Send state, municipal officials a message: Vote yes on Question 3
by Barbara Anderson

The Salem News
Saturday, October 2, 2010

As you consider your vote on Question 3, a brief history of tax ballot questions:

  1980, Proposition 2.

Cut and/or limited property taxes, cut the auto excise tax.

Opposed by the public employee unions, the Massachusetts Municipal Association (MMA), the Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation (MTF), the League of Women Voters, and most politicians. Opponents implied that civilization as we know it would end.

Voters, angered by decades of broken promises of property tax relief, passed it anyhow. Civilization did not end.

Thirty years later, Prop. 2 still limits property taxes, allowing a 2-percent increase per year, plus "new growth." Can be more only if local voters approve overrides.

  1990, Repeal of the Dukakis tax increases.

In 1989 the Legislature passed a "temporary" income tax rate increase, which was increased again in 1990. It also expanded the sales tax and increased the gas tax to fix and maintain roads and bridges.

Same opponents as above. Then Republican gubernatorial candidate Bill Weld supported it.

Opponents argued that "it goes too far," though it cut only as much as two years of new taxes had raised. They said civilization as we know it would end.

Voters were angry, but chickened out and voted no. However, they elected Weld, who at least eventually got the income tax rate down from 6.25 percent to 5.95 percent and repealed the sales-tax expansion.

Extra revenues from the remaining higher taxes increased state spending and local aid; much of the latter was given to local public employee unions in annual pay increases and extraordinary health insurance and pension benefits by elected officials (most of them members of the MMA) in labor negotiations.

  2000, Rollback of the rest of the Dukakis income tax rate hike ("temporary" tax now 11 years old).

Petition drive led by Gov. Paul Cellucci and supported by many Republican state legislators.

Opponents the same as above, same "end of civilization as we know it" campaign. But because the rollback was "reasonably" phased in over three years, voters weren't concerned and voted yes.

  2002, Democratic legislators, apparently not appreciating the reasonableness of the phase-in, voted to "temporarily freeze" the rollback at 5.3 percent.

Legislators continued to spend extra money, unions continued to get extraordinary benefits. MTF issued recommendations for savings and reforms, but consistently supported tax increases instead. Recommendations for savings and reforms ignored. Voters re-elected the same Democrats who voted to kick them in the teeth for their reasonableness.

  2008, Rollback still frozen. Total repeal of the income tax on the ballot.

Same opponents, same "it goes too far" argument.

Gov. Deval Patrick doesn't keep campaign promise of "property tax relief." Some of us argue that voters might as well vote for the repeal of the income tax in order to send a message that they are tired of "temporary" taxes and broken promises, since the Legislature will just "repeal the repeal" if it passes.

Voters foolishly pass up this opportunity to send a message, and vote no, while again re-electing the same legislators who refuse to "defrost" the income tax rollback.

Voters have now lost all respect from Beacon Hill.

  2009, Still no property tax relief.

Instead, Gov. Patrick and the Legislature pass a 25 percent increase in the sales tax, permanently raising the rate from 5 percent to 6.25 percent. They also add a sales tax to the already-existing excise tax on alcoholic beverages, give communities the ability to raise the meals tax and create a new telecommunications tax.

Why not? Voters will let them get away with anything: incumbents always get re-elected no matter how many "temporary" or permanent taxes they hike, promises they break, or ballot questions they "freeze."

  2010, Question 3 cuts the sales tax rate to 3 percent.

Public employee unions already raising $1.3 million to defeat it with ads about the end of civilization as we know it. Again, they say "it goes too far."

I was one of the leaders of the Proposition 2, 1990 and 2000 ballot campaigns. I also supported a yes vote on the 2008 income tax repeal because when there's a tax cut on the ballot, we citizens must grab it or the Democrats will think we are fools. They'll laugh at us while planning the next tax hike.

We need to earn their respect this year by voting yes on Question 3, by firing the legislators who voted last year for the 25 percent sales tax increase, and by firing the governor who kicked us in the teeth with his broken promise.

If we think a 3 percent rate "goes too far," we can ask our new governor and our new legislators next year to instead restore the 5 percent sales tax rate and "defrost" the income tax rollback to 5 percent as we told them to 10 years ago. They can use the reasonable revenue loss as a tool to address the outrageous public employee benefits, the ongoing scandals and corruption, and the unremitting insult to our intelligence that our state government has become.

Our Massachusetts per-capita tax burden is sixth highest in the nation. This wasn't what Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. meant when he said "taxes are what we pay for civilized society" in 1904 before Massachusetts had an income or sales tax, and when the word "civilization" implied respect.

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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