Taxes: Elizabeth Warren's hypocrisy is showing
by Barbara Anderson

The Salem News
Thursday, April 26, 2012

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.

The website RealClearPolitics quoted her saying, "I paid the taxes that I legally owed. I did not make a charitable contribution to the state."

Republican Scott 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Although the rollback simply repealed a "temporary" income-tax rate hike that had passed in 1989, there were many opponents to the ballot question.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 signed.


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 concept amusing.

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?

Professor Warren's 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 Boston Globe.

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.

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.

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