WEST NEWBURY — Roughly a week before facing off in their first debate, the two candidates for the Second Essex District representative seat explained their positions on taxes, jobs and regulation while also laying out their vision of what a healthy economy would look like.
Democrat Barry Fogel and Republican Lenny Mirra, who will be facing off in November’s general election for the seat held by Rep. Harriett Stanley, differ greatly on matters of job creation and regulation, but do share similar views on taxes. Both believe the state sales tax should be reduced to 5 percent, and each favors reducing the state income tax as well.
The two candidates will likely try to draw further distinctions between each other at the upcoming debates later this month.
The first debate will be held in Boxford on Thursday; the second will be a Meet the Candidates-style event at the Haverhill Public Library on Oct. 15 and the third will be jointly held by Georgetown and Groveland at the Georgetown Town Hall on Oct. 18. All three debates will be held at 7 p.m.
The Boxford and Georgetown/Groveland debates will be sponsored by each respective town’s Democratic and Republican committees, while the Greater Haverhill League of Women Voters will put on the Haverhill event.
A fourth debate to be held jointly by West Newbury and Newbury later this month is also in the works, Fogel said, but no plans have been finalized.
The Second Essex District includes Newbury, West Newbury, Merrimac, Georgetown, Groveland and parts of Haverhill and Boxford.
As far as government regulation goes, Fogel said he opposes unreasonable and overly burdensome regulation, but is a strong advocate for fair regulation with reasonable implementation of the rules.
Mirra believes there is too much regulation and that the sheer amount of bureaucracy hurts small businesses.
“Everything from hiring procedures to putting license plates on trucks, everything seems to have too much bureaucracy and regulation,” Mirra said. “Just to put a dump truck on the road requires you to pay about a dozen different taxes, and that stifles job growth and it inhibits the ability of people to start new companies.”
Mirra said the key to maximizing the state’s economic potential is to drive costs down. He called Massachusetts an undesirable place to do business as a result of high costs and high regulations, and highlighted a Forbes Magazine report that listed Boston second to last out of 200 cities in terms of the cost of doing business.
“Typically in a recovery, which we should be in, GPD growth is 4 to 5 percent,” Mirra said. “We’re nowhere near that.”
Fogel offered a much more positive few of the state economy, pointing out that the state’s unemployment rate is two points below the national average and that Massachusetts is one of only two states that had its bond rating increase (Alaska being the other) and is one of only four states with a stabilization fund of over a billion dollars.
“We have an improving economy,” Fogel said.
Highlighting those trends, Fogel said his goal would be to make sure the state’s economy continued to improve, allowing businesses to thrive and ultimately spur job growth.
“Haverhill, Lawrence, Newburyport and down the North Shore, a lot of people in our district work in those nearby areas,” Fogel said. “The rising tide of the economy in Massachusetts is going to create jobs for people in our district.”
Outside of general economic improvement, Mirra said one of the specific ways he would try to promote job growth would be through immigration reform.
“Right now people in the lower end of the income scale have seen their income stagnate,” Mirra said. “That’s due in part because of our immigration system that allowed an influx of low-skill workers.”
While the two candidates do agree that taxes should be lowered, each candidate offered different wrinkles in terms of which taxes they’d target.
Mirra said that he would like the income tax to be reduced to 5 percent, while Fogel said the state should consider adopting a sales tax for online vendors so that local brick and mortar stores wouldn’t be at a competitive disadvantage.
“I think we need to give serious consideration to that,” Fogel said. “People need to pay sales taxes in stores, but not online.”