Ben Downing: Sales Tax

May 16, 2018

During the recent Massachusetts Republican Party Convention and in public statements since, Governor Baker has called for the Sales Tax to be cut. At best, this is an incomplete position, at worst, it is an irresponsible one.

For more than 30 years, officials at all levels of government have repeated the same myth, that revenue not collected because of tax cuts will have no real impact on investments the public sector makes and services the public sector provides. We have been told we can have our cake and eat it too. That myth is a lie. Fewer dollars mean fewer investments in transportation, education and housing. Fewer dollars means fewer beds to combat the opioid epidemic in North Adams or job training programs to help laid off workers in Pittsfield find the next job.  

While I would not agree with the proposal, the responsible thing to do, when advocating for a tax cut of aproximately $1 billion would be to outline the $1 billion in investments and programs Massachusetts can go without. To date, Governor Baker has failed to do that. Governor Baker could also responsibly call for the Sales Tax to be cut while supporting other taxes to offset the $1 billion revenue loss. To date, he has refused to do that, most noticeably repeatedly avoiding taking a positition on the millionaire’s tax.

Massachusetts is in an enviable position compared to many other states. On the whole, our economy is strong and our quality of life is enviable. But we have far to go to be a place where we can honestly say to every woman, man and child, if you work hard, play by the rules, you will be able to make the most of your God given talents. Too many hard workers can’t get to good jobs because our transit system fails them. Too many prospective students are weighed down by debt or choose not to pursue education for fear of debt. Too many children enter K-12 behind their peers because we have failed to invest in early educaiton.

We can start to solve these problems and, in Governor Baker’s words, let Massachusetts be great. But to do so, we need to invest in the strongest part of Massachusetts - our people and our communities. Cutting the Sales Tax won’t let us do that. It will do just the opposite. It will make a bad problem worse. Tight budgets will be tighter. Municipal leaders will be asked to fend for themselves. Service providers will be forced to to help fewer. Needs will not be met and despite having more money in our pockets, we will all be a little poorer.

I do not know what the polling says about a Sales Tax Cut. It might be good politics, but it’s bad management and worse leadership.

Ben Downing represented the westernmost district in the Massachusetts Senate from 2006 to 2016. He is currently a vice president at Nexamp, a Massachusetts-based solar energy company, and an adjunct faculty member at Tufts University.

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