Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes has been quoted over the years as having said that he thought that taxes were the price that people paid for civilization. The 19th Century French writer/philosopher Alexis de Tocqueville wrote after touring the relatively newly minted United States that he “saw in the American people the potential to vote themselves more benefits that they were willing to pay for.”
Stan has spent a great deal of effort over the years in the fight to improve the Massachusetts tax system to make it fairer and progressive and to connect in the minds of the public the idea that taxes equal public services. That is we pay taxes to pay for such things as the education of our people, the public safety and environmental protection we all need, the roads and bridges on which we travel and the social safety net that we should all support because you never know when it will be you or your loved one who needs help .
Stan also believes in the idea of the social contract. That is that each generation and each person has a responsibility to contribute according to his or her means to help the new generation coming along even as that generation helps those who came before when it is their turn. He has written and spoken of this throughout his career, believing that it is a fundamental part of the American promise. But he doesn’t stop there. Stan also takes responsibility for helping to ensure that the hard earned taxpayers’ contributions to government are well used. He has championed greater efficiency and accountability in government spending. He sponsored legislation to reward public employees for identifying and carrying out projects to help their departments save money without compromising services. He got legislation passed which has brought in hundreds of millions of federal dollars, which we had been entitled to, but which the state was not pursuing. A recent example is the Toll Credit Program, a program in which we were entitled to participate but had failed to pursue. In the last couple of years we received nearly $100 million and there is much, much more to come. Another is support to ensure that the state’s residents entitled to Food Assistance from the federal government were identified and helped with their applications. This brought a significant amount of new federal funding in for this service to the needy and helped keep people healthier through access to wholesome food and better nutrition.
Stan also learned that there were significant taxes owed but unpaid by tax defaulters. He proposed increasing the number of auditors and tax amnesty programs several times in his career, each time resulting in significant increases in tax collections. And once these defaulters worked out payment plans and kept to them, they tended to become regular taxpayers again, thereby continuing to pay their fair share so the rest of us would not have to pay more to make up for their failure to do their part. Similarly, Stan pushed for and won additional auditors in social service agencies to root out fraud and abuse. Progress has been made in cleaning up those programs so that we can have faith once again that the money is going to the people who need it and as cost effectively as possible.
As a first term State Representative in the late 1980’s, Stan took on two major issues of tax fairness. The first was a request by the Town of Pelham that Stan fight a particular provision of the recently adopted statewide property tax limit law, Proposition 2 ½. Under that provision, if the Town wished to spend more than the limit imposed by the law, it had to override the provision by a two-thirds majority on a local ballot question. The Town felt that was unfair as a simple majority approves operating budgets. Stan filed the bill, teamed up with the Republican Minority Leader and together they got it approved and signed into law.
The second came as chair of the Senate Ways and Means Committee when in the 90’s Stan had the chance to act on his passion for fair and progressive taxation. Given the skyrocketing state tax revenues during that period there was pressure to do some tax cuts. Stan proposed and won approval for an earned income tax credit to help people who worked but didn’t earn a living wage sufficient to support themselves and their families, and the senior citizen property tax circuit breaker to help seniors of limited means meet growing property tax bills. He also included in his tax package an increase in exemptions and deductions for all and tuition and loan tax credits for those helping students with college expenses. As Chair he got to sign out of Committee the largest and most progressive tax cut package in recent history.
In the past he has also filed legislation to create tax credits to help expand the use of recycled materials in manufacturing and to encourage research and development here in the Commonwealth by linking our businesses and our research universities in an effort to create new knowledge and technology that can be transferred into our economy to create jobs and economic activity in the state.
Currently, Stan is the prime sponsor of legislation to change the Massachusetts Constitution to eliminate its prohibition against graduated tax rates and he his supporting An Act to Invest in Our Communities, which seeks to restore the income tax rate from 5.3 percent to 5.95 percent, while raising the personal exemption enough to hold down increases for middle-class families. The bill also seeks to raise the tax rate on wealthy investors, while providing a targeted exemption for middle-class seniors. The revenue raised by this bill would help maintain funding for our communities, schools and health care programs.