| G. Michael Dobbs
SPRINGFIELD – State Sen. James Welch said he is looking forward to his new assignment in the state senate: Senate Chair of the Committee of Financial Services.
Welch said during an interview with Reminder Publishing and Focus Springfield the committee addresses issues about banking and insurance services in the Commonwealth and fit his own background in finance.
“It’s somewhere I wanted to be for a very long time,” he noted.
Welch has been associated with health care issues for a number of years and said that he will still be working on health care policy issues.
Welch represents a district that includes West Springfield and parts of Springfield and Chicopee.
The senator said of his new committee assignment his agenda includes “a lot of consumer protection issues” for banking and insurance. He said the products offered by those industries can be “complicated” and that “consumers can be overwhelmed.”
Welch said that locally owned banks “are going by the wayside” and that regional or national banks are trying to brand themselves as “a community-based bank.”
Regional and national banks have been buying local banks for about two decades, Welch said. When asked if that trend concerns him, he said he appreciates a more community-oriented institution.
He also said locally owned banks offer a greater sense of accountability.
“You lose that community, one on one relationship with the consumer,” he said. While a larger bank might offer more products at better rates, he said the local connection, especially with something as important as a mortgage, is still vital.
Welch said the Foundation Budget – a revision of the state’s contribution to the education budget for local school district – is “coming to a resolution.”
Last session, the House and Senate couldn’t come to an agreement, he noted.
“The issue, I think is right on the top of everyone’s list this year,” he said.
One factor that has changed is this year the General Court will not have the so-called “Millionaire’s Tax” as a new revenue source for fund the schools. The proposed tax, which was going to go on the last ballot as a referendum question, was struck down by the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court, Welch explained.
When it comes to health insurance issues, Welch said, “Massachusetts has always been on the cutting edge.”
More than 40 percent is used to pay for MassHealth and other health insurance issues, he explained. To ensure coverage three entities – the individual, the government and insurers – are involved, he added.
Last session Welch worked on healthcare costs containment and developed legislation to reduce costs over the long terms. House passed their version, but a compromise could not be negotiated.
He said Gov. Charlie Baker, House Speaker Robert DeLeo and Senate President Karen Spilka have all said they are willing to work on cost containment – something which Welch believes is vital for the consumer.
“Until we make those systemic market changes anything else will be sort of a Band-Aid,” he said.
There are issues on federal levels, such as Medicaid, that affect health care policies on the state level. Making changes to Medicaid on the state level requires federal approval, Welch explained. The Commonwealth relies on federal Medicaid funding and proposed federal changes to the program could have “a negative effect” on people.
Welch hopes Baker will agree with the removal of the “Caps on Kids” legislation that is in the proposed supplemental budget. The senator explained the limit on the number of children that could be covered through welfare was a “knee jerk reaction” to the premise that adults on welfare were deliberately having additional children to receive greater benefits. Research has shown that has not been the case, he said.
“It was based on anecdotal evidence and not hard proven evidence,” he added.
The supplemental budget is also addressing a gap created by a federal reduction in fuel assistance money, he said. Budgeting fuel assistance is not exact as demands are dictated by the severity of the winter, he explained.
Welch added there is a philosophical argument between states and the federal government about which government entity should be supplying funding for services such as fuel assistance or if that kind program should be financed by human service agencies or churches.
Reacting to the proposal in Connecticut to place tolls on Interstates 91 and 84, Welch said he didn’t think a similar proposal would be introduced for interstate highways in Massachusetts.
Welch said there have been discussions about tolls on highways linking New Hampshire to the Boston area. He added, “In my opinion it’s like a dog trying his own tail.” Such tolls would affect own citizens, he added.
The entire interview can be seen at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7jqqMIW_kPU&feature=youtu.be.