You all know - I hope - that we are committed to Chapter 257. I hope you understand that we are committed to a policy of "Community First," for the sake of both better management and for the sake of honoring independence.
But let's also be clear: there are lots and lots and lots of unmet needs. Lots of them. And we are not going to be able to meet those unmet needs without new revenue. And I want to talk a little about that.
Your chairman was saying on the way in, implying that - actually, it made me feel a little under pressure - to give a kind of rabble-rousing speech today. I can do that. But I feel like being a little bit more sober right now. I've told some of you the story about, during the blizzard last month, I was out on the Pike at a point when, actually you weren't supposed to be out on the Pike. All of the big decisions had been made, in terms of whether to declare a state of emergency or the driving ban. The forecasts were confirmed, at that point, and there wasn't very much more for me to do, besides that, you know, the constant checking of the e-mail, updates on the path of the storm or the periodic briefing calls with the Cabinet. And I was coming to or from that bunker in Framingham, that I go to when I put on my famous vest, and there I was on the Pike and it was eerily empty. And I thought to myself, just as soon as this storm is over and the conditions allow, that Pike is going to be jammed with people once again. Depend on it. And I thought, you know, we get to depend on it because our grandparents enabled us to depend on it. They made decisions in their time - sacrifices in their time - about the kind of Commonwealth they wanted, and then they set about to build it.
So we get to take for granted the Pike, or the T, or the public schools, or the social safety net, because the generation before ours made a decision in their time to make decisions about the kind of Commonwealth they wanted to live in for themselves, and for us, and then they built it, and sacrificed for it. In a very, very real sense, that is the question I am asking all of us, as citizens of the Commonwealth to consider right now: what does it take, and indeed, what does it mean, to have a 21st century transportation system, a 21st century education system, a social safety net that really works, that isn't frayed, that isn't an afterthought, but is instead about reflection of the character of the Commonwealth, and are we prepared, in our time, to do what our grandparents did for us, for a generation to come? (Applause.)
It's not easy. It's not easy. The whole question of a billion dollars more, on an annual basis, to pay the bills we inherited, to fix up our roads and rails and bridges, to invest in a handful of expansion projects that we know will unlock economic opportunity in parts of the Commonwealth that have been left out and left behind, it's not a wish list. It's not everything that could be done. It's not a number picked out of the abstract. It's a series of specific ideas, specific projects, in every community, that we have built up to that number, and it is a big number. And it's big, by the way, because of all the things, over 20 years, the Commonwealth has not done. That's the nature of deferred maintenance. The longer you put it off, the more extensive it becomes.
Nine hundred million dollars more a year for education, why? Here we are, number one in the nation in student achievement. Why do we need to invest that much more new money in education? Because there are children we're leaving behind. As good as we are, there are still persistent achievement gaps. Who's stuck in those gaps? Poor children. Children with special needs. Children who speak English as a second language. Guess what? They're our children too. They're ours too. And it's an economic and a social issue to have had these persistent achievement gaps, but to let them linger and languish for 20 years, that's a moral question. That's a question of the character of this Commonwealth.
And what strategies work? Well, we know what works! We know universal access to early education works. Thirty three thousand kids on waiting lists right now, waiting for those opportunities - bringing them in, right now, works. We know extended learning time for middle schoolers in places where poverty is concentrated, we know that works. We know it matters to make public higher ed affordable, a real alternative to expensive private colleges and universities. We know that asking our community colleges to be a more robust platform for workforce development and training, for people who have been displaced by the recession who are trying to get back in, not to the job they left - because their job is gone - but into the jobs we're building right now, in the innovation sectors, in precision and advanced manufacturing, in small businesses, and in every corner of the Commonwealth, we know what works. You know what works. These aren't my ideas. They're yours. They're yours. And everybody else's. Which is why there is a beautiful consensus about the value of investing in transportation, in education and indeed in, believe it or not, our social safety net. (Applause.)
The hard part is when we start to talk about how to pay for it. That's why you all look nervous. (Laughter.) It's as if we have become allergic to the conversation about taxes, that taxes are inherently bad, when in fact they are the price of civilization. They should be fair. They should be as low as possible. But they should be enough to do what we know must be done, if we are going to create the kind of commonwealth we say we all want, and if we are unwilling to make those sacrifices, we need to understand that's a choice too. That's a choice to say that some 3- and 4-year-olds, we're going to leave behind, to say that a 21st century transportation system equal to a leading edge global economic hub is something we're simply going to set to the side and do without, and we'll just pay more in auto repairs and in tolls on the Pike and fares on the T, to patch together what we have and maybe cut some of your services, like The Ride, while we do. That's a choice that says, you know what? We're going to do the best we can with what we have, in terms of the social safety net, that rates should remain stuck the way they have been for a long, long time now, that services should be incomplete, the way they have been, in many, many corners, for a long, long time, that we can't bring it on ourselves to ask of ourselves to ask what our grandparents asked of themselves in their time. That's a choice.
I think that as a commonwealth, we are up to a better choice. I think there's a way to do this. There's more than one way. What I have proposed, as you know, is to cut the sales tax and raise the income tax, and double the exemptions. The bottom line is that if you make about $65,000 or less your total taxes will either stay the same or go down. If you make more than $65,000 your total taxes would go up according to your ability to pay, and you'd get a whole lot more for that. There are other ways to do this. But not doing this is not a good choice. It's not a choice worthy of our Commonwealth; it's not a choice worthy of our grandparents. And by the way, making that choice, when our grandparents did, led to the biggest expansion in job creation in the history of humankind. And it will this time, too. So the growth that we have had, nation-leading growth, the direct result of investing in education, and in transportation, and in innovation, even during the downturn, is the reason that we have come out of the recession faster than most other states. The question is, are you prepared to invest a little more to accelerate that growth, and to rebuild this Commonwealth, and to leave it better for a generation to come?
Americans are, I think, preternaturally disposed not to leave the things we really believe are important to chance. You ever notice that? When we decided that education was important, we created public schools and land grant universities. When we decided that settling the West was important, we built the transcontinental railroad. When we decided that freedom was really important - not just a rhetorical flourish, but really important - we freed the slaves. We gave women the right to vote. We started down a journey on civil and human rights around which and about which people with disabilities have also taken their rightful place. We don't leave what we believe is important to chance. We shape our own future, as Americans. So the question I am asking, that you join me to fight, that you engage with the Legislature and with your neighbors and with your skeptical coworkers and friends on, is not an abstract question about taxes. It's about whether the vision of the Commonwealth we share is important enough to share, or to leave to chance. I think it's important enough to share, and that's why I choose growth, and I look forward to working with you. Thank you so much.