Here we are, in the very middle of winter. Yet I'm
not depressed at all.
Actually, I don't tend to get depressed anytime, probably a genetic
thing. Also, I am winter's child, born in February, so I'm looking
forward to my birthday cake. And, I work from home, and if I do have to
go out, Chip does the snowblowing, so I'm not personally inconvenienced
by unsettled weather. (Don't ask me about Chip's winter state of mind as
he clears snow, chops firewood to keep his house warm enough and counts
the days until sailing season.)
TV is good this time of year. "Rome" is back on HBO, "24" is more fun
than ever, and "American Idol" has again begun its nationwide search for
talent while waging war on self-delusion. I enjoy "Friday Night Lights"
and "House," and have been looking forward to "The Power of Choice,"
about the life and ideas of Milton Friedman, on PBS beginning this
Monday at 10 p.m.
Began PBS' "Jane Eyre" last night, then had a nightmare about a little
orphan whose pet parrot was going to be taken from her and killed. Woke
up, told myself to go back to sleep and solve the problem; and in my
next dream phase, the orphan and her parrot were rescued by a rich widow
who found her beloved grandmother's large wicker parrot cage in the
Now if I could only do the same sort of salvage job after President
Bush's State of the Union address ...
Not to mention the state of the state. You'd think a taxpayer activist
would be depressed about all the talk of deficits, taxes and program
meltdowns; but I've been here before, and it's more interesting this
time with Gov. Deval Patrick's administration. Maybe the voters who had
expectations -- property tax relief, a thousand more police officers,
all the things we can do together -- are getting depressed; but I'm just
shaking my head, amused and bemused.
Candidate Patrick said there was $750 million in waste that he could cut
to fund his initiatives. Governor Patrick says it will take a few years
to find it. But if he doesn't know where it is, how did he know last
fall that it added up to $750 million?
We'll have to wait for that property tax relief, too, unless you want to
count the governor's new local option taxes, which he thinks will take
some pressure off the property tax. This is what happens when someone
with no experience in either state or local government is elected simply
because he's a fresh new face. He gets these fresh new ideas that are
actually very old and have been rejected before, and for good reason.
Years ago, I was on a commission that was created to find alternatives
to the property tax. Mine was one of the governor's appointments, but
liberal legislators chaired the commission, and we all came to the same
conclusion about local option taxes: Forget about them.
The biggest problem is competitiveness: Taxpayers will avoid local taxes
by going to another locality that doesn't opt into a local sales tax,
meals tax, hotel tax or whatever tax creative local government minds can
devise. So if Patrick insists on the new taxes, the Legislature is
likely to remove the phrase "local option" and force them on communities
across the board at the request of businesses who fear loss of
Then, come the next fiscal crisis, local aid will be cut because cities
and towns have all these wonderful new options and don't need the
state's money. Or, should the "local option" concept survive,
communities that haven't taken advantage of this revenue-raising gift
will be the first to lose local aid until they show a greater
willingness to tax themselves.
Meanwhile, the senior citizens whose property tax burden the governor
promised to address, will continue to pay high property taxes and also
pay an additional meals tax when they meet their friends at the coffee
shop for breakfast.
Moving on to another fresh gubernatorial initiative, I laughed out loud
reading the item in this newspaper about the agreement Patrick just
signed to charge power plants a fee for carbon dioxide emissions, and
the local Democratic politicians' response to the loss of property tax
revenues from a possibly devalued Salem facility. Not that it's funny:
Mayor Kim Driscoll has worked hard to balance her budget, and some of
the fee will be passed along to us consumers; it's just amazing to me
that a governor would do this to other politicians of his own party
without talking with them first. What happened to the
And, of course, there's the governor's plan to charge prisoners a fee to
cover the cost of the new policemen. Why not charge them to cover the
cost of the existing force, too? After all, if it weren't for criminals,
we'd hardly need policemen at all!
Just tax us all to give the prisoners more spending money, then charge
them for the entire criminal justice system.
I think I'll just hibernate until Groundhog Day and dream that we
elected Kerry Healey last November.
Barbara Anderson is executive director of Citizens
for Limited Taxation. Her column appears weekly in the Salem News and
Eagle Tribune, and often in the Newburyport Times, Gloucester Times, and
Lowell Sun; bi-weekly in the Tinytown Gazette; and occasionally in the
Providence (RI) Journal and other newspapers.