and the
Citizens Economic Research Foundation

Barbara's Column

A taxing week, to say the least
by Barbara Anderson

The Salem News
Friday, April 17, 2009

April is the cruelest month
breeding taxes and debt out of the dying land,
mixing apathy and outrage,
stirring compliant voters to revolt.
With apologies to T.S. Eliot

Feeling proud to be an American as the Navy SEALs took out the Somali pirates, on Monday we turned our attention to the local pirates who steal and misuse our money, hold our preferred services ransom for higher taxes, and hope the taxpayers don't take careful aim with their votes at the next election.

This week at the Massachusetts Statehouse:

Tuesday, a decades-overdue vote on public employee pension reform.

Governor Patrick complains that the Senate and especially the House, have watered down his reform bill. During House debate, Republicans offer several amendments to dehydrate the bill, but so far the only major change that's passed prevents MBTA employees from collecting fat pensions before the age of 55. The still-waterlogged bill is engrossed by the House, 156-0.

Wednesday, the House version of the state budget is released in preparation for debate next week.

Massachusetts is in the midst of one of its regularly-scheduled fiscal crises, caused by overspending and excessive benefits for politicians and their favored unions when tax revenues are strong, and leading to fiscal crisis in economic downturns. Traditionally, a majority of legislators take an initial stand against new taxes; pass minor reforms; orchestrate visible, unpopular cuts; then "reluctantly" raise taxes, which they falsely claim are temporary. Repeat.

Of course, Wednesday was also Tax Day, the deadline for Americans to mail their tax returns to the federal and state governments, paying for their share not only of essential government services, but for all the waste, mismanagement, patronage, porky earmarks, non-existent oversight, and extraordinary benefits for the privileged political class.

Also and not so coincidentally on Wednesday, taxpayers meet across the nation in grassroots-organized tea parties, to protest fiscal irresponsibility in general not just tax increases, but deficits, bailouts, and waste, etc. (see previous paragraph).

In preparation for this, the federal Department of Homeland Security releases a report warning about "radicalized right wing extremists," a repetitive term that seems to include angry taxpayers, disillusioned activists from both parties and veterans returning from war. Some veterans' organizations object to the implication that returning vets are crazy.

Some of these dangerous taxpayers hold peaceful rallies across Massachusetts too. Newly involved citizens mingled with longtime activists, hopefully getting acquainted for useful action during the next election. Because, wait for it, wait for it: Democrat Jay Kaufman, House chairman of the Revenue Committee, has stated that without tax increases, "we can probably measure the impact of this budget in terms of lives lost."

The liberal group that calls itself "OneMassachusetts" has released a list of proposed tax hikes, from the gas tax and local-option taxes that have already been filed by Governor Patrick, to a 20-percent sales tax hike and an income-tax rate increase that could raise as much as $1.5 million.

I dare say OneMassachusetts wants not "one" but all of these, hence the slogan seen on one sign at the Boston tea party, "More is Never Enough (MINE)." And there was another, more funny than dangerous: "Don't tax me, bro."

Monday was National Tax Freedom Day, the day on which taxpayers have paid all their federal, state and local taxes and can now work for themselves and their families. But in Massachusetts, Tax Freedom Day occurs on Thursday; ours is the seventh-latest state to free its serfs for the year.

This computation is done by the Washington-based Tax Foundation, which recently also released data on comparative tax burdens. Massachusetts has the fifth-highest annual state-and-local tax burden per capita ($5,377 in FY2008). On the measure of state and local tax burden as a percentage of state income, we're in 23rd place; an estimated 9.5 percent of our income goes to Beacon Hill and our city or town hall.

Considering how they spend that 9.5 percent, this is nothing to feel good about, even if you are among the wealthy citizens responsible for the commonwealth's high personal income status.

Massachusetts also ranks seventh-worst in terms of the property tax burden, and our gas tax is heading for highest in America if Governor Patrick gets his 19-cent increase. The MBTA is cutting back on service for its present customers, while still planning to extend train lines, piling more debt on our highest-in-the-nation state debt level.

But we need more trains because the roads are crumbling and toll booths can't be staffed on holidays because the Turnpike can't afford overtime when employees don't show up for work, and ... forget it, travelers, just stay home.

Citizens for Limited Taxation's Chip Faulkner attended three of the Massachusetts tea parties, advocating "no re-election for tax hikers." If the newly-attentive voters don't get the attention of Beacon Hill soon, we can, to rephrase Kaufman, probably measure the impact in terms of municipal bankruptcies.

WTKK talk-show host Michael Graham is planning a campaign school for potential opponents of tax hikers. Ordinary citizens are beginning to rally 'round the flag and family.

April should always be the cruelest month for pirates and government tyranny or foolishness.

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.