Massachusetts, for all its many strengths, must grow -- in population, in opportunity, and in our economy. It has to, or we cannot sustain so much of what's already in place, particularly important obligations like health care, education and infrastructure.
If we are going to achieve unlimited growth in Massachusetts and truly cultivate our innovation economy, we have to attack at their roots the problems that stand in our way. Creating real opportunity for everyone in the commonwealth cannot be done with words or half-measures, but with bold, meaningful action.
This takes guts, and it takes going against the grain. It takes demanding new, innovative ideas and practical answers. And it can be done.
To start, I propose five concrete new ideas:
1: Taxes. Massachusetts is one of only seven states with a "flat tax." It's the kind of tax conservatives have embraced for decades; we've had it for a century. It means our tax structure is inherently regressive, with people and businesses at the top paying less of their disposable income in taxes than those in the middle and toward the bottom. It's time to convene a Tax Modernization Commission, made up of nonpartisan experts, who can design a fair and transparent 21st-century tax code. Yes, moving from a regressive to a sensible, progressive tax code requires amending our state Constitution. So amend it.
2: Health Care.
3: State Budget. Every agency in the state should be tasked with delivering outstanding service to its constituents -- its "customers." The leaders of each agency will be accountable for rooting out waste, inefficiency and unnecessary process, procedure and expense. The goal: improving quality of service, while reducing administrative spending by 5 percent in the first fiscal year of my administration. This will be hard but can be done by diligent, relentless attention. In addition, we must establish a nonpartisan budget authority, similar to the federal Congressional Budget Office, to give voters and our elected officials real numbers on taxes, expenses and mandates. This office will help put an end to gimmicky budgeting that leaves taxpayers, as well as organizations that rely on state funding, unable to plan thoroughly each year.
4: Housing. One of the major trends in our state is "re-urbanization," the growing movement of people into urban areas. The revitalization of cities around our state is one of the great opportunities of the next decade. We must accelerate this process by implementing a comprehensive policy for construction of creative housing alternatives like multifamily, transit-oriented housing for starters. To do this, we need dedicated resources and support for communities to develop "40R" smart-growth zones, which are areas set aside for denser, more affordable, transit-oriented communities.
5: Education. Massachusetts should guarantee that students who graduate from high school in our state can attend a community college or two-year technical school for free, similar to Tennessee's recently proposed initiative receiving bipartisan support. This would be supported by an endowment made up of funds redeployed from cutting or reducing unnecessary expenses like new Statehouse office furnishings or enormous corporate tax breaks. Think how many students this program could help shape into successful, tax-paying citizens. In the end, that helps all of us, whether you have kids in school or not.
Serious and substantial reform of our government and state economy is needed. Too many of the old debates and policies are just that: old. They have to end because they avoid the real issues. The time is now, in this generation, to fix the problems staring us in the face.