and the
Citizens Economic Research Foundation

Barbara's Column
October #1

Topsfield Fair's food helped fuel
tax limitation movement in the Bay State
by Barbara Anderson

The Salem News
Friday, October 7, 2005

I want to congratulate the Massachusetts House and Senate for finally passing their versions of "Melanie's Law" and dealing with the scourge of drunken driving.

Of course it's not law yet and my deadline doesn't allow me to wait to see what comes out of the House-Senate conference committee that is addressing the differences between the two versions. One sometimes wonders, how many more must die....

I had earlier planned to write about the Sept. 27 Statehouse hearing on the bill to continue the voters' income tax rollback, which the Legislature froze in 2002. But the hearing was postponed until Nov.15, one day before the Legislature is scheduled to shut down for the holidays. Meanwhile, state revenues continue to climb far beyond expectations, leaving a billion-dollar surplus that should be used to obey the will of the voters which is to reduce the income tax rate to 5 percent.

The hearing on the Proposition 2 override bill, allowing only one override attempt a year in each community, and allowing underride attempts for all communities, is scheduled for Oct. 25.

In my 28 years as a taxpayer activist, attending more Statehouse hearings than I can count, I cannot recall any time that hearings on bills were held so late. Usually they take place in the spring. There were times when the Legislature didn't get around to voting on them until the last few hours of the year, but at least there was an attempt to act as if they were being taken seriously enough to be publicly presented.

I'm hoping there will be a hearing on the new health-care bill which is being drafted by legislative leaders to meet a looming federal deadline, so I can argue that repeal of the nursing home tax would be helpful.

While I'm waiting for all this legislative activity, I'll just continue my personal and ongoing celebration of the 25th anniversary of the Proposition 2 campaign, which took place during the fall of 1980. This week I celebrated at the Topsfield Fair, where it all began.

Back in those days, the fair's Trade Center was called the Exposition Building, and various nonprofit and political groups were given free tables along the right-hand wall. In 1979, when Prop 2 was just a title on an initiative petition, I worked for Citizens for Limited Taxation as the office secretary and was also expected to collect signatures in my free time.

My then-husband had taken my son and me to the Topsfield Fair the autumn that I moved to Massachusetts, and it was love at first sight, or more accurately, first taste. There was, for instance, a little red shack right between the midway and the exhibits that served the best pizza imaginable. So I suggested to my boss that I should spend the full 10 days at the Fair.

I'd drive up Route 97 in the morning, grab a fried dough, and set up the table with petitions from all the cities and towns in alphabetical order.

Common Cause was beside me with an information table; its local director, Paul Jackman, and I became good friends. Right-to-lifers passed out literature next to the League of Women Voters. The Essex Country sheriff's table was across the aisle; Sheriff Reardon's men helped me decorate my table with cornstalks and let me wear their leather jackets when it got cold in the evenings.

Various taxpayer volunteers joined me each day to ask fairgoers, "Do you want to limit your property taxes?" We had a cute, colored flyer featuring a cartoon Minuteman with quick talking points, and a four-page, single-spaced explanation of all the petition's complexities. Citizens ignored the former, and forced us to run to nearby towns to reprint the latter several times.

Yes, children, back in the old days, people were interested in politics and issues, and stopped between riding the Ferris wheel and visiting the baby pigs to sign petitions. Sure, the petitions had pizza sauce, powdered sugar and kielbasa juice on them, but back then, they couldn't be disqualified for "stray marks" that kept them from being "pristine" as they can now.

By Columbus Day, my Topsfield Fair team had collected more than 20,000 signatures, while I gained five pounds on fair food and met a lot of citizens, some of whom may be reading this column! It was a fun way to be involved.

We used the fairgrounds for a few more petition drives, then new management put an end to the free tables. This year, the new Common Cause redistricting commission petition wasn't there, and the red pizza shack was gone, but I did enjoy my fried dough, German French fries (a delicious European alliance!), fruit smoothie and gritty, old-fashioned fudge to go. I also found a leather belt for my celebration dress, a small piece of fur for my cat, and toy bow-and-arrow sets for my grandchildren. Also bought a miniature John Deere dozer in the Agway shed for the kids' sandbox.

I watched the speckled baby pigs, absorbed the flower show, and listened to Mitch Ryder at the Grandstand, all the while recalling the days of old, when I was first an activist, and Proposition 2 was in its infancy.

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.