CITIZENS   FOR  LIMITED  TAXATION
and the
Citizens Economic Research Foundation

CLT UPDATE
Wednesday, April 6, 2005

Beacon Hill hearings begin;
Widmer flaunts MTF's true agenda


If a bunch on Beacon Hill has its way, we'll be able to vote without ever leaving our homes, and take yet another step toward that day when we'll have a nation full of introverts who never go outside and, instead, spend their time talking to their furniture.

The Salem News
Tuesday, April 5, 2005
Stay-at-home voting not such a good idea
By Alan Lupo


Democratic lawmakers, human service advocates and leaders of organized unions representing public employees lined up Tuesday in support of Gov. Mitt Romney's proposal to generate $170 million in new tax revenue, but the plan no longer has the backing of the Corner Office....

"These are tax increases that have been masquerading as loopholes," Michael Widmer, president of the business-backed Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation, told the Legislature's Joint Committee on Revenue at a public hearing on both of the governor's bills today. Controlling large health care cost increases and stimulating job creation are the only two ways out of the state's budget problems, Widmer argued.

Business leaders say that in addition to recent tax hikes, they also lost out on $200 million in tax savings when the Legislature in 2002 decided to decouple from the federal tax code governing depreciation of assets. Widmer estimated the corporate tax burden has risen from about $1 billion to $1.5 billion in three years.

State House News Service
Tuesday, April 5, 2005
Romney's new path on corporate tax policy causes stir,
hearing is continued


Legislators from both sides of the aisle paraded before the Election Laws Committee Tuesday urging an end to the back room politicking that has come to be known as gerrymandering.

Several citizen groups and 57 lawmakers are supporting a proposed constitutional amendment that they say will bring more fairness to the mapmaking that occurs every ten years when congressional and legislative districts are redrawn to reflect population shifts. If approved by two successive legislatures, the proposal could reach the ballot in 2008....

Voters in 15 state representative districts last November faced non-binding ballot questions asking if they supported reform of the redistricting process, Common Cause Executive Director Pamela Wilmot said in statement delivered to the committee, and 67 percent of them responded in the affirmative. "There is virtual unanimity among pundits and academics that study these issues that this proposal is both desirable and desperately needed," she wrote.

State House News Service
Tuesday, April 5, 2005
Broad support heard for redistricting change
to end Gerrymandering


Barbara's CLT Commentary

Chip Faulkner and CLT activist Norm Paley testified yesterday before the Joint Committee on Election Laws. CLT's memo was dropped to the Committee members during the hearing on the four issues we find most compelling.

However, we couldn’t resist commenting also on another bad idea, a proposed constitutional amendment to let everyone vote absentee. We gave Committee members an April 4 Salem News column by Alan Lupo (see below). Interestingly, Mr. Lupo, a liberal Boston Globe columnist during the 80s, was a frequent adversary of Citizens for Limited Taxation on tax issues. But when you’re right (as in correct), you’re right, and this column says it all.

Barbara Anderson

PS. CLT activists who have never seen Charlie Baker -- my favorite candidate for future governor -- have an opportunity tonight.

Charlie worked at the Massachusetts High Tech Council during the early Prop 2˝ years so has been a longtime friend of the taxpayer. Some of you may remember him as secretary of administration & finance during the Weld years.

From the Pioneer Institute, April 6, 2005, "Spotlight on Health Care":

"Former Pioneer Institute board member Charles Baker, president of Harvard Pilgrim Health Care, will appear with Governor Mitt Romney and others tonight on a WCVB-TV 5 'Town Meeting' on the lack of health insurance for many in Massachusetts. The program, hosted by anchor Natalie Jacobson and medical reporter Dr. Tim Johnson, airs from 7 to 8 p.m."


Chip Ford's CLT Commentary

While the Committee on Election Laws was hearing testimony on proposed amendments to the state Constitution, elsewhere in the State House the Joint Committee on Revenue (formerly known as the Committee on Taxation, a term which apparently is no longer to be uttered on Bacon Hill) held its hearing on Governor Romney's bill to close more "corporate loopholes." And who was leading the opposition's charge, at the head of the pack to defeat it, but none other than Michael J. Widmer, president of the so-called Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation.

One can't but wonder what suddenly happened to Widmer's bęte noire, "The Structural Deficit" that concerns him so greatly whenever rolling back the 16-year old "temporary" income tax hike is mentioned, whenever any tax relief is proposed for mere mortal taxpayers.

Can you believe this guy? He might as well shout out "Millions for Fat Cats, but not one cent for families!"

"These are tax increases that have been masquerading as loopholes," he wails, but tax increases masquerading as fees are just fine with Widmer and his MTF, as long as the unwashed masses are targeted and not his Big Business patrons.

If there can possibly still be any lingering doubts about exactly what and who the so-called "highly-respected, non-partisan Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation" in reality represents, this shameless demonstration should satisfy it.

Chip Ford


The Salem News
Tuesday, April 5, 2005

Stay-at-home voting not such a good idea
By Alan Lupo


If a bunch on Beacon Hill has its way, we'll be able to vote without ever leaving our homes, and take yet another step toward that day when we'll have a nation full of introverts who never go outside and, instead, spend their time talking to their furniture.

Apparently, there is some sort of constitutional amendment floating around Beacon Hill that, if it becomes law, means you no longer have to be disabled or out of town to vote by absentee ballot. If you want to vote by mail, you'd be able to do so.

Legislators and pols in both parties and the League of Women Voters think this is a great idea. It will increase voting, they say. It will help citizens who feel pressured by family and work obligations and are often just too busy to go to a polling place and exercise their civic duty.

One wonders how those folks in war-torn Iraq and in the disputed Palestinian territories managed to get to polling places, when soccer moms and dads here have such a tough time making that occasional trip.

Here's one answer. We are a fat, spoiled, lazy nation full of people who seem hell-bent on avoiding contact with one another.

Why walk or drive to a store when you can shop on the Internet?

Why hire a human being to handle a phone call from a customer when you can overwhelm that customer with a tidal wave of recorded menu options?

Why spend a few extra minutes in a bank line and talk to a teller about family or weather or sports when you can do your business with a machine in the lobby?

Why attend meetings of any governmental body when you can watch them on local cable television?

Why should our kids go outside and play when they can sit for hours in front of computers?

Why take a walk without earphones honking music in your head? Without them you might be forced to say, "Hello," to someone or listen to the sounds of ocean tides or woodland creatures?

We might as well vote at home. Why bother to head over to the local polling place and engage others in political discussion or just catch up on local news and gossip?

Call me corny, but I get a kick out of standing in line and waiting to gab with the precinct workers. I like going into the booth and completing that arrow on the paper ballot. I like kidding around with the cops who watch the civic proceedings from the corner of the middle school gym. I like seeing little kids coming in with a parent and getting some early exposure to something not allowed or properly supervised in too many other countries. I like both the serious and humorous conversations I've had with supporters holding signs for all manner of candidates.

What will happen to those stand-outs when fewer and fewer people show up at the polls? Torchlight parades and street corner rallies now are faint memories of a time when election campaigns attracted gatherings of people who wanted to be informed and entertained at the same time. Our grandchildren may know nothing of those gaggles of supporters who were willing to brave the elements to hold signs touting their candidates.

Fine. Vote at home. Erase what little poetry is left in politics. Make life easier for the allegedly overwhelmed. Maybe we can get up another constitutional amendment that criminalizes all public gatherings except those involving overly organized sports for kids.

Then nobody will have to talk to anybody. So much for the great marketplace of ideas, where one might occasionally stumble upon public displays of civic commitment.

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State House News Service
Tuesday, April 5, 2005

Romney's new path on corporate tax policy causes stir,
hearing is continued
By Michael. P. Norton


Democratic lawmakers, human service advocates and leaders of organized unions representing public employees lined up Tuesday in support of Gov. Mitt Romney's proposal to generate $170 million in new tax revenue, but the plan no longer has the backing of the Corner Office.

In just over two months, Romney has reversed course on his own plans to further close corporate tax loopholes by filing a 64-section bill to generate $85 million as a replacement for a 168-section bill he filed in January aimed at pulling in $170 million by directly addressing "aggressive tax avoidance strategies."

In Romney's latest bill, the governor erased his original proposals to boost the Department of Revenue's discretion to combat certain tax planning practices, prevent companies from using classification differences in federal and state laws to avoid taxation, and prevent companies from using intermediaries to avoid paying deeds excise taxes when selling real estate in Massachusetts, according to the non-profit Massachusetts Budget and Policy Center.

The governor's aides say he is responsibly reacting to legitimate concerns registered by businesses, which say they have been hit with $230 million in tax increases broadly categorized as loophole closures over the past two years, and claim another round of tax increases will suppress what is already an anemic economic recovery.

"These are tax increases that have been masquerading as loopholes," Michael Widmer, president of the business-backed Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation, told the Legislature's Joint Committee on Revenue at a public hearing on both of the governor's bills today. Controlling large health care cost increases and stimulating job creation are the only two ways out of the state's budget problems, Widmer argued.

Business leaders say that in addition to recent tax hikes, they also lost out on $200 million in tax savings when the Legislature in 2002 decided to decouple from the federal tax code governing depreciation of assets. Widmer estimated the corporate tax burden has risen from about $1 billion to $1.5 billion in three years. Raising taxes again, business leaders told legislators, will jack up the already high cost of doing business in Massachusetts.

"I wish the governor agreed with himself"

But where the governor's aides say Romney is proving he's a good listener and willing to respond to cautions about job losses, his critics say Romney is bowing to pressure from corporate interests. While the hearing was suspended and will resume next week, several took the time to rap Romney in their testimony today.

"I wish the governor agreed with himself and didn't flip flop," said Robert Haynes, president of the Massachusetts chapter of the AFL-CIO, who alleged Romney's new position was in response to published criticism from Grover Norquist of Americans for Tax Reform.

Haynes said he believes the governor is running for president and his change of heart on his tax bill is aimed at appeasing the right wing of the Republican Party nationally. Leaders of AFSCME Council 93, the Massachusetts Federation of Teachers, and the Massachusetts Building Trades Council also endorsed the governor's original bill.

While the debate is over the fairness of tax policy, it's also about spending. Many of those opposed to the governor's change of heart wore "stop the cuts!" stickers - a reference to budget cuts in recent years - and represent low-income residents who depend more heavily on expensive state government services.

Elderly people being released from hospitals and in need of home health care services to live independently face waiting lists and the state needs more investigators to probe and prevent child abuse, said Rep. Kathleen Teahan (D-Whitman). "None of us like paying taxes," she said. "We would all like to avoid paying taxes, but we know that taxes are the way that we can live as a society. We need the revenues to be able to take care of these people."

The state budget is structurally out of balance by $500 million, said Rep. Jamie Eldridge (D-Acton), and revenues derived from corporate tax policy changes will help address recent cuts in public housing, environmental protection and public education aid. "This would go a great way toward addressing that effort," said Eldridge. "It is fair."

Rep. John Binienda (D-Worcester), co-chairman of the committee, opened the packed hearing by asking if anyone from the Romney administration or the Department of Revenue were present to testify on the two bills. As everyone looked around and when no one answered, Binienda said: "I didn't think there was going to be."

The governor's office sent Binienda a letter Tuesday morning to inform him that the governor would not be present today and that the governor was withdrawing all support for his original bill, Binienda said. And revenue commissioner Alan LeBovidge, Binienda said, was in Europe today on a family vacation.

Committee co-chairwoman Sen. Cynthia Creem (D-Newton) said she was "shocked" that the administration had not sent someone to explain the significant differences between their two bills.

"I don't know of an instance where the administration filed a bill and nobody appears to speak on behalf of the bill," Creem said. She suggested that the committee keep the public hearing open until the administration explains why "what was a tax avoidance in January is not a tax avoidance in April."

Impediments to Job Growth

In response to an inquiry from the News Service, Eric Fehrnstrom, Romney's director of communications, said LeBovidge had planned to testify last week, when the hearing was originally scheduled and that today's hearing conflicted with his long-planned vacation so he sent written testimony instead.

"The governor adjusted his loophole closing legislation because of concerns we heard from the business community that it could negatively affect jobs in this state," he said. "If there are some Democrats who don't feel as strongly about the importance of job creation, that is unfortunate. But Governor Romney wants to be careful not to place a burden on employers or threaten job growth and that is why he made adjustments to his loophole-closing bill."

In a letter from LeBovidge to the committee chairmen, the commissioner focuses only on the portions of Romney's bill that made it into the governor's redraft, including application of the sales tax to electronically transferred software, taxing the unrelated business income of non-profit corporations, and a requirement that the state agencies check individual tax and child support compliance before renewing professional licenses. The bill would also boost the penalties imposed to filing "unsupported positions" on tax returns.

Rep. James Marzilli (D-Arlington) testified that Romney's changed stance represented a "naked, craven act of politics" and speculated that lawmakers should endorse Romney's original bill and not wait for the administration to frankly and openly discuss their corporate tax policy agenda. "I expect you'll be waiting until the next governor is sworn into office," he said. "Let's put the bill back on the governor's desk and let him sign it into law."

One Romney critic told his colleagues about his own tax problems. Rep. Matthew Patrick (D-Falmouth) pointed out recent publicity surrounding his failure to file tax returns. Patrick said he forgot to mail his taxes, and has since paid his liability of $29.35. And he contrasted his situation with "intentional tax cheating by corporations"

"The governor was on the right track for the Commonwealth and I think that's a track we ought to stay on," said Patrick. Corporations pay accountants and lawyers millions of dollars to intentionally cheat the state out of $170 million a year." Patrick said Romney was appealing to "his neo-con friends in Washington."

But Eileen McAnneny, vice president for government affairs at Associated Industries of Massachusetts, which represents 7,600 employers, urged lawmakers to proceed cautiously and think about the overall business climate. Massachusetts has lost more jobs than any other state during the recession, has been slow to recover, was the only state to lose population in a recent US Census snapshot, and should pause to reflect on the reasons behind mergers that have swallowed up local corporations like Gillette, Filene's, John Hancock, and Fleet Bank, she said.

"It has to do with our tax climate," McAnneny said. "We really should pause and look at all of this collectively and say what could we do differently. We need to all step back and stop the rhetoric."

Today's hearing began at 11:10 am and was suspended at 1 pm. Binienda and Creem said another legislative committee had reserved the hearing room. Many people who showed up planning to testify could not, and were told they could testify when the hearing resumes next Tuesday. But the Election Laws Committee wound up holding its public hearing in an adjacent hearing room, leaving the room that had been quickly vacated at 1 pm empty into the early afternoon hours.

Binienda and Creem expressed hope that the Romney administration and the Department of Revenue would send a representative to field some questions. "It wasn't very courteous not to have someone there," said Binienda. "It's his bill." Binienda said the committee will likely draw from both of the governor's bill and assemble a redraft bill.

The House Ways and Means Committee is scheduled to release its fiscal 2006 budget proposal next Wednesday. Binienda said he is not yet in a position to recommend how much new corporate tax revenue to expect in FY 2006, and hoped a redrafted bill would address both the need for tax revenues and the need to preserve and create jobs.

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State House News Service
Tuesday, April 5, 2005

Broad support heard for redistricting change
to end Gerrymandering
By Helen Woodman


Legislators from both sides of the aisle paraded before the Election Laws Committee Tuesday urging an end to the back room politicking that has come to be known as gerrymandering.

Several citizen groups and 57 lawmakers are supporting a proposed constitutional amendment that they say will bring more fairness to the mapmaking that occurs every ten years when congressional and legislative districts are redrawn to reflect population shifts. If approved by two successive legislatures, the proposal could reach the ballot in 2008.

The practice of gerrymandering is named for Massachusetts Gov. Eldridge Gerry, who served in 1812 and presided over the drawing of a redistricting map purposely crafted to make it easier for political favorites to win election. One district was so contorted that it looked like a salamander and the word for realigning district lines to favor political friends was coined.

The pending legislation calls for the appointment of a special nine-member commission to conduct the redistricting that comes after the taking of the US Census every decade. The panel would be directed to follow federal laws, respect city and town borders and groups with common interest, and to maintain geographic compactness. Future redistricting plans and accompanying material would be available for public inspection and comment before being submitted to the Legislature for approval.

Voters in 15 state representative districts last November faced non-binding ballot questions asking if they supported reform of the redistricting process, Common Cause Executive Director Pamela Wilmot said in statement delivered to the committee, and 67 percent of them responded in the affirmative. "There is virtual unanimity among pundits and academics that study these issues that this proposal is both desirable and desperately needed," she wrote.

Several legislators appearing before the committee alluded to the specter of Texas legislators fleeing their state to prevent a vote on a redistricting plan that was not to their liking and to a federal investigation into potential perjury during a court hearing last year on the last Massachusetts plan.

"It's time to take politics out of the process," said Rep. Jay Kaufman (D-Lexington).

Sen. Stephen Brewer (D-Barre) has 19 towns in his district that is 75 miles from Boston.

"This sounds like it makes sense and is logical," he said of the plan to bring more discipline to the process. Change is common in public service, he said, but "I once wondered how I would tell my wife that all the chicken barbecues and other events we went to in Belchertown no longer mattered" because the town had been shifted into someone else's district.

While Brewer offered a rural perspective, Rep. Marty Walz (D-Boston) shared her plight in the 8th Suffolk District where she has six neighborhoods in two cities and two counties. "I have three neighborhoods in Suffolk County and three neighborhoods in Middlesex County. My Cambridge neighborhoods don't like being in the Eighth Suffolk District. And there's one street in my neighborhood that has three representatives.

"The State House is in my district so you're sitting in my district right now," Walz told members of the Election Laws Committee. "But if you go across the street for coffee, you'll be in the speaker's (Salvatore DiMasi's) district."

Walz speculated that the complexities of her district might have something to do with the fact that her predecessor, Rep. Paul Demakis, "was not a favorite of the speaker (Thomas Finneran).

"We call these our districts," said Sen. Richard Moore (D-Uxbridge) "but they really belong to the voters." Moore also testified in support of his bill to increase the term of office for state lawmakers from two to four years and to enhance absentee voting.

In addition to supporting the redistricting change, Rep. Kaufman urged support for his proposed amendment for the filling of a vacancy in the office of lieutenant governor.

And one of the eight members of the Governor's Council urged lawmakers to approve another bill providing for the filling of a vacancy on the council. Freshman Councilor Peter Vickery (D-Amherst) said his district was without a councilor for a year after long-time council dean Edward O'Brien (D-Easthampton) passed away in January of 2004.

"I know some would like to do away with the council completely," Vickery said of perennial efforts to abolish the elected body that dates back to colonial times but, with the exception of confirming the governor's judicial nominees, the council has lost most of its powers over the years. "But as long as it endures, a vacancy should be filled."

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