CITIZENS   FOR  LIMITED  TAXATION
and the
Citizens Economic Research Foundation

CLT UPDATE
Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Catching up in the dog days


Hey voters, did you know you are too stupid and unsophisticated to understand the complexities of public policy or to weigh the consequences of changing the laws or the Constitution?

And if someone asks you to sign a petition on your way into the supermarket, you can't be bothered to read the official summary provided by the attorney general's office, never mind the wording of the question itself, also officially drafted by the state's chief law enforcement officer. You're busy and naively trusting to a fault, so the state must, must protect you from yourselves....

[Senate chairman of the Election Laws Committee, Edward Augustus] still staunchly defends his bill -- temporarily derailed when the Senate concluded formal session for the summer -- which would have iced the initiative petition process under the guise of fighting fraud. Augustus had his ears pinned back by the triple whammy of being lobbied on the right by Citizens for Limited Taxation and on the left by MassPIRG and Common Cause.

"And we were just getting started," said CLT's Barbara Anderson....

"It's hard enough getting signatures," Anderson argues. Once voters start getting harassing calls, they'll never sign another petition....

"Just leave it alone," she told him, knowing that inviting lawmakers to tinker was asking for trouble.

"CLT hates all of it," Augustus said in an interview before comparing Anderson to a modern-day Cassandra prophesying the destruction of the ballot question process....

The trouble with Augustus' Iliad reference is that Cassandra was right. Troy was destroyed.

And were it not for the ever-watchful Anderson, and her unlikely liberal allies, the initiative petition process would be too.

The Boston Herald
Thursday, August 4, 2005
Let referendums be unrestrained
By Virginia Buckingham


With a recent Supreme Court decision giving public officials wide eminent domain powers to seize private property, some state lawmakers are pushing legislation they hope will avoid another West End.

State Rep. Bradley Jones, R-North Reading, is spearheading the effort. The House Republican leader has filed a petition, a bill, and a proposed state constitutional amendment all aimed at limiting the use of eminent domain.

The bill would bar cities and towns from seizing private property solely for economic development.

Allowing governments to seize private property and transfer it to another private developer simply because they can generate higher taxes is wrong, he said.

"It's quickly devolving into a mathematical calculation," he said. "The logical extension of this is scary."

The Associated Press
Saturday, August 13, 2005
With eye on the past,
lawmakers hope to restrict eminent domain


A 5 percent discount is hardly a bargain by retailing standards (try 50 percent off), but call it a tax holiday and the promotion becomes a door buster. Why else? Here in the Commonwealth, where the nation's first tax protests were waged in 1773 with the Boston Tea Party, residents just want to stick it to Taxachusetts.

Antitax fervor can be a unifying force that makes skirting 5 percent in taxes seem like an act of civil disobedience. Massachusetts citizens pay about $4,608 annually in state and local taxes, the fourth highest in the nation, for everything from alcohol to property to stock profits. The average American pays about $1,000 less, according to the Tax Foundation, a nonpartisan group in Washington, D.C....

Barbara Anderson, executive director of Citizens for Limited Taxation, a Marblehead tax reform group, doesn't think that the tax holiday is a significant reprieve but has a shopping list ready: toothpaste, paper towels, and a dust buster. "You grab what you can when you can," Anderson said.

The Boston Globe
Saturday, August 13, 2005
Shoppers pant when tax takes a breather


Inundated with shoppers on a sultry, summer weekend, giddy retailers said yesterday that the state's first-ever Saturday and Sunday without a sales tax could end up being the most profitable weekend of the year, beating the $500 million in sales that shops usually reap during the final weekend rush in late December....

Hillman said he thinks people want to buy because they are saving money at the expense of the government. "It's unbelievable," he said.

Customers said they had many reasons to shop yesterday, beating the government not least among them.

Many acknowledged a certain frisson at the idea of saving 5 percent from the state -- shopping as civil disobedience.

"Getting any break from the government is a good thing," said Laura Majed, 49, a typesetter from Providence.

The Boston Globe
Monday, August 15, 2005
Tax-free weekend a gift to retailers
Sales totals may top rush before Christmas


This is wonderful, this sales-tax-free weekend. But why stop here?

Perhaps you've noticed that the price of gasoline is up a bit. Of course, the 21-cents-a-gallon state gas tax isn't covered under this generous 48-hour tax rollback by the sticky-fingered grandees of Beacon Hill....

Another possibility, which Mitt has been pushing for, futiley, is to actually reduce the state income tax back to 5 percent, where it was when it was "temporarily" increased back in 1989. You know, like they "temporarily" put in the state sales tax in 1965.

In 2000, the voters passed a referendum reducing it back to the promised 5 percent level, but the House speaker denied any such promise had been made. He's since been indicted on multiple counts of perjury, none of which, oddly enough, involves his pathetic fibs about the income tax....

The technical phrase for all of this is "nickel and diming." Now they say, for two days out of 365, we'll give you back the nickel. That still leaves them with the dime.

The Boston Herald
Sunday, August 14, 2005
Add to shopping list: Pols that don't rob us
By Howie Carr


Chip Ford's CLT Commentary

Ah, back from this year's sailing adventure/vacation and back on the job, catching up. Much has happened over the past month since just before I departed to explore Downeast Maine. I left on a good note, after we again halted the attack on the initiative and referendum process -- at least for now -- thanks to CLT's counterattack and rallying of the opposition troops. The Massachusetts response to the U.S. Supreme Court's scary decision which expanded the government's power of eminent domain is moving ahead steadily. Our state Legislature has gone home for the summer -- er, is "working in the district" for a few months, as they say. And my goodness, we even had a weekend sales tax holiday and the state didn't collapse or even so much as tremble!

What Barbara called the Legislature's "'slow boat to China' income tax rollback" is on standby in the wings for now, but the hearing on September 27 to implement a quicker rollback to 5 percent is coming up, and that's what we're looking for.

There will be more coming tomorrow and in the days ahead:  breaking news today that there's a potential new threat looming over Proposition 2 in the form of another "panel" headed by former Sovereign Bank president John Hamill, who in 1989 proposed increasing the local property tax levy limit for inflation; the proposed state law and a constitutional amendment to further protect property owners from the U.S. Supreme Court's ruling have been filed -- I'll have them on the CLT website later today then bring you more up to speed.

Chip Ford


The Boston Herald
Thursday, August 4, 2005

Let referendums be unrestrained
By Virginia Buckingham


Hey voters, did you know you are too stupid and unsophisticated to understand the complexities of public policy or to weigh the consequences of changing the laws or the Constitution?

And if someone asks you to sign a petition on your way into the supermarket, you can't be bothered to read the official summary provided by the attorney general's office, never mind the wording of the question itself, also officially drafted by the state's chief law enforcement officer. You're busy and naively trusting to a fault, so the state must, must protect you from yourselves.

That description sums up the real opposition to the initiative petition process and if there was a way to require Attorney General Tom Reilly to apply that kind of subjective analysis to determine which of the ballot questions submitted by yesterday's 5 p.m. deadline would be presented to said citizen-dolts on the 2006 or 2008 ballot, the Legislature would put it on the fast track.

Alas, Reilly will look at boring issues of constitutionality and other process mundanities to determine whether backers of a redistricting commission and a same-sex marriage ban, among other proposals, can move on to the signature gathering phase.

"This round will happen under current laws" said the Senate chairman of the Election Laws Committee, Edward Augustus (D-Worcester).

He still staunchly defends his bill -- temporarily derailed when the Senate concluded formal session for the summer -- which would have iced the initiative petition process under the guise of fighting fraud. Augustus had his ears pinned back by the triple whammy of being lobbied on the right by Citizens for Limited Taxation and on the left by MassPIRG and Common Cause.

"And we were just getting started," said CLT's Barbara Anderson.

Augustus' bill prohibits paying workers per signature gathered, mandates signature gatherers sign a jurat attesting under penalties of perjury that they personally witnessed each and every signer putting his John Hancock on a petition, and requires Secretary of State Bill Galvin to post the names of those signing.

Anderson pointed out to Augustus that the jurat was impractical given that many petitioners simply leave a sheet in a coffee shop or at a table in a mall manned by multiple volunteers. And if a petitioner tries a bait and switch tactic (like one taking on urban myth proportions about voters who signed an anti-gay marriage petition thinking they were banning horse meat) Anderson says caveat emptor -- let the voters beware.

She has a point and really, should the rest of us pay the price of making ballot questions harder to come by because a few numbskulls don't bother reading the not-so-fine print before signing?

But the real danger Augustus posed to the petition process was giving opponents easy access to the names and addresses of signers.

"It's hard enough getting signatures," Anderson argues. Once voters start getting harassing calls, they'll never sign another petition.

Anderson had grown used to battling Sen. Stan Rosenberg's (D-Amherst) annual efforts to kill ballot questions by increasing the number of signatures required and other tampering.

Historically, the Election Laws Committee kept such mischief bottled up. But Augustus is a more slippery fish, shading his proposals as simply providing more disclosure.

Augustus even asked Anderson what changes she would want to make the process better for citizen activists.

"Just leave it alone," she told him, knowing that inviting lawmakers to tinker was asking for trouble.

"CLT hates all of it," Augustus said in an interview before comparing Anderson to a modern-day Cassandra prophesying the destruction of the ballot question process.

"This is about the integrity of the process" and "preserving access to the ballot," he insists.

Sure it is.

The trouble with Augustus' Iliad reference is that Cassandra was right. Troy was destroyed.

And were it not for the ever-watchful Anderson, and her unlikely liberal allies, the initiative petition process would be too.

Return to top


The Associated Press
Saturday, August 13, 2005

With eye on the past,
lawmakers hope to restrict eminent domain
By Steve LeBlanc


Early in 1958, in what was heralded as a revitalizing "slum clearance" initiative, bulldozers began tearing through one of Boston's oldest tenement districts.

In short order, the West End a bustling urban neighborhood of tall brick apartment buildings peopled by generations of immigrants was reduced to rubble, making way for bland new housing developments with the taunting sales pitch: "If you lived here, you'd be home now."

Boston's demolition of the West End under the banner of urban renewal has come to be seen as a textbook example of city planning run amok.

With a recent Supreme Court decision giving public officials wide eminent domain powers to seize private property, some state lawmakers are pushing legislation they hope will avoid another West End.

State Rep. Bradley Jones, R-North Reading, is spearheading the effort. The House Republican leader has filed a petition, a bill, and a proposed state constitutional amendment all aimed at limiting the use of eminent domain.

The bill would bar cities and towns from seizing private property solely for economic development.

Allowing governments to seize private property and transfer it to another private developer simply because they can generate higher taxes is wrong, he said.

"It's quickly devolving into a mathematical calculation," he said. "The logical extension of this is scary."

Defenders of the state's eminent domain law say it is already restrictive enough. They say the use of eminent domain to seize blighted properties has helped improve neighborhoods and spur the creation of affordable housing.

"We are wary of any further restrictions on the Massachusetts law," said Susan Elsbree, spokeswoman for the Boston Redevelopment Authority. "Eminent domain is a very important tool for cities and towns across the commonwealth."

Governments have traditionally used their eminent domain authority to build roads, schools and other public projects. But for decades, the court has been expanding the definition of public use, allowing cities to employ eminent domain to eliminate blight.

In June, the Supreme Court ruled 5-4 that New London, Conn., had the authority to take homes for a private development project. But in its ruling, the court noted that states are free to ban that practice.

For Bostonians with long memories, the ruling inspired painful memories about the loss of the West End.

In the years after the World War II many cities fell on hard times as middle class residents fled to burgeoning suburbs. Boston, like many cities, responded by launching an aggressive urban renewal program. For those in power, the West End was a perfect example of "blight."

Those who called the West End home saw something very different a neighborhood with the invisible web of family and friends that knitted together the sturdy, if sometimes shabby brick buildings and corner stores.

That invisible but vital society was the subject of a classic study by famed sociologist Herbert Gans, who moved into the neighborhood in its twilight years. His 1962 book, "The Urban Villagers," painted a picture of a community in sharp contrast to the official designation as a "slum."

In the decades since the demolition, the West End has become one of the nation's most infamous examples of urban folly. Former residents who still feel the sting of loss have their own spin on the sales pitch for the new West End: "If you lived here, you'd be homeless now."

The writer Jane Holtz Kay's father grew up in the West End and she remembers selling flowers near the area that was ultimately bulldozed.

"It was the classic melting pot," said Kay, author of "Lost Boston."

Kay said that the danger of eminent domain is that its misuse, even in the hands of those with good intentions, can have a disastrous outcome. In the hands of those driven by less noble motivations, the effect can be even worse.

"Eminent domain is a really deadly weapon when it's in the wrong hands," she said. "They haven't learned from the past about the richness of the past."

Return to top


The Boston Globe
Saturday, August 13, 2005

Shoppers pant when tax takes a breather
5% break seems like a prize in state
that dates its frugality to the fury of Boston Tea Party
By Jenn Abelson and Robert Gavin, Globe Staff


Amy Ricketson has already picked out the $600 worth of mattress, bedspread, and sheets she plans to buy during this weekend's sales tax holiday. Her savings: $30.

"OK, it's not much," said Ricketson of Plymouth. "But I'd rather keep it than give it as taxes, thanks!"

A 5 percent discount is hardly a bargain by retailing standards (try 50 percent off), but call it a tax holiday and the promotion becomes a door buster. Why else? Here in the Commonwealth, where the nation's first tax protests were waged in 1773 with the Boston Tea Party, residents just want to stick it to Taxachusetts.

Antitax fervor can be a unifying force that makes skirting 5 percent in taxes seem like an act of civil disobedience. Massachusetts citizens pay about $4,608 annually in state and local taxes, the fourth highest in the nation, for everything from alcohol to property to stock profits. The average American pays about $1,000 less, according to the Tax Foundation, a nonpartisan group in Washington, D.C.

Tack on federal taxes found on phone bills, gasoline, and airline tickets, and it's easy to see why people are rebelling with their MasterCards and Visas.

"Massachusetts residents in particular seem to jump at a chance to throw more tea in the water," said Kate MacKinnon, a spokeswoman for Tweeter Home Entertainment Group Inc., a high-end electronics chain. "If we ran a 5 percent-off sale, we would not get even close to the response that we anticipate the state's sales tax holiday to draw."

Sales tax holidays have proved a catalyst to shopping, generating customer traffic in the dog days of summer that has been compared to the Christmas season. Merchants are making a big push today and tomorrow with major chains and retailers, including Apple, keeping stores open from 6 a.m. to midnight, and small business owners, such as Yolanda Enterprises in Waltham, marking down all wedding attire to below $2,500 so that they qualify for the sales tax exemption.

Ten other states, as well as Washington, D.C., and Montgomery, Ala., have sales tax holidays, but they tend to target specific products, such as school supplies and clothes, according to Taxware, L.P., a Salem sales tax software firm. Massachusetts is the most generous, applying to almost anything under $2,500, except for motor vehicles, motor boats, meals, tobacco products, and utilities.

Last year Massachusetts consumers spent just over $200 million during a one-day tax holiday while saving some $10.1 million in sales taxes, according to the state Department of Revenue. The agency estimates that consumers this year will save an estimated $14.5 million in sales taxes over two days of tax-free shopping.

Some shoppers have put off purchases for weeks of everything from refrigerators to TVs. Others have less firm plans except to buy something, anything just for the thrill of avoiding another tax.

Barbara Anderson, executive director of Citizens for Limited Taxation, a Marblehead tax reform group, doesn't think that the tax holiday is a significant reprieve but has a shopping list ready: toothpaste, paper towels, and a dust buster. "You grab what you can when you can," Anderson said.

Economists say tax holidays tend to have little if any long-term economic effects, since consumers shift their purchases to coincide with the tax holidays rather than buy more. A study of New York's 1997 tax holiday on clothing, for example, showed that sales surged more than 70 percent during the seven tax-free days, but over three months they were only slightly higher than the same period the year before.

And for some who've done the math on actual savings, the tax holiday isn't worth the hassle.

"People think they're getting away with something this weekend," said Linda Morris, of Quincy, who plans to wait for bigger, better sales. "But they're really not."

Return to top


The Boston Globe
Monday, August 15, 2005

Tax-free weekend a gift to retailers
Sales totals may top rush before Christmas
By Michael Levenson, Globe Correspondent


They're calling it Christmas in August.

Inundated with shoppers on a sultry, summer weekend, giddy retailers said yesterday that the state's first-ever Saturday and Sunday without a sales tax could end up being the most profitable weekend of the year, beating the $500 million in sales that shops usually reap during the final weekend rush in late December.

From Braintree to Peabody, Springfield to Cambridge, malls that are normally quiet this time of year teemed with buyers snapping up iPods, language instruction tapes, refrigerators, sheets, tools, and clothing. Shoppers came from out of state to make long-delayed purchases and to hunt for a deal with no particular item in mind. Some retailers said they could hardly keep up with the foot traffic, though most said they were ecstatic with the brisk sales.

"There is no question that overall sales amounts are going to rival the weekend before Christmas and a lot of stores are going to do better than that," said Jon B. Hurst, president of the Retailers Association of Massachusetts. "You're getting people into the stores at a time when they don't normally shop, they don't normally spend money."

A normal weekend in the middle of August might generate about $150 million in sales, Hurst said. Last year, when the state for the first time suspended the 5 percent sales tax for a single day, a Saturday, sales jumped to about $400 million, he said.

This year, the numbers could top $500 million, once they are tallied in a few weeks. That would make it the busiest weekend of the year, Hurst said.

"They're buying pretty much anything that's on their shopping lists," said Jose Lopez, manager of Cambridge SoundWorks at the CambridgeSide Galleria. He said business was up 50 to 60 percent over a normal August weekend at his shop, driven by sales of televisions and high-end stereo systems.

"It is kind of like Christmas in August," Lopez said.

At South Shore Plaza in Braintree yesterday, stores had hung promotional banners advertising "tax-free days." A retiree carried a bag of tools he had bought, happy to save $2.50 in taxes. Iverline White, 19, hunted for an inflatable chair for her dorm room. Her father, Paul White, 63, a shipwright from Wareham, had spent $1,600 on a washer and dryer the night before.

"The state might not be happy, but the stores sure are," Iverline White said.

At KB Toys, assistant manager Mark Peterson happily presided over a store full of toddlers and parents inspecting action figures, trucks, and dolls.

"We've got sales stuff up at the front of the store that's just kind of flying," Peterson said. "We've got sales stuff in the middle of the store that's just going. We got a whole bunch of new Star Wars stuff, all kinds of new games, and it's just flying off the shelves."

While most rejoiced, some retailers smirked at how many consumers were lured by savings that are modest compared with the discounts most stores offer on occasion.

"I can't believe that if I offer a 5 percent or 15 percent discount on this stuff, I have a hard time selling, and that people are eating up this discount," said Gary Hillman, manager of Rosetta Stone, a kiosk that sells language tapes in the mall. He said sales of his tapes were up 75 percent.

Hillman said he thinks people want to buy because they are saving money at the expense of the government. "It's unbelievable," he said.

Customers said they had many reasons to shop yesterday, beating the government not least among them.

Many acknowledged a certain frisson at the idea of saving 5 percent from the state -- shopping as civil disobedience.

"Getting any break from the government is a good thing," said Laura Majed, 49, a typesetter from Providence. She bought speakers for her iPod yesterday at the Apple store at the mall. She had made the trip from Rhode Island in part to reap the savings, she said.

Massachusetts is one of 11 states plus the District of Columbia that have tried to spur business by suspending their sales taxes. Some stretch their tax breaks for 10 to 14 days, or limit them to clothing and back-to-school items. In Massachusetts, the deal extends to taxable items under $2,500, excluding new and used cars.

The initiative is a political favorite and was heavily promoted by Governor Mitt Romney and state lawmakers, who held a press conference outside a Best Buy in Boston last week.

Some customers said they had been holding off on purchases in anticipation of the tax holiday.

"We figured it would be a good weekend to get it; it's like a little bonus," said Courtney Perkins, 19. She bought a black iPod as a gift for a friend, she said, with some help from her mother, Corrine.

Most of the items selling were big-ticket goods such as furniture and computers and back-to-school staples, Hurst said.

But there were a few surprises.

"We had huge crowds in jewelry stores," said Hurst of the retailers' association. "Who buys jewelry in August?"

Maureen Murphy, 50, an insurance manager from Avon, came to the mall seeking nothing in particular. She just wanted to check out the savings, she said.

"I guess the tax-free weekend is going to pull people like me out," she said with a shrug. "I don't even like shopping."

Return to top


The Boston Herald
Sunday, August 14, 2005

Add to shopping list: Pols that don't rob us
By Howie Carr


This is wonderful, this sales-tax-free weekend. But why stop here?

Perhaps you've noticed that the price of gasoline is up a bit. Of course, the 21-cents-a-gallon state gas tax isn't covered under this generous 48-hour tax rollback by the sticky-fingered grandees of Beacon Hill.

Another possibility: a toll-free weekend. Or week, or month. Under four Republican governors, the price of a round trip on the Tobin Bridge has gone from 50 cents in 1997 to $3 today.

Do smokers, the most oppressed minority in America, deserve any sort of a temporary tax break? The excise tax on a pack of cigarettes went up (under GOP Gov. Jane Swift) from 76 cents a pack to $1.51.

And of course smokers have to pay a sales tax on the excise tax.

Don't get me wrong, I like saving a few bucks here and there in the malls. Do you realize you saved 4 cents' tax on that 79-cent pair of flip-flops at Wal-Mart yesterday? But tossing a few crumbs to the hoi polloi after relentlessly taxing them back to the Stone Age the other 363 days of the year falls under the category of too-little-too-late.

Remember the old Bob Dylan song "Maggie's Farm": "He hands you a nickel, he hands you a dime. He asks you with a grin, if you're having a good time."

And then they're puzzled why this is the only state in the United States hemorrhaging population.

Next time, why doesn't Massa Mitt give us some relief from those $300 million-plus in fees that he and the Legislature jacked up two years ago? His aides say there's a difference between taxes and fees. You know, Mike Dukakis used to say exactly the same thing.

Another possibility, which Mitt has been pushing for, futiley, is to actually reduce the state income tax back to 5 percent, where it was when it was "temporarily" increased back in 1989. You know, like they "temporarily" put in the state sales tax in 1965.

In 2000, the voters passed a referendum reducing it back to the promised 5 percent level, but the House speaker denied any such promise had been made. He's since been indicted on multiple counts of perjury, none of which, oddly enough, involves his pathetic fibs about the income tax.

How about a one-day break on fees for professional licenses? Has Mitt, in all of his photo-ops over the last 48 hours, mentioned how those prices have gone up? Master barber and plumber - $45 to $68. Home inspector - $150 to $225. I could go on and list 297 others.

Sold any property lately? If you have, you know how much the commonwealth is in need of a few fee-free days. Discharge of mortgage - up from $30 to $75. The cost of recording a trust has skyrocketed from $30 to $225.

Got a kid approaching the magic age of 16 who wants his learner's permit? Well, prepare to have your pocket picked. In 2002, it was $15. Now it's $30.

The technical phrase for all of this is "nickel and diming." Now they say, for two days out of 365, we'll give you back the nickel. That still leaves them with the dime.

What was it Gov. George Wallace used to say about the two major political parties? That there wasn't a dime's worth of difference between them. He was right, but hey, we've got one more day without the 5 percent sales tax, so maybe there is at least a nickel's worth of difference.

Shop till you drop!

Return to top


NOTE: In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. section 107, this material is distributed without profit or payment to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving this information for non-profit research and educational purposes only. For more information go to: http://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/17/107.shtml


Return to CLT Updates page

Return to CLT home page