CITIZENS   FOR  LIMITED  TAXATION
and the
Citizens Economic Research Foundation

CLT UPDATE
Wednesday, July 27, 2005

It's time to relax: the Legislature is gone!


Last week, as one of the great rituals of democracy in America -- the filling of a Supreme Court vacancy -- was getting underway, democracy in Massachusetts was nearly getting mugged....

For years, some Massachusetts Democrats have wanted to raise the ballot-access hurdles even higher -- so high that they would just about end citizen initiatives once and for all. Last week they almost pulled it off....

"Make no mistake about it," said Chip Ford, co-director of Citizens for Limited Taxation, which has conducted several initiative campaigns over the years. "This is war."

He wasn't the only one who thought so. Across the political spectrum, the bill was seen as an underhanded attempt to permanently cripple the public's right to self-government. In addition to CLT, it was condemned by Common Cause, the Massachusetts Family Institute, and the Massachusetts Public Interest Research Group, by the state's Republican governor, Mitt Romney, and by its Democratic secretary of state, William Galvin....

In Massachusetts last week, that safeguard almost came to an end. Luckily, the plot was exposed. But it's only a matter of time before the plotters try again.

The Boston Globe
Sunday, July 24, 2005
An antidemocratic plot
By Jeff Jacoby


Barbara Anderson's CLT Commentary

The Legislature has left for the summer. Whether you consider this a good thing or a bad thing depends on whether you have legislation pending, or wish they'd do something about repeat drunk driving offenders whose licenses have been revoked. But since they won't do much about that anyhow, it's probably just as well they are gone. CLT issues are better addressed in the fall, when more people are paying attention.

The corporate loophole bill that contains the retroactive capital gains tax and the "someday" income tax rollback is in conference committee. The bill can come out for a final vote even with the Legislature gone, so may reach the Governor's desk this summer. If he changes the capital gains language (and we hope he will, to make the rate increase apply to 2003 not 2002), they would have to return to override his veto, since it requires a rollcall vote, or wait til fall. However, we see no harm in passing the "slow boat to China" income tax rollback, since we will have a chance at the September 27 hearing to urge faster action.

After the death of the "kill the petition process" bill, we have more good news. On July 14th, the House adopted a resolution drafted by Rep. Brad Jones "relative to protecting private property rights." Both a statute and a constitutional amendment to give Massachusetts some protection from the eminent domain decision have been filed. As of last week they had 65 legislators signed on to the statute as co-sponsors. This could be doable this fall.

In today's Boston Herald there is a slightly cut version of the letter I sent in response to a column on long term care, in which Dan Thomasson chided those who divest themselves of assets before they go into a nursing home. Here is the version I sent in.

Letter to the Editor:

I used to agree with Dan Thomasson (Baby boom sure to bomb long-term care, July 24), that people should not divest themselves of their estate in order to get Medicaid to pay for their nursing home care. My mother was a self-payer in Pennsylvania because it seemed the honest way to use money from the sale of her house.

But if it were today, in Massachusetts, we would get the money stashed away before she needed care. It's one thing to be independent, and another to be taken advantage of and penalized for one's honesty. Self-paying patients here, along with their bills, are charged a daily "user fee" that Medicaid patients don't pay. Of course it's not a real user fee because the self-payer doesn't get any benefit that the Medicaid patients doesn't get - so it's really a tax on paying one's own way. Until this tax is repealed, no one should blame families for hiding assets.

With the Legislature gone, many reporters are focusing on investigations of interesting issues. I'm getting media calls about the upcoming anniversary of Proposition 2, and the problems cities and towns are having with health insurance and pension costs. Sorry Chip Ford isn't here to share them with you, but watch your local papers.

And if you must buy something this summer, don't forget there'll be a sales tax holiday on August 13 and 14; might be worth waiting for. No matter how small the purchase, it feels good to get out of paying a tax.

Barbara Anderson


The Boston Globe
Sunday, July 24, 2005

An antidemocratic plot
By Jeff Jacoby, Globe Columnist


Last week, as one of the great rituals of democracy in America -- the filling of a Supreme Court vacancy -- was getting underway, democracy in Massachusetts was nearly getting mugged.

Massachusetts is one of 24 states in which voters can approve or reject laws at the polls, a power they have had since the initiative and referendum were added to the state Constitution in 1918. It is a power they have tended to exercise sparingly -- from 1990 to 2004, for example, only 14 ballot initiatives became law -- an average of less than one a year.

Why so few? In part because ballot measures are generally a last resort, something aggrieved citizens turn to only after lawmakers repeatedly ignore their pleas or the governor brushes them off or the bureaucracy refuses to budge or the hired lobbyists shoot down every attempt at reform.

But in part as well because lawmakers make it so difficult for proposed laws to reach the ballot. They require citizen petitions to be signed by tens of thousands of registered voters, allow proponents only a narrow window of time in which to collect those signatures, then make them get each signature verified by the clerk of the city or town in which the signer lives. They restrict the topics that a ballot question may address. They impose such stringent standards that a single stray mark on a petition -- a food stain, a highlighting -- can invalidate every signature on the page.

"Many legislators see public policy as their province and theirs alone," says Pam Wilmot of Common Cause, which promotes honest and accountable government. "They get offended when voters want to have a say. Inside the State House there is fairly widespread resentment toward initiatives -- if not outright hostility."

For years, some Massachusetts Democrats have wanted to raise the ballot-access hurdles even higher -- so high that they would just about end citizen initiatives once and for all. Last week they almost pulled it off.

By a 12-1 vote, the Legislature's Election Laws Committee reported out a bill that would have banned ballot campaigners from paying petition-circulators by the signature and required circulators to swear that each name was signed in their presence and by the voter named -- poison pills, given the number of signatures needed and the short time in which to assemble them. Worse yet, the bill would have obligated the secretary of state to post signers' names and addresses on the Internet -- the better for opponents to browbeat or deceive them into recanting their support.

"Make no mistake about it," said Chip Ford, co-director of Citizens for Limited Taxation, which has conducted several initiative campaigns over the years. "This is war."

He wasn't the only one who thought so. Across the political spectrum, the bill was seen as an underhanded attempt to permanently cripple the public's right to self-government. In addition to CLT, it was condemned by Common Cause, the Massachusetts Family Institute, and the Massachusetts Public Interest Research Group, by the state's Republican governor, Mitt Romney, and by its Democratic secretary of state, William Galvin.

Such ideological diversity reflects the fact that the power to adopt or repeal laws by ballot is neither liberal nor conservative. It is democratic. It can be used to lower taxes or raise them, to ban racial preferences or impose them, to endorse the death penalty or oppose it. Massachusetts voters understand that in a system rigged to make legislators all but untouchable, the initiative and referendum are a vital check and balance. Legislators understand it too. That is why they want so badly to eviscerate them.

Sad to say, the initiative process in the Bay State may be nearly dead anyway. It has become almost routine for the Massachusetts Legislature to countermand voter-approved laws it dislikes, such as the tax deduction for charitable donations, the "Clean Elections" campaign-finance measure, or the rollback of the income tax rate to 5 percent. All three were enacted by decisive majorities, but lawmakers treated them as suggestions they were free to disregard. In two other cases, lawmakers derailed proposed amendments that were headed for the ballot by refusing to follow the procedures spelled out in the state Constitution.

"For 20 years I preached to the students of Princeton that the referendum ... was bosh," said Woodrow Wilson, a one-time political science professor. "I have since investigated and I want to apologize to those students." Far from being "bosh," he had come to realize, the right to let voters decide the fate of a law is the "safeguard of politics." In Massachusetts last week, that safeguard almost came to an end. Luckily, the plot was exposed. But it's only a matter of time before the plotters try again.

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