STATE HOUSE, BOSTON, MAY 10, 2001 ... When Republicans tried to drain the Tax Reduction
Fund, House Ways and Means Chairman John Rogers called it a "cute violation of the law."
But six days later, when Rogers (D-Norwood) needed to find a big pile of extra education money,
emptying the $7.4 million reserve suddenly seemed a good idea.
Legislative and administration Republicans -- both of whom Rogers roundly criticized for proposing to
spend the money on things besides tax relief -- are fuming over House leadership's
"There's a certain level of hypocrisy there," said Rep. Bradley Jones (R-North Reading). "It's do as I say,
not as I do."
Added Administration and Finance Secretary Stephen Crosby: "It's really the height of hypocrisy.
Consistency is the hobgoblin of small minds. They've got big minds over there."
The fund, which receives tax revenues that exceed statutorily required deposits in the state's Rainy Day
Fund, "shall be used only to reduce personal income taxes," according to its enabling statute.
On the second day of House budget debate, Minority Leader Francis Marini (R-Hanson) proposed
draining the fund to pay for "additional assistance," special funding that goes to one group
of cities and towns while 191 others currently get none. Marini argued it would be a "painless" way for members to
bring something home to the district.
But Rogers took to the floor, chastising Marini for taking the "easy way" in a "backdoor attempt to raise
taxes." Rogers argued that the fund was created explicitly to boost exemptions
for taxpayers. He also warned members against eyeing the fund for education, saying: "I suggest this is not the Chapter 70
It took less than a week for Rogers to change his mind. On the final night of budget debate, Rogers
persuaded 151 of his colleagues to go along with a plan to boost Chapter 70 spending
by $18 million. The single-largest chunk of the money (41 percent) came through emptying the Tax Reduction Fund.
Neither Rogers nor House Speaker Thomas Finneran responded to repeated requests for interviews.
Despite Republican indignation, House leaders are hardly the only ones eyeing the fund, which is too small
to provide meaningful tax relief but large enough to pay for many things.
It's an attractive revenue source in a tight budget year where the common answer to lawmakers' spending requests has been
In her fiscal 2002 budget proposal, Acting Gov. Jane Swift proposed putting all $7.4 million toward Clean
Elections. Crosby said it's "just not practical" to give taxpayers a rebate of $2 apiece. Spending it on a
"good-government initiative" approved 2-1 by the voters is the next best thing,
"Since it's impractical to send the money back to the people, it was kind of a nice way to use it to
implement the recently expressed will of the public," Crosby said.
But Crosby added that it's "inappropriate" to use the Tax Reduction Fund money for Chapter 70 or
anything else. "We would not be in favor of spending it in any way other than Clean
Elections," he said.
The Senate, while tight-lipped about budget strategy, seems open to putting the Tax Reduction Fund to
other uses. Senate Ways and Means Chairman Mark Montigny (D-New Bedford) said, "If
two of the three have already done it, we will at least look at it and say, does this make sense?"
Since its creation in 1986 as a companion to the Stabilization Fund, taxpayers have received three large
tax cuts through the Tax Reduction Fund, said Deputy State Comptroller Eric Berman. Delivered through
one-time increases in personal exemptions, the cuts came on 1996, '97 and '98 tax
returns, he said.
The first tax cut was worth $150 million, and the second came in at $91.8 million, Berman said. The third
and most recent cut was for $208.8 million, he said.
Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation President Michael Widmer said the multi-front attempts to tap the
fund violate the spirit in which it was created.
"It's clearly against the intent of the law," Widmer said. "The amount of money is small, but it's in there as a
fund to reduce taxes."
But MTF Senior Research Associate Cameron Huff pointed out that lawmakers, by definition, can change
the law to suit themselves.
In fact, they have in past years upped the ceiling on the Stabilization Fund to prevent spillage into the TRF
in order not to have to return money to taxpayers.
"These guys are making the law," Huff said. "They can put in language that redirects it to another purpose.
That's not a violation of the law."
And re-direction is exactly what's going on, said Rep. Jones, whose Republican colleagues, like Rogers,
prepared special language to authorize other uses of the money.
"We sort of all bought into the idea that this money was available," Jones said.