and the
Citizens Economic Research Foundation

Barbara's Column
April #2

Mass. tax burden 4th highest;
Tax Freedom Day later this year
by Barbara Anderson

The Salem News
Thursday, April 12, 2007

It's the time of year when we check in with the Washington-based Tax Foundation, which uses U.S. Census Bureau data to compare tax burdens year to year and state to state.

If you haven't yet done your taxes, you may be inspired by knowing that Massachusetts' per-capita state and local tax burden is fourth highest in the country, and 22.5 percent above the national average. This is determined by dividing our state and local taxes among every man, woman and child in the commonwealth, showing for comparison purposes, that each of us pays $5,419. The national average is $4,422.

Only Connecticut, New Jersey and New York have higher per-capita tax burdens.

You won't see this data widely reported; pro-taxation groups focus on another Tax Foundation comparison -- the state tax burden relative to personal income. Using this data, Massachusetts ranks 28th highest, because many wealthy people live here; although that's of little comfort to those of us who don't have high personal incomes.

We already know that "the rich" can afford higher taxes because we see some of them supporting Proposition 2 override campaigns to show their civic concern. Some of them prefer to send their children to public schools, if they can get taxpayers to more generously fund them - which partly explains why per-pupil spending here, K through 12, is fourth highest in the country.

What is it with all these overrides this spring? I thought Governor Deval Patrick was going to cut our property taxes if he was elected; that seemed to be the reason that many people voted for him. Instead, taxpayers are being asked to approve overrides -- again -- while the governor argues for increasing the meals tax. How does paying a higher tax on my croissant at the coffee shop cut my property-tax bill?

The Tax Foundation is most famous for another comparison, its annual Tax Freedom Day report. Just released, it tells us how long we work each year to pay the government before starting to work for ourselves and our families. This year in the United States as a whole, Tax Freedom Day comes two days later than last year. Americans work until April 30 -- the first 120 days of the year -- for the government.

Says the Tax Foundation, "This makes taxation a bigger financial burden than housing and household operation (62 days), health and medical care (52 days), food (30 days), transportation (30 days), recreation (22 days), or clothing and accessories (13 days)."

In Massachusetts, where many of those costs of living are higher yet, we work even longer for the government -- until May 6 -- also two days later than in 2006. Rated ninth in this category, we work longer for the government than people in 41 other states.

And what do we get here that taxpayers in 41 other states do not?

Not excellent infrastructure. Last year I wrote in this space that we had just been told, again, that Massachusetts bridges were deficient. The year before it was the dams that weren't safe. Now there is what an official calls a "shocking" deficit of up to $19 billion in the rail and highway systems.

So far the governor's solution is to spend another $1.4 billion (starter estimate) for yet another rail line that we can't afford.

According to the Massachusetts Transportation Finance Commission, 82 percent of MassHighway workers' salaries last year were paid by borrowing. Now there's a sign of brilliant management -- borrowing to pay operating expenses.

Commission members are floating a proposal for a 9-cent increase in the gas tax, which was last raised in 1990 to maintain roads and bridges. Guess that work didn't get done after the last tax increase. Shocking!

And of course we are still paying for the Big Dig, whose off-ramps in Boston are dumping drivers over the edge. Our overall state debt -- despite our high tax burden -- is one of the highest in the nation. Tax, spend; borrow, spend.

This year we had a new scandal with the discovery of stacks of decomposing bodies at the medical examiner's office. And State Auditor Joe DeNucci in a recent report warns us that "inadequate statewide food inspections increase health risks."

There is one sign of hope. Almost everyone has finally arrived at the understanding that there is a huge problem with "fixed costs" and unfunded liabilities relative to public pension and health-care benefits. (Except for Bob McCarthy, head of the firefighters' union, who insisted in a recent interview with Jon Keller that there is no unfunded pension liability, so no reason for reforms that would prevent union leaders from attending conferences in Hawaii.)

Bills have been filed by the governor and others to begin to address these presently uncontrolled costs. This is the year for them to pass -- if legislators and local officials don't get the higher taxes that give them an easy, albeit temporary, way out of the current budget deficits.

Citizens can do their part by resisting all new tax packages and overrides until these and other vital reforms are passed.

We suffer the fourth highest tax burden in the nation, working for government until May 6. Now we need to hear a "thank you," and see some reforms.

Congratulations Barbara!

The Salem News has been named the best large daily newspaper in Community Newspaper Holdings Inc., an Alabama-based media company that owns 93 daily papers....

William Ketter, CNHI's vice president for news and the chairman of the judging panel . . . said the "tiebreaker" . . . was the quality of The Salem News editorial pages, under the direction of Editorial Page Editor Nelson Benton.

"The judges were so impressed by the involvement of local people as columnists," Ketter said.

The Salem News
Thursday, April 12, 2007
Salem News named top daily by parent company

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.