Opinion: Why does the Conference Committee meet in secret?

7/20/2017 | G. Michael Dobbs

Category: July

So, the big question on my mind was why on the name of all that is holy did the conference committee remove the east-west rail study from the FY18 Massachusetts budget?

No one is talking, with the exception of conference committee member state Rep. Todd Smola, who was the only member of the committee to have the courtesy of returning my call.

If you’ve sat through any city council or select board meeting – or for that matter any local government meeting – you know the Open Meeting Law governs those gatherings. They have been conducted in a certain manner in order to heighten the transparency of government.

Not so in the State House. Smola explained to to me the business of the Conference Committee is secret. We have no idea what are the natures of the deliberations or the reasoning behind decisions.

This is simply wrong. It is hypocritical to set up a legal framework by which some government entities must abide but does not apply to all.

State Sen. Eric Lesser said that no one explained to him why his proposal was removed from the state budget while another which would study the possibility of a special summer train service between New York City and Pittsfield to encourage tourism was given the thumbs up to movie forward.

What is this, fifth grade?

As it was appropriate to put into law measures to shed light on the mechanics of local government, it’s now time for the General Court to be run with similar rules.

People deserve to understand the hows and whys behind legislation.

On the proposal itself, remember the Boston of Chamber of Commerce endorsed the idea of examining east-west rail. Those folks may not know the difference between Ludlow and Cummington, but they understand the nature of economic development that kind of rail service would mean for the state as a whole.

Train service such as that could mean a reduction of cars on the Turnpike and an easing of traffic and congestion. It could mean more people and businesses would consider moving away from Boston proper to communities with great housing opportunities and a lower cost of doing business.

Yes, I know there are plenty of doubtful people about adding additional rail. Will the taxpayers have to subsidize it? Will people actually use it? These are valid questions that a study could answer.

I do believe that rail use will hit a critical mass when there are enough schedule and destination options offered. For our region at least part of that critical mass will be met when the commuter trains linking Springfield with Hartford and New Haven start next May.

East-west rail deserves a thorough study and I’m glad that Lesser is bringing it before the Legislature once again.

The price of success

Ah, summer and my thoughts turn with pride to my little garden. Last year I started a modest vegetable garden. It was barely acceptable. This year I have increased the size of the garden and planted earlier, using copious amount of organic rotted cow manure to bolster the soil.

The results have been night and day.  I have a summer squash plant pushing out fruit like cars off the assembly lines of Detroit.

The problem is what to do with all of it. I can’t freeze squash. I don’t think canning it would work either. Squash jerky?

So I’m looking for recipes to make wider use of it. Any ideas?

Next year I think I will once agains expand the garden in size – less grass to mow, but perhaps my squash choice will be winter, rather than summer varieties.

At least those I can store butternut squash for months at a time.

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