and the
Citizens Economic Research Foundation

Barbara's Column
February #1

Taxpayers better laugh so they don't cry
by Barbara Anderson

The Salem News
Thursday, February 1, 2007

Someone gave me a little wooden block to hang on my wall. It says, "Live simply, laugh often, love much."

I am still working on life simplification, but laughing comes often to those who love politics much.

For one thing, laughing is better than crying, which is the other option when observing Massachusetts politics in action. But often there really is a funny side to the news.

Take last week's story about Manuel Rivera, the incoming Boston school superintendent who thought better of coming in. Most commentators seemed puzzled by this. Why?

Those who dream about getting out of Massachusetts shouldn't wonder that someone else isn't eager to come here.

Sure, the winters are generally milder here than in Rivera's present location -- Rochester, New York. But according to friends of mine who live there, the housing costs in Rochester are lower. Though Boston was offering a high salary, it would take a lot more to get a comparable home here -- and it might be on the other side of a badly constructed tunnel, sitting on an earthquake fault.

Rochester isn't so far away that a savvy educator wouldn't have heard about the infamous Massachusetts political culture he'd be entering. And mentioned casually toward the end of one news account of his decision not to come -- an item about a possible teachers' union strike this summer.

Hey, if I were Manny Rivera, I'd have suddenly discovered a better offer somewhere, too.

It's too bad. A school superintendent who has more sense than to come here would probably have been, by definition, the best man for the job.

Quite a few people don't understand the role our political culture plays in this being the only state to lose population last year. They think it is all about the cost of housing, without grasping how our politics plays a crucial part in elevating those costs.

They seem to understand that permitting and zoning difficulties prevent many housing starts, and relate it to environmental and quality-of-life issues. But rarely is there mention of the high property tax burden that makes people want to discourage families with kids from moving into town. And no, Governor Patrick, local option taxes won't help with this.

And then there are the ongoing assaults on the property rights of landlords, who must put up with all kinds of abuse from tenants who somehow in this state acquired their own "rights" at the property owners' expense. I'd rather be superintendent of schools than a landlord in Boston!

Now state Sen. Brian Joyce, D-Milton, has filed legislation to give any Massachusetts college graduate who promises to stay here a $10,000 down payment on a house or condo. This is immensely silly on so many levels.

For one thing, the money has to come from taxpayers, whose high per-capita tax burden is one of the reasons productive people want to leave. Second, giving a subsidy to first-time buyers just raises the price of that house to what the market will bear -- in other words, what that home would normally sell for, plus $10,000.

In the present housing market, this bill might help temporarily to get sales moving again; but then the subsidy stops working. And prospective buyers who haven't just graduated from college would have an even harder time affording a home, especially when their taxes are being used to subsidize their competition in the housing market.

Finally, most college graduates aren't looking to buy a home, here or anywhere else. They deserve a few years trying out places, jobs and roommates before they settle down. No reason they should tie themselves to a mortgage just so Massachusetts doesn't lose a congressional seat.

No, bribing people to stay here isn't the answer. Neither is the kind of nonsense that makes living here an entertaining embarrassment; e.g., Governor Patrick's plan to bribe the House and Senate to follow his agenda by raising the pay of legislative leaders.

No, I'm not making this up. According to the Globe, the governor is contemplating a deal to give key legislators "significant" pay raises in return for leadership support for his plan to overhaul the state's quasi-public agencies like the Massachusetts Turnpike Authority.

This is also wrong on many levels, the worst being the additional power it would give to the Senate president and House speaker, since they are the ones who would decide just who gets the significant extra pay -- in return for which, one can assume, they would expect significant extra loyalty. If the governor is going to bribe the Legislature with our tax dollars, why not just give each individual legislator a big bonus whenever he votes for one of the governor's bills?

If I had lots of money, could I do that to get a favorable vote on the income-tax rollback or property tax relief? Probably, but then I'd go to jail.

It's possible that this trial balloon was leaked just to see if anyone responded with a reminder that bribery is illegal. One could also say that if the governor has a good idea, legislators should do it for free!

Laugh often, taxpayers, laugh much.

Barbara Anderson is executive director of Citizens for Limited Taxation. Her column appears weekly in the Salem News and Eagle Tribune, and often in the Newburyport Times, Gloucester Times, and Lowell Sun; bi-weekly in the Tinytown Gazette; and occasionally in the Providence (RI) Journal and other newspapers.