State Sen. Katy O’Connor Ives spelled out a track record of successful initiatives, explained the reasoning behind some of her most controversial votes, and explained why she will vote “yes” on all four ballot questions in next month’s election, during an Amesbury political forum for the 1st Essex State Senate seat. Her opponent is Shaun Toohey, president of the School Committee in Haverhill.
“I’m focused on supporting small businesses in the Merrimack Valley, fixing our school funding formula, and will continue to fight for local aide for our cities and towns,” O’Connor Ives said during her opening remarks. “I’ve also delivered critical resources for this district, including $300,000 for beach replenishment at Salisbury Beach, $175,000 for early college programs for Methuen, Haverhill, and Amesbury schools, and critical inclusion [on several bond bills].”
After the opening statements, the debate followed a questions and answer format, with each candidate given two minutes to respond, and a 30 second rebuttal.
Things turned testy early in debate when candidate Toohey accused O’Connor Ives of voting against a tourism bill that would have provided $25 million in grant funds to the immediate area.
She responded by querying Toohey on which bill he was referring too, then illustrated her work reconstituting a brand new tourism fund. “We put our thinking hats on and actually, in one session, totally changed the tourism funding formula to increase the revenue generating opportunities.”
O’Connor Ives tapped her experience as municipal counselor when asked what specific issues she would focus on for the Amesbury/Newburyport/Salisbury area.
She told the crowd she has formed a special education working group to tackle education funding reform, is focused on seeing to completion local construction projects including the Lower Millyard, sound barriers on the Whittier Bridge, and that the intermodal path along the bridge is completed. She also mentioned affordability issues, pointing out that rising energy costs effects everyone from students saddled with debt to retirees on fixed incomes.
“We want to make sure that we can keep our retirees and our talent here in the Merrimack Valley,” she said. “Having completed two state budgets, it’s really about ushering those priorities along.”
As an example of putting money toward tangible resources, she points out that she was able to advocate for a $1,000,000 increase for Councils on Aging budgets. “Those senior center directors know how to stretch a dollar,” she said.
The discussion predictably turned to Chapter 70 (school funding) where O’Connor Ives talked about some of the challenges in reforming the dated policy.
“First and foremost, it’s an outdated formula,” she said. “[It] was created in response to 1993 education reform. We need a funding formula that parents and teachers can respond too.”
The legislature recently passed a revision to the last budget that calls on the commission that establishes the formula to reconvene. “Their goal is to make sure that we have a budget that is responsive to our school districts,” she said. “We’re falling short every budget cycle and we can’t cut any more.”
Turning to the ballot questions, O’Connor Ives emphatically and concisely explained why she would be voting yes on all four initiatives.
On Question 1, O’Connor Ives voted against the gas tax and the indexing of the gas tax during the state budget process, and will continue to vote that way in November.
Question 2, the Bottle Bill, redirects dollars to a more targeted programming, she said. “The money will go directly back into supporting environmental programming in our state, which we desperately need.” (During his response, candidate Toohey briefly referred to the bottle bill as “the money grab.”)
Referring to the casino bill, Question 3, O’Connor Ives pointed out that she would rather create jobs by building schools, hospitals, and homes, before building casinos.
Finally she described earned sick time, Question 4, as “an policy whose time has come,” she said, “and everyone who’s working deserves the opportunity to take care of themselves or a loved one if they’re ill.”
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