Tax rollback activists thought they had a fervent champion
in Brian A. Joyce. As a state representative, he sponsored legislation to lower the income tax from 5.95 percent to 5
percent. When he campaigned for the Senate, he pledged to make that rollback happen. "When others were faint of heart, one
leader had the courage to fight the tax dragon," read one of Joyce's advertisements from 1997.
But less than a year later, the dragon-slayer, now a state
senator, voted against the tax rollback. The antitax group Citizens for Limited Taxation withdrew its endorsement of
Joyce, accusing him of using them, and betraying their cause.
Now CLT vows to make sure the voters of the 9th District,
where Joyce is running in a special election for Congress, know about his reversal. Like abortion opponents angry that Joyce
recently switched his position to favor abortion rights, they want to persuade voters that political expediency drives
"It seems to be a general issue of his character, to choose
to change positions, or to do or say whatever he has to to get elected," said CLT Executive Director
Joyce has argued that his reversals were matters of conscience and not politics. He abandoned his stance
on the rollback, he said, when presented with a better bill, proposed by Senate President Thomas F.
Birmingham, which instead doubled the personal exemption for earned income. Birmingham's measure
gave more to people earning less than $70,000 a year, Joyce said.
"You know what?" he said. "I don't work for CLT. I work for
the voters, for folks earning $70,000 or less, and this bill gave them a bigger benefit and, more importantly, more money
left over for the things they cared about."
The rollback to 5 percent, worth $1.2 billion, was approved
by 59 percent of voters in a ballot question last year, but CLT remains angry at Joyce.
Most offensive, they said, is the vigor with which he
identified himself with their cause. In a debate during the campaign for Senate in 1997, one of his opponents, Boston City
Councilor Maureen Feeney, challenged Joyce's oft-made claim that he was the only state representative to sponsor a bill to
lower the state income tax.
Joyce bristled, arguing that he'd sponsored a rollback bill
on his first day in office, and that he stood alone among legislators in his advocacy of the rate reduction. He said the
5.95 percent rate was supposed to be temporary, and that the state should honor that, repeating rollback advocates mantra.
Abandoning that stance was a substantial philosophical shift, Anderson said.
"We wouldn't mind, except he made such a big deal of it,"
said CLT political director Chip Faulkner.
Joyce makes no apologies for switching, however.
"I'm proud of that vote," he said. "I was faced with deciding between the rollback and a much more
progressive thing. I'd do it again in a heartbeat."
Anderson and Faulkner will begin a campaign to publicize
Joyce's change on the issue, alerting their 8,000 members, about 1,200 of whom live in the 9th District.
The rollback reversal is the second philosophical front on
which Joyce has had to defend himself since he became a candidate for Congress. As recently as last year, he had a
perfect rating from Massachusetts Citizens for Life, the state's largest antiabortion group. After saying he would run
for the 9th, he reversed himself.
He said the switch was the culmination of years of agonizing
consideration. Abortion opponents say it was the culmination of weeks of political calculation. A recent Globe poll showed that
among likely Democratic primary voters, abortion rights supporters outnumber opponents in the district 3 to 1.
Democratic consultant Michael Goldman said Joyce's reversals
will not hurt him, and the anger of the conservative groups could help him in the 9th, where many voters are liberal.
Joyce seems to realize that.
"To be honest with you, I couldn't give two hoots about what
CLT has to say," he said. "I don't know that either of the two persons you've quoted live in my district. If they did and they
voted for me, I'd be delighted, but I don't think they do."