It’s a season of change

Monday, February 26, 2018

It looks to be a “season of change” for the region’s Beacon Hill delegation — and that’s not necessarily a good thing.

It was announced this week that 1st Franklin District State Rep. Steve Kulik and 2nd Hampshire Rep. John Scibak will not seek re-election in 2018, robbing the area of two of its most experienced lawmakers and setting the stage for a potential feeding frenzy among candidates looking to take their first bite of the legislative apple.

The loss is a little more personal for me, as I’m being relieved of two of my very best sources in the Legislature. Scibak and Kulik are both masters of the mic, and always available when I need a solid take on almost any issue related to public policy.

Still, to some, their departure might be viewed as a good thing. One of the big knocks against today’s political system is that it’s over-populated by career politicians who have simply stayed too long at the dance.

A healthy shot of new blood can be a good thing every now and again, especially when you consider the amount of potential talent out there patiently waiting a turn.

I do not believe that is the case this time, however.

Though they have their detractors, I think most who watch Beacon Hill closely recognize that Kulik and Scibak are still very effective legislators who also happen to have a ton of seniority, something this area can ill afford to lose right now.

Lest we forget that arguably the region’s biggest voice on the Hill, Sen. Stan Rosenberg, has — literally and figuratively — gone from the Senate president’s office to the Legislature’s basement in less than one year as the investigation continues into alleged sexual harassment and influence-peddling by Rosenberg’s now-estranged husband Bryon Hefner.

Said investigation has not appeared to derail Rosenberg’s re-election plans. He’s likely to win that race in a walk, assuming a challenger emerges, but one has to question whether he will still be as effective an advocate for this area as he was before the Hefner scandal.

He may be. He’s still Stan Rosenberg. But we aren’t going to know for sure until next year.

What we do know is that Kulik and Scibak won’t be there, which means the west loses arguably its most powerful budget voice, Kulik, who is the current vice-chair of the Ways and Means Committee, and it’s most powerful higher education advocate, Scibak, who chairs the House Higher Education Committee.

Scibak also has extensive knowledge of health care, having worked in the industry for years before coming to the Legislature.

Reshuffling those decks could create opportunities for guys like Second Berkshire Rep. Paul Mark to move up, but that doesn’t negate the loss of two legislative heavyweights who are likely to be replaced by a couple of dewey-eyed back benchers for whom getting from their offices to the House floor without getting lost will be viewed as a major legislative accomplishment

None of this, of course, is Kulik or Scibak’s problem. They’ve done their time and have earned their ride into sunset, but they leave big shoes to fill, and a likely bevy of successors who can’t wait to step into them, whether or not they are ready.

Sewer Slam

It appears Greenfield Mayor Bill Martin’s plan to increase water and sewer rates by between 10 and 15 percent isn’t sitting well with some people, including two of his more vocal critics on the City Council.

The ink was barely dry on Martin’s press release announcing the increase when City Councilors Isaac Mass and Brickett Allis issued a statement of their own challenging Martin’s decision to use retained earnings — a fancy term for surpluses — from the water and sewer funds to help pay for a new $300,000 modular garage for the Department of Public Works.

Allis and Mass have been on the attack regarding that project almost since it was announced, and now we know why. And their point is a valid one, because it doesn’t seem to make a lot of sense to raid a reserve fund to construct a new building when there are infrastructure problems within the system, which is ostensibly what this rate hike is intended to address.

Mass also says the rate increase is six times what would be allowable if enterprise funds were subject to Proposition 2½ which, of course, they aren’t because enterprise funds are separate service accounts which are technically outside the existing operating budget.

“We know that our water and sewer rates are still well below other peer communities, but you can’t just spike rates all at once like this,” Mass said. “It’s not fair to the people paying those bills.

Then again, when is it ever.