I get it. We have to have a balanced budget. And I get it: raising the income tax is just something that few elected to office have the stomach to talk about, even if it means saving countless teachers and cops.
But that doesn’t mean there aren’t fair and reasonable steps the state could take to help offset the damage of these upcoming cuts – by giving cities and towns options to help deal with them locally.
I come from Swampscott. We’re one of the 45 or so communities this state has recognized gets treated unfairly in state aid for education. We’re 3 years into a 5 year phase in to bring us to the 17.5% level that, because of this economy, probably won’t happen for many more years now. It’s added up to millions upon millions lost since the last round of midyear cuts to local aid – and my town’s really sinking right now, right into our bay.
But, if we could create a 2% meals and hotel tax, things would be a lot easier. For the price of $1 on a $50 bill at our local Bertucci’s or one of the many other restaurants, our town would raise over $500,000 a year. 45 positions in the past 3 years have been cut from our schools alone – that’s a huge proportion of our total staff, servicing a town of just 14,500. There’s no where left to cut: trust me, I’ve seen the projections. We’ve closed an elementary school; we may be forced to close our 2nd in 3 years. We even got the town employees to agree to a GIC compromise in order to avoid layoffs this year (though, there would still be cuts to staff through attrition). A month ago, our hopes were high after we got the GIC, but they’re smashed again. State cuts to our funding will put us right back where we were before all that hard work to get the teachers to accept the GIC.
We can only take these major cuts so many years; you’ve got to throw us a bone. It doesn’t have to be this way. $500,000 from a local meals tax option, should Town Meeting approve it and the state allow it, would likely offset most of the cuts to state aid coming up. We could probably still avoid major layoffs. Isn’t it a political no-brainer?
It’s not as if the state is raising taxes – it’s just giving municipalities the option to do so. Many communities will choose not to exercise that option. It’s a new tool in the toolkit for towns to deal with structural deficits, especially when every community relies on property taxes with homes plummeting in value and who knows how many sitting vacant across the state?
With your leadership, we’ve reached many sensible compromises on these sorts of positions before. Closing unfair corporate tax loopholes was one of the best things this state did last year, especially since it was coupled with tax relief that will ultimately benefit our state’s struggling small businesses. That was a proud moment for this state – and it can be repeated with the meals and hotel option.
No one ever wants to raise taxes, but we can’t just keep cutting and cutting to deal with our state’s structural deficits. At least give cities and towns a choice in how they deal with their budget problems. That’s all the meals and hotel tax option would be – a choice. For some cities and towns, it may be their only choice, if they’re lucky enough to have it.