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Berkshire State Rep. Discusses Budget, Elections

Massachusetts State Representative Paul Mark

State lawmakers in Massachusetts are working on a spending plan for the coming fiscal year and keeping a close eye on November’s elections.

Paul Mark, a Democrat from Peru, represents the 2nd Berkshire district. In recent days, his office has been focusing on the state budget.

“Yeah, it’s been busy," said Mark. "I’ve been up to Greenfield, Pittsfield, Dalton, Peru, back to Dalton, and now I’ve got to get on the computer and finalize my language. My staff is wonderful, they’ve been working hard taking calls both in Boston and in the district, and we want to make sure we get everything in that everyone’s been working on with us for the last couple months by 5 o’clock, and then we spend the next two weeks advocating to get our co-workers to sign on and then to get the votes we need to get these things passed into law.”

One of Mark’s priorities is fully funding the Massachusetts Office of Employee Ownership and Involvement.

“In 2008 when the recession hit, the office existed and it was zeroed out for the first time in over 20 years. And the office existed for the sake of helping business either create a cooperative or employee stock ownership model, and for business that want to transition — maybe a family member has been running the business, and they’re not interested — the next generation — in taking over the business, to transition to this model. And it had successful results — it had successful results even here in the Berkshires,” said Mark.

After seven years of filing amendments to revive it, the office was finally funded again after an override of Republican Governor Charlie Baker’s veto. Now Mark wants to find it a permanent home.

He is also filing an amendment about opioid addiction.

“In Franklin County, I’ve been the lead sponsor of amendments for the opioid taskforce, which is a project to try to increase outreach and education and awareness for opioid services to try to get people into recovery, to try to promote recovery services. It’s been very successful over in Greenfield. It’s a partnership between the Franklin County sheriff, the district attorney’s office, and the register of probate. It’s gotten good results, and I’m really happy to say that today I’m going to file an amendment to try and replicate it here in Berkshire County, and it’s going to go through the Berkshire County sheriff’s office. All four of us representing the Berkshires are going to co-sponsor the amendment. And again, it’s to try to increase education and awareness and try to reduce use and recidivism and keep people safe and clean,” said Mark.

Mark shed some light on how his constituents shape his view of the budget-crafting process — which begins in January when the governor offers the Ways and Means Committee an initial proposal.

“People start calling me," Mark said. "They email me. They come visit me in office hours. We do four office hours every single week in the district. They make sure they let me know what their priorities are, if they think funding was good, they say hey this is good, if they think they need more, they say that, and if they think this is an area where maybe money would be better spent and try to create new programs or different programs, they do that as well.”

Mark then takes that to the Ways and Means Committee in an attempt to get his priorities into the initial draft. Everything that doesn’t make that draft is added to the list of amendments- sometimes upwards of one thousand- to be debated for the final $40 billion budget, which is supposed to go into effect July 1st.

Outside of the budget, the 2018 elections are looming.

“Yeah, I am running for reelection in 2018. My papers are out there, we’re looking forward to uh, I don’t know, I don’t know what else to say," laughed Mark. "Was that enough? I am running for re-election in 2018, yes.”

He is currently running unopposed for the seat he won in 2010. Mark is watching the three-way Democratic gubernatorial primary as incumbent Governor Baker seeks a second term.

“To me, in the governor’s race, the number one thing on my mind right now is health care,
 said Mark. "Health care is up to 40 percent of our budget right now, it increases almost every year. Because our budget always has to be balanced in Massachusetts, the more we have to spend on health care, the less is available for other important projects. This affects education, this affects transportation, it affects so many resources that are needed in so many different places in the state.”

Mark doesn’t have an endorsement to offer — yet.

“If a true champion on single-payer healthcare or at least affordable healthcare emerges from these debates, that’s going to be ultimately the person I vote for, and if I think their message is strong enough, then that could be enough to put me over the top and get me to endorse someone publicly,” Mark said.

Primary day is September 4th.

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