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“Every Tax is a Pay Cut ... A Tax Cut is a Pay Raise”

44 years as “The Voice of Massachusetts Taxpayers”
and their Institutional Memory

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Saturday, January 20, 2018

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Wed., Jan. 17, 2018


About that income tax rollback

The November 2000 election will always be remembered for hanging chads — the unloosened punch-outs from paper ballots that confounded Florida’s election machines en route to George W. Bush’s narrow victory over Al Gore.

Here in Massachusetts, we’ll remember it as the month when more than 1.5 million voters agreed, as if they had some say in the matter, to reduce the state income tax rate to 5 percent.

Theirs represented more than 56 percent of all votes cast on Question 4 on that year's ballot. And, for the most part, they were symbolic votes.

Nearly 18 years and a full generation of human history later, that reduction still hasn’t happened.

As taxpayers gather paperwork to file their returns to the Internal Revenue Service and state Department of Revenue over the next few months, they’ll doubtlessly notice that Massachusetts’ income tax rate is still 5.1 percent — the same as last year. For some of us, anyway, it will be yet another aggravating reminder of a Legislature that has consistently ignored the will of voters.

The vote 18 years ago called for dropping the personal income rate from 5.95 percent to 5 percent over three years. Two years after that, lawmakers froze the downward trend at 5.3 percent and instead instituted automatic triggers that would only drop the rate further if the state met certain revenue benchmarks. It was like a bonus plan for taxpayers — except this isn’t a for-profit business that rewards workers with a share of the profits, it’s government spending money that it takes from workers.

Making the final, hairline step to 5 percent probably wouldn’t save the average taxpayer enough money to buy a couple of pizzas. State officials estimate it would cost them $500 million. That kind of money isn’t readily squeezed from a state budget, even at $40.2 billion. It’s understandable that hitting a target of 5 percent might take two or three years of effort.

Again, it has been nearly 18 years since voters gave Beacon Hill its marching orders — almost enough time to create and raise a new, uncynical adult voter.

Given that expanse of time, one might be forgiven for writing off as hopeless attempts to hold lawmakers to the demands of the 2000 referendum. On the other hand, absent periodic reminders, you can rest assured that the Legislature won't be acting to fix the income tax rate on its own.

So, here’s to the Bruce Tarrs of this world. The Republican from La Mancha files near-annual legislation to complete the unfinished work of the 2000 tax rollback.

“The voters have waited long enough,” said Tarr, the Senate minority leader, who is actually from Gloucester, in a bit of understatement while making one of his most recent gestures a couple of years ago.

Almost as assuredly as the Patriots will start Tom Brady at quarterback this Sunday, his bill died in a Legislature controlled by Democrats.

Note that this income tax rollback isn’t something that was hatched 18 years ago and has been forgotten in time. It’s a directive that the Legislature has ignored time and time — and time — again.

The referendum calling on the tax rollback was enough of a triumph for the late Marbleheader Barbara Anderson that it was mentioned in her obituary. The longtime director of Citizens for Limited Taxation was even more famous for championing Proposition 2½, which limited increases on real estate and personal property taxes. Until her death two years ago, she lived with the disappointment of a Legislature that had delayed and delayed the final implementation of this tax cut.

“It’s time to honor the voters’ will,” Anderson told Statehouse reporter Christian Wade in the spring of 2015.

Indeed, it was past time.

Whether they do it for the citizens of Massachusetts who directed them — or in memory of Barbara Anderson who implored them — lawmakers should finally deliver on the income tax cut that has now been 18 years in the making.


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:

Citizens for Limited Taxation    PO Box 1147    Marblehead, MA 01945    508-915-3665