Rev. Molly Baskette, Senior Minister of First Church Somerville UCC, asked us to post this for her:
On November 4, you will be making one of the most important political decisions of your life. It’s not McCain vs. Obama. It’s the decision about whether or not to repeal the state income tax in Massachusetts.
The last time this issue appeared on the ballot, in 2002, it came scarily close to passing. I talked to people who voted for the repeal back then, including some good friends of mine, and many of them, when pressed, didn’t really know why they had voted for it. They knew they wanted to “send a message” to the state government. But when they really began to think about it, they understood that decimating the state budget would mean sawing off the limb they were sitting on.
It makes good moral sense to have collective money to pay for things like roads, schools, fire and police and mental health services. Society needs these things to keep the most vulnerable, like children, the elderly, the disabled and the mentally ill, from seriously suffering.
But more importantly, it makes practical sense to pay for services and programs. We’re going to be paying one way or another, and for many of these programs, it’s cheaper to pay up front.
A young friend of mine just had her job as a mental health counselor cut because of the $1.2 billion shortfall in the state budget. She runs an evening social club available to mentally ill people living independently. Without the social club, it’s only a short step for a schizophrenic or severely depressed person to decompensation and hospitalization. “One ambulance ride and hospital stay costs months of my paycheck,” my friend said. Now imagine that problem multiplied by 10, because a repeal of the state income tax will take $12.5 billion out of the budget, far more than the $1.2 billion Governor Patrick just had to cut.
But a repeal of the state income tax won’t just hurt the vulnerable, the old, the young and the ill. It’ll hurt you and me.
Imagine what it’ll cost to fix your rim, or worse, your axle, because there’s no money to fix the potholes come spring.
Imagine the fire that rages out of control at your family-owned business because the understaffed fire department didn’t get there in time.
Last week I was making phone calls on behalf of the No on Question One campaign, and got a voter on the line who had made up his mind to vote to yes. He was very kind, very civil, and very committed to his position.
“Do you have kids?” I asked him. “Yes; they’ve been through the schools, and now they’re done and on their own, thank goodness,” he answered. “Well, my kids are just starting,” I said. “What about them?”
He was silent.
The social contract shouldn’t break down simply because we perceive ourselves as “using” less of the system. Sooner or later, when our children’s children are ready to start school, or we age and find ourselves widowed, isolated and in need of elder services, we will regret doing away with these resources.
We may even choose, then, to reinstate the income tax, but the damage will have been done. Not to mention: how much will it cost to find, hire and retrain a legion of mental health counselors, van drivers, art teachers, firefighters? How much to fix rutted roads decayed over a decade, to renovate space for new social programs? How much to offer high school dropouts remedial education as adults, when they are not qualified to do the jobs we need them to do?
If we want to be a gifted, honorable and highly functioning state, a state where things work, a state where people are cared for and educated so they can live up to their full potential as contributing members of society, that comes at a price. It is a cheap pricetag at 5.3% of our income.
Please vote NO on Question One, loudly and clearly, on Election Day. It’s a vote for yourself, and for all of God’s people.