Taxes one thing, health insurance another
© by Barbara Anderson
The Salem News
Thursday, July 12 2007
The Legislature's Revenue Committee held a hearing this week on a bill
to roll back the income tax rate. This bill falls into the category of
"Never, ever give up."
The "temporary" Dukakis income tax increase is 18 years old this summer.
It was only 11 when the voters, tired of waiting for the income tax rate
to be returned to its traditional 5 percent, phased it down themselves
on the 2000 ballot. Two years later, the Legislature froze the rate at
5.3 percent - "temporarily."
Last fall, Deval Patrick, when asked about the "temporary tax" and the
"will of the voters," said that he thought voters would prefer a
property tax cut instead of an income tax cut and pledged to deliver
He's been governor for half a year: The income tax rate is still 5.3
percent. Has the property tax been cut when I wasn't looking? Let's see:
My January and May quarterly payments were each $740.98. My August bill
is for $803.16. Looks like an increase to me!
Some of it is the annual increase allowed by Proposition 2½. Some of it
is for overrides that the majority of Marblehead voters decided I should
pay "my share" of, for things that they want. Nowhere on the bill is
there a "reduction due to Gov. Patrick's property tax cut."
He's still running around the state, trying to raise the local meals tax
though, insisting the money will be used for "property tax relief." No,
governor: Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me. Not
that I was fooled, but a lot of people were.
Actually, voters are generally so foolish here when choosing elected
officials that politicians could just as well tell the truth: "Yes, we
promised that the income tax hike would be temporary. We lied in order
to get it passed. Yes, you told us to roll it back to 5 percent: We
didn't. We told you we'll cut your property tax instead: We won't. So
what are you going to do about it, pal?"
The new state budget does increase spending by more than a billion
dollars, or 4.2 percent. It increases local aid that does not have to be
used for property tax relief but can be used to further increase local
"fixed costs" with pay and benefit levels for city and town employees.
There is an attempt to address public employee health insurance and
pension costs, but much more has to be done, because the present benefit
levels are not sustainable.
Many local taxpayers are refusing to pass Proposition 2½ overrides,
possibly noting that if they aren't getting the promised property tax
cut, they at least aren't going to make things worse for themselves on
that front. Meanwhile, water and sewer rates for Massachusetts Water
Resources Authority customers are expected to increase again.
Responsible citizens' health insurance costs are increasing again, too,
but this year there's a new twist: People who don't have insurance are
now expected to pay their share of the overall burden. Some of them are
just waking up to this fact and protesting the "new tax." I don't see
how being required to take some responsibility for one's own health care
is a tax.
I understand the argument that young healthy people are forced to pay a
premium even if they don't use the health care system and are therefore
subsidizing someone else's care. This is what insurance in general is
all about: You pay for home insurance, may never use it; auto insurance,
may never have an accident. The latter is mandatory because you need to
be covered in case your car injures someone else.
Health insurance is different. Everyone gets health care. Our society
has determined (and the federal government has ordered) that no one will
ever be turned away. So while you may be willing to take a chance on not
having insurance, it's not much of a risk; you'll be taken care of by
the insured through their premiums (which must be big enough to cover
you if you need care) or by the taxpayers who must subsidize the medical
One solution might be to have those adults who choose not to buy health
insurance sign a release, telling medical personnel not to treat them.
Or, they get treatment but will be required to reimburse society for
every cent of it. I say this only to simplify the concept: As I see it,
no one is born with the right to be taken care of by everyone else, at
no cost to himself, though this was the status quo before the mandatory
insurance law. Since none of us wants to see dying bodies lying ignored
on the steps of the local emergency ward, the only fair solution is to
make everyone take some personal responsibility for their own health
Some low-income people will still be completely subsidized. For those
who don't qualify for government assistance, it's too bad there's no
income tax and/or property tax cut, as promised, that could be used to
help pay the newly required or increasing premiums.
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.