and the
Citizens Economic Research Foundation

Barbara's Column
March #4

Thoughts while waiting for the real spring to arrive
by Barbara Anderson

The Salem News
Thursday, March 23, 2006

The calendar says it's time for a little spring cleaning. No, not your mother's spring cleaning.

I was beginning that tradition. Had the living room rug rolled up, and was carrying the cat to a room away from the hated vacuum cleaner, when I tripped on the rug. Held the cat instead of catching myself, and pulled a hamstring muscle. Now I'm doing RICE Rest, Ice, Compress, Elevate with my leg while working on my laptop.

Far from being grateful, the cat resents having to share the lap with the computer. Meanwhile, the pump on the fish tank has stalled, so in order to get air to the goldfish, I swoosh a spoon around in the water every time I hobble past the aquarium and hope the oxygen-producing plants can survive without artificial light since the tank's bulb just burned out too.

Did you ever wonder why and when, in our evolutionary history, man decided to have pets like cats and fish? What do they do for the survival of our species?

I get the hunting, herding and watchdogs, the mousers in the barn, and the fish meal in the pond, but why did we evolve to have a cat purring on our laps and a goldfish doing absolutely nothing but being beautiful.

* * *

The men on the Citizens for Limited Taxation staff are also limping, Chip Ford with a twisted ankle and Chip Faulkner with gout.

Fortunately we could e-mail our opinion on health-care reform to legislators. Bottom line, organizations like ours that provide health insurance shouldn't have to pay a surcharge on our premiums for other companies' employees who do not have health insurance. We are also, however, concerned about forcing those other companies to pay a new tax to cover the state's free-care pool.

There is good news though. The Elder Affairs Committee has favorably reported out a bill to repeal the nursing home tax, which is currently assessed on self-paying patients to subsidize Medicaid patients. So if it is finally clear that the state shouldn't penalize people who take responsibility for their own treatment, it should also be clear that it shouldn't punish companies who provide health insurance or even those who "just" provide jobs.

* * *

Faulkner is working on a legislative memo in opposition to slot machines at state-subsidized race tracks.

I still think that Massachusetts should have a casino if people want one, so they won't take their gambling business to Connecticut. But there are good arguments for not giving Massachusetts gambling revenues in addition to our high tax burden.

When Nevada lost gambling revenues after 9/11 because fewer gamblers wanted to fly, it raised taxes to cover its budget deficit. However, when the fiscal crisis was over, Nevada cut taxes.

If gambling revenues dropped here, Massachusetts would raise taxes permanently as it always does. More money, from gambling or taxes, just means more spending to Beacon Hill. Further, gambling has societal costs that this state would insist on raising more taxes to address. A good or neutral idea in other states is generally a bad idea here.

* * *

As Beacon Hill clears some long-awaited issues, like the crime bill, off its desk, the sound of the Prop 2 override cuckoo is heard in many commonwealth towns.

In the spring, the teachers unions' fancy usually turns to higher property taxes.

Happily, in my town we just have signs sprouting on lawns that urge everyone to "Support Marblehead Teachers." This was puzzling until someone told me that the signs refer to the fact that teachers here were "working without a contract."

I once thought that this meant working without pay, since otherwise why would unions make such a fuss about it? Most of us work without contracts, without unions, without job security, and often without pay raises. Life goes on.

* * *

Whatever raise Marblehead teachers get, less will come from me this year.

After filling out the application, and showing the town assessors around my house and yard, I did receive a small abatement on my property tax.

Was $74 worth the effort of challenging my assessment? Yes. It's never just about the money; it's about the learning experience. I learned how difficult the job of assessor is, and how complicated the determination of a home's value.

I wonder what will happen to McMansion assessments as baby boomers' knees age and they start hobbling around like the two Chips and I are this week. I predict that ranch houses will increase in value in the next decade, as stairs become difficult to climb.

* * *

Returning to the sound of the cuckoo, our congressman, John Tierney, was one of the few silly Democrats calling for President Bush to be impeached. J.T, call your planet.

Some people make fun of the president for wanting to install democracy in Iraq. Sometimes I'm not sure democracy even works here, considering the kind of people we elect.

* * *

Spring fever: Faulkner sent me a bumper sticker: "I'd rather hunt with Dick Cheney than ride with Ted Kennedy."

But I'm still looking for one that says, "Rejoice. Our part of the globe is finally warming."

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.