Two weeks ago, I had the pleasure of meeting the director of a small public library while visiting a friend in her hometown. The librarian was eager to discuss her experiences with statewide library advocacy, and was curious as to my involvement with these efforts as a Massachusetts legislator.
I told her that I was a strong supporter of public libraries, which is one of the many reasons why I had been such a big advocate for Senate bill 1313, An Act to Invest in Our Communities She was not familiar with the legislation, so I did my best to explain how the bill would have helped increase funding for libraries by properly funding state aid for local services across the board. I told her that while there was a modest increase in state aid for library services in this year’s FY14 budget, throughout the year there had been a broader tax debate up on Beacon Hill that could have provided more significant state funding for public libraries.
An Act to Invest in Our Communities, would have raised approximately $2 billion dollars for local aid by restoring the income tax rate to 5.95%, while increasing the personal exemption to hold down increases for low and middle income families. It also would have adjusted the tax rate on investment income to 8.95%, with exemptions for low and middle income seniors. would have raised much more revenue for local services than the recent transportation finance bill, and done so in a progressive manner.
My brief conversation with the librarian about state funding for libraries highlights that there exists significant political challenges if we want to see our vision of a better Massachusetts become a reality.
First of all, there is a deep disconnect between the public’s advocacy for a better quality of life in Massachusetts, and how what’s happening on Beacon Hill directly affects that. The revenue debate at the State House is confusing, and the budget process is not transparent. This prevents people from weighing in at critical moments that could influence the outcome of budget priorities, and critical pieces of legislation.
Secondly, too many municipal officials are advocating for the bare minimum in terms of state budget priorities and legislation that affect the people that they represent each and every day. While it’s understandable that municipal officials may sometimes find it hard to get involved with advocacy on state policy, this really needs to change to ensure that the policies being discussed on Beacon Hill have a significant positive impact on every community in Massachusetts.
Finally, there continues to be a lack of understanding not only of the link between raising revenue and funding important services, but also the difference between legislators who talk about supporting significant budget priorities, and those who are fighting for the kind of revenue that will make those increases a reality. Until there are greater educational efforts with people like the librarian that I met, the level of advocacy needed to challenge the status quo on Beacon Hill is unlikely to change.
With the Legislature returning to formal session after Labor Day and gubernatorial candidates beginning to travel across the state describing their vision for Massachusetts, now is an important time to reflect upon what concerned residents expect from their government, and their elected officials. It’s especially critical that progressive activists strongly embrace the kind of bold ideas that will make a difference in the lives of Massachusetts residents going forward, and learn from the mistakes of this year’s discussion on revenue.