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Newpaper Article from
Metrowest Daily News
Wednesday, April 2, 2003

A search for taxing answers:
Stein pushes balance


By Shannon Haley Daggett

NATICK — Jill Stein has a solution to close the $3 billion state budget gap without cutting health, education, and environmental programs: tax the rich the same as the poor.

The Green Party candidate in last year’s governor’s race said last night if everyone paid 8.2 percent of their income in taxes, state revenue would increase by $2.14 billion.

But in the current tax system, those who fall in the lowest 20 percent income group pay 9.3 percent of their income in taxes, while the top 1 percent — after loopholes and tax deductions — pay 4.6 percent.

Under this “hypothetical plan,” those who fall in the lower 60 percent of taxpayers get a deduction, Stein said at a budget forum at the VFW Hall. The next 20 percent would pay about the same, while the top 20 percent would be paying more.

Three other speakers included Iris Vicencio-Garaygay, environmental director of MassPirg; Sue Kirby, organizing director for Massachusetts Senior Action; and Peg O’Malley from Massachusetts Nurse Association.

The MetroWest chapter of the Massachusetts Coalition for Healthy Communities, a nonpartisan, nonprofit group formed by Stein, sponsored the event. Last night was the chapter’s first forum.

“Even though I helped organize this forum,” said Medway resident Lucy Fiero, “I learned stuff I never knew before. The Prescription Advantage program might be gone, I didn’t know that. In the media, the newspapers, we’re not getting this information.”

About 80,000 seniors rely on Prescription Advantage, the state’s $98 million drug program for the elderly and disabled.

Corporations and the wealthy have gotten their way through campaign donations, Stein said. So in place of money, a large mass of everyday people are going to have to rely on their voice to make change happen and come together united, rather than be pitted against each other over critical issues.

It is a basic fundamental right for everyone to have clean air, a home, and access to health care, she said.

“We’re continuing to be backed in the corner fighting for crumbs that doesn’t meet anyone’s needs,” she said. “We have nothing to lose; we are all going down with the ship if we don’t begin to work for a more common vision.”

She invited everyone to attend a rally in front of the State House on April 30.

The current tax system isn’t serving the public interest, Stein said, creating a tax hysteria where nearly a majority last year voted to get rid of the income tax.

“People don’t trust the government to spend tax dollars wisely,” she said. “There is no reason for us to take this, no reason for us to take this sitting down. Things are not being done in our interest.”

She also called for closing corporate tax loopholes to save $300 million.

Vicencio-Garaygay said the state spends less than 1 percent on clean air, clean water, and open space protection. Massachusetts ranks 48th in environmental spending per capita.

The Department of Environmental Protection is a nearly “self-sufficient,” raising money through fines, fees, and unclaimed beverage container deposits.

However, she added, roughly $22 million from the DEP revenue source was used to balance the state budget last year. Still, the agency has seen drastic cuts.

The Watershed Initiative, which ensures water quality, was eliminated in this year’s budget and Vicencio-Garayga said she isn’t sure it will be restored for next year’s fiscal budget, which starts on July 1.

“There are so many problems we are facing because of the budget. I think the environment gets treated as an extra (item),” she said.

Vicencio-Garayga proposed expanding the bottle bill to included deposits on non-carbonated beverages to raise $7.5 million.

Kirby, from the Mass Senior Action, said the Prescription Advantage program may be closed down on July 1. Enrollment is closed she said, “which is the death knell, you can’t have an insurance program without new enrollment.”

Romney already increase the cost of the plan so more people are being forced to chose between paying for food or their prescriptions.

“People are going to end up in hospitals, nursing homes. This is not going to save the state money in the long term,” she said.

Kirby said the state should look into bulk purchasing with other states to lower prescription costs, “end capital gains loopholes and push the income tax back to where it was two years ago to fund these programs.”

O’Malley said recent cuts on health care have been shortsighted.

“It targets the sick and vulnerable,”she said. As a nurse, she wouldn’t say the United States has the best health care in the country.

“The worse working conditions we have have endured” are causing a nursing shortage.

“It’s a man-made shortage of nurses who are driven out of hospitals,” she said. “There is a war on sick people and those taking care of sick people. Victims have died quietly behind closed doors.”

O’Mally advocates health care for everyone by getting rid of bureaucratic waste.

“In Massachusetts, $41 billion is spent on health care every year,” she said. “Forty percent of it is spend on wasteful administration and fatter and fatter levels of bureaucracy in the system.”

  

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