Divided Blue: Governor Patrick and the Statehouse Budget Standoff

by Justin Kenney

mass-state-houseIn states where the governor and legislature sit on opposite sides of the political aisle, the threat of a gubernatorial veto is unremarkable, even assumed. But here at BU we don’t live in Wisconsin or New Jersey where high stakes political theater is part of the cost of doing business. No, we live in solidly blue Massachusetts – a state which hasn’t felt a Republican presence in its Statehouse since Mitt Romney left for bigger and better things. So, the fact that at this moment there is a serious budget showdown brewing between Governor Deval Patrick and his usually loyal legislative allies should give us pause.

Governor Patrick has put forward an ambitious budget calling for expansiveinvestments in a range of sectors and public goods. The cornerstone of his proposal rests on a renewed commitment to the Commonwealth’s transportation infrastructure, which, as anyone who’s taken a ride on the T lately knows, has seen better decades. But Patrick wants to go beyond repairing the aging system, calling for expanded service and hours (yes, including late night on weekends) and dedicated funding to set the MBTA and transit authorities around Massachusetts back on the track of fiscal sustainability.

You might be asking yourself, what about this proposal could be stirring dissent among the Democratic ranks? Like so many political fights across the country, it comes down to dollars, cents, and that most reviled of words, taxes. Trains and tracks don’t come cheap, and to pay for his budget the Governor has called for higher income taxes. Members of both his party and the small but vocal opposition have shunned his request and instead put forward a smaller plan funded by an increase in tobacco taxes. According to the Secretary of Transportation, their plan wouldn’t fix the structural deficiencies or budgetary woes of the MBTA, and would mean inevitable increases in fares and cuts in service.

If it seems like the Governor and Democratic legislators have different priorities, it’s because they do. The Governor is thinking about history. He’s looking ahead to a time after his governorship, possibly with eyes to the White House. Regardless of where he goes after the Statehouse, he wants to leave it better than he found it, and this budget is how he hopes to do so. The investments contained in this proposal, particularly those in transportation, would pay enormous dividends down the road and secure the legacy he longs for. However, his legislative counterparts don’t have the luxury of waiting for those returns. They’re not looking ten years down the road; they’re looking towards 2014 and the “moderate” challenger lurking in the shadows waiting to brand them as a tax-raiser for approving the Governor’s Budget.

deval-patrick--4_3_r536_c534Their fears are not unfounded. It was only three years ago that the Republican revolution of 2010 nearly cost the Democrats’ leader in the Senate, Senate President Therese Murray, her seat. Can voters really be that surprised, after proving so fickle and reactionary in the past, that our elected officials are now leery of voting for any budget which raises taxes, even if those revenues are going to worthy goals?  In 2010, we sent legislators a message. We can’t wait until 2014 to send them the next one. We have to let them know now that we’re not going to be short-sighted on this issue. We have to let them know that we understand how and why the Governor is investing in our transportation infrastructure, and that we have his back. Governor Patrick has given the Commonwealth of Massachusetts an opportunity to make a real investment in its future. It’s up to us to make sure we don’t miss it.

(Upper photo: foodtoursboston.com)
(Lower photo: AP/Michael Dwyer)

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The Importance of Financial Transparency in Higher Education

The opinions expressed in this piece are solely the views of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the BU College Democrats at large. 

by Alexander Golob

09-1124-LAWTOUR-132 boston-university-tuitionThis past month, Robert Brown, president of Boston University, issued an email stating a “low,” 3.7% increase in tuition, amounting to $1450. Many students at BU complain, as they generally do when tuition rises, about how high tuition is. The university appeases the complaints of students and their parents by saying that they remain concerned with upholding the academic and financial integrity of the institution. However, there is no way to validate this claim because BU discloses almost none of its finances.While BU is a private nonprofit institution, the university receives so many benefits from the public that the administration should be held accountable for how and where it spends our money.

For one, BU gets one third of its funding, $360 million, from research grants. Ninety percent of this money comes from the national government while the other 10% comes from state and local governments and a few private institutions. BU is also exempt from property taxes, can take loans from banks and government with incredibly low interest rates, and pay taxes with massive deductions. Meanwhile, student loans are also guaranteed by the national government, thus making them another source of money for BU that comes directly from the public.

Through all of this, tuition is growing at unsustainably high levels with little reason. The BU administration says that it raises its tuition by some of the lowest rates among its peer institutions. However, none of the university’s peer institutions already have such high tuition to start with. Increasing 3.7% from a tuition of $20,000 to $20,740 (a $740 increase) is not the same as increasing tuition by $1,570 from $42,400 to $43,970. While BU and other colleges justify high cost with well-paid job opportunities post graduation, the statistics do not backup their claims. Inflation has risen at a cumulative rate of 7.8% from 2008-2013. Average wages from 2007-2011 rose about 6.4% (the numbers for 2012 aren’t out yet). BU’s average tuition rise of 3.8% compounded over 5 years is about 20.5%.

In other words, while inflation has outpaced wage growth, BU’s tuition increases at a rate more than triple average wage growth and almost triple the rate of inflation. Prices are increasing a rate far higher than even medical care. About 60% of Americans have an income below $60,000 – the full cost of BU tuition. While BU does give out student aid, it is often in the form of federal subsidized loans. Again, it is the public, not the university, paying for these significant increases in the price of tuition.

In the past decade, total student debt in the United States has quadrupled from $260 billion to $1 trillion. These debts cannot be defaulted, so they haunt the students for life. This amount of debt leads to an overall slowdown in spending that hurts the lives of each former student and the general economy. All the while, our academics are suffering. Every year, the university employs more and more lower paid and adjunct professors. Even in his most recent letter, President Brown announced cuts in academics while talking about building new facilities.

Although the current political climate sees strong partisan divides on almost every policy, student debt chooses no party. Members on both sides of the aisle face staggering levels of student debt: 22 Democrats and 24 Republicans. The scariest part is that some of these representatives are still paying their student debts back after decades. Making public and private investments in a university more transparent is something that members of both parties can believe in.

We are led to believe that it is alright for us as consumers of university services to have full faith in what we are investing in. We are led to believe that the public investment in universities is warranted. And we are led to believe that we are paying for a strong education and services that will help enrich our personal lives and advance our careers. In reality, we have no idea where that money is going. It is up to students, faculty, and community members to stop this. Only through communal efforts can the speeding trajectory of unsustainable tuition and unbalanced universities be changed.

 

Rethinking the Gun Control Debate

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by Devon Dunn

The opinions expressed in this piece are solely the views of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the BU College Democrats at large. 

Columbine. Virginia Tech. Aurora. Newtown.

These names remain forever in the memories of citizens across America. Endless debates over what triggers these tragedies spark up time and time again. Indeed, there is a lot of incriminating evidence on the table. Not only do Americans have more guns than anyone else in the world, with 270 million privately owned firearms, but they also have the highest gun ownership rate per capita in the world, with an average of about 9 guns for every 10 Americans. Meanwhile, the United States boasts one of the highest numbers of gun-related deaths per year, next to Mexico. Clearly, Americans have an issue. Identifying the problem is simple. Forming a plan to solve this problem is the hard part.

Following the recent tragedies, I was entirely in favor of the strictest of gun control, like most gun-ignorant liberals. I have never used a gun. No one in my family has ever owned a gun. I knew nothing about guns, except that a bullet came out and it hurt people.  Despite this, when I read the 1994 Assault Weapons Ban I thought, “Wow, this looks great. We need to reinstate this.” For those of you who are unfamiliar with the legislation, the 1994 Assault Weapons Ban outlawed specific guns, prohibiting semi-automatic rifles with a detachable magazines and two or more of the following features: folding stocks, pistol grips, bayonet mounts, flash suppressors, and grenade launchers. At first glance, this legislation seemed ideal. But then I looked into what these features really do.

The stock on a rifle is the part of the gun that rests on your shoulder to firmly support the device, therefore aiming it easier, and to transmit recoil to the body. All rifles have stocks; a folding or telescopic stock is simply an extension of this feature to improve its function. A pistol grip is generally the part of the gun that is held by the hand for stability. A bayonet mount is where a bayonet can be put for close combat. A flash suppressor reduces the flash of a gun when firing by rapidly cooling the burning gases that exit the muzzle. Contrary to popular belief, its purpose is to prevent the shooter from being blinded at night. A flash suppressor is not to be confused with a sound suppressor, which reduces the amount of noise generated by firing a weapon, but does not silence it. Sound suppressors are currently strictly regulated in the United States. A grenade launcher’s purpose is simply to hold and launch grenades. However, grenades are illegal to civilians in the US.

I hated to admit it, but the more I looked into the banned features, the more cosmetic they seemed. Banning these features did not seem to address the gun’s potential for mass destruction.
But there has got to be another way to do this, right? Well, that is why Congress tried to additionally outlaw specific guns through the ban, such as certain models of AR-15s and AK-47s. However, a few months later, gun manufacturers continued to make these same guns, but changed the names. So, if it is impossible to ban specific guns outright, then why not just ban certain calibers? In that case, manufacturers could easily retool guns to a slightly different caliber.

The only option left is to ban how a gun operates. Automatic guns (aka machine guns) were banned officially in 1986 and are no longer available to civilians. An automatic gun will continue to fire as long as the trigger is depressed. Meanwhile, a semi-automatic weapon will fire with every pull of the trigger, and THIS is where the danger of guns lies. A shooter can fire many rounds in a short amount of time without having to reload.

The problem is, if you ban semi-automatic weapons, you eliminate an entire class of weapons that are used in many people’s daily lives as part of their careers and for sport. For example, ranchers use semi-automatic guns to keeping predators away from their livestock. A minority would stay that it is still worth the cost. But the majority of Americans would not support a ban of this magnitude, and Congress knows this. It is easy to say “I’m going to ban assault weapons,” but it is pretty much impossible to tell your constituents “I am also going to take away your ranch rifles and shotguns too.” It is not just the “gun lobby” that would oppose this. It is the American public. Many Representatives and Senators would not be re-elected if they supported this type of ban.

But fear not, fellow left-wingers! This does not mean that there is nothing we can do. President Obama recently proposed restricting magazine capacity to ten rounds or less. A magazine contains the bullets and must be replaced when all rounds in the magazine are fired. The killer in the Aurora shooting entered the movie theater with a 100 round magazine. A 100 round magazine serves absolutely no civilian purpose. Ten rounds are plenty for defensive purposes. And in regards to mass shooters, changing magazines under pressure, especially for an inexperienced shooter, is not an easy task. Forcing a shooter to repeatedly change magazines provides an edge. It provides time for others to react. It provides time for potential victims to run. It provides time when the shooter is essentially as defenseless as the victims. According to the Sandy Hook medical examiner, each victim was shot multiple times at short range. With close to thirty casualties and assuming the use of a thirty round magazine as per reports, Adam Lanza had to reload at least once.

That changes to five times with a ten round magazine. Five different chances for someone to escape.

In my opinion, limiting magazines is the clearest and most effective way to regulate guns. This is not to say that it will provide an end-all solution to gun violence. As a country we need to instate universal background checks.  Psychological testing and gun education classes before gaining gun access. A national registry. Improved mental health care. It may be a large undertaking, but I think we can all agree that something needs to be done.

(Photo credit: Carlo Allegri/Reuters)

Legalizing Gay Marriage: An Inevitable Outcome?

by Margarita Diaz, Communications Director

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The opinions expressed in this piece are solely the views of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the BU College Democrats at large. 

On February 12th, the lower house of the French National Assembly, with backing from President Francois Hollande, passed Marriage for All, a bill that would not only legalize gay marriage, but also allow same sex couples to adopt children. Just six days earlier, on February 5th, Great Britain’s House of Commons, led by Prime Minister David Cameron’s Coalition government, voted 400 to 175 in favor of similar marriage equality legislation. While both bills must still endure committee hearings and long debates in their respective upper houses, they are likely to become law.

This, without a doubt, is progress.

At the time of writing, eleven countries – Argentina, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, Iceland, Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Spain, South Africa and Sweden – allow same-sex couples to marry. With France and Britain on the cusp of passing equal marriage legislation, isn’t it only a matter of time before all of the United States follows suit?

I have heard repeatedly from people of differing political affiliations that the legalization of gay marriage in the United States on the Federal level is inevitable; that it’s the direction our country is heading in, and that somewhere in the not-so-distant future those who vehemently oppose it will be relegated to the fringes of public opinion.

But when you pick things apart, that kind of mentality is pure complacency.

In a commentary on the passage of the UK’s marriage equality bill, The Independent’s Owen Jones remarked, “It was huge sacrifice that got us here. Never forget it.” While the French and British governments have moved in a progressive direction, neither achievement was without volumes of contention and backlash, ranging from the conservative Members of the British Parliament who gave grandiose speeches likening gay marriage to incest, to the 800,000 person protests for traditional marriage outside the National Assembly in Paris. In the case of France, the Marriage for All bill passed by virtue of the Left’s majority in the Assembly, carried by a slim margin of 100 votes, out of more than 530.

So what now for the United States? In a country with divided political opinion, where LGBT rights have been granted at a slower, more segmented pace, more extreme voices of opposition reap the benefits of a political system that hands them a large megaphone.

But against all odds, the tide is slowly but surely turing. A recent Gallup poll shows that US public opinion on marriage equality is swaying, with about 53% of all Americans currently in support of same-sex couples’ right to marry. Meanwhile, the Pentagon’s extension of benefits to same-sex partners of military personnel, as well as President Obama’s historic endorsement of marriage equality in May of last year, proves that America has achieved progress that would have been unthinkable as recently as decade ago.

Indeed, the United States has made significant strides toward marriage equality, but we still face a long haul. Proposition 8 still awaits hearing before the United States Supreme Court. Members of the Westboro Baptist Church continue to march under the slogan “God Hates Fags.” And, while the victories in the United Kingdom and France are cause for optimism, I remain convinced that we will never achieve marriage equality without hard work, strong voices, and consistent advocacy. President Obama himself said that marriage equality can only be achieved “step by step, law by law, mind by changing mind.”

We’ve got to keep going.

Photo credit: Getty Images/Justin Sullivan