ACROSS THE nation, John Kerry supporters are still
complaining that some citizens did not get a chance to vote for him
because of various electoral anomalies.
In Massachusetts, voters who actually do get to vote on ballot questions
are ignored, and their decisions are dismissed. The curious thing is,
the same people who assert that "every vote must count" devalue the
voting results when it comes to ballot initiatives, as if such
disrespect were a virtue. Go figure.
In November 2000, Massachusetts voters elected to roll back the state
income tax over three years from 5.75 percent to 5 percent, its
traditional rate before the 1989 tax hike. In 2002, the Legislature
overrode that rollback vote and "froze" the rate at 5.3 percent, where
In his proposed state budget, Governor Romney defrosted the rate for
2006, the second half of the coming fiscal year. The House Ways and
Means Committee kept the higher rate in its version of the budget. House
Republicans tried to amend that document to restore the 5 percent and
Instead, House Democrats voted to "study" the impact of a potential rate
reduction. Interestingly, there were no votes to study the impact of the
amendments to spend the money on pork for legislators to assist in their
reelection campaigns. There are rarely attempts to study the long-term
impact of other spending programs, either.
But set that criticism aside, and other secondary issues as well: the
third-highest per capita state and local tax burden in the nation, the
desire of many citizens to have more of their own money to spend on
their families and special charities, the effect of lower taxes on the
economy. The principal argument for the rollback is that it keeps a
promise made by state government: the increase in the income tax rate
above 5 percent would be temporary. The 1989 news accounts of the tax
hike vote referred to a temporary tax to pay old bills that were
creating a budget deficit.
news clippings are memorialized on the Citizens for
website. It was clear at the time that no tax increase could pass
the Legislature, most of whose members, both Republican and Democrat,
were angry with the Dukakis administration's fudging of revenue
estimates during his presidential campaign. Voters were angry, too, so
legislators were convinced they could vote for the tax hike only if they
told their constituents that it wouldn't be permanent.
Once past that barricade, legislators voted for another tax increase the
next year, and some of them paid the price in the 1990 election, which
propelled Bill Weld with his "no new taxes" pledge into the governor's
office. As soon as possible, he eliminated some of the new taxes but was
unable to restore the promised 5 percent rate. In 2000, with the help of
Governor Paul Cellucci, the voters gave themselves a ballot question and
Opponents of this rollback insist that voters didn't know what they were
doing. In June 2002, when they froze the rollback, legislators said
voters would understand that there was yet another fiscal crisis to
address. A few months later, 46 percent of these voters supported a
Libertarian ballot question to repeal the state income tax altogether.
This may have been a simple desire to lower the Massachusetts tax
burden, but I think it was an angry response to having their 2000 vote
ignored. The issue here is false promises, lack of respect for voters, a
further deterioration of trust between the government and the governed.
Michael Shermer, a leader in the relatively new arena of evolutionary
ethics, argues that the need for trust is built into our genes on their
way to creating a viable society and better world. If this is true, our
society is devolving. Trust in all of our major institutions has been
declining over the past few decades as business executives weave
employees' pensions into their own golden parachutes, labor leaders
feather their own beds, church hierarchies cover up scandals, and
government turns skepticism into cynicism on multiple matters.
Even at the local level, government loses the trust of its constituents
every time it threatens disaster while promoting an override of
Proposition 2½. Overrides fail and life goes on in Franklin, Scituate,
Westwood, Winchester, and Winthrop. Towns that get overrides to make up
for lost local aid later get that local aid and put the windfall in free
cash. Trust withers.
Before it asks its productive citizens to stay around to help the
economy, support 21st-century public safety, and help cope with
impending demographic challenges like healthcare and pensions, the
Commonwealth of Massachusetts must regain their trust. A good first step
would be to restore the income tax rate to 5 percent, as promised 16
Barbara Anderson is executive director of Citizens for Limited