But the people who want the state to make good on its promise to roll back the
"temporary" income tax hike are back again, petitions in hand, and this time
they think they will be able to make it past the opposition they've faced in the past.
Members of the group Citizens for Limited Taxation
have started combing the area, trying to get signatures for a petition that would decrease
the state income tax rate to 5 percent. It is currently 5.95 percent.
That decrease would give a taxpayer who earns $50,000 a year a break of about
$450. Supporters say the money is important, but far more important is making the state
live up to a promise it made during the dark days of the late 1980s when the state was
Ellen M. Bahan of Methuen is determined to help obtain 100,000 signatures. She is
an area coordinator for towns including Methuen, Andover, North Andover, Haverhill and
Lawrence. One of her volunteers has already received 500 signatures and sent them in to
his town clerk's office.
"I think the Legislature must be made to keep its promises or they should be
voted out," said Ms. Bahan. "I am confident we will get enough signatures.
People's awareness has gone up, people's taxes have gone up and the government has way too
much of a surplus."
Barbara Anderson of Citizens for Limited Taxation
and Government has been fighting for almost a decade to restore the 5
percent income tax rate.
"The Legislature, like it does so often, wanted something, and this time it
was the temporary income tax," said Steven Cool, an area volunteer coordinator for
the petition drive. "This is 10 years after they promised voters it would only be a
one-year tax hike. This money should be in your hands, so you can go and make your own
During the past few election cycles, CLT has organized a petition drive and
garnered enough certified signatures to earn the tax cut measure a spot on the ballot, but
successful legal challenges have kept it from going before voters.
This year, Mrs. Anderson is planning on a different outcome.
"I am more optimistic this time. We need fewer signatures this year to get it
on the ballot, and now we have the governor's help," said Mrs. Anderson. "I knew
with his assistance we could do it despite the challenges."
The challenges include getting 57,100 certified signatures, or signatures of
registered voters, to bring the question before the Legislature for a vote. In order to
guarantee the right amount of certified signatures, Mrs. Anderson plans on obtaining at
least 100,000 signatures from communities across Massachusetts. As of Sept. 21, 700
volunteers had pledged to make that happen. All petitions must be turned in to the town or
city clerk by Nov. 17 in order to be certified.
The state has a surplus that some say exceeds $500 million, the largest ever, but
legislators have not kept their promise to drop the income tax rate back to 5 percent.
One challenge facing petition organizers is to adhere to the Supreme Judicial
Court's ruling that no stray marks of any kind could appear on the petition. That means if
someone goes to sign the petition and makes a mistake, it would invalidate the entire
petition. Because of the severity of the court's ruling, Mrs. Anderson said it would be
considered sabotage and a criminal offense for someone opposed to the petition to make a
mark on one of the papers.
If the petition makes it to lawmakers, with its exact wording, and is approved, it
becomes a law. If the Legislature votes no, 9,500 additional certified signatures,
different from those on the original petition, must be obtained in order for the question
to come before voters next November.
"I think the legislation clearly acted under the premise that when the
financial crisis was over, we would get back to a 5 percent income tax. That little bit
adds up over time," said Steven S. Epstein, a Georgetown lawyer based in Lawrence and
one of the petitioners. "I personally think the government has been stealing money
from me since the day I started working."
The main opponent of the tax cut is the Massachusetts Teachers Association,
according to Mrs. Anderson and Francis J. "Chip" Faulkner, the associate
director of CLT. On every previous attempt to bring this question to the voters, the MTA
halted it before it could get on the ballot. The last time CLT organized a petition drive,
the MTA spent $2 million fighting to invalidate the petition signatures.
"Last time, the MTA spent all this money trying to invalidate a
constitutional right. They are abusing the rights of those who disagree with them,"
said Steven Cool. "I hope it comes back around and bites them back. Everyone gets
their just desserts."
This is the first time CLT has had the governor on their team.
Gov. A. Paul Cellucci and his coordinators are responsible for obtaining
approximately half of the signatures. A report put out by the Cellucci administration
demonstrated that a tax cut would help Massachusetts withstand a recession as well as
convince more companies to locate in Massachusetts. This has given the CLT volunteers the
boost they needed.