Passing Question 1 will help reduce poverty

Much of the public debate over the Fair Share Amendment, Question 1 on the November ballot, has focused on the impact it would have on those who will pay more from the Amendment’s 4 percent tax on annual income over $1 million to fund transportation and public education.

After much debate, the facts are clear: only the richest 0.6 percent of Massachusetts taxpayers will pay a penny more under Question 1, including less than 1 percent of retirees, and less than 1 percent of those selling a home. And for the few who are affected, the tax will only apply to the amount of their income over $1 million.

But this focus on how the top 1 percent will be impacted has obscured an even more important element of Question 1: the transformational impact that $2 billion in new annual funding constitutionally dedicated to transportation and public education could have at the other end of the income spectrum. Passing Question 1 is a huge opportunity for Massachusetts to reduce poverty and address long-standing systemic inequities.

At Economic Mobility Pathways (EMPath), we use a research-backed coaching method for helping people in poverty climb the economic ladder. Since its launch over a decade ago, the model has helped families with low incomes to double and even triple their incomes, unlocking opportunities to access stable housing, get advanced degrees and good jobs, save money, and more.

At EMPath, we see the real-life impact that decades of housing discrimination, redlining, and “urban renewal” policies have had on Black and brown families. Participants in our programs frequently deal with transportation issues, from buses and trains breaking down to a lack of adequate infrastructure in their neighborhoods to high transit costs that strain already-tight budgets. As acting mayor of Boston, I launched a free fare pilot on the MBTA’s Route 28 bus, and saw firsthand how more affordable transportation made it easier for poor and working families in Boston to access and maintain family-sustaining jobs.

By generating billions of dollars to repair our roads and bridges and upgrade our public transportation infrastructure, Question 1 will make our transportation system more reliable. It will also allow us to expand our transportation system to address the legacy of transportation disinvestment in Black and brown communities.

I come from a long line of educators, and I was taught from a young age that high-quality public education is not a privilege, but a right. And at EMPath, we also know that education is key to moving out of poverty. But many of our public schools lack the proper resources to prepare all students to pursue a college education after they graduate. Our state’s vocational schools are also struggling to meet students’ and employers needs due to a lack of funding for modern equipment and highly-trained educators.

By generating billions of dollars to improve transportation and our schools, Question 1 will provide greater opportunities for thousands of Massachusetts families – removing a key obstacle along the all-too-difficult journey out of poverty.

In addition to reducing poverty, Question 1 would also pay enormous dividends for our entire economy. The more people can access good-paying jobs, the more money they can spend at local businesses. And improving our public schools and colleges is key to meeting the needs of local employers for a well-educated workforce.

This amendment is especially important in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. An entire generation of students is at risk of being left behind unless we do more to support them with individualized attention, extra tutoring, and resources for their mental and emotional health. This will take a surge of resources in our schools that Question 1 has the potential to provide.

Throughout the pandemic, thousands of Massachusetts families and small businesses struggled just to get by. Meanwhile, multi-millionaire investors have seen their net worth skyrocket. The handful of billionaires in Massachusetts saw their wealth increase by a total of $17.2 billion during the first seven months of the COVID-19 pandemic alone. Combined, they gained almost $25 billion between March 2020 and May 2022.

Yet, while the rich keep getting richer, they’re not paying their fair share. Right now in Massachusetts, people with lower incomes pay more of their income in taxes than people with the highest incomes. The Fair Share Amendment would change that, while ensuring much-needed investment in education and transportation. Massachusetts families deserve nothing less.

Kim Janey is the president and CEO of Economic Mobility Pathways (EMPath) and is the former acting mayor of Boston.

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