Limited Taxation
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Barbara's Column
Friday April 15, 1999

The Salem Evening News

No Need to Thank the Tax Man
By Barbara Anderson

April Fools are we: the day, the month, the whole year long.

Do you think it's just a coincidence that April Fool's Day and April 15th fall in the same month?

Someone once told me he doesn't pay income taxes, he gets a refund. Even if you've never run into anyone that foolish, I'll bet you know people who are grateful for the money they "get back" from Uncle Sam and Beacon Hill.

They think it's a super way to save. So much for bank accounts and the magic of compound interest.

A Beacon Hill legislator recently asked me when I'm going to thank him for last year's "biggest tax cut in state history." I had a hard time grasping the gratitude concept. In the first place, the "biggest tax cut in state history" was roughly half the size of the biggest tax increase in state history, that "temporary" tax hike of 1989, which I am still paying.

In the second place, the tax cut the Legislature gave us was a doubling of our personal exemption, which had to be adjusted for years of inflation just to recover its value.

In the third place, I don't remember you, Mr. Representative, thanking me for the taxes I've been paying since I moved to Taxachusetts in 1971.

Although voter-created Proposition 2 1/2 now limits property taxes, the state income tax is still one of the nation's highest. And according to the Washington-based Tax Foundation, our total 1998 per capita state and local tax burden was third highest in the country, 23 percent above the national average. Only New York and New Jersey's were higher.

Yet I'm supposed to be grateful when the state government lets me keep some of my own hard-earned money with a long-overdue increase in my personal exemption? I think not.

Some taxpayers are grateful even without a refund. They quote Oliver Wendell Holmes' "taxes are the price we pay for civilization" without realizing that Justice Holmes said this in 1905, when there was no income tax, when the entire tax burden was small.

New Hampshire, at present, has the lowest tax burden in the country, and some of us think it is a lot more civilized than we are. Many Massachusetts taxpayers look at New Hampshire the way Cubans look at Guantanamo Bay; freedom is so near and yet so far, but it's nice to have a role model. It will be a shame if we lose it because of the education issue, which education vouchers could address more easily than creating a new, big-government type tax. New Hampshire, with us as an example, has good reason to fear what it could become once this giant revenue source is available.

As Massachusetts legislators continue to break their promise that our 1989 income tax increase would be temporary, the Governor of New Hampshire is keeping her word to oppose any state income tax at all. In Justice Holmes' 1905, keeping one's word was considered a necessary virtue for a civilized man. Without honor between the taxer and taxee, how can there be trust? Without trust, how can there be civilization?

Therefore it is essential that Governor Shaheen keep her "no income tax promise," and that we see a tax cut in Massachusetts this year to repeal that "temporary" tax increase left over from  1989. If we taxpayers don't insist that our elected officials keep their word, we'll all be playing the role of April Fool for the rest of our uncivilized taxpaying lives.

Barbara Anderson is executive director of Citizens for Limited Taxation. She writes regularly for the Viewpoint page. Her biweekly syndicated column also appears in other publications around the state.

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