NORTHBOROUGH, Mass. — The Daily Voice recently sat down with state Rep. Steven Levy (R-Marlborough), who is seeking re-election in the 4th Middlesex District. Levy will face Democratic candidate Danielle Gregoire on Nov. 6.
The Daily Voice: What in your past experience qualifies you for this seat?
Steven Levy: It would probably be my education, which led to my career in accounting. The biggest problem facing the state is finance. Everything—every service we provide— comes back to how are we going to pay for it. I studied accounting and finance both as an undergrad and in my MBA program, and I’ve used that experience to work with small businesses, understand the bottom line in how you have to control costs and live within a budget to improve profitability and to make a company work.
The same principals, although in a much slower time frame, apply to government—having to live within your means, having to live with a budget, realizing that there are cycles to the economy, and that revenues come and go as a result of that. You need to structure your government in a way that you can survive through the ups and the downs. Unfortunately we don’t do that—in good times government grows and keeps expanding, and in downturns we wonder how to sustain what we’ve built, instead of creating a sustainable budget and living within the limit of revenues in a downturn and using the upturns to do the one-time infrastructure fixes.
DV: What would you propose reducing?
SL: It starts with eliminating waste and inefficiency and redundancy. It seems like every day we ope the newspaper and read a story about problems in our state government, whether its day to day management, things like the crime lab. We got the auditor’s report this week, telling us about spending in MassHealth for people who don’t even live in Massachusetts.
Every program you look at, there’s misuse and abuse, there’s waste and spending, and we’ve got to get that under control.
DV: How will you prioritize to ensure that our schools are funded?
SL: We provide local aid in different forms, and I’m a big proponent of protecting those sources because local government doesn’t have any other means other than property taxes.
First of all, we need to look at the formula. I think Marlborough, for example, does fairly well, but towns like Westborough, I don’t think get their fair share. Part of it is you’re penalized for having a good economic base—commercial and industrial—that brings revenues in. Every community, particularly here in suburbs, needs to make sure we’re getting our fair share, and I think we’re being short-changed relative to some other communities.
DV: We’ve heard a lot lately about the impact of unfunded mandates on our communities. Do you think unfunded mandates are a problem? What about the special education circuit breaker, which the state funds at about 70 percent?
SL: It is a problem. Can you totally get away from it? Probably not. Some [mandates] are well-intentioned, some of them we need. The question is, how are we going to pay for them?
Specifically to the special education spending, in Marlborough I believe around 25 percent of our students are classified as SPED. Now that begs the question: Is our definition of special education adequate, or are we grouping people in when maybe they don’t meet a technical definition. But the problem here is Marlborough is that we have such a good program, we’ve become a magnet to those who need services. So, the question then is, if you have a community doing the right thing and doing a good job, you’re effectively penalized. Is that the obligation of the residents of Marlborough to pick up the tab?
I think issues like special education maybe shouldn’t be community specific, and maybe we should look at those at a state level.
DV: As a Republican, how will you work with the Democratic majority to enact your proposals?
SL: All I can tell them is that I’ve never taken a vote based on party. Sometimes it may appear that way because, quite often you may have votes that fall along party lines. But with every vote, I’m looking at the question before us and asking if this is in the best interest of my constituents. I don’t care who proposed it.
Obviously, in the minority party you can’t get anything done without support from across the aisle, so it does nobody any good to dig your heels in on party issues. I don’t think that’s an issue in Massachusetts. But we have [large majorities] of the House and Senate in one party, which dictates leadership, which strongly controls what happens on Beacon Hill. So I think the best solution is to have more balance. Balance brings discussion, balance brings conversation and it brings debate, and that’s in the best interest of all constituents. If it were an absolute Republican majority, I would be just as concerned.
DV: You're running to represent three communities in a newly-redrawn district. How will you make sure that you are adequately representing all residents?
SL: I actually heard, before redistricting, that some of the selectmen in Westborough had a concern about [the town being split into several districts]. To some degree, Marlborough and Westborough are in competition for the same businesses, and so they’re concern was, he’s from Marlborough, he’s going to give them preference. That’s absolutely not true. When I served on city council in Marlborough, obviously Marlborough was my focus. As representative, you represent multiple communities and you don’t play as big a part in the local decisions.
My first role is keeping the communities informed, and I think I’ve done a good job of that by e-mailing [officials] about what’s happening on Beacon Hill that might be affecting them. And a lot of the things I’m advocating—fiscal soundness, good government—affect every Massachusetts resident. So I’m going to keep advocating for those.