It wouldn't be a proper election without the
traditional tax debate, and it's gratifying to know that the 17-year-old
"temporary" income tax hike still polls well as a voter concern. This
has less to do with the $675 million that restoring the 5 percent rate
would give taxpayers than with citizens' insistence that the Legislature
honor their will on a ballot question.
But as we debate respect for the voters vs. political arrogance, there
are other aspects of the 2006 tax debate that aren't as well defined.
First to muddle the tax landscape is "Christy's Proposition 1," the
centerpiece of the Christy Mihos campaign. His website says that "it
will cap property values from the time of purchase until the property is
sold, thus providing more certainty to homeowners, who will not
experience unpredictable increases in property taxes due to
reassessment." Mihos promises that if the Legislature won't pass it,
he'll take it to the ballot in 2008.
I don't know to what the "one" in Proposition 1 refers; maybe we can
look forward to "Christy's Proposition 2, 3, and 4"? I do know that it
can't be done.
The Massachusetts Constitution requires that all property be assessed at
"full and fair market value." That's why local assessors must oversee
regular revaluations to keep assessments up to date. A constitutional
amendment, a four-year process, would be needed to allow Proposition 1.
Even if signatures were collected on an initiative petition, and/or
legislative support were assured, the proposal couldn't get to the
ballot until 2010. Then it would likely lose, because it is clearly
unfair and economically unwise.
Mihos doesn't mention changing Proposition 2½, a number that does have a
meaning. It lets property taxes in a community increase 2½ percent over
the previous year's levy (plus a factor for new construction),
regardless of what is happening with assessments.
If Mihos's Proposition 1 assessments are for those who stay put, the
newcomers to a town or neighborhood would pay both their own and part of
everyone else's share of taxes. Taxpayers would be penalized for moving
to a different community, moving across town or across the street; for
upsizing to a bigger house as a family grows, or downsizing to a condo
as a family shrinks. People who might consider moving here from another
state would have yet another reason -- along with our weather, odd
political culture, and high per capita tax burden -- to choose another
California's Proposition 1 (so called because it limits taxes to 1
percent of value) does freeze assessments, but it was a constitutional
amendment, and people choose to move to sunny California despite the
unequal treatment for newcomers. Massachusetts would not have that
advantage; our population and housing market would decline even more
than they have recently.
Property taxes, even with Prop 2½, are too high here. Gubernatorial
candidates Mihos and Deval Patrick argue that any income tax cut causes
higher property taxes. The
Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation argues against the income tax
rollback in its "concern" for property taxpayers -- which would be more
believable if it hadn't also opposed Prop 2½ when it was on the 1980
Back then, both our property tax and income taxes were among the three
highest in the nation. The reason Massachusetts has an income tax, as
well as a sales tax and lottery, is that we were assured over many years
that these new revenue producers would cut the property tax. They did
not; all the taxes increased together. Voters eventually caught on to
this scam and voted to cut property taxes themselves.
But the scam is back. In all their expressed concern about the property
tax, opponents of the $675 million income tax rollback have no plan to
cut property taxes by that amount, or any amount at all. Patrick wants
to add local option taxes to the already-high mix. Mihos wants to shift
the burden to first-time homeowners.
Taxpayers should simply insist on respect for the voters, and see where
that takes us on tax issues.
Barbara Anderson is executive director of Citizens for Limited
Taxation, which created Proposition 2½.
Barbara Anderson is executive director of Citizens
for Limited Taxation. Her syndicated columns appear weekly in the Salem
News and other Eagle Tribune newspapers; bi-weekly in the Tinytown
Gazette; and occasionally in the Lowell Sun, Providence [RI] Journal and