and the
Citizens Economic Research Foundation

Barbara's Column
November #5

Voters poised to act
as Beacon Hill goes into holiday mode
by Barbara Anderson

The Salem News
Friday, November 30, 2007

So we enjoy our Thanksgiving meal, give thanks for all our personal and family blessings, and then, a few days later, we are handed something else for which to be grateful: The end of the legislative session, or at least the part that could do some serious damage if it wanted.

Years ago, after some embarrassing, lame-duck, late-night holiday sessions, the Legislature changed its rules and ended its formal sessions shortly after the fall election. Not sure why this is now done in a non-election year like 2007, when the same ducks are returning to Beacon Hill in 2008.

Now, in an election year, the session is over by the end of July. This gives incumbents a chance to campaign all through the fall instead of working full time as their challengers must - another major advantage, along with fundraising ability and name recognition, that partly explains why we don't have a viable political system.

But not to complain. As Mark Twain is credited with saying, "No man's life, liberty or property is safe when the Legislature is in session."

This may be more relevant to Congress, which is still in session, but it also applies in a state where legislation is pending to raise taxes, involve the government in life sciences and forbid parents from spanking their own kids.

On the other hand, bills are also pending to restore protections to life, liberty, and property - including most notably this week criminal justice reforms that might have saved two people in Washington state from a released Massachusetts murderer.

Meanwhile, Gov. Deval Patrick's campaign-promised property tax relief didn't happen. It's easier to go home for the holidays than to take on public employee unions by lifting the cap on charter schools, impose limitations on police details, or allow cities and towns to join the state health insurance system without union approval.

Not that most communities are even taking advantage of the pension-related cost savings reforms that were approved by the Legislature this year. Instead, according to a recent State House News Service report, several local officials have joined Newton Mayor David Cohen in his call for more aid to cities and towns from new, broad-based state tax increases, mentioning the sales, gas and income taxes as examples.

Natick Selectman member Josh Ostroff said some state residents are ready to discuss higher taxes.

"I think people are. I think municipal officials are," Ostroff told SHNS. However, he complained, "I'm not sure the legislative leadership and the governor are ready to address this."

That's where the taxpayer gratitude comes from in late November. The good news may be that the Legislature has discovered fiscal responsibility. The bad news may be that the Legislature knows it's going to need it, with the costs of the new health insurance law rising and baby-boomer public employees moving toward retirement.

The Patrick administration is predicting at least a $1.3 billion deficit in the budget year that begins next July.

Of course, the $2 billion deficit predicted for this budget year never materialized, so there's no point in spending our holidays worrying about any of this. We can worry about it next year, when we'll also worry about the nation while choosing our next president.

Speaking of the nation, Gov. Patrick is off on a trade mission to China, which already owns a sizable portion of our country and our debt. I went on my own mission this week to find Christmas cards that weren't made in China.

My son is installing bamboo floors and agrees that it's OK to buy bamboo, kites and fireworks from China. But Christmas cards?

God bless the Hallmark store in Vinnin Square, which was able to offer me products made in the good ol' U.S.A. and Switzerland. But then I came home and protected my lawn furniture for the winter with covers "made in China."

I imagine my grandchildren will be getting toys "made in China." I'm not so much worried about lead paint -- I think most of us grew up with toys that had lead paint, didn't we? -- as I am still angry about Tibet and the Dalai Lama.

I'm not saying we should attack China when we are through with Iraq and Iran, but do we have to buy our Christmas decorations from tyrants?

Funny the things that make one crazy. But back to late-fall gratitude. It looks as if, in this era of a too-busy, sometimes apathetic and discouraged citizenry, some Massachusetts political activists have managed to collect enough signatures to give us voters some ballot questions next November!

Though the petitions are currently in local city and town halls having their signatures validated, four groups think they have collected at least the required 66,593 voter names.

Since the Legislature won't honor the voters' income-tax rate rollback to 5 percent, I am eager to vote "yes" on Carla Howell's libertarian petition to repeal the income tax altogether. I hope to see greyhound racing, marijuana legalization and the repeal of Chapter 40B on the ballot for our consideration, too. Thank you, activists, and voters who signed those petitions.

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.