In today's Sentinel & Enterprise:
LEOMINSTER -- Natalie Higgins and Richard Marchand continued to clash over issues regarding increasing taxes on the wealthy and legalizing recreational marijuana during a debate Tuesday night hosted by the Sentinel & Enterprise at City Hall.
The two Democratic candidates for state representative for the 4th Worcester District, while admitting that both share similar opinions on several state and local issues, were shown to have differences on some key issues.
"Where we differ," Higgins said, "those issues are very important and enormous."
Marchand and Higgins will square off in Thursday's Democratic Primary to see which candidate will run against unopposed Republican Thomas "Frank" Ardinger in the November election.
They are seeking to fill the seat being vacated by Rep. Dennis Rosa, who decided not to seek re-election.
The one difference that became a recurring theme through the course of the debate was the state's "Fair Share" amendment proposal, also called the "millionaire's tax," which would levy a four-cent tax on every dollar of earned income over $1 million.
Marchand, a Ward 5 city councilor, reiterated his opposition to the proposed tax increase, referring to it as a "target tax" to bring in hundreds of millions of dollars into the state.
"I'm afraid of a government who targets people for being successful," he said.
Higgins argued in favor of the tax, saying it would bring in an additional $2 billion in state revenue.
She also pointed out that only 12 Leominster residents would be effected by the increase."I really can't believe my opponent does not support this," she said.
That point was also visited during a question on how each candidate would bring state funding back to Leominster.
After Marchand pointed out the need to relieve the pressures of student debt, a point his opponent agreed with, Higgins said, "But how are we going to do that without any increased taxes?"
Higgins, who is the executive director of the Public Higher Education Network of Massachusetts, or PHENOM, brought up the issue of finding new revenue without raising taxes again during a discussion over public transportation, which she and Marchand both said needs to be more readily available to all residents at all hours.
"We all know the problems, we've all experienced them, and I would like to hear some solutions," she said.
Marchand said in response, "When I get elected, you'll hear a lot of them."
The debate also drew a clear line between each candidate's stance on the topic of legalizing marijuana on a recreational level.
Explaining that he is concerned with the possible health side effects and increase in crime, Marchand said he plans to vote against legalization on the November ballot.
"We do know that it's a gateway drug, and that was proven by the CDC," he said, referring to the Centers for Disease Control.
Higgins, however, disagreed with Marchand's claim that marijuana is a gateway drug, explaining that she is more concerned with the voters' previous decision to decriminalize marijuana without finding a way to regulate it on a state level.
The candidates also found themselves on opposite ends of the concept of tax-free weekends.
"I think that we need to talk about how this is impacting our small businesses," Higgins said, explaining that tax-free weekends don't always guarantee a boost in sales.
She instead suggested as more beneficial, long-term solutions finding ways to decrease energy and health-care costs for business owners.
However, Marchand disagreed, standing by the possible benefits to local businesses that a tax-free weekend can provide.
"We should at least have a day when local businesses of Leominster can experience the windfall of a good sales day," he said.
Tuesday's debate also marked Marchand's announcement that he would leave his seat on the City Council if elected as representative, despite his previous statements that he planned to finish his current term.
He said he came to the decision after learning that a special election could be held by April to fill his seat, and that it would only cost taxpayers $11,000.
"The plan is to assess how that plays out on Nov. 9 and move forward from there," he said.
Despite their disagreements, each candidate did have similar stances on multiple issues, including creating a more effective Department of Children & Families. Both candidates said finding ways to better fund social-worker salaries would improve the department's effectiveness.
Both Marchand and Higgins also had criticism for Attorney General Maura Healey's recent proposed crackdown on assault rifles. Higgins said Healey should have consulted with other officials and legislators before making her announcement, while Marchand said he felt the attorney general's actions had possibly been a "knee-jerk reaction."