PITTSFIELD &mdash I am running for state senator as a Bernie Sanders progressive. Whenever you hear Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren or I speak at length, our speeches invariably start on the subject of wealth disparity. It is the first issue on Sanders' website. By contrast, I have never heard my two Democratic opponents use the term "wealth disparity," "wealth inequality," or otherwise significantly address the topic.
America is not a poor country. Nor is Massachusetts a poor state. When our friends and neighbors who are barely keeping their heads above water surround us, it creates the illusion of scarcity. It is just that, an illusion. The reality is that we actually live in one of the wealthiest countries in world history. The belief in this reality of grotesque wealth disparity is one of the most fundamental premises of the Sanders revolution — that the rich are becoming richer under a rigged system, and the middle class are joining the ranks of the poor in a period of unprecedented superabundance. Many places throughout the district, by way of example Pittsfield, North Adams and Adams, have seen staggering economic decline in the last 35 years.
As Sanders points out, in America, the top 1/10 of the top 1 percent of the population has as much wealth as the bottom 90 percent. The top 20 people in our country own more wealth than the bottom 150 million Americans, almost ½ of our population. Despite having the most productive workers in the world, our wages have gone flat while almost all new economic growth is siphoned off by the wealthiest.
My opponents would rather remain "on topic" and discuss things like the economy and funding education. They fail to see the incredible nexus. The most prosperous years in America history were the 1950s and early 1960s. Yet, during those years, the highest federal nominal income tax rate was 91 percent! (Go to DelGalloForStateSenate.com for a greater breakdown.) Today, the highest nominal tax rate is only 39.6 percent.
The data are clear: high taxes on the super rich not only do not correspond to economic collapse, but also actually correspond to economic prosperity. Why? Because in the halcyon '50s and early '60s, we were able to make major investments in infrastructure and fund education through taxes on the wealthy. Many do not know that higher education at state schools was once quite affordable because government had the revenue to pay most of the tab.
I am running on a platform of single-payer health care; universal pre-K; tuition free and debt-free state higher education; investment in green energy to replace fossil fuels and creating jobs in the Berkshires around that technology; investing in high speed rail from the Berkshires to New York and Boston and improved public transportation to get us out of cars; improving our infrastructure; investing in a technological center like the Albany Nanotech Institute that performed economic wonders, and getting that "last mile" of high speed internet in the hill towns.
Many politicians in the past have campaigned on many of these proposals, yet we never seem to have the money to fund them. This underscores the basic need to have systemic change in our tax system so that we can access this great concentrated wealth to make these programs possible.
My two opponents are not progressive enough. Both started their campaigns by being undecided (when asked by WAMC) about the proposed pipelines that would carry fracked gas through the Berkshires, and only became opposed after I entered the race.
To their credit, both say they support a $15 minimum wage and the "fair share amendment" (which would tack on another 4 percent income tax for incomes over a million dollars.) But one hopped in the race in early February, the other in early March, and yet to the best of my recollection neither said they supported a $15 minimum wage or the fair share amendment until we met in a forum on June 21 and they had to respond to a question. That's after campaigning for four to five months.
My opponents refused to agree to my call for voluntary campaign spending limits. They do not see how good people are becoming discouraged from running for office as fundraising becomes a preoccupation of races, and creates the opportunity for undue influence. They say they are for campaign finance reform, just not in their race.
As a Bernie Sanders progressive, I have been unequivocal in my opposition to the pipelines, I support voluntary spending limits and real campaign finance reform, and the central premise of my campaign is addressing wealth inequality to finance progressive change.
Rinaldo Del Gallo, III is a Democratic candidate for state Senate from the Western District.