In the Arena: Power shifts on Greenfield  City Council

Friday, January 12, 2018

For those who still don’t believe elections have consequences, take a look at the committee assignments issued this week by new Greenfield City Council President Karen Renaud.

As expected, Ashli Stempel will once again chair the powerful Ways and Means Committee, but one name left off that list is now-former Council Vice-President Isaac Mass, who drew just one assignment as chair of the Community Relations and Education Committee.

The move, while not surprising, is significant, considering the huge role he had in crafting last year’s budget. Mass was not only a driving force behind the first-ever cut to a mayoral capital budget, he was the chief architect of a last-minute, across-the-board 1 percent cut to the operating budget, the effects of which are still being felt by many municipal departments.

But that was last year. This year, it would appear that the only time Mass will have a vote on the budget is at the annual meeting. The same cannot be said for former Council President Brickett Allis, who has been given a seat on Ways and Means, but only as a member.

Allis will also join Mass on the CRE, which, for the first time in recent memory, is composed entirely of men, which has typically not been the case. It will be interesting to see if Mass’ leadership somehow changes the focus of that committee, which has not historically been a hotbed of activity. More often than not, it has served as a place for the council leadership to put members they either don’t like or want to neutralize politically, which seems to be the case here.

Not exactly a great outcome for a guy who last year at this time looked to be headed for the council presidency, but if I’m Mass, I would welcome the break. This year’s budget process is not likely to be pleasant, and if the new committee ends up making hamburger out of it, Mass won’t be the one who ends up getting the blame heading into the next mayor’s race, in which he still swears he won’t be a candidate.

What’s the truth?

I’m not sure who to believe when it comes to the state budget.

On the one hand, there is the state Department of Revenue reporting that December tax collections came in $527 million above projections, and that the commonwealth is $728 million above original estimates for the first six months of the fiscal year.

But some of the people who write the budget, among them, House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Steve Kulik, seem to be telling a very different story.

“I think we are going to have a difficult time crafting a budget this year,” Kulik said. “The economic forecasts we’ve been looking at on Ways and Means point to a slower rate of growth for Massachusetts over the coming year.”

Kulik says current projections have state revenues growing by just 3 percent in fiscal 2019, which he says won’t even be enough to cover the projected increases in the state’s fixed costs.

“And that’s without really knowing the impacts of this recent federal tax cut, which some economists believe will have a negative effect on our commonwealth,” Kulik said.

If those projections wind up being accurate, it would certainly seem to lend weight to the argument in favor of the “Fair Share” tax amendment, which will be debated heavily this year in advance of the fall elections.

I’m wondering what happens if it goes the other way, and the federal tax cuts cause the positive economic explosion still others have been forecasting. How hard will it be to “dump Trump” and the GOP at the midterms if the economy is humming?

I can’t wait for those answers.

Goodbye Mr. Chase

Franklin County lost a true gentleman on New Year’s Eve.

Eaglebrook School Headmaster Emeritus O. Stuart Chase passed away on Dec. 31 at the age of 84. In the world of education and philanthropy, he was a giant. To those fortunate enough to have studied there, he was simply “Mr. Chase,” an incredibly kind man who cultivated a very special learning environment for his students.

I always say I wouldn’t be able to do what I do as a writer had I not gone to Eaglebrook, which is where my literary seed was planted. It also delivered me from a pretty terrible bullying situation, which I’ve written about before.

The summer before I enrolled, however, it looked like Eaglebrook was not going to be an option. Even with financial aid, my parents didn’t look like they would be able to swing it, which bummed me to no end. Then one day, as I was adjusting to the idea of life at Greenfield Middle School, the situation changed. My parents never shared the financial particulars with me, but it was pretty clear that it was Stuart Chase who got that deal done, changing this future reporter’s life in the process.

Rest easy, Mr. Chase. Thanks for all you did for me, and so many other sons of Franklin County during your many years of service.