The elections are over and people across the Commonwealth are celebrating (or grieving) for the candidates they supported.
Question 2 on assisted suicide was defeated; Question 3 legalizing medical marijuana was passed by a large margin. But another ballot question on voters’ preference for federal budget priorities also passed, even more overwhelmingly, though it received much less attention.
By a three-to-one margin, Massachusetts voters sent a clear message to both Democrats and Republicans in Washington about the federal budget. The ballot measure calls for no cuts to Social Security, Medicare, or other vital programs; investment in jobs; an end to corporate tax loopholes and to the Bush cuts on taxes on high incomes; withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan now; and redirection of military spending to domestic needs and job creation.
Meanwhile, politicians from both parties are said to be preparing to negotiate a “Grand Bargain” that would cut Social Security, Medicare and programs for the poor with only token tax increases on the rich. Massachusetts voters are saying loud and clear that our representatives in Washington should resist any such deal.
The “Budget for All” ballot question passed by 661,033 to 222,514 votes, winning by a wide margin in every district and all of the 91 Massachusetts cities and towns where it appeared on the ballot, ranging from most of Greater Boston to Holyoke, Norwood, Lawrence and Fall River.
In Boston, Question 4 won handily in every precinct — including those few in Dorchester and South Boston where Scott Brown beat Elizabeth Warren. Overall, where it was on the ballot, the budget question got more votes than almost any of the candidates running for elected office.
The attitudes expressed in the Budget for All vote are no isolated fluke of our Massachusetts electorate. National polls are unanimous in showing higher support for job programs than for deficit reduction. Both Republicans and Democrats also favor higher taxes on the wealthy and Big Business. And there is a universal preference to reduce military spending rather than cut programs like Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid.
The truth is that our country is not “broke” and we are not facing any short-term deficit crisis. The real problem is the increasing concentration of wealth in a relatively small proportion of the population — the 1 percent or even .01 percent — who are paying historically low rates of taxation not seen for generations.
Wall Street wrecked the economy and the rest of us on Main Street are paying the price, with high levels of unemployment and stagnating or even falling wages and job benefits. Military spending is also at an all-time high, far outpacing even what we spent at the height of the Cold War when the US faced a super-power rival.
Nor is Social Security “going bankrupt” — and it has contributed not one dime to the current budget deficit. The program is fully funded for another 20 or 30 years and can be permanently fixed with minor additional revenue. In fact, the projected rise in Social Security spending due to an aging population would increase the annual cost of the program by much less than the money wasted on the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.
The Labor Movement, which was instrumental in winning the election for President Obama and Senator-elect Elizabeth Warren, is mobilizing to fight the cuts, but has been hesitant to call for reducing military spending. However, the reality is that there will not be enough funding to invest in jobs unless we move toward a sensible level of security spending that is more in line with the actual threats we face.
Massive Cold War-styled weapons programs and 1,000 military bases around the world do nothing to make us safer but waste the funds we need to rebuild our domestic infrastructure and put millions of people to work. Dollar-for-dollar civilian spending creates many more good jobs than weapons production. And there is plenty of work that needs to be done that can employ industrial workers who are now making armaments we don’t need.
As President Obama said often during his re-election campaign, “It’s time for some nation-building at home.”
The people of our state have voted to prevent cuts to programs that benefit us all, to end the wars and reduce military spending, while asking the wealthiest to pay their fair share in taxes. We urgently need to invest in jobs. Now it’s time to make Washington listen.
Jeff Klein is a retired local union president and a member of Dorchester People for Peace.