As Democrats assemble this week, they’ll take up one of the most progressive and forward-thinking party platforms in recent history. After reading it recently, I was struck by how familiar it seemed.
It almost seemed like the platform committee had been cribbing from the Massachusetts Senate’s recent legislative record.
For instance, the platform calls for a number of steps to narrow the income gap between the affluent on one side and, on the other, the struggling middle class and the poor. Here in Massachusetts, this gap has grown to be wider than it is in all but two other states. So immediately after getting sworn in as Senate president 18 months ago, I declared that it would be the main goal of our body to work to grow our economy by ending income inequality.
In the first six months, we passed the first-ever increase in the state’s version of the earned-income tax credit, a federal tax credit enacted into law by Republican President Gerald Ford. It was designed to increase the net earnings of low-wage workers to give them an incentive to keep working, keep being productive, and help grow the economy.
The EITC increase, which was signed into law by Governor Baker on July 17, 2015, increased the tax credit over three years from 15 percent of the federal EITC program to 23 percent, putting as much as an extra $415 into the pockets of working families.
It was a good start, but it fell short of our original goal of raising the credit to 30 percent. So last week, the Senate passed a further increase to 28 percent. Most working families who receive the tax credit have three or more children and earn $14,000-$24,000 per year. Now those working families will receive up to $313 more per year. For those struggling from paycheck to paycheck, it’s not just the break they need — it’s the break that reassures them that work is worth it, and that slipping onto welfare is not more profitable.
The Senate also passed legislation that guaranteed equal pay for equal work, in part by requiring companies to make pay inequities transparent. Many taxpayers hovering near the poverty line are women and minorities, making equal pay not just about gender and racial equality but about income equality as well.
We also began to address our out-of-date zoning laws and the high cost of housing, which is one of the most pressing needs for our state’s poor and middle-class residents. Despite opposition from some local communities, we passed a zoning reform bill that gives cities and towns the incentives they need to build more affordable units.
And we took the first step toward instituting a 4 percent surtax on income over $1 million per year, ensuring that those who are succeeding most in today’s economy will be able to help others, by giving us badly needed funds dedicated to improving public education and the state’s transportation infrastructure.
Narrowing the income gap is not the only place that the platform and the Senate’s agenda overlap.
The national platform calls for expanded LGBT rights; we passed a law to keep Massachusetts on the right side of history in giving transgender people equal protection under the law, so that they know that we, and the law, are on their side.
The platform seeks to “combat climate change” and “build a clean energy economy”; we passed a net-metering bill to boost the solar industry, and we’re working on an energy bill that would set new, aggressive limits for greenhouse gas emissions.
The platform calls for expanded early childhood education; we added $12 million in last year’s budget to get kids off the waiting list and into early childhood services.
And the list does not end there. Suffice to say, there are few areas in which Massachusetts has not already embraced the objectives set out in the platform.
Last week, the Republican convention responded to the country’s challenges by focusing on anger and division. For Donald Trump, who seems to have an intuitive grasp of what is at the root of so much fear and anger — notably the income gap and the sense that the system is rigged — the answer to these problems is to offer broadsides, not solutions; to stoke anger rather than instill hope. As I head to the Democratic National Convention, I hope to hear party members who understand the impact income inequality is having on the fabric of our country, who are ready to offer real solutions, and who are focused on bringing people together rather than driving them apart.
I hope to hear that they’re ready to do the kind of hard work we’ve already been doing here in Massachusetts.
Stan Rosenberg is president of the Massachusetts Senate.