and the
Citizens Economic Research Foundation

Barbara's Column
January #4

All most Bay Staters want is a simple thank-you
and a tiny tax cut
by Barbara Anderson

The Salem News
Thursday, January 26, 2006

Between Gov. Mitt Romney's State of the State address and the president's State of the Union address next Tuesday, we pause to ask ourselves: What is the state of the people who are paying for all of the various states of government?

Do we feel as safe as it's possible to be in a dangerous world? Are we optimistic about the future of our state and our union? Is the money we pay in taxes well-spent? Do essential services get done?

After we pay for all the levels of government, do we have enough money left to provide for ourselves and our families? Do we feel appreciated?

Every public job, every public paycheck, benefit and pension, every public service provided, need met or privilege granted comes from us taxpayers. We get to work, invest and save, while the government gets to help itself to "its share" of our earnings.

And keep in mind, "its share" is never enough. There is no limit to its "unmet needs," its wants, its demands. The only restraints on the government's ability to take are created by tax limits like Proposition 2 or, ultimately, a reluctant recognition that the tax-paying public's willingness to continue paying has reached its limit.

This recognition sometimes arrives as the tax-paying public begins leaving the state that taxes them too much with not enough to show for it. At the federal level, it takes someone like Ross Perot explaining the effect of the national debt on our grandchildren.

I once thought it took electing Republicans to the executive and both legislative branches, but that doesn't seem to be working out.

There is often a disconnect between the tax burden and the services we fund. I still recall my shock at discovering the high taxes when I moved here in 1971, after living in other states with lower taxes and better services.

Along with its extraordinarily high property tax, Massachusetts had taxes unknown in other places like the auto excise, and strange spending concepts like school board fiscal autonomy. The roads were badly maintained, and newspapers often carried stories about the failure of state programs, especially those for abused children.

Proposition 2 at least limited property taxes and the auto excise and abolished school board fiscal autonomy. But nothing else seems to have changed; certainly our total tax burden is still one of the highest in the nation.

On a snowy day, I like to curl up with a cup of hot chocolate and a good book. This week's reading was the "Commonwealth of Massachusetts Comprehensive Annual Financial Report for the Fiscal Year Ending June 30, 2005." According to the comptroller's official numbers, the state surplus (the excess of revenues over expenditures) last year was $1,635,500. Tax revenues are up $1.2 billion. And advocates for state spending want it all.

Health and Human Services, including Medicaid, account for 33 percent of all state spending. Next to that is primary and secondary education 21 percent. Add other, direct local aid, and the total comes to 32 percent of state spending going to the cities and towns.

Pause here to be drowned out by cries of gratitude from human service providers and local officials for the taxpayers' generosity, which is so much greater in Massachusetts than in 46 other states.

All right, never mind the cries. Let's settle for a simple thank-you.

OK, no thank-you; let's settle for them not implying that we don't care about the children.

The Massachusetts Budget and Policy Center report, "Kids, Cuts and Consequences: How Cuts to Effective Programs Hurt our Children," cannot bring itself to include a single sentence acknowledging the taxpayers who have been paying above the national average for those programs for decades. Just once I'd like to see a dedication page: "To the hard-working citizens who provide the revenue for all these programs," with a pledge to do a better job with that money.

Then we could move on to local officials standing outside the tax collector's office on the day property tax payments are due so they can shake our hands and say, "Thanks, we know it's a sacrifice; we appreciate it."

In his State of the State message and new budget for the next fiscal year, Romney increases spending for almost everything, but especially education, local aid and health care. In return, he asks for more choice, accountability and personal responsibility. Then he tosses in an expression of appreciation for the taxpayers a proposal for a small decrease in the personal income tax rate.

Legislators: Taxpayers were promised that the 1989 rate increase would be temporary, and voted in 2000 to restore the 5 percent rate by 2003. The governor is asking to drop it to 5.15 percent in 2007 and finally, 5 percent in 2008. Acknowledge that government needs to restore trust in its promises and respect for the taxpayers, just in general. Then, out of $24 billion in state spending, show some gratitude to the fount of all that spending by letting us keep enough to deal with our own inflationary costs for fuel, health care, our kids' educations and our retirement.

Government: Give something back. We'd appreciate it.

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.