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Coalition Urges Legislators: Stop Cuts, Close Loopholes, Trim Pentagon

Boston, July 10-- The State Legislature should send a strong “anti-austerity” message to Washington to reverse devastating federal budget cuts, witnesses said today at a Statehouse hearing. Led by veteran community leader Mel King, 40 speakers from community, labor and peace groups, elected officials and policy experts urged the Joint Committee on Veterans and Federal Affairs to pass the “Budget for All Resolution” (H 3211 and S 1750) to oppose federal cuts that threaten to reverse the state’s economic recovery and throw the state budget into deficit again. “Which side are you on?,” King asked legislators.

Community leader Mel King

Modeled on language passed by voters by an average 3 to 1 margin in each of the 91 cities and towns where it was on the ballot last November, the Budget for All Resolution urges Congress and President Obama to generate new revenues to invest in jobs by closing corporate tax loopholes, taxing the top 2% earners, ending the war in Afghanistan quickly and redirecting Pentagon spending to jobs and human needs.

“There is reason to fear that through budget cuts or a retreat from crucial programs, Washington would undo much of what we have accomplished in Massachusetts,” State Treasurer Steven Grossman stated in written testimony. “The people of Massachusetts have expressed support for these resolutions at the ballot box. I respectfully request that your committee do the same by reporting it favorably.”

“The lights were out in two Head Start classrooms in my town because of sequestration,” said Rep. David Rogers of Cambridge. “The lives of our future citizens are being formed. We are spending too much on the military, and there is too much of a gap between the haves and the have-nots. The Budget for All has got it right and we should pass it,” he concluded.

Several speakers testified to the devastating local effects of the $1 trillion in across the board “sequester” cuts that kicked in on March 1, with a 5% cut in every federal program, to be followed by 8% cuts annually for the next decade. The automatic cuts are the second stage of the $2.2 trillion “cuts only” approach to the federal deficit passed by Congress in the 2011 Budget Control Act.

Mass. AFL-CIO president Steve Tolman testifying on July 10

But it could soon get much worse, said Carolyn Federoff, Vice President of the American Federation of Government Employees, Local 3258. “The U.S. House-passed “Ryan” budget would shift substantial costs to states and localities—another 18% below the already deep cuts passed in 2011.” Joined by Steven Tolman, President of the Massachusetts AFL-CIO, Federoff and other speakers urged the Legislature to pass the Budget for All resolution and add its voice to Washington debates, as another “debt ceiling” crisis could result in another round of harmful budget cuts this fall.

Karen Carson, a disabled Section 8 voucher holder and board member of the Mass Alliance of HUD Tenants, noted that the Boston Housing Authority is facing a dilemma of either cutting 1,300 families off voucher rolls completely, or forcing 13,000 very low income tenants to pay $200 more per month for rent—forcing thousands into the street. “Cutting seniors and veterans are both examples of breaking a sacred commitment,” said retiree John Ratliff, criticizing the “Chained CPI” proposals which would cut Social Security and Veterans benefits.

Several speakers urged legislators to reject the “austerity” justifications for budget cuts and support job investment instead. Thomas Herndon, a UMass Amherst graduate student who attracted recent national media attention by exposing the fraudulent basis for the leading academic rationale for “austerity” programs across the globe, testified. Steve Schnapp of United for a Fair Economy urged support for up to $3 trillion in alternative revenues from closing corporate tax loopholes, taxing financial transactions and carbon use, and raising taxes on the top 2% earners.

Gold Star parent Melida Arredondo said the nation starts wars but then does not do nearly enough to take care of veterans when they come home. “As someone who has been directly impacted by losing a family member to military conflict and then losing a second family member due to the lack of support to military families, I emphatically insist that the funds be cut from continued warfare and directed to the people but most especially our veterans and their families.” Boston University political science professor Neta Crawford argued that our nation’s expansive military footprint makes us less safe and that a more modest, defensive posture would be far more affordable and make us more secure.

“Closing loopholes and access to offshore tax havens, so that corporations and wealthy individuals will now pay what they’re supposed to, as well as ending the war in Afghanistan, helping redirect military spending and bringing the troops home safely, will let us invest in important fields like education, manufacturing, transportation and public services,” said Holyoke state representative Aaron Vega, one of nearly two dozen legislators who made statements in favor of the Budget for All, in written testimony.

“On top of deep cuts to vital programs, the “Grand Bargain” proposals by Obama and Congressional Republicans to slash Social Security and Veterans Benefits are also entirely unnecessary and will reverse the economic recovery,” explained Michael Kane of the Mass Alliance of HUD Tenants and the Budget for All Coalition. “The country doesn’t have a debt crisis, we have a jobs and inequality crisis. We need state legislators to join the voters in telling Washington to reject the now-discredited austerity agenda, generate new revenues and invest in jobs instead.”

Contact Budget for All for a complete list of speakers, photos, video, copies of their written testimony, and to arrange interviews with any of the speakers.