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Rally Against the State Budget Cuts (english)
25 Jun 2003
About sixty people rallied in front of the State House against the budget cuts supported by the Governor and most legislators. These cuts would result in a loss of services to a wide number of vulnerable groups. The protesters called for loopholes in the budget that benefit the wealthy to be closed and for taxes to be raised as much as necessary to continue funding vital programs.
Rally Against the State Budget Cuts
By Matthew Williams

June 25, 2003; Boston MA--From 4:30 to 6:30 today, about sixty people rallied in front of the State House against the budget cuts supported by the Governor and most legislators. These cuts would result in a loss of services to a wide number of vulnerable groups, and this was reflected in the wide array of people that came to the protest--labor unionists, social workers, community organizers, homeless activists, housing rights activists, and students at public colleges, as well as their supporters. The group called for loopholes in the budget that result in the wealthy paying a lower tax rate than the poor to be closed and for taxes to be raised as much as necessary to continue funding vital programs. Reactions from passers-by were generally positive.

Different people explained the damage the budget cuts for the up-coming fiscal year, which starts on July 1, would do to the areas in which they organized. Steven Collins, the Executive Director of the Massachusetts Human Services Coalition, said, “For example, we’re cutting another $10 million out of our Department of Public Health after it’s already been by over $130 million over the last two fiscal years; we’re cutting $12 million out of the Department of Mental Retardation, we’re cutting another $12 million out of the Department of Mental Health, we’re going to be tossing people out of the Mass Health program.” Translating what the impact of these cuts would be on people, he said, “They’re imposing new high premiums on the Children’s Medical Security Plan that helps working families insure their children and provide them with health care coverage; with these new premiums, we predict that 7,000 children will loose their health care coverage. They’re going to allow the Division of Medical Assistance to redefine disability for the Mass Health program; we believe that this is going to lead to 2500 loosing healthcare coverage through the Mass Health program. ARC, the Association for Retarded Citizens, is predicting that cuts at the Department of Mental Retardation will cause 1400 persons with mental retardation to loose some or all of their services.”

Will Renderos of Oiste, a state-wide Latino political organization, described the expected effects on the Latino community: “The budgets cuts affect our community directly. The cuts basically define how much money organizations are going to receive towards specific programming, programming which supports the community through direct services. If there’s no money, there’s going to be no services. Specifically, we’re talking about money for education, HIV-prevention programs, anything health related.”

Giovanna Negretti, also of Oiste (which means, “Have You Heard?” in Spanish), elaborated: “Romney’s cutting services for the poor and that affects our communities disproportionately. We have community-based organizations where we get our services--we normally don’t go to big institutions to get our health services or our ESL programs, we go to our community organizations. What Romney’s doing is cutting into these services for poor people--immigrants, non-immigrants, citizens, all of us need these services to be effective citizens here in Massachusetts. If we’re not getting to be able to get educated or get health services in our community organizations, how are we going to progress?”

The people at the rally lined up along the street in front of the State House, holding numerous signs. Some simply gave the numbers of people who would suffer from specific budget cuts. Others took the shape of yellow road signs with such messages as, “Budget Disaster Area”. Many were wearing black, as the rally had been advertised as a vigil. It did not, however, have the feel of a vigil. Instead, people chanted loudly between speakers, “They say cut-backs! We say fight-back!” The weather was beastly--hot and humid, with the rally right in the sun. Some of the organizers walked up and down the line, handing out cups of water to people.

Collins insists that the budget crisis needs to be put in its historical context. “We have to put this all in the context of the fact that health and human services have already been cut by $1 billion over the last two fiscal years. It’s reached the point where we’re denying blind people canes with red tips--it’s getting ridiculous.” During the prosperous 1990s, the state government was able to simultaneously cut tax rates while expanding social services (services that had been cut back during the fiscal crisis of the 1980s). Beginning in August 2001, however, the state economy headed into a recession. The government’s response was round after round of spending cuts.

The organizers’ solution to the budget crisis is one that would not strike you as popular--raising taxes. Collins said, “There are basically four tools to solve a budget deficit like the state is facing. We’ve certainly reduced spending, we’ve certainly reformed spending, but the two Rs they’re leaving out are reserves and revenues--and, yes, that means tax increases. If we put the income tax rate back to 5.6 or 5.7%, it would still be lowe thanr the rate it was when voters decided on question 4 in 2000. That would be 3/10 or 4/10 of a penny on each tax dollar owed.”

Others have different proposals on how raise taxes. As matters stand now, the effective tax rate in Massachusetts is 9.2% for the poorest 40% of the population, but only 4.6% for the richest 1%. The Massachusetts Coalition for Health Communities estimates that if loopholes and special deductions for the richest 20% were eliminated, this would cover the $2 billion budget shortfall.

Despite these different proposals, Negretti voiced the bottom line that all the groups at the rally agree on: “As a society it’s our responsibility to take care of each other and ensure that we all have a good quality of life. And if that means we have to raise taxes, that means we have to raise taxes.”

Though one might think a rally to raise taxes would be unpopular, reactions from passers-by were generally positive. Many drivers honked their horns in support. Devin Bay of Citizens for Political Participation (CPPAX) spent the rally across the street, handing out flyers. He said, “Most reactions are pretty positive. The thing that is pretty surprising, is that I hear a lot, ‘I already know, I’m for you, I don’t need a flier.’ No one’s for raising taxes, but I only got one guy that said, ‘F--- you, my taxes are already too high.’ Basically, when you put it in perspective, everyone says, ‘I’ll pay a little more in taxes, but my kid will get a better education’--most people are for that. That in itself is cool because it shows the word is getting around. When people can take action, then we can get the Legislature to redo the budget.”

It seems that many citizens in Massachusetts are willing to pay a little more in taxes in order to make the Commonwealth a better place for everyone--but the vast majority of our “representatives” are not willing to enact such measures. One wonders who they fear antagonizing. Could it be the richest 1%--the ones who now have a tax rate half that of the bottom 40%?

****

For more information, or to get involved visit either Cut No More (http://www.cutnomore.org ) or the Massachusetts Coalition for Healthy Communities (http://www.masschc.org ). MCHC can also be contacted at info (at) masschc.org or 781-674-2422.
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