Beacon Villager: Eldridge prepares for listening tour

State Sen. James B. Eldridge D-Middlesex and Worcester, recently announced he would embark on a listening tour to hear the concerns of residents in his district.

In preparation for the tour, Eldridge answered a number of questions for the Beacon-Villager.

Democrats and Republicans are again playing chicken with jobless benefits. How much will this hurt the state and the unemployed if checks stop coming? (Editor’s Note: A tentative agreement to extend jobless benefits was reached after Sen. Eldridge was asked these questions.) If jobless benefits stop coming, it’s going to have an enormous impact on those who are unemployed, many of whom live here in our district. That’s why Democrats in Washington have been pushing so hard to extend them. Frankly, it’s a real shame that Republicans have decided to play politics with the lives of millions of unemployed Americans right before the holidays in an attempt to secure more tax cuts for the rich.

I hear every day from constituents who would like to work, but can’t find jobs in the current economy – and they don’t know what they’re going to do when and if these benefits run out. With unemployment levels in our country still high, it’s vitally important that the U.S. Congress continues to provide unemployment benefits, and quickly.

State employment figures are gaining some momentum, while nationally, the unemployment rate has risen to 9.8 percent. How does Massachusetts continue to buck the national trend? I think it’s result of at least three factors. First, Massachusetts benefits from having such a diverse economy, based on the entrepreneurial and well-educated workforce that has established so many companies in the state. I’m proud that so many of these entrepreneurs live in the district that I represent, as is well represented by so many of the companies found in Clock Tower Place in Maynard.

Second, Governor Patrick’s administration, with the support of the Legislature, has been extraordinarily focused on fostering and promoting job creation, even before the recession began. We’ve made targeted investments in areas of strength for the state, including life sciences and, with the passage of the Green Jobs bill and the Green Communities Act, alternative energy and “green” jobs.

Finally, I believe it’s a result of the long-term investments our state has made, particular in education. Massachusetts has a well-educated workforce and the best schools in the nation, which have proven to be huge draws for employers in need of skilled workers. We’ve also continued to make investments in our physical infrastructure – our roads, bridges, water and energy systems, and public transportation. On many levels, our state is an attractive place to set up and grow a business.

Would you support Gov. Deval Patrick’s efforts to build destination resort casinos in the Bay State if the proposal comes forth again in the next General Court? I have always been, and will continue to be, strongly opposed to bringing casinos, slot machines, or “racinos” to the Commonwealth. I worked hard to defeat those proposals last session, and will do the same if they come up again this year.

I’ve put a considerable amount of research and thought into this issue, and the reasons to oppose expanded gambling in Massachusetts are overwhelming – particularly because of the negative, costly impacts casinos have on small businesses, area communities, and working families.

Expanding gambling is a short-sighted and ineffective economic development strategy. It drains money from local economies, hurting local businesses. It also hurts local communities, bringing increases in crime, domestic violence, foreclosures, and bankruptcies, while creating thousands of new problem gamblers. We need more jobs in Massachusetts, but expanding gambling isn’t a good answer. There are better strategies for creating jobs and promoting economic growth in the Commonwealth that don’t come with the significant downside that casinos bring.

On your blog, you write of the disconnect in voters’ minds between the need for government services and how they are paid for. How do you explain this to them? It’s really about having the conversation with voters, often one on one. This is one of the main reasons that I’m hosting Community Meetings across the district, including one in Maynard on December 16th (7pm at Maynard Town Hall) in order to have those conversations and solicit feedback from constituents about what they would like to see from their government.

Everyone has government programs and services they care about. Some value strong schools; others care about the quality of our roads and bridges. And just about everyone wants the fire department to show up at their house when there’s a fire, and in the case of a medical emergency, would like an ambulance to arrive at their house as quickly as possible.

Of course, all of these things are paid for by our tax dollars. When we cut taxes, the inevitable outcome is that we will have fewer, and lower quality, services. Many people think that would be a fine trade-off – until you get to the point where the reduction in services starts to affect their lives.

It’s never easy voting to increase taxes, as the Legislature did in 2009 as a result of a massive budget deficit brought on by the national recession. But I’ve found that when I have this conversation with people and start to explicitly make the link between our taxes and the services we care about, most of them – not all, but most — come to understand and support those votes.

Do you agree with Gov. Patrick’s efforts to allow illegal immigrants to pay in-state tuition rates at state colleges? If yes, why yes? If not, why not? The proposal – which I support – would allow the children of undocumented immigrants who have attended high school in Massachusetts for at least three years to pay the in-state tuition rate (i.e., not for free) to attend a community college or state university.

I support this bill as a matter of basic fairness. I hold a firm belief that we should not punish children who, through no fault of their own, were brought to the States, sometimes over a decade ago. Yes, they arrived illegally — but not of their own volition or choosing, and it is neither fair nor in the best interests of the Commonwealth to punish them for a crime they did not freely commit. These are in many cases our neighbors. They work in our Commonwealth, contribute to our communities, and pay taxes. All they want is the chance to earn a college degree.

This bill would also generate revenue for the Commonwealth – not a small consideration in these difficult fiscal times. According to the nonpartisan Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation, this bill would generate $2.5 million a year in direct revenue – not to mention the added long-term gain for the state as it helps create a more educated, more productive, more stable workforce.

1 thought on “Beacon Villager: Eldridge prepares for listening tour

  • Thank you for your positive and constructive positions on the above issues. It’s wonderful to have a legislator who has perspective, and approaches issues intelligently and with the most good for the most people. That used to be what theis country was about. I understand the emotional appeal of the nay-sayers who have raised their voices – it’s easy and does not require analysis or much thought. However, looking at problems with a 1 or 2 dimensional view leaves us wanting in the long run.
    Most especially thank you for taking the time and effort to explain to your constituents that services cost money. Taxes are the price we pay to live in a civilized society.

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