The Salem News
Thursday, December 18, 2003
Among my Christmas cards is another of those farewell letters I get each year, from Massachusetts friends who are, as they say, outta here.
"As you can imagine," they write, "there were many things that went into the decision to relocate:
"1.) We cannot take the snow and cold anymore.
"2.) We are sick and tired of not having a voice in state or national politics. We cannot even sustain a veto in the state Legislature. At the national level we are 0 for 2 and 0 for 10, Senate and House.
"3.) The most recent tax increase played a role. Much of what taxpayers recently achieved was taken back - personal exemption, charitable giving, capital gains, etc.
"4.) The government does not respect the voters - treatment of clean elections law and income tax rollback are examples. Such arrogance.
"5.) The new tax on people in nursing homes who pay their own way: This law is unconscionable.
"6.) The recent decision by the state to cut loose from the federal inheritance tax laws, which adjust to increase the exemption. (If my guess is right, this alone will convince many seniors to live somewhere else, like Florida, where there is no income tax and no inheritance tax.) And finally,
"7.) On taxes, I think the worst is yet to come in Massachusetts - the big spenders will be looking to raise the income tax next year."
I can't argue with most of this, except perhaps the timing in Item 7. If the Legislature was going to raise the income tax again during the economic cycle, it would have done so this past year, while the so-called Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation was spreading panic and, with the "big spenders," was urging a higher rate. Cooler heads prevailed, and for this we can wish legislators a happy holiday.
But there is no indication that the long-term lesson has been learned. As Massachusetts pulls out of the recession, new revenues will probably be spent to upsize government, and another income tax hike at the next economic downturn will become inevitable.
However, in this season of hope, let's fantasize that, instead, the Legislature will finally drop the income tax rate to 5 percent, the tax cuts of the '90s will be restored, seniors will be honored - not penalized - for paying their own way, excess revenues will be spent on the unfunded pension liability and catch-up debt service, and needed reforms will happen. Hark, the heralded, escaping taxpayers laugh!
Early this month, MassINC, a nonpartisan think tank, released its "Mass.migration" study, outlining the middle-class flight from the Bay State over the past 12 years. These studies are usually well-balanced, but unfortunately the research on this one was conducted by UMass academics, a genre that on occasion releases "objective" polls stating that Massachusetts citizens wouldn't mind paying higher taxes. So, it is not surprising that the report does not focus on the reasons for leaving given by my friends.
Instead, it simply tells us the bad news: The "net loss to Massachusetts of more than 213,000 domestic out-migrants (including) the New England migrant, primarily middle-class families; and the Economic Competitor migrant, young, highly educated managers and professionals." It actually doesn't emphasize any reasons, though it mentions "quality of life" and "affordability issues - including housing and education."
However, if you read carefully, you come across this admission: "The number one reason for wanting to move was 'to go somewhere with a lower cost of living or lower taxes.'" When the report was released, this "number one reason" was not highlighted. You'd think it would have been the lead sentence: "Middle class flees high cost of living and high taxes."
The weather is a factor, since favorite destinations include California (stormy political culture balanced by lots of sunshine), Florida and Arizona. But New Hampshire to our north remains a popular new home. New Hampshire has the lowest tax burden in the nation, as well as a part-time legislature and a motto that welcomes entrepreneurs ("Live free or die," as opposed to Massachusetts' "Be taxed to death.")
High taxes, a quality of life that includes feeling disenfranchised and disrespected by the state power structure, and yes, snow and cold, are all reasons to leave Massachusetts - unless you are part of that power structure, and/or can afford the high taxes, fees and heating bills. Big-business leaders who support "compassionate" bigger government, well-off local voters who support Prop 2½ overrides, connected state workers who get pensions and other benefits undreamed of by unconnected working people, and public employee unions and their legislative sycophants who drive up the cost of government. To them, Massachusetts is a great place to live and work, as long as enough of us suckers still live and work here, too.
If the Mass.migration trend continues, the middle class will leave the commonwealth to the "tax me more" types of wealthy liberals and the beneficiaries of state largess, who may well deserve each other. It will be an interesting social experiment, and one I think I'll stay around awhile to watch.
Barbara Anderson is executive director of Citizens for Limited Taxation. Her syndicated columns appear weekly in the Salem
News and Lowell Sun; bi-weekly in the Tinytown Gazette; and occasionally in the Providence
Journal and other newspapers.