Sunday, March 17, 2013

What the Governor Has in Common With Simpson/Bowles

You probably don't remember this, but long before the sequester there was the Simpson/Bowles Commission. The same agreement that created the sequester created the Commission. President Obama and the Republican leadership ended the debt ceiling debate during the summer of 2011 by asking the commission to come up with ways to reduce the debt, ideas that would be passed by Congress so that the cuts demanded by the sequester would not be needed.

Simpson/Bowles stands for former Senator Alan Simpson (a Republican) and former White House Chief of Staff Erskine Bowles (a Democrat). The commission they led submitted ideas late in 2011. The ideas were pretty universally derided. Why? Because they included things Republicans hate and things Democrats hate. So everyone pretty much hated it.

The Simpson/Bowles Commission recommendations included a lot of things I liked. They talked about changing the tax code, dramatically, so it would both be more progressive and would create more revenue. They talked about reforming many entitlement programs so they would last, without their being destroyed or ruled insolvent in the years ahead.

Defenestrated in 2011, almost everyone agrees now the Simpson/Bowles ideas were good ones.

Which brings me to this year's budget plan, proposed by Governor Deval Patrick, to raise revenue in Massachusetts. A lot of people don't like it, because the plan both raises taxes and reduces them. The plan lays bare the reality that to deal with transportation and infrastructure issues, the state needs money. And it goes about raising that money in a way that's fair.

I like the Governor's plan because it makes taxes fairer. It raises income taxes while lowering the sales tax. Everyone needs to buy things, so the sales tax universally benefits all residents and businesses. Meanwhile, the income tax is progressive, as you make more and experience more wealth, you are asked to contribute more. And in the end, those who make the least benefit the most, which makes sense as they have the least to give.

The initial reactions to the Governor's plan from many state legislators was pretty negative, because it includes ideas anathema to today's political discourse--namely taxes. I am hoping that, like with the ideas from the Simpson/Bowles Commission, time will ease initial passions, and the Governor's plan will ultimately pass.

Sunday, March 03, 2013

Race to Fill The 8th Suffolk Seat-- Update

The sprint to fill former Representative Marty Walz's Massachusetts State House seat-- the 8th Suffolk-- is underway across Back Bay, Beacon Hill and the West End in Boston. Two of those neighborhoods-- Back Bay and Beacon Hill-- sit within Boston's Ward 5. This race could not get more local... or personal.

Ten days ago, the three announced candidates running for the seat-- Nils Tracy, Jay Livingstone and Josh Dawson, appeared before the Boston Ward 5 Democratic Committee. They each spoke for a few minutes in front of the committee.

Here are a few observations on the race, to this point:

It's a sprint, but it certainly feels like a long sprint. 

The first step in the process of running for office in Massachusetts involves gathering signatures for a petition to place a candidate on the ballot. This process is well underway. However, only 150 certified signatures are required to get a candidate on the ballot (certified meaning the petition was signed by a registered voter living in the district [and for the appropriate party, as necessary for the primary]).

While gathering signatures is not easy (trust me), 150 is not a lot. By contrast, those running in the special senate race here need 10,000 certified signatures. Moreover, candidates still have well over a month to collect signatures. There still is plenty of time to decide to run.

The candidates are not shy about crossing the river.

All three declared candidates live in Boston (two on Beacon Hill and one in the Back Bay). The 8th Suffolk district includes a nice portion of Cambridge, including MIT and, fittingly, Cambridge's Ward 5. I have heard of the candidates making the trek across the river quite frequently. It not only makes sense from a standpoint of retail politics, but everyone is waiting to see if a Cambridge candidate emerges in the race.

Don't hold your breath waiting for a Republican.

The district is heavily Democratic, and in certain areas, it's very progressive. Whoever wins the Democratic primary will win the final election.

Discussions of issues have yet to emerge.

It's probably not worth dissecting the candidates stances on the issues. There will be time for that later in the race, and it's fair to give the candidates room to learn more about the district and to cement their own views.

It is fair to say at this point that no candidate has made one issue the central focus of their campaign. For example, no one is the "anti-casino" candidate. Of course, this could change as the campaign runs its course.

The special primary in the 8th Suffolk Representative race is scheduled for May 28, and the final election is scheduled for June 25.

NOTE: I have decided to stay publicly neutral in this race. Two of my close friends are running.