Legislative Affairs Update by Terrence F. Smith
Sen. Tolman Addresses January GAC
Massachusetts State Senator Steven Tolman was our guest at the January 25 GAC meeting and luncheon. He discussed several issues including the state budget, health care, the pension and parole system and services to those addressing substance abuse issues.
Tolman said the State budget will be tight this year and that the Governor has recommended a number of cuts in the budget he filed. He is very concerned that cuts do not harm our most vulnerable people. An issue the legislator is also discussing is the rising cost of health care and health insurance. He said that costs are “out of control” and that it is important to get a handle on why the cost of insurance keeps rising. He said that a recent study identified the fee for service system as being a major cost factor and that the transition to payment capitation, also called a Global Payment System, may better control costs. Tolman said that any changes should focus on good health, reduced costs and maintaining a high level of service to patients. He said this is a difficult issue in Massachusetts because the health care industry is such an important part of our economy.
He expects major change in the parole and probation system and sees this as an opportunity to redirect substance abusers convicted of non-violent crimes to treatment diversion programs. These programs, often at a lower cost than incarceration, address addiction issues and assist individuals in becoming productive members of society. He expressed concerns about continuing to provide substance abuse treatment assistance to those in need due to the passage of a ballot question that eliminated the sales tax on alcohol. This was a major source of revenue for treatment programs.
Senator Tolman represents parts of North and West Cambridge, Watertown, Belmont, neighborhoods in Allston and Brighton and parts of the Fenway and Back Bay in Boston. He has served in the Senate since 1999 and was recently named Assistant Majority Leader by the Senate President. Thank you to Senator Tolman for speaking at our January meeting.
Cambridge Again Receives Triple A Bond Ratings
In early February City Manager Robert Healy reported that the City has again received Triple A ratings from the three major credit rating agencies. His letter to the City Council identifies several factors for this rating including strong financial management, conservative budget practices, continued growth in the assessed value of properties, and a diverse economy. Cambridge has received this rating every year since 1999 and is one of only thirty cities so designated this year. The Council has expressed appreciation to the Manager and his staff for their work in maintaining the City’s strong financial position.
It is important to note that new development is a significant factor in the continued fiscal strength of the City. Factors that could negatively affect these rating are significant reduction in property tax levy capacity and deterioration of the tax base or local economy. The Chamber has a number of copies of the reports from the bond rating agencies. If you would like a copy please contact firstname.lastname@example.org
Development, Zoning and Changes at CDD
The City Council is discussing a number of issues related to development and zoning. These include zoning changes that would limit the re-use of non-conforming properties; a system to evaluate community benefits when property owners request zoning relief; assistance in planning and design for a number of commercial areas including Kendall and Central Squares; and actions to preserve and improve neighborhood commercial districts. The Council is also concerned about the announcement that a Cambridge life-science company may move to Boston and a proposal by the State to run additional commuter rail service through Cambridge.
The City is also seeing major changes in the Community Development Department (CDD). It was recently announced that former City Councillor Brian Murphy has been appointed the new Assistant City Manager for Community Development and will begin work in late March. Two long-time members of the CDD staff have recently retired. Elaine Madden, who has worked with many small businesses in her role at the Economic Development Division, retired in January, and Les Barber, the City’s Director of Zoning, retired in late February.
The Chamber looks forward to working with the new leadership at CDD and looks to work with our members to ensure that the City continues to be a great place to establish, expand or move a business of any size.
Genzyme Corporation has again agreed to sponsor the Government Affairs Committee in 2011. Thank you to Genzyme for its generous support. To receive a weekly summary of government affairs activity, please subscribe to the Government Affairs Update by visiting www.cambridgechamber.org/business/government_monthly.html#gcamail
. For more information on GAC activities, contact Director of Government Affairs Terrence Smith at email@example.com
or (617) 876-4213.
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