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Somerville Rallies to Help Rush Street Fire Victims

Our communities have responded with great urgency and support after 32 people where displaced last week by a fire on Rush Street in Somerville. The Somerville Homeless Coalition (SHC) has set up an online fundraiser, which, as of now, has raised almost $19,000 for the victims. For those interested in donating, please visit this link to help the SHC reach its $25,000 goal.

Additionally, the City of Somerville has set up a donation drive to help the victims get much needed clothing items to ease their burden during this difficult time of transition. If you wish to contribute, items can be delivered to the Cummings School on 42 Prescott Street in Somerville, through the purple door off of the Prescott Playground area, Monday through Friday between 8:30am – 3:00pm. Below is list of items needed by the victims – please make sure that the clothing (particularly undergarments) are new or in excellent condition and pre-laundered:

Men: (need multiples of sweatshirts, T-shirts, underwear, sweatpants, socks)

Pants/Jeans: 33X 32 34X32
Shoes: 9, 9.5, 10
Sneakers: 9, 9.5, 10 (2)
T-Shirts: L
Underwear: M
Shirts: L
Sweatshirts /Sweaters: L
Belt: 34

Women: (need multiples of sweatshirts, T-shirts, underwear, sweatpants,socks)
Sandals: 6.5
Slippers: 6.5
Sneakers: 7, 8.5
Sweat shirt with zipper: M
Jeans: 28/ M
Sweat Pants: M
T shirts: M
Bras: 36 B
Pajamas: M
Underwear: M

Children’s:

Boys
Pants/jeans: size 16, 8 (2)
Sweatshirts and sweatpants: Sm, Med, Large
Shirt: sm, med, large, XL
Underwear: sm, m, l, xl

Girls
Girls size 12, 10, 8
Sweatshirt/pants: Sm, Med, Large
Underwear: sm, m, l

Infant:
Girls 6-8 months

GLX Legislators Push Back Against Public Meeting Cancellation

I was very concerned to learn last night that MassDOT plans to cancel its final public meeting on the Green Line Extension design review, which was originally planned for the evening of May 5th. Given the importance of this project to the Somerville, Cambridge, and Medford communities, I oppose this decision, which will eliminate a key opportunity for the public to be involved in the GLX design review process. Below is a letter that members of the GLX delegation sent to Secretary Pollack this afternoon.

20160428_GLX_Public_Meeting_Letter

Revenue Committee Votes in Favor of “Fair Share Tax”

The Joint Committee on Revenue voted 12-4 in favor of the “Fair Share Tax” amendment during an Executive Session yesterday. This was the next in a series of steps necessary before the initiative can appear on the 2018 ballot – the initiative now must receive 50 affirmative votes at a Constitutional Convention during the current legislative session, and 50 affirmative votes at a Constitutional Convention during the next legislative session. As I wrote in this op-ed, this proposal would create a more even effective tax rate across all income levels – the poorest Massachusetts residents are currently paying an effective tax rate that is on average 38% higher than that of top earners – as well as address the Commonwealth’s unsustainable income inequality gap by investing in transportation, roads and bridges, and public education.

“Fair Share Tax” Receives Hearing on Beacon Hill

Today, Massachusetts took a small step toward attaining a fairer tax system. The legislature’s Joint Committee on Revenue heard public testimony on an initiative petition that would establish an additional tax on incomes over $1 million. This hearing is a key step in a four-year process that would potentially put the question of a “fair share tax” before the Commonwealth’s voters in 2018.

Members of the Joint Committee on Revenue listen and take notes during public testimony on the Fair Share Tax amendment.

Members of the Joint Committee on Revenue listen and take notes during public testimony on the Fair Share Tax amendment.

Before I go into greater detail about this proposal and why I think it’s a good idea, it might be helpful to present some background information on the income tax in Massachusetts.

Currently, it is unconstitutional in the state of Massachusetts for the government to tax different income levels at different rates. This restriction originates from Article 44 of the Massachusetts Constitution, which was ratified by the state’s voters in 1915.

Article 44 is probably most well known as the reason Massachusetts has a flat income tax rate for people of all income levels.  When article 44 was ratified by the state’s voters, it was during the advent of stocks, bonds, and other financial instruments–a new class of property known as intangible property that had not been encountered previously. The tax system of the time allowed municipalities to set their own tax rates on intangible property (as they do with other types of property, such as real estate), which lead to varying tax rates throughout the state, typically with cities having the highest rates. Under this system, the wealthy would often shift domiciles from cities to towns in order to take advantage of lower tax rates, and in some cases, to try their luck at hiding intangible income from assessors that had fewer resources at hand to ensure all owed tax was being collected.

Article 44 sought to remedy this situation by establishing the power of the General Court (the formal name for the state’s legislature) to levy state-wide taxes on various classes of income, including intangible income, as long as tax rates were uniform for each class. So, although many see article 44 as a limit on the legislature’s power to establish a more nuanced income tax system in the present day, at the time it was a major expansion of the legislative branch’s power to levy taxes.

While the establishment of a state income tax that applies equally to residents regardless of city or town made sense in 1915–and continues to make sense today–the requirement that the income tax rate be flat for all income levels has proven to be inherently unequal. For a single mother making $45,000 per year in greater Boston, every dollar is important. She spends a great deal of her income on basic necessities for her family like shelter, transportation, food, and clothing (some of which are taxed, some not). However, as a person’s income increases, the proportion of their income that they must spend on basic needs decreases. They spend a smaller percentage of their total income on necessities that are subject to other forms of taxation, like sales and fuel taxes, and when you add up all the taxes an individual or family pays over the course of the year, it turns out that the richest 1% are being taxed at a lower rate than middle and working class families.

Right now, the poorest Massachusetts residents wind up paying more of their income in taxes than anyone else. Chart produced by the Massachusetts Budget and Policy Center, CC BY 4.0.

Right now, the poorest Massachusetts residents wind up paying more of their income in taxes than anyone else. Chart produced by the Massachusetts Budget and Policy Center, CC BY 4.0.

There have been many attempts to correct this phenomenon–the personal income exemption, the earned income tax credit, and exemptions for food and clothing from the state sales tax, to name a few. However, these solutions often require a reduction in state revenue because the legislature is constitutionally barred from asking the highest earners to make up the difference.

For this reason, I feel that it is time for Massachusetts to amend its constitution to allow for more equitable effective tax rates. Which brings us back to today’s hearing.

Before the Revenue Committee was H.3933, a constitutional amendment which would create an additional 4% tax on income over $1 million. This is a simple, straightforward proposal that will create parity between the effective tax rates paid by the richest and the poorest in Massachusetts, and in doing so, will raise an estimated $1.9 billion annually to finance public education, roads and bridges, and public transportation.

In order for this proposal to appear on the ballot in 2018, it must receive 50 affirmative votes at a Constitutional Convention during the current legislative session, and 50 affirmative votes at a Constitutional Convention during the next legislative session. The next convention is set for February 3rd, 2016.

 

Cambridge City Council Meetings Have a Brand New Look (Online, that is)

Cambridge City Council meetings are now available to view in an enhanced web format through the City’s brand new Open Meeting Portal. As meetings progress, viewers will now see relevant agenda items automatically appear alongside the new high definition video broadcast, making it easier to follow along at home. The Open Meeting Portal also provides a powerful new search function, allowing users to easily search through over a decade’s worth of minutes, agendas, and roll calls.

The Open Meeting Portal will also display information about upcoming meetings, so make sure to check it out and add it to your bookmarks. It can be accessed here: https://cambridgema.iqm2.com/Citizens/Default.aspx

Thoughts on Volpe and CRA Up-Zoning

Two zoning petitions are currently before the City Council that will dramatically increase the development potential in Kendall Square and East Cambridge. The first is best known as the Volpe Rezoning and the second is a petition by the Cambridge Redevelopment Authority (CRA) to increase the square footage of the MXD district by approximately 1 million square feet. In my opinion neither of these proposals will be ready for ordination by the end of the term and I do not plan on voting in favor of either one in its current form.

With the Volpe rezoning we have an opportunity to use 14 acres in the heart of Kendall Square to redefine what Kendall will be for future generations. It is a complicated petition for sure, due to the economics of the site and the need for the future developer to construct a new facility for the Federal Government. It is the sort of hypothetical development scenario they base graduate courses on at MIT. The economics of the site—the affordable housing component, the allowed heights versus open space, the cost of a new building—is the primary sticking point in this process, and frankly I have not been presented with a compelling enough case on this point to consider voting in favor of the petition.

NASA officials examine a model of the Electronics Research Center, which became the Volpe Center when it was transferred from NASA to DOT in the early 1970s.

NASA officials examine a model of the Electronics Research Center, which became the Volpe Center when it was transferred from NASA to DOT in the early 1970s.

More work needs to be done, more questions need to be answered, and more feedback from residents of East Cambridge and The Port needs to be incorporated. The East Cambridge Planning Team has spent many hours examining the proposal and have some thoughtful alternatives that should be considered or hard evidence needs to be presented to explain why that concept cannot be done.

Just across the street we are presented with a second up-zoning of the CRA parcels which would allow 1 million square feet of additional development. Again, I haven’t heard a compelling argument on why we should be considering an additional 1 million square feet at this location with 3 million square feet being proposed across the street at Volpe.

Perhaps with more information, discussion, and community feedback we can find a proposal that works for Cambridge’s future. These petitions are not there yet, and I will not be supporting them in their current form.

HONK! Fest is Back This Weekend

Activist street bands will fill the streets of Somerville and Cambridge this weekend for the 2015 edition of HONK! Fest.  The festival’s hosts describe it as a street music revolution in which bands present a diverse fusion of folkloric and modern sounds in the spirit of Mardi Gras. The festival is for free and will run throughout the weekend. For more information on the bands and the festival, please visit the official HONK! fest homepage or their Facebook page.

Construction Underway on Grand Junction Path

After years of hard work and persistent advocacy, the first shovel has finally hit the ground on the Grand Junction Path in Cambridge.

GJP_Con1

Years ago, I successfully led a unified community effort to stop a state proposal that would have seen the path be used for commuter rail trains and ethanol transportation. Since then, along with advocates like Friends of the Grand Junction and Friends of the Community Path, I have worked with the Massachusetts Department of Transportation, MIT, and the Cambridge Redevelopment Authority to develop plans that will turn the Grand Junction into a safe pedestrian and bicycle path that will act as an urban necklace connecting thousands of Cambridge residents to businesses, parks, and schools. As this brief 2013 video below shows, once completed, the Grand Junction Path would improve community livability by creating a streamlined connection between Cambridgeport, Area 4, Harrington/Wellington, and East Cambridge. There remains a lot of hard work to be done before this project is complete, but I’m optimistic that we’ll get there because of the dedicated commitment of all the stakeholders involved. Please click this link to an update I posted earlier this year for more info on the Grand Junction Path Project.

Cambridge Delegation Reports Back on El Salvador Trip

In April, a delegation of nine Cambridge residents traveled to El Salvador to learn about the realities in El Salvador and visit Cambridge’s sister city of 28 years. The delegation of CRLS students, teachers and community activists met with women’s groups, youth leaders and organizers in San Salvador to learn about the history and current situation before traveling to Las Flores for five days.

The delegates are excited to be sharing their experiences in the forms of images and words at a report back/Salsa evening May 15th from 5:30-9 at the Amigos school, 15 Upton Street (off Magazine in Cambridgeport). Welcoming for all ages and families, the Salsa evening will have food followed by a performance and salsa lesson from MetaMovements.

The delegates are Amigos music teacher Sharon Hamel, Cambridge organizer Stephanie Guirand, CRLS students – Emma Ramsdell, Maribel Rawson-Stone and Jesse Simmons, CRLS media staff Erica Modugno, and Sister City Project founders Nancy Ryan, Cathy Hoffman and Rachel Wyon.

Progress Continues on Grand Junction Path

Exciting times are ahead for the Grand Junction Multiuse Path.  Last month the Cambridge Redevelopment Authority (CRA) announced that they would start construction this year on the first section of the path. When the shovel hits the ground, it will be a true milestone in the history of this project.

What makes the Grand Junction Multiuse Path such an important project is its ability to connect so many amenities in Cambridge and Somerville. By connecting existing parks and public facilities throughout the corridor, the path will act as an urban necklace that makes open space and other neighborhoods more accessible for residents of Cambridgeport, Area 4, Harrington/Wellington and East Cambridge.  It has the potential to serve as a critical link between paths along (and over) the Charles River on one end and as a connection to the Somerville Community Path and Minuteman Commuter Bikeway on the other. It has immense potential to improve the quality of life for our neighborhoods by providing safe pedestrian and cyclist access to a large part of Cambridge, including a number of schools and parks.

An overnight success this is not.  It’s the culmination of many years of hard work, patience, and focus. Advocates like Friends of the Grand Junction have greatly contributed to the viability and public awareness of this project. Friends of the Community Path, whose primary focus has been on the Somerville Community Path, have worked with MassDOT to guarantee that a future connection between the Somerville Community Path and the Grand Junction Multiuse Path would not be physically obstructed by the Green Line Extension. These groups, along with many residents and officials, have had the vision to look ahead to the path’s creation, and have found ways to leverage new development to make progress on the Grand Junction path.

Along the way we have dealt with proposed uses for the Grand Junction route for Commuter Rail Trains and Ethanol Transport that could have impacted future use as a multiuse path. Advocates, legislators, and the community have been able to suppress both proposals and preserve the viability of the Grand Junction Multiuse Path.

The start of construction on a portion of the path–which has been made possible through the help of MIT and the CRA—means that we must continue to work to find ways to make construction of the entire path possible.  At a recent council meeting I moved to take two steps that I believe will keep this momentum going.  The first is asking the CRA to continue its work with the City of Cambridge to help us understand the complexities of land uses along the path heading towards the Somerville boarder.  With their help we can start to make progress on portions of the path that have yet to be studied in depth.

More importantly I have asked the City of Cambridge to consider creating a Grand Junction Overlay District along the length of the path.  An overlay district can help to shape the vision of the path while attempting to alleviate some possible obstacles identified by many studies of the project. It can help to preserve setbacks while ensuring development won’t encroach on the path while allowing more flexibility to landowners who may be redeveloping parcels along the path.  This will help our long term visions and goals for the corridor and I hope get people more excited about what this can be. Imagine a future where instead of the rails being a back alley, they are embraced and it becomes the front door to future residents, students and retail that want to take advantage of a bustling, commuter-centric path connecting the eastern half of Cambridge.

There remains much work to be done, but at the moment I will be happy to see the first shovels break ground.

If you want to hear more about the Grand Junction please join us at the Transportation Committee Meeting at 4 pm on Wednesday, March 25 at City Hall.