So we enjoy our Thanksgiving meal, give thanks for
all our personal and family blessings, and then, a few days later, we
are handed something else for which to be grateful: The end of the
legislative session, or at least the part that could do some serious
damage if it wanted.
Years ago, after some embarrassing, lame-duck, late-night holiday
sessions, the Legislature changed its rules and ended its formal
sessions shortly after the fall election. Not sure why this is now done
in a non-election year like 2007, when the same ducks are returning to
Beacon Hill in 2008.
Now, in an election year, the session is over by the end of July. This
gives incumbents a chance to campaign all through the fall instead of
working full time as their challengers must - another major advantage,
along with fundraising ability and name recognition, that partly
explains why we don't have a viable political system.
But not to complain. As Mark Twain is credited with saying, "No man's
life, liberty or property is safe when the Legislature is in session."
This may be more relevant to Congress, which is still in session, but it
also applies in a state where legislation is pending to raise taxes,
involve the government in life sciences and forbid parents from spanking
their own kids.
On the other hand, bills are also pending to restore protections to
life, liberty, and property - including most notably this week criminal
justice reforms that might have saved two people in Washington state
from a released Massachusetts murderer.
Meanwhile, Gov. Deval Patrick's campaign-promised property tax relief
didn't happen. It's easier to go home for the holidays than to take on
public employee unions by lifting the cap on charter schools, impose
limitations on police details, or allow cities and towns to join the
state health insurance system without union approval.
Not that most communities are even taking advantage of the
pension-related cost savings reforms that were approved by the
Legislature this year. Instead, according to a recent State House News
Service report, several local officials have joined Newton Mayor David
Cohen in his call for more aid to cities and towns from new, broad-based
state tax increases, mentioning the sales, gas and income taxes as
Natick Selectman member Josh Ostroff said some state residents are ready
to discuss higher taxes.
"I think people are. I think municipal officials are," Ostroff told SHNS.
However, he complained, "I'm not sure the legislative leadership and the
governor are ready to address this."
That's where the taxpayer gratitude comes from in late November. The
good news may be that the Legislature has discovered fiscal
responsibility. The bad news may be that the Legislature knows it's
going to need it, with the costs of the new health insurance law rising
and baby-boomer public employees moving toward retirement.
The Patrick administration is predicting at least a $1.3 billion deficit
in the budget year that begins next July.
Of course, the $2 billion deficit predicted for this budget year never
materialized, so there's no point in spending our holidays worrying
about any of this. We can worry about it next year, when we'll also
worry about the nation while choosing our next president.
Speaking of the nation, Gov. Patrick is off on a trade mission to China,
which already owns a sizable portion of our country and our debt. I went
on my own mission this week to find Christmas cards that weren't made in
My son is installing bamboo floors and agrees that it's OK to buy
bamboo, kites and fireworks from China. But Christmas cards?
God bless the Hallmark store in Vinnin Square, which was able to offer
me products made in the good ol' U.S.A. and Switzerland. But then I came
home and protected my lawn furniture for the winter with covers "made in
I imagine my grandchildren will be getting toys "made in China." I'm not
so much worried about lead paint -- I think most of us grew up with toys
that had lead paint, didn't we? -- as I am still angry about Tibet and
the Dalai Lama.
I'm not saying we should attack China when we are through with Iraq and
Iran, but do we have to buy our Christmas decorations from tyrants?
Funny the things that make one crazy. But back to late-fall gratitude.
It looks as if, in this era of a too-busy, sometimes apathetic and
discouraged citizenry, some Massachusetts political activists have
managed to collect enough signatures to give us voters some ballot
questions next November!
Though the petitions are currently in local city and town halls having
their signatures validated, four groups think they have collected at
least the required 66,593 voter names.
Since the Legislature won't honor the voters' income-tax rate rollback
to 5 percent, I am eager to vote "yes" on Carla Howell's libertarian
petition to repeal the income tax altogether. I hope to see greyhound
racing, marijuana legalization and the repeal of Chapter 40B on the
ballot for our consideration, too. Thank you, activists, and voters who
signed those petitions.
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.