Member of the reality-based community of progressive (not anonymous) Massachusetts blogs
You know what to do today. Go exercise your democratic rights. (Update - find out where you vote and see a ballot preview here!)
Having been so busy lately (teaching, business, etc) I haven’t had much time to post about this election. But suffice to say, I am an enthusiastic NO on all three ballot questions. If any of these pass, we will see a regression in our state, and you will not like the results.
Regarding question one (return of the alcohol exemption) and question three (rollback of the sales tax to 3%), the last thing we need to do in the middle of a time of reduced revenues due to economic woes nationwide is to reduce revenues further by gutting taxes. Yes, math still works the way you were taught in school.
Look, no one loves paying taxes. Everyone would love to have that that $1.25 back on your $20 purchase. However, is that worth seeing more teachers laid off, fewer police, and longer lines at the RMV? We’ve cut the fat, folks, long ago. In fact, Patrick has done a lot to reform the state government - including state transportation department consolidation, which Republican governors have been talking about for years and never accomplished. We’ve started cutting the bone during this recession. Further reducing revenues is suicidal. Forget all the progress we’ve made on jobs, green initiatives, and our kids’ education if we have to cut more essential programs.
With regards to the alcohol tax rollback: don’t listen to the alcohol lobby that you are being “double taxed” on alcohol. What a lot of freaking whining! The excise tax is on volume and is so minuscule, it’s hardly even noticeable - if the excise tax were repealed, prices would hardly change at all. Most other states have a sales tax that applies to alcohol, alongside an excise tax. What the longstanding tax exemption on alcohol was, was a gift and a giveaway. Alcohol is not an essential purchase, so why the hell was it exempt? It should be subject to the same tax that is on all other nonessential goods.
On the sales tax reduction - really, you’re going to save about $3 on a $100 purchase. And remember, sales tax is not applied to most essentials in MA - clothing (unless you buy expensive Gucci) or groceries, for a start. A huge chunk of our discretionary spending budget comes from the sales tax. Is that worth seeing hundreds of teachers laid off? Or unsafe streets? The sales tax cut would be worth a loss of $20 million dollars to Lowell alone, if the cut were applied in full to local aid and Chapter 70 monies from the state. How many city services and school programs do you think $20 million would cut? And since it looks impossible, politically, for Congress to pass another stimulus bill next year, we will be losing the ARRA funding, which has been floating much of our state deficit from reduced tax receipts - our state would be further devastated by the loss of over half the sales tax.
On question 2, the elimination of comprehensive permitting to build affordable housing, also has a regressive result. Of course, many people are frustrated with this law and how it is applied in our communities. However, the repeal of it will have a devastating effect on families who need affordable housing. I don’t have to tell you we have some damned expensive housing costs here in MA. It’s a side effect of our leading-the-nation prosperity. The more people in the middle class and up can afford, the more expensive housing is. The more dense the jobs and opportunity, the more the demand for housing. For those who are in jobs that do not have the same level of opportunity, or for those who are underemployed, disabled, or retired with no savings, the availability of affordable housing is paramount to their survival.
Affecting how difficult is it to build affordable housing in Massachusetts means keeping some families out of the prosperity. That’s not what our state is all about. Maybe the law needs reform (and maybe it doesn’t), but eliminating it is no way to do it. It will only hurt some of our most vulnerable citizens. We’re better than that.
So, I will vote no to all three of the ballot questions. I wish we didn’t have to keep having the same damn debate over revenues and taxes - it’s exhausting to constantly have to defend what is undesirable by any human being. Where’s our ballot question enacting positive initiatives?? But as Governor Patrick has always said, we have to decide what we want government to do, and then decide how to pay for it. Ignoring the reality (and basic math) of the situation to vote for something that feels good now but will hurt us in the long run is just stupid.
Tonight was the last Gov debate, a rather freeform event on TV and radio. (Honestly, though I prefer Charlie Gibson to Keller, I didn’t love the format much). It was a debate Charlie [Baker] needed to break out with, and failing to do that, he didn’t do well enough to turn his flagging campaign around. To be honest, I thought his tired rewiring of trickle-down memes was a bit of a broken record, even if you believe that nonsense.
Of course, the Big Dig memo was brought up (I missed the beginning unfortunately), and both Patrick and Cahill had some things to say about it. I don’t think Baker came up smelling like roses. But it’s this part of the Boston.com reaction to the debate that I really like (bold and commentary mine):
Baker wrote the memo after he had already engineered a financing plan that borrowed against future federal highway money [swaptions!] to pay for some of the project’s peak construction expenses. At the same time, Baker was helping to push some of the project’s spiraling expenses onto the Massachusetts Turnpike Authority, which would rely on future tolls to repay the loans.
Thank you. Someone else is finally putting these elements together coherently in the media. There is a big picture here that has been missing - that the subterfuge-full fiscal instruments of the Big Dig under the Weld/Cellucci/Baker executive branch(es) has repeatedly come back to haunt us since, all so that no one back then had to make the tough choices.
BMG has a full post on this, but I wanted to make a comment or two.
The memo found by an AP reporter is summed up thusly:
Republican gubernatorial candidate Charles Baker wrote a memo labeling Big Dig spending “simply amazing,” warning that it would force “draconian” cuts to other road and bridge projects - and recommending they be taken only after his boss was re-elected in 1998.
So the smartest man in government played politics with the Big Dig, despite his claim that everything was hunky dory under his tenure as state budget guru? Shocked, I’m shocked.
Now, it is commendable that he would take a realistic look at the costs, since that was his job - but to suggest hiding it until after reelection (while understandable from a political point of view) is to not serve the public interests.
And the little-known fact is - fact, folks, yes - that the final price tag for the Big Dig was known about a decade before the number went public. The state knew that number, and they kept it hidden in fear of the political consequences. (The biggest problem was that since the project went on over such a long period, costs rose quite a lot - and of course, scope creep was another big factor.)
So really, it’s shocking for Baker to “discover” about the costs of the ‘Dig late in his tenure as Secretary of Administration and Finance, it really makes me wonder about the Republican executive branch’s handling of the whole project (Weld, then Cellucci). Who the hell in the executive branch was monitoring the thing??
And then, instead of leveling with people when the federal government threatened to, then cut off funding for the project, that it would be a burden to the state infrastructure budget, Baker and the Republicans came up with a crazy funding scheme that kicked the can down the road and nearly soaked the budget under Patrick’s tenure (luckily, Patrick was there to steer the “swaptions” ship to a better port.) They also hid the debt, in a manner of speaking, by burdening the Pike and the MBTA, among other agencies, with substantive portions of that debt - all while forcing the MBTA into “forward funding,” which set the MBTA budget in stone (instead of reimbursement for net cost of service, beyond revenues). This in turn has made it necessary for the MBTA to substantially raise fares, and the Pike to raise tolls.
Spot a pattern here? Baker wants you to believe that he was the smartest man in government back in the day, and that he would be again if elected. But all I see is politically-motivated coverups, schemes to put off the pain of debt, and mismanagement and subterfuge. I have not yet met a Republican businessman politician who doesn’t claim to be the guy who will be smart about managing the state but yet whose record says the exact opposite.
Democrats are better for business, better for our economy, better managers of taxpayer money, and at the same time more dedicated to providing a fair playing field for people and businesses to reach their potential, whether that’s strong education funding (first in the nation!), good public universities, ending homelessness while at the same time spending less, or reforming the state pension system, transportation system, or streamlining the permitting process for businesses - hands down, on all fronts, we deserve government under Deval Patrick…not tricks, lies, subterfuge and undue pain and suffering for our citizens from Republican slash and burn politics.
Honestly, speeding on Lincoln St and a serious accident?? Color me surprised. Our neighbor got his house hit by a car twice in one year (the second time right after we moved in). I have no idea why people zoom through our neighborhood like they do, over a blind hill and all, and several stop signs appearing down its length. All I know is that I hear the speeders - cars and motorcycles - going by constantly.
I don’t know what the solution might be but if there were more enforcement somehow, it might help. Maybe we could be helped by a few caution signs, I don’t know. But I doubt this’ll be the last incident on this road.
I hope that the biker recovers and all, but god, people, don’t be idiots. Stop speeding on residential city roads. There are kids, other traffic, and parked cars, and HOUSES for goodness’ sake.
This AM, just as the light turned green on YMCA Dr turning onto Thorndike, yet another idiot decided to run the red. Which of course meant he was going through the intersection when it’s possible to hit another vehicle.
Then, blue flashing lights. Me, patiently losing green light time while the cop hurried through the intersection: “Whoo hoo! Go get ‘im!” (There were only two of us at the light anyway, it was unlikely we wouldn’t get through afterward the police car was gone…but I would have happily given up another light cycle for someone to get caught running the red.)
There are some things in life that are very satisfying. I could write a poem about this moment.
Now, do that every morning for a few months, and I will be a happy person…and I’m convinced you could close the city’s 2010 budget gap at the same time.
PS - I hope the offender is someone who reads this blog and is ashamed of themselves!
Mike hits the very salient points regarding the MBTA’s continuing debt problem and the choice the legislature should make, painful or not, to just friggin’ fix it already:
The idea of public transit that pays its own way was at the heart of the original legislation. When the sort-sighted legislature set up the deal dependent on sale-tax revenue, it may have had the best of intentions. Yet, like so much in the past decade, the realities have changed and the rules must change to reflect that.
We subsidize motor vehicle use heavily. Some such gifts are obvious — road construction and maintenance, and highway patrols, for a few. Others are more subtle — tax-free land use for vehicles and the mechanical and human costs of collisions, for example. Still others have become real more recently — consider pollution and its effects on human health and wasted energy (and human time).
Some anti-mass transit folk love to select subsets of data to suggest that car and truck subsidies are more efficient than paying for intracity and intercity transit. Even doing their worst, they can’t obscure that the goals of replacing car travel with T and bike and foot traffic are well worth the costs in total. Like other civilized nations and cities, we have to get with the program on this.
We can’t get there if we cripple the T and make riding it expensive and unpleasant. We need to pony up, great recession or not.
The big, messy fact is that the legislature blew the T debt. It has to fix the T debt. It corrects legislative errors all the time. This boner is just far worse than average. Hiding from it won’t solve anything.
Along with Mike, I’ve been a huge critic of the forward-funding mechanism that was put into place for the MBTA. It was a dumb move, and it’s killing it, and us, for the legislators to stick their fingers in their ears and pretend major changes don’t have to take place and some little bandaide like a dedicated sales tax will do.
We need to encourage use of public transit - by making it affordable, usable, and accessible. And yes, by subsidizing the hell out of it with taxpayer dollars. Better that then subsidizing the next big highway expansion, if we truly want national security, to stave off more environmental disaster, and make our quality of life better. That should be worth a lot to us, no?
I am all a-twitter (not Twitter) about this executive press release today regarding the New England Governors’ joint vision for plastering New England with new and better rail service. When I say plastering, I mean slathered on thick!
NEW ENGLAND GOVERNORS PURSUING JOINT REGIONAL VISION FOR HIGH SPEED RAIL
States Will Use Stimulus Funds to Strengthen Existing Rail Network, Connect Cities, and Spark Economic Growth
BOSTON – Monday, July 13, 2009 – The New England Governors today announced they are working together on a coordinated regional vision for high speed rail that will connect major cities and airports, and support economic growth throughout the region. The Vision for the New England High Speed and Intercity Rail Network lays out key projects to strengthen passenger and freight rail service along new and existing rail corridors. The goal is to double passenger rail ridership in the Northeast by 2030.
You know how I loves me better public transportation.
With no specific mention of Lowell or the Lowell line, I wrote to Colin Durrant of the EOT (Executive Office of Transportation) to confirm that indeed, the Capitol Corridor refers to the extension of the Lowell commuter rail line to Nashua, Manchester, Concord, through to Burlington VT, and up to Montreal. What’s more, it’s listed on the map of this plan as a “Designated High Speed Rail” corridor. Whoo hoo!!
Here’s what the document and press release have to say about it:
New Hampshire’s Capital corridor will create easily accessible passenger rail service for more than 500,000 residents of Southern New Hampshire with stops in the cities of Concord, Manchester, Nashua and Boston. The rail line will also stop at Manchester-Boston Regional Airport, creating a much-needed connection for tourists and travelers from across northern New England. Eventually, this service will extend north to White River Junction, VT and to Montreal fulfilling the vision of this designated High-Speed Rail Corridor.
Durrant also mentioned that Massachusetts provided support for NH’s pre-application for this particular corridor, again signifying movement on this long-talked-about rail expansion. I know it’s “just a vision,” but it was a collaborative one between all the states’ Governors, and that in and of itself is a huge new development. The trickiest part of regional rail is getting the various jurisdictions on board. With the stimulus money to boost this and all leaders working together, I don’t see why this can’t become a reality.
Also, this corridor is just the tip of the iceberg in the plan, which includes 5 other major regional rail expansions, though the one that most affects us here in Lowell is the one I’ve outlined here (all politics is local after all). But if you’re a central or western Mass resident, there’s plenty to love about this plan as well.
Well, earlier I had a short-ish post almost fully written about today’s public meeting with Governor Patrick on his transportation reforms and revenue proposal, but the PDA ate my text. Suffice it to say that it was pithy and informative and all that. I’ll try to recreate my thoughts as best I can post-3-hour-movie at quarter to midnight. (I’m also hoping to get some - really crappy quality - video up sometime tomorrow.)
First, I wanted to say that it is good to see Patrick again coming back to these local open forums to talk about a major proposal and to hear feedback. Connecting to people is one of his strong suits and leadership is something we in the Commonwealth, battered by poor economic news, really need. Thanks to the Governor and his staff for doing these statewide meetings.
(Update - Jackie was there, too, and posted her thoughts.)
Gov. Patrick is stopping in Lowell tomorrow for his transit reform listening tour. He’ll be at the Pollard Library from11:30 1 pm.
Update - what in the bleeping heck is that character standing in for a dash up there?? I posted this from the hair dresser’s on the PDA and so I just noticed it now while reading comments and such. I won’t correct it, if only because I find it interesting, and doubt I could recreate it. It kinda creeps me out! Mystery icon. Or am I the only one seeing it? It looks like a box with two zeros over “96″ inside it. Please tell me I am not crazy!
If you are not a Blue Mass Group reader, you should check this out. Charley posed a bunch of interesting questions and a lot of discussion followed. Including a response on the thought process from the Governor’s office from Doug Rubin, Gov. Patrick’s Chief of Staff, among other notable comments. The whole thing is worth a read.
Now that is change you can believe in. Or am I mixing up my campaign slogans?
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