MTA members, community activists urge legislators to invest in Massachusetts

MTA members joined hundreds of seniors and community activists at a State House rally and lobby action calling for new revenue to invest in education, transportation and other services. “I want to welcome you to the State House. This is your house,” Governor Deval Patrick said to loud applause and a standing ovation from the overflow crowd gathered in Gardner Auditorium.

After describing commitments previous generations made to building highways and schools, Patrick talked about the need to have “a grownup conversation about what exactly it costs to have the kind of Commonwealth we want.”

“I have learned the lesson ‘to whom much is given, much is expected,’” he said, in support of his revenue  proposal.

The governor’s plan and a similar proposal by the Campaign for Our Communities would  increase the income tax rate but also increase the personal exemption to reduce the impact on low- and middle-income families. The governor’s plan would also eliminate some income tax deductions and lower the sales tax rate. Both plans would raise about $2 billion a year when fully phased in.

MTA is a leading member of the Campaign for Our Communities, a coalition of 125 groups calling for significant new revenue raised fairly. House Speaker Robert DeLeo has said he might advance a smaller revenue bill and focus new spending on transportation, but those lobbying today said that more revenue is needed for a wide array of services after years of budget cuts. The governor’s bill specifically calls for a total of $1 billion in new spending on early education, K-12 schools and public higher education.

Richard Liston, a special education teacher for 40 years who now works as a paraprofessional with 3- and 4-year-olds in Everett, told the crowd that making sure all students have “a fighting chance” can’t be done cheaply.

“Everett is a working-class city with a lot of pride in its schools, but we have the same problems as other urban districts,” he said. “Three-quarters of our students are low-income and half don’t speak English as their first language. We need to invest in our education system for all of our students to succeed.

“People in think tanks across the country spend a lot of time trying to find a no-cost, magic-bullet fix,” he continued. “Teachers know there is no magical solution.”

Liston described what teachers do believe is needed, including investments in smaller class sizes, early education, social services, school technology and affordable higher education options.

“The good news is that investments in education pay off quickly because they lead to more successful students and more productive, engaged, successful tax-paying citizens in the future,” Liston said.

After the speeches, the participants fanned out across the State House to meet with their state representatives and senators. Their bright yellow “Invest in Our Communities” stickers made them highly visible.

MTA retirees and local presidents with release time joined the morning rally and lobbying efforts, while active members came after school.

After meeting with his legislators’ aides, retired member Richard Shea said, “I think we left a powerful message that we as a Commonwealth need to meet our responsibilities to be forward thinking and invest in our infrastructure and education.”