and the
Citizens Economic Research Foundation

Barbara's Column
July 2004 #2

Intense budget work is upon us
by Barbara Anderson

The Salem News
Monday, July 12, 2004

As we celebrated the day we declared our revolution against "taxation without representation," we began the new fiscal year in a commonwealth that has lots of taxation with representation, such as that is. According to the Washington-based Tax Foundation, our state and local taxation level, per capita, is the fourth highest in the nation.

We also have lots of laws, and are probably about to have more. The legislative leadership tends to jam most of the year's legislation into a short time frame of debate. The state budget itself contains, along with specific appropriations, many outside sections that change state law. It is difficult for citizens to sort out everything that is happening during the intense few days of budget creation in the two legislative branches. A conference committee that then combines the House and Senate versions works in private sessions and submits its compromise version for a quick final approval.

The governor has just 10 days, once the conference committee budget is passed, to make a decision on all the new issues. This year Governor Romney vetoed a number of things that will now require a two-thirds vote of both branches to enact. Among them:

A moratorium on charter schools. This veto needs to be sustained, for the children. The children are our future. Support kids, not the teachers' unions. Support choice for parents who care.

A new property tax break that will give certain seniors an exemption of an amount equal to the average home cost in their community. Seniors are eligible if they earn less than $64,000 a year, filing jointly. Couples who earn less than that, who still have mortgages and college loans to pay, college for their kids and their own retirement to save for, would have to cover the seniors' exemption. The governor says he will support this if it were amended to require that communities first hold a referendum, allowing all the other voters to determine whether they want to raise their own property taxes to give a break to some seniors.

Resident state college tuition for illegal immigrants. The governor says he does not want to encourage people to come to this country illegally. And it does seem that it would benefit everyone if young immigrants get their citizenship before attending taxpayer-subsidized universities.

Extra money for the courts. Even libertarians see funding of the courts as a proper use of taxpayer dollars. But when the courts are used as patronage havens, reform should precede new funding. Gov. Romney has made court reform a centerpiece of his administration, and this veto reflects that.

Wages for "direct care" workers. The governor supports this wage increase for social workers but wants cuts made in the human service bureaucracy. I recall being surprised years ago by the six-figure salaries paid to those who run some of the human service provider agencies. In this case I agree with that liberal mantra: take from the rich, give to the poor.

Free prescription drugs for low-income residents. The government's medical costs are huge and about to become huger as the boomers age. We shouldn't make a bad situation even worse by creating a new prescription drug entitlement. Just as there is no such thing as a free lunch, there should be no such thing as free drugs.

Funding to implement the statewide smoking ban. What's with the money requirement? Just tell local police to stop worrying about terrorism, domestic abuse, teenage drinking, and other local crime, and go harass restaurant owners.

That's the problem with so many of these feel-good laws: They use resources that should be spent on really serious matters. If I ran the world, I'd let anyone smoke as long as the smoke stays in his space; if it invades mine, I should be able to extinguish the cigarette with a water pistol. This would deal with the problem, and be fun besides - though I suppose the police would want water pistols to be readily identifiable as such; no Smith and Wesson overkill.

This is not to say we don't need some new legislation, fully debated, on public safety issues, transportation and construction reform, and a promised tax rollback. But after doing little but the budget and gay marriage for the first six months of this year, legislators are getting ready for a very long vacation and will have to cram these issues in before the Democrat Convention. I hope they do take the convention week off. Important laws shouldn't be passed when media and public attention is diverted. Nor should the controversial overrides of the governor's vetoes take place at that time.

The Legislature now has a very small window for serious lawmaking. If the governor's sensible vetoes are overridden, important legislation is ignored, and the income tax rollback isn't unfrozen, it may be time for another revolution, whose anniversary we could celebrate on every November Election Day.

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