Tonight, I went before the Lincoln-Sudbury School Committee, along with state Representative Tom Conroy, to talk about the budget problems that the regional school district is facing.
As a state legislator for the past six years, I have gone before Boards of Selectmen and School Committees for similar updates dozens of times. But tonight was a special meeting, for a number of reasons.
The atmosphere of the meeting was cooperative, and the local elected officials there had an understanding that because of the massive loss of revenue this year ($3 billion less in revenue compared to the FY ’09 budget), all aspects of state government, including public education, were being cut. It was a conversation, recognizing the challenges that the state is in and how it was affecting their school system.
Great questions were asked, and we had an interesting back and forth about how to address rising special education costs and inequities in Chapter 70 funding, ways to reduce education costs, and federal versus state mandates.
We also had a lively conversation about how health insurance companies are increasingly shifting medical costs onto the school, which increases education costs, especially for children with special needs. One of the school committee members commented that these are the same health insurance companies whose CEOs make millions of dollars.
This discussion struck a chord with me as I drove home, and reminded me about one of the issues I had worked on during the day. I testified on a bill I filed to make all of the tax credits, breaks and subsidies that Massachusetts gives to companies public information, so that legislators and the general public could see whether this corporate welfare was sound use of tax dollars. And this reminded me of how the federal government has passed an economic stimulus that, while helpful to Massachusetts, isn’t enough to prevent budget cuts and massive job losses throughout the Commonwealth, while financial institutions across the country receive billions of dollars that so far hasn’t translated into new loans to get the economy moving.
While Massachusetts, and our country, are in some ways making strides towards better serving the public, it is beyond frustrating how special interests still manage to come out on top. Whether it’s Wall Street, the health insurance industry, or tax-subsidized companies, why and how is that that they come first, over the hopes, dreams, and work of the general public?
At the end of the day, the primary reasons that I believe that campaign finance reform, whether anti-pay to play legislation or public financing of elections, is so necessary is that so long as special interests remain close to politicians, it will be harder than it should be to pass legislation in the public’s interest.