Beacon Hill (copy) (copy)

The Massachusetts Statehouse in Boston.

It’s never good to see our county’s influence diluted on Beacon Hill, but the Berkshires’ expected loss of a state House seat in redistricting comes at a particularly bad time. As a recent state auditor’s report makes starkly clear — and as many in our neck of the woods have long known — Western Massachusetts is considerably underserved by decisions on the other end of the state about how to best invest in communities’ infrastructure. Pressing for these issues to be addressed will require a tenacious push from a solid coalition of the region’s lawmakers.

To that end, we call for the creation of a Western Massachusetts caucus.

Auditor: Poor rural towns in Massachusetts aren’t getting the help they need to keep up with wealthy ones

We praised the auditor’s report for bringing statewide attention to struggles disproportionately facing the more rural corners of the commonwealth, particularly those in the four westernmost counties: crumbling roads and bridges; outdated municipal buildings; hamstrung development due to lack of infrastructure investment and broadband access. These issues are not new, and they have been raised before by countless regional leaders and advocates as well as statewide efforts such as the Rural Policy Advisory Commission created in 2015 and its rural policy plan released in 2019.

The additional awareness brought recently by the auditor’s report should not be squandered. The issues are identified. The recommendations are in hand. Now is the time for long overdue action on investing equitably and sustainably in the infrastructure of the communities that Western Massachusetts residents call home. Yet as action is needed more than ever, population shifts — due in part to these problems of infrastructure inequality — mean that these communities will have fewer voices in the state Legislature.

Berkshire County likely to see four Mass. House seats cut to three in redistricting

Coalition-building will be key for the Berkshire delegation and lawmakers in our neighboring western counties to see that Beacon Hill does not continue to ignore these pressing regional issues. The auditor’s report makes it clear that these infrastructure issues are uniquely affecting the western part of the state — but there are potential solutions. For instance, the auditor’s recommendations echo the calls of many rural advocates to retool Chapter 90‘s apportionment formula to more fairly distribute funding to towns with many miles of roads but smaller populations and tax bases that often struggle with repair and paving projects. Additionally, the report flags fiscal barriers for upgrading municipal buildings like fire stations and police departments — challenges with which Pittsfield and North Adams are all too familiar. In a previous editorial, we agreed with the auditor’s conclusion that the state should better assist smaller municipalities with these critical projects like it does with new school construction.

In the push to make these proposals a reality and revitalize reinvestment in the western counties that so need it, the Berkshire delegation and other regional lawmakers won’t be able to rely on strength in numbers. Instead, they must rely on the strength of a coalition that can hold fast together to stand up in the Statehouse for their overlooked constituents. Forming a Western Massachusetts caucus could help to do just that.