Team Needham goes to the State House

A report on the “Our Communities” lobby day, from the Needham team of citizen activists that has been working with Progressive Mass on investing in our communities. Read more of their adventures in advocacy.

'Campaign for Our Communities' Advocacy Day

Yesterday, a tightly packed carpool of Needhamites joined nearly a thousand other citizens at the State House to meet with our legislators and ask them to support raising substantial  new revenue — to invest in our kids and schools, our families and services that help them, our transportation and infrastructure — and to raise it fairly.

To see so many people make the effort to come out to the State House to engage with their representatives was inspiring. THIS is democracy. Citizens literally making their voices heard!

But here’s what is worrying: in the face of such strong public will (confirmed by polls), obvious dire need and expert support — it’s not at all clear that our legislators are listening. (Which means we have to keep speaking up, louder and in greater numbers!)

We’ve got lots to say about Tuesday, what we heard and what we learned… read more below!

If we agree, what’s the hold-up?

The Governor reminded us that we have our services, our great schools and infrastructure — like the Mass Pike, which so many depend on for work and business — because our grandparents made the choice and the sacrifices to invest for us.

Video of Governor’s Speech at Lobby Day 

Will we do as our grandparents, step up and invest to to insure our future economic strength and quality of life? Or will weagain fail to act, because we are too timid to do the right thing? The crazy thing is that everyone agrees we should invest in the MBTA, in early education, in affordable higher education, in services… and everyone agrees they are all woefully underfunded and need revenue.  So what’s the problem?

Eek! Taxes!

The CommonWealth magazine says the reasons the Legislature won’t act, despite obvious need, is because of us, the voters:

…anyone who rides the MBTA’s Red Line during a rainstorm and sees water flowing into stations from strange places would probably support greater transit investments. [But,] preventing state lawmakers from taking corrective action is their constituents’ distaste for the kind of tax increases [needed to] get the state’s transportation network beyond the current program of plugging leaks and patching potholes. Sen. Marc Pacheco, a Taunton Democrat, warned of dire electoral consequences and laid the problem at the feet of taxpayers who want things (like South Coast Rail, presumably) but who “may not want to pay for them.” A State House auditorium full of Democratic activists [er, or concerned citizens!], who turned out en masse to cheer Patrick and tax increases, is not likely to change this viewpoint.  –From CommonWealth

So out of fear of being challenged, they won’t do the right thing, and go into their reflexive defensive position whenever “revenue” is mentioned?  Perhaps they need to hear that progressive revenue is a priority for voters — and campaign volunteers who helped them get elected — and we will be paying close attention.

We are the voters who elected Elizabeth Warren and  President Obama – both of who campaigned on public investment and responsible, fair taxation to fund it. What will it take for our representatives to believe the actual reality —  that voters are MUCH more reasonable than legislators give us credit for?!

We, voters and citizens, actually do understand that to get quality services and infrastructure — which we rely on and use — we have to pay for them. We do this in our personal lives — putting money aside to pay for a new roof on our home, make regular car repairs, or save for our kids’ college tuition. We get that we must do this in public policy too. We pay in now — invest — to keep our economy secure and strong for the long term.

 

If we aren’t able to pay our bills for the services and systems we need and use, then we’re not being “taxed enough,” despite what some people say. Shouldn’t we be outraged that legislators want to keep this IRRESPONSIBLE status quo, and only apply short-term band-aids?

OUR NEEDHAM LEGISLATORS

Ben shows us the way around the State House, and we bumped into progressive Senator Pat Jehlen.

Ben shows us the way around the State House, and we bumped into progressive Senator Pat Jehlen.

After the rally/speakers, we visited the offices of  Needham’s 3 legislators. None were in, but we were able to have productive conversations with Rep. Garlick’s and Sen. Rush’s  legislative aides, who were very attentive. Most of us have lobbied our legislators before, but this was the first coordinated, big Lobby Day for most of us. The hardest part was finding the right rooms — but Ben, campaign director from Progressive Mass, helped us navigate.

State Senator Michael Rush

We were surprised to learn that, even though in FebruarySenator Rush had co-sponsored ”An Act to Invest in Our Communities,” as of Tuesday, his commitment to that bill and the Governor’s (similar) plan was far from secure! To think, we only recently saw letters to the Needham Times thanking him for his principled and responsible support of “Act to Invest”.  Looks like we have to start calling his office too.

State Senator Richard Ross

Senator Ross’s people told us that “The Senator has never voted for a tax increase.” Really? Not even to pay for our roads, schools, safety, services? Not even when lower-income residents pay much more in taxes than their wealthier counterparts?

We’ll be sending his office some follow up info. 

State Representative Denise Garlick

We’ve been having productive on-going dialogue with Representative Garlick about revenue, and we know she understands the need. Recently, she spoke powerfully on the need for new revenue at her recent Report to the Community at Needham Town Hall,saying “We need money for transportation, we need money for education.We haven’t spent the kind of money we need to spend on infrastructure, innovation and education.”

Thus, in this conversation we skipped the bullet points and instead re-emphasized how Needham voters support more, fairly raised, revenues. This is the truth. We have had community forums, meetings and one-on-one conversations with our neighbors and friends about revenue. The support is there to increase taxes to fund our communities!

Several in our Tuesday team volunteered that, though their taxes would rise slightly under the proposed plans, we still support the increase because we get so much more back from our community. It’s not just about our personal bottom line; it’s about keeping Needham — and Massachusetts — wonderful places to live and raise our families.

Great schools, safe communities, comprehensive and reliable public transportation and roads, a slight increase in taxes on the wealthiest households (which, by the way, can afford the modest increase [see graph below])… TOTALLY WORTH IT. And let’s not forget that that roughly half of Mass. taxpayers would see no increase at all!:

Tax Increases: Even with increases, the Wealthiest Still Pay Less. 

Grassroots Support and Time to Act

We conveyed to the staffs that the legislators will all have our full and public support if they rise to this historic moment and take the political gamble of standing up for significant new revenue, raised fairly.

The Speaker is slated to release his budget soon, and has signaled it will be a much smaller revenue package — about enough to fix the MBTA, but not much else! Given the powerful leadership system on Beacon Hill, it’s imperative that he get the message  not to be penny-wise but pound-foolish. It’s our Representatives who must convey that message on our behalf.

It’s our understanding that NOW is the time that our Representatives’ voices are most important — before the Speaker’s draft of the budget comes out — not afterward. If the Speaker comes out with a whole new plan, as long as it raises substantial new revenuefairly, we support it!

We still have work to do with our elected representatives. Yours and ours. Please join the work. Organize your community — it’s not so hard, and Progressive Mass has been really helpful in supporting and guiding our work. Contact them and let them know you want their help to start organizing your community for OUR communities.And don’t forget to make those calls.

Find out more and start organizing in your town in support

of OurCommunities! 

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