Each year at about this time, Senators meet with the Senate Ways & Means Chair to discuss the state budget for the upcoming fiscal year (FY ’12). This is a chance for us to explain what our priorities are: what programs and budget line items we feel are most important our district and the Commonwealth, why we believe they deserve prioritization, and at what level we want to see them funded.
We’re facing an extremely tough budget situation this year, probably the worst I’ve seen in my nine years as a legislator. Most of the stimulus funding from Washington has dried up, and although revenue is on the rise as the economy grows, we’re still looking at a budget deficit of approximately 2 billion dollars. That means that our schools, local aid, and emergency and health care services are all facing deep cuts this spring — this on top of the serious budget cutbacks we’ve already made over the past few years.
It’s for that reason that I began my meeting yesterday with the new Senate Ways & Means Chair, Senator Stephen Brewer, by reiterating my support for raising revenue this session.
The fact is, our communities can’t afford more cuts, especially to the tune of two billion dollars. This is the time to invest in our communities, to keep the quality schools and services that make our state a good place to live and do business.
Everyone has programs and services they want the government to spend money on, but very few want to talk about how those services are paid for – with tax dollars. We all need to do a better job of being honest about the reality of our budget, and what we do and do not value as a Commonwealth.
For me, that means starting any conversation about spending with a conversation about revenue – and in particular, about more progressive ways of raising revenue. When advocates for certain programs come to my office, or constituents call to ask me to supporting funding for certain services, I ask them to join the growing chorus of people advocating for new revenue as well.
Until we do a better job of connecting the dots between the services we care about and the way those services are funded, deeper and deeper cuts are all we’re going to see in our state – because unlike the federal government, Massachusetts can’t print money, and we’re obligated to balance our budget every year.
I’m supporting a revenue package proposed by Senator Sonia Chang-Diaz that would raise $1.2 billion annually by asking more from high income households and investors who received large windfalls from the Bush tax cuts, while raising the personal exemption as a way of holding down any tax increase for middle-class families. Under this package, most people in Massachusetts would actually see a modest tax cut.
Of course I have ideas about how we should be spending that $1.2 billion, which I also laid out in my meeting with Senator Brewer.
Most importantly, we need to protect local aid and Chapter 70 education funding for our cities and towns. This funding keeps police and firefighters on the streets, our classroom sizes small, and our property taxes down.
We need to maintain funding for vital social safety net services, particularly in this economic climate. This includes emergency housing assistance for the homeless, food stamps for low-income families, intervention services for at-risk children, and support for the elderly and those with disabilities. I believe protecting that social safety net is one of the core missions of government.
I also advocated for preventing deeper cuts to environmental protection, infrastructure (roads, bridges, dams, water treatment, etc.), and transportation. A clean environment, strong and safe infrastructure, and a reliable transportation system are all incredibly important in supporting and strengthening our economy and, ultimately, creating jobs. Cutting back in these areas now would be shortsighted, crippling our economic growth for years to come.
Finally, there’s one area of the budget I’ve long believed needs more scrutiny – our economic development tax incentives and subsidies. Each year, we give away hundreds of millions of dollars to corporations. In exchange, these corporations are supposed to create jobs. Sometimes they do, but far too often – as in the case of Evergreen Solar in our district – they take our money and then don’t create jobs, sometimes moving out of state or to China. When that happens, I believe we should get our money back.
At a time when we will be making extreme cuts to programs, we need to be sure that every penny of the public’s money is being spent effectively, which is why I have and will continue to advocate for increased transparency and accountability for our economic development spending.
I’ll continue to keep you updated, through this blog and my email newsletter, about this year’s budget process. If you have questions, or would like to tell me about what your priorities are for this year’s budget, I encourage you to contact my office at 617-722-1120, or by email at James.Eldridge@MASenate.gov.
You can also follow me on Facebook or Twitter at @JamieEldridgeMA for frequent updates, and sign up for my e-newsletter in the box in the upper righthand corner of my website.