Written Testimony in Support of Massachusetts House Bill 1582

Proud to have publicly testified in support of this legislation. Below is a transcript of the written testimony.

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Joint Committee on Revenue

Testimony in support of H.1582, An Act establishing a college tuition tax deduction

Chairperson Michael Brady, Chairperson Jay Kaufman, and members of the committee,

The Teenage Republicans of Massachusetts and the Youth Conservatives of Massachusetts strongly encourage the approval of H.1582, an Act establishing a college tuition tax deduction.

House Bill 1582 establishes a college tuition tax deduction that allows the individual (whether it be student or guardian) paying the tuition to deduct 50% of the cost of in-state public college tuition from their income.

As we high school students gear up for college, affordability and possible debt linger on our minds. We all value our education and seek to extend it to the college level, but many students our age across the Commonwealth simply cannot afford to attain that high level of education. We believe that government should strive to make a public college education cheaper through a bipartisan approach of tax deductions, not free tuition.

At the core, House Bill 1582 is a reward for students who choose to invest in their education and future. Students that choose to attend the public institutions in Massachusetts should be rewarded because they are generating more revenue for the state by staying here. While this tax deduction does not dramatically lower the cost of higher education, it still has a positive impact. For example, the current in-state tuition at UMass Amherst is $15,411 per year. As a result of this tax deduction, the individual paying tuition would save $392.98 per academic year, which would total $1571.92 over four years if there are no changes in tuition costs.

This tax deduction can be a deciding factor in choosing a public school versus a private school meaning there is a possibility that it would bring more revenue to the state. This bill incentivizes students to stay in-state for higher education, thus further pushing Massachusetts’ education system higher than it currently is (ie. makes it more competitive and successful).

Another positive effect of this bill is that the money that is saved by the students will either be put in the bank or reinvested in the economy while providing the students or guardians with more monetary flexibility without reducing any funding going toward the school directly.

Ideally we would support the 20% college tuition tax credit (S. 1590) to further enhance economic flexibility and college affordability, but we understand that in the budget’s current situation this credit would result in too much lost revenue for the state.

Ultimately, this bill serves as a bipartisan compromise that can appeal to those who want to provide relief from college costs as well as those who want to lower taxes.

Today more than yesterday, and yesterday more than the day before, students and their families are burdened with student debt. It is often reflected in our friends, our families, our neighbors, and our communities. Student debt has become a fundamental component of society, and therefore these struggling families ask you as legislators to aid them in a reasonable manner.

This bill incentivizes use of our public schools, allowing maintenance and growth, keeping Massachusetts at the forefront of education. As our schools continue to collect the unaffected cost of tuition, they will be able to further invest in on-campus developments.

This bill drives achievement, and achievement is bipartisan. We kindly ask for support of this bill regardless of political affiliation so that we can deliver common sense higher education reform to the people of the Commonwealth.

Sincerely, Mike Brodo, Brandon Fontaine and Samuel Leone

Trump is Wrong to End Michelle Obama’s Girls Education Program

I have linked my friend Sara’s article at the bottom. The text below includes some of my thoughts.

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As some of you know, I aspire to be a diplomat for the US State Department. Over the past few years, I have become more and more interested in being a diplomat in Africa with my primary focus being empowering women through education and achieving gender equality. Most of the problems in Africa are not as purely economic or material as they seem, but rather consequences of a society where half of the population’s knowledge, talents, and possible contributions are disregarded solely due to their sex. I am disappointed with the Trump administration for ending this more than worthy program. As the leading nation of the free world, we should be a shining example of gender equality, and thus promote female education programs around the world.

Source: Trump is Wrong to End Michelle Obama’s Girls’ Education Program

Holliston should allow sale of marijuana

Article first appeared in the MetroWest Daily News

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Last year, Massachusetts voters approved a ballot measure legalizing marijuana for recreational use. Months into legalization, there is still confusion and uncertainty regarding the future of marijuana retail shops. In Holliston, voters next month will consider prohibiting the sale of marijuana in our town, an option allowed under the law. It would be a mistake. Banning marijuana shops limits the possibility of economic and educational growth, and makes our town less safe.

Lacking a supermarket and many chain stores, Holliston is the epitome of small town America. Permitting marijuana shops allows local small business owners, not illicit dealers and cartels, to thrive. Growth means income for families, not profit for illegal activities.

Some argue that these shops will attract crime here, but that stereotype is misguided. Marijuana users come from all backgrounds and use marijuana for various reasons. Moreover, allowing legal sale of the drug will actually enhance safety. For years, marijuana has been traded under a cloud of uncertainty and danger. Retail shops allow marijuana to be sold in a regulated and safe environment, preventing violence at drug deals. This regulated environment also frees police to focus on violent crime and the opioid epidemic that plagues our state.

As a former Holliston public school student, I am disappointed by cuts that have been imposed on our town’s successful education system. Holliston schools are at the core of our town pride, and we should maintain our level of success. Access to technology has become increasingly crucial, and the need for counselors, mental health services, and special education programs are always vital. Allowing retail sales of marijuana in the town could help avoid those educational cuts in the future because the law allows town the option of levying a two percent local tax on marijuana sales that would be paid by non-resident as well as resident customers.

Growing small business, providing a safe and thriving community for our residents, and funding our exceptional schools are all key Holliston values. Holliston residents will benefit from marijuana retail shops in town; oppose this misguided ban and vote for a thriving and prosperous future for our town.

The Staircase of Happiness

Happiness is a staircase. Happiness is the ultimate goal of the human race. It is sought after and worked for, but spending all of one’s time and effort in doing so completely misses the key to happiness. Happiness is not something that is just a future possibility, but a present reality. While greater and more long lasting happiness should be worked for, it is imperative to enjoy the happiness of today. Otherwise, the benefits and fruits of all our hard work will never be appreciated. What’s the point in working on something if you will never enjoy its benefits or journey along the way? Why perpetually cook a meal that will never be enjoyed? Over the 17 year course of my life, I have come to realize these truths. While I continue to strive for greater goals, I try to be content and happy in the moment.

When I was younger, I always wanted more and I always wanted better. I continuously begged my dad to teach me how to ride a bike at four years old, and after weeks of practice I accomplished that goal. Smiling back at my dad after he let go of the bike, I achieved that happiness for a small moment in time. But just days later, riding a bike no longer filled me with that same happiness. I saw my neighbor riding his bike with no hands, and I decided that was what I wanted to do next. That would bring me happiness. While this feat took much longer to accomplish, it yielded the same result as before: momentary happiness that faded off, in search of a new goal. I was accomplishing my goals, but I was running up the staircase. Each step is a piece of happiness, and as they ascend, they become pieces of larger happiness. Running up the staircase meant my foot would only contact the step for a split second before lifting in search of bigger steps. And while speeding up the staircase, I was unable to enjoy the ascension. In fact, it made me tired.

Today, I ascend the staircase much differently. Instead of bolting up the staircase without enjoying the process, I now firmly plant one foot into my current state of happiness, and lift the other foot in search of a higher and larger step. In the present moment, I am happy. I have accomplished many of my early goals, but more importantly I enjoy the ascension up the steps. Because I am not bolting up the steps, I am able to gaze out upon the steps below me: my accomplishments. That A on the history test was an accomplishment itself that made me happy in that moment, but it was also part of the journey toward larger steps of happiness. My formal education exists to provide me with endless opportunities so that I can be even happier later in life. But viewing the past and education only as working toward happiness will never result in happiness. While doing math homework is definitely not a source of my happiness, I must appreciate the happiness that it will bring me later, but also acknowledge the positives in the moment; I am succeeding and maybe listening to a favorite song. In that moment, most of the happiness depends on my view of it. I can try to eradicate the small source of frustration and allow my future happiness to diminish in size, or I can enjoy the little pieces of happiness in that moment and work toward a better and brighter future.

On the staircase, I can also see the happiness that lies ahead, something I must work for. And while simultaneously observing my past achievements and future goals, I can pause and enjoy my current state of happiness. I have accumulated good grades, spent time with friends, and explored my interests so far in life. In those moments, I lived in the moment. Enjoying those little moments and being able to forget about the rest of the world and the future is key to achieving happiness. While continuously living in the moment can be dangerous, it must be done at certain times. Always living in the moment can lead to less work toward future happiness, meaning it is pausing on one step for too long and letting the higher and larger steps disappear. Never living in the moment is rushing up the steps like I did as a child, which never allows a full enjoyment of happiness. What I have learned is to find a certain balance on the amount of time I stay on one step depending on what that step may be. I will stay on the step of being accepted into college longer than getting an A on a Spanish quiz.

What lies ahead is a journey to expand my horizons, and enjoy even greater happiness in the future. But what makes happiness a staircase and not a hamster wheel is that I will enjoy every step of happiness along the way, and as I ascend higher into the skies of happiness, I will never forget how I got there: slow, appreciative, content, and determined. One step at a time, I will continue to rise. I will be happier one day, but I am happy now.

A Week on the Border: Simple Gestures

Here is the first installment in the “A Week on the Border” series. This happens to be a reflection I wrote for theology class.

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Over February break I traveled to San Diego and Tecate, Mexico as part of the Global Encounter program. As the week progressed, I gained knowledge and perspectives on some of the most important issues of today. When I first stepped off the plane into the beautiful and majestic San Diego airport, I didn’t know what to expect. I chose the trip for a few reasons: to learn about immigration firsthand, to help those in need, to take a break from the frigid New England weather, and to enjoy a week with my fellow classmates. Not only were these hopes and expectations met, they were completely surpassed.

Over the course of the trip, I began to put the puzzle pieces together regarding the issue of immigration and its effects, both tangible and intangible. Even on both sides of the border there were multiple different perspectives and views of the issues. Every group was upset with certain injustices on the justice triangle. While the distinction regarding what is just for the topic of immigration can vary based on the lens someone views it, it became evident to me that the border has breaks and shortcomings on the justice triangle from the human perspective. Whether American or Mexican, legal or illegal, the issues on the border are a human problem. We cannot point fingers across the border or blame the government, because that only contributes to the problem. Many of these shortcomings are widespread but individually focused, meaning that a change of heart, one person at a time, can go a long way.

For the most part, cooperative justice is no shortcoming south of the border. Upon my arrival in Mexico, the bus driver, Jorge, greeted the group with a brilliantly joyful personality, upbeat attitude, and friendly smile. While this simple gesture is often overlooked, it was a clear example of cooperative justice. Jorge made me feel welcome, optimistic, and excited for my time in Mexico. I returned the justice by speaking to him a little bit (in Spanish) during our bus ride from the border town of Tecate through the mountains to the ranch where the group would stay.

Once I got to the ranch and unloaded my bags into the living space that we would later dub “the Frat House”, I walked up to a house on the hill for dinner. I exchanged a few greetings with the women of the house in Spanish, and proceeded to the dinner table with my classmates. A few minutes later, the women brought out a full course meal of tamales wrapped in cornhusks, a meal that requires hours of preparation. Again, this small gesture (in the large scheme of things) meant much more than my personal enjoyment of the meal; it made me feel welcome, just like Jorge did. In a foreign country with the cartel’s presence lingering in the air, I admit I felt a bit unsafe and uneasy at first. But the simple welcoming gestures from Jorge and the women hosting us just hours after crossing the border eased my stomach (satisfied it too with those tamales) and gave me a hopeful attitude for the rest of the week.

During the rest of the week, I tried my best to embody the cooperative justice that was shown to me in the first few hours of my arrival. A few days later, we visited a high school to meet the students there in order to talk to them and learn about what it’s like to be a high school student in Mexico. After the small talk exchanges talking about working, studying, homework, and sports, the translator dove straight into the topic that was on all of our minds: immigration. The first Mexican student to comment spoke at length about patriotism in Mexico. He basically said that Mexicans want the best for their country just as Americans want the best for theirs.

As the discussion progressed into the realities of the border, and being asked our position on the President’s policies, we began to realize that we have more similarities than differences. I spoke at length to the class as a whole about what we could do as young students to ease some of the social problems attributed with immigration. I said that we need to realize that the strongest thing that binds us together is that we are all humans. No matter what race we are, what culture we live in, what nationality we are, and what language we speak, we are all God’s children. While I didn’t realize it at the time, my impromptu speech in a small classroom in the middle of a Mexican mountain range was a small example of contributive justice. I wasn’t doing any physical service in that moment, I wasn’t writing policy to solve a problem, I wasn’t addressing an entire country on an issue, but I was doing my best to spread a message of love and solidarity to some people who needed to hear it most.

After watching the media and receiving mixed views of how Americans viewed them, I personally believe that standing up in front of them and asserting to these students that we don’t hate them or their country was crucial for the class and larger society as a whole. They can take their experience meeting Americans and spread the message we brought. One classmate said it best when he stated, “this may be the only time they have a personal encounter and discussion with Americans, and I think we left the right impression on them.” As they spread their message of what the Americans said to them, my classmates and I (as I’m doing right now) can spread the feelings of love, hospitality, and comfort we received in Mexico. And thanks to the distributive justice that Xaverian gave me for being able to be a participant on such a life changing and eye opening trip, I can now say that I know more by knowing that I know less. The trip revealed all of the unique issues and perspectives of the border region, and that it will take a multilateral effort to quell some of the issues and tensions.

Above all, my week on the border demonstrated that even when the justice triangle is broken on a large scale, just a simple smile can go a long way.

Beginning

Instead of the random Facebook political commentary and sharing my experiences and thoughts on that platform, I decided to create a blog as a medium to combine all of these reflections and thoughts in one place. I’m currently working on “A Week on the Border” which details my experience living on both sides of the US-Mexico border. Through reflections, narratives, photos, and videos, I will attempt to spread what I learned there. While the raw emotion cannot be captured, I will do my best to spread the message of love and determination to give faces to the unfortunate problems in the border area. While it will be impossible to replicate looking into a man’s eyes and seeing tears rolling down his face as he details his journey to find his family, I will use all artistic means possible to do it justice. So prepare for the story, the experience, that truly changed my life. It’s incredible.

“A Week on the Border”- coming soon

 

American Exceptionalism

American exceptionalism is about leading the way in search of freedom and prosperity, and calling on the rest of the world to join us in the common cause for justice and a sustainable and improving international community. American exceptionalism is not about undermining democratic systems and the rights of other sovereign nations in order to boost American success while diminishing the possibility of success for developing nations. America needs to be a global leader that leads the way with a beacon of hope and freedom, not a superpower that abuses its power over less powerful countries to solely advance its own interests, and not the common interests of the human race.