Joined last week by prominent researchers and humanitarian leaders, State Senator Mike Barrett (D-Lexington) asked the Legislature’s Committee on Revenue to approve legislation tweaking Massachusetts tax forms and letting taxpayers direct voluntary contributions, over and above their regular payments, to poverty-stricken countries faced with worsening conditions caused by global warming.
The full title of Barrett’s bill is An Act enabling taxpayer donations to the Least Developed Countries Fund (LDCF), an initiative of the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change.
Massachusetts taxpayers already contribute over $1 million annually by “checking off” any of six boxes printed on their state income tax forms. Beneficiaries include the Natural Heritage and Endangered Species Fund, the Massachusetts AIDS Fund, and four other good causes. Barrett’s bill proposes a 7th option, the first one to involve hardship outside the U.S. and the first to involve climate change.
In 48 of the poorest countries in the world, LDCF initiatives address the vulnerability of critical resources such as water, health, infrastructure and agriculture and food security. In Haiti, for example, as the country combats drought, erosion, and extreme weather, policymakers and key staff receive training in coastal management best practices.
“These 48 countries are the least-equipped to deal with climate change, even as they’re subject to the most devastating impacts,” Barrett said. “Creating this one internationally-oriented check-off does no harm to state programs for our own people, yet fills a critical gap as politicians down in Washington slash foreign assistance to the poorest populations on the planet.”
The Canadian province of Québec directs financial assistance currently to the LDCF. If the Barrett bill is enacted, Massachusetts would become the second “subnational” government in the world, and the first state in the United States, to do likewise.
Abby Maxman, President and CEO of Oxfam America, told the Revenue Committee, “2017 has been a record-breaking year for climate-related disasters worldwide. Without coercing anyone or mandating anything, this bill gives Massachusetts citizens an opportunity to take direct action to save the lives of people living elsewhere.”
Dr. Adil Najam, Dean of Global Studies at Boston University, described Barrett’s idea as “a statement from Massachusetts citizens to the rest of the world that the USA is not ready to abdicate leadership in the global fight against climate change.” He said the proposed check-off represents a “Massachusetts model” that will be copied by other states, provinces and countries.