State representative, Plymouth Republican
A recent Boston Globe article stated that the Commonwealth could face a $1 billion budget gap in fiscal year 2017. New taxes, or tax hikes, should not be considered viable options for handling additional budgetary concerns. The Commonwealth must learn to work within its means, relying on funding that is already established and will not disappear.
The so-called structural or long-term revenue gap is a familiar and mislabeled problem. Almost annually we hear about the gap in revenue. It wrongly assumes that revenue rather than base-line spending is the problem. Raising taxes would help offset current deficits, but it would not solve the underlying problem of spending assumptions outpacing moderate revenue growth long-term. While tax increases would avoid some hard spending choices, they would not solve the real problem or offer long-term economic stability.
An overreliance on one-time funding has led Massachusetts to dip into its rainy day fund. Pulling from the fund again would further deplete state resources and potentially harm our ability to borrow federal money at a low interest rate. That’s why Standard & Poor’s credit rating services changed Massachusetts’ outlook from stable to poor, noting a “decline in financial reserves over the past several years despite a prolonged period of economic expansion and generally positive revenue trends.”
Framing the problem as a revenue shortfall is a political label for marketing a tax increase. An equally insidious marketing technique is assuming program reforms automatically mean cuts in base-line services. True reforms should lead to better-run programs with stronger resources behind them. As a legislator with a strong health care background, I know that indiscriminate service cuts are not a way to solve budget problems. As a businessman I also know that efficiency and clear priorities tend to best serve those in need in a sustainable manner.
Each of our families must face tough decisions every day to live within our means. Why is the state spending money that it does not have? Increasing taxes only pushes the problem onto another fiscal year. In order to have stronger short- and long-term plans for the Commonwealth, now is the time to face our budget issues.
Hull resident, Democratic activist, member of Progressive Massachusetts
House Speaker Robert DeLeo recently declared that the House will propose no new taxes or fees for fiscal 2017. He stated that taxes are “off the table,” a position shared by Governor Charles Baker. This politically driven stance effectively cuts off debate on new sources of revenue to fund state government and strained municipal budgets across the Commonwealth, including this region.
Apparently, this no-new-fees position did not apply to mass transit commuters. MBTA fare increases are coming in July -- up to 12 percent on commuter boats, as high as 10 percent on commuter rail. Crunching the data, I calculated that under the maximum fare increase, the last four years will have seen increases of 39 percent to 55.6 percent for train, boat, and bus commuters in the region, not including parking fee increases. And the latest fare increases will not improve service and barely cover the operating deficit.
State aid to local governments has still not recovered to pre-Great Recession levels. For example, Hull’s net state aid in fiscal 2002 was $7.38 million; in fiscal 2016 it was more than 26.6 percent lower, at $5.42 million. Without sufficient local aid, communities have had to seek fee increases or overrides -- Weymouth tried and failed this year -- or defer capital maintenance, which has been the case in Hull. Constant complaints about increased taxes for diminished services can be found on social media pages across the region.
Opponents of tax increases will talk about waste, fraud, and abuse, or that wealthier people will leave due to increased taxes. But there is not as much waste as conventional wisdom states, and the costs of stopping all fraud and abuse outweighs any savings we would gain. Data also shows that state taxes have little impact on interstate moves. And we have had reforms to state government in recent years, but the resulting financial benefits have fallen short of what is actually needed.
Even those who oppose increased taxes should agree that this is a discussion worth having for maintaining and building a strong Commonwealth. Please consider contacting your legislators and ask them to not take this option off the table in the name of political expediency.
Last week’s Argument: Should the state ban discrimination against transgender people in public places?
Yes: 85 percent (100 votes)
No: 15 percent (17 votes)
As told to Globe correspondent John Laidler. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.