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DiZoglio discusses regional equity, tax reimbursements, dangerousness law, more at Mass. state auditor campaign stop

State Senator Diana DiZoglio in October Mountain State Forest in Lee, Massachusetts on August 2nd, 2022.
Josh Landes
State Senator Diana DiZoglio in October Mountain State Forest in Lee, Massachusetts on August 2nd, 2022.

A state senator campaigning for state auditor in the Massachusetts Democratic primary made stops at state forests in Western Massachusetts Tuesday to talk about regional equity.

Diana DiZoglio of the 1st Essex District chose Dubuque State Forest in Plainfield and October Mountain State Forest in Lee to underscore her call to reform the state’s payments in lieu of taxes – or PILOT – program. She explained why she made the trip west to reporters in Lee.

“If the PILOT program was more equitably funded, and I'll just say fully funded to the level that our current state auditor had highlighted, that means more money for your schools," said DiZoglio. "That means more money for your roads and bridges. It means more, you know, funding for your local councils on aging services for your elderly, and it helps to provide funding for things like your transportation costs, so on and so forth.”

A 2020 report by outgoing Democratic State Auditor Suzanne Bump described the Massachusetts State-Owned Land PILOT program as the oldest of its kind in the state, established back in 1910. Dizoglio re-iterated the report’s findings: that in its current form, the program disadvantages small, rural communities like Lee and Plainfield.

“This state park is beautiful," DiZoglio said. "It's a wonderful resource for this community. And we're so glad that we have this tremendous resource. But when we have state reservations taking up land, that means that we have no residential property taxes coming in, right? It means we have no commercial real estate taxes coming in. So the state has agreed to reimburse these communities with payments in lieu of those taxes that they otherwise would have been able to receive from small businesses coming in on that land, from residential property taxes and the such.”

At the time of Bump’s 2020 report, the program had received flat funding since 2009 while property tax collections increased almost 60%, which the auditor said had resulted in the program being underfunded to the tune of at least $15 million.

“In my Senate district over in the Merrimack Valley, North Shore area, we have Maudslay State Park, Salisbury Beach State Reservation and Salisbury State Salt Marsh Wildlife Management Area, which together totals more than 1,820 acres," said DiZoglio. "However, these DCR and Department of Fish and Game properties pale in comparison to the acreage that those agencies hold here in Western Massachusetts, and rural towns like Hawley, Savoy, and Washington have between 1/3 to one half of their entire community under state ownership. With an extremely limited and almost all residential tax base, the failure to fully fund PILOT creates severe financial hardships on these small towns.”

In 2021, Bump said the program’s funding formula needs change more than increased funding. In the Fiscal Year 2023 budget signed by Governor Charlie Baker on July 28th, the PILOT program was given $45 million — $15 million more than the FY2020 budget Bump’s report was based on. Dizoglio, who is the co-sponsor of a bill filed by Western Massachusetts State Senator Adam Hinds calling for reform to the program, said there is more work to be done.

“Your local communities right now are getting shortchanged, your municipal budgets are getting shortchanged because the state is not fulfilling its promise to these communities that is going to provide an adequate amount of payments in lieu of taxes,” she said.

Bump has endorsed Dizoglio’s opponent, Chris Dempsey, in the primary contest.

While Dizoglio agrees with Hinds about PILOT program reform, they differ on the recently passed expansion to dangerousness laws in Massachusetts. Hinds said it marked a turn away from recent criminal justice reform efforts, but Dizoglio backed it.

“As a childhood survivor of domestic violence, I stood with my colleagues such as Senator Becca Raush and Lydia Edwards and others on the side of supporting a redrafted amendment that would make sure that domestic violence survivors are protected, and I voted for that redrafted bill," she said. "We felt that the governor's proposal was too expansive, and when we took up an amendment after the debate on the governor's original language, we talked about doing our best to make sure that there weren't unintended consequences associated with protecting domestic violence survivors. The bill isn't perfect, but the bill does go to great lengths in making sure that domestic violence survivors are protected from those who are deemed to be a danger to them.”

Another issue Dizoglio pledged to investigate as state auditor is taxpayer-funded non-disclosure agreements. She says that as a legislative aide on Beacon Hill, she was sexually harassed.

“And the way that the leadership team in the House of Representatives thought it was appropriate at that time to make the harassment stop was to fire me so the harassment would stop happening, and then require that on my way out the door that I signed a taxpayer funded non-disclosure agreement that was meant to stop me from talking about literally anything that I'd seen, witnessed, or experienced behind the closed doors of Beacon Hill among some of the most powerful politicians in Massachusetts,” said DiZoglio.

After re-entering the state house as a state representative in 2013, Dizoglio has pushed for a ban on the practice.

“We found out that many more non-disclosure agreements well beyond the House of Representatives exist in state government, actually, including in our own current auditor's office, where it was reported, after I came forward and exposed that these were being used, it was reported that at least three non-disclosure agreements were used in the current auditor's office," said the state senator. "I find that to be unacceptable. And I've called for audits of these taxpayer funded NDAs to find out how much in our tax dollars has been abused to hide misdeeds in state government, but I still have not received that audit that I have called for.”

Primary day is September 6th.

Josh Landes has been WAMC's Berkshire Bureau Chief since February 2018, following stints at WBGO Newark and WFMU East Orange. A passionate advocate for Western Massachusetts, Landes was raised in Pittsfield and attended Hampshire College in Amherst, receiving his bachelor's in Ethnomusicology and Radio Production. His free time is spent with his cat Harry, experimental electronic music, and exploring the woods.
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