Most readers know there is a initiative question one on our ballot this November. Question One, if passed, would abolish the Massachusetts income tax, putting us in the company of states like New Hampshire and Florida, which have no income tax.
Supporters of Question One want to “send a message to legislators”. Opponents predict Armageddon. That’s simplified but not by much. The Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation points out that of the $32 billion dollar state budget, $12.5 billion comes from the income tax.
That’s not an small drop, nor is it “cutting the fat” as the libertarians might put it.
This week, we got a taste of what the consequences would be like: Governor Patrick announced his Fiscal Action Plan to close a $1.7 billion gap in the state budget.
$1.7 billion. Not $12.5 billion.
Notably, these cuts are hitting programs for people with disablities and the elderly. People are already screaming. The state’s audio service for the visually impaired, TIC Network, is getting its budget cut.
In the past week, I’ve read this and other articles on Patrick’s budget cuts and have been drawn to the comments before reading the articles themselves. There are several tropes—commonly expressed ideas—I’ve seen in those comment threads that I just have to respond to.
On cuts to elder services: One commenter on Boston.com talked about her elderly mom and the problems arranging care for her. The retort was: “Well, you should be responsible for looking after your parents!”
Well, yes. But who can do it alone?
I helped care for my mom in the last three years of her life. It’s been over 14 years since she died. I do not regret looking after her for even an instant. Never did I think of running away.
But I didn’t do it alone. Mom had an array of care workers to look after her. She had elder services to look after ordinary things like transportation. She had visiting nurses. She had a homemaking service.
Caregiving is very hard work with no small amount of stress. Even after I admit I loved my mom so much I’d do the three years with her over and over, I say also that it changed me for the worse, just from the emotional stress that all caregivers experience at one time or another.
A caregiver is more often than not an adult daughter, maybe the youngest or oldest in her family. Maybe she has the “least” amount of obligations to look after Mom (or Dad). Does she give up her job to look after her? Can she?
This applies no less to people with disabilities and those who care for them. A child who becomes disabled can upend a family.
What happens when no one is there for the caregiver? Elder abuse is already worrisome. A few years ago in Nevada, an elderly man was dropped off in the street in his chair and a pack of diapers; his relatives were too stressed to look after him any longer. Will we see elderly and disabled left in the streets of Salem?
Responsibility is nothing without support. The state service agencies, however maligned, are for many the first, last and best source of support.
“Just fire the managers!”
We all love Indians and hate chiefs. Management has a role, though; do we want all our caseworkers to do all their own management tasks? How about closing offices? Would that be a good idea? If you’re in Springfield and your caseworker has to work out of Worcester, maybe that’s not so good.
“Vote for One and send a message! Those no-good hacks will never let it pass anyway!”
Then what’s the point?
We hate our legislators. They are hacks. I distrust them all, from Washington St. to Beacon Hill to the Capitol. I have never known a government that was not ineffective or corrupt, I have never looked at a politician with anything but cynicism. My earliest memories of being politically interested is in reading “All The President’s Men” in grammar school.
That’s all true.
So why are people saying they’ll depend on the legislature to set things right?
As someone at Governing.com pointed out, taxation is equivalent to legitimacy in our government. Ever since Proposition 2-1/2 was passed in 1980, we have not believed in our government, and we have not trusted it.
That’s the real problem.
One final meme to address:
“Well, Deval will just undo the changes after Question One goes down!”
State Treasurer Timothy P. Cahill said yesterday that the state must take dramatic steps - borrowing at a higher interest rate than usual and tapping the state's rainy day fund for $310 million - to make sure it has enough cash to make local aid payments due next week to cities and towns.
The extraordinary moves are a direct result of the troubled credit markets roiling Wall Street, and they portend more dire decisions looming for state lawmakers, Cahill said. The turmoil arises as state revenues are decreasing, making access to credit even more important.
"This is no longer a Wall Street issue, this is a Main Street issue," Cahill said. "I don't want to be constantly beating a dead horse. But it's a crisis. A full-blown crisis. We have to slow down or cut spending."
Whatever happens with Question One, this is not over.
UPDATE 2: Vic DeGravio reminds us that mental health programs are already seriously affected by the cutbacks. I know from personal experience that mental health programs have been the unwanted stepchildren of health spending in the state. Small wonder it is going to get worse. Another trope in the comments: “Well, just cut the waste!”