and the
Citizens Economic Research Foundation

Barbara's Column

Governor asked; I answered 'No new taxes!'
by Barbara Anderson

The Salem News
Saturday, May 30, 2009

On Memorial Day, I got my favorite seat on the stone wall at the entrance to the cemetery, where the parade comes right at you. The bands were great, the speakers inspiring, and there was a special treat this year a helicopter flyover!

That afternoon, Chip grilled burgers, and I made a mushroom sauce in preparation for the day I'll be giving up Burger King's steak-Swiss-and-mushroom burger if Salem adopts the local-option meals tax increase. If other nearby communities adopt it, too, I will have to give up eating out altogether. Yes, I may finally have to learn to cook using raw, untaxed ingredients; though microwave meals will still be allowed on my "no-new-meals-tax" diet.

Of course, I will be honoring our nation's war dead again this Saturday, May 30 the real date. For the next holiday, some of my patriotic friends prefer the designation Independence Day, and I get their point; but I still call it the Fourth of July to make sure it stays there.

This reminds me of one of the dumber arguments made during last week's Senate budget debate.

Republicans were attempting to abolish Evacuation Day, the Suffolk County hack holiday. Sen. Jack Hart, D-South Boston, rose to defend it, arguing superciliously that, "We need to respect our history! If we eliminate these, what's next? Presidents' Day? Do we do away with Fourth of July? Thanksgiving? Why don't we think about getting rid of Christmas?"

Considering that these are official federal holidays, they're safe; but why let the facts get in the way of stopping yet another Statehouse politician's perk? Which takes me back to a week ago this past Wednesday when I attended a slide presentation at the Nahant Library by the Boston Globe's Sean Murphy on his recent investigative reporting series on the state pension scams that we taxpayers get to fund.

First he showed the photos of the former legislators who have been receiving early enhanced pensions because they were specially connected, pretended to volunteer on a local library board, or quit to take another state job or make big bucks lobbying their former colleagues.

When asked, "How are these things possible?" Murphy showed a photo of a herd of sheep, i.e., the Massachusetts voters.

I'm not going to totally blame the voters, though they have indeed been enabling the abusive one-party system at every election since 1990; because even if we vote against incumbents, some of them can get an immediate enhanced pension to relieve the agony of defeat. This provision in the pension system, for legislators with 20 years of "service," was placed there by legislative leaders many decades ago, for themselves, just in case. Sweet.

Murphy's reminders of why I'm an outraged taxpayer put me in the mood for the next evening, when Gov. Deval Patrick came to Marblehead for one of his community meetings. I was there to take notes for this column so I didn't raise my hand to ask a question. But suddenly I found myself answering one from the governor when he asked for a show of hands on who supports, and who doesn't, a graduated income tax.

I was a definite "doesn't," so to my surprise he walked over to my chair and asked, "Why?"

It's funny how disoriented you can be when someone who is there to answer questions suddenly asks one.  I had never met Gov. Patrick, but I'm sure I made an impression by first looking behind me and saying, "Who, me?" and when he nodded, asking "Why what?"

Gov. Patrick questions CLT's Barbara Anderson at Marblehead community meeting. (Salem News photo)
Click photo to enlarge

When I finally got around to it, I explained that the grad tax (which would require voter approval for a constitutional amendment) always loses because voters understand how varied rates would allow the Legislature to pick us off one bracket at a time, ratcheting up every two years; and Massachusetts taxes are already the fourth highest in the nation per capita.

"No, they're not," the governor argued.

"Yes, they are," I said. This first meeting was going well.

In fact, I'd misspoken: The new 2008 data shows Massachusetts dropping to fifth highest, after Connecticut, New Jersey, New York and Maryland.

I was able to correct this when Leslie Kirwan, the governor's Secretary of Administration and Finance, called me the next day.

In return, she told me that the governor was referring to the tax burden relative to personal income, which is somewhere between 23rd and 36th, depending I suppose on how much relative personal income Massachusetts has lost this past year.

Anyhow, neither of us was there to debate the graduated income tax; several members of the crowd had brought it up when the governor asked which taxes they could support. He tried to tell them that the constitutional amendment process takes four years, and he needs new revenues now. But to his credit, he stuck with his "reform before revenues" theme and asked advocates to call their legislators demanding the reforms he wants on pension, transportation and ethics issues.

If Gov. Patrick wants to know: My hand's not up for new revenues, at all; but it's waving for pension reform, for sure.

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.