By Joseph A. Curtatone
(The opinions and views expressed in the commentaries of The Somerville News belong solely to the authors of those commentaries and do not reflect the views or opinions of The Somerville News, its staff or publishers.)
In Washington, hopes for a “grand bargain” on spending and revenues have been revived by President Obama’s convincing win in the November 6th election. Publicly, Republicans are still refusing even to consider the idea that wealthier Americans should be required to pay Clinton-era tax rates (not that those rates seemed to dampen economic growth in the Clinton era) but even the GOP leadership in the House of Representatives knows that their position has been weakened and that some compromise is called for.
Maybe the solution is to let all the Bush-era tax cuts expire at the end of the year as scheduled and then to vote to restore them for hard-working, middle-class Americans. That way, hardliner Republicans won’t have to vote for a tax hike, only a targeted cut. It would take some time to begin the automatic cuts called for as part of the ill-advised deal made last year during the debt ceiling debates, so there would be an opportunity to fine-tune the spending cuts so as not to damage essential government programs.
One thing is for sure: the vast majority of Americans (opinion polls indicate that it’s a huge bipartisan coalition) understand that you can’t deal with the deficit and meet the government’s essential obligations without a combination of spending cuts and additional revenue – what President Obama has consistently called a “balanced approach.”
As a nation, we have no choice, so we’ll get there eventually. Or as Winston Churchill memorably observed, “The United States invariably does the right thing, after having exhausted every other alternative.”
Here in Massachusetts, we are about to start debate our own grand bargain – and I’m genuinely optimistic that we can achieve it without the polarization and brinksmanship that makes everything so difficult at the national level.
Just last week, we heard from the Patrick Administration that in January it will unveil a detailed proposal to secure adequate, long-term funding for our highway, roads, bridge, rail and transit system. We do not yet know all the details, but we do know that it is likely to include more revenues as well as more spending and operational reform.
We’ve already had one serious round of cost-cutting and reform in the state’s transportation system and there’s more to be done. But it should be clear to every Massachusetts resident in every corner of the state that we can’t simply cut our way to transportation solvency without doing grave and unacceptable damage to our state’s present and future economic health.
Given their efforts on behalf of regional transportation across the commonwealth – including their leadership on transit development here in Somerville – I have great confidence that Governor Patrick, Lt. Governor Murray, MassDOT Secretary Davey and the entire state team will come up with a viable, well-reasoned proposal – and that they will do everything in their power to provide a long-lasting fix to this longstanding problem.
I believe that putting our multi-modal transportation system on a sound fiscal footing can be – and will be – one of the greatest legacies of the Patrick administration.
But I also believe that they cannot succeed without the help of local officials and ordinary citizens across the state – and I want to remind my fellow residents in Somerville, in the Boston metro region, and in every Massachusetts city and town that we have a direct stake in giving them that help.
We need to be ready to make the case – with confidence and conviction – that every community will benefit from a plan that adequately supports a transportation system on which we all depend. For far too long, the opponents of transportation investment have sought to portray that system as some alien, archaic, inefficient, burden we all carry – something we pay for without getting anything in return. They don’t explain how our economy would succeed without high-quality multimodal transportation. They just say it’s broken and not worth further investment.
In the debate that is about to unfold in the new year, I propose we talk about transportation in a new way: as a direct expression of our values, hopes and desires. I propose that we say that the system is too important to linger in neglect and decay. I think we should point out that by helping to fix our transportation system we are investing in our communities, our families and ourselves.
In fact, I think there’s a direct link between the potential for a Massachusetts-style grand bargain on transportation funding and the lessons we learned here in Somerville from the recent decision of our voters to adopt the Community Preservation Act by saying yes to Question 4 by a margin of three to one.
Proponents of Question 4 clearly explained how the money would be used – and Somerville residents understood that the types of expenditures allowed under the Community Preservation Act were an expression of their shared community values.
The time has come to make the same arguments across the state for funding our transportation system.
It’s a question not just of dollars, but of values: and our values should speak loud and clear on this issue.
We must make clear that we are investing in a system that connects us on a daily basis to our jobs, our academic and health care institutions, to our recreational and entertainment resources – to everything, in fact, that makes life possible and worthwhile.
We must make clear that our businesses are utterly dependent on the ability to move goods and people with efficiency and reliability – and that one of the great truths of American life is that economic growth follows transportation infrastructure. You can’t have one without the other.
I’m thrilled that the Patrick Administration is about to make this case and I plan to everything I can to help them. I hope you’ll join me.