PITTSFIELD — The worst case scenario budget that Supt. McCandless presented last week is bleak, resulting in a reduction of up to 140 educators.
Both locally and statewide our government representatives are stuck between the proverbial rock and a hard place as they consider their FY21 budgets. Mayor Tyer, Supt. McCandless, the City Council, and the School Committee are faced with unfathomable decisions over what they are going to cut in order to help Pittsfield survive the current economic crisis. On the state level, we have been forewarned to prepare for impending tough budgetary choices of what programs we will cut.
I, for one, decline to be forced into these false choices and I refuse to be put into this dichotomy of bad options. These "tough decisions" are not things to decide about at all, rather these are sacrifices that will hurt a generation of individuals and communities.
There is a better way. We must not try to cut our way out of this problem. We must invest our way out. I am calling for four concrete actions to limit the damage of the economic crisis and put us in the position of recovering faster and stronger.
Our federal delegation needs to focus this next federal relief package squarely on bailing out states so that we can fulfill our obligations to education, local aid, protecting our children, seniors and our environment. I ask you all to join me in flooding their offices with calls demanding that get this work done.
The state Legislature needs to use no less than $1.5 billion of the Massachusetts Rainy Day Fund. The robust level of $3.5 billion in this fund is the result of careful stewardship of the taxpayer dollar over many years. The precise purpose of having this fund is to help the Commonwealth during an economic crisis.
The Legislature needs to raise new revenue in targeted, progressive ways. If necessary, the state should borrow to fill state budget gaps.
The first two options are relatively straightforward and less taboo compared to raising revenue, aka: taxes. I am not talking about broad-based taxes impacting the working and middle class. What I am talking about is progressive revenue targeting loopholes that have been created to help the wealthy. The loopholes I am specifically talking about are: recoupling with the federal GILTI provision, eliminating the single sales factor for mutual fund companies, delaying the charitable tax deduction, and raising the Corporate Income Tax (CIT).
Note that businesses that experienced a downturn during the pandemic will not be impacted as businesses only pay taxes on profits. I know it seems counterintuitive, but there are many businesses that did extremely well in the pandemic, and their profits came largely from your tax dollars. Although these ideas seem far removed from you, they will generate an estimated $1.3 billion in revenue for Massachusetts, without economically harming our middle and working class residents any further.
Some or all of the above provisions could be temporary, written so that they sunset upon the passage of the Fair Share Amendment, a new tax law that would go into effect pending a vote of the people of the Commonwealth in 2022. This timing will also line up nicely when, with careful planning, we will begin to see the recovery taking root.
Raising progressive revenue as opposed to making cuts is supported by dozens of well regarded economists as outlined in an open letter to Massachusetts government leaders, (Boston Globe, May 15) where they stated that "Economic theory and historical experience show that spending cuts are more harmful than tax increases during recessions."
Lastly, if the federal government does fail us in providing relief funds for states, I agree with Boston Globe writers (June 10) "to take a page from the policy-making playbook in the budget crisis of 1989-1990... [when] they authorized the issuance of $1.45 billion in bonds to help with the budget woes." Ordinarily, borrowing to cover operating costs is discouraged but these extraordinary circumstances justify it.
It is the concern of major cuts to Ch. 70 (K-12 education) funding that have led to the large number of reduction in force notices being issued locally and across the Commonwealth. Know that your state representative and many in the Legislature have the protection of Ch. 70 funding as a top priority. In the Student Opportunity Act, signed into law just this past November, we promised to bring transformative additional funding to Pittsfield and other under-resourced school systems. This was a hard fought, decade long battle and we simply cannot go back now. Especially when we are faced with the triple blow of the pandemic and economic crisis layered on the longstanding and newly sparked civil rights issues, all of which disproportionately impact these same under-resourced communities.
Piled on top of those challenges there is the uncertainty as to whether we will open our schools, continue distance learning, or resort to a hybrid model; any of which will result in greater costs.
Yes, it is time for tough choices. Know that I choose to tap into our reserves, close tax loopholes for the wealthy and even take out bonds rather than impose these terrible cuts that will further harm our children, their families and our community at large.
Rep. Tricia Farley-Bouvier is a Pittsfield Democrat representing the 3rd Berkshire District.