My commitment to public education is personal.
My father was a public school teacher. My mom and sister were public school librarians.
My aunt was a public school social worker. My wife, Ann, is a public school social studies teacher and serves on the Northampton School Committee.
Our two children attend Northampton public schools.
I have worked as a volunteer at my kids’ elementary school for the last six years. I helped lead the fundraising of state, federal, and private funds (nearly $400,000) to build an accessible playground that serves both the students at Jackson Street Elementary School and the community at large. And I served on the Jackson Street School PTO leadership team, where I’ve helped build support and raise resources for projects like a school greenhouse and classical music at Jackson Street.
I use the phrase “I have skin in the game” when I talk about my commitment to public education. It’s far from ideological. It’s personal.
My desire to be the strongest possible public education advocate is a top reason that I entered the race for State Senate.
I know first hand that grave funding issues plague Massachusetts schools and, although we have many of the greatest schools in the nation, we can still do so much better for our children. As your State Senator, I will fight for our schools.
Pre-K to Grade 12
First and foremost, we must overhaul the public school foundation budget to address the actual costs school systems face with regard to health insurance, an influx of English language learners and families living in poverty, and rising special education costs. We also need to fight for a greater investment in the arts, music, languages, and sciences.
We cannot effectively correct our school budget shortfalls without addressing the fact that charter schools drain much-needed resources from our public schools. I will fight to keep the cap on the number of charter schools in the Commonwealth and I oppose expanding enrollment in existing charter schools.
I support full funding of initiative to mitigate the cost of charter schools on city and town budgets.
And, since charter schools receive public funds, they need to be run transparently and with full accountability.
But here’s what’s also true: Everyone has a stake in excellent public education. Parents, guardians, and advocates for education of all backgrounds must unite in fixing the current funding formula.
I will fight for universal, affordable pre-Kindergarten education. Since 2001, funding for pre-K education in the Commonwealth has been cut back by 20 percent, even as study after study reveals the profound benefits of early childhood education. According to the Massachusetts Budget and Policy Center, “there are 51,000 three and four year olds who are living at 200 percent of poverty. One third of them get no public support for early childhood education.” We must do better.
I oppose high stakes testing and will fight for smaller class sizes, which are optimal for all our children, but especially for those in the lower grades. Smaller class sizes coupled with individualized opportunities for learning can help close achievement gaps, particularly for students with special needs and students of color.
I will fight for dedicated funding for transportation which, coupled with access to high-speed internet, are particular challenges for rural school districts.
I will support teachers’ unions and the dedicated educators and staff who are the foundation of our schools.
I will also prioritize connecting community resources to families in need. Children cannot learn if they are uncertain about where their next meal will come from or whether they have a safe place to live. They cannot learn as effectively if they are struggling with anxiety or have unattended medical needs. Our schools are embracing the complex and pressing realities facing our communities today. Let’s stand with the teachers, staff, and families on the frontlines of this work.
I will also support safe schools and initiatives to prevent gun violence in our schools. This issue is very dear to me, and was one of my top priorities while I was at MoveOn, where I helped to lead a campaign on gun safety by mobilizing many thousands of people, including thousands of gun owners, which culminated in President Obama signing an Executive Order on gun safety. As a mom, this issue struck too close to home when I received a call that my kids’ school was locked down due to a perceived threat. We should not have to live with these fears. As your State Senator, I will fight tirelessly to protect our children from the threat of gun violence.
Our commitment to an affordable and accessible quality education does not end in our high schools. I support free public higher education and will help to forge the pathways to make that happen, mindful of breaking down accessibility barriers for all.
We must grow the Commonwealth’s first-rate public community colleges, colleges, and universities. According to the Massachusetts Teachers Association, over the last decade higher education funding has plummeted a shocking 32 percent. I’ll work to reverse that trend and build back support for our public colleges and universities. Additionally, we know that funding cuts to public higher education drive tuition and fee hikes. According to the Massachusetts Budget and Policy Center, “Students who took loans to attend four-year public colleges in Massachusetts incurred an average of $25,500 in debt in 2010. This is almost double the levels from 2000, which was $13,798 per student.” Student debt is also higher, on average, for students of color whose families are less likely to have amassed savings to help pay for college. Providing adequate funding for public colleges and universities is one clear way to tackle the student debt crisis.
Funding for education
I supported the Fair Share Amendment to the Constitution, which asks our wealthiest residents making over $1 million to pay 4 percent more on their income. Proceeds from the Fair Share funds would have gone to our schools and to our infrastructure. The Supreme Judicial Court ruled against the amendment and, if elected, I will fight for tax reform in the legislature. (See more about revenue in a separate section.)
On HEALTH CARE
Access to quality and affordable health care is a human right.
Massachusetts was the laboratory of democracy that gave life to the system that is now colloquially known as Obamacare. While not perfect, the Affordable Care Act has, despite relentless efforts by Republicans, expanded coverage to millions.
It is clearly not enough.
Right now, here in Massachusetts, state, municipal, school district, and household budgets are deeply affected by spiraling health care costs. Nearly half of all our state tax dollars go to paying for health care costs, and nearly one third of that amount goes to administrative costs. This situation is not sustainable. Meanwhile, hundreds of thousands of people in the Commonwealth remain uninsured.
It is time for Massachusetts to lead again.
I will fight for Single Payer Health Care—a sustainable, universal health care model—that encompasses preventative and emergency care without co-pays, deductibles, or additional insurance costs, that can be implemented in Massachusetts and then replicated elsewhere.
My work in health care and mental health care is grounded in my Social Work background and the direct service and crisis response case management work I led in our region right out of grad school.
I’ve been on the ground with health care and have also analyzed it from a budgetary perspective.
At National Priorities Project, our team analyzed federal health care spending (Medicaid, Medicare, and the health care programs in the annual federal discretionary budget), tracing that money into state budgets and local communities, so that advocates could make the strongest possible case for budget priorities that reflected the best interest of all people. Our team helped educate the American people and build support for the Affordable Care Act (ACA). Then, while at MoveOn, I helped organize to defend the ACA from Donald Trump’s relentless attacks.
I’ll fight for:
- Advancement of S.619, to establish improved Medicare for All in Massachusetts. This act calls for public financing for privately delivered health care. We need a health care system that is set up for health care, not profit. A system that’s big enough to negotiate drug and equipment prices and hospital costs. A system that leaves no one uninsured.
- Legislation to allow MassHealth to negotiate fair prescription drug prices.
- Smart support of S.610, to ensure effective health care cost control. This legislation would prompt a study focused on the cost of Single Payer care as compared to current and projected state spending on health care. If Single Payer proves affordable, the legislation stipulates that “an implementation plan for Single Payer would be submitted to the legislature for consideration.” It’s important to note that this process will require effective external accountability with regard to how the study will be constructed. The legislature should also stipulate that the study rely on retrospective data in order to deliver a comprehensive report as soon as possible.
- Fairness in the rate structure which will ensure that insurance companies reimburse western Massachusetts hospitals at the same rate as those in eastern Massachusetts.
- Adequate funding for the Office of Health Equity, as proposed in the FY2019 budget, which will, according to Health Care for All, “reduce the serious racial and ethnic health disparities that exist in Massachusetts.”
- Expansion of the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC), accessed by over 400,000 Massachusetts tax filers, which the Massachusetts Budget and Policy Center (MassBudget) has shown improves the health of “individuals, families and communities by addressing economic hardship and promoting the family and social support that contribute to better health.” MassBudget’s research uncovered a connection between EITC recipients and positive maternal, pregnancy, and educational outcomes. As an additional benefit, the EITC also results in greater spending throughout the local economy.
- Paid Family & Medical Leave (PFML) which allows workers paid time off to care for themselves and family members. MassBudget research shows that access to PFML has both short- and long-term health benefits.
- Greater investment in innovative initiatives to address the opioid epidemic such as those led by the Franklin County Opioid Task Force, which advocates for more drug treatment resources, progressive court diversion programs, and peer-to-peer support programs.
On THE ENVIRONMENT
Especially now, as Donald Trump rolls back federal environmental protection gains with reckless abandon, Massachusetts must invest significant resources in the environment to mitigate climate change.
And yet environmental programs account for just a fraction of the Commonwealth’s budget—about one half of a percent, which represents a roughly 14 percent decline in funding since 2008. This is short-sighted. A greater investment in clean energy would be not only good for our environment but also would create well-paying green-collar jobs in the Commonwealth, thereby driving robust economic growth.
With the environmental stakes as high as they are, the Commonwealth can and should move toward becoming a zero emissions state that relies 100 percent on renewable energy. And we must end any further major investments in fossil fuels.
I’ve worked for climate justice throughout my career. While at the American Friends Service Committee, I marshaled AFSC’s resources to join a Clean Water Action campaign to close Mt. Tom coal burning power plant. While at National Priorities Project, our team made sense of federal budget data around spending on renewable energy so that climate activists could take effective action. I also joined waves of valley residents in my personal capacity by participating in civil disobedience at Vermont Yankee and was proud to be arrested in Vermont with Frances Crowe in an action to call attention to the dangers of nuclear power. While at MoveOn, my colleagues and I, joined by MoveOn members across the nation, joined forces with Native American leaders to protest the Dakota Pipeline. And more.
My wife Ann and I have done our best to raise our children as the kind of stewards of our planet that we know we need.
Isaiah and our daughter, Chloe, see us hang clothes out to dry, run around shutting off lights and turn down the heat, pack their water bottles, catch rainwater, use cloth napkins, and put solar panels on our roof.
They also see us struggle with inconsistencies. They hear us say that our family has to do more.
So you can imagine how proud I am as his mom when I see Isaiah pedal off to school every morning, no longer willing to take the bus or be driven to school.
I asked him early on why he was riding to school one morning and he looked at me with the clarity of purpose only kids can muster and he said, “Mom. The planet?!!” His call to action was as clear as that.
I’ll fight for:
- New investments in renewable energy and an end to pouring state resources into fossil fuels. I oppose the expansion of gas pipelines in Massachusetts.
- Adequate funding for our state environmental agencies. Upwards of 40 percent of the Commonwealth’s disposed waste is either extremely toxic or recyclable, according to the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection. We must equip our state agencies to tackle this and other environmental challenges not leave them without adequate resources.
- Modernization of our electrical grid and energy storage capacity.
- Aggressive reduction in emissions through new investments in state and municipal transportation, home and building energy efficiency, and tighter building sale and construction regulations.
- An increase in the Renewable Portfolio Standard which will force energy companies to add Class One renewables—that’s wind and solar—to their portfolios.
- Legislation that would put a price on carbon emissions and then divert the funds raise into both a “green bank” for investment into renewable energy infrastructure and job training programs and back to local communities that need it most. Right now, Massachusetts spends upwards of $20 billion annually to import fossil fuels. We need to begin creating dis-incentives for that behavior while incentivizing our shift to clean energy.
- Investment in land protection programs and conservation initiatives.
On OUR ELDERS
A society should be judged by how we treat our people at the “bookends” of life, as children and as elders.
In the legislature, I will fight for:
- Elders have a right to age in place. We need legislation that stops the one-way conveyor belt from hospitals to rehab facilities to nursing homes. There is a law on the books currently that directs hospitals to counsel patients about their home care options as they prepare to leave the hospital. The legislature should work to ensure that law is enforced. Nursing homes should be the last resort, not the first.
- Spouses must be allowed to be caregivers. Right now in Massachusetts, spouses are not eligible to be paid as personal care attendants. This is illogical, especially when we consider that paying a spouse to care for their loved one will also help stabilize the family economically.
- Caregivers must receive fair compensation. In order to ensure quality elder care, as well as to provide fair compensation and living-wage employment, all home care aides must earn at least $15 per hour.
- Elders deserve economic security. A recent study by the University of Massachusetts measured the Elder Economic Security index, which is essentially the resources that elders require in order to stay in their homes and meet their individual needs. Sixty-one percent of elderly individuals in Massachusetts live below the index cut-off line for minimum required resources. That means their income doesn’t allow them to age in place independently while meeting basic needs. In fact, because of our relatively high cost of living, Massachusetts is the second worst state in the nation for elder economic security, second only to Mississippi. The findings from this report triggered a legislative elder-security commission that made a number of important recommendations, all of which I support. These recommendations include lifting the age cap on the Earned Income Tax Credit and ensuring access to a number of critical government programs like LIHEAP (the low-income heating assistance program).
- Elders deserve both life and death with dignity. Elders must be supported in their efforts to make plans for health care proxies and other contingencies, and we must allow them to choose the end-of-life circumstances that are right for them. The legislature must create adequate fail-safes to ensure that no one is coerced into inappropriate end-of-life care.
On SUPPORTING OUR FARMS AND FARMERS
There are local farms and farmers in every city and town in the Hampshire, Franklin, Worcester district, where we have some of the richest soil in the nation. Farming is intrinsic to who we are.
And yet—as much as our region values local produce, meat, and dairy—we know that our farmers often struggle financially. It is nearly impossible for them to compete with the big agribusinesses that benefit from larger scale, lower pay, and notoriously lower environmental standards. And yet our farmers and farms persist, season after season.
I firmly believe “No farms, No food.” It’s as simple (and as profound) as that. That’s why the state legislature must support our local farms.
Here are four initiatives I will fight for:
- Dairy Tax Credit: There are only 135 dairy farms left in Massachusetts. That number has dropped 95% over the last 50 years and yet dairy farms still represent 18% of the farmland. The price of milk does not account for the true cost of producing milk in our district. That’s why the legislature can and should make up the difference.
- Healthy Incentives Program (HIP): How can we create incentives for folks who receive SNAP benefits (Food Stamps) to shop locally and purchase local produce? By adding funds to their existing benefits. That’s the core function of the wildly successful, win-win Healthy Incentives Program that gives SNAP recipients $1 in additional benefits for every dollar they spend on local produce, up to a specified limit.
- Agriculture Preservation Restriction (APR): The APR allows farmers to sell the development rights to their land in order to raise capital for improvements to their farms, or to pay off debt, while ensuring that the land remains theirs to farm. It also guarantees that the land is not commercially developed.
- Support for organizations like Community Involved in Sustaining Agriculture (CISA): CISA helped spark the “buy local” movement in the Commonwealth. It receives critical state funding for its Senior Farm Share program, which it runs in partnership with local farms. And it continues to operate its “buy local” initiatives, which keep residents focused on the importance of buying local in order to support our farms and economy.
On REGIONAL FOOD SECURITY
I had the privilege to serve as the Director of Programs at The Food Bank of Western Massachusetts, which serves all four western Massachusetts counties. In that position I oversaw direct service initiatives like the Brown Bag Program, which ensured that hundreds of elders who were in danger of going hungry received a bag of nutritious groceries every week. Our team also provided the food for hundreds of meal sites, food pantries, and summer meal programs.
In addition to meeting the immediate and critical demands of hunger and food insecurity in our region, I also helped initiate a program called Target Hunger, with the goal of ending hunger in our midst. As part of Target Hunger, our team created two farmers markets, in North Adams and the Mason Square neighborhood in Springfield, both of which accept SNAP/Food Stamps. We increased The Food Bank’s advocacy and outreach around SNAP, and we helped develop community-based nutrition programs to assist local communities struggling with food insecurity to stretch their dollars to purchase healthy meals on tight budgets.
Here’s a look at food insecurity in the Hampshire, Franklin, Worcester district:
- About 21,000 people (or about 13%) are food insecure. That means they are not sure where their next meal will come from.
- Approximately 14,000 of these folks currently receive SNAP, with their benefits totaling about $1.7 million every month.
- Not only is SNAP a lifeline, it’s also a powerful boost for the local economy. Research has shown again and again that SNAP benefits enter the economy at the base level, meaning they’re spent as soon as folks get them—helping to mitigate hunger and food insecurity and stimulating the economy by supporting retailers and farmers. The Food Bank estimates that the district-level economic impact of $1.7 million in SNAP benefits is over $3.1 million per month, because the spending has a positive ripple effect.
For all of these reasons, I will fight for:
- Full funding for the Massachusetts Emergency Food Assistance Program (MEFAP). I know firsthand how much The Food Bank relies on this critical funding to fill its shelves and support member programs.
- Full funding for the Massachusetts Earned Income Tax credit, which is essential economic relief for working people.
- And I’ll join state colleagues in outspoken support of the federal Farm Bill, which is where SNAP benefits are legislated.
On CIVIL and HUMAN RIGHTS
My entire professional career has been centered around defending the human and economic rights of people in local communities.
The clock, these days, is ticking backwards. Anyone watching what’s happening in Washington, D.C. is right to be horrified. To see children wrenched from their parents, attacks on the LGBTQ community, health care being destroyed, a woman’s right to choose threatened, investments in public education cut, policies that address drastic climate change rejected, spending for seniors reduced. To see all this—and more—is scandalous.
Here in the Commonwealth, the Massachusetts Legislature can and must defend against these attacks.
Here are highlights of what I will fight for:
A total defeat of the 2018 transgender ballot initiative. Let’s say together: “YES on Question 3.” And remember, a “yes” vote means that you support Senate Bill 2407, the Commonwealth’s transgender anti-discrimination law which passed in 2016 and prohibits “discrimination based on gender identity in public places—such as hotels, restaurants, and stores.” We cannot allow Massachusetts to fall prey to this regressive and dangerous initiative.
Senate passage of a bill to ban conversion therapy. A bipartisan bill passed in the House in a vote of 137 to 14. The bill is now with the Senate. Conversion therapy is an abusive practice of attempting to change a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity. The vast majority of medical and mental health organizations have spoken out against conversion therapy citing its connection to depression, substance misuse and other destructive behaviors.
Protecting and defending women’s reproductive rights. With what’s happening in Washington, D.C. and with the Supreme Court, it’s essential that the Massachusetts Legislature take the bold steps necessary to protect women’s access to full reproductive health care and the right to choose.
Passage of the Safe Communities Act. It’s terribly disappointing that the Legislature did not include Safe Communities Act provisions in the final budget.
Here’s a summary of the individual provisions not yet won and what I will fight for:
- Prevent police from asking about a person’s immigration status.
- Require that people are reminded that they have the right to legal counsel before an interview by the police or with ICE.
- Block local and state police from being deputized as ICE agents.
- Block any attempt to create a registry based on race, gender, race, gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, religion, national origin, nationality, citizenship, ethnicity, or age.
An end to economic inequality, a shameful scourge in our Commonwealth. The root causes of economic inequality are complex.
There isn’t a magic answer, but there are steps the Legislature can and must take:
- Lifting the elder cap on the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC).
- An expansion of the Health Incentives Program (HIP).
- Increased funding of the education foundation budget and full funding of rural transportation and Charter mitigation budget lines.
- Full access to high speed internet for all rural areas.
- Expanded funding for regional transit authorities so that service routes increase.
An end to mass incarceration, failed Drug War policies, and the warehousing of people struggling with mental illness and addiction. Crime rates in Massachusetts are low and have declined every year for the last six years and with them so have rates of incarceration. But even though Massachusetts has one of the lowest rates of incarceration in the U.S., the Commonwealth still imprisons a greater percentage of its residents than nearly every other country in the world. And though we don’t have the death penalty here (and I would fight like hell against it if anyone ever tried to bring it back), nearly 1 in 4 persons in prison in Massachusetts are serving sentence of life or its equivalent in practical terms. That’s the fifth highest percentage in the country . Moreover, mass incarceration perpetuates racial injustice, tears families apart, and, on top of this, is lousy fiscal policy. We have to do better.
The recently enacted criminal justice reform bill is a good start, but It’s going to take a lot more work to reverse the effects of decades of over-criminalization and failed Drug War policies.
That’s why I’ll fight:
- To eliminate mandatory minimums that tie the hands of judges who are in the best position to formulate appropriate sentences based on the facts of the case and circumstances of the human being standing before them.
- To increase the use of of diversion programs to allow people to seek rehabilitation and education in order to avoid debilitating, lifelong marks on their record.
- For more treatment beds in communities, not jailing people on probation or pretrial release just because they experience a relapse or setback in treatment, and in the rare instance that jail is the only option, medically sound treatment in places of incarceration and commitment and aftercare in the community.
- An end to solitary confinement in Massachusetts prisons.
- To eliminate life without parole for anyone convicted under the age of 21.
On CRIMINAL JUSTICE REFORM
While I was completing my Masters in Social Work at Hunter College in New York, I had the opportunity to help lead a national campaign called Mothers In Prison, Children in Crisis, which called attention to the mass incarceration of women—especially poor women and women of color—and the impact on their children.
Crime rates in Massachusetts have declined every year for the last six years, and with them, overall rates of incarceration. Yet there’s much more to this story. We have to look closely at the continued disproportionate rates of incarceration in communities of color.
While roughly 6.6% of the state’s population is Black, approximately 28.3% are incarcerated. And while roughly 10.6% of the state’s population is Latino, the incarceration rate for Latinos is approximately 26%.
In April 2018 Massachusetts enacted a wide-ranging criminal justice reform bill that achieved the following:
- puts into place measures aimed at making sure people are not incarcerated awaiting their trial because they can’t afford to post bail;
- makes it easier for people who committed a minor crime under the age of 21 to seal their record;
- puts restrictions on the use of solitary confinement;
- provides for compassionate medical release of nonviolent prisoners who pose no safety risk;
- eliminates mandatory minimum sentences for certain drug offenses;
- brings Massachusetts more in line with the rest of the country by significantly increasing the amount of property loss or damage required to trigger a felony prosecution; and
- raises the age children can prosecuted in juvenile court from 7 to 12.
But it’s not enough. To foster racial and economic justice and to end mass incarceration and the warehousing of people struggling with addiction and mental illness, we can and must do better.
My priorities include:
- Raising the age of juvenile court jurisdiction from 18 to 19.
- Increasing funding for the reintegration of ex-prisoners—funding that is currently being cut.
- Eliminating mandatory minimum sentences. This policy ties the hands of judges who are in the best position to formulate appropriate sentences based on the facts of each individual case and the circumstances of the person standing before them.
- Increasing the use of diversion programs and expungement of criminal records for nonviolent crimes to allow people to seek rehabilitation, education, employment.
- Increasing the number of treatment beds in our community, particularly given today’s opioid crisis.
- Providing funding for Conviction Integrity Units to review questionable convictions obtained with faulty forensic evidence and to protect against prosecutorial misconduct.
- Expanding funding for law enforcement agencies to train their officers to recognize and respond to people living with mental illness in ways that ensure the safety and dignity of all involved
- Ending solitary confinement in Massachusetts prisons.
- Making additional improvements to our bail system, as the recent changes in the new law do not go far enough. We should look at places like New Jersey and the District of Columbia for creative and workable reforms.
- Providing full funding and resources for public defenders and private court-appointed attorneys, prosecutors, and the courts.
- Eliminating life without parole for anyone who committed a crime under the age of 21.
- Granting juvenile court judges the authority to dismiss complaints in the best interest of the child.
- Enacting policies that address what’s known as the School to Prison Pipeline. Essentially, students of color in the state’s schools receive disproportionate and harsher disciplinary measures in schools. This leads to higher rates of expulsions or drop outs. And students who drop out of school are far more likely to end up in the criminal justice system than their peers.
On the OPIOID CRISIS
I got my start in Social Work in New York City doing work around women and addiction and then in this region leading a crisis intervention outreach team. I have seen the devastating impact of trauma and addiction on individuals and families up close. It has opened my eyes and heart to what’s needed now to meet the escalating opioid crisis in our region.
It is essential that the legislature deepen its support for our district in reducing opioid addiction and preventing overdose deaths. The Opioid Task Force of Franklin County and the North Quabbin Region and Hampshire HOPE have developed a comprehensive approach to addressing the opioid crisis that has become a blueprint for other towns and counties in the Commonwealth and beyond. I strongly support its model, which fights the crisis through targeted work in five areas:
- Education and Prevention. Prevent opioid misuse through broad-based education and prevention efforts, including by focused work with children from a young age and through use of trauma-informed practices.
- Treatment and Recovery. Advocate for the services necessary to support individuals at every step of recovery, from syringe exchange to recovery centers to ongoing support networks.
- Health Care. Enhance trauma-informed training and practices at our health care centers, expand mental health resources, and reduce the overprescribing of opioids.
- Law Enforcement. We must treat addiction as a disease rather than a criminal act. Provide training about the physiology of addiction to law enforcement and court officials, and build partnerships between behavioral health providers and law enforcement. Ensure that Narcan is widely available.
- Employment and Housing. Lack of economic opportunity is a driver of drug misuse, and lack of safe housing prevents people in recovery from maintaining sobriety. We must expand sober housing options in our district, and provide training opportunities for people in recovery.
People in this district are falling victim to addiction at younger and younger ages. That’s why we must prioritize intervention and the use of trauma-informed practices at high schools, middle schools, and even elementary schools. Recognizing the earliest signs of anxiety and depression as well as traumatic experiences in the lives of young people holds the greatest promise for steering the next generation away from opioid misuse.
Currently we are falling short when it comes to making treatment options available for those who have taken the enormous step of reaching out for help. I will fight for more detox beds and expanded resources for mental health counseling. I also strongly support the Family Drug Court model, and the underlying philosophy that recovery requires support from peers.
Each year the budget is a key part of the work of the Massachusetts legislature. If elected State Senator, I’ll help decide how the Commonwealth spends our money and how we raise the funds.
Let’s look for a moment at taxes. Since serving as the executive director of National Priorities Project (NPP), I have referred to taxes as the dues we pay for living in a democracy. They are a smart investment.
While NPP’s budget analysis was at the federal level, we crunched the numbers so that elected officials and organizers at the state and local levels would have the tools to raise their voices as effective advocates for fair taxation and community-centered spending priorities.
Because of my seven years leading this research shop, I have the necessary background and critical understanding of how local and state budgets interact with our federal budget.
Here’s what I know about our state: Massachusetts must increase our investment in pre-K through public higher education, as well as in job creation and civic and green infrastructure. There’s simply no way to get that done without responsibly and fairly increasing our revenue stream.
Let’s look at our taxes, or how Massachusetts raises its money. Massachusetts revenue comes from:
- Income tax of 5.1% (Massachusetts has a flat tax, per our Constitution)
- Sales tax of 6.25% (including from the sale of marijuana)
- Assorted taxes such as the gas tax and the tax on short-term rentals
- Assorted fees and fines
- Corporate excise and income taxes
- Federal “transfers”: money that enters the Commonwealth from the federal budget through grants and direct spending, which can add up to nearly a quarter of our revenue and helps to support upwards of thirty state agencies.
Here are some things to consider:
- Flat income taxes are ultimately regressive because poor and working class folks pay a larger share of their income in taxes than the wealthiest folks. At the same time, Massachusetts has a moderately progressive sales tax, since food and clothing are exempt, and those items constitute a larger share of out-of-pocket expenses for lower income people. Massachusetts also has a state component of the federal Earned Income Tax Credit, which I strongly support and which helps low-income individuals and families recoup some of their tax dollars.
- In the late 1990s and early 2000s, the Massachusetts legislature lowered the personal income tax rate from 5.95% to its current level. It also lowered the percentage of tax on investment income from 12% to 5.15% annually. The combined effects of these cuts has meant a loss of roughly $2 billion in revenue each year.
- During roughly the same time as the cuts to personal income taxes and taxes on investment income, Massachusetts began increasing its corporate tax breaks.
Here are some of the ways I will fight to increase revenue:
The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court ruled that the Fair Share Amendment was inadmissible because the court determined that the ballot initiative could not dictate spending, as that responsibility falls to the legislature. But there is nothing stopping the Massachusetts legislature from initiating a Fair Share ballot measure. If elected, I would support and would fight for a legislative attempt to increase revenue from Fair Share Amendment-like legislation which would ask people earning over $1 million annually to pay an additional 4% of their income in taxes.
I support a legislative study on the impact of raising Massachusetts’ income tax to 6% while also increasing the tax on investment income. With regard to the income tax increase, I would fight for tax breaks for middle, working, and low-income families to mitigate the increased tax burden. These tax breaks could be tied to individual or family income or to eligibility for other safety-net programs.
We need to revisit Massachusetts’ corporate tax breaks. Prior to 1996, corporate tax breaks cost our state government between $390 million and $450 million in lost revenue. This year, they are projected cost roughly $1 billion. Besides representing an enormous loss of revenue, these tax breaks remain buried in our tax code. A recent report by the Pew Charitable Trust ranked Massachusetts in the bottom tier in terms of our evaluation of the effectiveness of corporate tax breaks.
I would fight to enact the 2012 recommendations of the Tax Expenditure Commission, which include:
- Clearly enumerating all corporate tax breaks with their proposed benefits spelled out.
- Evaluating the efficacy of corporate tax breaks based on agreed-upon metrics.
- Ensuring that tax breaks are regularly reviewed.
And I would fight to eliminate unnecessary corporate tax breaks. Here is one prime example of a corporate tax break that must be brought to light and, I believe, eliminated (I give credit to the Massachusetts Budget and Policy Center for raising this issue). Currently, movie companies shooting films in Massachusetts enjoy a 25% tax break. That means, if a company’s budget is $100 million, the Commonwealth returns $25 million to the company. But since the film company won’t actually owe $25 million in taxes, it actually makes a profit on this tax break, at taxpayers’ expense. This particular corporate tax break will cost Massachusetts taxpayers $80 million this fiscal year.
On DISABILITY RIGHTS
In nearly every campaign stop I make, I note that our Massachusetts State Legislature can do two things very well:
- It can “keep the lights” on for Democracy by continuing to move forward innovative initiatives when currently no such movement is possible out of Washington.
- And the Legislature can and must—especially now—be a front line of defense for our communities—rising to defend people in Massachusetts from relentless attacks on our human and civil rights.
As Donald Trump and GOP members of Congress attempt to roll back the gains made by the Americans with Disability Act, that front line of defense is needed now to help defend the rights of people living with disabilities, which comprise one in five Americans.
This year the GOP-led House of Representatives passed H.R. 620, which has an innocuous title: The ADA Education and Reform Act. In reality, H.R.620 would essentially remove up-front responsibility for businesses and/or public places to be accessible.
Accessibility in its fullest sense is the right to be seen and not be forced to live on the margins of our communities. It is at the core of what people living with a disability and their allies are demanding. Should Massachusetts fail to come forward at a moment such as this, we risk allowing what’s happening in Washington to further erode our humanity.
Here’s what I value and would fight for should I have the privilege of serving as State Senator:
- We must challenge and help transform the stigmatization faced by people living with disabilities. Disability rights advocates speak passionately about the waves of suspicion, blame, and judgment they face on a daily basis. The Massachusetts State Senate must be a watchdog for this insidious reality, making sure that state policy not only does nothing to perpetuate it, but helps alleviate it.
- Attached to the stigma is the pervasive challenge regarding expectations. That’s why the Legislature must lift the horizon on expectations for what people living with disabilities want, need, and can achieve so that government is not adversely limiting what’s achievable.
- We have to see the broad continuum of people living with disabilities and ensure that policy reflects government’s nuanced responsibility across abilities—from physical to developmental to emotional to cognitive.
- And, we need to proactively create legislation that makes it easier for people living with disabilities to be present and to engage deeply. Joannah Whitney, a disability rights advocate told me recently, “We’re building a world that makes it harder for people with disabilities to be present.” This heightens the risk of isolation. We need a focus across issues — education, housing, employment, public transportation, infrastructure, and health care — that robustly breaks down barriers to full engagement and provides the resources needed to fulfil the mission of associated programs and initiatives. And this focus must not be an afterthought, we have to lead with it as central.
Joannah also noted that the real question for us is, “What legacy do we want to leave with regard to disability rights?”
That question of legacy lies at the heart of what it is to be a lawmaker. On this critical issue, as your state senator, I shall seek urgent and transformative inclusion and equal rights for all across all abilities.