On Beacon Hill: Polito warns local officials of legal marijuana impact on state aid

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From State House News Service

ON THE AGENDA

  • Polito: Legal marijuana puts local aid in the balance
  • Videos: State education boss faces icy reception on school spending
  • Baker says Obama marine monument hurts fishermen
  • Tompkins, Suffolk sheriff, angles for state Dem leadership

TOP OF THE HILL

Polito warns local officials of legal marijuana impact on state aid

State funding for schools and local aid could take a hit if voters approve a marijuana legalization ballot question in November, Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito said last week as she implored local officials to join the opposition to Question 4.

Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito

State House News Service / file

Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito

After hearing concerns from local officials who comprise the Local Government Advisory Commission, Polito said municipal government officials and the Massachusetts Municipal Association can help the opposition because “this association reaches far and wide.”

“The message today as we all leave here is to do our homework in terms of educating your friends, your neighbors, your coworkers, your constituency groups, about what this question would mean for Massachusetts and why we need to work in an election when there is a higher turnout of voters to educate and inform the voters as to why they should vote no on Question 4,” she said.

The MMA Board in June voted unanimously to oppose Question 4, which would establish a regulatory and taxation structure for legal marijuana, and endorsed the Campaign for a Safe and Healthy Massachusetts, which Polito and Gov. Charlie Baker lead with Boston Mayor Martin Walsh and House Speaker Robert DeLeo.

A poll released Tuesday, Sept. 13, by WBUR found the marijuana question is favored by 50 percent of Massachusetts and opposed by 45 percent with eight weeks until Election Day.

Julie A. Jacobson, Auburn town manager and former Worcester administrator, told Polito that local officials are most concerned about the public safety and public health impacts of legal marijuana as well as what they view as a lack of local control in the law proposed on the November ballot.

“Communities don’t really have a lot of control over what is going to happen in their communities,” she said. “All of us are looking at the same things and all of us have the same concerns.”

Jacobson and MMA President Lisa Blackmer rattled off a litany of marijuana-related issues that they said led the MMA to oppose the ballot question: marijuana-infused products that look like candy, the inability for a municipality to cap the number of marijuana shops in their town, the lack of a roadside test of driver impairment and the costs associated with regulating the new industry.

Will Luzier, the campaign manager for the Yes on 4 ballot drive, attended the LGAC meeting Tuesday and said afterward, “There’s been a fair amount of misinformation around all of these issues.”

Polito said the administration is also concerned about the costs associated with regulating a new commercial cannabis industry, and suggested that the state would have to cut back on the funding it provides to cities and towns if Question 4 is approved.

“We’re very concerned about the regulatory costs that would take away funds from needed services, in particular schools and local aid, if that were the case,” Polito said.

Luzier said there will be “plenty of money there to cover the regulatory framework.” Total sales by the third year of legal retail marijuana are expected to be $1 billion, he said, 3.75 percent of which must be deposited into a Marijuana Regulation Fund that could only be used for “implementation, administration and enforcement” of the law.

“The Alcohol Beverages Control Commission has a budget of about $2.5 million and brings in another $4 million. So they operate and regulate the entire alcohol beverage industry with about $6 million,” Luzier said. “So if the Cannabis Control Commission can’t regulate the cannabis industry with $37.5 million then somebody’s not paying any attention.”

— Colin A. Young


VIDEOS OF THE WEEK

James Peyser, state education chief, faces the music on school spending

Peyser’s talk on the future of education


IN THE NEWS

Baker ‘disappointed’ in Obama marine monument designation, says it hurts fishing industry

Gov. Charlie Baker is “deeply disappointed” by President Barack Obama’s plan to designate an area off the New England coast as the first deep-sea marine national monument in the Atlantic Ocean, a move the Swampscott Republican’s administration sees as undermining Massachusetts fishermen.

Obama announced the creation of the Northeast Canyons and Seamounts Marine National Monument, Thursday, Sept. 15, a 4,913-square-mile area that includes three underwater canyons and four underwater mountains that provide habitats for protected species including sea turtles and endangered whales.

09-15noaaatlanticmarinemonumentorg

Recreational fishing will be allowed in the protected zone but most commercial fishing operations have 60 days to “transition from the monument area,” according to the White House. Red crab and lobster fisheries will be given seven years to cease operations in the area, which is about 150 miles southeast of Cape Cod.

“The Baker-Polito Administration is deeply disappointed by the federal government’s unilateral decision to undermine the Commonwealth’s commercial and recreational fishermen with this designation,” Baker spokesman Brendan Moss said in an email. “The Commonwealth is committed to working with members of the fishing industry and environmental stakeholders through existing management programs to utilize the best science available in order to continue our advocacy for the responsible protection of our state’s fishing industry while ensuring the preservation of important ecological areas.”

The Atlantic Offshore Lobstermen’s Association condemned the declaration, accusing the president of abusing his power and “indiscriminately” drawing a border “without taking into account the complexity of the marine ecosystem and domestic fishing fleet.”

Baker in November sent a letter to Obama, outlining what he described as “apprehension” over what was then a potential monument designation. Baker wrote that declaring a protected area could undermine ongoing work to develop marine habitat and ocean plans.

The letter cited plans under development by the New England Fishery Management Council and Northeast Regional Planning Body, and the governor said a monument designation could jeopardize “already strained relationships with important stakeholders, including commercial and recreational fishermen.”

“The proposed National Marine Monument designation is inconsistent with and contrary to the process and principles of the ongoing regional ocean planning initiative,” the governor wrote.

Obama established three Pacific Marine National Monuments in 2009, but the Atlantic Ocean does not yet have similarly protected areas.

The monument plans won praise from environmental groups, including the CLF and the National Wildlife Foundation.

“Permanent monument protection for Northeast Canyons and Seamounts Marine National Monument, a first-of-its-kind designation for the Atlantic Ocean, comes at a critical moment for a truly extraordinary place,” National Wildlife Federation president and CEO Collin O’Mara said in a statement. “The whales, dolphins, sharks, and the many other species of fish and seabirds that rely on the Northeast Canyons and Seamounts will now have safe haven in a vibrant and globally unique wilderness.”

The marine protections will hurt red crab, swordfish, tuna, squid, whiting and offshore lobster fisheries, according to the lobstermen’s association, which said industry representatives offered White House aides alternative proposals that would have protected coral habitat while still allowing fishing in some areas.

“We find it deplorable that the government is kicking the domestic fishing fleet out of an area where they sustainably harvest healthy fish stocks,” the association said in a statement. “Declaring a monument via Presidential fiat under unilateral authority of the Antiquities Act stands contrary to the principles of open government and transparency espoused by this President.”

Senate Minority Leader Bruce Tarr, a Gloucester Republican, said the designation “singled out commercial fishing for more punishment” and marked a missed opportunity to “balance conservation and support for commercial fishing.”

Both Baker, in his November letter, and the lobstermen’s group raised concerns about what they described as a lack of stakeholder engagement in the process of selecting a monument site.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration held a public meeting on the proposed monument area in Providence, Rhode Island, last September, and the White House said that administration officials “have visited the region repeatedly” since then to meet with local elected officials, commercial fishermen and other stakeholders. The boundaries of the area were “narrowly tailored” based on their input, according to the Obama administration.

The New England Fishery Management Council plans to discuss its next steps after the monument designation at a Sept. 22 meeting at the DoubleTree Boston North Shore Hotel in Danvers.

The council said in a statement that it will now need to “reassess its management strategy” as some of its coral-related proposals “have been superseded by the monument’s establishment.”

Council Chairman Terry Stockwell said the designated area is smaller than proposals that were discussed earlier, which he said indicated “an effort to at least partly address fishing industry concerns.”

— Katie Lannan


Tompkins, Suffolk sheriff, targets Baker in potential push for Dem party chair

Suffolk County Sheriff Steve Tompkins, a close political ally of U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren who would represent a face of color in the contest to lead the state Democratic Party into the next election cycle, planned to take this weekend to decide whether to seek the party chairmanship.

In the days following Sen. Thomas McGee’s announcement that he would step aside as party chair after the November elections, former lieutenant governor nominee Stephen Kerrigan moved quickly last week to publicly present himself as the man to beat.

Kerrigan has published a list of 75 state committee members already committed to him, and supporters say the list is longer, but at least three others — Governor’s Councilor Eileen Duff and Democratic National Committeemen David O’Brien and Gus Bickford — have been actively courting support.

An operative working with Bickford on his campaign said the former executive director of the state Democratic Party should have roughly 100 pledged supporters locked down by the end of the weekend. While there are 420 state committee members, party insiders expect far fewer to vote when the next chair is chosen on Nov. 14, and 150 to 175 votes could be enough to win.

Tompkins could be a fourth candidate.

“To me, the success of a potential Chair is not only dependent on his or her ability to manage and execute. A thriving Party requires a Chair who is willing to lead by listening and learning from MassDems from every corner of the Commonwealth and translating it into actions,” Tompkins wrote in a letter obtained by State House News Service that was to be circulated among Democratic State Committee members Sept. 15.

In the letter, Tompkins said he planned to take the weekend to consult with his family and friends for help making a decision, and also wants to hear from party members about what they want in the next chair.

Listing several criteria that Tompkins believes to be essential, the sheriff wrote that the “leadership and composition of our party should reflect the diversity of our Commonwealth.”

“A successful Chair will prioritize recruiting and inspiring people of color to actively engage with the Party, especially as candidates for public office,” Tompkins wrote.

He also listed job creation and training, health care, education, criminal justice, income inequality and housing as issues of importance to Democrats.

“Our ability to defeat Charlie Baker and strengthen Democratic strongholds across the Commonwealth relies on both strong grassroots tactics and an executive leadership team with a proven track record to the Party,” he wrote.

Tompkins, who was appointed Suffolk County sheriff by former Gov. Deval Patrick in 2013 after more than a decade working in the department, worked as Warren’s senior political advisor during her 2012 campaign.

After Duff challenged her fellow candidates to pledge to take a pay cut of up to 25 percent and Democratic National Committeeman David O’Brien, another candidate, said he would give back 10 percent of his $100,000 salary as chair, Tompkins said the next chair should not take a salary.

Former Fitchburg Mayor Lisa Wong, who had made some calls to gauge support, took her name out of the running on Thursday, saying that she agrees with party members who believe the chairmanship deserves a full-time commitment and has “too many professional, personal and political commitments to join the field of candidates.”

— Matt Murphy

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