It was a memorable moment in time; a glimpse into the
mind of a liberal.
Sometime in the early '90s, I was at a Statehouse hearing about either a
tax cut or a tax increase, I don't recall which — but you can probably
guess which way I testified. Afterward, I was talking with a proudly
liberal Statehouse columnist, who seemed quite earnest in his argument
that I shouldn't mind paying more for important government services,
because he didn't mind paying more himself.
I told him that I had no problem with that: He and his fellow liberals
should feel free to contribute any additional amount to the state tax
revenues that they wanted, regardless of how the bill being heard fared
in the General Court. I was sincere; I really didn't mind if he wanted
to pay more. And I also wouldn't have minded if he'd been annoyed by my
breezy, slightly sarcastic assertion.
Here is the interesting part: He wasn't annoyed; he was.... shocked.
I had the impression that the concept — pay what you want for a
government the size you prefer, leave me alone — had never before
entered his mind.
"But, but" he stammered, "it can't be done that way. Everyone is part of
the government, of the community; everyone has to pay his share".
"Why?" I asked, driving him, I suspect, almost over the edge.
It's a question that makes total sense to my side of fiscal issues. You
want something, pay for it.
No, you can't take unlimited money from other people just because you
want to spend it on something you would like.
And his side of fiscal issues would respond: Why not? Which of course
drives the likes of me over my own edge.
I was thinking of that liberal columnist in late 2000 when I filed a
bill to let state income tax-payers choose the higher, pre-rollback
income tax rate instead of the 5 percent rate that the majority of
voters had just chosen for themselves. House Republicans ran with the
concept and, say what you will this week about former speaker Tom
Finneran, something about the concept caught his imagination too.
So the bill eventually passed and since then the state income tax form
has carried two lines, one for the standard rate (presently 5.3
percent), and one for the 5.85 percent rate that was in effect
previously. Each taxpayer can choose which amount they would like to
According to the state Department of Revenue, so far this year 895
taxpayers have chosen the higher rate for tax year 2004. Well, good for
Something similar almost just happened in Wellesley, where a Proposition
2½ school override was defeated. When the parents of students who were
taking Spanish immersion classes learned that the classes would no
longer be available due to lack of funding, they got together and
offered to pay for the immersion thing themselves.
Again, I say good for them.
And again, the reaction was shock, disbelief, even horror. Apparently
education, even the nonbasic stuff, is supposed to be a responsibility
of "all of us," and parents shouldn't subvert this ideology. Some
override supporters even went so far as to accuse opponents of a bias
against the concept of Spanish immersion.
Except the voters didn't say "no Spanish immersion." They simply said
they couldn't afford, or didn't want to pay higher property taxes, for
No one has ever said that someone shouldn't be able to contribute to the
cause of his or her choice. Rather than rejection, the Wellesley
"volunteer payment parents" deserve applause and gratitude.
If you anticipated the override supporters' confusion, you grasp the
basic difference between liberals and fiscal conservatives. As someone
whose parents paid for her Spanish immersion, along with the rest of her
Catholic primary-secondary education, let me just say, Viva la
It is true that we appear to be members of the same species and are thus
capable of mating — though raising children with two different
philosophies of life can be a challenge. For instance, I just learned
that one reason kids across the nation are carrying those heavy
backpacks is that some fool grown-ups have argued and ruled that school
lockers cannot be searched because adolescents have a right to privacy.
So some schools have chosen to not have lockers in which the kids can
hide drugs and weapons.
To my mind, this is absurd. The U.S. Constitution is for grown-ups. Kids
have no "self-evident" freedom of speech, religion, right to bear arms,
or freedom from search and seizure by their school administrators and
parents. But some from the liberal branch of the family tree have
decided that children do indeed possess such freedoms.
Liberals and fiscal conservatives seem to speak the same English
language, but they have a different vocabulary. Both species can read
the Constitution. But during the debate over proper judicial philosophy
and its application of laws, there are conservative "strict
constructionists" who believe the written word means what it says, and
there are liberal supporters of "judicial activism" who believe the
Constitution is open to whimsical interpretations that fit their
My species believes in absolutes like right and wrong. Liberals seem
more flexible, except about their "good" tax hikes and "bad" tax cuts.
Viva my side!
Barbara Anderson is executive director of Citizens for Limited Taxation. Her syndicated columns appear weekly in the Salem
News, Newburyport Times, Gloucester Times, (Lawrence) Eagle-Tribune, and Lowell Sun; bi-weekly in the Tinytown Gazette; and occasionally in the Providence
Journal and other newspapers.