Gov. Paul Cellucci will vow today to use his political muscle to
launch a referendum drive to slash the state's income tax by $1.2 billion if state
lawmakers refuse to make the cut this year.
Sources said Cellucci has agreed to use his statewide organization to
put the ballot question -- which failed to get enough signatures last year -- to voters in
The move is designed to pressure legislators, who have ignored
Cellucci's call to cut the income tax rate from 5.95 percent to 5 percent.
Sources close to Cellucci said the governor believes the initiative
would be successful if it reaches the ballot next year.
"The Legislature should pass the tax cut but if they don't, they
could find themselves on the wrong side of a popular ballot initiative in the year
2000," a source close to Cellucci said.
Cellucci will make his threat at a hearing this afternoon, where the
Taxation Committee plans to discuss dozens of tax proposals - and ignore Cellucci's plan.
Senate President Thomas F. Birmingham and House Speaker Thomas M.
Finneran have repeatedly resisted Cellucci's call for a major income tax cut.
Lawmakers instead passed a tax bill last year increasing the personal
exemption and cutting the unearned income tax rate.
By backing a ballot initiative, Cellucci's aides hope to repeat the
success of 1998, when the reluctant Legislature slashed the tax on unearned income after
corporations put the question on the ballot.
In 1998, Barbara Anderson's Citizens
for Limited Taxation tried -- and failed -- to put the $1.2 billion income
tax cut on the ballot. Pundits and lawmakers widely read Anderson's failure as a sign that
the voters' tax cut fervor had faded since the early 1990s.
But Cellucci's camp believes their effort -- fueled by the field
organization that won the 1998 election -- will be more successful.
Getting a petition on the ballot is an extremely long process, which
will begin this year and continue until next spring.
If Cellucci's team manages to gather enough signatures to get the tax
cut on the ballot, the Legislature will have until May 2000 to pass a tax cut on its own.