Boston – Going on the attack against her Republican opponent, Senate President Therese Murray accused Tom Keyes Tuesday of voting to enter “secret” executive sessions 100 times and approving property tax increases every year during his three terms as a Sandwich selectman.
Murray slipped her jab in at Keyes at the tail end of a one-hour debate on the Cape and Islands radio station WCAI.
Keyes has slammed Murray during their campaign, blaming her for failing to stem rising health care costs, her role in this year’s collapsed expanded gambling talks, and for helping pass a series of tax hikes. During the debate, he said the Legislature’s exemption from the open meeting law and Freedom of Information Act was a problem.
After the debate, Keyes told the News Service he’d voted to increase property taxes within the confines of Proposition 2 ½ as select boards across the state do when setting annual tax rates. Keyes added that he helped pass a Proposition 2 ½ “underride” in 2005 that returned a half million dollars to local property tax payers.
Keyes also defended the closed sessions he’d voted to participate in, saying local executive boards are permitted to discuss specific matters, including personnel issues and property disposition, in closed sessions. “Every town does it,” he said. “I can understand her not understanding it because she’s not subject to the open meeting law.”
With voters in her district showing Republican leanings, Murray has spent heavily this campaign season to fend off the challenge from Keyes, promoting the state’s climb out of the recession and the many laws she has helped pass as head of the Senate. Keyes claimed after the debate that “everything’s trending in our direction,” saying the Plymouth-based Senate district was “considered the most conservative district in the entire state.”
Keyes and Murray (D-Plymouth) differed over Cape Wind, the major offshore wind farm marked for Nantucket Sound, and legislation Murray is pushing to streamline the permitting process for land-based wind energy projects.
Keyes said Cape Wind would offer electricity at an “outrageously high price” and suggested state laws were forcing the purchases of renewable energy, regardless of price. “The Legislature can get involved if they choose but they haven’t,” he said. Pressed after the debate to describe his own Cape Wind-related legislative proposals, Keyes didn’t mention any specific bills but said he’d work to ensure utility rate increases tied to the project are curbed.
Murray called Cape Wind’s projected energy costs “alarming” and said the project was not a legislative issue. “We don’t have a legislative remedy for Cape Wind right now,” she said. “The legislature is removed from that process now. It’s been many years in the making. It’s out of our hands.”
After the debate, Keyes said of Murray, “She never has taken a position on Cape Wind.” Murray campaign aide David Falcone after the debate declined to say whether Murray had taken a position on the project, emphasizing that she has said the project is not in her district and she prefers not to get in the way of issues in other Senate districts. Keyes maintained the project does affect coastal communities in the district, like Falmouth and Bourne.
Keyes and Murray also sparred over land-based wind energy siting reform bill that Murray has tried to steer to Gov. Deval Patrick’s desk after it won affirmative votes in both branches but failed to secure a final enactment vote.
Murray said the bill retains local control while encouraging the development of land-based wind energy facilities and suggested opposition to the bill was “bankrolled” by individuals who live outside Massachusetts and have second homes in western Massachusetts. “Many cities and towns are waiting for the bill,” Murray said, adding, in response to Keyes, that she does not support placing commercial windmills in residential areas.
Keyes said the procedural streamlining offered in the bill veered away from local control, would force project opponents into “outrageously expensive” court appeals, and favored wind energy developers. He objected to efforts to give the bill final passage in lightly attended informal sessions, saying the legislation warranted debate; Murray said the bill had been debated extensively by the House and Senate, following public hearings.
On the topic of illegal immigration, Murray said, “I do not support funds or services for illegal immigrants.” She said the Senate had passed “the strongest crackdown” on illegal immigration, a proposal that was significantly scaled back during conference committee talks with the House. Murray said the federal government requires the provision of food, education, and medical services to children born in the United States to parents here illegally and emphasized, “There should be a path for citizenship for those who come here legally.”
Without citing a source for his numbers, Keyes told debate listeners that 220,000 illegal immigrants in Massachusetts are receiving services worth $660 million and that illegal immigrants represent 4 percent of people working in Massachusetts. He said they are taking jobs away from legal residents and driving down wages.
Chapter 70 education aid also stirred debate between the two. Murray said changes she helped pass in 2003 helped towns in her district by addressing funding formula inequities and placing more emphasis on income and less on property values. Keyes said the changes “didn’t make a difference” to towns in the district. “If you’ve got that clout, open up that formula,” he said. “People down here don’t make money like they do off-Cape.”
On health care costs, Murray took credit for a pair of cost containment laws, including one that she said would cut small business insurance rates by up to 12 percent, and predicted payment reform legislation was next on Beacon Hill. “I don’t sit around, I act,” Murray said. Keyes said Murray had failed, first as Senate budget chief and then as chief of the Senate, to attack the problem. “Our health costs have gone through the roof,” he said.
On expanded gambling, Murray professed to be “not crazy” about it but said the Senate passed a “good bill” this year authorizing three casinos and predicted the issue would surface again next year, with formal sessions due to resume in January. Keyes said the public wants expanded gambling and said the inability of the Legislature and Gov. Patrick to agree on a bill this summer represented “another failure of my opponent.”
Keyes and Murray agreed that rail beds on the Cape are in “deplorable” condition and that the notion of rail service from the Cape to Boston was a long-term proposition, at best. Noting the Cape’s high concentration of retirees, Keyes said ridership and feasibility questions loomed over Cape rail service, in addition to the MBTA’s finances. “The MBTA is beyond bankrupt,” said Keyes, calling rail service “absolutely not” the right project for the Cape.
Murray also raised questions about ridership support for rail service. She said rail lines out of Wareham and Bourne were in “fairly good shape” and suggested that with some investment, service from Bourne – “a natural hookup to the Middleborough line” – was possible. “It’s far in the future,” Murray said.
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