and the
Citizens Economic Research Foundation

Barbara's Column

New year brings push for new taxes
by Barbara Anderson

The Salem News
Saturday, January 10, 2009

Happy New Year!

And Happy New Taxes too?

It was inevitable as death: When voters last November rejected Question 1, which would have repealed the state income tax, the Taxing Lobby (TL) read that defeat as support for new state taxes in 2009. So now they are making their list and checking it twice.

First on the TL dream list is a state graduated income tax charging taxpayers a higher rate as they move into higher tax brackets. Since this requires a change in the state Constitution, voters must be asked for their approval on a statewide ballot.

Voters were asked in 1962, 1968, 1972, 1976 and 1994, and said "No thanks" each time, by 83 percent, 70 percent, 67 percent, 73 percent and 69 percent of the popular vote. Citizens are no doubt thinking, "We may be liberal, but we're not nuts," as they reject the idea of giving Beacon Hill the power to pick us off, year after year, one tax bracket at a time.

The Legislature, which had been placing the constitutional amendment on the ballot, gave up after the 1976 vote, so the Taxing Lobby had to collect signatures to get it before voters in 1994. The leader of that effort was Jim Braude, who had come from New York to become executive director of the Tax Equity Alliance for Massachusetts (TEAM).

Jim Braude has moved on, and now hosts NECN's "NewsNight" and co-hosts a radio talk show with Margery Eagan on WTKK. In their first hour of the New Year, he announced, "I give up. I have defended government for my entire career and I give up." He and Margery then listed all the government outrages that had occurred just during their holiday vacation.

So who will lead the 2009 tax battle? TEAM has become a "progressive" think tank named "The Massachusetts Budget and Policy Center" which can be found through the Massachusetts Teachers Association Web site not to be confused with "The Public Policy Institute" run by longtime liberal lobbyist Judy Meredith. Judy has founded "ONE Massachusetts" which states on its Web site: "Our neighbors voted against Question 1 ... because voters understand the direct connection between the health of our communities and the revenues that we use to support their public structures."

The ONE Massachusetts Network has been conducting a "statewide debriefing project to learn more from our communities and organizational members: Which public structures do you rely and place value on, and where do those structures need improvement? What sort of changes need to be made to restore your faith that an increase in taxes would be spent wisely and collected fairly?"

Changes needed? How about abolishing Massachusetts government and starting over!

According to the Washington-based Tax Foundation, the Massachusetts per-capita state and local tax burden is 5th highest in the nation, 25 percent above the national average.

The Taxing Lobby cites only the tax burden relative to personal income, which ranks 23rd thanks to the many wealthy people who live here. Ordinary Massachusetts taxpayers are not undertaxed.

Nevertheless, suggestions for a 2009 tax increase include:

Gov. Patrick's local meals tax, that he defines for some reason as "property tax relief."

The so-called Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation has been advocating expansion of the sales tax for at least 30 years. Some of the other businessmen, academics, and policy experts who opposed Question 1 want an increase in the 5-percent sales tax rate.

All legislators should soon be sent on a Saturday bus trip to New Hampshire border malls to count the Massachusetts license plates of shoppers already avoiding the sales tax.

Various proposals for increasing the state income tax rate (since voters said they like the income tax) from its current 5.3 percent to ... well, one Democratic legislator proposes to increase the personal exemption while increasing the income tax rate to 7.5 percent.

Of course that personal exemption would soon be reduced again, as it was during the last fiscal crisis, while the 7.5 percent rate would live forever.

A gas tax increase.

This proposal is well-organized. Proponents began by threatening ridiculously high tolls, hoping to get drivers, especially on the North Shore, to plead for a gas tax hike instead. The gas tax was increased from 11 cents to 21 cents per gallon in 1990, and was supposed to be used for repair and maintenance of highways and bridges across the state. Another 2.5 cents was added later. So why are our highways and bridges still crumbling?

Gov. Patrick's new proposal for a state sales tax on online and catalog shoppers, or tough enforcement of the existing law requiring us to voluntarily pay taxes on out-of-state purchases.

Aren't patriotic Americans supposed to be buying more to help the economy? What we need instead is a sales tax exemption for shipping and handling charges paid on Internet purchases.

I'd suggest that Question 1 was defeated by a $7-million campaign to convince taxpayers that their property taxes would go up if state taxes were cut. So where the Taxing Lobby sees an opportunity for new taxes in 2009, the Tax Limitation Lobby sees the need to oppose all higher taxes, including Proposition 2 overrides that would increase property taxes.

Happy Tax Revolt!

The comments made and opinions expressed in her columns are those of Barbara Anderson
and do not necessarily reflect those of Citizens for Limited Taxation.

Barbara Anderson is executive director of Citizens for Limited Taxation. Her column appears 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 other newspapers.