No, Illegal Immigrants Aren’t Why Your Local Taxes Are Rising

For the second time in a year, last night, Grafton’s state representative suggested that illegal immigration stood between this community and receiving adequate state aid for education.

Let me be clear: immigration has next to zero impact on that state’s ability to dole out municipal aid for schools. The real reason we’re not getting more in municipal aid is the courage – or lack thereof – of the very people who would prefer to blame the faceless poor with whom they are unacquainted.

As my reader’s know, Grafton presently is in the midst of a structural deficit that will likely see it propose its second operational override in six years, after not having needed an override in the first thirty-four years since proposition 2.5 was instituted in 1980.

This all leading casual observers and reasonable people everywhere to wonder: what gives? Why, now, are we proposing successive overrides when we went for years without needing a single one? Can’t we, you know, just get in a room and figure it out?

We’re in the predicament that we’re in because of the way we pay for things in Massachusetts. Time was, a municipality could reasonably rely on the state to throw in for its essential services, but that has been less true over the past two decades. Twenty years ago (before the cost of healthcare went through the roof), state aid to Grafton made up approximately twenty-five (25%) of the town’s budget. Today, that number is closer to twenty (20%) percent.

If Grafton had that extra five percent in its budget, that would be an additional $3.5 MILLION DOLLARS (cap lock very deliberate). So, why isn’t the state kicking in that additional five percent anymore? Why are we cutting municipal coupons to get by?

Mostly because the state is claiming that it simply no longer has the money to give municipalities. When our state representative, David Muradian, ran for office back in 2014, he did so claiming that Massachusetts did not have a revenue problem, but rather a spending problem. In other words, Grafton isn’t getting money because the state is spending your tax dollars on other unworthy things, not because it is having trouble collecting money to give to you.

When I asked the representative last night what state spending preventing the Commonwealth from re-committing to municipalities, he offered again, as he did a year earlier when I first asked the question, that the state spends billions on providing for illegal immigrants. And for that reason, the state has less money to give municipalities than it otherwise would.

Friends, this simply is not true. Whatever the reasons are that the state is afraid to raise revenue to help your town, it does not lie with the mysterious (frequently brown-skinned) other typically (although not exclusively) residing in the more “urban” parts of the state.

The canard upon which this lie is based is a study produced by a far right wing anti-immigration group inappropriately named FAIR (Federation for American Immigration Reform), whose mission it is to reduce both legal and illegal immigration. This study has been debunked by none-other than the traditionally conservative CATO Institute (not exactly a bastion of communist/leftist thought).

FAIR’s report, upon which our representative ostensibly relies, calculates the cost of illegal immigration to be $116 billion annually, nationally. Local conservatives have, with some glee, run with the report, attempting to extrapolate from its dubious assumptions, what the cost of illegal immigration is to their individual state. But, according to CATO, “FAIR’s report reaches [its] conclusion by vastly overstating the costs of illegal immigration, undercounting the tax revenue they generate, inflating the number of illegal immigrants, counting millions of U.S. citizens as illegal immigrants, and by concocting a method of estimating the fiscal costs that is rejected by all economists who work on this subject.”

Holy smokes, that sounds bad! As in, not at all the sort of report an elected official should be relying on when he tells another elected official why his school kids have no money!

But wait, it gets worse. According to CATO, “Merely using the correct numbers when it comes to the actual size of the illegal immigrant population, the correct tax rates, and the effect of immigrants on property values lowers the net fiscal cost by 87 percent to 97 percent, down to $15.6 billion or $3.3 billion, respectively.”

I won’t get into debunking the entire report. CATO does a good job here. What you, dear voter, have to ask yourself is this: exactly how much of this crap are you going to tolerate? We’re all adults here. Can we have an honest conversation about our finances or not?

Well, here’s some straight talk: It’s true that the state doesn’t have a ton of money to give municipalities. But that is almost entirely due to a series of cuts to the state’s personal income tax adopted in the 1990s (when many of the readers of this blog were just kids), including: a cut from 5.95 percent to the current 5.05 percent in the tax rate applied to wage and salary income;  a cut from 6.00 percent to the current 5.05 percent in the tax rate applied to long-term capital gains income (the profits people make when they sell real estate, art, stocks and bonds, etc.); a cut from 12 percent to the current 5.05 percent in the tax rate applied to dividend and interest income (income derived from savings accounts, annual distributions from stocks or mutual funds, etc.); and a doubling of the personal exemption, the amount people can deduct from their taxable income, from $2,200 to $4,400 for single filers and from $4,400 to $8,800 for married couples.

In the current fiscal year (FY 2019), these four tax cuts together will deprive the Commonwealth of $4.15 billion in annual revenue.

According to the Massachusetts Budget and Policy Center, “this substantial decline in potential revenue collections has played a role in producing ongoing fiscal challenges for the Commonwealth — including severe shortfalls during economic downturns. In response to these chronic and acute budget shortfalls, state lawmakers have allowed inflation-adjusted funding to decline markedly in many program areas across the budget, such as local aid, public health, environment and recreation, and higher education.”

So, no. It’s not immigrants. It’s us. We want the things we want, but we want more of them and for less money. We have systematically, by design, invested less and less of our income in our infrastructure and services, and have received (shockingly) less in return. And worse, we’ve allowed those with the ability to pay escape it while scapegoating those who were least worthy of blame. And in a seriously racist way. Shame on us.

So.

Let’s cut that shit out, shall we? And, like adults, demand better from ourselves and our leaders so that we can come up with some solutions to the problems that we’ve foisted on ourselves.

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