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Columnists Adam Hinds and Stephen Kulik: A rural strategy for economic growth

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State Rep. Stephen Kulik, left, and state Sen. Adam Hinds read a resolution from the Legislature recognizing the 250th anniversary of the incorporation of the town of Worthington at the conclusion of a parade June 30. GAZETTE FILE PHOTO

 


Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Massachusetts, like the rest of the country, is experiencing growing disparity between rural and urban centers.

To reverse this trend, Massachusetts requires a rural strategy for economic growth. We must do more to attract investment that retains and expands existing jobs, stimulates the creation of new jobs and attracts new business and industry in these parts of the commonwealth.

Between 2010 and 2017, the nation’s population grew by some 17 million people. But while cities grew, it was the first extended period on record with population decline in rural areas as a whole.

The same was true in Massachusetts. Between 2010 and 2017, the population of the commonwealth grew by some 312,000 people, while the population fell in three of our most rural counties: Berkshire, Franklin and Barnstable.

Since the Great Recession, a larger percentage of jobs have returned to metropolitan areas. In rural Massachusetts today, workers earn 71 percent of what their urban counterparts make. Our residents are also older, and many do not have college degrees. When taking these trends into account, we can understand why business is booming in Boston, while rural regions of the commonwealth are being left behind.

As elected officials representing rural western Massachusetts, we’ve worked together to reverse this trajectory. Specifically, we’ve fought to bring high-speed internet and improved rural transportation to the region as well as links to regional economic centers. We’ve worked to bring more money to our rural schools. And, we’ve supported our regional employment boards and a middle skills manufacturing initiative, which trains people in our region the skills they’ll need to get jobs in advanced manufacturing firms.

But there is more we can do.

 

 

 

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A Berkshires-NYC train service could relaunch by 2019

Time was, summer tourists from New York City could hop on a train to Tanglewood. Those days ended decades ago, but now transportation officials are raising the specter of a Big Apple-Berkshires rail connection again, as soon as 2019.

A working group formed by the Massachusetts Department of Transportation this week concluded that rail service between New York and western Mass. could be established again during summer weekends — so long as they can find a way to pay for it.

The “Berkshire Flyer” proposal, which borrows its name from the seasonal CapeFlyer trains that run between Boston and Hyannis on summer weekends, would bring New Yorkers north on Fridays and send them home on Sundays over 20 warm-weather weekends. The service would cost up to $520,000 a year.

Officials considered multiple proposals, including one that would require new trains and tracks. But instead they believe the cheapest, easiest option is to simply add another stop, in Pittsfield, for the existing train service between New York City and Albany, about a four-hour trip.

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Sen. Adam Hinds to host public forum on rural school fiscal woes

SHELBURNE FALLS -- Massachusetts' rural school districts are caught in a spiraling fiscal crisis, according to a recent report. With rising fixed costs, dwindling state reimbursements and population flight, the districts are struggling.

State Sen. Adam Hinds, D-Pittsfield, will convene a public forum Monday at Mohawk Trail Regional High School to examine rural school funding issues and look for solutions.

Top leaders from the state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education will provide an overview of their report, released to the Legislature in January. Rep. Stephen Kulik (D-Worthington) and Sen. Stan Rosenberg (D-Amherst) plan to join Hinds at the Shelburne Falls event. Mohawk Trail Superintendent Michael Buoniconti will outline fiscal hardships facing rural school districts.

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Adam Hinds: Jump on board the Berkshire Flyer

PITTSFIELD — Connecting Berkshire County to New York City by passenger rail would spur the economy and start to reverse population decline. While the benefits have been clear for years, implementation has been a challenge. Yet, last week a Working Group led by the Massachusetts Department of Transportation (MassDOT) determined a test run service connecting the Berkshires to New York by train, dubbed the Berkshire Flyer, could start in 2019 or 2020.

To date, the biggest barrier to reestablishing such service has been expensive track construction or upgrades, leading to lengthy timelines. To overcome both, I filed an amendment in last year's budget forming a Working Group to explore the feasibility of using existing passenger rail from New York, entering Berkshire County from the west. The report is in, and the results are promising.

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Hinds Pitches Aid For Rural Schools; Transportation In State Budget

By Andy McKeeveriBerkshires Staff
11:48AM / Sunday, May 20, 2018
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — As state Sen. Adam Hinds enters the budget debate, he's placed a priority on rural schools.
 
In January, the Department of Secondary and Elementary Schools released a report on the financial struggles of small rural schools and he's looking to give a little extra help.
 
"We've watched schools close. We've watched principals and superintendents struggle to maintain the quality curriculum in the context of population decline," Hinds said.
 
"That report was done in January and so we've taken that and I'm putting together a proposal on sparsity aid. Essentially what it says is that in Massachusetts any school district that has fewer than 21 students per square mile — and quite honestly we could go to 10 and still cover a lot of Berkshire County — and a per capita income below the state average, then is eligible for additional aid."
 
Hinds' proposal calls for an increase of $100 per pupil in the state aid for those districts. A place like Central Berkshire Regional School District would see close to $200,000 in additional funding, he said. As populations have been declining, schools have been struggling to provide a robust set of programs or even keep their doors open.
 
"That's been a big push for this one," Hinds said.
 
The Pittsfield senator said that is top of him advocating for increases in rural transportation aid, Chapter 70 school aid, and bolstering support for special education programs. He said ultimately, he'd like the sparsity aid to be closer to $300 per pupil but being a new program, he's asking for $3 million instead of $9 million to just get it off the ground.
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Editorial: Senate provides help for rural school districts

Cash-strapped rural schools in western Massachusetts won a partial victory on Beacon Hill this month as the state Senate agreed to send more money their way.

It unanimously passed a bill that would change how state aid to public schools is calculated, directing more money to underfunded areas like special education, children living in poverty, English learners and health costs.

State Sen. Adam Hinds, D-Pittsfield, whose district includes Hampshire County Hilltowns, described the measure as a “key education reform bill to update the state’s 25-year-old funding formula.”

Another bill pushed by Hinds also passed the Senate: a Rural School Aid bill, adding $1.5 million in aid to rural schools for next school year — supplemental “sparsity aid” that area school leaders have been seeking for some time.

The new general school aid formula would implement recommendations of the bipartisan Foundation Budget Review Commission in late 2015, which found that the formula by which state aid is distributed among public school districts drastically underestimates education costs.

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Following Democratic Convention Win, Palfrey Heads To Pittsfield

By Andy McKeeveriBerkshires Staff
02:29AM / Tuesday, June 05, 2018
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — Fresh from receiving the endorsement of the state Democratic Party, Quentin Palfrey was out for a stroll in downtown Pittsfield.
 
Palfrey is seeking a spot as lieutenant governor on the ticket this fall. The party's delegates at the weekend convention endorsed him over his competitor Jimmy Tingle by 59-41 percent. He is looking to build on that win as he looks forward to the primary.
 
"We were really gratified. I am a first-time candidate and I was thrilled to get the endorsement of the Democratic Party on Saturday. We've been working really hard to build a grassroots campaign from the Berkshires to Cape Cod and I think that came through at the convention," Palfrey said following a tour of the downtown led by state Sen. Adam Hinds, who endorsed him the day before the convention. 
 
Hinds led Palfrey from Dotties to Otto's, pointing out the investments made in downtown market-rate housing, places like Mission, Framework, Methuselah, and Hotel on North.
 
But he also walked Palfrey through the Columbus Avenue garage, which is failing so badly that the top floor has been closed off to vehicles and limits the development of more downtown housing and businesses. Hinds pointed out the Intermodel Center and elaborated on how rural transportation is difficult and how even with the jolt of economic tourism the proposed Berkshire Flyer could bring, there is a lack of ways to get from the center of Pittsfield to other destinations. He showed him the Juvenile Court, which Hinds had attempted to get the state to move off North Street.
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Tallying Budget Amendments Backed by Hinds

PITTSFIELD — The state's $40 billion funding choo-choo lumbered out of the Senate the other day, after a weeklong stop in the House.

It's now up to a conference committee to square differences in rival spending plans for the coming year, then see how that version fares with Gov. Charlie Baker.

Among lawmakers looking on will be state Sen. Adams Hinds, D-Pittsfield, who sponsored or co-sponsored amendments in his chamber to steer money to what he set as district priorities: infrastructure repairs, education and job growth.

"The focus is tackling fundamentals that we need to get right," Hinds said.

Some amendments seek allocations in the fiscal year that starts July 1. Others plant seeds for future benefits in his sprawling district.

In April, the four House members representing Berkshire County worked for a week on Beacon Hill to press constituent needs.

In late May, it was Hinds' turn.

He backed a baker's dozen of initiatives that the Senate adopted May 24 in its $41.49 billion budget.

Before heading to a Habitat for Humanity worksite Friday, Hinds argued the importance of amendments on his punch list.

On infrastructure and transportation, he endorsed a plan to set new guidelines on repairs of small bridges and culverts, increase support for regional transit authorities and continue work on a New York City-Pittsfield rail link.

An amendment would allocate $100,000 for a subcommittee of the Berkshire Flyer Working Group. Its job would be to address one of the challenges in the rail plan: figuring out how travelers arriving by train in Pittsfield will get to county destinations. On another front, the Senate lifted funding for regional transit authorities to $88 million, above levels set in the House and governor's budgets. The added money could avert service cuts by the Berkshire Regional Transit Authority, though issues remain, Hinds said.

"The bad news is, we're not going to solve this problem by spending more money," he said, noting the problem of flat or declining ridership and its impact on transit authority revenues.


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Hinds Launches Re-election Bid for State Senate

By Andy McKeeveriBerkshires Staff
03:51AM / Wednesday, March 28, 2018
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — State Sen. Adam Hinds has set his sights on 2020.
 
And that starts with his election bid in 2018. The Pittsfield Democrat won election in 2016 to fill the seat being vacated by Benjamin Downing and has now launched his first re-election bid just over a year of serving in office.
 
"The whole objective for the last year has been based on addressing the concerning trends we have in the county — our population decline and the impact it has on municipal budgets and education budgets, and the fact that we often have health outcomes below the rest of the state, educational attainment below the rest of the state," Hinds said. 
 
"We've been very deliberate in saying, what do we need to do to turn that corner? Because there is a lot of promise here and we are well located and we have a lot that is going right. But on those trends, we have to do something."
 
Joined by supporters at Hotel on North, Hinds outlined three pillars of his work over the last year — infrastructure, workforce development, and education. 
 
For infrastructure, Hinds highlighted his work in helping to secure $45 million more to continue the rollout of broadband internet access to Western Massachusetts and the recent feasibility determination to pilot bringing trains from New York City to the Berkshires and back.
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Hinds Secures $29.7M for Local Projects in State Capital Bill

Staff Reports06:36PM / Thursday, February 08, 2018
BOSTON — State Senator Adam G. Hinds, D- Pittsfield, has been able to place $1.2 million toward design and engineering for a new North Adams public safety building, $4 million toward a Pittsfield Police station, and $500,000 toward a new roof on Clarksburg School. 
 
The funds were secured in the $29.7 million in capital spending authorizations for local projects in S. 2279, "An Act providing for capital facility repair and improvements for the Commonwealth," a bond bill engrossed by the state Senate.
 
"Securing these spending authorizations is critical for timely and much needed capital investments in our local schools, housing stock, public safety facilities and downtown infrastructure," said Hinds. 
 
The bill also includes $6 million for the Columbus Avenue Parking Garage in Pittsfield, an amount previously earmarked in a 2014 capital billthat has not been released. The entire cost of replacing the structure was pegged at $9.4 million four years ago. 
 
During its formal session the state Senate voted to authorize up to $3.65 billion in bonds for repairs and improvements of capital facilities across the commonwealth. Spending authorizations in the bill include bonds for state university and community college campus improvements, public safety and security facilities and clean energy and efficiency programs.
 
North Adams has been seeking a solution to its outdated and dilapidated public safety building for a number of years. The city is under an order by the U.S. Department of Justice to resolve the 60-year-old structure's noncompliance with the U.S. Americans with Disabilities Act. 
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