Mass Campaign For Our Communities Fights For Higher Taxes (and is Succeeding)

 

By Stephen Holmes

Campaign For Our Communities brings together community groups, municipal organizations, and labor unions to accomplish what seems like an impossible task: convincing Massachusetts' legislators to raise taxes. What is surprising is they are making inroads – through good old fashioned grassroots efforts. While Campaign For Our Communities have been organizing for a while, they recently burst onto the front pages with a massive lobby day and rally led by Governor Deval Patrick. While the Governor and Campaign For Our Communities are pushing wide ranging revenue plans, the Speaker of the House, Robert DeLeo, prefers a more limited plan that focuses on transportation infrastructure first. We sat down to speak with Andi Mullin, Director of Campaign For Our Communities, to find out more, and understand how they plan to achieve their aims.


What is Campaign For Our Communities - how are you funded? Are you the same group that fought recent anti-tax ballot questions 1 in 2008 and question 3 in 2010? 1


We are 125 community groups, labor unions, advocacy groups, and municipal organizations dedicated to having the Commonwealth raise additional revenue fairly in order to make substantial investments in education, public safety, and transportation.


Of the 125 groups, there are 20 who have really stepped up, donating either money or staff - or both -for the campaign. These same groups have been fighting for tax fairness for over a decade.


Is the plan you are advocating the same as the Governor's 2014 fiscal plan ? How closely do you coordinate with the Governor's office?

Campaign For Our Communities has filed An Act To Invest In Our Communities which is different than the Governor's plan, but both are focused on raising revenue. Both plans have a lot in common. The Governor's is more progressive. It raises taxes on those who can afford to pay more, instead of relying on those of limited means... both also include an increase in the personal exemption. I'm realistic about how government works. The final law will be some combination of their plan, the Governor's plan, and the legislature's plan. So The Governor's office and our group are not officially working together, but we have similar aims. For instance, he was the featured speaker at our Lobby Day last week.


Are there any non-negotiable items you would need to see in final law as the Governor and the legislature fight it out? For instance, would Campaign For Our Communities not support final law if it only contained transportation?

We haven't had those discussions yet.


Are you putting more emphasis on top down (ie reaching out to legislators by coalition leaders) or bottom up (ie pressuring legislators by voters and members) activity?

There's some top down activity, but we're definitely focused on the bottom up. We are emphasizing connecting people with legislators, including setting up meetings in their legislative districts.


What was the response to the March 12th Rally /Lobbying Day? Were you happy with turnout and media coverage? Do you feel any opinions were changed?

Between 800 and 900 people showed up. It actually turned into an exercise in crowd control! We were very happy with coverage, we generally had positive coverage in all the major media outlets. The only exception was a column in the Boston Globe. They accused us of being props for the Governor. In terms of opinions changed, we had great conversations with legislators who realize there's a problem and we are all grappling with how to fix it.


Is additional revenue definitely targeted for communities, such as schools, health care needs, and public safety? In other words, will the additional money go to places you are fighting for?

There are three competing bills, so there is no guarantee. Our task is to keep talking to legislators to make sure the money is spent the right way in the final law.


What would you say to someone says this is just people and groups dependent on state money just trying to preserve their own funding and jobs?

We're all in this together,and we're all dependent good roads, good public education, and other good public services. We all benefit from the things government does, and we are all citizens of the Commonwealth.


One group that opposes your efforts, The Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation, has an analysis that indicates some provisions of the Governor's plan would hit working families pretty hard (such as eliminating deductions for college tuition, day care, and commuter expenses and taxing college scholarships and grants). How do you answer this analysis? What would you say to someone who doesn't mind paying more in income tax, but who this plan might really adversely affect?

The Governor's plan does eliminate some deductions, but it doubles the personal exemption for taxpayers. It also dramatically reduces the sales tax, which really hits working families and poor families especially hard, from 6.25% to 4.5% . Anyone can pull out negative parts of a bill, but people need to look at the entire package. There may be some who end up paying more, but it should be a wash for most taxpayers.


There are no building trades unions among the endorsers of Campaign For Our Communities. Have you reached out to them, and if so, what was their response?

The building trades are really focused on the transportation portion of the bill, but there are no issues between either side.


Have there been any independent polls that show support for your plan?

There was a recent poll by UMASS/Lowell and the Boston Herald that showed a kind of consensus : people see the need to raise additional revenue and do it fairly. Plans similar to the Governor's and the Campaign For Our Communities are ways to achieve that. In addition, we commissioned our own poll that showed 75% of those surveyed support the kinds of investments in transportation and education that the governor has proposed.


As the Massachusetts Legislature works its way through these proposals, UWS Digital News is committed to staying on top of this story, and we will bring you updates as they happen.

1Question 1 would have eliminated the state income tax, Question 3 which would have reduced the state sales tax from 6.25% to 3%

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