Adam Hinds: A 2020 vision for Berkshires
PITTSFIELD — Representing Western Massachusetts in the state Senate has been the honor of a lifetime. During my first term I undertook a strategy to create immediate results so we can thrive as a region. To be a strong voice for western Mass I secured important appointments in Boston, including on the Committee on Ways and Means. I thank you for the opportunity to serve the district.
We have been able to accomplish a lot in less than two years. I have focused on creating a strong region by improving transportation, the economy and education funding.
In 2020 we will pilot a train service between the Berkshires and New York City. In my first 18 months we went from an idea about a new train route through upstate New York, to legislative approval, the governor's signature, and a Department of Transportation (DOT) Working Group. Rail links to regional economic centers will improve the region's economy. It will enhance tourism, remote working, and connect local companies and institutions. High-speed rail from Boston to the Berkshires remains a priority, and DOT is starting such a study.
This year I established a new $1,500,000 budget item for rural schools. The key was requiring the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) to conduct a study on "the fiscal conditions of rural schools in the Commonwealth". Not surprisingly, the study revealed rural schools experience enrollment decline and pay more for teachers and transportation per student compared to other parts of the state. We will work to expand the amount next year.
I made my first speech in the Senate about jobs and fighting for $75,000 to create a `Jobs Czar' for Berkshire County. The Regional Employment Board found a great candidate who is already working to close the gap between existing jobs and people looking for work.
Speaking of jobs, this year I also worked to finalize state funds to get the $13.8 million Berkshire Innovation Center (BIC) built and operational. Working with the BIC Board, Mayor Tyer and the city of Pittsfield, and the Pittsfield Economic Development Authority, the Innovation Center will be open for business in 2020.
The state also supports economic development through the $45 million in new funds approved by the legislature in 2017 to finalize Internet access. Every town in Berkshire County will soon have high speed Internet thanks to the work of dedicated volunteers in each town. Internet means more people will choose to live here and even work remotely. Now we must increase speeds in our downtowns.
We worked with you on a range of other regional priorities: $8,550,000 million in bond authorizations to make the Greylock Glen in Adams a regional attraction, millions in authorizations for our public safety institutions in Pittsfield and North Adams, and $150,000 in new funds to create a Berkshire Opioid Task Force.
More to be done
And there is more work to do. We need better regional transportation throughout Western Mass. In Berkshire County I am spearheading an effort that includes the BRTA, 1Berkshire and business leaders, the Berkshire Regional Planning Commission, and healthcare providers to improve local transportation — specifically getting people who want to work to available jobs.
We need to continue to attract tourists and spending, which is why I am leading an effort to promote Berkshire County as an outdoor recreation center on par with Lake Placid, New York. We have the natural assets, now lets establish the trail systems and marketing to tell our story.
The year 2020 will be a big one: we will have train connection with New York City, every town will have high-speed internet, the Berkshire Innovation Center will open, additional state funding for education, and much more.
I heard about these priorities because I made accessible government a priority. During the first term I held 11 town hall forums called "Speak Up Western Mass" in every corner of this wide-reaching district that encompasses 52 towns. My staff held office hours in 34 different communities, in addition to the two offices we maintain in the district.
These discussions highlighted the concern that Washington DC is attacking the values and principles we hold dear. They are not continuing our long march to inclusion and respect, protecting the environment, and upholding even basic democracy. I am proud that here in Massachusetts we have responded this year by passing landmark criminal justice reform legislation, new investments in renewable energy to confront climate change, and automatic voter registration.
I am driven to fight for the people and regions that are too often ignored. We need a strong and thoughtful approach to standing up for western Mass. I have brought my ten years of experience working in the Middle East for the United Nations to do this effectively in the region that I grew up in. I ask you to re-elect me with your vote on Tuesday, Sept. 4.
The writer is the incumbent Democratic state senator for Western Massachusetts.
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