Three candidates for state Senate offer their views

Gintautas Dumcius, News Editor
Apr. 4, 2013

Three of the four candidates hoping to fill South Boston’s Jack Hart’s First Suffolk Senate District seat have offered their views on taxes, the city’s school assignment policy, and dormitories at UMass Boston in responses to a questionnaire put together by the Reporter.

Two Democrats – state Rep. Linda Dorcena Forry of Dorchester and Maureen Dahill of South Boston – and Dorchester Republican Joseph Ureneck responded to the questionnaire. The campaign of State Rep. Nick Collins, a South Boston Democrat, did not send in a response to the survey before the Reporter went to press on Wednesday morning, despite multiple requests from the newspaper.

The questionnaires are available in full below.

Asked about Gov. Deval Patrick’s plan to raise the income tax and lower the sales tax in order to provide $1.9 billion for transportation and education initiatives, the candidates differed in their answers which were given before top Democratic lawmakers in the House and Senate offered their own smaller version on Tuesday of this week, calling for motor vehicle sales tax revenue and a 3-cent increase in the state’s gas tax to fund transportation with $500 million.

Rep. Dorcena Forry, who lists Patrick as one of her political role models, said his plan has merit overall, though she expects “significant changes” as it winds its way through the Legislature. “The governor’s plan creatively raises revenue without impacting working families,” said Dorcena Forry, who is married to Reporter editor Bill Forry. “His proposal doubles the personal exemption so that taxes on the middle-class don’t go up, and he reduces the sales tax to allow our families to better afford vital goods and services.”

Dahill said she believes in “reform before revenue.” While the state’s transportation agencies have made efforts to cut costs, there have been fewer public higher education reforms, she said. “I appreciate Gov. Patrick’s boldness and ability to show leadership in his plan but I think it needs to be carefully analyzed and debated section by section.”

Ureneck said he would oppose the tax hike “so long as there is opportunity for cost reduction in government operations by reducing waste and eliminating fraud.”

The candidates also differed on the city’s school assignment policy, which the school department is working to implement an overhaul approved by the School Committee earlier this year. Mayor Thomas Menino pushed for the changes to the unpopular 24-year-old system, in a bid to get students going to schools closer to their homes.

Dorcena Forry last year joined with several city councillors and state lawmakers – including Rep. Collins – to push for their own proposed overhaul.

“We called it the Quality Choice Plan— and I was pleased that many of the policy ideas that we brought forward were included in the plan that the School Committee has since adopted,” Dorcena Forry wrote.
”These improvements include the concept of parent compacting, which will allow parents to join forces with the goal of ‘turning-around’ under-performing schools in a coordinated approach.”

Dahill also sounded positive notes about the school department’s overhaul. “I think children having the ability to walk to neighborhood schools is a step in the right direction but we need to ensure that there are high quality schools in every neighborhood,” she wrote. “I believe parent involvement in the school is vital to a school excelling. There needs to [be] open lines of communication between parents, teacher and administrations with the students’ success at the heart of every conversation.

Ureneck called the overhaul an “overly modest and long overdue acknowledgement that the current policy is no longer useful or feasible.”

The Reporter questionnaire also asked candidates about their stance on dormitories at UMass Boston. The Columbia Point campus has served commuters since its inception, but administration officials and professors have sought to house a fraction of the students on campus.

The issue was a contentious one during Hart’s state Senate tenure, as local residents feared rowdy students spilling into the neighborhood. But tensions have eased and UMass Boston has proceeded slowly with a master plan that includes dorms.

“Dorms could provide an improvement in a new quality campus life for UMass Boston but I want to study the proposal carefully and make sure that the community has input,” Dahill said.

Dorcena Forry said, “I support the 20 year plan to expand and modernize the UMass Boston campus, including the creation of on-campus housing for students, as part of a comprehensive redevelopment of the Columbia Point peninsula.”

Ureneck said he opposed any dorms. “When first built UMass-Boston was promoted as a commuter college for working people,” he wrote. “Though times and circumstances have changed the university should adhere to this goal to the greatest extent possible.”

Ureneck, the Republican, was the only one to support setting term limits for elected office. Two terms are enough for state senator, he said. “The arguments by opponents of statutory term limits that ‘elections are the way to enact term limits’ is disingenuous,” he added. “The playing field is far from even with incumbents having the advantage of built-in staff campaign workers and financial contributions from special interests.”

Rep. Forry, who was elected to the House in 2005, said voters have the discretion of choosing candidates at the polls. “I believe that longer-tenured incumbency can be an asset in both executive and legislative bodies and I do not favor building in artificial or arbitrary limits to how long an individual can serve,” she wrote.

Dahill said she believed in a “citizens legislature,” in which “people who run for office should not make it their life’s work.” “We already have too many professional politicians,” she said.

Material from State House News Service was used in this report.

Read the full candidate responses to the Reporter questionnaire (PDF format):

Maureen Dahill

Linda Dorcena Forry

Joseph Ureneck