Between Gov. Mitt Romney's State of the State address
and the president's State of the Union address next Tuesday, we pause to
ask ourselves: What is the state of the people who are paying for all of
the various states of government?
Do we feel as safe as it's possible to be in a dangerous world? Are we
optimistic about the future of our state and our union? Is the money we
pay in taxes well-spent? Do essential services get done?
After we pay for all the levels of government, do we have enough money
left to provide for ourselves and our families? Do we feel appreciated?
Every public job, every public paycheck, benefit and pension, every
public service provided, need met or privilege granted comes from us
taxpayers. We get to work, invest and save, while the government gets to
help itself to "its share" of our earnings.
And keep in mind, "its share" is never enough. There is no limit to its
"unmet needs," its wants, its demands. The only restraints on the
government's ability to take are created by tax limits like Proposition
2½ or, ultimately, a reluctant recognition that the tax-paying public's
willingness to continue paying has reached its limit.
This recognition sometimes arrives as the tax-paying public begins
leaving the state that taxes them too much with not enough to show for
it. At the federal level, it takes someone like Ross Perot explaining
the effect of the national debt on our grandchildren.
I once thought it took electing Republicans to the executive and both
legislative branches, but that doesn't seem to be working out.
There is often a disconnect between the tax burden and the services we
fund. I still recall my shock at discovering the high taxes when I moved
here in 1971, after living in other states with lower taxes and better
Along with its extraordinarily high property tax, Massachusetts had
taxes unknown in other places — like the auto excise, and strange
spending concepts like school board fiscal autonomy. The roads were
badly maintained, and newspapers often carried stories about the failure
of state programs, especially those for abused children.
Proposition 2½ at least limited property taxes and the auto excise and
abolished school board fiscal autonomy. But nothing else seems to have
changed; certainly our total tax burden is still one of the highest in
On a snowy day, I like to curl up with a cup of hot chocolate and a good
book. This week's reading was the "Commonwealth of Massachusetts
Comprehensive Annual Financial Report for the Fiscal Year Ending June
30, 2005." According to the comptroller's official numbers, the state
surplus (the excess of revenues over expenditures) last year was
$1,635,500. Tax revenues are up $1.2 billion. And advocates for state
spending want it all.
Health and Human Services, including Medicaid, account for 33 percent of
all state spending. Next to that is primary and secondary education — 21
percent. Add other, direct local aid, and the total comes to 32 percent
of state spending going to the cities and towns.
Pause here to be drowned out by cries of gratitude from human service
providers and local officials for the taxpayers' generosity, which is so
much greater in Massachusetts than in 46 other states.
All right, never mind the cries. Let's settle for a simple thank-you.
OK, no thank-you; let's settle for them not implying that we don't care
about the children.
The Massachusetts Budget and Policy Center report, "Kids, Cuts and
Consequences: How Cuts to Effective Programs Hurt our Children," cannot
bring itself to include a single sentence acknowledging the taxpayers
who have been paying above the national average for those programs for
decades. Just once I'd like to see a dedication page: "To the
hard-working citizens who provide the revenue for all these programs,"
with a pledge to do a better job with that money.
Then we could move on to local officials standing outside the tax
collector's office on the day property tax payments are due so they can
shake our hands and say, "Thanks, we know it's a sacrifice; we
In his State of the State message and new budget for the next fiscal
year, Romney increases spending for almost everything, but especially
education, local aid and health care. In return, he asks for more
choice, accountability and personal responsibility. Then he tosses in an
expression of appreciation for the taxpayers — a proposal for a small
decrease in the personal income tax rate.
Legislators: Taxpayers were promised that the 1989 rate increase would
be temporary, and voted in 2000 to restore the 5 percent rate by 2003.
The governor is asking to drop it to 5.15 percent in 2007 and finally, 5
percent in 2008. Acknowledge that government needs to restore trust in
its promises and respect for the taxpayers, just in general. Then, out
of $24 billion in state spending, show some gratitude to the fount of
all that spending by letting us keep enough to deal with our own
inflationary costs for fuel, health care, our kids' educations and our
Government: Give something back. We'd appreciate it.
Barbara Anderson is executive director of Citizens for Limited Taxation. Her syndicated columns appear weekly in the Salem
News, Newburyport Times, Gloucester Times, (Lawrence) Eagle-Tribune, and Lowell Sun; bi-weekly in the Tinytown Gazette; and occasionally in the Providence
Journal and other newspapers.