The Public Higher Education Network of Massachusetts (PHENOM) is strongly urging Massachusetts legislators to increase taxes in order to avoid the massive cuts facing education, social services, and other essential government functions. PHENOM is specifically endorsing Amendment 561 filed in the House by Representatives Gloria Fox and Alice Wolf. This amendment would raise the state sales tax by one cent in January 2010 and another cent in January 2011, with the proceeds appropriated to early education and care, K-12 education, and higher education.
Public higher education is likely to escape the worst of the cuts this coming fiscal year because of the federal stimulus funds. But the state’s structural and budget deficits, caused in large part by reckless tax cuts of $3.3 billion between 1998 and 2008, place higher education, and all state services, in severe jeopardy starting next year.
“Over the long term, we favor more progressive revenue increases like an income tax hike or a New York-style millionaires’ tax. But that is not on the table this year, our sales tax is lower than most states’, and we are in a desperate situation. The MBTA already gets a dedicated portion of the sales tax and public education should too,” said Alex Kulenovic, PHENOM President and student at UMass Boston.
300 PHENOM members rallied on the Boston Common April 8 and have been lobbying legislators ever since to increase funding for need-based financial aid and to stabilize funding for campus operating budgets. Applications to public colleges are up dramatically as the economic crisis is driving more students away from private colleges. PHENOM has been working with Rep. Sean Garballey to gather support for Amendment 876 which would increase MASSGrant, the main state program of need-based aid.
“We recognize that to fund an affordable high quality system of colleges and universities, we need to join the growing grassroots movement for restoring state revenues. The Massachusetts sales tax is not as regressive as in some states since food and clothing are not taxed. Furthermore”, said Ken Haar, a professor at Westfield State College, “the state could link it with an expansion of the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) program to make it more progressive.”
PHENOM members will join human service advocates, union members, students, and others at the State House April 27 in a rally and lobby day to “Invest in Our Future: Stop Budget Cuts!” This is the day the House will begin debating the budget, including measures to restore revenues.