Former Mass. Gov. Cellucci speaks at UMass

By Kirsten Swenson, Collegian Staff and Kirsten Swenson

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Former Massachusetts Republican Gov. Paul Cellucci gave a speech entitled “Tax-and-Spend Massachusetts and Education Policy” last Thursday night in the Cape Cod Lounge at the University of Massachusetts.

The event, which was sponsored by the UMass Republican Club, was split into two parts – the first focused on past and present economic issues facing the Commonwealth from Cellucci’s perspective, and the second on the relationship between public education and Massachusetts’ fiscal policies.

Cellucci, who was the Commonwealth’s lieutenant governor from 1991-1997, acting governor from 1997-1999 and governor from 1999-2001, focused a great deal of his time on fiscal discipline during his tenure in office.

“When we were elected, Massachusetts had the nickname ‘Tax-a-chusetts.’ We worked very hard to rid that description of the state. At the time, Massachusetts had a high unemployment rate and a $2.5 billion deficit “Ultimately, we knew we had to impose tough fiscal discipline,” Cellucci stated. “Of course, citizens need to know that what we want to do is reasonable… the last thing we were going to do was overextend.”

In 2000, Cellucci and his administration proposed to cut the state income tax from 5.95 percent to 5 percent, which ultimately passed with voters that November. As governor, Cellucci had experience maintaining the fiscal discipline policies he helped support as lieutenant governor, making cuts he deemed necessary. Cellucci voiced his concerns over the current spending policies of Gov. Deval Patrick, citing the appointment of State Sen. Marian Walsh to the assistant executive director of the Health and Educational Facilities Authority, a position that hadn’t been filled for 12 years.

“This new appointment did not stand. Ultimately, Walsh had to say she wasn’t going to take the position because the people of Massachusetts were angry,” Cellucci said.

Cellucci switched gears when he began to talk about the Education Reform Act of 1993, which provided more funding to schools through state income taxes and sales taxes. As part of the act, the Massachusetts government devised a plan to provide more accountability in schools, leading to the development of the Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System (MCAS), a test that students in Massachusetts public high schools must pass in order to receive a diploma. This test has received criticism across the state, particularly from teachers unions who do not feel it is appropriate to “teach to the test.”

“If ‘teaching to the test’ means kids can add, subtract, multiply and divide, then lets do it,” Cellucci said. “Massachusetts students are doing the best nationwide because we insist on accountability and standards. These standards are difficult to get rid of, because they will always hold true.”

Sophomore finance major John Ha agreed with Cellucci’s stance on the MCAS and fiscal discipline, stating, “I think he did a really good job presenting everything… he included both the good stuff and the bad stuff.”

Junior political science major Molly Hartshorn disagreed.

“I still maintain that lowering taxes is not going to solve problems at all. By eliminating more revenue, nothing is going to get accomplished that has to be accomplished,” said Hartshorn.

After the speech, Cellucci held a brief question-and-answer session in which audience members were able to address everything from his fiscal discipline policies to a discussion of the Iraq war.

Kristen Swenson can be reached at [email protected]