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Brutal Austerity Is Coming To A Statehouse Near You

Reprinted with permission from AlterNet.

The incoming Trump administration understandably frightens liberals, but right-wing successes at a state level would have moved forward regardless of who won the election. Only four states currently have a Democratic governor and a Democratic state legislature. What’s more, bipartisan support for policies of austerity and neoliberalism have led to vast social spending cuts across the country regardless of political affiliation.

Here are five proposed budget cuts that should have progressives up in arms.

1. Maine’s Tea Party Governor Wants to Kick Thousand of People Off Medicaid and Block a Tax Increase for the State’s Richest Citizens: Maine’s Question 2 vote was hailed by many as one of election day’s only progressive victories. Maine voters approved a ballot initiative that would tax Maine residents making more than $200,000 an extra 3% a year and put the money toward the state’s education budget.

The question was vigorously opposed by Paul LePage, Maine’s infamous right-wing governor, and his new budget looks to retroactively defeat the measure despite the fact it was approved by voters. LePage’s new budget would delay the implementation of Question 2, while working in reductions to the state’s income tax. In the end, Maine’s education funding would be financed by the state’s highest and lowest earners, a complete change from what citizens actually voted for.

LePage’s budget would also cut eligibility for MaineCare, the state’s Medicaid program for parents who are able to work and who currently earn over 40 percent than the federal poverty level. This would knock 19,000 people off of a Medicaid, in addition to the 40,000 LePage has already removed from the program.

2. Texas Is Cutting Disabled Kids’ Therapy Service: Texas’ GOP-controlled state legislature recently cut its Medicaid program by $350 million. Critics warn that the cuts could be particularly devastating for disabled children in the state, as it drastically reduces the amount of money paid toward therapists who assist vulnerable kids.

A group of citizens attempted to block the cuts through a lawsuit, but the Texas Supreme Court refused to hear the case. Stephanie Rubin, CEO of an advocacy group called Texans Care for Children, sent the Texas Tribune an email about the potential impact of the cuts:

“This is terrible news for Texas kids with disabilities and developmental delays and their families. Kids with autism, speech delays, Down syndrome, and other disabilities and delays rely on these therapies to learn to walk, communicate with their families, get ready for school, and meet other goals.”

3. Massachusetts Is Cutting $12 Million in Education: Massachusetts has a reputation as the bluest of blue states, but its governor is Republican businessman Charlie Baker. In December, Baker announced $98 million in budget cuts, with education taking a $12 million hit. Massachusetts’ legislature voted to override many of these same cuts last summer, but the Baker administration has unilaterally made them all over again. The budget for a program designed to help immigrant students learn English skills was cut in half.

4. Connecticut Is Cutting $50 Million in School and Municipal Funding: Connecticut has a Democratic governor in Dannel Malloy, but he has been taken to task by local progressives for doubling down on policies of austerity. The latest dustup revolves around $50 million in new cuts, including a $20 million reduction in education spending. Mark Boughton, the mayor of Danbury, tells the Hartford Courant: “This is really horrible timing. Education is one of the most important things we do. I was shocked to see that. I’m going to have to tell our school superintendent he’s going to have to cut $250,000 or start laying people off.”

The Courant points out that the cuts primarily impact the state’s wealthiest areas, but it also quotes Greenwich First Selectman Peter Tesei, who argues that this fact is deceptive. “What’s going on is a redistribution of the burden,” says Tesei, “The perception of Greenwich is that it’s a super-affluent community. And yes, there’s affluence, but there’s also citizens living at or below state poverty levels.”

5. New Mexico Is Cutting Take-Home Pay For State Workers and Teachers: New Mexico Governor Susana Martinez doesn’t want to raise taxes so she’s finding other ways to cut spending. The state has already cut millions of dollars from its budget over recent months, but Martinez wants to reduce the amount of money the state contributes to the retirement plans of teachers and state workers.

Democrats retake control of New Mexico’s House this year, so many expect a battle to ensue with Dems arguing for an alternative approach of raised taxes. NMPolitics.net quotes Rachel Minnaar, a teaching assistant in Albuquerque, who is deeply concerned about the proposal. “TAs get next to nothing and most have second or even third jobs,” she said, “We can’t afford to lower wages unless we want to put people out on the streets or make them completely reliant on social programs and welfare.”

Michael Arria is an associate editor at AlterNet and AlterNet’s labor editor. Follow @MichaelArria on Twitter.

IMAGE:  MattGagnon via Wikimedia Commons

Former Senator Writes Moving Essay About Finding Love With a Man After His Wife Died

Published with permission from Alternet.

Former Pennsylvania Senator Harris Wofford had an essay in Sunday’s New York Times detailing how he fell in love with a man after his wife died 20 years ago.

Wofford’s seat was taken by Rick Santorum, a politician well-known for his anti-LGBT stances. Wofford, who is now 90, wrote that he met his current companion, 40-year-old Matthew Charlton, five years after his wife died of leukemia and they will be married later this month. Among other things, the piece is a powerful testament to how marriage equality has helped so many lives:

Too often, our society seeks to label people by pinning them on the wall — straight, gay or in between. I don’t categorize myself based on the gender of those I love. I had a half-century of marriage with a wonderful woman, and now am lucky for a second time to have found happiness.

For a long time, I did not suspect that idea and fate might meet in my lifetime to produce same-sex marriage equality. My focus was on other issues facing our nation, especially advancing national service for all. Seeking to change something as deeply ingrained in law and public opinion as the definition of marriage seemed impossible.

I was wrong, and should not have been so pessimistic. I had seen firsthand — working and walking with the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. — that when the time was right, major change for civil rights came to pass in a single creative decade. It is right to expand our conception of marriage to include all Americans who love each other.

You can read Wofford’s essay in its entirety here.

Photo: Flickr user Why Tuesday

Verizon CEO Visits Striking Workers, Tells Them ‘I’m Not Sure Why You’re Out Here’

This piece originally appeared on Alternet.

A video uploaded to YouTube by a striking Verizon worker shows Verizon CEO Lowell McAdam addressing workers at a picket line in DeWitt, New York.

McAdam made an unannounced stop in DeWitt, where he spoke with the workers for 15 minutes before attending a meeting with managers at the Verizon office. McAdam told the striking workers he didn’t understand why employees had walked off the job Wednesday, in the largest U.S. work stoppage since 2011.

“I don’t know what you’re being told about why the union leadership didn’t accept mediation,” McAdam said. “For me, if there’s a disagreement and after 10 months you can’t get there, mediation makes a lot of sense.”

When workers questioned the CEO about Verizon transferring jobs overseas, McAdam claimed he wasn’t aware of such changes. “At 178,000 employees, you think there might be things going on around the business I don’t know about?” he said. He told them he would look into the claims of outsourcing.

McAdam made headlines last week when he referred to Bernie Sanders’ economic views as “uninformed” and “contemptible.” McAdam posted the comments shortly after Sanders visited a group of striking workers to pledge solidarity and call out McAdam for his labor policies.

Watch the video of McAdam’s comments at the picket line below:

Michael Arria is an associate editor at AlterNet and the author of Medium Blue: The Politics of MSNBC. Follow @MichaelArria on Twitter.

Photo: Lowell McAdam, President of Verizon, at Fortune Brainstorm TECH at the Aspen Institute Campus. Sam Churchill/Flickr

Elizabeth Warren Takes On Tax Preparation Industry With New Legislation To Make Filing Easier

Reposted with permission from Alternet

With Tax Day nearing, Elizabeth Warren has introduced legislation that would simplify tax filing and lower the cost for Americans. The Massachusetts senator introduced the Tax Filing Simplification Act, which would direct the Internal Revenue Service to create a free tax preparation and filing service.

Warren explained the importance of the bill in a press release:

Congress should be making it easier for Americans to file their taxes each year, not bowing to the interests of the tax prep industry. The Tax Filing Simplification Act is a commonsense bill that would help taxpayers all across this country file their taxes with less stress and fewer costs, and it would push the IRS to use the authority it already has to simplify Tax Day for all Americans.

Americans pay an average of $200 a year in tax filing services, so it’s little surprise that the tax preparation industry opposes a shift to free filing. Intuit, the company that owns TurboTax, has spent over $13 million lobbying against efforts to simplify the process. A staff report, relesed by Warren in conjunction with the legislation, points out that:

The tax-filing burden is an essential part of the tax preparation industry’s business model, and the industry sees return-free filing as a fundamental threat to its operations. As a result, the industry has devised numerous ways to oppose a return-free filing system, spending millions of dollars lobbying Congress against return-free filing and mounting fake “grassroots” campaigns against return-free filing.

Elizabeth Warren certainly isn’t the first politician to call for free filing. The Obama administration supports it and a recent Vox piece quotes a Ronald Reagan speech from 1985:

We envision a system where more than half of us would not even have to fill out a return. We call it the return-free system, and it would be totally voluntary. If you decided to participate, you would automatically receive your refund or a letter explaining any additional tax you owe. Should you disagree with this figure, you would be free to fill out your taxes using the regular form. We believe most Americans would go from the long form or the short form to no form.

Read the complete text of Warren’s bill on her website.

Photo: U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren speaks with a fellow guest as they arrive for U.S. President Barack Obama to sign the Every Student Succeeds Act into law in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building at the White House in Washington, December 10, 2015. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst