Summer thoughts turn to ocean breezes, tax repeal
by Barbara Anderson

The Salem News
Thursday, July 15, 2010

I am melting into summer. I am "one" with my hammock, or when it rains, with the futon on my screened porch.

During the heat of the day, my window air conditioner is essential to the well-being of my computer and my ability to work happily, not to mention the happiness of my fish in the living room aquarium, who would otherwise be cooked. But during lunchtime and after 5 p.m., I'm outside with the birds, the flowers, and with any luck, a little North Shore sea breeze.

Certainly it was more pleasant reading the 2,300-page federal finance bill while lying in my hammock with it propped on my lap.

Just kidding. What is propped on my lap is the new Nelson DeMille thriller.

For those for whom it might be useful someday, here is my strategy for dealing with giant pieces of complicated legislation. First I look at who is crafting it and selling it; for example, do I trust Barney "There's nothing wrong with Fannie Mae" Frank on financial policy?

Then I read the relevant stories in newspapers. I check my favorite national columnists who have been writing about financial issues over the years and been proven right: Charles Krauthammer, Thomas Sowell, George Will, etc. I watch the television talking heads and listen to talk radio, follow RedMassGroup. This gives me information on the basics, and some of the opposing arguments.

Then I look further into those arguments, to see what makes sense. When someone on either side says something clearly ridiculous, e.g., "the free market works" (as if any of us alive have ever seen the free market) or "we'll get to Fannie Mae reform later," I weigh the points. Then I urge Scott Brown to vote No.

Voters should never let themselves think that they can't have a strong opinion on an issue unless they read the bill.

This applies also to initiative petitions, three of which are heading for the November ballot. Voters should read the Secretary of State's voter information booklet, the parts that give the official summary and arguments on both sides. Then I watch or listen to a debate or two, read newspaper coverage, apply my own common sense and experience with legislative activity.

Some things, I know I support before the voter information book arrives in my mailbox. I need to do more research on repealing the state's so-called affordable housing law, but I already know I am voting for the two tax cuts. With a brand new law like the retail alcohol tax, there is nothing complicated about the word "repeal" we know what things were like before it passed. Easy to understand "reduce" too, as in reduce the sales tax from 6.25 percent to 3 percent.

If, as with the federal finance law, proponents were re-organizing an entire giant entity like the economy or total state tax policy, I'd be listening to arguments about "sin taxes" being more fair than other consumption taxes, which are more easily avoidable than income taxes, though unfair to border businesses.

But these are what I call "don't let the politicians get away with it" proposals. Faced last year with a need for fiscal restraint in a recession, and a chance to do serious reform of state institutions, especially public employee union benefits, the Legislature raised taxes.

The new alcohol tax is a tax not only on the product but on the excise taxes already included in the price: I'm simply voting against a tax on a tax.

The state sales tax used to be 3 percent, was increased "temporarily" to 5 percent in 1974. Last year that "temporary" tax hike was hiked again to 6.25 percent. I always vote to repeal "temporary taxes" after 36 years.

The "temporary" income tax hike of 1989 is 21 years old. But voters repealed it in 2000, then the Legislature "froze" that rate rollback at 5.3 percent in 2002, so I figure it's in line ahead of the sales tax cut.

This is what I'd like to happen in the end:

A yes vote for the sales tax cut to 3 percent. Though many voters would prefer a simple repeal to 5 percent rather than a further reduction, there's no reason not to vote for what's available. Unless we all wake up and defeat the governor and legislators who supported the sales tax hike last year, they will "temporarily freeze" this tax cut too.

If voters do revolt against tax hikes and tax hikers, there will be new people on Beacon Hill we can work with next year. We can support immediate repeal of last year's sales tax hikes and the previously voter-mandated income tax cut from the present 5.3 percent to 5 percent.

This "economic stimulus" will keep shoppers here and help create jobs, without quite so large a revenue loss to the state as required by a 3 percent sales tax rate.

Since the group doing the sales tax issue tried unsuccessfully to repeal the income tax two years ago, I'd hope they'd support a reduction in that tax as part of a package that helps them win this year's campaign on the "Had Enough?" theme.

See, that was easy. Now, it's hammock time. Melt.

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.

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