The Telegram & Gazette
Monday, May 8, 2000
The people's voice
Legislature forces referendum on tax rollback
As expected, the Legislature has declined
to place the income tax rollback question on the Nov. 7 election ballot, forcing the
petitioners to submit another 9,517 signatures -- in addition to the 150,000 already
collected -- to force the referendum.
If approved by voters, the measure would
begin a phased rollback of the state income tax rate to the former 5 percent level.
The legislative intransigence on tax
relief is in character. The increase was enacted, amid loud assurances it would be
temporary, to keep the state solvent after the collapse of the "Massachusetts
miracle" in the late 1980s -- and lawmakers have been concocting implausible excuses
for not rolling it back ever since.
We are highly skeptical of government by
initiative petition. Referendums, which bypass hearings and legislative debate, tend to be
blunt political instruments, often with unintended consequences. Moreover, special
interests using hired signature collectors have begun co-opting a process.
But referendums are justified, as last
resorts, when the Legislature refuses to act -- and this is one of those times. Despite
bulging state coffers in recent years, the Legislature has approved only a fractional
reduction from 5.95 percent to the current 5.85 percent.
for Limited Taxation, the advocacy group that championed Proposition 2.5,
is sponsoring the referendum. With the added resources of Gov. Paul Cellucci's campaign
organization, CLT is in an excellent position to get the question on the ballot.
If history is a guide, voters are
virtually certain to seize the chance to keep a little more of their money in their own
pockets instead of turning it over to the state.
After a decade of steady economic growth
-- and temptingly ample tax collections -- many lawmakers appear to have forgotten the
fiscal damage that can result from unsustainable spending growth. The $21.7 billion House
budget for 2001 calls for nearly an 8 percent increase over 2000 -- quadruple the rate of
inflation -- and the Senate likely will boost spending even more.
The phased-in tax relief sought by
initiative petition may be taxpayers' last, best hope of trimming the money tree and
bringing to Beacon Hill a renewed sense of fiscal restraint.