A familiar face and a relative newcomer to the area are facing off in the Nov. 3 election to represent the Norfolk, Bristol and Middlesex District in the state Senate.

The district includes The Sun Chronicle area communities of Attleboro, North Attleboro, Wrentham, Plainville, Norfolk and Franklin.

Incumbent Senator Rebecca “Becca” Rausch, D-Needham, is being challenged by Republican Matthew Kelly, a member of Franklin’s town council.

Kelly, 42, has been on the council since 2009, formerly serving as vice chairman and chair, and previously served two years on the school committee, playing a role in the new high school.

In his campaign for Senate, Kelly, a small business owner for 20 years and real estate broker, has focused on blue-collar issues and breaking up the Democratic dominance at the Statehouse.

“The lack of focus and aid for our struggling city and town budgets, dilapidated roads, unreliable train service and ever increasing traffic must be addressed,” Kelly said. “As state senator I will take a pragmatic approach, working with people all across the district to be their voice on Beacon Hill.”

Rausch, 41, has served two years in the office.

“I’ve had a highly productive and successful first session, establishing an accomplished record of success on public health and infectious disease prevention, reproductive freedom, climate action, election reform, transparency in government, and more,” Rausch said.

Rausch is the Senate chair of the Joint Committee on Municipalities, Senate vice chair of the Joint Committee on Elder Affairs, and a member of five joint committees: Children, Families and Persons with Disabilities, Public Health, Public Service, State Administration and Regulatory Oversight, and Veterans and Federal Affairs.

Both candidates agreed to answer these questions from The Sun Chronicle. There was some editing for length.

1) MBTA officials have recommended slicing $60 million to $255 million from spending on services over the next two fiscal years to help manage a projected budget shortfall. With many of your constituents relying on the “T” to commute to work, school or medical appointments in Boston, what should the Legislature do to ease the impact of these cuts on users?

KELLY: These budget cuts are not unique to the MBTA. The MBTA has been faced with the reality of financial restraints that other state departments and town and city governments have been faced with as well. Cutting services is never, and will never, be the answer for me. As a Franklin Town Councilor, I have been faced with passing a balanced budget each fiscal year, even as state revenues declined. I believe the best approach is one we should take with every state department: take a deep dive into their financial situation and see where we can reduce redundancy and consolidate. That is what I have done as a councilor as well as a small business owner. I am the only candidate in this race who knows what it means to cut corners, consolidate, make payroll, create jobs and be responsible for people’s livelihoods. In addition to that approach I believe we need to find ways, at the state level, to partner with the private and non-profit sectors to see how we can continue to provide the services at the level we are while doing so more efficiently and most cost effective.

RAUSCH: We shouldn’t make the cuts at all. I will fight against the proposed cuts, as I am fighting to avoid cuts to all service-oriented spending. We will eventually get out of this pandemic, and people will start returning to public transit. The problems of the T, commuter rail, and regional transit systems did not evaporate when COVID-19 hit; they just slid out of the spotlight. Cutting those services does a disservice not only to people and businesses that rely on public transit, but also to our overall economic recovery and our environment. In addition, we should ensure that riders are fully represented on the Fiscal and Management Control Board, the entity that oversees public transit spending and services, which is a bill I filed this session. We should also do everything we can to make sure public transit is reliable, accessible, and environmentally friendly, such as electrifying the commuter rail, increasing train frequency, and reducing fares. The positive impacts of taking these important steps will be seen and felt in our economy, our job market, our climate, our communities, and our families.

2) The state is still operating on a month-to-month budget, which leaders blame on a lack of input from the federal government and which has a ripple effect on money going to cities and towns. Since it does not appear that any aid from Washington will be coming before Election Day, and perhaps longer, what will you do as a senator to provide some stability to local aid to cities and towns and the budget process?

KELLY: The cities and towns in my district will be my first priority as your senator. We cannot rely on the federal government to help our local communities. We must commit to continuously investing in our local communities that provide the majority of the direct services to the public. Massachusetts current budget problem is not an unfamiliar story. Each and every year Massachusetts is one of, if not the, last state to pass an annual operating budget. This must change. When I am in the Senate, I will work with my colleagues in the Legislature and the Governor’s office to pass a budget on time. This continual “kick the can down the road” budget game makes it very difficult for our cities and towns to provide the highest level of service to the public. My opponent has continually shown her apathy on this issue; I will take action. I will be an outspoken advocate for funding for our local communities and fight for a balanced and timely budget.

RAUSCH: The Legislature is level-funding every town and city in the Commonwealth. I’m proud to have already provided that stability for the current fiscal year, even amid one of the worst economic forecasts in history and without help from the federal government. We are also level-funding our schools, with a small increase for inflation. It’s true that the school funding we provided does not begin to fund the Student Opportunity Act, the landmark education equity legislation we passed earlier this session, and funding that education equity is one of my top priorities for the upcoming budget debate. Reflecting the needs of the people and municipalities I represent, other budget priorities of mine include senior centers and councils on aging, child care and early education, combating domestic violence, fully reimbursing towns and cities for costs associated with the 2020 elections, and robust investment in public health infrastructure. We will only emerge from this infectious disease crisis by creating and investing in infectious disease prevention infrastructure, for which I am the leading legislative champion.

3) The coronavirus pandemic continues to have an unprecedented impact on people and businesses in Massachusetts. Up to now, the Baker administration has taken the lead in the response without much input from the Legislature. What action should lawmakers take to curb or strengthen the state’s response until the state can get back to “normal?”

KELLY: Governor Baker has been faced with an impossible task. I believe his actions have taken a science-based approach that has proven to be an effective response to curbing the spread of the virus. I think the best thing the Legislature can do is work in concert with the governor, share their concerns about the needs and struggles of their district due to the pandemic and advocate on their behalf. The Legislature also serves as a check on the Executive when needed, and vice versa. Our legislators should be assessing the needs of the district, listening to their concerns, continuously sharing helpful information and always have the goal to get us back to normal while doing so safely. I have spoken to thousands of residents, business owners, local officials and civic leaders throughout the campaign and they feel like the response from their senator could have been better. I work closely with the emergency response team in Franklin and have been working with residents through situations like these over the past 12 years. I have the first-hand experience to help lead us through this pandemic as your senator. As a small business owner, I know exactly how to help our businesses reopen safely. As a former school committee member, husband of a public school teacher and father of two school age children, I understand the plight of parents and students and will work every day to get our students and teachers back safely.

RAUSCH: First and foremost, we must listen to and follow the advice of public health experts and epidemiologists as we continue to make our way through COVID-19 recovery. We cannot get back to anything close to “normal” until we effectively combat the virus. As your state Senator, I’ve already delivered $250,000 in funds for our district to purchase personal protective equipment (PPE) and adapt our schools to learning in the era of COVID-19. Presently, I am collaborating with local and regional chambers of commerce to strategically devise ways that my colleagues and I in the Senate and House can best support restaurants and small businesses as we head into the colder months, particularly those businesses that are sustaining jobs. In addition, I will continue to strenuously advocate for legislation to create infectious disease prevention infrastructure, which will be particularly critical if and (hopefully) when we get a safe and effective COVID-19 vaccine. Further, if we find ourselves in another COVID-19 surge, I will work with colleagues to get PPE and other supports to our hospitals, nurses, and other health care providers and first responders, and conduct appropriate oversight of those endeavors. Finally, as my team and I have been doing for many months now, I will continue to help residents in our district access resources like unemployment and COVID-19 relief funds. If we could improve those claims and disbursement systems legislatively, I’d be actively fighting to make that happen; in the absence of that, I’ll continue to help thousands of people navigate those systems to get the relief and help they need and deserve.

Stephen Peterson can be reached at 508-236-0377.

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