I recently voted on my first state budget, and I want to take a moment to share some of my thoughts regarding the Commonwealth's annual spending package.
I am proud to say I succeeded in getting both of the amendments I filed into the budget: $65,000 to help mitigate air pollution along I-93 in Somerville, along with authorization for new technology to better administer affordable housing rental vouchers in our state.
Many thanks to our Somerville delegation who worked with me on the pollution mitigation amendment, and thanks as well to Citizens' Housing and Planning Association who worked with me to advance the housing voucher amendment.
In addition, I was proud to speak out in opposition to Governor Baker's proposal to kick some 140,000 low-income residents off of MassHealth. The Governor's plan would have made Massachusetts the first state in the nation to roll back the Affordable Care Act’s Medicaid expansion. Fortunately, the House progressive caucus was able to rally opposition to this cruel and shortsighted proposal, thanks especially to the leadership and expertise of Rep. Christine Barber.
All that said, the FY 2018 budget was nevertheless a very bitter pill; according to the nonpartisan State House News Service, this year's budget was "the latest in a string of austerity budgets..."
The fact is, despite all of our advantages as a Commonwealth, and despite nearly a decade of "economic recovery," we nevertheless face a structural budget deficit in our state – as reflected by the recent news that Standard and Poor's lowered our bond rating for the first time since 1990.
To make matters worse, over the course of the budget process this year, revenue estimates continued to fall short of expectations. One theory is that some wealthy folks and certain corporations are trying to find ways to delay reporting of their 2016 income (because of an expectation that a Trump/GOP tax cut will offer more favorable tax rates in the 2017 tax year and beyond).
During the budget process, I learned a lot and had some great experiences, working with the progressive caucus and with House Ways and Means Chair and his staff, and my legislative aide. I was a co-sponsor on many successful budget amendments and participated in hundreds of meetings with advocates, activists, constituents, and colleagues.
I was able to work with colleagues to help advocate for additional funds to boost the compensation of early educators (i.e. the "early education rate reserve") and to boost funding for the Division of Ecological Restoration, which helps protect and restore the waters of the Charles River and the Mystic River (both run along parts of our Cambridge/Somerville district). Unfortunately, the gains we made in the House budget on these early education and DER items had to be scaled back in last week's final conference committee budget as revenues continued to fall short of expectations.
My biggest takeaway: we have to bring people together to build momentum for new revenue, as this is the best way to ensure that we can fund all of the worthy causes that are advanced during budget season (e.g. arts and culture, education, legal assistance, family planning, food banks and food programs, youth at risk grants, veterans' programs, justice reinvestment, and animal protection, just to name a few).
To raise this new revenue, we should tax the very rich and curtail certain corporate tax loopholes and giveaways.
Consider this: Massachusetts is spending well over one hundred million dollars to help General Electric build a new headquarters in Boston, and yet, the number of families experiencing homelessness in our state has actually doubled over the past nine years.
Here in Massachusetts, with our high-tech/knowledge economy, world-class healthcare and institutions of education, and countless other attractions and advantages, we need to raise the revenue to fund that programs that are necessary to sustain the middle class and a broad social safety net. As it stands, we are facing profound wealth and income inequality, and if we do not raise revenue, the fiscal situation will probably get worse. According to the Boston Globe, when the next recession comes, our state budget is likely to "explode."
This is why I was proud to stand up and speak in support of additional revenue during the House budget process this year. My support for new revenue even earned the criticism of the Boston Herald editorial page – but I am willing to take the heat if it means we can fund basic programs and services.
At many times and in many places over the past few years, I have talked about how our annual budget is some $3.3 billion less today than it was circa the year 2000, when adjusted for inflation. That means over the past two decades, we have fallen tens of billions of dollars behind on our investments in affordable and public housing, education, transportation, and vital services.
While all of this may sound very depressing, there is one bright spot: we in the legislature recently voted to send the Fair Share Amendment to the ballot in November 2018; this will have the potential to raise up to $2 billion annually by imposing a 4% tax on any portion of an individual's income greater than one million dollars. Going forward, we need to pass the Fair Share Amendment while also looking for progressive ways to raise additional revenues on Beacon Hill.
For even more detailed analysis, check out the Massachusetts Budget and Policy Center's overviewof the legislature's 2018 conference committee budget. The final step in the process is that Governor Baker will sign the budget. Historically, the Governor has also vetoed certain line-items, but the legislature typically votes to override those vetoes.
As always, if you have any questions or concerns about the state budget, or any other matter, please do not hesitate to reach out to me directly.