STATE REP RACE Q&A: Judy O’Connell Discusses Taxes, Being Responsive To Constituents

WILMINGTON, MA — Wilmington Apple is asking weekly questions to the seven candidates running in contested primaries for the Wilmington/Tewksbury State Representative seat (19th Middlesex).

Below, in her own words, are the responses to this week’s questions from candidate Judy O’Connell (D-Wilmington).

#11a) Do you feel Massachusetts residents are over-taxed?

Yes.

#11b) How will you balance the need to provide government services to the taxpayers & fund the government with most taxpayers’ desire for no tax increases?

There is no easy or short answer to this question as the Massachusetts state budget approaches a total of $41 billion dollars a year. In January 2018, the Baker-Polito administration submitted a FY19 budget proposal that attempted to keep state spending in line with revenue growth, to minimize reliance on non-recurring revenues, and to avoid tax or fee increases to balance the budget, while investing in key areas such as local aid, education, workforce development, substance misuse, mental health, housing, and transportation. Massachusetts has started the next fiscal year without a permanent budget in place after lawmakers were unable to reach an agreement in time. The 2019 fiscal year began July 1 and the Legislature passed an interim budget which will fund the state through the end of July. With the passing of this interim budget, there will be no disruption of any services in Massachusetts. As State Representative and member of the House of Representatives, I would be an active participant in this process and I would be advocating for the 19th Middlesex District with the taxpayers in mind while ensuring Wilmington and Tewksbury receive their fair share and any possible increases if possible in Chapter 70 funding and Unrestricted General Government Aid. These funds are critical to both communities in helping assist local government with providing the suite of services that people and families have come to expect and deserve. I would advocate for any available state grant money for any projects or initiatives that pertain to either community within the District on an annual basis.

As a prior elected official on the School Committee and Board of Selectmen for the Town of Wilmington, I have always been fiscally conservative and have attempted to strike a balance in meeting collective bargaining agreements, supporting capital improvement projects, continuing the highest level of municipal services possible, supporting smart economic development within the community, maintaining a strong free cash position as recommended by the town’s financial advisors and supporting the Board of Selectmen annual vote of the maximum tax shift classification to help lessen the tax burden on the resident population. I intend to take this same balanced approach to Beacon Hill while recognizing we need to look at strategic ways to fund current and future services not always on the backs of taxpayers.

#11c) Can you point to anywhere in the state budget where you believe there is waste, fraud or abuse? What will you do about it?

As State Representative, I would become a scholar of the state budget and would always keep a watchful eye in looking for areas of improvement regarding waste, fraud and abuse. There are documented cases of abuse such as overtime costs, employee benefit cases, etc. for example and one could analyze areas of wasteful spending in every budget which I intend to do on a regular basis. Regarding fraud, I will be reviewing consistently the work done annually by the Office of the Inspector General for the Commonwealth of Massachusetts which is an independent agency charged with preventing and detecting fraud, waste and abuse in the use of public funds and public property. This Office investigates allegations in these areas at all levels of government; reviews programs and practices in state and local agencies to identify system-wide vulnerabilities and opportunities for improvement; and assists the public and private sectors to help prevent fraud, waste and abuse in government spending. There have been various reports released from the State Auditor’s office. For example, in April 2018, State Auditor Suzanne Bump released the annual report for her office’s Bureau of Special Investigations (BSI), which identified a record $16.9 million in public assistance benefit fraud in FY 2017, a 9% increase over the previous year. This marks the seventh straight year of increased findings according to the report which is not an indication of more fraud in these programs, but rather a reflection of the growing effectiveness of the agency and the expanded use of data analytics to identify fraudulent activities. According to this report, Bump’s office identified over $16 million in fraud, spread over 1,150 completed investigations. The majority of the fraud which was approximately $10.3 million or 61 percent was identified in the Mass Health program. There are other reported areas of fraud and as State Representative, I would do my part in helping to ensure these public benefit programs continue to be designed to provide the needed assistance to the most vulnerable and disadvantaged residents who truly need the help as many of the beneficiaries of these programs are children, disabled adults, veterans and seniors.

#12) Former State Representative Jim Miceli was known through the district for his extraordinary constituent services. Do you pledge to provide a similar level of constituent services if elected? How will you be responsive to requests for help from residents of Wilmington and Tewksbury?

Yes, if elected, I do pledge to provide the same extraordinary level of constituent services that State Representative Miceli provided that the people of the Wilmington and Tewksbury are accustomed to while looking for ways to enhance and improve these services provided in any manner possible. State Representative Miceli should be applauded for his hard work, commitment and dedication to constituent services on behalf of the 19th Middlesex District for decades and I would be honored to carry on his legacy in this regard if elected as the next State Representative.

As State Representative, there are many ways to be responsive to the communities within the 19th Middlesex District. First, I will hold regular offices hours in both Wilmington and Tewksbury to be available to the public. I would make sure my contact information is widely publicized and my commitment is to be accessible and responsive to anyone within the District at all times. Some constituent service matters are highly sensitive and confidential and must be treated with the proper care and compassion they need and deserve. Sometimes in addition to taking care of the business at hand, people need a leader who listens and one who is trustworthy and provides a level of human service that goes beyond just being an elected official. I am committed to providing this kind of constituent service as I believe it is the right thing to do in taking care of the people and families that make up the fabric of our district that I have been entrusted to serve. Additionally, I intend to be very visible in both Wilmington and Tewksbury by attending as many events, community activities and town meetings as possible. I will be an active listener, a strong voice for the people and I will be willing to assist the residents of the 19th Middlesex District relative to any matter or need that they have. Constituent services can span across many areas and I would use the full weight of the office to be a supporter and advocate for the entire District including residents, local businesses and municipal town government. Providing the highest quality of constituent services as the next State Representative is of critical importance to me and I will work tirelessly on behalf of the 19th Middlesex District every day I am in office.

(NOTE: Do you have a question for the candidates? Email wilmingtonapple@gmail.com and it may be asked in a future Q&A or in a debate.)

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