13th District House hopefuls spar over issues.


Byline: Steven H. Foskett Jr.

WORCESTER - With less than two weeks go to before the primary election that will whittle their field from six to one, candidates for the 13th Worcester District state representative seat sharpened their messages and their attacks at a debate last night at the Willows on Barry Road.

Before a standing-room-only crowd, the six candidates - Margot R. Barnet, Gina M. DiBaro, John J. Mahoney, Michael C. Perotto, Donald P. Sharry and Joffrey A. Smith - sparred for almost two hours over the issues and each other.

Taxes, the economy and health insurance emerged as issues the candidates said their prospective constituents were concerned about. Ms. Barnet, a holistic chiropractor, said she doesn't support a question on the November ballot asking voters to eliminate a tax on alcohol sales. Alcohol is a discretionary item, she said, and

the revenue from those taxes supports important government programs.

"If somebody's buying a beer or wine, they can chip in a little bit to support these programs," she said.

Mr. Perotto, a longtime city councilor who runs his own insurance agency, said he supported eliminating the tax, and said it's about time the state eliminates as many taxes as possible. The lost revenue could be made up with some budget belt-tightening, he said.

Even when talking about education, the discussion came back to jobs and the economy for several candidates. Mr. Sharry, who runs his own business selling health insurance plans to employers, said creating jobs will generate more local aid to flow back into struggling school districts.

Ms. Barnet noted that economic conditions and school performance were interconnected issues, and said taking a comprehensive approach was necessary. Increasing affordable housing to stop transience among traditionally low-performing students would help, she said.

"We need to support the communities around the schools," Ms. Barnet said.

When asked by moderator Gary Rosen whether residents in the state were overtaxed, Mr. Smith, a city councilor for District 1, agreed, and said he will fight to keep residents' taxes as low as possible. But he said he also supported incentives to get businesses to relocate to the city.

Mr. Perotto took Mr. Smith to task, however, and asked how he could vote against a city budget that included a tax increase, but vote for a capital budget that also has an impact on taxpayers. He also said Mr. Smith's support of the lowest residential tax rate was...

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