Baker’s ‘miracle budget’ doesn’t rise to the occasion

Wealthiest households should contribute more

THE UNVEILING of Gov. Charlie Baker’s revised fiscal year 2021 budget raised eyebrows. Some called it a “miracle budget” because he proposed a balanced budget without large-scale cuts and — notably — without raising taxes.

To be clear, raising taxes on families and businesses already facing financial hardship is not the right thing to do — on this point, we agree with the governor.

Where we disagree is the idea that the state can get through this storm without raising any taxes. The wealthiest households and large, profitable corporations should be paying more taxes to support communities in this time of dire need.

We commend the administration for some proposals, like delaying the state charitable deduction, and for its overall budget-balancing prowess. However, there are many areas where this budget falls short of our communities’ needs.

We’ve said it before, and we’ll say it again: an unprecedented moment requires an unprecedented response. This budget is far from that.

First, it does not account for the surge in need among our neighbors hardest hit by the pandemic.

The devastation of the pandemic-induced recession is still rippling across our state. New unemployment claims rose by a third this past week, to almost 40,000. The UMass system recently laid off 500 workers and furloughed thousands more. With the end of the Governor’s moratorium on evictions and foreclosures, more than 100,000 households are at risk of homelessness. Child care centers have lost more than $250 million each month in private revenue during the spring shutdown and now face added costs to keep their children and staff safe. These are just a few examples.

Second, it is a weaker version of an already insufficient proposal.

This revised budget erases much of the modest progress that the Administration’s January budget proposal would have made, which was simply not enough.

The prime example is K-12 school funding. A new law, the Student Opportunity Act, recognized the need to dramatically increase state support for students in low-income families, English Language Learners, and those receiving special education.

Not only does the governor’s new budget delay the Student Opportunity Act’s implementation, it also cuts the amount of K-12 school funding from his January proposal by $195.5 million. (The slight increase in his budget compared with last year accounts only for inflation and normal enrollment growth.) The pain of these cuts will fall hardest on our students, particularly from Black, Latinx, and Indigenous communities, which the new law was intended to support.

On top of these challenges, schools are trying to retrofit buildings for safe ventilation, ensure all students have access to online learning, and support children facing trauma. Federal relief will cover some of these unexpected costs, but that relief is insufficient, often restrictive, and contingent upon a mercurial Congress.

We can and need to do more for our communities. 

The governor fills the estimated $3.6 billion revenue gap through a combination of budget cuts, state savings, and one-time tax changes. These are Band-Aids that will need real solutions in the long term. We need fearless lawmakers who will do what it takes to bring about an equitable recovery — for all.

There are myriad ways to raise revenue from those who have benefited handsomely from our previously strong economy and, indeed, from this crisis. For instance, we can limit some of the most egregious forms of tax dodging, increase taxes on stock market investments, and increase the tax rate on corporate profits.

Meet the Author

Monique Ching

Policy analyst, Massachusetts Budget and Policy Center
The Commonwealth deserves more than just a balanced budget — we need programs and services that will help us weather the storm. We need a budget that will allow us to thrive when it passes. Now, more than ever, we need champions who can make that happen.

Monique Ching莊穎詩 is a policy analyst at MassBudget, focused on the state budget, health care, and immigration issues.