April 12, 2014

Daily Hampshire Gazette: US Sen. Elizabeth Warren fires up local politicians, community organizers at annual municipal conference

By: Laurie Loisel

April 12, 2014

NORTHAMPTON - U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren offered an analysis Saturday of the federal government's impact on local communities that provided her audience of local elected and appointed officials reasons for hope and anger - in just about equal measure.

Warren was the keynote speaker for an annual conference sponsored for 24 years by state Sen. Stanley C. Rosenberg, D-Amherst. Rosenberg said this year's conference drew a bigger crowd than ever, about 240 town and city officials from around the region, compared to 175 who typically take part.

New at this year's conference was a greater attention to technology, with the keynote talks aired live on several community television stations - and live tweeting from the event under the hashtag municom14. "There have been 150 tweets already," Rosenberg said around the lunch hour.

Later, he seemed even more thrilled about the tweeting when he said, while introducing Warren, "We set up a Twitter account and we hashtagged this thing, so it's very exciting!"

In her talk, Warren extolled the virtues of the western Massachusetts region - its natural beauty, relative affordability and the influence of higher education in the form of so many colleges and universities - saying the area is primed for economic revitalization.

"I really do love being here because I see such potential for this area being on the cusp of the next form of how we create a vibrant economy," Warren said. "The opportunity to make this an area of growing jobs and more money are, I think, enormous."

Key to making that happen, she said, are strong local, state and federal partnerships to develop initiatives and key infrastructure for technology and transportation along the so-called "knowledge corridor."

"If we could just get the right key pieces in place - where the federal government could be a partner - there's more opportunity here," she said.

"The federal government has no business telling local governments what to do," she said. "On the other hand, the federal government can be a superb partner."

But she was blunt in her assessment of what she sees as dysfunction in Washington.

"I think the sequester is an example of the worst form of federal government that we have seen in decades," she said, referring to the automatic budget cuts that kicked in last year when Congress was unable to agree on a deficit-reduction plan. And while there is a two-year hiatus from the sequester, she said she has little doubt that it will return with the potential to do even greater damage to the federal budget.

"Our spending should be aligned with our values, and I believe that it is not the case now," she said, drawing applause from a highly appreciative audience.

She described budget battles in Washington, which she said are skewed heavily in favor of the wealthy. She repeatedly referred to a pet topic of hers - closing "tax loopholes for billionaires" - who she said pay a lower tax rate than their secretaries.

"How can this happen in America? The answer is that it's a rigged system," Warren said. "There are a bazillion lobbyists to fight for every one of those loopholes. Those who have money and power have the capacity to influence everything that happens in Washington and by golly, we must fight that."

Warren mentioned the 1,200 miles of fiber-optic cable installed as part of the Mass Broadband initiative and the progress in getting commuter rail back into the region as examples of good federal-state-local partnerships.

Read the full story here.