House progressives have been largely flogged across the Mass blogosphere lately, complete with jokes about DeLeo-sponsored water boarding. Whatever happened behind the scenes, it's far more likely that progressives made a gut call on this, at least as the main reason behind their votes. I don't blame House progressives for voting for the sales tax - even if it's one I'm clearly not cheering for. A few points have been lost in the conversation:
1) This was the only tax on the table in the House so far - and it wasn't for lack of effort. The progressives didn't want the sales tax in particular, but the votes just weren't there for a gas tax -- never mind an income tax. Unfortunately, too many people view the gas tax as a Boston vs. the rest of state thing, even if a big chunk of that money would have gone to the other regions. A lot of others were just adverse to raising the gas tax, as if it were somehow more taxier than other taxes. So, progressives were left with the sales tax or $3 billion in cuts.
2) They have constituents to report back to, towns to fund. Many constituents will be angry about the tax, but that's a short term problem forgotten in a few months when it's not an election year. Cuts to town budgets is a recurring problem far more likely to spawn anger when it matters. Moreover, if it wasn't the sales tax, it would have meant additional cuts to state aid. Contrary to popular opinion, your state legislator probably cares a great deal about your town's finances, even if their strings are usually tied. It's hypocritical to rail against them on things like Chapter 70 and then criticize them when they actually try to do something about it.
3) This is partly my fault, but in the blogosphere's collective anger about the sales tax, we've often forgotten that there is no sales tax on food or clothes. That makes this sales tax option far less regressive than in other states. Would progressives have voted for this bill otherwise? Probably not.
What's clear is that movement progressives have our work cut out for us if we want real revenue reform. We need to expand these issues beyond reactionary news items and rallies - and really start to educate the public. We need to elect more progressives, so next time they have the votes on something like the gas tax. We need to get more involved, earlier (like now), in the battle for the next House Speakah.
Yet, all of that's in the future. The bottom line is that while this sales tax proposal passed by the House today does punt on transportation and lacks vision, it's still the best option House progressives had - so they voted for it. The Governor's still right on a lot of things -- I'm not trying to take away from my arguments yesterday - but we shouldn't be railing against elected progressives for this vote. Looking at it from their perspective, this was not a betrayal. If our state couldn't even pass a 10 cent gas tax, we shouldn't be so driven by ideological purity to castigate them for this vote when so much was at stake. I include myself in this critique -- and hope something better comes out of the Senate.