Saturday, August 1, 1998
July flees, and only it will be
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
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,
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 ½ 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
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
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.