Wagner, Lesser answer questions from Chicopee City Councilors

Feb. 11, 2020 | G. Michael Dobbs

CHICOPEE –  The City Council took the opportunity of asking state Rep. Joseph Wagner and state Sen. Eric Lesser a variety of questions when the two members of the city’s legislative delegation appeared at the council’s Feb. 4 meeting.

Both men addressed the issues of Chapter 90 – highway funding – allocations. Wagner references the issue of  a proposed gas tax increase to help pay for infrastructure improvements and said it would be “a difficult vote.”  

He added, “The jury is still out. It’s part of the conversation. I don’t think it’s unreasonable for people who use the roads to pay for them.”

He added, “I don’t’ subscribe to the idea that Western Massachusetts gets the short end of the stick [when it comes to funding.]”

Lesser said the issue has been Chapter 90 funds have not kept pace with the demands of repairs, but believes an increase to the gas tax is unfair to Western Massachusetts.

“There is going to be a conversation. The transportation Committee will present many options ….It’s got to be equitable,” Lesser said.  

Lesser said the Senate has passed a bill, which the House may consider, that would set a goal of net zero emissions by 2050. The senator noted, “We put a goal out there to spur the innovations from the private sector.”

When asked about the status of eeast-west rail (see front page story), Lesser said, “There’s definitely momentum.” Wagner said he is waiting for the final report.

When asked about a report about decreased revenues generated by the Massachusetts Lottery, Wagner said, “There are ebbs and flows to those revenues.” He then noted the final numbers for this year’s revenues are still months away.

Lottery revenues are split between the Commonwealth’s 351 communities.

Wagner said that big payouts for Powerball pushes the numbers to “record levels.” He added that people play less when the jackpot is only up to $200 million.

“I don’t think it’s gaming. I think it’s a lack of jackpots,” he said.

Wagner said the governor is considering allowing debit cards – not credit cards –  to be used to purchase lottery products.

When asked about reports that MGM Springfield has advocated adding bingo to its portfolio of gaming activities, Wagner quickly and definitively said, “It won’t happen.”

The gaming legislation protected bingo from being something the casinos could offer, preserving it for non-profits to use to raise funds. Wagner noted that Chicopee has seven bingo licenses. A check with the State Lottery not only confirmed the seven licenses owned by six entities in the city – the Moose Family Center has two licenses  in order to  have two games – but that Chicopee has one of the highest number of licenses in the state, only second to Worcester, which has eight. Springfield only has one and Boston has two.

In other action, the council heard from teacher John Mruk during the public speak-out portion of the meeting  who has applied for appointment to the open seat on the School Committee caused by the resignation of Michael Pise, who is now Mayor John Vieau’s chief of staff.

Mruk was followed by School Committee member Mary Beth Pniak-Costello who urged the council to eliminate the open seat and have a committee of 11 members through a change in the city charter.

If a charter change does not take place, Pniak-Costello urged the council to televise the appointment process, which will take place in a joint meeting of the school committee and the city council.

Pniak-Costello said the school committee has received several resumes from residents who would like to serve on the committee.

The televised meeting would be a “fair process,” she said.

City Council President Shane Brooks responded the council would work with the mayor, who is the chair of the school committee, on the scheduling of that meeting.   

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