State Rep. Candidates Tackle Questions on Bullying, Pensions, Taxes
State Rep. candidates George Georgountzos and Jason Lewis answer questions previously submitted by Patch readers.
Lewis, a Democrat from Winchester, is facing Stoneham resident and Republican challenger Georgountzos for the State Rep. position, which represents the communities of Stoneham and Winchester.
Here are the candidates's responses to readers' questions:
1) How should we strengthen our state’s anti-bullying laws?
Georgountzos: "Last year, in response to the tragic suicide of a young woman from western Massachusetts resulting from bullying, Massachusetts passed anti-bullying legislation. Today, schools throughout the Commonwealth have adopted anti-bullying policies and procedures to deal with bullying. Unfortunately, despite a good law, there is a period of adjustment and a learning curve. Private institutions and other venues where young people congregate (like camps) are immune from the law. It would be great if those private institutions adopt procedures as well; I am sure many have. The bullying law should create a cost to the bully. Whether a fine, mandated anti-bullying counseling to be paid by the bully or his or her parent(s), or other truancy avenues could work. I would rely on education specialists, parents, and school psychologists to formulate opinions and guidelines that would enhance and strengthen the law that is in place now."
Lewis: "I’m proud that I helped support the passage in the Massachusetts legislature of one of the strongest anti-bullying laws in the country. I believe this law has been effective in getting school districts to take bullying, including cyberbullying, very seriously and to implement programs and procedures to help prevent it from happening. I think we need to see if there are gaps in the new law or problems with enforcement that require further action. I’m aware that there is a concern about private schools not being subject to the same anti-bullying requirements as public schools, and I’m happy to work with the person who posed this question to see what could be done going forward. Bullying should never be tolerated in any schools."
2) Would I sign a pledge to not raise any taxes?
Lewis: "I believe that the Grover Norquist anti-tax pledge that many Republicans have signed is irresponsible and is contributing to the very serious fiscal problems facing the federal government and some state governments. Massachusetts is required by law to run a balanced budget every year and while nobody wants to raise taxes we need to keep all options on the table to have the flexibility to address future budget challenges that may arise. Sound fiscal management has helped Massachusetts lead the country with an unemployment rate that is well below the national average (approximately 6 percent versus 8 percent). We have had on-time, balanced state budgets every year that I have served in the legislature and the state’s bond rating is now at its highest level in the state’s history (which lowers our borrowing costs). We are also one of only four states with a stabilization fund balance greater than $1 billion. The federal government should take a page out of the Massachusetts playbook and pursue a comprehensive, balanced approach to reducing the federal deficit."
Georgountzos: "I have already signed a pledge not to raise taxes. I have been endorsed by Barbara Anderson's Citizens for Limited Taxation...a fiscal watchdog group. I state clearly and unequivocally: I will not support any new tax increases if elected during the 2013-2014 term. I intend to join colleagues who want to repeal the (Gov. Deval) Patrick's 25 percent income tax to encourage economic growth and to give border businesses a fighting chance to compete with New Hampshire based competitors."
3) Should public officials receive pensions?
Lewis: Since I have been in office the legislature has passed two major pension reform bills. These bills have closed some egregious loopholes that previously existed and have extended the retirement age for future retirees to ensure the solvency of the pension system and to save $5 billion for taxpayers over the next 30 years. What many people don’t understand is that public employees in Massachusetts (in both state and local government) do not qualify for social security and so their pension is in place of social security. The state only has to contribute about 2 percent of payroll into the pension fund each year, which is considerably lower than what would be required if we participated in the social security system. Public employees in Massachusetts now contribute 12 percent of their salary each year toward their pension, almost double what employees in the private sector (and some other states) contribute toward social security. Most people, including elected officials, who started working in the public sector in recent years will get back in pension benefits after they retire no more than what they paid into the system during their working years plus the return earned on the money invested. Those people like myself who previously worked in the private sector and paid into social security will actually have their social security benefits reduced or offset by their pension benefit. In some cases this may result in a net loss in retirement benefits. The average pension for all state and municipal retirees, including teachers, is about $2,200 per month, hardly excessive.
Georgountzos: "Elected officials should not rely on their positions as permanent careers or jobs. Public service is an honor, an opportunity to serve the public and our communities and Commonwealth; it is not a career. If elected, that's the attitude I will bring to the position and do not expect or want to receive a pension. Moreover, I think pension reform is needed so that people do not work the system to augment already generous pensions. And yes, I would support legislation to eliminate pensions for certain elected officials and political appointments, including governors, (lieutenant) governors, members of the Mass. Senate and House (and) secretaries of departments. This should not extend to elected clerks of court, town clerks, registers of deeds, or other elected officials that perform non-political functions."
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