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The Mass Media

The Mass Media

UMass Boston Students, Workers, and Faculty: Unite Behind the “Fair Share” Campaign

Spring 2016 brings a double dose of bad news for those of us at a public commuter university like the University of Massachusetts Boston. Despite growing student enrollments, our administration is projecting multi-million dollar budget shortfalls for the next fiscal year, raising the specter of fee increases and budget cuts.  On top of that, the MBTA, which thousands of UMass Boston students and workers depend on daily, has announced plans to raise fares by nine percent, to cover its own budget deficit, continuing a trend that has led to a  doubling of fares since 2000. We are getting hit from both ends: being asked to pay more for necessary services as the state scales back its traditional support.

And yet, at the very same time, as public budgets are drained, there are more multi-millionaires getting rich in Massachusetts than ever before. On the one hand, we have continual announcements of public “budget crisis,” coupled with rising fees and cuts to much-needed services.  On the other hand, we have a top 1 percent (and the top 0.1 percent) with more wealth than it knows what to do with.

It’s not that “there isn’t enough money out there” to fully fund public transit and public education, it’s that this money increasingly is in the hands of a relative few.  The wealthy few feast while the public sector is told to tighten its belt.

It’s time to take action to change this intolerable situation. Here’s an idea for how we at UMass Boston can do just that.

At this very moment, there is a campaign called “Fair Share,” co-sponsored by a group called Raise Up Massachusetts, (a group that is also fighting to raise the minimum wage to $15). The “Fair Share” campaign is an effort to change the Massachusetts State Constitution so that those who earn income over $1 million per year–and there are a growing number of residents in this category–will pay an extra 4 percent in state income tax on (only) that income over $1 million; all of that extra collected money will then be earmarked specifically to fund two pressing and perennially underfunded social needs: public education and public transportation.

Currently, Massachusetts state income tax is a flat rate for all residents, a regressive and budget-busting fact that is not just inscribed in law, but in the MA Constitution itself.  Fair Share seeks to change this.

Thanks to the efforts of many organizers, unions, and community groups across the state, over 150,000 signatures were collected this past fall in support of the “Fair Share” amendment. This was several times the number necessary to legally bind this year’s MA State Legislature to address the proposal. This is likely to happen as soon as this spring. In order for the Constitutional Amendment to move forward, it will need 50 positive votes in two consecutive legislative sessions—that means support from 25 percent of all representatives. After that, if all goes well, the whole matter will go before the electorate as a ballot question in 2018.

Considering the issues at stake, it seems like UMass Boston could be the ideal place to find and mobilize support for this “Fair Share Amendment,” sometimes referred to as the “Millionaires Tax.” While the signature-collecting part of this campaign has been successfully concluded, there is still a need in the weeks and months (and even years) ahead to persuade state legislators to put this proposed amendment on the ballot, to get Massachusetts voters to vote for it, as well as to shape public consciousness and media coverage of this issue as things develop.

My proposal is that we try and turn public college campuses, and especially public commuter campuses like UMass Boston, into base areas from which we work together to build teams. We need to mobilize on-campus support for “Fair Share.” We also need off-campus support for it in the broader community as well.

As students and workers at public commuter colleges, we not only are affected by the underfunding of both public education and public transit, but we physically occupy trains and buses for hours at a time each week, giving us access to literally thousands of fellow commuters—including many fellow teachers and students. Imagine if we started reaching out to them and organizing our commutes!

I’m proposing that we organize grassroots, public college (and high school) based education, and action squads to mobilize public support for the “Fair Share Amendment” on campuses and in train cars.

Obviously, our efforts should be coordinated with those who have been doing the painstaking strategizing for Raise Up Massachusetts so we can amplify existing efforts. The immediate goal should be to help this actual amendment pass so public needs can be met and for the super-rich to pay their fair share.

At the same time, the benefits of such a mobilization could be huge, extending well beyond the worthy goal of getting this much needed progressive income tax passed.

For instance, it could provide a way of: 

  • organizing some of the Bernie fever (especially among youth) in a concrete and local way before it dissipates
  • building a grassroots coalition to fight against future budget cuts to transit or education needs–of which several are already being planned
  • connecting public colleges and universities to the broader community in a new way, bridging the “town and gown” divide
  • developing new groups of confident activists who are able to move seamlessly from campus to community
  • educating those on our campuses and commutes about crucial issues, debunking the myth that “there’s just not enough money” to pay for  even the basic needs of people
  • breaking down barriers between faculty, staff, and students by connecting us to a common struggle with a clearly defined goal

In the days ahead, I will be bringing this proposal to my local union and to other unions on campus, as well as to student activists and organizations. Who wants in? 

I welcome your input or collaboration.  I can be reached at [email protected].