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Thu March 31, 2011
A Groundswell Of Support for Raising Taxes
By Charlie Deitz
Massachusetts – Over in Massachusetts, a movement of concerned groups is promoting what they consider a solution to the state's projected 1.8 billion dollar budget deficit raising taxes. WAMC's Berkshire Bureau Chief Charlie Deitz reports on a bill that's gaining momentum across the state.
An Act To Invest in Our Communities looks to restore tax cuts administered over the last decade which some groups say has been the cause of deteriorating social services. Judy Meredith is the head of outreach at One Massachusetts, a public policy advocacy group, she says Governor Patrick's plan to cut his way out of a nearly 2 billion dollar gap is unsustainable at best.
So, according to Meredith, and dozens of groups across the state, raising the tax rate is a much better option than watching service organizations and state agencies get torn apart by yearly spending reductions. The main increase would be putting the state income tax rate, which now stands at 5.3 percent to where it was about a decade ago to 5.95 percent, but they've also included a higher working class exemption to take the sting out of the increase.
Meredith balances the need for more taxes by saying that the state has made great strides in reforms such as overhauling the transportation agencies, or ethics and pension reform and health care, making the case that the administration has stripped a lot of fat out of the budget already. The proposal is being sponsored by Representative Jim O'Day and Suffolk Senator Sonia Chang Diaz, who acknowledges that raising taxes might seem like the third rail of politics right now but with overlapping protests on beacon hill every day people are starting to see some merit to the idea.
"We are implicitly talking about robbing Peter to pay Paul, cutting health care to pay for housing, etc."
The bill has already found some big backers like teachers unions, social workers and even Service Employees International Union whose State Council Executive Director Harris Gruman explains their position this way.
"We're living right now in a time when the first time in US history the next generation is doing worse than the current one."
Gruman says SEIU represents about 65 thousand workers in Massachusetts, many of them low wage, so they'll be feeling the cuts as the state runs out of stimulus money and federal cuts to community service block grant funding.
The thought of raising taxes isn't sitting well with the Mass GOP though, whose spokesperson Tim Buckley says the state should focus on spending the little money they have more wisely, referring to two major companies pulling up roots after receiving millions of dollars in tax credits.
"Middle class families take a hit when Fidelity moves to NH, or Evergreen goes to China."
One Massachusetts and other supporters have been holding what they're calling Budget Speak Outs in towns on the eastern side of Massachusetts but more are slated over the next month or so with the hopes of hitting every region in the commonwealth. Judy Meredith says in these meetings people representing various agencies are starting to see that they all have something in common.
The bill's 2 sponsors and dozen or so endorsers hope to see the proposal hit the floor for debate before the final budget is out on June 30th.