SPRINGFIELD — On Monday night, Senator Eric P. Lesser spoke and took questions at the Greenleaf Community Center in Springfield, where he held his third and final town hall of the month.
For nearly two hours, Sen. Lesser took more than a dozen questions on topics ranging from the state’s health care system to K-12 education and innovative reforms happening in Springfield to the opioid addiction crisis and the recent Equifax data breach.
He also discussed his proposed Student Loan Bill of Rights in response to a question about student debt. The bill would protect student borrowers from deceptive practices by student loan servicers and require those servicers to be licensed by the state. The bill would also empower state officials to investigate students’ complaints and take legal action against servicers who violate this bill of rights — including forcing servicers to repay student borrowers if they were overcharged.
Sen. Lesser was also asked about east-west rail connecting Boston to Springfield, and discussed the state’s regional economic differences and how the rail connection would help the Western Mass economy.
“I don’t think anyone is trying to pretend this is going to be some easy project. But the question that needs to be asked is, What’s the cost of not doing it? And what’s the cost of continuing to allow an entire region of the state to fall further and further behind while an economy just to the east of us in Boston and just to the south of us in New York is as hot and growing as fast as it’s ever grown before. That’s not sustainable and frankly, it’s not fair,” Sen. Lesser said.
“Our taxes helped pay for the Big Dig and are still paying for the Big Dig. Our sales taxes support the MBTA. And my guess is most of us in this room would gladly pay our fair share because we understand how important a dynamic and growing Boston is for the whole state and for the economy of our whole New England region. But the deal has to be fair. I don’t think somebody’s future potential should depend on the zip code where they live. I think everyone should have the same access to jobs and opportunity,” he added.
In July, the legislature’s Conference Committee released its compromise budget, which did not include an amendment to study east-west rail that had been included in the Senate version of the budget.
Sen. Lesser has reintroduced a standalone bill to study the feasibility of such a project. It is slated to have a hearing before the legislature’s joint transportation committee this fall.
Sen. Lesser also met with local officials, including city councillors, selectmen and school committee members from Springfield, Wilbraham and East Longmeadow before the town hall to get updates on a variety of local issues he is working on at the state level.