and the
Citizens Economic Research Foundation


Barbara's Column
October 2002 #3

Send Beacon Hill a message with
'yes' vote on ballot questions

by Barbara Anderson

The Salem News
Monday, October 21, 2002

Here's an upbeat slogan for the fall ballot questions: "Just say yes!"

"Yes" to lower taxes, the English language, and "Clean Elections."

"Yes" for positive action, up-with-people optimism, and other good stuff like democracy and competition. And "yes" to understanding the way Beacon Hill works.

Legislative leaders want a "no" vote on all three questions. Personally, that's all I need to know before voting in the affirmative.

It may appear that if voters say "no" to a ballot question, this simply means that nothing new happens. But, in fact, a "no" vote is a permission slip for politicians to misbehave more.

Based on my years of experience on the Hill, I predict: If we do not repeal the income tax, the rate will not stay at its present 5.3 percent. The political mind, different from ours, will assume that voters are saying they love the income tax and wish it were higher.

The Legislature will hike it to 5.6 percent, maybe retroactively to July or even January, before they leave for the holidays. Then next year, since they will still not have addressed the structural deficit problem, they will hike it back to 5.95 percent.

I further predict: if Question Two does not pass, the bilingual ed reform law that passed earlier this year in response to the ballot question will be ignored and many immigrant kids will continue to be denied the American Dream.

The Massachusetts Teachers Association has a lot more clout on Beacon Hill than these children have.

Question One was initiated by libertarians; Question Two, by education reformers. Both were placed on the ballot by the many voters who signed the petitions.

Question Three is a repeat of 1998's petition -- "Clean Elections" -- which was created by government reform groups and passed by the voters. This new version was placed on the ballot by the Legislature which hopes that focusing on the funding and not on the reform, will get voters to reject the whole concept.

I initially opposed "Clean Elections" myself. But I have come to understand that we get our money's worth if the taxpayer funding creates competition for the legislative jobs and encourages a healthy fear of constituents on the part of those incumbents who like to think they own their seats.

Another prediction: If Question Three does not pass, legislators will continue to show their contempt for their constituents by repealing initiative petitions that have passed, refusing to set budget priorities, and raising taxes while cutting essential services. If few challengers can compete against well-funded incumbents, what do they have to fear by disrespecting us?

Citizens who take things in their non-political lives at face value may find it hard to understand my predictions. But politics is different from our lives; politicians are different from us.

Politicians look for the message behind the vote, the message that says they can continue to take the easy way out, avoid looking at the big picture, please the powerful Beacon Hill special interest groups, and get through the fiscal year one tax hike at a time -- as long as they have no one running against them in the next election.

Question One proponents have misstated some information in their ads. Doing away with the income tax will not save each taxpayer $3,000 a year, as its literature has stated; this number is an average. I, for instance, would save only $2,000. You can determine your own savings by checking to see how much you paid in state income taxes last year and would not have to pay again if the tax is repealed.

Also, the Beacon Hill Institute says that its numbers concerning job creation have been taken out of context and it won't be as dramatic as proponents state. However, the track that we are presently on -- facing tax hikes every year -- will not do a thing for the Massachusetts economy.

It is doubtful that $9 billion in cuts can be made. Education spending, for instance, is required by our state constitution, and other expenditures are required by federal and contract law. But of course Question One is not intended to cut $9 billion from the $22 billion state budget. Proponents mean to drop that budget altogether and restructure it in the libertarian, "small government is beautiful" format.

Personally, I wouldn't know "small government" if I found it in my soup, never having seen it, so I can't judge its pulchritude. But I can tell you this: Big government, as practiced in Massachusetts, is not a pretty sight. Dramatic reform in various contexts is essential, and a "yes" vote on all three ballot questions can be our contribution to getting that reform under way.

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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