Ward 5 Alderman Mark Niedergang:My recommendations on state & local ballot questions

November 2, 2016 Update   

I voted early and so have thousands of other ‘Villens. (Somerville City Hall is open for early voting Thursday 8:30 – 7:30 and Friday 8:30 – 12:30.) The polls are open everywhere in Massachusetts on Election Day, Tuesday, Nov. 8th, from 7 am – 8 pm.
Please take time to vote on the ballot questions. I voted (1) No, (2) No, (3) Yes, (4) Yes, (5) Yes. See my reasons below. Most important: “No” on Question 2 to protect our public schools, and “Yes” on Question 5 (Somerville only) so the City can build a much-needed new Somerville High School.
And if you are in her district in Somerville, please vote for our hard-working, incredibly smart and effective State Representative Denise Provost.
What I’ve written below quotes quite a bit from the recommendations of Fred Berman, a Ward 5 resident and activist on affordable housing, zoning and many other issues. Thank you, Fred, for your incisive and well-researched voting recommendations, and for allowing me to use some of what you wrote!
NO on Question 1 (creating another slot machine parlor, this time targeted for Suffolk Downs) – I am against legalized casino gambling. The current proposal to add a slots parlor that would prop up the finances of Suffolk Downs would have so few benefits that even the host city (Revere) voted against it.
NO on Question 2 (adding up to 12 charter school licenses each year) – I am not against charter schools although I have many reservations and concerns about them. I am against the way they are funded in Massachusetts because the funds are taken from public school districts in an unfair way and I am against the fact that virtually none of them are unionized. But this question is not about adding a few charter schools, it is a radical expansion of charter schools and would destabilize public school funding and even some municipal budgets. Right now there are about 80 charter schools in Massachusetts and there could be about 40 more under the current laws.
Boston Mayor Walsh, a charter school supporter, wrote in an op ed in the Boston Globe (10/18/2016), “Question 2 does not just raise the cap. Over time, it would radically destabilize school governance in Massachusetts — not in any planned way, but by super-sizing an already broken funding system to a scale that would have a disastrous impact on students, their schools, and the cities and towns that fund them.” Question 2 is not a nuanced approach to improving the quality of education. It is a politically-driven effort to privatize education in Massachusetts that would have disastrous consequences for many public school districts and many public schools if it passes. It is likely that at least one of Somerville’s public schools would need to close if it passes and is implemented as written. 
YES on Question 3 (ensuring that pork, veal, and eggs sold in Mass. come from farm animals that were not caged in a way to prevent them from lying down, standing up, fully extending their limbs, or turning around freely) – I believe that animals should be treated humanely, even if they are raised for slaughter. The argument against Question 3 has been based on the increased cost of food production, and how it will hurt poor people. Saving a few cents a day on food costs doesn’t justify inhumane farm-animal conditions.
YES on Question 4 (legalizing marijuana use) – Although I no longer use marijuana and haven’t for decades (and yes, I did inhale), I strongly support not only decriminalization, but legalization. It’s time to move beyond laws that make possession OK, but selling illegal. If we want respect for our laws, they need to make sense. Legalizing and taxing the sale of marijuana makes so much more sense than supporting a dangerous underground economy that funnels profits to murderous gangs. Decriminalizing the sale of marijuana nationally (one state at a time) is a step in the right direction to ending mass incarceration. Prohibition did not work for alcohol, and alcohol kills far more people than marijuana, so why is marijuana illegal? If we’re concerned about the impact of drugs on society, let’s fund treatment programs, not criminal prosecution and incarceration. Approving Question 4 would not provide a blank check for marijuana sales: there will be a regulatory body on the state level and it gives cities and towns the right to regulate, limit, or prohibit the operation of marijuana-selling establishments. And it prohibits the use of marijuana in public or driving under the influence.
YES on Question 5 (borrow funds to build a new Somerville High School) – Good schools benefit the entire community, and each of us individually — whether we have kids in them or not. It would cost over $100 million just to renovate the existing building in order to preserve its accreditation and to fix all the problems with it, and the City would receive NO State aid. If we build a new high school, the City will get about $120 million from the state. So we’re talking at most a $36 million additional cost to the City in order to get a new, state-of-the art building that is suitable for the kind of education high school kids need today, as compared to a renovated building that buys us a little more time. 
The $256 million price tag is a lot of money, for sure! Many people have asked me, “Why do we need the most expensive school ever built in Massachusetts?” Here’s why. The current location is the only place in Somerville where a new high school could be built, and it is an expensive site to build on. Urban construction is expensive and costs more than suburban or rural construction. 
But it’s likely the next high school built will be even more expensive than the new Somerville HS; costs simply go up every year due to inflation and rising standards and requirements. The previous most expensive high school built in Massachusetts, Newton North, completed in 2010, would cost $400 million in today’s dollars. And anyway, don’t our kids deserve as good a high school as Newton’s?
The voters of Somerville need to approve the new SHS if it is to be built. The City plans to borrow (sell bonds to raise) $130 million. State law requires a vote to override the Proposition 2½ debt limit, called a “debt exclusion.” The question on the ballot is a little difficult to understand. The exact wording is required by state law. It reads: “Shall the City of Somerville be allowed to exempt from the provisions of proposition two and one-half, so called, the amounts required to pay for the bond(s) issued in order to design, engineer, construct, and equip the new Somerville High School?” I urge you to vote yes.
Mark Niedergang, Ward 5 Alderman

Mark@MarkNiedergang.com 617 629-8033


Mark Niedergang, Ward 5 Alderman · 29 Conwell St, Somerville, MA 02143, United States 

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