To paraphrase Alfred, Lord Tennyson: In the spring, Beacon Hill's
fancy lightly turns to thoughts of taxes. So remember his other
words, "I must lose myself in action, lest I wither in despair."
The action is simple:
Let legislators know that, come fall, we'll vote against anyone who
increases the Massachusetts tax burden, which is already
fourth-highest per capita in the nation.
I appreciate that
Speaker of the House Robert DeLeo has said there will be no new
taxes this year and has stated his opposition to Gov. Deval
Patrick's proposal to tax candy and soda. The speaker has earned
some credibility from Massachusetts citizens because of his support
for public employee health care and pension reforms. I think he is
sincere in his "no new taxes" message.
But as Lord Tennyson
observed, "Knowledge comes, but wisdom lingers." I have seen this
It was the spring of
1989. Gov. Michael Dukakis had returned from his own presidential
campaign to insist on a billion dollars in new taxes. The Senate
waited to see what the House would do.
House Speaker George
Keverian backed his Ways & Means chairman, Richard Voke, D-Chelsea,
when he said there would be no new taxes. I admired Keverian and
believed Voke; I still think they were sincere.
But come summer,
Dukakis was joined in his demand for "new revenues" by the Senate
leadership, and the House caved. As a result, we got the largest tax
increase in Massachusetts history, including a
"temporary" income-tax rate hike that we'd still be paying
except that voters expressed their preference for the old 5 percent
rate on the
Legislature froze part of that voter mandate in 2002, so we're
still paying some of that "temporary" 1989 tax hike. Earlier this
year, Beacon Hill allowed a 0.005 percent reduction in the income
tax rate to 5.25 percent.
This was a teeny-tiny
good sign, considering that "The
Campaign for Our Communities" has been running all over the
state pitching an increase in the rate to 5.95 percent again. Last
weekend, the union-run "Campaign" was in western Massachusetts,
where it got a unanimous resolution from the Springfield City
Council urging the governor and Legislature "to invest in our
communities, to strengthen our economy, and to improve the quality
of life of Massachusetts residents by passing legislation, such as
the Act to Invest in Our Communities, that raises substantial new
revenue by increasing taxes on upper-income filers while decreasing
taxes on lower-income filers."
An Act to Invest in Our
Communities, presently before the Legislature (H2553/S1416),
would increase the income tax rate to 5.95 percent and the rate on
investment income to 8.95 percent, except for certain seniors. It
also would raise the personal exemption to make up for the rate
increase, though only partly, because otherwise they wouldn't get
all those "quality of life-improving" revenues.
Yep, same movie.
Liberal activists go from city to town, ginning up support for their
tax-hike agenda. Various connected spending groups announce their
support, one by one, building what appears to be a broad-based
grass-roots demand for more taxes.
Then, on the first day
of spring, the legislative committee called "The
Tax Expenditure Commission" leaks its report, floating its
support for removing tax breaks from the Massachusetts tax code. No
specific recommendation, yet, just the list of what Beacon Hill
calls "tax expenditures," i.e., all the money earned in the private
sector that the state doesn't already take.
The discussion focuses
on the obviously silly tax breaks, obtained by lobbyists over the
years, like the exemption from the sales tax for airplane parts,
while we pay the sales tax for automobile parts. By all means, clear
up and simplify the tax code.
But these silly items
are not where the money is. The money is in the major "tax
expenditures" that exempt food, home sales and most services from
the sales tax.
In 1989, the "no new
taxes" House went along with the Dukakis/Senate sales tax on
services, which we were told was just on services for the rich like
architects and lawyers. Actually, it taxed lawn-mowing, haircuts,
every service in the state.
When a 1990 ballot
question attempted to repeal the new taxes, the Legislature
increased the personal exemption to show good faith. The ballot
question failed, and the personal exemption was soon reduced again.
Gov. Bill Weld did manage to repeal the tax on services, which is
now on the table again, with the tax on sweets and the income
tax/investment tax hikes.
There is also a bill to
local option income taxes in return for a reduction in the
property tax — the sequel to the movie, "Vote for Deval Patrick to
reduce your property taxes."
To once again
paraphrase Lord Tennyson: "Ours not to reason why, ours but to just
pay more." I think not.
Try this Tennyson
quote: Ours "to strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield." It's
the season to strive for better government, to seek respect for the
taxpayers, to find budget reforms and savings, and never to yield to
those who keep demanding we star in their ongoing