The Winchester League of Women Voters hosted a State Rep. debate between incumbent Jason Lewis and challenger George Georgountzos Monday night at Stoneham Town Hall.
The State Rep. candidates fielded nearly a dozen questions that were submitted prior to the "Day at the Races" Candidate Forum held Oct. 22 in the Town Hall Auditorium. About 80 people were in attendance to hear the candidates speak on a variety of topics, ranging from Chapter 70 funding to the MBTA budget.
Each candidate gave brief opening remarks, followed by the question-and-answer portion of the forum before offering closing statements. Candidates were also given time for rebuttals following each question, if needed.
When asked what their three top priorities were if elected as the State Rep. for Stoneham and Winchester, here is what they candidates tabbed as their top areas of concern:
1. Economic development
2. Improving Chapter 70 funding
3. Making sure towns well served by good communication between Beacon Hill and the communities he'd represent
1. Local economic development
3. Affordable healthcare
Ensuring Educational Funding
Lewis discussed how he has worked to increase Chapter 70 educational funding for both Winchester and Stoneham, as the state is now at a "record level of $4 billion," according to the State Rep. He also noted how he is working to change the outdated Chapter 70 formula to improve funding to both communities, as well as all communities in the state.
Georgountzos called the issue of educational funding the "most vital" of the issues facing both communities. "Towns that have strong schools have high property values...and towns with good schools attract businesses to come into them," he said. He called the current Chapter 70 formula "bad for Stoneham and bad for Winchester" and said it needs to be fixed to provide "adequate, fair funding" to both towns.
When the question was asked how they would fix the Chapter 70 funding mechanism, Lewis reiterated how he is the lead sponsor for submitting legislation seeking to revamp the way Chapter 70 funding is calculated. Georgountzos countered, saying a 2-3 year study costing roughly $200,000 to $300,000 won't help solve the problem, and that all communities need to be funded at the 17.5 percent rate.
Stimulating the Economy
For Georgountzos, he'd like to see the return of the tax rate to five percent, as "it would stimulate businesses...and the revenue that would come in from that kind of growth would more than offset the loss of taxes from the 6.25 percent..." He also would like to see the "Big Brother" mentality of government in Massachusetts changed to one that supports businesses in the state.
Meanwhile, Lewis said the legislature under Gov. Deval Patrick is working with mayors and communities to improve the economy through three initiatives: investing in education, infrastructure and innovation because those are the areas that "make an economy great."
Citizens United Decision: Good or Bad?
Georgountzos said he agrees with the Supreme Court's ruling in favor of Citizens United, stating that while corporations may not be people, "corporations are made up of people." He said the laws related to Citizens United are fair and strict. However, Lewis strongly disagreed with Georgountzos, calling the Supreme Court's ruling "one of the worst decisions in the last 100 years." Lewis said there is too much money in campaigns now, adding that there has been a significant rise in Super PACs. He said that the amount of money flowing into political campaigns is "a very serious threat to people. Corporations aren’t people."
While both candidates said they support full enforcement of illegal immigration laws, they also had differing perspectives related to the issue.
Georgountzos said: "People are being rewarded for breaking the rules. And what does that do? It's costing all of us in lost jobs...costs in health care for people going to our emergency rooms" as well as in automotive insurance rates because illegal immigrants involved in accidents are driving without insurance coverage.
Lewis scoffed at the notion of "self deportation" raised by Georgountzos, saying he'd like to see how that would be enforced. Lewis said that it's "a fallacy" that social service programs are made easily accessible to illegal immigrants, adding that there are "strict eligibility guidelines" in place in Massachusetts. During Georgountzos' rebuttal, he claimed that there aren't strict enough guidelines in place and that services are provided to illegal immigrants who don't show proof of residency. He said that's a problem that should be able to be fixed immediately.
Georgountzos said he is a strong supporter of charter schools, citing the successes of the Mystic Valley Regional Charter School. However, Lewis isn't quite sold on charter schools, saying that not many students go to charter schools despite some "producing tremendous results." While he supports charter schools in so far as they help close achievement gaps, Lewis said it would be a challenge funding charter schools.
While both candidates had differing opinions on some of the topics debated Monday night, they did find themselves agreeing on a few subjects, including raising awareness about single-stream recycling programs in both communities and improving educational funding to ensure the towns receive their fair share from the state.
Both candidates understand the MBTA's economic woes, stemming largely from the debts incurred by the Big Dig project that is looming over the transportation service provider. They both discussed the mismanagment of the Big Dig and other projects that have put the MBTA in its current situation.
On another subject, if Roe versus Wade was overturned, neither candidate said they would support additional restrictions on abortions. Neither Lewis or Georgountzos foresee Roe versus Wade being overturned anytime soon, and they also agreed that more of an emphasis should be placed on what the legislature can do to reduce unintended pregnancies mentioned by Lewis.
Check out images from the debate in our photo gallery.