Hilltowns have Beacon Hill Clout

Let's face it, Huntington and Montgomery, Russell and Worthington, just don't have a lot in common with Boston and Cambridge, Lowell and Lawrence. Even Westfield or Springfield.

So a group of legislators who represent towns with less than 12,000 people have formed a Small Town and Rural Caucus, to address the interests of the state's smallest communities.

About a fourth of the members of the House of Representatives and the Senate have joined, giving the group some clout on Beacon Hill. In fact, one newspaper said the caucus could be the "mouse that roared." There is power in numbers, and the group is bipartisan.

What is a caucus? Simply, a group of legislators with similar interests. There's a Woman's Caucus, for example, and a Black Caucus. A Republican Caucus is just a meeting of Republicans. There's an Elderly Caucus and an Anti-Tobacco Caucus. And several others. Groups of people who get together to discuss issues and formulate positions and offer legislation.

What does the Rural Caucus deal with? Everything from beaver dams to roads and bridge repairs, open space to school transportation costs, distribution of education reform money to economic development.

Hottest topic of discussion this year has been state reimbursement for the transportation costs of regional schools. Simply put, small communities are paying big bucks to putting school buses on the road. When the state encouraged creation of the regional schools, it promised to pick up the tab for transportation. But reimbursement has fallen short, and the taxpayers are picking up the tab locally.

The Caucus has also studied the Northeast Dairy Compact, and voted to strongly oppose any efforts to repeal or amend it. Members feel that the compact is a good plan, developed to provide a stable supply of fresh milk in our region, with farmers receiving fair and predictable prices for their products. The compact also helps preserve open space and gives the dairy industry a better chance of survival.

Other issues we're dealing with include rural poverty, and how we can incorporate our "hidden" poor into job training and employment; the need for social services for the poor, elderly and disabled scattered over wide areas in rural Massachusetts; the lack of transportation in the same areas; and the need for affordable housing.

There are one million people who live in the two hundred Massachusetts towns with populations less than twelve thousand. In the past, it was difficult for the residents of these communities to be heard.

But now, with their Representatives and Senators banding together, they do have a voice on Beacon Hill. In fact, the House chairman of the Small Town and Rural Caucus is Representative Stephen Kulik of Worthington.

Other members from the Hilltown area include Representatives Chris Hodgkins of Lee, Dan Keenan of Blandford, and Shaun Kelly of Dalton, as well as Senators Michael Knapik and Andy Nuciforo.

Give any or all of us a call if there's something we should know. We're working for you, through the Caucus.

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