Lee Scott Laugenour is running for the State House to provide a strong opposition voice on Beacon Hill.
“We elect legislators to enact tax policies and put together a budget,” he said in an interview with The Beacon. ”Our tax system is terribly regressive and our budgets are not funding things that we really need.”
Mr. Laugenour, a Lenox resident and former executive at Marriott Hotels, is running for the 4th Berkshire Massachusetts House of Representatives District as a Green-Rainbow Party candidate against five-term incumbent Representative William “Smitty” Pignatelli (D-Lenox), in a rematch of their 2010 race.
A key pledge Mr. Laugenour has made during the campaign is, if elected, he will not vote to confirm current Massachusetts House of Representatives Speaker Robert A. DeLeo.
“I talk to people who are advocates for progressive legislation; for fair taxes, for Medicare for all, for the bottle bill, for municipal power choice and they all say that the speaker of the house blocks it,” he said, adding the speaker keeps such bills in committee and accepts large amounts of corporate lobbyist money.
Mr. Laugenour also criticized the secrecy surrounding Beacon Hill and supports making the legislature subject to the state’s Open Meeting Law.
“The Open Meeting Law should be extended to Beacon Hill; it’s the only legislative body that is exempt,” he said. “Speaker DeLeo is the embodiment of many of the things that we find aren’t working on Beacon Hill: money, secrecy and blocking good legislation.”
Despite pledging not to vote for the speaker, Mr. Laugenour said he’s more than willing to work with Speaker DeLeo and his fellow members of the legislature, citing his experience working at Marriott Hotels for 24 years and serving as an executive for the last five.
“I know how to work with people, I know how to work with teams,” said Mr. Laugenour. “While I might have policy disagreements with Mr. DeLeo or other people on Beacon Hill, I will be [the] one who rolls up the sleeve and is eager and willing to work with them…from the standpoint of being an opposition party candidate and not a player to business as usual.”
In terms of policy, tax reform is a key plank of Mr. Laugenour’s campaign.
“The first $46,000 of income should be exempt from state taxes,” he said.
The current individual exemption for income in Massachusetts is $4,400.
Such an exemption would also be tied with a state income tax increase; which would tax income above $46,000 at a rate of 8.3 percent.
“Fair tax means some people pay less and some people pay more and this defines very clearly who those people are,” said Mr. Laugenour.
He added his tax plan would raise at least $1.5 billion in new revenue while serving as a tax cut for people making less than $90,000 a year.
Mr. Laugenour would also support a constitutional amendment to allow a progressive income tax.
“I would support a constitutional amendment that would allow a graduated income tax, but I reject that we need a constitutional amendment before we have a fair progressive tax,” he said, adding his plan would make the tax code more progressive.
As for what his budget priorities are, Mr. Laugenour’s chief focuses are healthcare and education, both of which he sees as enabling economic development.
“Take care of the people and the people will take care of the business,” he said, quoting a slogan from his days of working as an executive at Marriott. “Publicly-funded infrastructure should take care of people, and the people then can do their jobs in being good citizens and enterprising and building communities.”
Mr. Laugenour sees serious failures in two key areas of this infrastructure, health care and education.
“The result of both…is huge amounts of debt,” he said.
While Mr. Laugenour acknowledges Massachusetts’ healthcare reform has allowed for people who wouldn’t otherwise be able to afford health care to get it through programs like MassHealth, he says such gains have been steadily eroded.
“’Something is better than nothing’ is getting chipped away and becoming less every year,” he said.
As a solution, he supports instituting a single-payer healthcare system, sometimes referred to as “Medicare for all,” in Massachusetts. A single-payer system would provide government health insurance to all Massachusetts residents.
“They can get it if they vote for it,” said Mr. Laugenour.
He added a single-payer system would be better for businesses and local governments, as it would result in healthier employees and relieve these institutions of the burden of providing healthcare for their employees.
“Healthy, educated, solvent people will be enterprising, will be productive, will start businesses, will hire people,” said Mr. Laugenour, laying out the core of his jobs plan. “My jobs plan is not me saying…these are the industries that we should develop.”
He added he’d rather empower individuals through a quality infrastructure.
“It’s less reliance on people of means swooping in, getting a few tax breaks [and] saying they are going to deliver all these wonderful things to the community,” he said.
In keeping with this philosophy, Mr. Laugenour supports giving more funding to higher education and would like to implement a broad program of student loan forgiveness.
“Forgive students loans in exchange for starting a business or working in Massachusetts for a certain number of years,” he said. “Instead of bailing out the banks…we will bail you out, and in return this is what we want you to do.
“I will argue for budgets that fund education and fund health care that are paid for progressively,” he added. “Our taxes have to start paying for something that we value.”
As for some of the government spending he’d like to re-examine, Mr. Laugenour would like to review how effective the different tax credits that the state gives out are.
“We don’t do a good job monitoring how effective they are,” he said.
On energy, Mr. Laugenour is a support of the Massachusetts Municipal Choice bill, which would allow communities that want to own their own power generation and distribution to do so.
He is also supportive of a carbon tax and taxing emissions, noting the current cheap cost of electricity doesn’t factor in the environmental harm caused by such practices as hydraulic fracturing for natural gas.
“We need to put in an infrastructure that encourages people to drive less,” said Mr. Laugenour, who serves on the board of the Berkshire Regional Transit Authority.
As part of this focus, he backs establishing more bus and rail lines in Berkshire County.
He would also like to open up the door to allow for communities to be more flexible with how they deal with property taxes, giving them the option of enacting innovative programs, such as rewarding people with a lesser tax rate for practicing conservation.
“Decentralization of some of this decision making is a key value of the Green Party and also something that I highly value,” he said.
As for the chief difference between electing him or Rep. Pignatelli to the 4th Berkshire District, Mr. Laugenour says that their positions are not as similar as they might at first appear.
“If I thought that Smitty Pignatelli for the last 10 years has been working on making the tax system fairer and bringing about single-payer healthcare, I’d probably be working on his campaign,” said Mr. Laugenour, adding he doesn’t see Rep. Pignatelli actively promoting and educating people about single-payer health care, despite co-sponsoring the legislation. “I believe that co-sponsorship is a ruse.”
If elected, he also wants to bring a sweeping level of openness to his office.
“I will tweet, I will blog, I will Facebook post, I will email blast, every vote that I take, everything that is going on in Beacon Hill,” said Mr. Laugenour. “I will be up-front and communicative about what is going on.”
As for what he’ll do if he’s elected and unable to fully advance his agenda, he said he’s willing compromise, so long as such a compromise is a step in the right direction.
“If it is about taking steps, it’s about expanding MassHealth and making it better,” said Mr. Laugenour, giving an example of such a compromise on healthcare. “If we can’t have single-payer all at once, then let’s start bolstering the MassHealth program.”
As for the constituent services aspect of the office, he said it is something he is eager to tackle.
“That’s an important part of the job and I feel very confident in my ability to do that,” he said, citing his work for Marriott, his time as a teacher and his service on the board of the Berkshire Regional Transit Authority. “I think that when I’m elected people will find a very responsive, transparent, open and accessible representative.
“I certainly would not be running for the job if I didn’t feel that I could step up and serve, as well as show an example as to how best to do it,” Mr. Laugenour added.