Niki Tsongas

On Beacon Hill: Something to talk about

National Conference of State Legislatures

Sam Doran/State House News Service

The House Chamber was packed on Monday with legislative clerks from around the world who visited Boston for the National Conference of State Legislatures. Participating in a mock parliamentary session, from left, were Nigerian legislative officer Ramatu Ahmad, Ladi Hamalai of Nigeria’s Institute for Legislative Studies, and Aisha Mohammed of Nigeria’s House of Representatives.


Recap and analysis of the week in local, state and federal government
from State House News Service and Sun research.

The summer of 2007 in the Merrimack Valley was a time for backyard “PicNikis” and evening gatherings to get the latest “Tscoop On Tsongas” over a cone of your favorite flavor.

U.S. Rep. Niki Tsongas was mounting her first campaign for public office to succeed Marty Meehan — now the president of the University of Massachusetts system — in Congress, and the heat was on. Anything to get a crowd.

Fast-forward 10 years, and Tsongas found a different way to break the August monotony, announcing Wednesday that she would not be seeking a seventh full term to the U.S. House of Representatives. Just like that, Tsongas plugged the void of late summer on Beacon Hill, giving its denizens something to wag their tongues about.

Many state legislators spent the week shuttling between the Boston Convention and Exhibition Center and the city’s varied landmarks, playing policy wonks by day and hosts with the most by night.

Legislative leaders wined and dined 6,000 of their colleagues from around the country at places like Fenway Park, the New England Aquarium and more as the National Conference of State Legislatures swept in and out of the city, leaving solid policy ideas, first impressions of Boston, and bar tabs in its wake.

But it was Tsongas — and more intriguingly, who might succeed her — that was the talk of the town.

Niki Tsongas

Niki Tsongas

Tsongas, in some ways, rode her famous last name to the halls of Capitol Hill. Her late husband, Paul Tsongas, held the same seat before being elected to the Senate and making a failed run for president in 1992.

But over the past decade, she made a name for herself. As a member of the House Armed Services Committee, Tsongas became a champion for veterans and, based on the accolades that poured in, a devotee to constituent services.

Given the rarity of open Congressional seats in Massachusetts, it would be political malfeasance for anyone who has ever harbored any ambition to go to Washington, D.C., to not at least think about what it would take to win the Tsongas seat next year. That’s probably why one needs more than two hands to count the number of elected, non-elected and former elected officials said to be weighing their options.

The list starts with the cast of characters who finished behind Tsongas in the 2007 special election Democratic primary. Sen. Eileen Donoghue, who finished second in that primary, and Sen. Jamie Eldridge and former Sen. Barry Finegold all said they are considering another run at the seat.

Massachusetts Sen. Barbara L’Italien, D-Andover, also came in hot, quickly announcing that she was “eagerly exploring” the possibility of a campaign, and has been joined by 2014 lieutenant governor nominee Stephen Kerrigan; Meehan’s ex-wife and community hospital consultant Ellen Murphy Meehan; and City Hall “Boy Wonder” Dan Koh, chief of staff to Boston Mayor Marty Walsh, whose well-known family hails from Andover.

The Third Congressional District, thanks in part to redistricting, will surely not be a solely Democratic affair, however. Republicans weighing a run, or looked to as possible candidates, include Mass Fiscal Alliance founder Rick Green, Sal’s Pizza founder Sal Lupoli and Gardner Mayor Mark Hawke.

Central Mass. cities and towns in the Third Congressional District include  Ashburnham, Berlin, Bolton, Clinton, Fitchburg, Gardner, Harvard, Lancaster, Lunenburg, Westminster and parts of Winchendon. Also, Ashby, Ayer, Dunstable, Groton, Hudson, Littleton, Marlborough, Shirley, Stow and Townsend.

It’s hard to say how quickly the field might come together, given the ample time Tsongas has afforded her would-be successors, but many of the elected politicians and someone like Koh will have to weigh a shot at a Congressional seat against giving up the office or job they now hold.

— Matt Murphy

ALSO ON THE AGENDA

  • Senate hosts panel to discuss health-care cost containment
  • McGovern on North Korea; Chandler honored
  • Boston-area inflation hits 2.2 percent in the past year
  • Safety, profiling concerns swirl over immigrant detainer bill

Inbox [Aug. 13-19] | News and notes from Quinsigamond CC, UMass Medical School, Worcester Economic Club, Center for Living & Working, Elder Services, Kasy Auto Sales and accounting camp

Have news you or your group would like to share? Let us know by emailing it to info@worcester.ma. Be sure to include a link to the full release on your site or Facebook page so we can include it and send Sun members your way.

Quinsigamond CC adds CSET lab in Southbridge

Quinsigamond Community College’s Southbridge campus recently added a Computer Systems Engineering Technology (CSET) lab. This lab will exclusively be dedicated to the college’s growing CSET program, which is being launched in Southbridge this fall.

“We are continuing to offer more opportunities for QCC students to attain their CSET career objectives. Bringing more CSET course offerings to the Southbridge campus is something that we have been working hard to make a reality,” said QCC Dean of Business, Engineering and Technology Kathy Rentsch.

QCC has met the need for developing more skilled technical workers by developing a comprehensive CSET program that offers four CSET associate degrees and nine certificate programs.

House leader ‘certain’ Mass. sales tax holiday will get another year off

BOSTON — Consumers will get no break on the sales tax from the state of Massachusetts this summer, as lawmakers opt for the second year in a row to forego a tax holiday weekend.

Revenue Committee Chairman Jay Kaufman confirmed that August will pass without what has been in recent years a semi-annual tradition of suspending the sales tax for one weekend.

“I would say that’s certain,” Kaufman, a Lexington Democrat, told State House News Service. “I don’t see how there could be one since there’s no possibility of us having a hearing and a session to vote for one, so there will be no sales tax holiday this year.”

Editorial: Out with the old, in with the new?

Last Wednesday, the Worcester Planning Board gave its approval to Roseland Residential Trust’s plan to build 84 units of housing on the site of Notre Dame des Canadiens Church. This brings Worcester one step closer to the demolition of the Salem Square landmark.

The previous day, Worcester Magazine reported that Mayor Joseph M. Petty will ask the City Council to “support in principle the relocation of the Red Sox Triple-A baseball team to Worcester including building a stadium to accommodate this team and further, request the City Manager do all that is reasonably in his power to facilitate this move.”

It would certainly be convenient to view these developments independently. In this way, we would not see the similarities and differences that tell a lot about the priorities of the city’s leaders and what they seem to believe residents want.

Mandell: A San Francisco/East Bay wake-up call — will Worcester’s renaissance benefit all?

No, this is not India, but the United States. How can this injustice be sustainable? How would it be different here if we all were committed to building fair, healthy and loving places? Maybe I do need the Kleenex the homeless man tried to give me on the BART train ride. … Not only is the renaissance on the horizon, but we need to plan for the negative impacts of growth as well — that many of us will be closed out of its benefits.

MassDevelopment purchases Money Stop building in Theatre District

A Main Street building that was identified as a target for acquisition and redevelopment by the Worcester Redevelopment Authority’s ambitious downtown renewal plan has been sold.

The building at 526-538 Main St., known for its primary tenant, The Money Stop pawn shop — and its conspicuous billboard — was sold to Massachusetts Development Finance Agency for $800,000 in a sale that closed May 31.

Sun Spots with Hitch [Vol. 186]: What the dickens happened to sales tax holiday?

The first time Massachusetts gave businesses and consumers a tax-free weekend, in 2004, the Red Sox won their first World Series in 86 years.

Just sayin’ — maybe it has special powers.

More Hitch | What if … Worcester | Free to Read

Of course, these days the powers-that-be at the State House aren’t feeling so charitable under the pall of a murky fiscal future. So much for a discount on that new bedroom set … or a championship parade.

Hitch visits an old friend to get to the bottom of this.

On Beacon Hill: No detour for sales tax on Holiday Road

Recap and analysis of the week in local, state and federal government
from State House News Service and Sun research.

BOSTON — Hotel, motel, Chatham Bars Inn?

Turns out deciding where to holiday can be more complicated this time of year than choosing between the Cape, the Berkshires or Nantucket. It also means figuring out whether to go to Best Buy in Everett or Nashua, N.H.

Lawmakers slunk away from Beacon Hill without acting on bills that would have established a sales-tax-free weekend sometime this August.

No one said a word, but one might have guessed at that point that the decision had been made to forgo a sales tax holiday this summer for just the third time in the past 14 years. After a year of wringing their hands over disappointing tax collections, leaders are loath to give up a revenue source, even if it might mean cheaper school supplies for constituents and a boon for some small businesses.

Gov. Charlie Baker, however, didn’t seem to want to play that guessing game. And despite vetoing $320 million from the fiscal 2018 budget, he apparently feels a few million dollars lost in August can be overcome.

The governor filed a bill last Wednesday to make the weekend of Aug. 19-20 a sales tax holiday. Sure, he could have just issued a statement calling on the Legislature to return from its recess and pass one of the several tax holiday bills already filed this session, But he didn’t. He filed his own, and it was just about dead on arrival.

Sam Doran / State House News Service

House Speaker Robert DeLeo

House Speaker Robert DeLeo said Baker’s decision to file legislation, especially in the first week of August, made “little sense,” and Rep. Jay Kaufman, a Lexington Democrat and Revenue Committee chairman who views these tax holidays as little more than gimmicks, said what DeLeo seemed unwilling to.

Baker’s bill would not get through committee.

So why did Baker file it?

Well perhaps it was just coincidence, but it also came the same day Baker decided that he would sign off on $200 million in new fees and fines on employers to help pay for MassHealth without the reforms that he, and groups like the Retailers Association of Massachusetts, had been insisting on as part of a package.

Rather than force House and Senate Democrats to override a veto and deal with the story line all summer that he and the Legislature were at odds, the governor chose to do something he’s hoping won’t become famous last words.

“The Legislature told us they would work with us on this, and we’re going to take them at their word,” he said.

The National Federation of Independent Business said it was “incredibly disappointed” in Baker, but other business groups, including Associated Industries of Massachusetts, struck a more diplomatic tone.

“While this is certainly not the outcome we hoped for, we recognize that the governor’s decision is carefully considered and designed to achieve the ultimate, long-term goal of substantive MassHealth reform,” AIM President Rick Lord said.

Even with the olive branch from Baker, the retailers seem to have just about reached a breaking point. With the deadline arriving to file language to reserve a spot on the 2018 ballot, the Retailers Association of Massachusetts filed four possible ballot questions for next fall.

The group, frustrated by an inability to get what it wants through the legislative process, proposed lowering the sales tax from 6.25 percent to either 5 percent or 4.5 percent, and reserved their right to couple either proposal with an annual two-day sales tax holiday.

— Matt Murphy

ALSO ON THE AGENDA

  • Legislators return, but not for legislating
  • Fiscal 2018 tax collections hit first-month benchmark
  • McGovern on ‘a better deal,’ Warren on improving GI Bill, Markey on Trump
  • Moore-sponsored disability protection bill gets public hearing
  • Baker makes choices for marijuana advisory panel

Editorial: Investments big and small

For those who follow the news, that Worcester is in the midst of a mind-boggling run of private investment in the city is not a shock. The grand announcements, ribbon-cuttings and groundbreakings have lately come at a breakneck pace. In the wake of these types of mega deals we’re left with large-scale projects we refer to with one- or two-word names:

  • Grid District
  • Harding Green
  • Former courthouse
  • Central Building
  • Homewood Suites
  • A.C. Marriott
  • 145 Front

…and the list goes on.

The large-scale developments in the city have benefits that far outweigh even the most lofty price tags. Investments in Worcester affirm the value we place in the city in which we live, work and play. It is a sign that people outside Worcester see what we see: a city that inspires and aspires.

Alas, a majority of the plans you read or hear about are downtown. It’s understandable, of course. The push to remake downtown as an 18-hour destination is in its second decade and each success along the way fosters the belief in what can be achieved in the long run.

However, a vibrant and growing city is more than just major downtown developments. It’s also property owners throughout the city building or rebuilding properties out of the limelight and without fanfare.