a possible budget gap, except to rule out tax increases and cuts to local aid. State Senator Ben Downing ran unopposed while serving as the Massachusetts Democrats’ coordinated campaign chair this election. Democrats took all the statewide offices except governor and lieutenant governor. In 2015, Downing says he wants to increase economic opportunity in western Massachusetts.

“Part of that I think is tackling poverty,” Downing said. “It’s about making sure that we’re creating economic opportunity at all rungs on that economic ladder. We’ve got a lot of work to do there. That’s stuff actually that Governor-elect Baker talked about when he talked about increasing the earned income tax credit in other areas. Certainly I hope to be a part of that conversation.”

Pittsfield State Representative Tricia Farley-Bouvier did not face a challenger. The Democrat plans to continue proposing drivers licenses for undocumented people, something Baker said he was opposed to during the campaign.

“I think it makes the road to success more difficult,” Farley-Bouvier said. “But if we can work with the governor [Baker] on understanding that indeed because someone doesn’t have the proper immigrant documentation doesn’t mean they don’t have good identification. That we know who these people are seems to be his primary concern. If somebody has a passport from their home country or something like that then we can use that to prove their identity. Then we can forward to insure that all the drivers on the road are trained, licensed and insured.”

Farley-Bouvier also plans to look at the best ways to address sexual assaults on college campuses, while Pignatelli expects cutting expenses to be increasingly important for small school districts with shrinking enrollments. A shared services agreement between six Berkshire districts was not funded this year as Governor Patrick cut the grant program to address the budget gap. Pignatelli also believes opiate addiction will remain a top issue, and Downing plans to continue his focus on energy issues with pipeline proposals taking up many headlines in 2014. Democratic Representatives Paul Mark and Gailanne Cariddi also ran unopposed in November.

Jim is WAMC’s Assistant News Director and hosts WAMC's flagship news programs: Midday Magazine, Northeast Report and Northeast Report Late Edition. Email: jlevulis@wamc.org
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