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Ashe: Massachusetts moving in right direction

Date: 10/29/2012

By Chris Maza

GREATER SPRINGFIELD — As the Commonwealth of Massachusetts and the nation continue to attempt to crawl out of challenging times, State Rep. Brian Ashe believes that the state and his district are in good shape moving forward.

Ashe, who is running for reelection to a third term in the Massachusetts House of Representatives, told Reminder Publications that it was his belief that efforts by the state's legislative bodies have worked in keeping Massachusetts ahead of the curve and that he hoped to continue to help the state and the Second Hampden District move in a positive direction.

Ashe pointed to unemployment rates as an example of a situation where both the state and the district are posting better performances than others.

"The issue of jobs has always has and always will be one of the top concerns, as it should be, whether unemployment is at an all-time high or an all-time low," he said. "Massachusetts has one of the lowest unemployment rates in the country. At the end of August, it was the second lowest in the country.

"The Second Hampden District has one of the lowest unemployment rates in the state. I'm very happy that less than 1,000 people in this district are unemployed. That's remarkable when you think of the amount of people in the district," he added.

Ashe said that efforts in the Legislature to make Massachusetts more business-friendly have resulted in the positive trends in the employment market.

"Massachusetts used to be known as 'Taxachusetts' and, although some people think we still are, we have done some great things to attract new businesses," he said. "We've made some great tax reforms and now we're second or third [in the nation] as far as new businesses coming into the state over the last couple of years. We also signed a new jobs bill in our last session that will attract new businesses and help people get back on their feet."

The Commonwealth's Healthcare Cost Containment Bill, he said, also helps control benefit-related expenses for employers.

"I think everybody agrees that it would be great to have everybody with healthcare, but at what cost? We had a bill that has helped regulate and helped reduce those costs, especially for individuals with small businesses," he stated. "Any job, whether it's municipal or private sector, health care is one of the biggest costs they face."

Ashe identified movement toward a high-speed rail system connecting Springfield to Boston as an opportunity that would be a major boost to the state and the Greater Springfield area.

"I think what makes most sense is to eventually have an east-west high-speed rail. If we could make the Springfield area a living place for people working in Boston, then all of a sudden, Springfield has more value," he added. "You've seen over the past 15 years or so the Boston housing market getting bigger and bigger, spreading out toward Worcester, because people are looking for affordable housing, but they want to commute ... If we can get a high-speed rail out here, people can live here, make a better income in a bigger city and it can help not only Springfield, but the surrounding area."

Ashe went on to say that Springfield is in a prime location to take advantage of a crossing of a north-south and east-west rail system.

"Springfield is in a perfect spot, and it always has been, connecting to New York, to Boston, to Connecticut and to the upper New England states," he said. "That could give us the long-term financial gains that the city needs. It could put the city back on the map and it could help the city flourish again."

While acknowledging that he originally voted against casinos, he said that now that the possibility of one in Western Massachusetts is real, the focus must shift to making sure that whatever happens, it is in the best interest of the community it is in as well as surrounding towns.

"I still have mixed emotions on the casino. I don't think we should make a decision because of economic times. I think we should make a decision because it's the right thing to do for our state and our city. I voted no because I didn't think it was the best thing, but if it's coming, I want to make sure we get the best possible deal," he said, adding that a casino in Springfield or Palmer could have major impacts to the district, specifically in terms of traffic through Longmeadow, East Longmeadow and Monson.

Ashe pointed to the state's recent legislation protecting homeowners against foreclosure as a major coup for Massachusetts and residents of the district who may be struggling to keep their homes through poor economic times.

"What this legislation does is makes it so people have a way out and that mortgage companies will do everything in their power to make sure a person can stay in their home," he said.

Ashe touted his ability to put leaders of local municipalities in contact with state officials in order to streamline the reimbursement process and gain funding for recovery efforts in the wake of the multiple weather occurrences in 2011, including the June 11 tornado and the Oct. 29 snowstorm.

"I think [after the tornado] there were four or five different funding sources through the state," he said. "We kept revisiting the issue. When they needed $10 million more, we got them $10 million more. From trees to homes to roadway to anything else you could imagine, we tried to get as much as we could to help make things as whole again as possible."

Ashe added that the morning after the October 2011 snowstorm, he contacted all of the towns in the district and acted as an "open channel" to the House, while attempting to keep residents informed on the situation through social media.

Ashe said he was impressed with residents' resiliency and ability to work together. However, he said, work can always be done.

"Communication is probably always the thing you need to work on," Ashe said. "I think one of the only complaints they heard was that they wanted better communication from their power companies. People want to know if they're going to be without power for two weeks so they can plan. The better the communication, the better at ease people are and the more at ease people are, the more smoothly everything works."

With the recent EBT reform signed by Gov. Deval Patrick, the Commonwealth made strides in the right direction, but the system needs further attention, Ashe said.

"EBT, welfare, all of these things are there to help get people back on their feet again, to support them to help themselves. Most people who get these benefits, I'm sure that's what they are doing, but like anything else, it's those few that ruin it for the many," he said. "The reform that we did will help and it will certainly curb unscrupulous use, but there's definitely more work that needs to be done. I think this is a stopgap and goes in the right direction, but it needs more work than just the EBT card. I think the whole system needs to be looked at."