PITTSFIELD >> As I walk through the neighborhoods of our city, the one message I hear more than anything — more than the need for jobs, more than rising crime — is that voters are fed-up with politics. They are fed-up with empty promises and the reality show-like nature in which candidates are portrayed and operate, fed-up with catchphrases and buzzwords like "progressive" and "collaboration."
Pittsfield, I want you to know that I hear you loud and clear. That is why I want to use this final op-ed to cut through the noise and plainly state what I will do as your state representative. If you have any questions, please feel free to reach out anytime at 413-212-9386.
Fifty years ago, the city of Pittsfield was home to almost 60,000 people with a median family income about 10 percent above the state average. This prosperity was built on top of one company, a dependency that would eventually hurt us. Today we have a population of 42,000, with a median family income more than 37 percent below the state average.
When we add together the costs of maintaining our infrastructure, providing a 21st century education to our children, and paying our municipal employees, we get our city budget. While that number goes up every year, the basis for how we pay for it, property values and income, does not. Instead, over the past 10 years, we have seen a 41 percent increase in our single-family tax bills, and for seniors, a 0% increase in their Social Security benefits.
As a city, we have now reached an unfortunate point known as the "levy ceiling": under Massachusetts state law, we can no longer increase our property taxes to pay for these critical services unless we see growth in our property values and growth in our local economy.
Studied other cities
In my time working in finance in New York City, I had a front-row seat to how the private sector analyzes economic trends to make smart investing decisions. In the past two years, as I have gone around the country to study cities like Detroit, Cleveland, and Baltimore, I have seen what struggling communities are doing at the grassroots level to solve many of the same problems we have in Pittsfield.
We need leadership on Beacon Hill. The rubber always hits the road at the municipal level, but state laws, state organizations, and state funding play an integral role in transforming a community. My number one approach as your state representative will be to examine what has worked elsewhere and help make it happen here in Pittsfield.
Investing in the urban core pays big dividends. This is much more than just tearing up and replacing roads, and it goes beyond North Street. What we see from analyzing tax receipt data is that downtown buildings often return between three times and 10 times the value per square foot than large suburban shopping centers like the Allendale Plaza or Walmart. We can continue to support this growth by raising the cap on the state's HDIP funding, which provides tax credits to developers who build market rate housing in the urban core. The more people downtown, the more business becomes sustainable.
I will be focused on boosting access to education and job training. As a state, we only spend one percent of our federal welfare funding on job training, which is eight times less than the national average. Such funds can and must be redirected into programs that actually provide a pathway out of poverty.
The best institution for managing those programs is Berkshire Community College. I will work to speed the growth of BCC's downtown campus at the Silvio Conte Federal Building on Columbus Avenue, because bringing classes and job training closer to downtown increases the accessibility of education to our community and trains our workforce for the 21st century.
We need to aggressively pursue repairing our property tax system. A child's education should not be determined by their street address and a business looking to grow must not be faced with a $25,000 tax bill before they even open their doors.
We can be a 21st century sustainable city, but we cannot wait for change to happen, we have to make it happen. On Sept. 8, I hope to have your vote.
Mike Bloomberg is a Democratic candidate for state representative from the 3rd Berkshire District.