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Barbara's Column
November 2001 #1

Rainy day tax hike? No way, no how!
by Barbara Anderson


The Salem Evening News
Tuesday, November 6, 2001

In the trying-to-be-brave new world we entered Sept. 11, does anything but safety, family, and the war on terrorism matter?

Are we foolish to care about who wins a ball game, who wins an election, who honors a commitment, the price of coffee, or whether it rains on our parade? Does it matter if the Legislature funds the Clean Elections law or repeals the income tax rollback passed by the voters last November?

Some of us have a new, broader perspective and no longer sweat the small stuff. Others of us wonder if, perhaps, the small stuff may be the only stuff that matters.

According to an old Time magazine I read in a waiting room, in about a hundred trillion years our sun and the stars will die and eventually, "all that will be left in the cosmos will be black holes ... the universe will be cold and black."

So I figure, in the broadest perspective, either nothing matters, or, because it's all we know we have, everything matters. I choose everything.

I figure it's all the little things that add up, day by day, year by year, to become the history the universe carries with it into oblivion. Will the cosmos' last thought be, "What a waste of time THAT was!" or "Wow, wasn't that an excellent big bang while it lasted!"?

Basically, I see the whole of human history as a struggle toward my ideal world filled with life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, by way of maximum freedom, personal responsibility, promises kept, the truth told, and taxes limited.

So it still matters to me that the will of the voters is respected here in Massachusetts where we are lucky enough to have an initiative petition process. The Clean Elections law should be given a fair try by the Legislature, and the income tax rollback should continue to roll on down.

Some legislators have filed a bill for a "moratorium" on the next phase of the three-year tax cut. This year the rate is 5.6 percent; next year the law requires the rate to be 5.3 percent; then 5 percent in 2003. Clearly, keeping the rate at 5.6 percent next year would be a tax increase.

Fortunately, Gov. Jane Swift took the "no new taxes" pledge, and has promised to veto any tax hike.

Legislative leaders insist there is a budget deficit for the fiscal year that began on July 1, even though they haven't yet agreed on a budget and may in fact wait until the last star collapses to finally pass one. How can you have a deficit in a budget that hasn't passed yet?

To balance it, just make sure you don't spend any more than you expect to collect in taxes this year. If legislators want to increase specific items, they will have to cut surplus-generated waste in existing programs or find revenues elsewhere.

It has become obvious to anyone reading a newspaper lately that the Commonwealth of Massachusetts has been throwing money around during the boom years, fully funding the traditional WIMPAC (Waste, Inefficiency, Mismanagement, Patronage, Abuse of power, and Corruption) account. Billions of dollars were stashed away in "rainy day" funds over the years to avoid having a surplus that might generate a tax cut.

Secretary of Administration and Finance Steve Crosby wants to use some of those savings now. The economy is receding, we have sudden extra security costs, and it's raining. He's right.

His other idea, to take money from the state pension fund, might appear irresponsible, but it's a Massachusetts tradition: State employees' pension money was used to balance the budget during the Dukakis fiscal crisis in 1989.

Crosby also wants to use $300 million from the state's annual share of the "tobacco settlement". The entire $8 billion should be reimbursed to the taxpayers, as originally argued in the lawsuit against the tobacco companies, but that's a battle lost here. While at least one state used some of it for a tax cut, others use it for health-related expenditures, some spend it on anything they want and others save it for, what else, a rainy day.

So Massachusetts can legally use it for whatever. The commonwealth has done its job educating people on the evils of tobacco; why not use the tobacco money to avoid cutbacks, and even address problems, in our health care system?

If local aid is cut, keep in mind that some communities have been carrying their own surpluses; others are having so much fun spending money that they want Proposition 2 overrides to let them spend even more.

Lawmakers ought to remember that taxpayers are in the midst of a recession too. In the short run they need tax relief, not a tax hike.

It would be nice if, in the long run, the cold, dark universe could at least contain a faint memory of promises kept and the will of the people respected.


Barbara Anderson is executive director of Citizens for Limited Taxation. Her syndicated columns appear weekly in the Salem Evening News and the Lowell Sun; bi-weekly in the Tinytown Gazette; and occasionally in other newspapers.


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