A Moral Budget for Massachusetts

Jonathan King, Andrea Burns, and Savina Martin at the Moral Budget Forum, Sept 27, 2019 Jonathan King, Andrea Burns, and Savina Martin at the Moral Budget Forum, Sept 27, 2019

by Savina Martin and Jonathan King

This article appeared in the Fall 2019 issue of the Massachusetts Peace Action newsetter

More than 85 grassroots advocates, elected officials, union leaders, and economists gathered at an MIT forum on Sept 27 to launch the development of a “Moral Budget for Massachusetts.” The forum was sponsored by the Mass. Poor People’s Campaign, Mass. Peace Action, Institute for People’s Engagement and MIT Radius.

Speaker after speaker described the structural inequities built into the current state and federal budgets, and the need for a broad, unified movement to redress those wrongs. This can be brought about only by taxing the wealthy and by cutting the bloated military budget and redirecting the money to meet human needs, many speakers said. More than 30% of our state budget comes from the federal budget, so the struggles over both need to be connected. 

This summer, the national Poor People’s Campaign released a Moral Budget for the Nation. Our Massachusetts effort will build on that foundation and engage the knowledge of many activists and experts to make it specific to our state. We plan to generate a draft budget document by February, 2020 when the Rev. Dr. William Barber, a leader of the National Poor People’s Campaign, will come to Boston on a national organizing tour.

In an opening message to the forum, Shailly Gupta Barnes, the lead author of the national Moral Budget, noted that only by significantly reducing military spending would it be possible to ensure “voting rights, housing, education, health care, water, and welfare…The Moral Budget shows that if we cut one large military contract, we could expand Medicaid to 14 states.”

State Rep. Mike Connolly said the Commonwealth has been engaged in a two-decades-long program of austerity, which he called “a moral outrage.” State tax revenues have fallen by an amount equivalent to $5.95 billion annually, most notably as a result of steep tax cuts, “many of which disproportionately favor those with higher incomes,” he noted, “and these losses cripple our ability to invest in transit infrastructure, housing programs, public schools, and vital services.”

“I’ve had maybe 200 constituents contact me to ask that certain essential services be added or increased in the budget,” Connolly added. “Every one of them was important. I couldn’t help thinking how much more powerful it would be if they could all get together and demand that the Legislature raise the total budget, so that all these needs could be met.”

A panel of education leaders, including Merrie Najimy, president of the Mass. Teachers Association, Lisa Guisbond of Citizens for Public Schools, Dr. Denisha Jones of Defending the Early Years, and Ruth Rodriguez Fay of Save Our Schools,

described the increased services needed to meet the needs of the “whole child.” Dr. Jones reported that current early childhood funding is still 17% below the 2001 level. The Legislature has recently increased funding for K-12 schools, through the Promise Act, but adequate funding for higher education lags behind. Pres. Najimy reported that since the 2001 peak, higher education has been underfunded to the tune of more than $500 million/year.

Veterans for Peace leaders Dan Luker and Dr. Bob Master described the many physical and psychological treatment needs of veterans that aren’t being met because of the continued underfunding of the Veterans Administration, including a backlog of 40,000 unfilled jobs. John Ratliff of Mass Senior Action discussed the crucial importance of adequate healthcare for seniors, and the many areas that need to be better funded. 

Lee Farris of the Cambridge Residents Alliance reaffirmed that housing is a human right and noted that currently there is no new construction of public housing anywhere in Massachusetts. Rep. Denise Provost described how improving transportation is intimately tied to solving many problems, from housing to health care to environmental protection. Given the $9 billion-dollar backlog for maintenance of the MBTA system, the state needs increased Congressional contributions to keep our trains and buses moving, our bridges and roads intact.

The closing panel, featuring Lindsay Koshgarian of the Institute for Policy Studies, Paul Shannon of AFSC, and Dr. Kea Van der Ziel of Greater Boston Physicians for Social Responsibility, focused on cutting the bloated Pentagon budget. The panelists made clear that reducing military spending could make hundreds of billions of taxpayers’ dollars available to meet the urgent human needs described in the previous panels.

Savina Martin is the Massachusetts co-coordinator of the Poor People’s Campaign. Jonathan King is co-chair of the Mass. Peace Action Board.