Grossman, Berwick define differences
SPRINGFIELD – With about two weeks left before the Sept. 9 primary, two of the three Democratic gubernatorial candidates were busy campaigning in Western Massachusetts last week.
Stephen Grossman and Don Berwick joined Martha Coakley for a forum hosted by TV22 on Aug. 27. Both Grossman and Berwick made other appearances while here.
Grossman appeared at a well-attended rally at the John Boyle O’Reilly Club sponsored by Springfield City Council president Michael Fenton before the forum.
When asked about how he would aid economic development in Western Massachusetts, Grossman said, “There are a lot of jobs out here in manufacturing, precision manufacturing. One of biggest problems is we’ve got to close that skills gap. We got to use our voc-tech schools, out community colleges and all of our resources more effectively than we’re using them now.”
Grossman believes that by investing in universal pre-kindergarten, “beef up” workforce training programs and connect Western Massachusetts to the Boston area with commuter rail service.
He said that “we are stopping the silos” by bringing the private and public sector together to address economic development.
“I think some of the great days for Western Massachusetts are in front of us if we make some investment,” Grossman added.
Grossman said he was “optimistic” that voters will not repeal casino legislation.
“If it doesn’t happen it will be a blow. We’ll have to pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off and move on with the innovation economy being the centerpiece of what this region is all about,” he said.
Casinos, Grossman noted, can be a “powerful economic engine.” He said Massachusetts residents spend $850 million in casinos outside of the state.
When asked what are people telling him as their priorities during campaigning, Grossman said, “What they like is when they find out I spent 35 years creating jobs.” He added voters approve of his efforts as state treasurer to bring back state funds from foreign banks and deposited in local banks to be used as business loans.
Berwick made several appearances and sat down with Reminder Publications for discussion about his candidacy. When asked if he had heard anything new at the forum the night before, Berwick said, “No. It was pretty much the same old stories.”
Berwick is seen as the outsider in the three-candidate race to face the Republican candidate.
He is the former administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. Prior to his work in the administration, he was president and CEO of the Institute for Healthcare Improvement a not-for-profit organization.
Berwick’s candidacy doesn’t just focus on one subject, but its cornerstone is his plan is to seek a single payer healthcare system for residents of Massachusetts.
Berwick his message is attracting favorable reactions from voters. The cost of healthcare, he noted, in the current state budget accounts for 42 percent of the fund.
“Even a small gains in healthcare costs would produce very large additional benefits for other uses for funds.”
For instance, just a savings of five percent of the $15 billion in current healthcare costs could be used for social safety net programs or improving the Commonwealth’s transportation system, Berwick noted.
He said that every thing he is saying about the public healthcare costs would also save money on the private sector’s healthcare costs.
Berwick believes a single payer system would be the “biggest job producing policy” in the state.
“The public has been very receptive to this, “ he said.
Berwick added that residents are often confused by the current healthcare plans and understand the costs are rising.
Reducing costs while improving care is possible, Berwick added. About 30 percent of the $15 billion is not related to actual care. “The biggest part of it is paperwork and its complexity,” Berwick explained.
He believes if any of his opponents are elected voters will “never see it [single payer] happen.” He does believe the will of the public when combined with the support of key legislators would be effective in overcoming insurance company opposition.
He also believes the logic of adapting a single payer system will also appeal to people. The money saved by single payer can be used to fund other programs without additional taxation.
Unlike Grossman, Berwick is firmly against casino development and supports the repeal.
“The facts don’t support the myth [of casinos providing economic development],” he said.
In 39 states, Berwick contended casinos has established a pattern of “destroying communities, they harm them, they destroy jobs.”
He also noted how casinos are now fighting for market share. “It’s not a healthy industry right now,” Berwick said.
Berwick was raised in rural Connecticut and he said he understands the concerns of Western Massachusetts. He said he realizes how more mass transportation is needed in the region and supports the rail improvements in the Knowledge Corridor.
“So many people in this state feel left out,” Berwick said.
He said the strengths of each community need to be identified and built upon. He supports universal pre-kindergarten as well as additional funding for vocational education.
“We have an economy we are going to have to invest in,” he said.