and the
Citizens Economic Research Foundation


Barbara's Column
January 2003 #1

Governor uses the right words,
but now must show Democratic leadership he means them

by Barbara Anderson

The Salem News
Tuesday, January 7, 2003

I wish my hard-won cynicism were strong enough to prevent me from becoming too excited about a new year in which maybe we can make Massachusetts government work.

Instead of saying, appropriately, "In your dreams, Barbara," my mind interprets "unfolding disaster" as "unprecedented opportunity."

Of course I am concerned that Governor Romney has no plans to oppose the new tax on prescriptions, or what the pledge-breaking Jane Swift called a "pharmacy assessment." And no one is even talking about the equally obscene tax on nursing home beds, probably because one must have a dying relative who is trying to pay for his/her own care to be aware of the injustice of taxing these responsible people.

Taken together with the other new tax on Massachusetts estates, there seems to be a plan to balance the state budget on the backs of the sick, the dying and the dead.

Having expressed this bit of left-over outrage, let me get to the "unprecedented opportunity" part: A new, can-do governor, exciting choices for cabinet secretaries, a few good legislators joined by new state representatives who won open seats and support tax limitation.

Legislators can avoid the embarrassment of taking pay raises when other state employees are losing jobs by putting the constitutional amendment granting them automatic salary increases back on the ballot, as they did with Clean Elections. And this time tell voters what it really is -- a device tying their pay to the increase in household income -- instead of selling it as a "reform" that prevents legislators from voting on their own pay.

Even though Tom Finneran is still speaker of the House of Representatives, there is no reason House members can't implement the democracy plan promoted by reformers. Finneran controlled the past decade from the top; now let all of our representatives do their jobs and get us out of the fiscal crisis this caused.

Governor Romney's inauguration speech made it clear that he considers this rescue mission to be his job for the next few years.

While I thought it odd that he chose to admiringly equate "nimble and inventive attackers" of big government and large corporations with the Islamic terrorists, for the most part it was an excellent speech. You could tell by watching the faces of the two men sitting behind him, as he talked about attacking the fiscal mess with a "greater level of responsiveness to our citizens ... (and) a lighter, more agile bureaucracy, and an openness to change."

New Senate President Robert Travaglini had no idea what he was talking about; while Finneran, the architect of the current fiscal mess, knew all too well and was trying to pretend he did not.

Unfortunately Romney backed down the next day, "clarifying" that he wasn't blaming them -- probably because most Beacon Hill pundits warn that these two legislative leaders could sabotage Romney's efforts.

I disagree. Travaglini won't understand them well enough to sabotage them. Finneran will get on the bandwagon, as he did with Weld, knowing that his many fans and sycophants will be quick to give him much of the credit when the commonwealth is at last saved.

Finneran was the one running the commonwealth as it blew a decade of surpluses. On his watch, state spending increased a billion dollars a year, we had the biggest tax increase in our history, and are now, according to many analysts, in the worst financial straits since the Great Depression.

The Speaker actively opposed the one tax cut -- the income tax rollback -- that could have prevented the present budget crisis had it been done earlier. When the voters passed it anyhow in November 2000 despite his efforts, he began a public relations campaign to halt the gradual rate decrease, and while he was at it, the voter-approved charitable deduction.

Still, his fans and sycophants call him a "fiscal conservative" and equate him with Romney. Finneran will use this illusion to make the commonwealth's recovery part of his "legacy."

So if Romney can pull it off without new taxes, most pundits will credit Finneran instead of the voters, who sent the message with their almost-repeal of the income tax that higher taxes are not a solution in a state that already has the fifth highest tax burden in the nation.

This will be the first year that Citizens for Limited Taxation's Voluntary Tax will be in effect, just in time to help with the revenue shortfall. This new law, passed by the Finneran Legislature in a rare moment of lucidity, allows taxpayers who oppose tax cuts to keep paying their income tax at the old rate of 5.85 percent through a simple check-off on state income tax forms.

I optimistically, if foolishly, predict that this new money, along with across-the-board cuts to state and local government agencies that have grown uncontrollably over the past decade, the end of luxury items like convention centers and convention subsidies, and a complete overhaul of Beacon Hill itself, will get us through 2003, and we will eventually be a "lighter, more agile", more responsive downsized commonwealth.

Happy New Year to all!

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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