CITIZENS   FOR  LIMITED  TAXATION
and the
Citizens Economic Research Foundation

CLT UPDATE
Monday, June 14, 2004

Dems scheme to change the rules again ... because they can


Even the business-oriented Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation, which supports an eventual tax rollback when state finances improve, said the state probably shouldn't consider a tax cut for at least two more years.

Michael Widmer, the president of the taxpayers foundation, said the tax cut would have a "tiny economic impact." Instead, the state should be putting much of the new money into reserve accounts and hospital relief, he said.

Citizens for Limited Taxation, which fought for the voter-approved tax cut, said the extra money belonged back in the hands of taxpayers, even though Mr. Widmer and others are arguing against it.

"Nonetheless, we'll take it, first because it belongs to us, second because the voters mandated it, and finally, because it may be a tiny impact to the fat cats, but it's more disposable income to us," the CLT's Chip Ford said in a statement.

The income-tax cut was approved by voters in 2000, but state legislators froze it two years later, bracing for budget cuts.

The (New Bedford) Standard-times
Sunday, June 13, 2004
Romney says, 'Let the good times roll' 
Call to spend state surplus, lower taxes faces serious obstacles 


This month, Beacon Hill reaches the climax of its annual budget wars. Each year, the governor, the House and the Senate offer competing visions for the state's spending blueprint.

The better part of the year is consumed by proposals, counter-proposals, infighting, squabbling and compromise.

After all, it's not easy spending $23.5 billion in one year....

There's also another $2 billion in annual spending that isn't even included on the books. The expenses - pension obligations, payments to nursing homes and health care for the long-term unemployed - are kept "off-budget" so they don't even come up in the yearly debate on state spending.

The Patriot Ledger
Saturday, June 12, 2004
State Budget - How to spend $24 billion: Where the money goes
(Part One in a 5-part series)


Residents at town elections Saturday refused to temporarily raise their property taxes to pay for more than $10 million in capital improvement and upgrade packages.

Voters resoundingly rejected three debt-exclusion override questions to fund a package of projects for the schools and town and help pay for a new senior center....

"This is incredible," said School Committee Chairman Wayne Rogiers. "I want to know, where were these people at town meeting?" ...

Capital Planning Committee Chairman Jon Jacob said the vote did not surprise him.

"We accept their decision," he said. But, "They're going to have to accept that if equipment breaks down during plowing, there's not a lot they (the highway department) can do with it."

The Enterprise
Monday, June 14, 2004
Abington rejects overrides


Win the veto this November and then win that U.S. Senate seat. Those must be Gov. Mitt Romney's twin political goals if Democrats orchestrate one of the most cynical, selfish, outrageous votes ever on Beacon Hill: Taking the governor's appointment power away in case John Kerry wins the presidency.

The latter is a lot less certain than the former. A legislative hearing will be held tomorrow by the Election Laws Committee on the Democrats' proposal to hold an immediate special election to fill a U.S. Senate vacancy.

Romney will fight the bill - and he ought to be joined by the good-government groups who should recognize a political scheme when they see one. But if a majority of Democrats go over the cliff with their leaders, this ought to be issue number one in this fall's legislative elections....

The notion that changing this law and tradition, which has been employed 174 times by both Republican and Democratic governors around the country since the direct election of senators was approved as a constitutional amendment, is somehow more democratic is ridiculous. The voters of Massachusetts aren't stupid.

A Boston Herald editorial
Monday, June 14, 2004
Dems will pay price at the ballot box


Some of the 2,000 residents in the Berkshire County town of New Marlborough have launched a petition drive against the town's "view tax," an added assessment on higher-elevation properties with a view....

The Boston Globe
Sunday, June 13, 2004
Peaks & Valleys


Chip Ford's CLT Commentary

The Patriot Ledger is taking an in depth look at the state budget; part one of a five part series appeared in its pages on Saturday. I'll keep you posted.

*                    *                    *

Omigosh, local town fathers and mothers are now attempting to charge higher property tax rates for "the view"! Is there nothing that escapes taxation any more? As New Marlborough town tax collector Bill Garrett postured, "They might start taxing the quiet." Kind of reminds me of the "fee" increases and creations.

And how about days when the sun shines on but one part of town?

*                    *                    *

First we have to consider that U.S. Senator John Kerry can possibye be elected President of the United States of America, and I'm just not there yet. Of course, I didn't think the last election for president could wind up with Al Gore winning the popular vote "from sea to shining sea" either.

But in the unlikely event that he somehow does defeat President George W. Bush, look at the arrogance of Massachusetts Democrats with this new scam to change how the next U.S. Senator is seated! Their intent, we're supposed to be dumb enough to buy,  is to "let the voters decide" as if that ever mattered to a single one of the Beacon Hill Cabal. When our ruling elite abruptly attempt to change the rules, we've of course got to look deeper for their motivation -- and naturally, that end-game will benefit ... them! Doesn't it always?

The Boston Herald editorial today opined, "We'd hate to be the Democratic legislator defending the decision to hand a U.S. Senate seat to an incumbent Democratic politician - the only kind of politician who can muster the financial resources to successfully compete within such a short timeframe."

So why is this?

Let's look at our all-Democrat U.S. House delegation one at a time, especially those who're already mentioned as our potential next U.S. Senator if "Hail to the Chief" ever echoes through the White House corridors for John Kerry. How fat are the federal campaign warchests of our U.S. Congressmen as some lust to leap up into a quick-and-dirty campaign to become our next U.S. Senator-for-Life? As of March 31 -- and they've been growing since then especially with this new-found interest -- we found:

Marty Meehan: $2,297,278; Bill Delahunt: $1,652,475; Richard E. Neal: $1,136,139, Edward J. Markey: $754,513; Michael E. Capuano: $652,263; James P. McGovern: $317,302; Stephen F. Lynch: $290,756; Barney Frank: $61,703. (Source: www.opensecrets.org)

Why not allow a decent interval of time for a private citizen to launch a campaign, get off the ground and possibly catch up to an incumbents' accumulated warchest and non-stop fund-raising machine. That's only fair ... isn't it? Besides, the current system has worked just fine since the 17th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution was ratified in 1913 allowing a popular vote to elect U.S. Senators. Why change now -- after almost a century -- besides that they can?

It's not like Ted Kennedy didn't massage it to get his nose under the tent (see: CLT Update, Mar. 4, 2004, "Caution: Unscrupulous Democrats are running, scared.")

Chip Ford


The [New Bedford] Standard-Times
Sunday, June 13, 2004

Romney says, 'Let the good times roll' 
Call to spend state surplus, lower taxes faces serious obstacles 
By David Kibbee, Ottaway News Service


When Gov. Mitt Romney addressed the Statehouse media under the hot television lights in a first-floor conference room earlier this month, the topic was positively retro.

There was the word "surplus," which hadn't been uttered in these halls for four years. Instead of fighting over what to cut, the state Legislature would now spend the summer battling over what to spend.

Does this mark the return of the go-go late '90s, when legislators presided over tax cuts, a dramatic expansion of health care programs and a doubling of education funding?

Gov. Romney isn't aiming that high, but the signs are positive. He projects the state would end the 2004 budget year on July 1 with at least $500 million more than analysts anticipated.

The state Department of Revenue said tax collections for the fiscal year ending July 1 were up 5.9 percent to date, or $757 million. So far, the state has taken in about $14 billion in taxes.

The first-term Republican governor immediately proposed a $457 million supplemental budget, mostly made up of local aid increases and capital programs throughout the commonwealth, while reiterating his call to lower the state income tax from 5.3 percent to 5 percent in January.

"I think a lot of folks are surprised that we are doing so much better than we had planned," Gov. Romney said in an interview after the press conference. "It wasn't very long ago that we were wringing our hands with a $3 billion deficit. We took the tough medicine, we cut costs, we didn't raise taxes. Now that the economy is coming back, that's generating a dividend for us."

State legislators, currently negotiating a $23 billion fiscal 2005 budget behind closed doors, don't necesarily agree with the governor's approach.

Rep. Antonio F.D. Cabral, a New Bedford Democrat who chairs the Human Services Committee, said the governor should start by restoring some of the $1 billion cut from human services since he took office on Jan. 1, 2003.

"Before the governor starts handing out political favors he should look back at the trail of destruction he's left through the neediest families in Massachusetts and begin to repair the damage," Rep. Cabral said.

Sen. Mark C.W. Montigny, D-New Bedford, called Gov. Romney's call for a tax cut a "cheap political thrill. He's like the Stepford governor: Stand up and say the most simple things; don't talk about the most detailed policy."

Sen. Montigny, who wrote the state budget as chairman of the Senate Ways and Means Committee from 1999 to 2002, agreed the economic signs were positive. He said money needs to be pumped into three areas: restoring human service and health care cuts; replenishing state reserves, which saved the state budget during the recession; and paring back on one-time revenue in the budget.

He said the Legislature cut millions of dollars in taxes in the 1990s, but now was not the time to roll back the income tax.

"It's urgent that the first thing we do is look at the multi-billion-dollar cuts and find the most dangerous ones in health and human services and fund those, because those are the ones that cost lives," Montigny said.

Gov. Romney's supplemental spending bill would use the $500 million surplus to give New Bedford an additional $3 million in aid, plus fund $5 million to dredge New Bedford Harbor, $5 million to repair New Bedford's State Pier, and $7 million for improvements to Horseneck Beach in Westport.

The fate of the bill is uncertain. Legislators may use part of the surplus for the backlog in the school construction program and to save for the next economic downturn. Many of them believe the dredging and construction projects should be paid for through bonding instead.

critical of rollback

Both House Speaker Thomas Finneran and Senate President Robert Travaglini have criticized Gov. Romney's call for the tax rollback, which would give a family of four earning $70,000 an extra $142 a year.

It would cost the state about $200 million.

Even the business-oriented Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation, which supports an eventual tax rollback when state finances improve, said the state probably shouldn't consider a tax cut for at least two more years.

Michael Widmer, the president of the taxpayers foundation, said the tax cut would have a "tiny economic impact." Instead, the state should be putting much of the new money into reserve accounts and hospital relief, he said.

Citizens for Limited Taxation, which fought for the voter-approved tax cut, said the extra money belonged back in the hands of taxpayers, even though Mr. Widmer and others are arguing against it.

"Nonetheless, we'll take it, first because it belongs to us, second because the voters mandated it, and finally, because it may be a tiny impact to the fat cats, but it's more disposable income to us," the CLT's Chip Ford said in a statement.

The income-tax cut was approved by voters in 2000, but state legislators froze it two years later, bracing for budget cuts.

The state's supercharged economy fell after Sept. 11, 2001, a combination of the terrorist attacks on American soil, a slowdown on Wall Street, and the implosion of the dot-com bubble. Much of the dramatic growth in the late 1990s had been fueled by capital gains, stock options and corporate bonuses.

Since then, the state has trailed the national recovery, but Massachusetts still saw incremental improvements, first in corporate profits, next in capital gains and bonuses, and then in jobs, tax withholding and sales taxes.

"it's not dramatic"

"We're seeing it across the board," Mr. Widmer said. "It's not dramatic. There's been some talk of this as a dramatic recovery. It's the beginning of a recovery, but we have trailed the nation. We had the largest rate of job loss in the nation, and we are one of the last states coming out of the recession."

Talk of a "surplus" is also relative, Mr. Widmer said. The surplus means the state took in more money than it expected when the budget was drawn up. At the same time, the Legislature used about $700 million in reserves and one-time revenues to balance this year's budget, an amount that has to be made up in 2005.

"It's like an individual borrowed from a savings account, and they worked some overtime and got a little more money," Mr. Widmer said. "That's not a surplus. It just means they won't have to dip as much into the savings."

Cities and towns, which were stung by double-digit cuts in state aid last year, probably can't expect an increase in the next couple of years, said Widmer, who watches the budget closely.

"The cities and towns, even with level funding or slight increases, it won't keep pace with inflation," Mr. Widmer said. "Cities and towns are probably going to have to tighten their belts further in '05."

Return to top


The [Quincy] Patriot Ledger
Saturday, June 12, 2004

State Budget - How to spend $24 billion: Where the money goes:

After a year of infighting, squabbling and compromise, the state's most important - and controversial - policy document finally emerges

By Tom Benner
Patriot Ledger State House Bureau


First of a five-part series

This month, Beacon Hill reaches the climax of its annual budget wars. Each year, the governor, the House and the Senate offer competing visions for the state's spending blueprint.

The better part of the year is consumed by proposals, counter-proposals, infighting, squabbling and compromise.

After all, it's not easy spending $23.5 billion in one year.

With most of that money spoken for, however, there is relatively little to fight about in terms of dollars. That leaves much of the budget debate to controversial policy changes, such as legalizing stem-cell research and allowing out-of-state gay couples to marry here, that lawmakers hope to include in or block from the final budget bill.

About half the budget is eaten up by two line-items alone, Medicaid and grants to cities and towns. Human services and criminal justice together consume another quarter of the budget.

With built-in cost increases in massive accounts such as Medicaid and state employees' health benefits, the governor and lawmakers have relatively few fiscal items over which to argue.

"Take the $23 billion," said Sen. Michael W. Morrissey, a Quincy Democrat and a veteran of the yearly budget wars. "Twenty-five percent goes to cities and towns, 27 or 28 percent goes to Medicaid. So in those two accounts, that's more than 50 percent of the budget.

"Twenty percent of the budget is debt service, retirement costs, pension obligations we have to meet, the MBTA and health care issues for employees. The other 30 percent of the budget is state government as we know it, so take 30 percent of $23 billion, that's about $7 billion. As legislators, that's what we really see, that's what state government is."

There's also another $2 billion in annual spending that isn't even included on the books. The expenses - pension obligations, payments to nursing homes and health care for the long-term unemployed - are kept "off-budget" so they don't even come up in the yearly debate on state spending.

So the budget debate isn't just about dollars. It's about priorities, and political showboating.

"The budget is not only the most important fiscal document that's passed, it's also over the years become the most important policy document, where almost all, if not all, major initiatives get dealt with," said Cam Huff of the Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation watchdog group. "In part, that's because that's the one bill that is guaranteed to be adopted."

Much of the budget debate is prompted by the fact that so many policy proposals get tucked into the spending plan as budget riders.

Individual policy proposals get lost in debate

Gov. Mitt Romney's budget proposal for the fiscal year that starts in July included, for example, his plan to combine two state transportation agencies into one. Romney argues the state doesn't need to have both a state highway department and a separate authority to run the Massachusetts Turnpike.

Romney's budget plan included other policy proposals, such as expanding the five-cent deposit on water and juice bottles. The existing 20-year-old bottle law raises some $34 million a year from deposits; Romney's proposal would raise another $15 million.

By April, both the turnpike merger and the bottle-bill proposal were dropped by House budget writers. And Romney is powerless to put the proposals back in the budget - he only has the ability to veto spending proposals in the final budget.

The many special interest groups and other budget watchers say they're used to seeing individual policy proposals get lost in the overall budget debate.

"In an ideal world, policy should be policy and it shouldn't be connected to finances," said Jenny Gitlitz of the Container Recycling Institute, an advocate for an expanded bottle bill. "But this is the way it works. It's just a tactic to a larger end, which is to bring the bottle bill up to date with the beverage market."

House Speaker Thomas M. Finneran used the House budget proposal to advance some of his own pet ideas, including beefing up the state's rainy day accounts and making early childhood education more widely available in public schools.

In May, the Senate took its turn at bat with a budget plan that included a number of ambitious policy proposals, many of which are aimed at showing up Romney - the self-described reform governor - on the reform front in an election year.

The Senate revived the idea of Romney's turnpike-highway department merger. But the Senate proposal goes even further, putting all state transportation agencies under the control of the state transportation secretary.

House and Senate push pet projects

Senate leaders also put forward ever-popular crime-fighting proposals, calling for a new State Police anti-terrorism unit, increased State Police staffing to pre-Sept. 11 levels, increased spending on anti-gang initiatives and increased oversight of the medical examiner's office and State Police crime lab.

On other matters, the Senate plan looks to legalize stem-cell research - a heated political idea that many feel should be dealt with separately, outside the budget debate. The Senate plan also calls for the repeal of a 1913 law that prevents out-of-state gay couples from marrying in Massachusetts.

Many of those proposals - like gay marriage for out-of-state couples - aren't expected to appear in the final budget document.

With the House and the Senate approving their own separate budget plans, a House-Senate task force will meet privately to iron out differences between the plans. Once they agree on a final budget document, it will be sent to the governor's desk. At that point, Romney will pull out his veto pen. He'll have 10 days to go over the budget and make any cuts that he wishes.

House and Senate leaders hope to get the budget to Romney by June 12, giving them time to override any Romney vetoes they don't like.

The budget process may appear confusing and inefficient to some. But the players on Beacon Hill say there's no better way to decide how to spend $23.5 billion in taxpayer dollars.

"When you have a constitutional democratic process like we have, you want to be aware of too much efficiency," said Romney's top budget aide, Eric Kriss. "There's a reason why you want it to have successive reviews and checks and balances. That was the genius of our founding generation, they understood that power concentrated was power to be feared."

Return to top


The [Brockton] Enterprise
Monday, June 14, 2004

Abington rejects overrides
By Mike Melanson, Enterprise correspondent


Abington -- Residents at town elections Saturday refused to temporarily raise their property taxes to pay for more than $10 million in capital improvement and upgrade packages.

Voters resoundingly rejected three debt-exclusion override questions to fund a package of projects for the schools and town and help pay for a new senior center.

If all three measures passed, the owner of a median $282,100 would have paid an additional $252.41 in taxes in the first year of borrowing.

Dan Brundage, Chairman of Vote No Citizens in Stress, said he believes overtaxed residents made the right decisions.

"It wasn't going to fly," he said. "We can't afford it."

However, debt-exclusion proponents argued Abington cannot afford to do without the proposed projects.

A School Committee sponsored $7.03-million school facilities upgrade plan failed by a 1603-557 margin, with 29 blanks. The proposal called for structural remodeling and renovations at the Frolio Junior High School, Early Childhood Center, Abington High School, and Woodsdale Elementary School, as well as for a new community athletic facility.

If the measure had passed, and Abington borrowed over 20 years at 4.75 percent, the project would have cost the average taxpayer an extra $142.74 in the first year and $34.60 in the final year.

"This is incredible," said School Committee Chairman Wayne Rogiers. "I want to know, where were these people at town meeting?"

He and School Committee member Patricia Vantine said the school board would likely discuss its options at its Tuesday meeting.

A Capital Planning Committee sponsored $2.29-million proposal to upgrade facilities, tools, and vehicles for the fire, highway, park, and police departments, as well as the school technology program, also failed by a 1480-685 margin, with 24 blanks.

If voters had approved, and Abington borrowed over 15 years at 4.75 percent, taxes on a median assessed house would have increased by slightly more than $95.40 in the first year and 99 cents in the last year.

Capital Planning Committee Chairman Jon Jacob said the vote did not surprise him.

"We accept their decision," he said. But, "They're going to have to accept that if equipment breaks down during plowing, there's not a lot they (the highway department) can do with it."

Residents Saturday also rejected a $750,000 proposal to build, equip, and furnish a new senior center sponsored by the Senior Center Committee by a 1325-856 margin, with 8 blanks.

Taxes would have increased for the average taxpayer by $14.27 in the first year and $6.92 in the last year if the town borrowed over 20 years at 4.75 percent.

Abington would have first needed to win a federal or state matching grant before the project moved forward.

"I think it's kind of a slap in the face to them," Jacob said.

Of Abington's 9,629 registered voters, 22 percent, or 2,189 voters, cast ballots Saturday.


The Patriot Ledger
Saturday, June 12, 2004

Abington Special Election results, Sat., June 12, 2004


Abington voters Saturday overwhelmingly turned down $10 million in Proposition 2 overrride requests.

About 22 percent of the town's registered voters turned out to say no to tax increases for proposed improvements and upgrades to schools, funding for a new senior center and new equipment for the police, fire and highway departments.

Vote totals from the Abington special election include:

Question 1, $7 million for school improvements and maintenance:

Yes, 685
*No, 1,480

Question 2, $750,000 to begin construction on a new senior center:

Yes, 856
*No, 1,325

Question 3, $2.3 million for new equipment for police, fire, schools, parks and highway departments:

Yes, 557
*No, 1,603

Return to top


The Boston Herald
Monday, June 14, 2004

A Boston Herald editorial
Dems will pay price at the ballot box


Win the veto this November and then win that U.S. Senate seat. Those must be Gov. Mitt Romney's twin political goals if Democrats orchestrate one of the most cynical, selfish, outrageous votes ever on Beacon Hill: Taking the governor's appointment power away in case John Kerry wins the presidency.

The latter is a lot less certain than the former. A legislative hearing will be held tomorrow by the Election Laws Committee on the Democrats' proposal to hold an immediate special election to fill a U.S. Senate vacancy.

Romney will fight the bill - and he ought to be joined by the good-government groups who should recognize a political scheme when they see one. But if a majority of Democrats go over the cliff with their leaders, this ought to be issue number one in this fall's legislative elections.

The 131 Republican candidates running for House and Senate will have a recent and powerful example of the arrogance and duplicity of one-party rule on Beacon Hill to run on.

We'd hate to be the Democratic legislator defending the decision to hand a U.S. Senate seat to an incumbent Democratic politician - the only kind of politician who can muster the financial resources to successfully compete within such a short timeframe.

The notion that changing this law and tradition, which has been employed 174 times by both Republican and Democratic governors around the country since the direct election of senators was approved as a constitutional amendment, is somehow more democratic is ridiculous. The voters of Massachusetts aren't stupid.

Under current law, there would be a special election for the seat held in 2006, a full two years before Kerry's term expires. And whoever wins then must run again in 2008. That's true voter choice.

And of the political fate of the 174 historical appointees? Some 55 lost their subsequent Senate election, and 64 didn't even put their names on the ballot.

It's the height of irony that one of those who didn't run was the Massachusetts appointee named to hold the seat for Ted Kennedy. Now Kennedy is reportedly pressuring legislative leaders to approve the change.

It's not surprising that when Kennedy says jump, legislative leaders ask, "How high?"

But rank and file Democratic lawmakers ought to be asking themselves, "At what price?"

Return to top


The Boston Globe
Sunday, June 13, 2004

Peaks & Valleys
By B.J. Roche 

Withering Heights:  Some of the 2,000 residents in the Berkshire County town of New Marlborough have launched a petition drive against the town's "view tax," an added assessment on higher-elevation properties with a view.

"Oh, don't call it a view tax, the assessors get mad when you call it that," chided town tax collector Bill Garrett, who spoke about the issue strictly as a resident. "They call it a 'property enhancement factor.'" Said factor can double the assessed value of a building lot; prior to the town's recent revaluation, Garrett's total property of 5.7 acres was assessed at less than the value of the "property enhancement factor" he pays for now.

Property owners complain that, other factors, like road and lake frontage, are measurable, but the value of a view is subjective: "How can you tax something that can't be defined?" asked Garrett. "Can you tax three people for the same view?" Don't get him started about other revenue possibilities: "Better not talk about the quiet streets either," he said. "They might start taxing the quiet."

Return to top


NOTE: In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. section 107, this material is distributed without profit or payment to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving this information for non-profit research and educational purposes only. For more information go to: http://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/17/107.shtml


Return to CLT Updates page

Return to CLT home page