IN RECENT WEEKS, leading business groups in Massachusetts have urged newly-elected Gov. Maura Healey to focus on the state’s economic competitiveness. As current or former leaders of organizations that employ thousands of people in Massachusetts, we agree that making Massachusetts more competitive must be a top priority for state leaders.
However, some groups are using the issue of competitiveness as an excuse to rehash arguments against the Fair Share Amendment, which passed by a solid majority of voters last November. Rather than recycling rationales that voters rejected, or lobbying for new tax cuts that would contradict the expressed will of the electorate, it’s now time for state leaders, municipal officials, and business and community leaders to focus on how to invest the funds resulting from this amendment for the betterment of our state.
For us, competitiveness requires at least two things: talent and infrastructure. The biggest challenge for Massachusetts companies today is finding employees with the right skills. Massachusetts needs more well-educated workers to support the sectors driving our economy, and better infrastructure – especially our transportation system – so that we can retain them.
Too many local school systems just don’t have the funds to adequately educate their students. Our public colleges and universities aren’t able to train enough students for the 21st century workforce. Public universities are chronically underfunded even as the cost of education to families has risen sharply.
Whether homegrown in Massachusetts or arriving from out of state, potential hires need a reliable way to get to work. When we do find the talent we need, the traffic congestion in Greater Boston and the poor state of our state’s public transit systems hurt our ability to get employees to where they need to be.
As employers, we have had numerous examples of potential hires who refuse to come to Massachusetts when they realized how much it would cost to buy a home in a well-funded school district or how complicated their commute would be. And, as the Boston Globe recently reported, Massachusetts’s middle-class workers are limited by our crumbling transportation system and the high cost of education, leading some to leave for other states.
We supported the Fair Share Amendment last year because we believe it will both make our tax system fairer and boost our economy. The people of Massachusetts, including many in wealthy communities, agreed. The Fair Share Amendment is now a permanent part of our state’s constitution, bringing us more in line with the 32 other states that have graduated income taxes.
Now, it’s time to focus on concrete proposals for investing the funds to improve our competitiveness. The state budget process, unfolding between now and July, will allocate $1 billion in Fair Share revenues for the upcoming fiscal year. Deciding where exactly it should go is an opportunity for elected officials and citizens alike.
We urge individuals to engage in forward-looking conversations grounded in concrete proposals. Work with your legislators to determine specific ways that the revenues from the amendment can be used to make Massachusetts work better. What transit projects would help your city’s residents get to work more easily? What educational programs would help train the employees you need to fill upcoming vacancies? What investments in education and transportation would help encourage your residents or employees to keep building a career here in Massachusetts? This is the public discussion we need to have now.
With the election of Maura Healey, Massachusetts begins a new era. If we can focus on proactive solutions, rather than continuing to fight lost battles, we have an opportunity to make real progress on the economic challenges our state faces.
Mohamad Ali is the chief executive officer of IDG, Inc. Anne Margulies is the former chief information officer of Harvard University.