Massachusetts as Leader - Massachusetts should reinforce its role among state leaders in providing accessible healthcare, environmental protection, reducing firearm violence, protecting small investors, and legislating marriage and gender equality. (Read More)
Education - Massachusetts should encourage experimentation and make education and training accessible and affordable at all stages of life. (Read More)
Sanctuary - We should pass the Safe Communities Act, which would authorize cooperation with federal immigration officials only under narrowly defined circumstances. (Read More)
Food Security - Take action to fully fund programs that support food pantries in the state and in the district. (Read More)
Voting Rights - Support same-day registration and voting by email. (Read More)
Firearms - Support legislation to deny access to firearms to those who might present a danger to public safety. (Read More)
State Budget - Recognize that the 2017 GOP Tax Cut will disadvantage Massachusetts and other higher-income “blue” states. Rethink and refocus spending priorities in health care, education, and elsewhere. (Read More)
Economic Growth and Deregulation - Deregulate barriers to entry, zoning rules and occupational licensing to boost growth and open opportunities to those with less access to capital and education. (Read More)
Medical Costs -
Nearly half of the state’s budget supports healthcare – costs are too high! We need to use the state’s buying power to challenge prices, to rein-in medical licensing requirements, and to enforce anti-trust rules.
Opioids - We need all hands on deck: more flexible insurance policies, more use of opioid alternatives and of rescue drugs, including medical marijuana, more research into alternative treatments. (Read More)
Environment - Massachusetts should adopt cap-and-trade to encourage utilities and a carbon tax to encourage consumers to transition to renewable energy. More extensive public transportation will also help to reduce carbon emissions; we should prioritize a rail line connecting the Pioneer Valley with eastern Massachusetts locations. (Read More)
Demographics - The US non-Hispanic white population is aging. We should welcome a controlled rate of immigration to maintain and recharge economic and demographic vitality. (Read More)
Massachusetts as a Leader
Reversing the conventional logic, in 2018 all elections are, to a greater extent than usually, “national”. Massachusetts has been a leader among US states in making health care accessible, in reducing firearm violence, in environmental protection, and in legislating marriage equality. In many of these areas, the federal government in the past year and a half has moved in the opposite direction. Massachusetts should embrace efforts to reinforce environmental progress by reducing carbon emissions, protect undocumented immigrants against arbitrary deportation and family breakup, and to extend interstate efforts to regulate access to firearms. In the face of inaction from Washington, the Massachusetts Attorney General’s Office can take action to protect small investors. Where the federal government seeks to re-criminalize marijuana, we should investigate its medical use in treating opioid abuse. Preferably, we will do these things in coordination other like-minded US states – but in some cases we might choose to act alone.
Access to education is an essential key to opening opportunities. The lack of real meritocracy in the US today is not about the returns to realized skills. It is about inequality in the ability to acquire those skills. The payoff from education often has less to do with learning specific skills than with enabling adaption to unrelenting economic and cultural change. We need to think about education as something that is not confined to primary and secondary school and college. Massachusetts should encourage experimentation in education and training in order to advance opportunities for its citizens at all stages of life.
Our end goal should be to make suitable training and education accessible and affordable for everyone. The State’s funding formula for public school support, set in 1993 and known at Chapter 70, should be updated. In Massachusetts, as in other states, higher education costs have risen rapidly, while state financial support for universities has risen less. We should deploy state resources toward restoring the balance.
The US should adopt immigration reform, which would control borders, update the framework for accepting future immigrants, and (subject to vetting for criminal background) provide a path to citizenship for long-term undocumented residents. Even absent such legislation, and absent specific public safety concerns, we should protect “dreamers” and avoid deportations that break up families. This is a moral issue. Massachusetts should also pass the Safe Communities Act, which has been endorsed by the state’s Police Chiefs Association: the Act would authorize cooperation with federal immigration officials only under narrowly defined circumstances.
Food prices have risen in recent years, and too many people in our district cannot afford adequate nutrition. According to reports, school guidance counsellors often keep food in their closets in order to provide it outside of lunch hour for hungry students. A state legislative priority needs to be adequate – probably increased – funding for HIP (Healthy Incentives Program) and MEFAP (Massachusetts Emergency Food Assistance Program).
Encouraged by the US Supreme Court’s decision in Shelby County (2012), a number of states have sought to scale back voting rights. Massachusetts has not been a leader in protecting such rights. Looking forward, we should move to permit same-day registration and to facilitate voting-by-mail.
Court decisions hold that some regulation of firearms in the interest of public safety is consistent with the language and spirit of the Second Amendment. We should support proposed legislative and referendum efforts in Massachusetts to enable a relative, policeman, or health professional temporarily to deny access to weapons by someone believed to present a public danger. Authorization to do this should be subject to subsequent hearings that respect the affected person’s right to due process.
The federal tax reductions in the 2017 Tax Act were regressive and largely unfunded. Responsible fiscal management calls for closing budget deficits when (as in 2017) revenue is high and the economy is strong – instead, because of the Act, the national budget gap is increasing.
At the same time, the 2017 Act will reduce federal tax deductions for state income and local property taxes – changes that will land heavily on Massachusetts residents in higher income brackets. Inevitably, by raising real tax levels in Massachusetts – and in other relatively wealthy states – reduced deductions for state and local taxes will bring pressure on states to reduce overall spending. We want to resist such pressure, but need also to rethink and refocus spending on health care, education and elsewhere.
The MA constitution does not permit a progressive state income tax. In combination with sales and property taxes – which tend to land on lower and middle income ratepayers – the overall MA tax regime is somewhat regressive. Under these circumstances, there is an economic case for raising taxes in higher brackets to lessen regressivity, or perhaps to restore mild progressivity in the MA tax structure. It would be preferable – better governance – to set tax rates by legislation rather than by constitutional amendment.
Economic Growth and Deregulation
This is wonky – but important... We should support economic opportunity for everyone – even more if we can reduce inequality in the process. We should look for ways to deregulate entry barriers, zoning practices, and occupational licensing – all of which have created rigidities in the working of the market economy. They protect legally favored groups, while reducing opportunities for those with less access to capital or education. Research suggests, for example, that most licensing does little to protect consumers – but much to raise prices and to narrow the range of available services. All of these barriers can be lessened, at least in part, at the state level; if Massachusetts can take a lead, it will generate a boost in in-state economic dynamism. It will also offer a demonstration of increased opportunity and mobility for populations that have had too little of either.
The deregulation advocated here should become a Democratic priority. But Democrats can appear on different sides of specific questions – just as can Republicans and those of other persuasions. The imperative is to advance a cross-cutting agenda that can increase opportunities while moving beyond some of today’s polemics.
The Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) did much to extend medical access in the US, just as earlier state-led reforms extended access to care in Massachusetts. These efforts have been less successful in reducing medical costs – which are higher in the US than anywhere else, and have continued to rise. A better approach to medical sector policy must at once recognize two apparently contradictory forces. First, on the demand-side, patients are as a rule poorly informed about medical options and costs, which leaves them easily open to price gouging – a situation aggravated by widespread reliance on third-party payers, which leaves real costs opaque to most. Market forces are scarcely able to work under such circumstances. But second, on the supply-side, occupational licensing and intellectual property protections create market shortages – which also push prices higher. Market forces could increase the supply of providers, but they are often not allowed to work. In some areas we need more regulation, in others, we need less.
Three areas deserve attention. 1st, MA has used “narrow network” providers (selected for price competitiveness) for its own employees, and has realized significant savings; we should use legislation to encourage private insurers to do the same. Also, as a large buyer of medical services, the MA state government needs to challenge hospital, drug, and other prices. 2nd, we need to begin the politically difficult task of lessening licensing and similar protections for providers. 3rd, we need to step-up enforcement of anti-trust provisions against hospitals that have allowed providers to charge monopoly rates.
The opioid epidemic, in the Connecticut Valley and elsewhere, demands a broader response. At state and local levels, we are joining the national lawsuit against drug companies for not acting in the face of evidence of over-prescription and abuse. Beyond vindication, winning in such a lawsuit would both provide some resources for treatment and other responses and serve as a warning to other potential abusers.
We need an all hands approach to addressing the epidemic. Insurance should remove payment reimbursement hurdles for abuse-deterrent opioids; doing so would in some cases lessen likelihood of prescriptions leading to subsequent addiction. For those already dependent and requiring treatment, naloxone or other rescue medications (including potentially exotic alternatives) should be more easily available; similarly, insurance changes should facilitate access to medical cannabis as an alternative to opioids and as a rescue mechanism. The federal government has unwisely blocked research on Schedule 1 drugs. Alongside traditional drug recovery treatments, we should provide seed funding for in-state research facilities to investigate other plausible approaches. Massachusetts has already provided some resources to encourage experimentation with acupuncture to reduce dependency.
The Global Warming Solutions Act (2008) commits Massachusetts to reducing carbon emissions by 25 percent (from 1990 levels) in 2020 and by 80 percent in 2050. Emissions are now down by 21 percent. To meet the 2020 target will demand an effort, and to meet the 2050 target will demand transformative change. Utilities’ conversions can be facilitated with an aggressive cap-and-trade mechanism.
Massachusetts should join California in maintaining auto emission standards, whatever contrary decisions are made by the Trump Administration’s Environmental Protection Agency. We should also adopt the proposed carbon surcharge (also called a “tax”) – which would make Massachusetts the first state to do so. Indeed, the better question as this point may be in deciding how stiff the surcharge should be. Economists, left and right, agree that price incentives can be effective in discouraging use and in redirecting demand. Adopting a carbon tax would shift incentives toward using renewable energy – including sun, wind, and hydropower.
Another critical avenue for reducing carbon emissions is improved public transportation. This includes improved and cheaper rail connections between Boston and other parts of the state – especially to Springfield and other Connecticut Valley locations.
The median age of non-Hispanic white Americans is about 43 years old. The most frequent age of non-Hispanic white Americans is 56 or 57. This portion of the US population is aging and is perhaps in absolute decline. Hispanic-, Asian- and African-American populations are growing and in aggregate are perhaps a dozen years younger than non-Hispanic whites. If the US is to remain a world leader, and to have an internationally adaptive and dynamic economy, we will have to extend access to opportunities across ethnic and income groups -- and to absorb a controlled volume of immigrants. We should embrace anew the pan-humanist ideals of self-evident rights and liberty for all trumpeted in our founding documents. With its rich tradition of higher education and advanced technology industry, Massachusetts is in a position to develop, and in some cases to lead, a framework for progress in the next generation.