Commentary | Budget Taxes and Public Investment

Massachusetts voters have the chance to vote on budget priorities

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This piece, written through the EPI Policy Center, originally appeared on Huffington Post.

The Budget for All, a budget alternative adopted by the Congressional Progressive Caucus and supported by 78 members of the House of Representatives during a floor vote this past spring, is back in the limelight as a referendum on Massachusetts ballots this November.

On Election Day, more than one million Massachusetts voters will be able to vote in favor of the nonbinding “Budget for All” resolution on their ballots. This referendum asks voters to call on elected officials to embrace the principles embodied by the Budget for All, notably investing in job creation, restoring progressivism and fairness to the tax code, and protecting Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, and other social programs.

The purpose of this nonbinding resolution? Allowing the people of Massachusetts to signal to their lawmakers the overarching budget vision they support for the country. If it succeeds, Massachusetts Congressional representatives will know what type of federal budget priorities their constituents support and what budget priorities they likely oppose, as the Budget for All is diametrically opposed to Rep. Paul Ryan’s (R-Wis.) House Republican Budget.

Many of the policy choices comprising the Budget for All were driven by the current economic context and the imperative of restoring full employment. It reflects that, while the labor market has begun to recover, our country is still afflicted by mass unemployment, stagnant or declining real wages, and elevated poverty. And while the return to full employment is still a decade away if the recent trend pace for job gains persists, too many in Washington are fixated on austerity economics—the same ideology that needlessly and counterproductively pushed the United Kingdom back into recession.

The Budget for All offers a responsible antidote to our fiscal and, more importantly, economic challenges. Rather than make empty promises about creating jobs, the budget proposes serious, evidence-based solutions for alleviating the jobs crisis. Relative to current law, the Budget for All would invest $1.1 trillion over fiscal 2012-15; this includes job creation spending and tax measures, greater investments in the non-defense discretionary portion of the budget, and a roll-back of both phases of the Budget Control Act (i.e., last summer’s debt ceiling deal), which will hinder growth not only in 2013, but beyond. Investments continue throughout the 10-year budget window in areas vital to our economy and critical to building the country’s stock of public and human capital. These job creation investments would yield an estimated 2.1 million more jobs in 2013 and 1.2 million jobs in 2014, relative to current policy.

The Budget for All proposes these investments in a responsible manner, achieving sustainably low debt and deficit levels well before the end of the 10-year budget window. It does this by reforming and modernizing a tax code which has recently exacerbated income inequality and no longer adequately funds government commitments. The Budget for All increases progressivism in the tax code by adding higher income tax brackets for millionaires and billionaires, eliminating the preferential treatment of capital income, and taxing accumulated wealth and financial transactions. In regards to the Bush-era tax cuts, the Budget for All would let the top two rates expire on schedule, as President Obama has supported, but only temporarily extends the middle 28 and 25 percent brackets, phasing them out as the economy strengthens. Relative to full continuation of the Bush tax cuts, the individual income tax policies in the Budget for All would save $3.1 trillion over 10 years.

By focusing on near-term economic recovery, the Budget for All is a direct challenge to budget alternatives that have been fixated on cutting public spending and premature deficit reduction (e.g., Simpson-Bowles, Domenici-Rivlin, the Ryan budget) and which, if enacted, could undermine our tepid economic recovery. Also unlike many other budget proposals, the Budget for All protects and strengths Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, and the Affordable Care Act, proposing no benefit cuts. The Congressional Progressive Caucus budget would build on health care reform by offering a public insurance option and negotiating lower Medicare pharmaceutical prices. Rather than undermining social insurance when economic security needs strengthening, the Budget for All would turn to the Department of Defense for savings by responsibly ending the war in Afghanistan and realigning excessive military spending toward domestic priorities.

The Congressional Progressive Caucus adopted a sound and responsible budget in the Budget for All. Massachusetts voters should support this agenda for creating jobs and rebuilding the middle class, which achieves fiscal responsibility without asking people to accept cuts to earned benefits and government commitments. The Budget for All would not only be good for Massachusetts but would be good for America; other states would benefit from taking a cue from Massachusetts and voting to send a strong message to their representatives as well.

For more information on the Massachusetts referendum, go to http://budget4allmass.org/. Note: In the Boston area, the referendum will appear as Question 4 on the ballot; in other areas of the state it will appear as Question 5, 6, or 7.


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