By Rod Lee
The convivial tone of the Webster-Dudley-Oxford Chamber of Commerce’s legislative breakfast at Point Breeze in Webster the morning after Halloween might have been set by Congressman James McGovern even before attendees went to the buffet line for their bacon and eggs.
How are things?” Mr. McGovern asked, in extending a handshake.
“Better here than in Washington!” came the reply.
“Yeah, nice spot, to be by the lake,” Mr. McGovern replied with a smile, in acknowledgment of the contrast between the discord that prevails in the nation’s capital and the mellow mood that existed at Point Breeze Owner James R. Alkire’s restaurant and banquet facility.
Hard as it is to imagine a prominent and outspoken anti-Trump Democratic lawmaker finding nearly complete rapport with four Republican state legislators—especially given the current political climate—that was exactly the case as Mr. McGovern took his seat alongside Ryan C. Fattman of Webster, Paul K. Frost of Auburn, Peter Jr. Durant of Spencer and Joseph D. McKenna of Webster at the table assigned to them.
In his opening remarks, the congressman joked about life in Washington by saying he tells people “I sleep like a baby. I get up every two hours screaming!”
He then pointed to the friendship between former presidential candidates George McGovern (“no relation”), an arch liberal, and Barry Goldwater, a conservative firebrand, as evidence of his belief that “we need to find commonality” across the aisle.
Mr. Frost picked up on the same theme in pointing out how Tip O’Neill and Ronald Reagan and Ted Kennedy and Orrin Hatch, for instance, were able to overcome their political differences to share a comradeship.
Even on the subject of the proposed “millionaire’s tax” (which along with Paid Family Medical Leave, or PFML, are two of the issues that all of the state legislators identified as the most contentious they are dealing with at the moment), Mr. McGovern did not openly challenge the stance taken by his counterparts except to say the state cannot afford to lose residents who are struggling—if they do not get relief. “Yes, we have to be careful but we can’t have people moving out of our communities either,” Mr. McGovern said.
In asserting that he was dubious of the millionaire’s tax and in noting that it “failed in the last two sessions, it passed but was ruled unconstitutional,” Mr. Durant said it is intended “to generate $2 billion for transportation and education.” But, he cautioned, it’s like “the three most popular words in the English language—I love you.” When it comes to government, Mr. Durant said, the qualifier that follows this expression is “subject to appropriation!” In legalese terms, in other words, “we are not going to do that,” he said. The monies do not always go where they are supposed to.
“The millionaire’s tax is a concern” to him, Mr. Frost said, because of the feeling among some members of the populace “that people who are well-off are ATM machines.” Also, if enacted, “it’s going to affect a lot of businesses too; and the wealthy can change their address. They can move to another state. And it’s not the windfall everyone thought it would be. It is,” however, he said, “going to the ballot (in 2022) and it is polling very popular. I think when it comes before us it will pass.”
Mr. Frost later added that “the business community has come out in favor of a gas tax but not a millionaire’s tax.”
Mr. McKenna sees Paid Family Medical Leave, which he described as part of “a grand bundle” or “grand bargain” bill, as placing “another burden on employers’ back.” He voted against it.
PFML was certainly on the minds of businesspersons in the room, particularly when the cost of the program and the amount of time off that would be allocated to those impacted by it is brought into focus. During a question-and-answer session, Lisa Prince who is executive director of Tri-Valley Inc. asked if employees of hers who take advantage of FPML “get the fifteen days I offer plus twenty-six weeks? It’s going to decimate my workforce. Who has the answers to these finesse questions?” Ms. Prince wondered.
The breakfast drew a good turnout and was warmly received.
Prior to the meeting, John Milas, director of the WDO Chamber, who organized the function, said “this has been a year of learning for me. I’m seeing what kind of events our members want.”
An informative legislative breakfast is obviously one of them.
Contact Rod Lee at [email protected] or 774-232-2999.