Time to Reinvest in Public Higher Education

The following is testimony submitted to the Joint Committee on Higher Education for its hearing on July 13, 2017.

Chairman Moore, Chairman Scibak, and members of the Joint Committee on Higher Education, I, Jonathan Cohn, Co-Chair of the Issues Committee of Progressive Massachusetts, am pleased to offer this testimony on behalf of Progressive Massachusetts. Progressive Massachusetts is a multi-issue, grassroots, member-based advocacy organization committed to an agenda of shared prosperity, racial and social justice, good governance and strong democracy, and sustainable infrastructure and environmental protection.  

Progressive Massachusetts would like to go on the record IN SUPPORT of bills H.633 and S.681.

Public higher education in the United States and especially in Massachusetts has played a critical role in expanding opportunity. A commitment to public higher education rests on an understanding that such institutions are anchors for the community, drivers of prosperity, producers of socially beneficial knowledge, and cultivators of forward-thinking individuals with skills and abilities that help them to succeed and us all to benefit. It’s quite simple: when public education in our Commonwealth is strong, we are all strong.

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The More Things Change, The More They Stay the Same....Unless

Taking Beacon Hill by surprise, House Ways and Means Chairman Brian Dempsey (D-Haverhill) announced his resignation from the House of Representatives last Wednesday, to take a position at the corporate lobbying firm ML Strategies in September.

Dempsey, a conservative Democrat who has overseen the drafting of several austerity budgets, was widely viewed as next in line for Speaker of the House. He also played a leading role last session in weakening the solar incentive bill and the omnibus energy bill, and sided with the big business group AIM on the Equal Pay bill, Noncompetes, and the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act.

One of ML Strategies’ clients is Wynn Casinos--perhaps a reason for a last minute addition to the FY18 budget allowing casinos to serve drinks until 4 a.m. Needless to say, Progressives in Massachusetts will not be missing him.

A New Way on Ways & Means?

Ways & Means is by far the most powerful committee. Any legislation that involves public money must go through both the W&M in both the House and Senate. In that space, W&M can—and sometimes does—change legislation, with zero transparency or democracy. Any policies that require funding can be rendered ineffective by W&M’s level of funding for it, too.

These Ways and Means Committees are not required under the Legislature's rules to report out any bill that is referred there. Therefore the Committees are frequently graveyards.

And, yeah, Ways and Means Committees write the budget. As they say, whoever holds the purse strings holds the power.

Over the weekend, Rep. Jeffrey Sanchez (D-Mission Hill) was named the next chair of the committee. Sanchez represents one of the most progressive districts in the state. What does this mean for the committee? 

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Stop Trump's Ally in the Corner Office from Slashing Mass. Health Care

While Republicans in DC have been attempting to repeal the Affordable Care Act, many progressives have been wondering what work can be done here in Massachusetts. We have stalwart progressive senators like Ed Markey and Elizabeth Warren, and a fully Democratic House delegation. And many of you have stepped up to the plate, calling people in other states to urge them to take action.

For now, activists have stalled the ACA repeal bill. But here in Massachusetts, our Republican governor Charlie Baker is pushing the Republicans’ anti-health care agenda.

Late last month, Baker submitted a list of health care proposals he wanted to see rolled into the budget without any public hearing or debate. That budget is being unveiled later this morning and voted on only hours later. Legislators need to hear from us NOW so they know what to look out for.

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Beacon Hill Rewrites Question 4 -- For Better or For Worse?

Over the past week, a group of largely affluent, old white men gathered behind closed doors to craft a bill that they plan to ram through with as little debate as possible.

No, I'm not talking about Senate Republicans in DC. I'm talking about Democrats here in the Massachusetts House of Representatives.

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Carbon Pricing: Keeping MA a Leader on Climate Action

The following was testimony submitted to the Joint Committee on Telecommunications, Utilities, and Energy on behalf of Progressive Massachusetts on June 20, 2017.

Chairman Barrett, Chairman Golden, and members of the Joint Committee on Telecommunications, Utilities, and Energy, I, Jonathan Cohn, Co-Chair of the Issues Committee of Progressive Massachusetts, am pleased to offer this testimony on behalf of Progressive Massachusetts. Progressive Massachusetts is a multi-issue, grassroots, member-based advocacy organization committed to an agenda of shared prosperity, racial and social justice, good governance and strong democracy, and sustainable infrastructure and environmental protection.  

Progressive Massachusetts would like to go on the record IN SUPPORT of bills H.1726 and S.1821.

As a coastal state, Massachusetts is especially vulnerable to climate change. To put it bluntly, we cannot achieve shared prosperity under water.

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Fair Share Amendment Makes It to the 2018 Ballot

One of our common refrains has been that we need to start investing in our Commonwealth. Misguided tax cuts and legislative inaction have led to revenue shortfalls that hamstring our efforts to make the long-term investments we need to ensure that everyone in Massachusetts can thrive.

So we were very pleased when the Legislature, in a joint constitutional convention, voted 134-55 to send the Fair Share amendment, or millionaire’s tax, to the 2018 ballot. This surtax on the state’s millionaires and billionaires will raise almost $2 billion per year for public education and transportation.

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TL;DR? No matter if you’ve called before: Call legislators TODAY on the Safe Communities Act. We have a SCRIPT and CHECK-IN: progressivemass.com/sca-calls


Bad News: Business as usual on Beacon Hill plus Baker buys the right-wing narratives; our opponents are dangerous and better funded
Good NewsVictories so far, We know what works

Other Fronts:



Are you tired of being frightened by Trump and the right-wing agenda against immigrants, documented or not? The Safe Communities Act is something that Massachusetts could do right now to fight back against Trump and protect our immigrant brothers, sisters, friends, and neighbors.

To be clear, these due process policies--which ensure that any ICE and local collaboration be accompanied by a warrant--should have passed two sessions ago (first introduced as the TRUST Act).

Instead, our Democratic legislature allowed it to languish in committee--where progressive bills too often go to die.

And from what we’ve seen so far this year, Speaker DeLeo--who has been allowed an iron grip on the agenda--does not seem to have the urgency on many progressive priorities for resistance, and certainly not Safe Communities.

Add to this--Governor Baker's unconcionable statement in opposition to Safe Communites, before the hearing day was even done. 

Friends, there is work we need to do. 

But there is good news:

We know that organized, informed engagement and pressure with your state legislators works!

We have the power to make inaction more politically uncomfortable than whatever blowback they fear from the well-funded and organized anti-immigrant machine. 

(Yes, Machine: both the Center for Immigration Studies [CIS] and the Federation for American Immigration Reform [FAIR] testified on Friday at the State House. And the news media, national and local, regularly quotes--normalizes--these organizations, representing them as voices of supposedly reasonable opposition. Spoiler Alert: They’re not reasonable. They’re hate groups. And Charlie Baker and other legislative opponents are buying it.).

How do we know that progressive grassroots organizing can win, even against such foes?

Here's one data point: Safe Communities has already gotten farther than its predecessors (only 40 cosponsors in 2015; triple that,and with your advocacy, growing!,today).

And that is for one reason--and it’s not Trump. Safe Communities has come this far because of you.

You showed up, you spoke up, and you called and you made the right asks at the right times and you did it loudly and in solidarity with so many others.

But there’s the catch:

To see our priorities actually pass into law we must continue to make noise, together, in a sustained--on-going, focused--way, and keep at it until justice is done.

Today we act together again--flood the switchboard, jam the lines, fill the voicemails--and we each only need do a small part, together:

  • Call your Beacon Hill Legislators (State Rep, State Senator): via switchboard 617-722-2000 (know their names!), or find their direct line here: /whosmylegislator-ma
  • And then call the Governor. 617-725-4005 --make our rage for justice louder than the voices of hate

Whether speaking to an aide or leaving a voicemail, leave a simple message (we have suggested scripts here)--then let us know you called, here: progressivemass.com/sca-calls#record.

Even if your legislators are already co-sponsors of the Safe Communities Act, they need to hear from you. Because they need to be pressuring their colleagues and the Leadership to bring it up for a vote (read more about tailoring the message, developing, on our site).

Ready, Set, Mark Your Calendars

Even better than calling? In-person advocacy--both at official events and at grassroots-organized meetings.

Below are opportunities in June to participate in pushing for our priorities, in person, at the State House.

And, soon our issues and grassroots teams will be working with chapters and local organizers to set up face-to-face, in-district meetings with their legislators. (Stay Tuned).

For scheduled events, you can always check in at our ISSUES COMMITTEE LEGISLATIVE CALENDAR too; we add as things develop, so it’s a great place to look. /legislativecalendar

  • Tuesday, June 13 @ 9:00 am (lobby day): Carbon Pricing (H.1726 / S.1821) — Meet at Old West Church — RSVP here
  • Tuesday, June 13 @ 11:00 am (lobby day), 1:30 pm (hearing): Paid Family Medical Leave (H.2172/S.1048) — Room 437 (lobby day), Room B2 (hearing) - RSVP here
  • Wednesday, June 14 @ 1:00 pm: Constitutional Convention -- The Senate and House together vote to allow the Fair Share Tax Amendment (millionaire’s tax) to be on the 2018 ballot.
  • Monday, June 19 @ 1:00 pm (hearing): Ending mandatory minimums (H.741/S.819) — Room TBD
  • Tuesday, June 20 @ 1:00 pm (hearing): Carbon Pricing (H.1726 / S.1821) — Room 437
  • Wednesday, June 28 @ 10:00 am (lobby day): Automatic voter registration (H.2091/S.373) — Room 428 - RSVP here

Digging Deeper on the Issues: On the Blog


  • Succumbing to the opposition’s narratives of lies and xenophobia, advanced by such groups as CIS and FAIR, on June 12: Governor Baker signals he'll veto Safe Communities if passed. You know what to do.
  • Safe Communities Hearing coverage in the Boston Globe (NB: it uses a picture of Sheriff Hodgson instead of the dozens of other persons who spoke in support -- from professionals to everyday people. Images matter.)

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Do MA Dems Stand for Women’s Rights in the Workplace Or Not?


The 190th legislative session has been off to a slow start on Beacon Hill. Beyond the pay raise, and the budget process, the Legislature has not been doing much in the way of, well, legislating.

One small bit of progress was the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act, which passed the House unanimously last month. The bill requires employers to provide “reasonable accommodation” for pregnant women and nursing mothers (such as more frequent breaks, less strenuous duties, and the ability to sit down on the job) provided that they don’t cause “significant difficulty or expense.”

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Automatic Voter Registration: We Have the Technology, What We Need Is the Will.

The following was testimony delivered before the Joint Committee on Election Laws on June 8, 2017, in favor of S.373/H.2091 (An Act Automatically Registering Eligible Voters and Enhancing Safeguards against Fraud) and S.371/H.2093 (An Act establishing Election Day registration).

Our democracy is strongest when everyone has the ability to participate, to make their voices heard. And one of the most fundamental ways citizens can engage in the democratic process is by voting.

Massachusetts prides itself in being a state routinely on the right side of history and a model for other states. However, when it comes to voting rights, we have often lagged behind our peers.

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Mass Dems Platform Gets Bolder - Can We Turn it into Policy?

If a platform is adopted and no legislators are there to enact, it, did it make a sound?

Yesterday, the Massachusetts Democratic Party adopted a new platform. Back in March and April, Progressive Mass worked with Our Revolution Massachusetts and the Progressive Democrats of America - MA on a list of recommendations to make the platform more progressive.

The good news is that a number of them got in.

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