and the
Citizens Economic Research Foundation

Barbara's Column
April #4

Dietary concerns and taxation make April a bad month
by Barbara Anderson

The Salem News
Thursday, April 28, 2005

With apologies to T.S. Eliot: "April is the cruelest month, breeding taxes out of the dead land."

There is something about April that makes me more than usually aware of the government at all levels abusing my good-taxpayer nature.

I've been collecting examples from newspapers and the Internet. People are e-mailing me.

This from a woman who just paid her federal taxes: "I received a surprise from the IRS concerning my 1040 return. Before I could receive my refund they wanted me to do the alternative minimum tax form to see if I could owe more money that way! And I do! (I received a severance package which put me in a higher bracket). ... the limits have not been increased on this tax (for inflation). Basically in the '80s when this tax was initiated, about one-tenth of 1 percent of all taxpayers were paying this. By 2015, about 39 percent will be paying this tax due to inflation."

This is all true, ma'am. It's what happens when Congress passes a tax increase "on the rich" and middle-class taxpayers concur, not realizing that unless the new tax is indexed for inflation, they will very soon be considered "rich" too.

But be of good cheer: the money is spent on essential services, otherwise known by government officials as "my pension."

I just learned there are elected officials whose pensions are based on their three highest years of pay at some state job, even if many of the years they served were in volunteer jobs in local government such as selectman or town moderator.

And according to an article in Fortune Magazine, the majority of government employers across the nation, unlike those in the private sector, still provide health-care benefits for their workers after retirement.

The Salem News recently editorialized about the "overly generous pensions benefits accorded city, town and state employees." In some cases, perfectly healthy individuals are allowed to retire at 45 to 50 years of age and get 80 percent of their salaries for the rest of their lives.

No, the government pensioners are not all military and public safety employees, with their physical requirements and high burnout rates.

Pensions are part of what state and local officials bemoan as "fixed costs." But why address the problem? Better to have an excuse to keep the remaining part of the "temporary" income tax hike of 1989.

Last Monday, Massachusetts House Democrats, by a vote of 135-21, rejected the Republican budget amendment to roll back the income tax rate to 5 percent as the voters had mandated. Instead, they voted for a "study of the impact of the rate reduction." As the budget debate continues, we await further Democratic amendments for a study on the budget impact of their pork proposals.

Meanwhile, at the local level, selectmen threaten destructive cuts in "bare-bones budgets" if voters reject Proposition 2 overrides.

But last year, in the town of Franklin, voters said no anyhow. This week in the MetroWest Daily News, Ed Cafasso, the chairman of the pro-override groups, was quoted: "Many of the taxpayers who fought for the override feel misled about the town's financial situation ... the town seems to have a lot more financial flexibility than predicted a year ago. ... The predictions of severe budget cuts seem to have been premature."

Reminds me of my town that had an override partly to make up for lost state aid, then got the state aid anyhow, and will still take the extra override money.

Speaking of Marblehead, at last week's forum, candidates for selectman were asked for specific suggestions for revenue enhancement. Some thought changing Prop 2 to allow taxes to increase more without an override would be a good idea.

My proposal: Put a suggestion box at Abbot Hall where taxpayers can substitute ideas for their share of an override. Here's my little contribution in lieu of an increase in my own taxes: Let Marbleheaders buy memorial benches at the Waterside Cemetery, where there is no place to sit except for one sad bench at the top of the steepest hill.

Have you found your place on the new taxpayer-funded federal government food pyramid yet? I've been trying to figure it out for a few days now.

The old food pyramid is what we all learned in junior high health class and was either followed or not, depending on whether there was ice cream in the freezer with the frozen broccoli. As nearly as I can tell, nothing has changed much except that the new version adds exercise steps up the pyramid's sides. I wonder how much it cost to tell us what we've always known we should be doing and will do, really, if there's nothing good on TV.

Well, you pays your taxes and gets your intelligence insulted.

April is just about over. Do you suppose things will get better in May?

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.