Governor brings forum, but no tax relief, to Salem
© by Barbara Anderson
The Salem News
Saturday, July 19, 2008
I was, in the presence of Gov. Deval Patrick for the first time, at
Armory Park in Salem last week.
It was a pleasant evening, hot at home, but the downtown park was
shaded and breezy, and Chip found us seats toward the front. Mayor
Kim Driscoll did a nice introduction, and then the governor listened
to members of the audience, as advertised.
This first of the governor's "town hall meetings" wasn't
well-organized, with two microphones held by young staffers who
stood around awkwardly as bolder people approached them or the
governor pointed in the general direction of a shy upheld hand;
perhaps they'll come up with a better system for future meetings.
I was glad when the woman carrying a "GIC" sign was chosen. Former
Swampscott School Committee member Mary Dechillo was able to tell
Patrick about the problems with getting unions to cooperate in
saving on the cost of employee health insurance premiums by joining
the state Group Insurance Commission (GIC).
You may recall that Swampscott lost its chance for those savings
last year when its public employee union leaders insisted that all
health insurance savings be given to them directly, ending the
"Would it help if the decision was mandatory, Mary?" the governor
asked, to which she replied, "Absolutely," as some others in the
audience nodded. He seemed genuinely interested in this and I got
the impression that if the unions don't get their act together —
supporting the towns instead of their own selfish interests — they
could be removed from the process soon.
And speaking of the teachers union: To his credit, when asked about
MCAS, the governor stood by his support for it, though some in the
audience hissed. Of course, opponents never explain how, without
consistent testing, taxpayers can judge if they are getting value
for the money they spend on education.
I raised my hand and made eye contact with Patrick, who pointed at
me. But as I moved toward the microphone, it was handed to a man who
asked what the governor could do about high gasoline prices.
It was clear that others in the audience shared this concern, but
unfortunately they didn't get much of an answer, just an outline of
the governor's energy proposal.
I thought he could have said he'd cut the state gas tax, since it
apparently hasn't been spent keeping the state's roads and bridges
repaired. But at least the governor didn't say he'd like to raise
that tax, so perhaps the question helped to derail that proposal for
So now it was my turn. But the young staffer had moved on, and
believe it or not, readers, I'm kind of shy myself; and besides, I
couldn't chase him with my sprained ankle. So I sat down until Lt.
Gov. Tim Murray borrowed the governor's microphone to attack the
proposed income tax repeal.
Wait! I thought. This was sold as a meeting for the governor to
listen to us, not as an attack on an initiative petition by the No.
2 guy at the Statehouse. Either make it a debate with both sides
represented, or go away, Tim!
Well, that wasn't going to happen, so we left instead because it was
time to ice the ankle.
But if I'd had a microphone, I'd have asked him: Where is my
property tax relief?
When Deval Patrick was running for governor, he was asked if he
respected the voters' 2000 decision on rolling back the income tax
rate to 5 percent. Understandably fearing to tell the truth, which
was "no, I don't," he quickly moved to a substitute position, saying
that he thought voters would really prefer property tax relief.
OK, maybe. But now he was stuck with that alternative, and had to
keep promising to provide that relief. For some reason the media
never pressed him on how he planned to achieve it, despite the fact
many people voted for him because of this promise.
After the election, we learned the plan was — good news — to
encourage pension and health-care savings at the local government
level; and — bad news — to increase the meals tax. The first isn't
working as well as it could because of union opposition; and if I'd
had a chance to speak, I was going to thank local legislators for
refusing to pass the second.
Then I was going to ask: Where's my property tax relief? Some area
towns have had overrides; our property taxes are going up, not down.
Meanwhile, the state budget is increasing again, the deficits and
unfunded liabilities are being ignored, while legislators play with
pork that may or may not survive a veto.
So I was going to make a suggestion. "Governor," I would have said,
"if you can't find a way to directly reduce the property tax, how
about returning to the original question? If you would respect the
voters who demanded that the income-tax rate be returned to its
traditional 5 percent, you could suggest that they use the tax
savings each year to pay their property taxes. This would show
respect AND keep your promise of property tax relief."
It would have been very interesting to hear his reply.
Anderson is executive director of Citizens for Limited Taxation. Her
column appears weekly in the Salem News and other Eagle Tribune
newspapers; bi-weekly in the Tinytown Gazette; and occasionally in
the Lowell Sun, Providence (RI) Journal and other newspapers.