Out of the Mouths of Babes

By Eileen McNamara | Boston Magazine |

NOTHING REVEALS the true priorities of politicians like tough economic times. By that measure, even the supposedly progressive lawmakers who dominate Beacon Hill are an inconsistent and cowardly lot.

Democrats in our state, reputed to be the most liberal in the nation, are eviscerating early education and nutrition programs for preschoolers despite bucketsful of evidence that show they are crucial to the successful development of disadvantaged children. Democrats, in fact, are chipping — and in some cases hacking — away at public support for the poor in general. Consider, for instance, the proposed 20 percent funding reduction for a program that literally puts food in the mouths of hungry children — even as our state’s leaders funnel billions in tax breaks to corporations with no strings attached.

State politicians sell all this as the regrettable but inevitable consequence of the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression. But that argument is particularly galling, because in the middle of that same bad economy, the state continues to find money for tax incentives for corporations — like one that just moved 1,100 jobs out of state after pocketing millions in concessions, and another that recently left Massachusetts entirely.

Instead of retooling these misguided tax policies and demanding that wealthy individuals and businesses pay more, not less, Governor Deval Patrick and the Massachusetts Legislature are advocating spending cuts that read as though they were written by Congressional Republicans bent on appeasing the anti-tax Tea Partiers on whom their political future depends. But it’s the Democrats who are pushing to reduce state aid by $65 million and slash $23 million from emergency homeless shelters, which serve many children — all while lowering the corporate tax rate from 8.75 percent to 8.25 percent.

What is going on here? Does Patrick really think he’ll be able to stump over the coming months for President Obama’s reelection by excoriating Republicans for their corporate sympathies and hostility to the poor while mimicking the same behavior at home? Does he expect thoughtful people to buy that undermining the social compact between the state of Massachusetts and its most vulnerable residents is an acceptable way to close a state budget gap estimated at between $1 billion and $2 billion?