Sen. Wolf Reflects On First Year In Office

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By: Michael C. Bailey
Published: 12/16/11

According to a review of attendance records for the past year, only 16 of Massachusetts’s 40 state senators participated in every roll call vote taken in 2011.

State Senator Daniel A. Wolf (D - Harwich) is among them, but he considered his perfect attendance record as among the least of the high points of his first year in office.

“The first year has been in a lot of ways like a dream for me,” Sen. Wolf said. “It’s a privilege to serve this district and the people who live here.”

Such a privilege, in fact, that Sen. Wolf officially announced during a phone interview Tuesday that he will “absolutely” be running for reelection in 2012. “We’re already working on the campaign,” he said. “We’re working hard on the reelection, and I’m really excited and looking forward to it.”

The CEO of Cape Air successfully made the transition from businessman to legislator last November, when he defeated Republican James H. Crocker Jr. to win the seat previously occupied by Robert A. O’Leary, who opted to instead run for Congress.

Although this is Sen. Wolf’s first time serving as an elected official, he brought with him an extensive background in public service, having served on the boards of numerous business, arts, and human service organizations, including the Cape Cod Economic Development Council, the Arts Foundation of Cape Cod, the Association to Preserve Cape Cod, the Housing Assistance Corporation and the Cape Cod Regional Transit Task Force.

“I think one of the reasons why I was a successful candidate was because I’ve been working on these issues in some cases for 25 years already,” he said, and he believed that experience also allowed him to acclimate quickly to the Legislature—although there was still a steep learning curve to his new job.

“The tempo, the pace, and the process, that has been a huge learning curve for me…you’ve heard the term ‘drinking from a fire hose?’ ” he said. “There’s an incredible learning curve, understanding work in the State House, working with other legislators and being in session, and then the really important work that gets done in-district, communicating with constituents, hearing about issues.”

Despite his freshman status, Sen. Wolf received one chairmanship and one vicechairmanship: he was appointed as the Senate chairman on the Joint Committee on Labor and Workforce Development and Senate vice chairman on the Joint Committee on Municipalities and Regional Government. Sen. Wolf also sat on the Joint Legislative Committee on Redistricting, which redrew district lines for the State House and Senate, the US House of Representatives, and the governor’s council.

Again, Sen. Wolf credited his background in business and community service for these assignments. “I think [legislative leaders] did a really good job of looking at capabilities and experience and background, and putting people on committees that would complement that really well,” he said.

When asked to identify the Legislature’s greatest accomplishment for 2011, which he called “an active session,” Sen. Wolf chose a proposal he, in fact, voted against: “getting the casino bill done and out of the way.”

Sen. Wolf said the controversial expanded gaming bill lawmakers passed last month, which approved the creation of three resort-class casinos and one slot parlor, “sucked a lot of oxygen out of the room. Hopefully to have the gaming issue behind us will allow us to refocus on a lot of pressing issues, specifically as it relates to our middle class.”

He held similar feelings to a pension reform bill that, again, he voted against. “I’m not sure that I believe that the impact on future public sector employees is healthy for our middle class,” Sen. Wolf said, but, again, he expressed relief to put the issue to bed.

Pension reform is expected to save the state $5 billion over 30 years by raising the minimum retirement age and basing pensions on the individual’s top five earning years rather than the top three.

On a more positive note, Sen. Wolf said the Legislature took action on many issues that were of benefit to the state’s businesses and working middle class.

“Right off the bat in January, there was a very ugly and unnecessary unemployment insurance rate raise that we were looking at, that could have been as high as 40 percent for some businesses, and the fund really didn’t need it,” he said. “We successfully got a rate freeze there, which I think was very helpful given the business environment now, as far as keeping costs down.”

As of the start of Fiscal Year 2012 on July 1, the state’s unemployment fund had a positive balance of $256 million and is expected to end the year with a reserve of $63 million.

Sen. Wolf also noted the passage of: a bill that imposes extremely harsh punishments for anyone convicted of “human trafficking” offenses, such as forced prostitution; the alimony reform bill; and the transgender protection bill.

For achievements with a more direct local impact, Sen. Wolf pointed to $150,000 included in the FY12 state budget for a Capewide study of wastewater treatment options and their associated costs. The money was included in the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection’s budget and was administered to the Cape Cod Commission to conduct the study.

Sen. Wolf also filed a successful amendment to provide financial support to school districts exploring regionalization and, along with the rest of the Cape delegation, successfully pushed for a $5 million funding increase to benefit regional tourism councils.

The overarching theme for Sen. Wolf in 2012 will be addressing “the gross inequities that exist, and the lack of fairness, and the real challenges relative to the American dream, and the realization of opportunity as it exists now for a large part of our population. I really hope we in the state government find ways to address that.”

“I look forward to having a really healthy conversation on that as we roll into 2012,” Sen. Wolf said, adding that, unlike the federal government, the state Legislature largely avoids divisive partisanship. “There’s a very healthy spirit of collaboration.”

In the coming year, Sen. Wolf expects to tackle several pieces of legislation that would improve working conditions for anyone currently classified as an independent contractor by, in certain circumstances, classifying them as employees who are eligible for benefits; a proposal to mandate for all workers sick leave benefits, a benefit an estimated 1 million Massachusetts workers currently lack; and proposals to increase the state minimum wage from the current rate of $8 an hour.

He further hoped that the Legislature as whole would, as part of its FY13 budget work, be mindful to balance what Massachusetts citizens want from their government with what they are able to pay toward its operation.

“Massachusetts, back 30 years ago when it was called ‘Taxachusetts,’ put a pretty heavy burden on our citizens to contribute to the running and the funding of our government,” he said. “Massachusetts is now 32nd out of the 50 states as far as our tax burden on our residents, and while there’s a good aspect in that we’re not Taxachusetts anymore, I think the question is, do we have a revenue stream to fund the government we really want?”

“That means taking a real look at our revenue and our tax structure and making sure that it is relevant to the way the economy is structured today,” Sen. Wolf said. “I think we need to take a hard look at that in the years ahead and make sure that we have a fair tax system, a fair revenue system, that is appropriately funding our expectation of what government is…to me, that’s where our legislative priorities should start, rolling into the next year.”

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