Health costs

The Mass. Taxpayers Foundation recently recommended that local officials be given the power to design their own health plans without having to negotiate with the unions, and that state retirees use Medicare for their primary health care coverage. Do you support these proposals?

Democrat

The Taxpayers Foundation is a highly respected foundation; however, they have chosen to take sides in this debate rather than find a solution that benefits taxpayers and public employees.

Their position is virtually the same as municipal management and not their own carefully research position for which they have earned their credibility. Public employees must be involved in the decisions on their health insurance for several reasons:

1) They pay a part of the cost and that share is increasing in actual dollars and, in some cases, in percent of sharing with employers.

2) A change in plan design could increase deductibles or co-pays, making the cost to workers even more significant.

3) A change in plan design could force public employees to choose a different primary care provider at a time when availability of primary care providers is limited.

4) Any savings through change in plan design should be proportionally shared between taxpayers and employees.

The Senate offered a plan that would have achieved savings in health costs, but was fair to public employees. Unfortunately, it did not survive conference with the House. Whether managers negotiate with unions is not the primary issue. They need - and have a responsibility on a range of issues - to negotiate with their employees, both union and non-union, just as the private sector does.

As for Medicare for state retirees, I believe that is already a requirement of the Group Insurance Commission, and it has been so for awhile. It is also a requirement for municipal employees who enter the GIC system.

Republican

Yes, municipal health insurance reform is needed to help drive down the costs.

One way is to allow cities and towns to enter into the GIC, otherwise known as the Group Insurance Commission, without the requirement of having to obtain union approval. This step alone would help significantly drive down health insurance costs for your own communities.

Allowing cities and towns to have a say in the design of their health insurance plans, comparable to the plans offered to state employees, would yield a significant savings.

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State pensions

The foundation also proposed changes in state and municipal pensions, such as increasing the retirement age and capping annual pensions at $100,000. Do you agree?

Democrat

I agree with the idea of increasing the age for eligibility for pension benefits and for capping annual pensions. However, we should make these provisions prospective for new hires so as not to provoke a whole series of lawsuits from retirees who had a right to expect certain benefits when they entered the retirement system.

If there is a cap, it needs to have an inflation factor so that the value of the pension is not eroded by inflation. We also need to have an independent analysis conducted to see if such a cap across the board might put Massachusetts at a disadvantage in hiring personnel at the medical school, in the sciences, and similar fields where salaries need to be competitive to attract to physicians or scholars.

Republican

Yes! Moving forward for new employees who enter the pension system, changes need to be made.

Currently we have over a $20 billion unfunded pension liability that can no longer go ignored. Reforms need to be implemented, such as increasing the retirement age from 55 to 60 and capping annual pensions at a healthy $100,000 is a great way to start.

A top-to-bottom review of what is known as 'group jumping' should also be implemented.

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MCAS

Do you believe in keeping the requirement that a student must pass the MCAS or an MCAS-like test in order to graduate from high school?

Democrat

Yes. I believe that we need a test that helps us to compare students from one school to the next and that gives us the tools to evaluate teacher performance as well.

MCAS, and the standards on which it is based, has helped to place Massachusetts at the top of academic performance in the nation. I hope that the new standards recently promulgated by the administration will keep our students in the lead, and we need to be ever vigilant in evaluating the success or failure of this policy and the cost implications of the change for state and local budgets. We also need to maintain options for those who don't do well with standardized tests.

In addition, I am concerned with the needs of students who prefer to go to a vocational-technical school, but cannot gain admission. We may need an alternative for these students if the traditional high school isn't meeting their development needs.

Republican

As a mom of two children in the public school system, high standards and a strong public school system are important to me. Currently in the state of Massachusetts, we have the best school system not only in New England, but in the entire country.

As a mom, I am fully aware of the rigors of the MCAS exam, but I am also keenly aware of the high standard it produces.

A watered-down public education system mandated by federal government standards is not in the best interest of our children.

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Public records

Should the state Legislature be exempt from the state's public records law?

Democrat

No. The provisions for transparency should apply to the Legislature. The enforcement mechanism may need to be different based on the Constitution's "separation of powers" requirement, however. Nevertheless, I believe that the same types of information that executive agencies must make public should apply as well to the Legislature.

Republican

No! Currently the state Legislature lives by its own set of rules, pay raises during a recession, per diems to drive to work, plush pensions, and paid-for political junkets. This needs to stop, and all state legislative records should be open for public review.

To take it a step further, current laws should be tightened and loopholes closed so career politicians can no longer put 'self-service' ahead of 'public service'.

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Party leadership

Cite any votes (if an incumbent) or positions (if a challenger or newcomer) you have taken that disagree with the stance taken by your party's legislative leadership.

Democrat

1. I voted against increasing the sales tax to 6.25% considering that increasing taxes in a major recession only hurts the economy and the small businesses that drive it.

2. I voted against legislation allowing the governor to appoint an interim US senator after the death of Senator Kennedy because I thought it was an attempt to manipulate the process for political gain, which is wrong, regardless of party.

3. I was the only Democrat who voted against granting the governor expanded authority to make local aid reductions in the FY09 budget because those cuts in the middle of a fiscal year had a drastic impact on municipal budgeting.

4. I voted for an amendment to limit toll increases on the Turnpike to only those necessary for keeping bonds in good standing. The amendment would not have allowed tolls to be raised indiscriminately, and would have protected turnpike drivers from footing the transportation bill across the entire Commonwealth.

5. I voted for an amendment that would have instituted a hiring freeze through the end of FY09. The secretary would have had flexibility to hire positions deemed critically necessary, but the Commonwealth was not in a position to fill each and every vacancy.

Republican

The supplemental budget bill of $420 million was recently passed by legislators without debate or the opportunity for any amendments. I, too, agree with state treasurer candidate Karyn Polito, who felt that $11 million of pay raises for public employees during a recession should at least be open to discussion. The $420 million supplemental budget spending bill should not have been passed without thorough review and debate.

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Endorsements

Will you make public any questionnaires you fill out in pursuit of the endorsement of unions or other groups?

Republican

I have only completed the Citizens For Limited Taxation questionnaire, which I would most certainly make public.

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Legislative audit

Should the Legislature be subject to a full audit?

Democrat

As a member of the House of Representatives, I championed this issue successfully in the Joint Rules. Rule 34 of the Joint Rules of the Legislature provides for an independent outside audit by a certified public accountant at least every two years. I would have no problem extending this to the Senate accounts as well.

Because of the Constitutional provisions for strict separation of powers, it would be unconstitutional at this time for the state auditor, who is a member of the Executive Branch even though independently elected, to conduct this audit.

Republican

Absolutely! I agree with Mary Connaughton, candidate for state auditor, that there should be true transparency in government, with Beacon Hill as no exception.

The state auditor's office should be allowed to conduct thorough audits of the books of the Massachusetts Legislature. Presently, the state Legislature is exempt from such audits.

The taxpayers have every right to know how their tax dollars are being spent.

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Formal sessions

Is the Legislature holding enough full formal sessions?

Democrat

The joint rules were reformed over 20 years ago to limit formal sessions so that such sessions would not be held at a time when legislators who were defeated in their primary or the general election might be voting on significant public policy issues after those legislators had been rejected by their constituents.

The importance of formal sessions - from a public standpoint - is that roll calls are taken, which gives voters a record of how their legislator voted on issues. The Senate frequently has as many or more roll calls than the House, and many of the House roll calls are for quorums rather than substantive issues. However, it might be good to have even more roll call votes.

I would support more formal sessions within the current rules time window, but it may not be a good idea to extend formal sessions much beyond the current limitations.

Republican

No! Currently, Beacon Hill legislators are getting a full-time pay for part-time work. Many states have only a part-time legislative branch; this is a much more efficient and effective use of taxpayer money.

I am in favor of a part-time legislature!

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Term limits

Should there be term limits for the jobs of House Speaker and Senate President?

Democrat

Yes. Under Senate Rule 11B, no senator may hold the office of Senate president for more than 8 years. Furthermore, under Senate Rule 4B, the Senate president must resign if he or she seeks any other state or federal office.

Republican

Yes! There should also be term limits for all legislators. For example, my opponent has been on Beacon Hill for 31 years, since Jimmy Carter was president. That is a 'career politician'.

Too much power on Beacon Hill has created an environment of corruption, resulting in indicted Speakers and legislators. I am in favor of term limits.

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Responses gathered through e.thePeople