Paul D. Craney
The Salem News
---- — Since the release of the governor’s budget, many have made their opposition known and fewer their support. As a way of background, I have written several columns explaining the negative impact of the governor’s proposal. In this column, I will examine what the voters think and how it compares to some of the thinking coming from our elected officials.
Let’s first examine what the governor said about the sentiment of the voters. During the governor’s State of the State speech on Jan. 16, he laid out his defense for why taxpayers should be responsible for his plan. The plan will cost nearly $10 billion over the next 10 years and is funded largely by an income tax increase of 19 percent and the elimination of numerous state tax deductions.
The governor stated, “Our citizens do not want less transportation. They want more.” This was followed by, “But this time, instead of sinking into the same old slogans, let’s have a serious, respectful, fact-based debate. The people we work for want the schools I have described; they want the rail and road services we have laid out; and above all they want the opportunity and growth these investments will bring us.”
Last Friday, according to the State House News Service, State Treasurer Steven Grossman said the state’s transportation needs are the “single biggest crisis.”
The governor, treasurer and several other elected officials seem to think that transportation needs are the paramount issue of our day. Rightly or wrongly, they are putting a lot of stock into transportation when all indicators show that focusing on jobs and economy seems to be the safest investment of political capital.
Here in Massachusetts, jobs and the economy are polling as one of the highest priorities on the minds of voters. Last month, WBUR published its poll done by MassINC Polling Group. Deep in the data, readers could learn that nearly 94 percent of voters believe improving the economy and jobs should be a high priority.
Across party lines, 96 percent of Democratic, 90 percent of Republican and 93 percent of unenrolled voters agreed that improving the economy and jobs should be a high priority. The highest percentage as an age group to believe this were those polled between the ages of 18 to 29. This age group is the next generation of Massachusetts leaders, entrepreneurs, employees and employers, and they will be asked to pay for the governor’s 10-year spending plan.
When asked about improving our public transportation network such as buses, trains and subways, only 42 percent believe this should be a high priority. Nearly 50 percent of Democrat, 31 percent of Republican and 38 percent of unenrolled voters believe public transportation improvements deserve to be a high priority. The only majority age group to believe this issue should be a high priority were those over the age of 60. I am not suggesting we toss granny under our aging buses but is it wise to ask future generations to pay for a massive taxpayer funded project if they don’t think it should be a high priority?
Despite the fact that more than nine out of every 10 voters believe jobs and the economy should be a high priority, the governor’s proposed income tax hike will have devastating consequences for small businesses, the engine of our economy.
According to Bill Vernon of the National Federation of Independent Business, “Most people don’t realize that the income tax is a small-business tax. In fact, more than two thirds of small businesses pay their taxes as individual filers. And more than 90 percent of the employers in Massachusetts are organized as pass-through companies, usually sole proprietorships, partnerships and Subchapter S corporations. In other words, they’re small businesses that pay income taxes.”
Our elected officials should not be punished for leading on issues but as voters we have to steer them in the right direction. Despite the rhetoric, the number one issue on the minds of voters is the outlook of our economy and the growth of good-paying jobs. Young and old, Democratic and Republican, this issue unites voters.
When nearly 97 percent of voters between the ages of 18 to 29 believe improving our economy and jobs should be a high priority, does it make sense for us as a state to ask this generation to pay for a transportation plan that only about 52 percent of voters over the age of 60 think should be a high priority?
Paul D. Craney is the executive director of Massachusetts Fiscal Alliance, a nonprofit organization that advocates for right of center economic, fiscal and good government issues. Send tips and comments for this column to firstname.lastname@example.org or Tweet @PaulDiegoCraney.