Posts Tagged ‘Greg Kwasnik’

Hopedale mental health club protests potential cuts on Beacon Hill

Monday, December 7th, 2009

By Greg Kwasnik

BOSTON — Members of a Hopedale mental health center joined other protesters to march on Gov. Deval Patrick’s office yesterday, objecting to potential budget cuts they say would hobble the state’s mental health programs and shut down their own organization, the Massachusetts Clubhouse Coalition.

Forty-six members of Hopedale’s Crossroads Clubhouse chartered a bus to Boston to march with hundreds of other clubhouse members and advocates from across the state. Walking the half mile from the Department of Mental Health building to the State House, the large group held up traffic, waving signs that read “Save Our Clubhouses” and chanting: “What don’t you get? Clubhouse is our safety net” and “We vote, we count.”

Several Crossroads members, including Douglas resident John Trask, took up a microphone to speak out against the possibility of cuts that could be forced by an estimated $600 million state budget deficit.

Trask, who was diagnosed with mental illness as a child, joined Crossroads Clubhouse in 2007 after repeated hospitalizations. He is now a student at Quinsigamond Community College.

“The clubhouse has enabled me to return to school, and it’s one of the only things really that keeps me out of the hospital consistently,” Trask said, his voice breaking with emotion. “But since I became a member I’ve not needed hospitalization for the past three years and I’ve returned to school.”

Reva Stein, executive director of the Massachusetts Clubhouse Coalition, said cuts to her organization would be devastating. Stein said the state’s suggestion to replace the clubhouses with less structured drop-in centers would be a poor replacement for the housing assistance, job training and community support now offered to 8,000 individuals in 32 clubhouses across the state.

“They’re thinking of replacing them with drop-in centers, which are demeaning, dead-end places where people smoke cigarettes and do scratch tickets all day,” Stein said. “It would be a disgusting way to serve people with disabilities. Our members won’t accept that.”

Anna Chinappi, spokeswoman for the Department of Mental Health, declined to say if drop-in centers had been proposed as alternatives.

Chinappi said officials at the Department of Mental Health would meet with Gov. Patrick to discuss funding later this week.

“We’re waiting to hear from the governor on Thursday about what our mid-year reduction will be at this point,” Chinappi said. “That’s really all I can say.”

Cindy Roy, spokeswoman for the state Department of Administration and Finance, said she was not aware of a move to replace clubhouses with drop-in centers. Roy said Gov. Patrick is focused on maintaining important services.

“The governor has very difficult choices in front of him working to close this gap,” Roy said. “It’s really important to note that no final decisions on budget reductions have been made yet.”

As the group of protesters worked their way through the State House to the governor’s office, Senate President Therese Murray said the governor would try to spread the budget cuts so that they would not target a specific group.

“I think this time he’s going to be looking at trying to balance that out,” Murray said after meeting with mental health and disability advocates outside her office. “We’ll have a discussion probably at the end of the week or the beginning of next week.”

One area lawmaker, Rep. John Fernandes, D-Milford, hopes the cuts to clubhouses will be minimal. Fernandes, who has visited the Crossroads Clubhouse, said in an interview that cutting funding for the centers would be a mistake, especially during tough economic times.

“They are about as efficient and as effective a delivery entity as I’ve seen, in terms of carrying out their mission,” Fernandes said. “If we lose those clubhouses, it will be penny-wise and pound-foolish, because we will be going backward in the delivery of services, and when we go backward it will cost us more money to deliver those same services.”

Tom Reece, a constituent services aide to Gov. Patrick, met with protesters outside the governor’s office at the end of their march.

While he did not say whether the clubhouse program would be cut entirely, he said the governor takes his budget responsibilities seriously.

“The governor knows it’s not just about the line items and the bottom lines and the numbers of the budget as much as it is the lives of the people affected,” Reece said. “So that’s obviously foremost on his mind going through this process.”

Reece said the administration would release more detailed information about which programs will be cut in the coming week.

State’s attempt to reduce tax exemptions eyed warily

Monday, December 7th, 2009

By Greg Kwasnik

BOSTON — This year, the state gave up $20.6 billion in potential revenue through tax exemptions on such endeavors as Bible sales, movie shoots, and even an allowance for coal miners suffering from black lung disease.

On Wednesday, lawmakers looking to close the state’s projected $600 million budget gap met to discuss ways to cut down on excessive or unnecessary exemptions.

According to Randy Albelda, an economist at UMass-Boston, there is plenty of room to tweak some of these giveaways that have long since lost their usefulness.

“Some tax expenditures have been in place for over 30 years and no longer serve their purpose,” Albelda told a subcommittee of the Joint Committee on Revenue. “Others demonstrate the power of special interests at the expense of sound tax policy.”

Albelda said state tax exemptions have proliferated over the last 20 years, eating away at the state’s tax base. Doing away with some exemptions would be politically risky, but economically necessary, she said.

“It becomes a balancing act for a legislator to figure out which tax expenditure to pursue or even to eliminate,” Albelda said.

Karl Case, an economics professor at Wellesley College, suggested at the hearing the politically risky move of expanding the state sales tax to include taxes on services such as utilities or the skilled work done by accountants and lawyers.

“The service deduction, I have to say, flat out, is crazy,” Case said. “What’s different about getting a haircut and buying a good? We worry that we don’t produce many goods anymore and we don’t tax services.”

But several Milford-area business owners balked at the suggestion of taxing services, which they say are first to be impacted during tough economic times.

“They want to tax haircuts?” said Nikki Colecchi, owner of Nik’s Barbershop on Main Street in Milford. “Good luck. I don’t think that’s a good idea.”

Paul DeSousa, owner of Cottage Street Barber Shop in Franklin, said the rough economy has already hurt business, and a new tax could make things worse.

“In some respects I can see the angle that it’s a positive thing for the state, but a lot of the services are provided by small business owners,” De Sousa said. “People already don’t have the money for these services. There was a time when people came in with $20s. Now they come in with $10s and $5s and $1s.”

Legislators were also urged to reconsider the vehicle trade-in exemption, which cost the state $86 million in 2009. Under the exemption, new car buyers can deduct the value of a trade-in from the taxable price of a new vehicle.

Ed Clair, sales manager at Mark Rizoli Auto Village in Milford, said he mentions the exemption to anyone who decides to trade in a vehicle at the dealership. Clair said that doing away with the exemption would amount to a double tax on the older vehicle.

“In this economy, everyone is trying to save a dollar here and there where they can,” Clair said. “People who are trading in a car, obviously it was registered and taxed once.”

The film industry was another target at Wednesday’s hearing. In 2006, the state created a film industry exemption, which gives a 25 percent tax reduction on production costs for movies filmed in Massachusetts. In 2008, Hopedale served as a shooting location for the Bruce Willis film, “Surrogates.”

Several film industry representatives defended the exemption, citing state Department of Revenue estimates that in-state film production spent $452 million in 2008. On Tuesday, Gov. Deval Patrick said he would not take away the film industry tax credit.

But one Massachusetts Teachers Association lobbyist, Catherine Fichtner, testified that the tax credit was actually a financial drain on the state, costing $113 million in 2008.

“A kid doesn’t get a second chance at a good education,” Fichtner said, “so unless the resources are available to make sure a solid education is there, we can’t assume we’re going to be educating the next Tom Cruise or Cameron Diaz.”

The Joint Committee on Revenue subcommittee will continue its review of the state’s tax exemptions in the coming weeks, and will report its findings to the Legislature.

Could biotech save the state?

Saturday, November 28th, 2009

By Greg KwasnikJen Judson and Antoinette Pizzi

BOSTON – In 2008, the Massachusetts Legislature approved the Life Sciences Act, a 10-year, $1 billion initiative that promised to bring biotechnology companies and jobs to the state, building on an industry already at the nucleus of the state’s high-tech economy.

Facing competition from California, Pennsylvania and other states, the Legislature designed the act to make Massachusetts more attractive to companies and investors through tax incentives, loans and grants.

Supporters say the legislation was necessary to prevent biotechnology firms, some of Massachusetts’ most successful economic performers, from being lured away by states with more generous incentives.

“This is a proactive effort,” said Susan Windham-Bannister, president of the Massachusetts Life Science Center, the quasi-public agency that awards funding through the Life Science Act.

Efforts to grow and keep biotech firms has transcended political differences. In 2004, then-Gov. Mitt Romney tried to attract out-of-state biotech companies to Massachusetts. The state, which had already boasted 30,000 jobs in the biopharmaceutical industry, hoped to create 100,000 biotechnology jobs by 2010, according to an industry report.

In a 2007 Boston Globe editorial, Gov. Deval Patrick and Senate President Therese Murray said a Life Sciences Act would be essential to the Massachusetts economy.

“Every new job created in the life sciences results in two additional jobs in support services for suppliers, vendors and construction,” the two wrote. “What’s good for the life sciences and biotech is good for Massachusetts.”

The state is moving ahead despite the economy. Over the next three years, the University of Massachusetts Medical School in Worcester is scheduled to receive $90 million in capital funding for the construction of the Albert Sherman Center, a medical research facility.

Bristol-Meyers Squibb will open a $1 billion manufacturing plant in Devens in 2011, lured by $67 million in state incentives and $385 million in private investment dollars.

The new facility will create an estimated 600 jobs, according to Tim Sappington, executive director of the Leominster-based North Central Workforce Investment Board.

As of mid-November, the building appeared to be near completion, with a large stone company sign marking the roadside entrance.

“There was a tremendous amount of work done on the part of a lot of different state initiatives or state government agencies that provided support to get Bristol-Myers to locate here,” said Sappington.

But the economy has slowed some of the state’s ambitions. In 2009, the Life Sciences Center was supposed to receive $50 million to administer the initiatives of the Life Sciences Act. Instead it received $15 million from the Legislature, Bannister said. In 2010, the center will receive $10 million as a result of the recession.

Angus McQuilken, vice president for communications at the center, said it will still receive the $1 billion in funding over the course of 10 years but some years the center will receive more than other years based on what projects are in the works.

McQuilken said the center wants to fund “shovel-ready” programs, which are in the position to receive funding and put it to use right away. He estimated that through the funding allocated by the Legislature, 5,500 jobs could be created, many of them in the economy-sustaining building trades.

Other Life Sciences Act grants are expected to create jobs. They include:

$12.9 million in grants for a wastewater system facility to serve Framingham’s Technology Park, which will create 300 new manufacturing jobs at a new Genzyme plant.

$25 million in state grants and private matching funds to renovate the Loeb Lab at the Marine Biological Laboratory in Woods Hole, creating 200 construction jobs and up to 50 permanent jobs.

$9.5 million grant to Tufts University’s Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine to construct the New England Regional Biosafety Laboratory in Grafton. The project is expected to create 56 full-time construction and 29 long-term jobs.

Despite the state’s investment, biotech companies are still seeing lowered expectations because of the recession.

“Our business has been somewhat flat over the past year to 15 months,” said John FitzPatrick, a sales representative for Groton Biosystems, a biotech company in Boxborough. “Particularly with the way the economy has been, companies are more reluctant to spend.”

Steve Poftak, research director at the Pioneer Institute, argued that the state does not have the expertise to identify which technologies to support.

“We really think the state should not be in the business of picking winners and losers in terms of industries,” said Poftak who worked in the Romney administration. “When I used to work for the state we would rely on outsiders’ financial forecasts and we would always say, ‘If I had the ability to financial forecast the stock market, I would be in a different job.”‘

But at New England Peptide in Gardner, Solimar Santiago is glad for the state’s investment in biotech. A Worcester Polytechnic Institute graduate who majored in chemical engineering, Santiago said he was able to get a job with New England Peptide after a three-month search.

Though Santiago said business has slowed recently, the 30-employee company is looking to hire three new workers. Peptides, which are composed of chains of amino acids, are used in a number of medical research applications.

“People are hiring,” said Solimar. “The fact that they’re hiring means it’s a good field to get into.”

(link to original article)

State working out bugs in renewable energy leadership

Friday, November 27th, 2009

By Greg KwasnikJen Judson and Antoinette Pizzi

BOSTON — In the darkening recession, Gov. Deval Patrick and the Legislature have dialed back funding for education, social services and local aid. But energy efficiency and renewable energy development – promised as a salvation for economic growth – have been spared.

“We are in very difficult times, as you know, but we cannot afford to slow down or think small, especially in the clean energy field,” Patrick told a conference of 400 energy entrepreneurs and investors in Boston earlier this month.

Over the last decade, Massachusetts has instituted dozens of tax incentives, loans and grant programs to encourage development of renewable energy. But in this withering financial climate, with Massachusetts facing a potential $600 million budget deficit, is the state’s investment still on track to reap a bright, green economy?

The Patrick administration has set a goal of making Massachusetts No. 1 in the nation in producing and consuming renewable energy. The Legislature is on board with the plan, yet there have been pitfalls with the ambitious program.

In 2008, the Legislature showed its commitment to renewable energy with a package of bills that promised jobs and a stronger state economy. The legislation carried a total price tag of $118 million in loans and grants over five years. Supporters said the bills would create an estimated 14,000 to 17,000 jobs.

But timing was not kind to the programs. Nick d’Arbeloff, president of the New England Clean Energy Council, said the estimates of jobs and revenues were made shortly before the credit market collapsed, leading to a drop in private investment in renewable energy.

“In 2008 the whole sector started to just explode in terms of investment and in 2009 there was a pullback,” d’Arbeloff said.

Money promised to some of the programs had to be trimmed. D’Arbeloff said that the Green Jobs Act, originally allocated $68 million, ended up receiving around $20 million.

“No secret here, the economy forced the Legislature to scale back on every allocation possible,” he said.

Now, looking to incentives to prod private investors back into action, the state has announced plans to foster three main categories of renewable energy: wind, solar and efficiency.

The promise

- Wind power: The state plans to make wind power a top priority by building wind generators on state property. The goal is to save the state budget nearly $342 million in energy costs annually, according to the state energy office.

Under the plan, small-scale wind turbines on state land would produce enough electricity to power the equivalent of 6,900 homes. Large-scale projects of 7.5 megawatts or greater would produce enough to power 194,615 homes. Whatever self-generated power the state does not use will be sold to the electrical grid.

- Solar power: The state launched its popular Commonwealth Solar Rebate program in January 2008. By last month, the program had awarded an average of nearly $43,000 in cash rebates to 1,018 commercial, residential and public solar construction projects. The $68 million program has since stopped taking applications because the state has already met its goal of creating 27 megawatts of solar energy by 2012.

- Energy efficiency: The state anticipates $6.5 billion in savings for electric and natural gas customers over the next three years through public utility energy efficiency programs. The programs would also create or save 4,000 jobs while increasing the gross state product by $2.4 billion, the energy office reported this month.

If successful, the state’s energy efficiency programs would lead the nation in energy efficiency. In 2009, the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy ranked Massachusetts second, behind California, for energy efficiency.

The reality

But there have been some short circuits in the state’s renewable energy plan.

Evergreen Solar, a photovoltaic company based in Marlborough, had been the state’s poster child for renewable energy. In 2008, the company received a $58.6 million state grant to build a solar panel manufacturing plant in Devens, creating 700 full-time and 300 temporary jobs, three times more than the 350 the company had originally announced.

But after the company posted a loss in 2009 it announced plans to begin manufacturing panels in China. The company has not announced if there will be any layoffs at its Devens plant, but it is unlikely the state will see any new jobs at the facility.

State Energy Secretary Ian Bowles maintains the state made a wise choice by supporting the company and contends the energy program remains a “real success story,” with a 15-fold increase in solar installations after four years.

“That creates a lot of jobs and diversifies our energy away from fossil fuels,” he said.

Neither the energy office nor the Clean Energy Council could give estimates for overall green job creation in the near future, but both expressed confidence that job growth will be seen in 2010.

Since the state started its Solar Rebate program, solar manufacturing jobs in the state have doubled, from 1,086 in 2007 to 2,075 in 2008, according to Lisa Capone, an energy office spokeswoman. The energy office expects the industry to add 960 employees this year.

But the Solar Rebate program, which ran through its $68 million of funding in less than a year, was “a victim of its own success,” said d’Arbeloff. “Ultimately to extend that to a long term of time would be too expensive to the state.”

Instead, the state will institute a solar credit market, guaranteeing solar power producers a set energy rate. D’Arbeloff said the program, which will begin in January, is a more logical, free-market mechanism than the Solar Rebate program.

The state still has a way to go in wind power. There are just three wind installations on state properties, including the Massachusetts Maritime Academy, Logan Airport and UMass-Lowell. The total electricity generated by these facilities amounts to 682 kilowatts, .07 percent of the 989 megawatts the state hopes to generate in the future.

Wind power is far from becoming an everyday reality, despite the state’s tax incentives. It would take 15 years for a small business owner who constructs a wind turbine to realize the $40,000 investment for a 10 kilowatt installation, according to the American Wind Energy Association.

With a rebate, savings could come sooner. The state’s rebate for a 10 kilowatt wind turbine runs about $7,800, according to a calculator on the state’s Commonwealth Wind Incentive Web site.

Even with incentives, questions remain about available funding for renewable energy projects in the current economic climate.

Meg McIsaac, senior commercial lending officer for TD Bank USA, which specializes in renewable energy lending, said investors and lenders are looking to support proven technologies like wind and solar before taking a risk on deepwater wind power, tidal power and other new energy sources.

“We tend to be backwards-looking thinkers, so if we can get our arms around something that has been up and running and there is a track record, we can understand that all day long,” McIsaac said.

Despite these uncertainties the Patrick administration has urged investors to remain forward-thinking. Patrick even uses the recession to argue that more investment is needed to ensure that Massachusetts does not lose clean energy jobs to other states.

“We can invent our own clean energy future and have the whole world as our customer,” Patrick said. “That is where I want Massachusetts to be.”

(link to original article)

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