Friday, February 6, 2009

Hargraves' View From the Hill

It's been an interesting few weeks on Beacon Hill. There's also been quite a bit of drama in my district as well, so it's difficult to know where to start.

The public hearings looking into Unitil's response -- or lack of response -- following the ice storm that devastated the area in December have been packed with dissatisfied customers, and I was happy to see that. Petitions have been filed with the governor's office and I have signed onto legislation that will give ratepayers more leverage when it comes to determining, or in some cases firing, their utility providers. I am certain that electricity will be restored to the 700,000 citizens who lost power in Kentucky last week more rapidly than was the case with too many of my own constituents who went without power for three weeks and more!

I, myself, find this inexcusable, and a lot of my time has been devoted to working to make sure this doesn't happen in my constituency again. By the way, I have met with representatives from FEMA, and they have assured me that they will be coming through the towns in my district that were most severely impacted by the storm.

On the state level, the projected revenue shortfalls keep getting more and more dire. I am sorry to report that rather than roll up their sleeves and take on the onerous responsibility of cutting into their local aid packages for '09, my Democratic colleagues in the Legislature voted to pass the knife to the governor, who now has the responsibility of carving $1.2 billion from the budget. I feel like this was a mistake, an abdication of the responsibility our voters placed squarely on our shoulders when they went to the polls in November and cast their ballots -- and I'm not afraid to say so.

At the state level, there is nothing simple about "the budget." Two documents, weighing a total of 4 pounds, 5.3 ounces, landed on my desk last Wednesday, and before the "thump" had finished echoing off the walls, the pundits in the press were talking about it as if they had fully digested the meat and bones of the beast. From what I've read and heard, I don't think they have it quite right, so don't believe everything you read or hear. Incidentally, we are addressing two budgets at once. The so-called 9C cuts are being trimmed from the '09 budget while concurrently we are working to put together the spending package for 2010.

The full picture is further clouded by the president's much-awaited stimulus package, the precise details of which are as-of-yet unknown. My colleagues and I will be taking our time to analyze and understand the implications of the governor's 2010 budget as well as the 9C spending cuts to retrofit the 2009 budget to try to reconcile it with the current reality of the economy. This is going to be a work in progress for a while, so I expect to be writing more about this in the upcoming weeks.

By the way, the full report: "Preliminary Analysis: The Governor's FY 2010 Budget & New FY 2009 9C Cuts," can be found at

The "cherry sheets" have been delivered to Ayer, Dunstable, Groton, Pepperell and Townsend. Suffice it to say that it was painful to see the bottom lines. I feel like I'm just a member of the choir when I tell you that the challenges we face are unprecedented in my lifetime. However, I am optimistic that it's all going to work out. It's inspiring to see how everyone -- from individuals, to organizations, to institutions, to government officials -- are scrambling to come up with creative, workable solutions. When we dig ourselves out of the mess we're in, I have a feeling the world is going to be a better place for our efforts.

There is also a proposal before us to increase the tax on gasoline. I believe such a tax at a time like this is ill-advised. It would be like taking food out of a baby's mouth, and I plan to be speaking against it from the floor in the coming weeks.

On Beacon Hill, Speaker of the House Salvatore DiMasi tendered his formal resignation on Tuesday, and Rep. Robert DeLeo was elected as the new Speaker of the House on Wednesday.
I think it's incredible that the system is able to take these momentous events in stride. Yes, there was a lot of ink spilled, a lot of air time filled, a lot of speculation and drama involved. But there was no bloodshed. And at the end of the day on Wednesday, a conservative Democrat found himself at the helm with a gavel in hand, waiting to leave his imprint in the sand.

The new speaker is a staunch supporter of special education, physical education and has supported legislation that would allow casinos and slot machines as well. The Speaker of the House wields a lot of power and influence, and I expect that he will use his influence to take the House in a new direction. So stay tuned!

There are changes in my office as well. For the past 18 months or so, Jeff Wilson has served as my aide. At Christmas time, he told me he had a job offer and was going to be leaving for greener pastures. I was sad to see Jeff go. He has served me ably and well. But I was happy to hear that he had such a great opportunity, and encouraged him to take advantage of it.

I'm now happy to report that I have a new aide, Jane Morriss. Jane moved to Groton in 1991 and I first met her back when I was the chairman of the Board of Selectmen in Groton and she was covering town events for the Groton Herald. She also covered Groton for Nashoba Publications and worked as a writer at Groton School during its capital campaign in the 1990s. After that she went into real estate and most recently she was working over in Chelmsford as a concierge. She is taking to the position like a duck takes to water, and I'm confident that within a short period of time she will become a familiar presence in my district.