12. Vision and Budget, Budget and Vision

Dan has been blessed with a great deal of financial success building Cape Air from his start as a mechanic and pilot; he would expect to release a full range of tax returns were he to seek higher office, proud to show how hard work and collaboration has led to success in business, and how that success has offered him opportunity to contribute through public service, a fair share of taxes, and philanthropy.

That said, the crucial conversation we must have is about how we fund government’s essential functions. Our tax code, our revenue, defines our budget. And without a budget -- a real budget, a tested budget, a sufficient budget -- vision becomes nothing more than mirage. It cannot translate into reality without the hard structure that a budget creates.

Every other issue on the table sooner or later connects back to our capacity to fund. And so we must understand that as our challenges and opportunities have changed over time, the structure of our economy has evolved as well.

Today, wealth has concentrated in fewer and fewer hands; middle class workers and families have less buying power, less security, less opportunity.

But our tax policies do not reflect the changes of the past 30 years. We need to structure how we generate revenue to acknowledge this shift. By shying away from this conversation, we continue to balance our state budget only by making very difficult and hurtful decisions. We add yet more burden on our cities and towns, where the fiscal crisis hits hardest but where the tool available to raise revenue is property taxes.

Austerity is important, a necessary goal. But austerity does not offer us inspiration, or vision. Ferreting out abuse among those on welfare is important, but it does not create new jobs for the unemployed. Stopping scofflaws and misuse in public transportation is essential, but it does not create a better transit system. Eliminating waste in government is crucial, but it does not create better social policies.

And so we need to be clear about the historic and crucial role government plays. Investing in education, transportation and infrastructure, job creation, human services and health care to protect those in need, is how our nation became great. We need to articulate that promise again, and make that vision tangible.

Once we do that, we can ask for support in funding our government properly. Those who have benefited most should be willing and prepared to pay; those who have been stymied and hurt by this deep recession cannot shoulder more burden.

With a clear understanding of how government can move us forward, and how our tax code can change to reflect today’s economic realities, Dan believes that we can move beyond knee-jerk “no new taxes” debates and make the convincing argument that today’s state budget needs to grow. The November election sent a clear signal that this is a conversation we can and should have.

While a graduated state income tax, patterned on federal lines, could be one strategy, constitutional barriers to such reform exist. Changing tax code to shift the burden toward wealthier citizens is still possible, however, via strategies such as proposed by the Invest in Our Communities Act, legislation Dan co-sponsored last session. The act would raise deductions for working families while raising the tax rate, in effect not increasing taxes for most working people while bringing more revenue from the highest income brackets.

We also need to take a hard look at capital gains taxes, long-term and short-term, with appropriate deductions at the lower end of income, to fashion a more equitable relationship between taxes on earned and unearned income.

But in the name of true reform, and to build new coalitions to accomplish that reform, Dan is interested in exploring more options, and moving the conversation out of the box.

For example: Consider a graduated corporate tax in Massachusetts, relieving burden and creating one more incentive to encourage small businesses to reinvest in jobs and growth, while simultaneously closing loopholes to ensure that income and assets of all kinds are taxed fairly and equitably.