Limited Taxation & Government
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Barbara's Bi-Weekly Column

The Patriot Ledger
Saturday, August 1, 1998

July flees, and only it will be missed
By Barbara Anderson

Goodbye, July. Farewell, Boston. And so long, Massachusetts Legislature.

The only one I'll miss is July. Boston is a great place to visit, but I'm cutting back on my taxpaying this year.

I pretended that the personal property tax we paid on our scruffy second-hand office furniture went to support the firemen who respond quickly to false alarms in our building. Then I realized that our landlord's property taxes cover public safety, so we could be chipping in for the latest city council pay raise and the mayor's trade mission to Orlando. Time to move to the suburbs.

It's not as if we need to be near the Statehouse, now that the "full-time Legislature" is adjourning for the next five months. Besides, have you noticed that legislators have begun referring to themselves not as "representatives" but as "members"? Of what: the Tommy Finneran Fan Club? Not much point in us taxpayers applying for membership in the Beacon Hill Insiders' Club. Not much point in paying high Boston rent so one has quick, futile access to the Insiders' Outside.

I have enjoyed the Boston and legislative experience, though.

Twenty years ago this summer I went to work in the big city when I was hired to do secretarial work for a fledgling taxpayer association. Until then, I'd been a housewife and suburban swimming instructor, doing volunteer political activism in the free hours that many of us had back then.

My new boss, I later learned, was desperate. Having been turned down by every woman he tried to hire, he thought of me and the thousands of signatures I'd collected for a recent tax-limitation petition drive. "Can you type?" he asked me. "Of course," I responded, since I had fingers on both hands. "Can you take shorthand?" Sure. I'd seen shorthand once, and it looked a lot like my handwriting; one writes fast and abbreviates, and one gets by, I thought.

It worked out fine, once I determined that the office typewriter had to be plugged in and that my boss never remembered exactly what he'd dictated, so I could compose the letter myself and he'd sign it. Being able to read and write was a big advantage in the Boston job market, even then.

So for 20 years I commuted to the city, eventually becoming a taxpayer lobbyist to defend Proposition 2 after it was passed by the voters. As long as there was some democracy on Beacon Hill, lobbying was fun and tax policy could be influenced by voter involvement. Now one is talking to "members," and one might as well talk to trees.

This year major legislation was put off until the last days of the session so that the leader of the House members could control the agenda and oversee trade-offs in the midst of confusion. The Statehouse media ran from one staged law-signing to another, while trying to follow the progress of long-delayed bills and keep up with new initiatives tossed out in response to the crisis of the day.

The budget was late, tax-cut bones were tossed, and most of our income-tax overpayment was packed into the slushy-day fund or spent.

Legislators dealt with the education crisis by announcing a plan to give sign-up bonuses to new teachers who can read. They dealt with crime by a) filing a bill to make you a criminal if you leave your kids in the car, b) passing a bill making you a criminal if a visitor steals your unlocked gun and kills someone and c) debating a constitutional amendment to take away prisoners' voting rights. I feel safer already.

They dealt with the environment by passing a $147,000 program to count trees in the state forest but the governor vetoed this, probably fearing, with good reason, that next they would be counting grains of sand on the state beaches; each year they must find ways to spend that extra .95 percent tax on our income.

What can a taxpayer do when politicians looking for ways to spend his money resort to counting trees? We hope to find perspective in August, out of Boston, away from the Massachusetts Legislature. I'm taking notes in shorthand, and if we find an answer to that question, I'll type it for you.

Barbara Anderson is co-director of Citizens for Limited Taxation and Government. Her bi-weekly column is syndicated.

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