and the
Citizens Economic Research Foundation


Barbara's Column
September 2002 #4

Time to clean house on Beacon Hill
by Barbara Anderson

The Salem News
Monday, September 30, 2002

It's fall now and we have to get serious about the election.

Not to be overly dramatic, but three things have to happen in the next few months in order for the commonwealth to be saved:

1.) At least some legislators who voted to ignore the stated will of the voters on ballot questions must lose their jobs to almost any challenger; independent representatives must be elected to weaken the power of the Speaker of the House.

2.) Senate President Tom Birmingham, when he leaves office in January, must be succeeded by someone who respects the voters and who has some new ideas about controlling state spending while protecting vital programs.

3.) A grown-up who is not part of the problem on Beacon Hill must become governor. Since next year the Legislature will still be controlled by one party, another party should be in charge of the executive branch to maintain some semblance of a balance of power.

How do we make these things happen?

In the primary, two Democratic challengers beat incumbents who voted to effectively repeal the last phase of the income tax rollback and the charitable deduction. Two down, 120 to go; and 46 of these incumbents now have Republican, Libertarian, Green or Independent opponents. Many of these incumbents were also opposed Clean Elections. If their constituents voted for these ballot questions, they were slapped in the face by "representatives" who should be slapped down at the polls.

It's an easy question to ask at a local voter forum or debate: "Senator (or Representative): Did you vote to override Governor Swift's veto of the income tax increase? Did you support the voters' decision on Clean Elections?"

Unfortunately, when it comes to new Senate leadership, there's not much from which to choose. The best and most independent state senator, Steven Baddour, D-Methuen, is too new to be president, and the most thoughtful of the present candidates for the office, Richard Moore, D-Uxbridge, falls into the above category of constituent-slapper.

That leaves us depending on the executive branch for leadership.

Heading into the first debate, I thought Shannon O'Brien might beat Mitt Romney. But now I think Romney can pull it off.

As one of the post-debate commentators on New England Cable News, I noticed that MaryAnn Marsh, the preeminent spinmeister for the Democrats, had nothing new to say. When you are stuck with repeating the already overdone points about residency requirements, what he said about running against Swift, picking a lieutenant governor candidate, etc., all of which is boring, you're running scared.

As I watched the opening statements, I wondered why O'Brien, whose weakness is her defensive combativeness, wore solid, aggressive red and went immediately on the attack.

Mitt reminded me of a favorite Doonesbury cartoon of the Iran-Contra hearings, in which the telegenic Ollie North is depicted as an "alien space raider" that looks like a cute little dog. As committee members assault him with tough questions, the tail-wagging puppy generates telegrams of support from all over the country.

Similarly, Mitt came across as everyone's favorite Labrador retriever; while Shannon played the role of pit bull trying to sink her teeth into the friendly Lab instead of attacking the Beacon Hill mess.

Not that I was wildly excited about Romney, who said that he was committed to rolling back the new taxes by the end of his fourth year in office. It certainly shouldn't take four years to take the income tax rate from 5.3 percent to 5 percent, when the voters said to do it by 2003.

Granted, if O'Brien wins the rate will go up to 5.6 percent next year and could be over 6 percent in four years. I base this prediction on her record as state representative, voting not only for income tax hikes but increases in the sales, auto excise and property taxes, and voting not to reduce the so-called "unearned income" tax for senior citizens.

She also voted against Gov. Weld when he moved to repeal the new sales tax on services. He won, but as governor herself, she will get another chance to tax things like lawn and home maintenance work.

What the debate needed was the Libertarian candidate, Carla Howell, who wants to abolish the income tax altogether while redefining government into something simpler and less expensive. In all fairness, Green candidate Jill Stein should have been there too, explaining how she would fund universal health insurance without taxing us all into eternity.

You won't really see serious specifics until the new governor's budget is released next year. Debates are about getting a sense of the general personality, and maybe if we're lucky, the general character of the candidates.

In future debates, I'd like to hear all four candidates present their broad view of what Massachusetts government should be, and defend that concept against others. If we are going to save the commonwealth, we need a lot more than just business as usual on Beacon Hill.

Barbara Anderson is executive director of Citizens for Limited Taxation. Her syndicated columns appear weekly in the Salem News and the Lowell Sun; bi-weekly in the Tinytown Gazette; and occasionally in other newspapers.

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