I just came across John Walsh’s diary, “Political Risk,” from last month and it’s really resonating with me right now.
A lot of decisions are being made by the legislature and not all of them seem to be driven by the data. John Walsh aptly lays the case that legislators may open themselves up as much to their left flank, by not being ambitious enough, as they would from their right.
We live in a heavily Democratic state and, as John points out, not a single Democratic incumbent lost to a Republican last election cycle, while three Democratic incumbents lost to primary opponents.
Certainly, that should give a lot of legislators some food for thought, but what other misconceptions could be driving their decisions?
Well, here’s one: Studies show legislators consistently underestimate support for liberal positions in their own districts, even if they have a heavy attendance at district events and think they have a great handle on their constituents.
No doubt that helps explain why so many people on Beacon Hill are afraid of raising taxes, while polls show voters are supportive of Governor Patrick’s more ambitious $1.9 billion figure.
That’s not to say there aren’t important issues legislators should raise about the Governor’s plan, like a few of the governor’s proposed middle class tax deductions he wanted to eliminate, but the $1.9 billion figure itself shouldn’t really be one of them. In fact, adding as much as that $1.9 billion to our budget would only bring our taxes from 28th in the country to 18th. We’d still have lower taxes than Indiana!
Here’s another: Legislators should also think carefully about how their proposal will be spinned.
To their credit, they’ve gone far out of their way to limit what this revenue package would cost voters, with almost half of their $500 million essentially coming from ending corporate loopholes.
That’s a laudable goal and they deserve praise for trying to spare voters when there are other means to generate revenue. However, will voters get the memo?
The headlines aren’t about the mere 3 cent gas tax increase or $1 tobacco tax, both amounting to $275 million.
The headlines are more like ‘Legislative Leadership Proposes Raising $500 Million in Revenue,’ which reads an awful lot like “Beacon Hill Raises $500 million in new taxes!”
Unfortunately, the legislature will get no credit for sparing voters from that other $200+ million, just blame. If they try to spin it in any other way, even with truth on their side, they’ll have lost the war before it’s even started, such is the way campaign messaging works.
No doubt, any attempt to generate revenue is going to be fiercely contested in the state. More people support the Governor’s $2 billion figure than oppose, but there will be opposition to it in some circles, sometimes big.
But as John says in his diary, this isn’t 1990. This legislature will get as much opposition from its left as it does its right on transportation — but who puts who in office?
That’s what this all really boils down to: Roughly speaking, if 50% of constituents think leadership’s plan isn’t enough and the other 50% are against raising taxes one damn nickle, 100% are against leadership’s plan.
Where does that leave legislators if they support leadership’s not-enough plan? Between a rock and a hard place, with the only upside being facing the very same issues in another couple years, because they kicked the can down the road again.
Yet, there will be less opportunity then to create an enduring solution, whether from lack of having a supportive Governor, losing out on $600 million in federal funding, or from burning the raising-taxes bridge on a plan that even the conservative Massachusetts Taxpayer’s Foundation says is not enough.
We, as Democrats, need to do what’s right for Massachusetts, and have at least 600 million reasons to make sure what we do today is at least a little bolder, setting ourselves up for a brighter future.
But we also need to remember just who is voting for us — and who isn’t. If legislators aren’t thinking about the 50% of their constituents who want more, they better ask themselves how many of that 50% who don’t will vote for Democrats to begin with.