Q. What practical steps do you think as a State Senator, if you are elected, you can take to make Massachusetts more competitive economically?
A. The most important single step that state government can take to get Mass moving again is implement across-the-board tax cuts. This would be a priority of mine in the State Senate.
Both the state sales and income tax rates should be lowered. This is the clearest message we could send to residents, business-owners, and potential business-owners alike that we're serious about reviving the economy. There are countless examples - here in Mass. and in all the other states - of tax cuts jump-starting the economy. Additional steps are cuts to the state budget and a deliberate effort to make requirements for businesses more rational and dependable.
Q. Now that Masshealth is a reality, how has it developed in ways that were not anticipated?
A. Massachusetts health care reform has been up and running for over four years now. There have been two big developments that were not anticipated when it was first passed:
1. Good news: the percentage of uninsured residents dropped precipitously very early on. State statistics showed that only 3 percent of the population was uninsured just a few years into the implementation phase of our reform effort. This is remarkable, especially given that the economy deteriorated during this same time period.
2. Bad news: health insurance costs continue to skyrocket. One of the central assumptions behind an "individual mandate" - a requirement that residents (who can afford it) obtain coverage - was that bringing everyone into the risk pool would lower costs. This clearly hasn't worked. Public costs (the costs for the state's subsidized insurance program) continue to exceed estimates, and as any small business owner or "non-group" (individual) purchaser in the state can tell you, premiums in the private market are growing at a totally unsustainable clip.
Q: Where would you cut the budget to reduce the state budget deficit? Would you raise any taxes?
A. There are many, many opportunities to achieve efficiencies in the state budget. Here are three:
1. Transition all MassHealth customers to a managed-care platform. MassHealth, the state's Medicaid program, is a massive collection of health care programs. Some customers currently receive tight care management. A significant percentage; however, receive care through a fee-for-service platform. This is inefficient and hugely expensive. Transitioning all customers to a managed-care platform would save, conservatively, $250 million per year. It would also lead to better health care for more customers.
2. Impose an across-the-board, no-exceptions wage and hiring freeze. The state should do what virtually every struggling private-sector organization has had to do: stop expanding the payroll and stop giving out pay raises just "because." The first thing you do when you want to get out of a hole is stop digging!
3. Repeal the anti-privatization Pacheco Law. This law prevents the state from contracting out services that could be delivered much more efficiently and effectively by private-sector organizations. Services such as call centers and IT - ever-growing components of state government - are screaming for this commonsense reform.
Q: What type of deregulation do you think would help businesses expand in Massachusetts? Do you think this is the best way to help cut the unemployment rate?
A. I have talked to hundreds of business owners across the district over the course of this campaign - big, small, high-tech, low-tech, multinational, and mom-and-pop. Virtually all of them tell me the same thing: yes taxes are high; yes regulations are burdensome; yes the cost of living is unsustainable, but their biggest beef with the state is that the rules of the game are constantly changing. Some reports were due annually but are now due quarterly. Some reports were previously only acceptable in hard-copy but are now acceptable only online. Penalties change (they almost always go up!) periodically. Every time a business owner thinks he/she has his/her mind wrapped around the confusing, over-lapping, ever-evolving set of requirements, they change again. It's unbelievably frustrating.
Let's impose a moratorium on changes to requirements for businesses - let's make it several years in duration. During that period, let's straighten out how to make the process easier. After the moratorium, let's set specific, periodic dates on which things may be updated - akin to an open enrollment period for group health insurance. Business owners can worry about growing their business, creating jobs, and improving the economy if they have a reliable, dependable, conscious partner in their state government. These actions, in tandem with the across-the-board tax cuts I describe in my first answer, will reduce the unemployment rate.
For more information about the Dahlberg campaign, go to www.dahlbergforsenate.com. He is running for the Third Middlesex district state senate position.