With Democratic candidate Elizabeth Warren arguing for higher taxes
on the rich, the Massachusetts "voluntary tax" issue has become part
of the 2012 U.S. Senate race in Massachusetts.
During a news
conference at her Somerville headquarters, Professor Warren was
asked if she had chosen to pay the higher voluntary income-tax rate
on her own earnings. She said no.
RealClearPolitics quoted her saying, "I paid the taxes that I
legally owed. I did not make a charitable contribution to the
Brown's campaign called her a hypocrite.
I have to quote
campaign manager Jim Barnett here because his statement was so
perfect: "The problem with running a campaign based on
self-righteousness and moral superiority is that you had better live
up to the same standard you would impose on everyone else." He noted
that Warren earned over $700,000 in 2011.
So that you, too, can
fully appreciate Warren's attitude deficiency, let me take you back
to the birth of the Massachusetts voluntary income-tax rate, which
has been on our state tax form since 2002.
Citizens for Limited
Taxation created the first version of this in December 2000, right
after winning the ballot campaign for a state income-tax rate
rollback to 5 percent.
Although the rollback
simply repealed a "temporary" income-tax rate hike that had passed
in 1989, there were many opponents to the ballot question. They
argued that they "don't need or want a tax cut," that they were
happy to pay the higher rate.
Feeling responsible for
their loss and disappointment, we filed a bill to create an extra
line on the state income-tax form just for them. I'm sure you
recognize that we were being sarcastic to make a point. Imagine our
surprise when a version of our bill actually passed as part of the
next state budget!
The House Republicans
had filed it as an amendment to the budget during debate, and for
some reason the House Democratic leadership, i.e., Tom Finneran,
took a liking to it. Even more surprisingly, the Senate president,
Tom Birmingham, didn't resist; so the "voluntary tax" appeared in
the final version of the FY 2002 budget, which Gov. Paul Cellucci
I suspect the Democrats
were tired of the "Citizens for Unlimited Taxes" lobbyists always
urging them to take the tough tax-hike votes, or they just found the
Regardless, the state
income-tax form now carries the option: Pay the same rate as
everyone else under the voter-passed
rollback, or choose the higher 5.85 percent rate.
The reason I don't
usually credit Finneran and Birmingham with this neat choice is that
they also took the liberty of "temporarily" freezing the general
income-tax rate at 5.3 percent, where it remained until a
formula-driven rate decrease to 5.25 percent this year.
But when you just filed
your 2011 taxes, your choice was to pay at last year's 5.3 percent
or the voluntary 5.85 percent rate.
The state Department of
Revenue, as it processes the returns, has so far received $68,347
from 850 taxpayers who chose the higher rate.
In 2002, only 2,215
taxpayers volunteered to pay more. This seemed odd (sarcasm again)
since 1,055,181 people voted against the rollback on the ballot.
Where did everybody go?
response reminded me of the REAL beginning of the voluntary tax
concept, decades ago, in my head. I was at the Statehouse to testify
for a tax cut or against a tax increase, and was outside Gardner
Auditorium chatting with Robert Turner, a liberal columnist for The
He told me that I
shouldn't be there opposing higher taxes, that he himself didn't
mind paying more for the good things that government does.
I told him to feel free
to write a check.
I expected him to
mildly scoff at the easy answer; I did not expect him to look
shocked at the very idea.
Apparently, he had
never thought of it himself and was now amazed that anyone would
suggest voluntary contributions over forced payments.
I remember this
conversation because it was the first time I realized that liberals
are different from me in a very basic way. To liberals, the neat
thing about government is that people in power can make everyone pay
for what the powerful people value; and the only thing in the way of
bigger government is the need for a majority of citizens to elect
politicians who'll vote for higher taxes.
So I came to understand
the hunger for power, and the common resistance of liberals to
choice — which is another word for freedom. The sometimes-compliant
voter majority remains a mystery, as it so often does elect
politicians who happily raise all our mandated taxes, but are
shocked by the idea of voluntarily paying more themselves.
Since tax returns are
private, Elizabeth Warren didn't have to admit which choice she
took. It seems she felt confident that her indignant resistance to
making "a charitable contribution to the state" would seem
reasonable, because in her world, that attitude is common.
In my world, and in the
world of Scott Brown, who supports both the voluntary tax and the
lower rate, her attitude is hypocritically strange.