Stephen Casey, 43, firefighter and a 12-year city resident, the son of an active town politician, decided to challenge Rep. Jon Brien for the Dist. 50 seat in the Sept. 11 primary after the incumbent's vote to table the tax equity act.
The bill, H-7729, was included as an amendment to the budget during this year's legislative session. It would have . Jon Brien's vote helped table the measure, effectively killing it, as did the vote of Rep. Lisa Baldelli Hunt (D-District 49, Woonsocket) and 51 other representatives, according to the House Journal from June 7.
"That would have brought another $131 million back into the state," Casey said. A portion of that figure could have helped Woonsocket, he said.
Casey was also not a fan of Brien's lack of support for the supplemental tax bill, the defeat of which prompted the appointment of the Budget Commission and took much of the financial power out of the hands of local officials. Now, Casey said, the city may wind up facing a much higher tax increase. "I think that's going to come back and bite the city right in the face," Casey said. Instead of saving taxpayers from an increase, the Budget Commission may raise taxes higher than local officials were willing to consider, he said.
Casey said although Brien says his position against the supplemental tax bill is aimed at protecting taxpayers, it's really an irresponsible play for their favor. "I think he didn't want to pass it so he could get re-elected," Casey said.
Casey said that though he isn't happy about increased taxes for his own Park Avenue home, the city's only alternative is to ask for a receiver who can take Woonsocket into bankruptcy, which will be more damaging to property values and will also lead to a tax increase. "I don't know that there's an easy avenue for the people of Woonsocket right now," Casey said. He added Brien is smart enough to know that.
When asked if he'd consider a graduated tax scale that would give lower-income residents a break in the event of a supplemental tax, Casey said he didn't think it was wise to move away from an equal rate in the city. He said if someone were to suggest a plan that might work, he'd consider it. "No matter what it needs to be fair for everybody," Casey said.
On the question of how he would work with fellow members of the General Assembly, Casey said that though he is new to the political scene, that's how everyone in it now started out. "If I have to lobby for the city to get state aid to help, that's what needs to be done," he said.
Casey, an Eagle Scout who grew up in Melrose, MA, described himself as a regular guy who mows his own lawn and is easy to get along with. His dad was a member of the Melrose School Committee and later served on the Board of Aldermen before making an unsuccessful run at state representative. He said public office has been something he's considered for a long time.
He said he and his wife, Debra (Deziel) Hunt, a life-long Woonsocket resident, own two cars that are 27 years old combined. "I think I can relate to people," he said.
The Dist. 50 challenger said he aims to inspire the city's residents to be invested, voting citizens again, and intends to ask them for their input on how to tackle the city's problems at the state level. Too many people in Woonsocket have given in to apathy, he said, and it shows. "Now what you're doing is you're trusting someone else to make that decision for you, and do you really want to do that?" Casey asked.
Casey said he also wants to work to make Woonsocket more attractive to business. He said he intends to talk to the businesses that have remained throughout the city's troubles, and find out what's allowed them to survive or kept them here.
Casey said he knows he isn't able to single-handedly draft plans for fixing the city's problems, "But I'm going to go find the guys who are. That's what we need to do," he said.
Casey will turn 44 the day after the Sept. 11 primary, and he said it would be all right with him if he celebrates his birthday as a state representative. "I don't think it's going to be a present. I'm going to have to work for it," he said.
Casey and Brien will face off in the Democratic primary Tuesday, Sept 11. Whoever wins that contest will run unopposed for the Dist. 50 seat in November.